Keeping the Hymns Close By

Jesus Is All the World to Me

Author & Composer – Will L.Thompson, 1847 – 1909
Published in 1904

I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him. Philippians 3:8-9

Will L. Thompson

Will L. Thompson was born on November 7, 1847 in East Liverpool, Ohio. Will’s parents, Josiah and Sarah Thompson, were local entrepreneurs who had helped transform the area into a pottery manufacturing region. His father Josiah also served for two terms in the Ohio State Legislature. The author showed early signs of his dad’s entrepreneurial spirit; and being from a financially comfortable family, he was also able to devote time to his other passion—music. By age sixteen, he had already published two songs. Thompson seemed to always have a goal of being a musician. He attended the Boston Conservatory of Music in 1873 and pursued additional musical study in Leipzig, Germany, where J.S. Bach had served as a church and civic musician in the 18th century. As a composer, Thompson achieved recognition for his contributions to patriotic and other secular songs. When his father sent him to New York on business, Will took his songs to a printer, intent on publishing and selling them himself. Several of his songs became hits and he became a millionaire.

The young man credited the Lord with his success, and wanting to return thanks, he dedicated himself to writing Christian songs–and Christian songs only. It is said of him that his greatest joy was writing and performing simple gospel songs about his Lord. He has provided Christian hymnody with several enduring songs: the invitational hymn, “Softly and Tenderly”, the gospel song “There’s A Great Day Coming”, and this beautiful hymn, “Jesus Is All the World to Me,” which first appeared in a collection prepared by the author, New Century Hymnal (1904).

He became a very successful music publisher, establishing Will L. Thompson & Co. offices in East Liverpool and Chicago. By the 1880s his company expanded beyond publishing music and sold pianos, organs and other instruments and supplies.

Despite being wealthy, famous, widely traveled, and in great demand, Will never wanted to leave his hometown. He became a prominent land developer, served as the first president of the local library and donated acreage for a park that bears his name to this day. He regularly hitched up his two-horse wagon on which he placed a portable piano and traveled throughout the area singing his hymns in churches and public squares.

Thompson died in 1909 and in 2002, the grateful citizens of East Liverpool inducted him into the Lou Holtz Upper Ohio Valley Hall of Fame.

Taken from Amazing Grace: 366 Inspiring Hymn Stories for Daily Devotions. Copyright © 1990, 2002 by Kregel Publications, Grand Rapids, MI. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Used by permission from “History of Hymns” by Dr. C. Michael Hawn, Director of the Sacred Music Program and Distinguished Professor, Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University.
Taken from Then Sings My Soul Keepsake Edition by Robert J. Morgan Copyright © 2011 Robert J. Morgan. Used by permission of Thomas Nelson.