Jesus Loves Me (Hymn Story)
Some years ago, I was privileged to tour the grounds of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York. I remember standing at the Academy cemetery on the high bank of the Hudson River -- a place of great beauty. Our guide pointed to an island on the other side of the river -- Constitution Island -- and told us of Anna Warner, who wrote "Jesus Loves Me." He said that Anna and her sister, Susan, had lived on that island. Their uncle, the Rev. Thomas Warner, had been the Academy Chaplain, and the sisters had taught Sunday school classes for cadets for a number of years. It is thought that Dwight D. Eisenhower was one of the last cadets to attend their classes. We don't know that that is true, but we know that it is possible. Eisenhower graduated in 1915, and Anna died in that same year.
When the sisters died, the Academy honored them by providing for them to be buried at the Academy cemetery -- an unusual exception to the rules -- high honor, indeed!
When I heard that story, I thought of the sister's ministry to those cadets, and wondered if the officer who made possible their burial in that cemetery might at one time have been cadets in their Sunday school classes. I also found myself wondering whether the sister's humble ministry might have affected world history at some point through the influence they had on the lives of those cadets.
The words to this popular song were written originally as a poem in Anna's novel, Say and Seal. In the book, the words were spoken to comfort a dying child. In 1861, William Bradbury set the words to music and added the chorus, "Yes, Jesus loves me!" The joyful tune and simple words soon became favorites around the world.
Stories that have grown up around this song. One is that someone asked Karl Barth, the great theologian, to summarize the essence of the Christian faith in a few words, and he responded, "Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so." Another is that, at the height of persecution in Communist China, a Christian sent a message to a friend. The message escaped the attention of the censors, because it said simply: "The this I know people are well" -- but that phrase, the "this I know people" clearly identified the Christian community in China. It assured the friend that the church in China was alive and well.
We, too, are "This I Know" people.
–– Copyright 2006, Richard Niell Donovan