Author: Anna Bartlett Warner (1859)
It has been said that the three most beautiful words of all are “I love you.” Jesus said “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love” (John 15:9 ESV). In every stanza of this hymn and in the refrain, we repeat with the assurance that “Jesus loves me.”
This is one of the best-known children's hymns ever written. Through all the many stanzas of this hymn, the opening words are always the same: “Jesus loves me.” The themes of this hymn are the assurance of God's love, and a review of what Jesus did for us.
In 1860, Anna Warner and her sister Susan, under the pen names Amy Lothrop and Elizabeth Wetherell, wrote a two-volume novel called Say and Seal. In it, a sick little boy asks his Sunday school teacher to sing. The teacher obliges by singing the four original stanzas of this hymn. The third of those (second line: “Though I'm very weak and ill”) is usually omitted. Though its theme was pertinent to its setting in the novel, it is irrelevant to the normal context for this hymn today. The other three stanzas by Warner, which are the three most popular of all, have the second lines “For the Bible tells me so,” “Heaven's gate to open wide,” and “Close beside me all the way.”
In 1871, David R. McGuire, who was on the revision committee for the United Church of Canada, wrote two additional stanzas for this hymn in The Hymn Book. They have the second lines “As he loved so long ago” and “Walking with me on my way.” Other stanzas have also been written anonymously. The refrain was written by William B. Bradbury when he composed the tune.
JESUS LOVES ME was composed by William B. Bradbury for this text and published in his Sunday school song collection, The Golden Shower, in 1862. The tune is also called CHINA in some hymnals because it is reported to be a favorite among missionaries there. The tune is a simple, pentatonic one, and is widely known. It works best with simple accompaniment.
This hymn is often used as a children's hymn, but it can also be used by all ages as a hymn of assurance. It also works well in a medley with hymns of a similar theme. For example, “Three Sunday School Hymn Settings for Organ” includes JESUS LOVES ME in a medley with STORIES OF JESUS. A gospel-style choral setting of “Jesus Loves Me” for children and adult choirs that includes two other children's songs. This short setting of “Jesus Loves Me” for handbells is lively and upbeat.