It has been reported that in 1962 Karl Barth, a Swiss theologian and opponent to Adolph Hitler’s Third Reich, was touring the United States and was asked to summarize his view of the Christian faith which he did with these words “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.” Pretty succinct for the author of a 13-volume set of over 6 million words called Church Dogmatics!
It is interesting that hymnbook Sacred Selections for the Church has a subtitle to the song “The favorite hymn of China”. That subtitle was dropped, but before then it was not uncommon for the tune to be called CHINA although the composer never did. This was apparently a favorite song used by missionaries to China in the 19th century. In 1949, Mao Tse Tung founded the People’s Republic of China and the communists began a widespread persecution of Christians in China. In 1972, a message came out of China with the phrase “The this I know people are well” that escaped the notice of communist censors showing here were still missionary efforts within the country.
The song has had several revision and various versions by people over the years. Perhaps this is due to not only the song’s simplicity but the profound message that has warmed the hearts of children throughout their years.
Anna Bartlett Warner (1827–1915), Lyricist
Anna Bartlett Warner was born August 31, 1827 on Long Island, NY. Her father was a wealthy New York lawyer who lost his fortune in the market crash of 1937. Her mother died during Anna’s birth. She had a sister named Susan and they would sometimes be known as the “Warner Sisters”. The daughters were avid writers seeking to alleviate the financial burden of the family by writing novels. They wrote works together and separately. Anna also wrote under the pen name Amy Lothrop.
She was a Presbyterian and her uncle served as the military chaplain from 1828 to 1838. The Warner sisters also conducted regular Bible studies for over 40 years for cadets at West Point which was where they resided on Constitution Island. Their home is still preserved and open for tours.
Anna Bartlett Warner died on January 22, 1915 in Highland Falls, NY. She is buried in the United States Military Academy at West Point in NY. Anna, and her sister Susan, are the only two civilians buried in West Point Military Cemetery. The words of the first stanza of “Jesus Loves Me” appear on her tombstone. Some sources stated that included among her afternoon Bible Studies was a future President, Dwight D. Eisenhower.
The song was based on a novel by her sister, Susan Warner, called Say and Seal. Anna Bartlett Warmer wrote the lyrics for her sister’s book in 1860. The words were written to comfort a dying child named Johnny Fax in the story. The song “Jesus Loves Me” is by far her most popular hymn; however, she did write other hymns.
William Batchelder Bradbury (1816–1868), Composer
Born October 6, 1816 in York, Maine, William Batchelder Bradbury’s father was leader of a church choir. His family moved to Boston when he was 12 years old where he became acquainted with the famous musician Lowell Mason. Bradbury would go onto study music and voice even traveling to Germany for further education. His brother, Edward G. Bradbury, and he founded the Bradbury Piano Company in New York City.
He wrote and published numerous songs and hymnals. He did a lot of work with young people and would compose tunes with them in mind. This would result in the publication of a hymn book for children in 1841. For a time, Lowell Mason, George F. Root and William Bradbury made a very popular trio.
Bradbury wrote the tune for the song “Jesus Loves Me” and included the words of the chorus in 1862. We sing several hymns to the tunes he composed. The tune for Jesus Loves Me, according to the statistics of Hymnary.org is not his most popular based on inclusion of hymnals. According to Hymnary.org, his top tunes for hymns: WOODWORTH (167), HE LEADETH ME (110), SOLID ROCK (102), BRADBURY (87), SWEET HOUR (84) and then JESUS LOVES ME (79). We sing several songs he composed the music to including: “Just As I Am”, “He Leadeth Me”, “My Hope Is Built On Nothing Less”, “How Sweet, How Heavenly, Is The Sight”, “Tis Midnight, and on Olive’s Brow”, “Sweet Hour of Prayer” and others.
William Batchelder Bradbury died on January 7, 1868 in Montclair, NJ and is buried in Bloomfield Cemetery, Bloomfield, NJ.
Jesus Loves Me
It is sad when people have had circumstances that have crowded out their view of God’s love for them. Have you ever noticed that some seem rather quick to doubt God’s love for them but are reluctant to deny that Jesus loves them? Why would that be?
Could it be that Jesus said “This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends” (John 15:12-13, NKJV.) Perhaps they have a difficult time turning their back on the fact that Jesus loves them when He said “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd gives His life for the sheep. But a hireling, he who is not the shepherd, one who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees; and the wolf catches the sheep and scatters them. The hireling flees because he is a hireling and does not care about the sheep. I am the good shepherd; and I know My sheep, and am known by My own. As the Father knows Me, even so I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep.” (John 10:11-15, NKJV.)
Sometimes the observation is made that saying you love someone is one thing, but showing or demonstrating your love for them is a different matter. Did God not demonstrate His love for us? Recall what Paul wrote “For when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:6-8, NKJV.) Be sure to notice that God is the one that demonstrated this love too!
When we sing “Jesus Loves Me”, we are also singing “God Loves Me” too. Remember what John wrote “He who does not love does not know God, for God is love” (1 John 4:8, NKJV.)
Why does God love us so? I do not have a satisfactory explanation to that question outside of what the text states. I do know this—I am thankful that He does!
Ellis J. Crum, Editor, Sacred Selections for the Church, Kendallville, IN: Sacred Selections, 1960.
V. E. Howard, Editor, and Broadus E. Smith, Associate Editor, Church Gospel Songs & Hymns, Texarkana, TX: Central Printers & Publishers, 1983.
Joseph L. Mangina, Karl Barth: Theologian of Christian Witness, Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2004, p. 9.
Robert Guy McCutchan, Our Hymnody, Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1937.
John P. Wiegand, Editor, Praise for the Lord, Nashville, TN: Praise Press, 1997.