"Keeping the Hymns Close By"

Jesus, Lover Of My Soul

Author – Charles Wesley, 1707 – 1788
Composer – Simeon B. Marsh, 1798 – 1875
Tune Name – “Martyn”

The Lord is good, a strong hold in the day of trouble; and He knoweth them that trust in Him. Nahum 1:7

Of the 6500 hymns written by Charles Wesley, this is generally considered to be his finest. It is still found in every published hymnal and has been translated into almost every known language. It is interesting to note, however, that when Charles first presented this text to this brother, John, for approval, it was rejected as being too sentimental. It was not until after the author’s death that the song came into general use. It was first published in 1740 in a collection of 139 hymns known as Hymns and Sacred Poems.

There are various stories concerning the experiences that prompted Charles Wesley to pen these words, though none has been completely authenticated. Several of these stories are described as follows: On his return to England in the fall of 1736, following his brief and disappointing experience in the United States, Charles was caught in a very frightening storm at sea when it appeared for certain that all would be lost. Finally on December 3 the ship reached land. Wesley wrote in his journal for that date “I knelt down and blessed the Hand that had conducted me through such inextricable mazes.” Another account says that Wesley wrote this text while lying under a hedge, having been beaten up by an angry mob opposing his ministry. Still others see this text as a picture of Wesley’s own life as a young man as he struggled to find his peace with God before his dramatic Aldersgate conversion experience on May 21, 1738.

It should be noted that 156 simple one-syllable words appear among the 188 words of the text. Christ is presented as a “lover,” “healer,” “refuge,” “fountain,” “wing,” and “pilot”-the all-sufficient One. Truly each believer can say with Wesley, “Thou, O Christ, art all I want, more than all in Thee I find…”

May different tunes have been used with this text, including several fine anthem and classical settings. The best-known of these tunes in America is “Martyn,” composed by Simeon B. Marsh, who was born in Sherborne, New York, in 1798. One day in the fall of 1834 he wrote out this tune and called it “Martyn.” No reason has been given for the significance of this name. Thirty years later Thomas Hastings, a leading American musician of sacred music, discovered that the “Martyn” tune was well-suited for Wesley’s text and began using it with great response in his new publications. This is a hymn that never loses its appeal for it speaks to the basic need of every human heart, a personal dependence upon the infinite God. Other hymns by Charels Wesley include “Christ the Lord is Risen Today”, “O For A Thousand Tongues” and “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing”.

Taken from 101 Hymn Stories Copyright © 1982, 2012 by Kenneth W. Osbeck. Published by Kregel Publications, Grand Rapids, MI. Used by permission. All rights reserved

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