Behind the Hymn: My Jesus, I Love Thee
My Jesus, I Love Thee was written as a devotional poem by a young teen who had recently come to faith. That teen was William Ralph Featherston.
Featherston considered this hymn his “legacy of love.” His love for God were genuine and true.
William Ralph Featherson was born to John and Mary Featherson on July 24, 1846 in Montreal, Canada.
Little else is known about Featherson, other than he attended a Methodist Church in Montreal.
One story is that Featherson mailed his poem to his aunt in Los Angeles. Upon reading the lyrics, she sought to have the poem published.
His wife may have been, Julie R. MacAlister, and the couple may have had a son.
The poem appeared in the 1864 The London Hymn Book and was published anonymously.
The original copy is said to still be in the family’s hands and is a “cherished treasure.”
He died on May 20, 1873, shortly before his 27th birthday, in Montreal.
Three years after Featherson’s passing, Adoniram Judson Gordon put music to this love poem and added it to a hymnal which was published that same year.
As he meditated on the anonymous English hymn one day, he became dissatisfied with its existing melody, and as he later said, “In a moment of inspiration, a beautiful new air sang itself to me.” The hymn in its present form first appeared in the hymnal, The Service of Song for Baptist Churches, in 1876.
Adoniram Judson Gordon was born in New Hampton, New Hampshire, on April 19, 1836, and was named for the famed pioneer Baptist missionary to India-Burma. He became a close friend of Dwight L. Moody and was of great assistance in Moody’s evangelistic efforts in Boston.
One story about Gordon says, “He entered Brown University when 20 years old, and so was an “older” freshman. For his hazing, the students filled his room with smoke and ordered him to stand on a table and preach a sermon. The students did not know him well enough to expect what happened next. He mounted the table and chose as his text, “A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves!” He delivered a very pointed sermon mercilessly to his tormentors. The students in great wrath rushed him like wild animals, but he immediately leaped at the ring-leader and tore his coat in half. John Hay came upon the scene and the students were driven away.”
After graduation he served as pastor for several churches.
Gordon was the founder of Gordon College and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. Dr. Gordon is also the composer for the rather well-known gospel song, “In Tenderness He Sought Me.” He edited a number of hymnals and was editor of the monthly periodical, The Watchword. He also wrote a series of books called Quiet Talks.
He died on February 2, 1895, in Boston, of the flu. He was 59 years old.
One story about, My Jesus I Love Thee, that Ira D. Sankey, the famed musician for Moody, told is:
“A famous actress, walking down the street, passed an open door, through which she saw an invalid girl laying on a couch watching people pass by. Thinking to cheer her up, she went inside. The sick girl was a devout Christian.
The actress, impressed with her words, her patience, her submission, her heaven-lit countenance, and the manner in which she lived her religion, was lead to seriously consider the claims of Christianity. She was thoroughly converted and became a true follower of Christ.
She told her father, the leader of the theater troupe, of her conversion and her conviction that she could not live a consistent Christian life and still be an actress. Her father was upset, attempting to convince her that their living would be lost and their business ruined if she persisted. Because she loved her father dearly, she consented to fill the published engagement set for a few days from then, of which she was the star.
The play was set to go on. That evening came and the father rejoiced that he had won back his daughter and their living was not to be lost. However, as the actress came out on stage to the applause of the large audience, she stepped forward. A light beamed from her beautiful face.
To the now-silent audience she repeated:
‘My Jesus, I love Thee, I know Thou art mine;
For Thee all the follies of sin I resign;
My gracious Redeemer, my Savior art Thou;
If ever I loved Thee, my Jesus, ‘tis now.’
Through Christ she had conquered. She left with the audience in tears, and retired from the stage, never to appear on it again. But through this, her father was converted. Through their combined evangelistic labors, many were led to Christ.”