Author: William R. Featherstone (1864)
Tune: [My Jesus, I love Thee, I know Thou art mine] (Gordon)
Born and raised in Montreal, Quebec, William Featherstone most likely wrote this hymn at the age of sixteen on the occasion of his conversion and/or baptism. He sent the text to his aunt in Los Angeles, who sent it to friends in London, where it was published anonymously in the London Hymn Book to a now forgotten tune. Adoniram Judson Gordon found it, wrote a new tune for it, and also published it anonymously in The Service of Song for Baptist Churches. It wasn’t until around 1930, fifty years after its publication, that enough research had been done to establish Featherstone as the author, who had died at the young age of 28. Today, it is a much-loved hymn of assurance and confession of faith, with words of comfort and peace. And perhaps bolstering the power of the text is Featherstone’s story itself. A young man with no connections, who simply wrote a poem one night about his own faith, has, unbeknownst to him, come to bless millions. God certainly works in mysterious ways to use the gifts and talents of his people.
The text remains almost entirely unchanged from Featherstone’s original poem of four verses. A few hymnals, such as The United Methodist Hymnal and Worship and Rejoice don’t include the third verse: “I’ll love Thee in life, I will love Thee in death, and praise Thee as long as Thou lendest me breath; and say when the death-dew lies cold on my brow, if ever I loved Thee, my Jesus, ‘tis now.” The Baptist Hymnal 2008 changes the third line of the fourth verse to “And singing Thy praises before Thee I’ll bow,” rather than “I’ll sing with the glittering crown on my brow.”
The tune GORDON was composed by Adoniram Judson Gordon and first published in 1876. Gordon claimed that, “in a moment of inspiration, a beautiful new air sang itself” to him (Psalter Hymnal Handbook). The tune does not need much in the way of accompaniment – perhaps light piano, or even just a violin adding a harmony line. The vocal harmonies for this tune are easy to find and add a richness to both tune and text. Examples of building with harmonies throughout the song can be found in both Selah’s version of the hymn, and the Jimmy Swaggart trio’s version, which also includes a great key change into the last verse.
Because of the simple melody, this is a hymn that can be easily paired with another song to be sung right afterward. Consider singing “How Deep the Father’s Love for Us,” and ending with just the first verse of “My Jesus I Love Thee” a cappella: singing without accompaniment solves the issue of finding the same key for both songs.
This response to God’s love can be sung at any time, but I recommend two specific spots in the service: after the Assurance of Forgiveness, and during the Lord’s Supper. The first verse especially reflects our own brokenness: “for thee all the follies of sin I resign.” We go on to reflect on what Christ has done for us in that, to paraphrase 1 John 4:10, He loved us and died for us as an atonement for our sins. What is there left to do in such a moment of reflection but to offer our hymn of praise and adoration? The second verse, in its remembrance of the Passion, makes this an especially beautiful selection for the Easter Season.
This hymn also makes for a powerful declaration of trust at funerals. The third verse particularly speaks of our ongoing hope in Christ, and could also be a celebration of the love for Christ seen in the life of a loved one remembered.