Tune: [Softly and tenderly Jesus is calling]
Published in 743 hymnals
This hymn invites us to come and accept God's mercy together. The first stanza and refrain give the picture that Jesus is gently calling, like a mother after her small children. The second stanza reminds us that there is nothing to be gained by delay, especially when the third warns that death is coming sooner or later. The final stanza entices us with a promise of love, pardon, and mercy that is wonderfully available for those who wish to accept it.
This text was written by Will L. Thompson and first published in 1880 by his own music company, Will L. Thompson and Co., in Sparkling Gems, edited by J. Calvin Bushey. The text has four stanzas and a refrain, although the third stanza (“Time is now fleeting”) is sometimes omitted. Other hymnals alter the third line of that stanza from “deathbeds are coming” to “death's night is coming.” Carlton Young has called this song a lullaby, writing “This attribute contributes to the continuing popularity of this genre of religious song that presents Jesus as waiting, caring, and forgiving in intimate – and for many, compelling – metaphors” (Companion to the United Methodist Hymnal, p. 600).
Will Thompson's tune is called either SOFTLY AND TENDERLY, after the text for which it was written, or THOMPSON, after the composer. The structure of the tune fits the lullaby idea well, for it is in triple meter and has fairly simple harmony, though the conclusion of the first phrase in the refrain is chromatic.
This is a hymn of invitation that could be used at funerals or memorial services. An instrumental setting could provide a time of silent contemplation on the end of this life. A string quartet setting of “Softly and Tenderly” trades the melody around between members, and includes an optional third violin as a substitute for viola. Another suggestion is to have the choir or a soloist sing the hymn, particularly if many in the congregation are unfamiliar with it. “Softly and Tenderly” is a vocal arrangement that can be performed by anything from a soloist to a choir. A medley of gospel hymns of invitation, “Come Home” includes “Just As I Am,” “Softly and Tenderly,” and “Jesus is Tenderly Calling” in a simple choral arrangement with piano accompaniment. An a capella choral setting, “Softly and Tenderly Jesus Is Calling,” prominently features a soloist.