The Influence of a Sixteen Year-Old

Song: "My Jesus, I Love Thee"


"If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our abode with him" (John 14:23).

Occasionally, in the search for information concerning the story behind a particular hymn, great barriers are encountered. Such is the case with one of our best-loved hymns, "My Jesus, I Love Thee"-it was not until recent years that the identity of the songwriter, William Ralph Featherstone (1846-1873), became known.

It is reported that he probably grew up in Canada, since it was in Toronto in 1862 that he became a Christian. His conversion must have been very special, because just afterward and in connection with this glorious event, this 16 year-old wrote the hymn that is still meaningful to so many people.

Some historians have said that William mailed the poem to a relative in Los Angeles, who must have sent it to England, because it appeared there in The London Hymnal, published in 1864, just two years following his conversion.

Sometime later, in Boston, Massachusetts, A. J. Gordon was busy putting together a hymnal for Baptist worshipers. During the process he was going through other hymnals, getting ideas and perhaps some songs for his hymnbook. In The London Hymnbook he saw "My Jesus, I Love Thee" but was not at all impressed with the musical setting. He thought he could make great improvements for the beautiful, meaningful lyrics by composing better music for the song. The melody that he wrote has carried Featherstone's lyrics to every corner of our world.

A. J. Gordon was born in New Hampshire on April 19, 1836. He was educated at Brown University and Newton Theological Seminary. He was ordained at age 27, and he became the pastor of a Baptist church in Jamaica Plains, Massachusetts. He later pastored the Clarendon Street Baptist Church in Boston and died there in 1895, at the height of his wonderful ministry. And yet the height of his ministry might actually have been in 1864, when he gave to the world the musical setting that has carried "My Jesus, I Love Thee" around the world.

The life of every Christian is changed after conversion. The Bible says, "Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come" (2 Cor. 5:17). Perhaps this young man had keenly realized his guilt before the Lord Jesus became particularly near and dear to him. He must have sensed a tremendous need for forgiveness. And we know that those who are forgiven more love more.

As you look back on your life and see the things from which you have been forgiven, there should be a strong tendency to draw closer to and increase your love for the Savior. If we will love Him, then we must love others. If we pray according to His will, our prayer must be for others. We cannot love Him without loving others.

© 2008 by Lindsay Terry. Used by permission.

Lindsay Terry has been a song historian for more than 40 years, and has written widely on the background of great hymns and worship songs including the books I Could Sing of Your Love Forever (2008), from which this piece is excerpted, and The Sacrifice of Praise (2002).

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