Regarding this hymn, Lutheran Pastor William Lee Hunton writes,
There are several general favorites among English hymns which are used by practically all Christians. We know the hymns so well that we forget the writers and merely appropriate and sing what they wrote. We refer to the hymns – “Jesus, Lover of My Soul,” “Rock of Ages, Cleft for Me,” and “Nearer my God to Thee.”
It has been said of the hymn, “Jesus, Lover of My Soul,” that it is the masterpiece of Charles Wesley, and that if “this were the only hymn he ever wrote, and the only service he ever rendered to humanity, it is sufficient to immortalize his name.”
A beautiful story is told concerning the origin of this hymn. Mr. Wesley was standing before the open window of his room one morning. He was looking out over the beautiful landscape which was in front of his home. As he looked he saw a little song bird which was being chased by a cruel hawk. The poor bird was badly frightened, and seeing the open window, flew through it and directly into Mr. Wesley’s arms. With fluttering heart and quivering wing it nestled close to the singer and escaped a cruel death in the talons of the hawk. According to the story, Mr. Wesley himself was just then having some personal trials and was feeling the need of a refuge just as the little bird, which had flown into his bosom for protection. Out of this incident, and his personal experience, he took up his pen and produced the masterpiece of his many hymns.
The hymn was first published in 1740, in “Wesley’s Hymns and Sacred Poems.” It has found its way into nearly every evangelical hymn book of the present day. In its wide use it is an example of the “communion of saints” which we confess in the Creed.
– From Hunton, William Lee (1864-1930). Favorite Hymns: Stories of the Origin, Authorship, and Use of Hymns We Love. 1917. Lutheran Library edition forthcoming 2018.
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Pastor Hunton continues with something of the American Civil War:
An interesting incident is recorded concerning this hymn which should, if that is possible, increase our appreciation of it as a hymn of faith and consolation in times of temptation and of trouble. A United Presbyterian clergyman was serving under the Christian Commission during the “War between the States.” His duties took him out on the battlefield after the day’s fighting was done. Here he came across a dying soldier, and asked him if he could do anything for him. He ministered to his physical wants and relieved him in every way possible. He asked if he could do anything more. The dying soldier said, “Please sing to me ‘Jesus, Lover of My Soul.’” Although belonging to a Church that never sang hymns, he could not refuse the request of the dying soldier. Softly and tenderly he sang as he never sang before, with the thought that his singing was comforting a human soul in its extremity. The account says: “As the words floated out in the darkness, where the dead and the wounded lay, a strange quiet, like that of a great benediction, fell upon the earth, and the dying man clasped the hand of the singer with a heart full of gratitude. And he sang on:
“‘Hide me, my Savior, hide, Till the storm of life is past; Safe into the haven guide; O receive my soul at last!’”
“With the closing strains there seemed to come a sweet peace over the dread battle plain. The soldier relaxed his grasp; the prayer was heard.”
1 Jesus, lover of my soul, let me to Thy bosom fly, While the nearer waters roll, while the tempest still is high. Hide me, O my Savior, hide, till the storm of life is past; Safe into the haven guide; O receive my soul at last. 2 Other refuge have I none, hangs my helpless soul on Thee; Leave, ah! leave me not alone, still support and comfort me. All my trust on Thee is stayed, all my help from Thee I bring; Cover my defenseless head with the shadow of Thy wing. 3 Wilt Thou not regard my call? Wilt Thou not accept my prayer? Lo! I sink, I faint, I fall—Lo! on Thee I cast my care; Reach me out Thy gracious hand! While I of Thy strength receive, Hoping against hope I stand, dying, and behold, I live. 4 Thou, O Christ, art all I want, more than all in Thee I find; Raise the fallen, cheer the faint, heal the sick, and lead the blind. Just and holy is Thy Name, I am all unrighteousness; False and full of sin I am; Thou art full of truth and grace. 5 Plenteous grace with Thee is found, grace to cover all my sin; Let the healing streams abound; make and keep me pure within. Thou of life the fountain art, freely let me take of Thee; Spring Thou up within my heart; rise to all eternity.