“Jesus loves me this I know.” These words of Anna Warner went from the pages of a Say and Seal novel to lips of dying men during the War Between the States, to homes with their fathers on the battlefield and was the last song performed by Whitney Houston before she died. It is also very popular among children.
Notwithstanding, its original purpose was to console a young boy, Johnny Fax, on the brink of death in a Say and Seal novel.
But why did these words transit from fictional work to one of the most beloved musical pieces of all time?
This article demystifies all that wonder – in a beautiful way. Read on to get a clearer picture.
Anna Warner: The Woman Who Used the Words First
Born on 31st August 1827, Anna and her sister lived with their father on Constitution Island, next door to the Military Academy at West Point.
She taught Bible Classes to the West Point cadets and how urgently they needed to change because of the rumors of war which she often heard.
With equal gravity, she led each of these young boys to Christ, knowing they might never make it back from war.
Anna co-authored the famous Say and Seal novels with her sister Susan, and they quickly rose to become the country’s most sought-after fictional voices.
Her sister, Susan Warner, is best remembered for the book The Wide Wide World, and she wrote under the pen name Elizabeth Wetherell, while Anna wrote as Amy Lothrop.
Anna wrote 31 novels on her own, including:
- Gardening by Myself,
- Dollars and Cents,
- Gold of Chickaree,
- In West Point Colors,
- Stories of Blackberry Hollow,
- Tired Church Members,
- Tired Christians,
- Little Nettie,
- The Shoes of Peace,
- Stories of Vinegar Hill,
- Three Little Spades,
- Hymns of the Church Militant
She also wrote a biography of her sister Susan. Some of her works were collected to form two volumes of the Say and Seal Novels.
One poem secured Anna’s place in the sands of time. The story was about a dying child, who no one could help. In the novel, the focal character comforted the boy by reading him a poem.
The poem began with the following words: “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.”
The lines were simple, but their effect on the hearts of thousands of readers was far profound, bringing many people to the point of tears.
Anna Warner wrote the original version, while David Rutherford McGuire wrote the second and third stanzas.
Circulating The Words Via Music: William Bradbury’s Role
William Bradbury, a teacher of voice and organ also memorized Anna Warner’s poem.
He partnered with Ferdinand Lighte and Henry Newton in 1854 to form a piano company.
At this time, he’d helped compose hymns like “Sweet Hour of Prayer” and “On Christ the Solid Rock I Stand.”
In 1862, William Bradbury composed music with Anna Warner’s words and added the famous refrain “Yes, Jesus loves me, Yes, Jesus loves me, The Bible tells me so.”
Through his established network of music distribution, the song diffused quickly.
Jesus Loves Me – Sound Theology
What’s the difference between hopeful delusion and sound theology?
What the Bible preaches.
It sounds ironic that a pure God would be in love with sinners. But that’s what the Bible preaches.
John 3 verse 16 shows how despite his hatred for sin, God’s love compelled him to give up his Son to die as a penalty for the sin of man.
In the sixth verse of Romans 8, Paul reiterates that while we were helpless, Christ died for sinners. The eighth verse tells us about how God shows his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us at the point where we’re still sinners.
As the lyrics say (in stanza 4),
“Jesus loves me! He who died
Heaven’s gate to open wide;
He will wash away my sin,
Let His little child come in.”
Jesus’ Love for His Disciples
Jesus shows his enduring love for his disciples in John 15:9-17.
These verses talk about the love that’s abiding, self-sacrificing and unwavering.
In the context of the passage, Jesus’ love for us is reassured, with him calling us his friends.
In Verse 9 of John 15, Jesus correlates the Father’s love for him with his love for us. He then tells us to obey his commands as a criterion to staying in his love in verse 10; just as he obeyed His Father’s (God’s) commands and therefore remains in his love.
In Verse 11, he proceeds to let us know how much he desires for our joy to be complete (which is why he’s told us to obey his commands and remain in his love) and in Verse 12, he commands us to love one another the way he has loved us.
His love is one of true friendship, as he proves in Verse 13 by telling us that laying down his life for us undeniably an act of profound friendship. “Greater love has no one than this…”
He admonishes us to do what he commands in verse 14 to prove our friendship to him. Would we fulfill our part of the bargain by obeying him?
In verse 15, he reveals how much his disciples mean to him by calling them friends rather than servants because everything he learned from the Father, he made known to them, as opposed to servanthood which wouldn’t afford them the opportunity of knowing their Master’s business.
Verse 16 tells us about his deliberate appointment of his disciples when Jesus says “You did not choose me but I chose you” and to what purpose?
To “bear fruit that will last.”
Bearing lasting fruit comes with the great promise of receiving anything from the Father when asked in Jesus name.
He finally admonishes his disciples to love one another in verse 17.
These verses of scripture shed light on the first and second lines of the second stanza:
“Jesus loves me! This I know.
As he loved so long ago…”
Not only did Jesus love his first disciples, but he still loves all followers and disciples today.
Jesus’ Love for Children
The poem that birthed this song was written for a child. The lyrics of the song shows Jesus’ love for children.
The third and fourth lines of stanza one read:
“…Little ones to him belong,
They are weak, but He is strong.”
Stanza two also reads:
“Jesus loves me! This I know,
As He loved so long ago,
Taking children on His knee,
Saying, ‘Let them come to Me'”
Scriptural reference for these verses comes from Mark 10:13-16.
The scenario painted from Verse 13 was about people bringing little children to Jesus for him to touch them, but his disciples rebuked them.
This act displeased Jesus (showing that he had the heart for young children) and in verse 14, he told the disciples to allow the little children to come to him because the kingdom of God belongs to them.
So important is the heart of a child in our approach of God that we cannot enter into God’s Kingdom without it, as Jesus said in verse 15.
This account would be incomplete without talking about the blessings which Jesus pronounced on the little children after placing his hands on them.
Let the Bible Tell You So?
Stanza three of the hymn reads:
“Jesus loves me still today,
Walking with me on my way,
Wanting as a friend to give
Light and love to all who live.
The truth of Christ’s love is pure and accepting, yet hard to believe.
It is only through faith that we can believe in love so simple and committed.
Christ is faithful, but it’s only in our acceptance of his love that we’d find rest.
Will you let the Bible speak of Christ’s love for you in different portions of scripture?
The Testimony of Paul
Paul bears strong witness to Christ’s love for us today in Romans 8:35-39:
He starts by asking a rhetoric question. “Who dares to separate us from Christ’s love? Trouble, Hardship, Persecution, Famine, Nakedness, Danger or Sword?”
In the midst of death and being considered as sheep ready to be slaughtered, Paul proceeds to let us know that in all of these things we are more than conquerors because of Christ’s love for us.
His strong persuasion is that death, life, angels, demons were unable to separate us from the love of Christ, and neither was the present or future, principalities, powers, height, depth or any other creature capable of separating us from God’s love in Christ Jesus.
Like Paul, are you persuaded? Can you say with confidence that “Jesus loves me”?
Have You Been Inspired?
Knowing the history behind a favorite hymn which connects both young and old people alike helps you sing it with a stronger resolve.