Jesus loves me

I sit beside my dad up in the top pew in the balcony of our Gereformeerde Kerk, waiting for the service to end. I remove from my mouth the taste-depleted remainder of a tablet of chewing gum and stick it on top of one of the not insignificant gum stalactites in a cordillera of Wrigley mountains that have collected beneath the pew over the years. The dominee is going to announce the final number to be sung, and most congregants have opened their Psalm book to the number indicated on the two announcement boards on either side of the pulpit.

The last song to be sung is not actually a Psalm, but one of the Enige Gezangen, or “Some Hymns.” Because of that, a clearly discernible ripple of anticipation moves across the balcony. Necks are craning. The people are not disappointed. At the very moment our pastor announces the hymn number, Boer van der Heuvel stands up. He walks angrily to the nearest exit, slams the door behind him, and clomps back to his farm, fuming about the wayward direction of the Gereformeerde Kerk.

Satisfied about the way the event has played itself out downstairs, God’s people once again settle back into their pews. Accompanied by Wout Batelaan on the organ, they begin to sing number three of the recently introduced 12 Enige Gezangen.  The cavernous sanctuary has absorbed the echo of the slammed door, curiosity has been gratified, and the Lofzang van Zacharias resounds through the building – minus one voice.

Twelve hymns had been added to the 1773 versified collection of the 150 Psalms under the auspices of the Nederlandse Kerkgenootschap, the Dutch Church Association. This is what had aroused Boer van der Heuvel’s ire. When questioned about his hot-tempered walkout, he would argue that the psalms are versified and rhymed versions of the biblical psalms, part of the inspired word of God, whereas hymns are just songs written by people, and not God-breathed. Therefore, opined brother van der Heuvel, hymns have no place in worship. Every time a gezang was sung, he would walk out of church.

Unstoppable flow of hymns and praise songs
Although his belief was born out of sincere conviction and love of God’s word, Farmer van der Heuvel was unable to stop the flow of hymns and praise songs that have sprouted up in nearly every place of worship in most denominations and countries. Hymnals and songbooks gather in pews and Christian bookstores in mute testimony to that fact. Many hymns are great hymns; others not so much. Today I want to write about one of the greatest hymns of all time, if not the greatest one – for it encapsulates the core, the very heart of the Good News. Unfortunately, not every hymnal carries it.

“Jesus Loves Me” is a Christian hymn by Anna Bartlett Warner (1827-1915). The lyrics first appeared as a poem in an 1860 novel called Say and Seal, written by her older sister Susan Warner (1819-1885), a poem recited as a comforting verse to a dying child. The current tune was added by William Batchelder Bradbury (1816-1868) in 1862, who also added his own chorus, “Yes, Jesus loves me. . . .” After publication as a song, it became one of the most popular Christian hymns sung in churches around the world, beloved especially by children.

Over time other stanzas were added, often arbitrarily, but they never took hold in the same way as the first stanza did. At first this may seem puzzling, but all we need to do is remember that beautiful, tender passage in Matthew 19:14, where Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”

Is it perhaps that children naturally, guilelessly, perhaps in ways unknown to us, just know Jesus loves them, and that this is the reason this hymn resonates in their hearts?


  • Frank DeVries is an author and retired principal living in Abbotsford, B.C. He has contributed articles to a variety of Christian periodicals and composed many hymns and songs in use by various denominations.

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