My Jesus, I Love Thee

Words – William R. Featherston; Music – Adoniram J. Gordon 1876

My Jesus I love Thee; I know Thou art mine.
For Thee all the follies Of sin I resign.
My gracious Redeemer, My Savior art Thou.
If ever I loved Thee, My Jesus, ’tis now.

I love Thee because Thou hast first loved me,
And purchased my pardon on Calvary’s tree.
I love Thee for wearing the thorns on Thy brow,
If ever I loved Thee, my Jesus, ’tis now.

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.”

In mansions of glory and endless delight,
I’ll ever adore Thee in heaven so bright.
I’ll sing with the glittering crown on my brow,
“If ever I loved Thee, my Jesus, ’tis now.”

“Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.” – John 21: 15  NIV

The Apostle Paul wrote these words to young Timothy, “Let no man despise thy youth; but be thou an example of the believers, in word, in manner of life, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity” (I Tim 4:12).

In an age when many fear that young people have lost their place in church, it is comforting to know that one of our most beloved hymns was written by a teenager. William Featherstone who was born on July 23, 1846, and lived in Montreal, Canada. As a young boy of 16, he received Christ and found the joy of new life. His was so overwhelmed with the love of God, and he wanted to immediately return that love with every bit of his heart. He wanted to say with Peter in John chapter 21, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love You.” Although information about Featherston is scarce, it is believed that he wrote this hymn at the time of his conversion at the age of sixteen.

He sent the poem to his aunt who was living in California and she encouraged him to have it published.  The hymn text first appeared anonymously in an English hymnal published in 1864.

The composer, Adoniram Judson Gordon, was the pastor of the Clarendon Street Baptist Church in Boston, Massachusetts. He discovered the anonymous hymn in the English hymnal and was attracted to its text.

One day he was meditating on the hymn and, in his words, “in a moment of inspiration, a beautiful new air sang itself to me.” The hymn with its present tune first appeared in The Service of Song for Baptist Churches which was published in 1876. The tune is named “Gordon” after the composer.

Hopefully, we who are advanced in years can say with a 16-year-old boy,

My Jesus I love Thee; I know Thou art mine.
For Thee all the follies Of sin I resign.
My gracious Redeemer, My Savior art Thou.
If ever I loved Thee, My Jesus, ’tis now.

About this hymn

This song tends to read like a letter to the Lord about the author’s love for Christ.  Having done a little journalism and writing, I tend to think that Mr. Featherstone might have fitted in well as a modern  newspaper reporter because this hymn contains all the things you need in a newspaper story – the who, what, where, when, and why that one finds in a good newspaper story:

  • Who – Jesus
  • What – Love
  • Where – Here and in heaven
  • When – Now (today) and then (some time in the future)
  • Why – Because He first loved me. 

Couple of lines in the hymn worthy of highlight:

  • “All the follies of sin I resign” – Couple of synonyms for “folly” I found in the dictionary – “imprudence, rashness, mistake, foolishness, indiscretion, injudiciousness; madness, lunacy.”  Are sins mistakes?  Yes.  Do I sin as a result of rash decision-making?  Yes.  Am I a lunatic to continue in sin?  Paul spends several chapters in Romans dealing with believers continuing in sin.  He asked the question in Romans 6 “How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein?”  He is reminding us that as Christians, it is foolishness (or folly) to continue in sin once we have been redeemed by God’s grace.  The question for us is, will we commit, like the author of this hymn, to resign from the follies of sin in our lives?
  • As long as Thou lendest me breath” – Do you trust in God for your next breath?  To be honest, I know I should but I don’t.  I really don’t even think about.  Most people tend to take certain things for granted until they don’t have them.  We should, however, realize that God is the giver of life, and if we truly understand that He lends us breath, it would change our perspective and our daily walk.  The Bible reminds us that the “Borrower is the slave to the lender.”  This is true in financial terms as Proverbs 22:7 describes, but also should be true in our daily walk.  We owe Him everything.  Our life.  Our salvation.  And our breath.  Have we, however, become His slaves?  Slaves in the sense that Paul describes in Romans 1:1.  The Message version reads as follows ” I, Paul, am a devoted slave of Jesus Christ on assignment, authorized as an apostle to proclaim God’s words and acts.”

As you read the words to this hymn, I’m sure you caught a couple of references to dying and to heaven.  In verses 3 and 4, the author seems to be focused on that day when His life will be over and would go to be with the Lord.  To me, this is the kind of song written by someone in the later stages of their life.  They realize the days ahead of them will be fewer than the days behind.  The closer they come to that date, the more they realize the certainty of it.  That, however, was not the case with this song.  It is believed to have been written by Mr. Featherstone at the ripe old age of sixteen.  Yes, sixteen.  Since I don’t think there are too many sixteen year olds interested in old hymns,” I will pick on that age group a little.  Do you know many sixteen year olds who could write like this?  Do you know many sixteen year olds with the spiritual depth to pen these kind of words?  From my perspective, most sixteen year olds aren’t thinking about dying or heaven.  They don’t tend to share the kind of feeling/emotion you feel when you read these words.  Sixteen year olds are different.  They are “invincible.”  They think they can do almost anything.  They live “in the now.”

But there is something different about this sixteen year old – William Featherstone.  He had a love for Christ and an understanding of what Christ did for him.  He seemed to have a spiritual depth about him.  But guess what – he too, like most sixteen year olds, lived “in the now.”  The last phrase in each of these verses has a focus on loving Christ right now.  Not just loving Him when he had time.  Not just loving Him on Sunday.  Not just loving Him when his schedule freed up.  He realized that if there was ever a time I can and should love Him, it was now.

This sixteen year old has challenged me with his words.  He has challenged me to ask – Do I love Him?  If so, do I love Him right now?  Is He the focus of my love and devotion every day?  Or am I like too many sixteen year olds – Infatuated with Christ, but not truly in love with Him?  I hope this hymn will challenge you to evaluate the depth of your love for Him.


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