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.

Elisha Hoffman

Elisha Hoffman

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.

I Must Tell Jesus

I Must Tell Jesus

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.


  • Francisco Lopez

    Hi Miss Diana. I have been struggling with a besetting sin, and our Heavenly Father blessed me with a dream in which godly sorrow with sobbing cries was manifest. Then the old gospel classic “I must tell Jesus” came to mind, and I awoke. Not long afterward, I looked up and read the lyrics to the hymn, and praised God for His compassion and answer to my problem. The “way of escape” mentioned in 1 Corinthians 10:13 is Jesus!

  • Hi Diana. I enjoyed your blog above on Pastor Elisha Hoffman. I am a singer/entertainer born and raised just a few miles south of Elisha’s birth home in Orwigsburg, PA. About fifteen years ago, I was privileged to meet one of his descendants Pastor Rose Hoffman. Pastor Rose ministered in a Nazarene Church in Schuylkill Haven, PA. She has since gone on to glory. Pastor Rose asked me to write a story about Elisha. I was amazed by her hundreds of legible and easy-to-follow handwritten notes. She had more information on both Elisha and Sue Orwig Hoffman than I would have thought possible. The LORD bless you in your work for Him.

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