Behind the Hymn: I Must Tell Jesus
I was recently discussing this beloved hymn with a family member. However, I can so relate to the story. There have been times when I had no one to tell my sorrows except Jesus.
I must tell Jesus was written by Elisha Hoffman. He was born in 1839 Orwigsburg, Pennsylvania.
His love of God and music were both learned from his parents. Following his service in the Union Army during the Civil War, he married Susan M. Orwig. They would have three sons. He worked for the publishing house of the Evangelical Association. Several years later, Hoffman followed in his father’s footsteps and was ordained into the Presbyterian Church in 1873. Two years later his wife died. In 1879, he married Emma and they later had a son to add to the family.
He served for the next 42 years in pastoral ministry, serving churches in Ohio, Michigan and Illinois. For thirty-three years he was pastor at Benton Harbor Presbyterian Church in Michigan.
In addition to pastoring, he wrote over 2,000 hymns including “What a Wonderful Saviour!” “Enough for Me,” “Are You Washed in the Blood?” “No Other Friend Like Jesus,” “Leaning On the Everlasting Arms,” “Down at the Cross,” and “Is Your All on the Altar?” Many of his hymns were written for congregational worship for the church he was serving. He wrote both the melody and lyrics for the majority of his hymns.
He also edited and compiled over 50 different song books.
He is reported to have a ministerial heart for reaching out to the poor and suffering. While serving a church in Lebanon, Pennsylvania he visited a woman that has suffered greatly.
In his own words, “There was a woman to whom God had permitted many visitations of sorrow and affliction. Coming to her home one day, I found her much discouraged. She unburdened her heart, concluding with the question, “Brother Hoffman, what shall I do?” I quoted from the word, then added, “You cannot do better than to take all of your sorrows to Jesus. You must tell Jesus.”
For a moment she seemed lost in meditation. Then her eyes lighted as she exclaimed, “Yes, I must tell Jesus.” As I left her home I had a vision of that joy-illuminated face…and I heard all along my pathway the echo, “I must tell Jesus. I must tell Jesus.”
As soon as he arrived home he penned the words for this hymn.
The tune is titled “Orwigsburg” for the town in which he was born.
I Must Tell Jesus first appeared in the Pentecostal Hymns hymnal in 1894.
Hoffman died at 90 years on November 5, 1929 in Chicago, Illinois.