"How Sweet the Name of Jesus Sounds" by John Newton (1774).
This hymn was based on Song of Solomon 1:3, “Pleasing is the fragrance of your perfumes; your name is like perfume poured out.” (NIV). Following a long tradition of reading the Church as the Bride and Christ as the Bridegroom in Song of Solomon, John Newton elaborated on the theme of the bride adoring her bridegroom's name. This undivided attention to Christ also brings to mind another verse: “One thing I ask from the LORD, this only do I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze on the beauty of the LORD and to seek him in his temple” (Psalm 27:4 NIV).
John Newton wrote this hymn and published it in his Olney Hymns in 1779 under the title “The Name of Christ.” It was included in the first book of that collection, which was titled “On Select Texts of Scripture.” Song of Solomon 1:3 was the text on which this hymn in seven stanzas was based.
Two of the original seven stanzas are always included: the first (“How sweet the name…”) and the original fifth (“Jesus! My Shepherd, …”). The original fourth stanza (“By thee my prayers…”) is nearly always omitted in modern hymnals, except when all seven stanzas are included. Hymnals vary as to which of the remaining four stanzas are omitted.
The opening line of the original fifth stanza has been a problem for hymnal editors because of Newton's use of the word “Husband” (the original version was “Jesus! My Shepherd, Husband, Friend”). His word choice makes sense if viewed in light of the long tradition of reading Song of Solomon as an allegory for the love between Christ and the Church, His Bride. However, hymnal editors have generally found it awkward for congregational use, and have found a substitute word for “husband.” Common choices are “guardian” or “brother.”
The first stanzas of the hymn focus on the soothing power of the name of Jesus. The stanza beginning “Jesus, my shepherd, guardian, friend” is a list of some of Christ's other names. The remaining stanzas speak of the relationship between Christ and the Christian.
Alexander Reinagle was organist at the Church of St. Peter's in the East in London from 1822 to 1853. His tune ST. PETER was named for that church and was first published in Reinagle's Psalm Tunes for Voice and Piano Forte in 1830. He later harmonized it for Hymns Ancient and Modern in 1861. This hymn tune can be sung in harmony or in unison. It is not a showy tune, but is best suited for plain singing and accompaniment that allows the text to be the focus.
This hymn is a song of response, and would work well after the sermon. An organ introduction for ST. PETER is included in “Introductions, Interludes, and Codas, Set 4.” A piano setting of ST. PETER that could be used for a postlude is part of the collection “Surrender.”