Sunday, May 3, 2015

Oh How I Love Jesus -- Frederick Whitfield

What attributes do you associate with a person’s name, perhaps even God? Was that the question that someone had asked Frederick Whitfield during the mid-1800s that made him compose a nine-verse answer, his personal explanation in “Oh How I Love Jesus”? It might be a tough assignment, since none of us have ever seen Him in the flesh. But Whitfield must have seen enough of the Divine influence, even at a fairly young age, to make His impression indelible. How many verses one could write about our God might be a function of the number of people I see Him contact, if I’m trying to be true to His influence for each of us. Whitfield, because of his profession later on, might have had what could be called a front-row seat to God’s interaction with us…how many verses might he have composed after he was ordained, versus what he generated before he took on God professionally?  

Frederick Whitfield was a member of the British clergy by the time he was 30, which might be thought of as a postscript to this song he created in the mid-1850s. He wrote “Oh How I Love Jesus” as a 26-year old in 1855 prior to receiving his degree at a Dublin, Ireland college and proceeding into ministry in 1859. In fact, several of the handful of hymn texts he wrote were precursors to his formal work in the Anglican Church, indicating Whitfield’s was a heart bent toward God probably in his upbringing, a zeal that he wanted to take to another level beyond the words he composed as a young man. He must have experienced much by his mid-20s that drew him toward the God he extolled in “Oh How…”. God’s son reminded him of many things, a list he must have developed as a result of personal or observed experiences. Nine verses were his choice, to specify that the Holy Son was like music to him, that he was endeared to Him because of His sacrifice, care, guidance, and empathy (verses 1-5).  Whitfield leaned on Him for strength (v.6), and ultimately to overcome his own life’s challenges and gain immortality (vv. 8-9). Only twice, including initially in verse 7, does he actually verbalize the name that conjures up so much mental imagery. (The hymn’s chorus words with the name ‘Jesus’ are from a common folk melody, derived from an anonymous source, from approximately the same period.) Perhaps that is a good way to demonstrate the power of something like a special name – use it sparingly, but detail its effects on the human spirit. Perhaps Whitfield’s intention was to spark the worshipper’s curiosity. ‘What name does all of these things?’, one might ask.

Indeed, we’re all part of the same race, but each with unique parts and histories, so what name could manage all of the human species? It’s a fair question. Even the most powerful world leaders have never conquered every corner of the globe. And, the ones who have come closest (not really very close, though) have not been benevolent, inspiring worship that endures. ‘Dictator’ comes to mind as we consider their records. How about considering the One whose record is still being written? Maybe Frederick Whitfield’s example in song is God’s message, too. He doesn’t have to force me to say His name very often. His work in my life speaks His name. Is His name speaking in your life today?         

The following website has all nine original verses for the song:

See more information on the song discussed above in The Complete Book of Hymns – Inspiring Stories About 600 Hymns and Praise Songs by William J. Petersen and Ardythe Petersen, Tyndale House Publishers, 2006; and also, see Amazing Grace: 366 Inspiring Hymn Stories for Daily Devotions by Kenneth W. Osbeck, Kregel Publications, 1990.

See brief biography of composer here:

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