By A. C. Bridges
(Originally printed in the October 1986 ARP Magazine.)
This writer would venture to say that the hymn which more children learn at an early age than any other is “Jesus Loves Me! This I Know,” No. 465 in The Hymnbook, No. 633 in Trinity Hymnal, and No. 478 in Trinity Psalter Hymnal
The hymn first appeared in a novel, “Say and Seal,” written in 1860 by Anna Bartlett Warner (1820-1915) in collaboration with her sister. Missionaries tell us that the simplicity of its message makes a wonderful appeal to newly converted Christians. The writer has seen a note included with the hymn which says it is the favorite hymn of China. Someone who visited Hawaii in 1954 visited a Buddhist temple and heard them singing, “Yes, Buddha loves me.” One’s heart could break to think that this word had been substituted for Jesus.
It is a shame that The Hymnbook only includes one stanza. The Trinity Hymnal includes four stanzas.
Miss Warner was the daughter of a lawyer of high character. She had a sister, Susan, who also wrote using the pseudonym “Amy Lothrop”; Susan wrote a novel which was next to “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” in popularity in its day.
Both of the sisters were deeply religious. They lived for almost a century in the very shadows of the U. S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y. They conducted a Bible class for the Army cadets. Although they lived in a secluded corner apart from the busy world their influence has been felt in a wide circle. When Anna Warner died at age 95 she was buried with military honors, as had been her sister. Their home, Good Crag, they willed to the academy, and it has become a national shrine.
It is said the William Batchelder Bradbury (1816-1868) loved children and when he read Anna Warner’s book in which these words were found, he composed the simple tune which is still sung to “Jesus Loves Me.”
Bradbury was born of a musical family and as a young man, he moved to Boston to study music. He taught children to sing, and he taught “Jesus Loves Me” to his choir of 1,000 children.
Bradbury was an organist; he organized singing classes and even traveled to England and Germany to study music. In New York he devoted his time to teaching, conducting musical conventions, composing, and editing. During the years 1841 to 1867, he produced more than two collections a year.
You will find several of his tunes in your hymnal—the tunes to “He Leadeth Me,” “My Hope Is Built” and “Just As I Am,” among others.
The tune to which we sing “Jesus Loves Me” first appeared in Bradbury’s “The Golden Shower” (1862). Even though other tunes may be better, there is perhaps no tune which children early learn to sing more so than this one. A member of the church the writer serves tells of a grandmother in her family asking that the grandchildren gather about her bed when she was dying and asking them to sing “Jesus Loves Me,” a hymn to be sung from the cradle to the grave.