The Story Behind "Jesus, Lover of My Soul"

Read the remarkable true story behind this all-time favorite hymn and how it began in the throes of the Civil War.

In the early 20th Century, at a gathering of veterans from both sides of the Civil War, an elderly Confederate recalled that late one evening before the war had ended, he was on patrol and happened upon the sentry from the opposing side.

The Fear of Battle Conquered by a Hymn

His gun aimed with a clear line of vision, he was ready to pull the trigger when the sentry broke into song, "Jesus, lover of my soul, let me to Thy bosom fly ... ."

The gunman paused and listened.

As the Union guard continued to sing, "Cover my defenseless head with the shadow of Thy wing," the soldier put his gun down and crept away.

"I couldn't kill that man though he were 10 times my enemy," he recalled.

A Union veteran spoke up, "Was that in the Battle of Atlanta in '64?"

Indeed, it was. "I was that sentry!" the Union veteran exclaimed. He spoke of his fear of battle, the sense of hopelessness he felt that night on patrol, and the peace and comfort brought by singing the hymn.

The History of the Writer, Charles Wesley

Written in 1738, within months of being converted, Charles Wesley titled this piece "In Temptation." First published in 1740 as a poem, it was not paired with a hymn tune nor included in a hymnal until 1797, nine years after the author's death in 1788.

Within a few decades, the hymn was to become one of the most popular and influential hymns sung in churches of all denominations. To date, it has been included in more than 2600 hymnals.

Little is known of the writing of the hymn, although much has been written as conjecture, none of which we can be certain is true. The most often told account claims the hymn was written as Charles lay hiding in the hedges after preaching and being chased and beaten by unfriendly townspeople.

A Hymn that Continues to Speak to Hearts Today

This hymn was a favorite of many great leaders and continues to speak to hearts today. The renowned Baptist preacher Charles Spurgeon, while holding meetings at Exeter Hall in London, opened the service with "Jesus, Lover of My Soul."

Upon hearing the words, a stranger who had happened upon the meeting was so moved by the hymn that he stated, "Does Jesus love me? Then why should I live at enmity with Him?" and was converted that very evening.

The great American preacher Henry Ward Beecher stated: "I would rather have written that hymn of Wesley's ... than to have the fame of all the kings that ever sat on earth. It is more glorious. It has more power in it. ... But that hymn will go on singing until the last trump brings forth the angel band; and then, I think, it will mount up on some lip to the very presence of God."

Charles Finney, the revivalist associated with the Great Awakening, sang this hymn on his deathbed in 1875. A quarter century later in Northfield, Massachusetts, mourners at the graveside of D.L. Moody joined their voices in this hymn of hope and protection as the evangelist's body was lowered into the grave.

Lyrics to "Jesus, Lover of My Soul"

Jesus, lover of my soul / Let me to Thy bosom fly, / While the nearer waters roll / While the tempest still is high: / Hide me, O my Savior, hide / Till the storm of life is past; / Safe into the haven guide / O receive my soul at last.

Other refuge have I none / Hangs my helpless soul on Thee: / Leave, O leave me not alone / Still support and comfort me: / All my trust on Thee is stayed / All my help from Thee I bring; / Cover my defenseless head / With the shadow of Thy wing.

Thou, O Christ, art all I want / More than all in Thee I find: / Raise the fallen, cheer the faint / Heal the sick and lead the blind: / Just and holy is Thy name / I am all unrighteousness; / False and full of sin I am / Thou art full of truth and grace.

Plenteous grace with Thee is found / Grace to cover all my sin; / Let the healing streams abound / Make and keep me pure within: / Thou of life the fountain art / Freely let me take of Thee; / Spring Thou up within my heart /Rise to all eternity.

Article courtesy of Mature Living magazine.

Eric Wyse serves as pastoral associate for music and worship in Franklin, Tennessee, and is a songwriter and composer.