Jesus Loves Me, the Hymn Written for a Novel

Jesus Loves Me, the hymn written for a novel. 

One of the first songs I learned as a child was Jesus Loves Me. I remember singing it with my mother in the car, in Sunday School, and in the worship service with my family. Years before I surrendered my life to the Lord, this song planted within me the truth that Jesus loved me. I never really thought much about the origin of the song until I came across it in William J. Reynold’s Companion to the Baptist Hymnal (1976).

Anna and Susan Warner grew up as sisters In New York near West Point Military Academy where they were known for leading student Bible studies. The sisters lived with their father, a lawyer, until his death. Afterward, they supported themselves through their writing. While Anna saw some success in writing novels and poetry collections, Susan became a best-selling novelist. In 1860, Anna contributed a hymn used in Susan’s novel Say and Seal. In the story, a little boy named Johnny Fax becomes ill to the point of death. Mr. John Linden, his Sunday school teacher, holds little Johnny in his arms, rocks him back and forth, and eventually sings the words to this new hymn:

Jesus loves me, this I know,

For the Bible tells me so; 

Little ones to Him belong.

They are weak, but He is strong.

Yes, Jesus loves me! Yes, Jesus loves me! 

Yes, Jesus loves me! The Bible tells me so.

Two years after its publication in Say and Seal, William Bradbury composed a simple melody and refrain for the hymn and published it once again in Golden Shower of Sunday School Melodies. William J. Reynolds, in his history of the song, shares that the tune CHINA was given to the tune because missionaries serving there reported that it was a favorite of Chinese children.
Jesus Loves Me grew in popularity and became a song loved by millions of children and adults in churches and seminaries around the world. It is reported that after giving a series of lectures, renowned Swiss theologian Karl Barth was asked to summarize his doctrine in a single sentence. He replied: “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.” I don’t know much about Karl Barth and his teachings, but I must applaud him for his answer.

That is theology at its finest.

Click here to hear Whitney Houston sing “Jesus Loves Me.”

*Image Courtesy of Scott Rodgers and Unsplash