Author: John E. Bode, 1816 – 1847
O Jesus, I have promised
To serve Thee to the end;
Be Thou forever near me,
My Master and my friend:
I shall not fear the battle
If Thou art by my side,
Nor wander from the pathway
If Thou wilt be my guide.
O let me feel Thee near me:
The world is ever near;
I see the sights that dazzle,
The tempting sounds I hear;
My foes are ever near me,
Around me and within;
But, Jesus, draw Thou nearer,
And shield my soul from sin.
O let me hear Thee speaking
In accents clear and still,
Above the storms of passion,
The murmurs of self-will;
O speak to reassure me,
To hasten or control;
O speak, and make me listen,
Thou guardian of my soul.
O Jesus, Thou hast promised,
To all who follow Thee,
That where Thou art in glory
There shall Thy servant be;
And, Jesus, I have promised
To serve Thee to the end:
O give me grace to follow,
My Master and my friend.
The text of this hymn was written by John Ernest Bode an Anglican clergyman who was serving a small parish near Cambridge, England. When his three children, a daughter and two sons, were ready for confirmation, Bode not only presided over their confirmation, but also wrote this hymn especially for the occasion –– telling the children that the hymn included “all the important truths I want you to remember.”
The hymn was originally, “O Jesus, We Have Promised” –– in view of the fact that more than one child was involved in the confirmation that day. It later changed to “O Jesus, I Have Promised,” and it serves as a fitting hymn of commitment for every Christian at any time. It not only reminds us of the promises that we have made to Jesus, but it also asks Jesus to protect us from the dangers and temptations posed by the world –– and it reminds us that Jesus has made promises too –– that Jesus promised that we will live with him in glory.
We don’t know what hymn tune Bode used in that confirmation service. The tune with which we are familiar was written later by Arthur H. Mann, the organist at King’s College Chapel in Cambridge for fifty-three years.
The hymn expresses the desire for the constant presence of Christ in our lives. It takes three themes which are relevant for us at every stage of life:
1. It highlights the promises we make as Christians.
2. It highlights the dangers that beset us in daily life.
3. It highlights our Lord’s unfailing presence with us to the end.
Couple of comments on the lyrics:
In stanza 1 we learn that we need Christ to face the battle and keep us from wandering.
O Jesus, I have promised To serve Thee to the end; Be Thou forever near me, My Master and my friend: I shall not fear the battle If Thou art by my side, Nor wander from the pathway If Thou wilt be my guide.
When we obey the gospel and become Christians, we are in essence making a promise to serve Christ because we are confessing Him as our Lord: Rom. 10:9-10. Following this, one’s life as a Christian becomes a great battle, and we should look to Jesus for help to wage a good warfare: 1 Tim. 1:18. We must also look to Him as our guide to keep us from wandering from the strait and narrow pathway that leads to everlasting life: Matt. 7.13-14
In stanza 2 we learn that we need Christ to overcome the danger of worldliness
“O let me feel Thee near me: The world is ever near; I see the sights that dazzle, The tempting sounds I hear; My foes are ever near me, Around me and within; But, Jesus, draw Thou nearer, And shield my soul from sin.”
The world here refers to the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life that tempts us away from Christ: 1 Jn. 2.15-17. The foes, both without and within, are led by our adversary the devil, who goes about as a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour: 1 Pet. 5.8. However, if we will but draw nearer to the Lord, He will draw nearer to us and help to shield our souls from sin so that we can resist the devil: Jas. 4.7-8.
This hymn offers some plain speaking about the dangers of the Christian life – it reminds us that the world in which we seek to serve our Lord is not always a comfortable place for those who take their vows seriously and try to be faithful. (read v2, 4 lines). In these lines John Bode is thinking about the world in which our lives are set – with its ‘sights to dazzle’, with its ‘tempting sounds’ –all of which threaten to pull the pilgrim away from the path of commitment. Exactly what form these sights and sounds took a century and a half ago we can only guess, though perhaps they were somewhat similar.
Yet John Bode doesn’t only warn us of the world around us – he also warms of the dangers within, namely, our weak and wayward wills. (readv3, 4 lines). Temptation is an inescapable fact of life. It takes different forms for different people, and Christians are not exempt from its snare. The apostle Paul for one speaks of that inner conflict between the desires of the flesh and the desires of the Spirit – and in his letter to the young Church at Galatia (5:17) he reminds us that they are opposed to one another.
We do well to remember that we can all – and all too easily at that become prey to temptation, and we do well to remind ourselves of the way to victory over such temptation. And that way to victory is found in our third point:
In stanza 3 we learn that we need Christ to withstand the storms of life.
“O let me hear Thee speaking, In accents clear and still, Above the storms of passion, The murmurs of self-will; O speak to reassure me, To hasten or control; O speak, and make me listen, Thou guardian of my soul.”
The means by which we hear Jesus speaking to us today is through the scriptures which reveal His words to us: Matt. 24:35, Jn. 12:48. As we listen to Him, His words can calm the tempests of our life just as He stilled the storms on the Sea of Galilee: Matt. 8.25-27. In this way, we can look to Jesus as the guardian of our soul to keep us from stumbling: Jude v. 24.
Our hymn highlights our Lord’s unfailing presence with us to the end. Running through all of the stanzas of the hymn is the assurance of the Lord’s unfailing presence with us in all of life’s challenge. (read v1, lines 2/6 and v2, lines 1 and 7/8). As we said earlier when we confess in public that we are Christians God confirms us by the Holy Spirit.
Now our hymn doesn’t actually mention the Holy Spirit – John Bode speaks of the presence of Christ. But there’s really no confusion or contradiction – in our Bibles we are reminded of the promise from God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – as recorded in Hebrews: ‘I will never leave you or desert you’.
In stanza 4, we learn that we need Christ as our example
“O let me see Thy footprints, And in them plant mine own; My hope to follow duly Is in Thy strength alone. O guide me, call me, draw me, Uphold me to the end; And then in Heaven receive me, my Savior and my Friend.”
By the life that He lived, as recorded in the scriptures, Jesus left us an example that we should follow in His steps: 1 Pet. 2.21. He wants us to learn from His example and apply the principles that we find in both His life and His teaching to our lives no matter what; this is how we follow Him: Matt. 16.24. As we strive to do this on our journey from earth to heaven, Jesus has promised to uphold us with His presence: Matt. 28.20
In stanza 5, we learn that we need Jesus to help us keep our promise.
“O Jesus, Thou hast promised To all who follow Thee, That where Thou art in glory There shall Thy servant be; And Jesus, I have promised To serve Thee to the end: O give me grace to follow My Master and my Friend.”
Jesus has promised that He will come and receive us unto Himself: Jn. 14.1-3. This stanza is the final request for complete discipleship, strength, and guidance from Jesus to help us to be faithful unto death: Rev. 2.10-11. Therefore, we look to Christ for His grace that is sufficient for us to follow Him all the days of our lives: 2 Cor. 12.9
Every day we should set aside some time for reflecting on and evaluating the past as well as for setting serious goals for the future. Of all Bode’s poems, only this one has survived as a hymn, but it is almost universally loved and used because it meets this need for reflection. It concentrates on personal consecration by reminding me that when I became a Christian, I was saying to my Lord who promised to save me if I obey Him, “O Jesus, I Have Promised.”