William Featherston was born in Montreal Canada in 1846. He would die there when he was only 26. His life did not capture the attention of others and little is known about him. He is thought to have married Julie McAlister in 1869. She gave birth to the couple’s only child in 1870.
What is known about Featherston is that he attended his hometown Wesleyan Methodist Church, became a believer and at the age of 16 penned a poem declaring his love for Jesus. Featherston sent a copy of the poem to his aunt in Los Angeles, Calif., who later had it published. Details are incomplete but somehow the poem was put to music and appeared as an anonymous hymn in a London hymnal in 1864.
It was there, Adoniram Gordon, the founder of Gordon College and Gordon-Cromwell Theological Seminary, discovered it in 1870. He was moved by the hymn’s beautiful words but did not like the hymn’s music and decided to write a new tune to go with the memorable lyrics. The result was the perfect blend of words and music. The hymn was widely loved then and is still popular today.
Here are the words to all four verses of “My Jesus I Love Thee:”
Verse 1: My Jesus, I love thee, I know thou art mine; for thee all the follies of sin I resign; My gracious Redeemer, my Savior art thou, if ever I loved thee, my Jesus, ‘tis now.
Verse 2: I love thee because thou hast first loved me and purchased my pardon on Calvary’s tree; I love thee for wearing the thorns on thy brow; if ever I loved thee, my Jesus, ‘tis now.
Verse 3: I’ll love thee in life, I will love thee in death, and praise thee as long as thou lendest me breath, and say when the death dew lies cold on my brow; If ever I loved thee, my Jesus, ‘tis now.
Verse 4: In mansions of glory and endless delight, I’ll ever adore thee in heaven so bright; I’ll sing with the glittering crown on my brow: If ever I loved thee, my Jesus, ‘tis now.
The hymn is thought to be inspired by the exchange between Jesus and Peter when the apostle denied Christ as he was on trial. “After breakfast Jesus asked Simon Peter, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?’ ‘Yes, Lord,’ Peter replied, ‘you know I love you.’ ‘Then feed my lambs,’ Jesus told him.” (John 21:15, NLT)
An obscure young man living an uneventful life 150 years ago, produced a beautiful and moving poem which led to a hymn still widely loved today. For believers it is appropriate to express our love to the Lord by saying, “My Jesus I Love Thee.” Each of our lives is woven into the fabric of history and we should live with purpose and meaning for we never know the impact it may have on others.