I chose to blog today about Anna Bartlett Warner, the writer of Jesus Loves Me, because I admire her and her older sister, Susan Bogert Warner, for their faith in God and commitment to writing.
They wrote from deep loss and sacrifice. They worked hard, wrote about their passions (including gardening), listened to advice, submitted their work to publishers, struggled with rejection, and resubmitted. I’m sure neither one of them could have predicted that of all their projects, Jesus Loves Me would stand out as their legacy to the world.
Jesus Loves Me ~ 21st Century
At a recent community band concert, I was surprised to hear Jesus Loves Me, listed in the program as A Childhood Hymn (arr. David Holsinger) and presented to you here by the Kanapaha Middle School Band in Texas. How many people in our secular audience realized it was about Jesus? Thanks to my parents taking me to Sunday school, I can’t remember ever not knowing the song.
Jesus Loves Me – 20th Century
In WWII, John F. Kennedy and his crew found shelter in the Solomon Islands after their PT boat was destroyed. Waiting for rescue, some of the crew sang Jesus Loves Me with the islanders, each in his own language. Why this song?
Jesus Loves Me ~ a 19th Century Poem
Over a hundred and seventy years ago, Henry Warner, a wealthy attorney and widower, lost everything in the Panic of 1837, so he moved his two daughters from New York City to Constitution Island, across the Hudson River from West Point. For the first time in their lives, the girls had to keep house as well as raise their own vegetables. They made up stories to make the work go faster. Desperate for money, they wrote down their stories and sold them.
Susan’s book, The Wide, Wide World, was hailed in 1850 as the first best-seller, second only to Uncle Tom’s Cabin. (Critics had advised George P. Putnam against publishing it, but Putnam’s mother, who’d read the manuscript, insisted.)
Susan immediately started another novel, Say and Seal, and asked Anna to write a poem for the dying little boy in her story. Anna wrote Jesus Loves Me.
Jesus loves me, this I know,
For the Bible tells me so.
Little ones to Him belong.
They are weak, but He is strong.
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 loves me, loves me still,
‘Though I’m very weak and ill;
From his shining throne on high
Comes to watch me where I lie.
Jesus loves me, he will stay
Close beside me all the way.
Then his little child will take
Up to heaven for his dear sake.”
One day, according to records at Constitution Island, Anna showed a friend a delicate seashell. “There was a time when I was very perplexed, bills were unpaid, necessities must be had, and someone sent me this exquisite thing. As I held it I realized that if God could make this beautiful home for a little creature, He would take care of me.”
Jesus Loves Me ~ the Melody
Say and Seal went to press in 1860. William Bradbury read Anna’s poem, composed the tune and chorus, sung here by the Samford A Cappella Choir, and published it in a collection of hymns in 1862.
Jesus Loves Me ~ Around the Globe
Within months, soldiers in the trenches of the Civil War (both sides) were singing Jesus Loves Me, and American missionaries took it to China and Africa and beyond. Described as easy to learn and hard to forget, it has been translated into more languages than any other song.
That’s not all. Susan and Anna welcomed West Point cadets to their home for Bible reading and refreshments every Sunday afternoon – for forty years! Today, Susan Warner and Anna Warner are the only civilians buried in the military cemetery at West Point.
Posted on February 9, 2016
Note: A few years ago I wrote a play about Jesus Loves Me for my family to read aloud together. Even non-readers have small parts. Suitable for home-school or a small group, the play is available Free upon request. Simply click on the Contact button above and fill out the form. Thanks!