Frank William Boreham 1871-1959

Frank William Boreham 1871-1959
A photo F W Boreham took of himself in 1911

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Boreham on 'Jesus, Lover of my Soul'

It is Monday morning. And, as I review the services of the past day, the memory that rushes most pleasantly upon my mind is the memory of the last hymn:

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 Saviour, hide,
Till the storm of life be past!
Safe into the haven guide,
O receive my soul at last!

As I stood in the pulpit during those closing moments of the day's worship, I was profoundly impressed by the fervour and intensity with which the people sang it. There was something about it. I asked myself what that something was. And to that problem I address myself this morning.


In pursuing this fascinating study, I propose, as the lawyers say in Court, to put in a number of exhibits.

My first exhibit is a photograph of a monument in Westminster Abbey. It is the only monument to a pair of brothers to be found there. The brothers thus memorialized are, of course, the brothers Wesley. At the top are the two names, with the dates of their births and deaths. In the centre is a plaque representing their two faces; with, beneath it, John's triumphant death-bed boast: `The best of all is, God is with us!' And, at the foot, is a bas-relief, depicting John preaching to a motley multitude in the open-air, with the inscription: `I look upon all the world as my parish.'

On Friday evening in an idle moment, I turned the dial of my wireless set, wondering what I should find on the air. I chanced upon a debate on the question of the limitation of families. Into the pros and cons of that delicate problem I shall not now enter. I am only reminded of it by the circumstance that John Wesley was the fifteenth child of his parents and Charles the eighteenth, whilst Susannah, their mother, was her father's twenty-fifth child. One shudders to think of what would have happened—or not happened—if the Wesleys of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries had believed in the limitation of families.

For, in the eighteenth century, England, under the inspired leadership of these two brothers, was swept by a religious revival so overwhelming, so dynamic, so irresistible that it affected—vitally, fundamentally, and permanently—every phase of our national life. In days when ancient thrones were tottering and hoary institutions crumbling, it preserved for us, as Lecky has shown, our national integrity and respect. The country was born again. Apart from the direct spiritual fruitage of the revival, the by-products of that transfiguring cataclysm were literally legion. Social reforms were effected: slavery was abolished: industrial wrongs were righted: the plague—the spectre of the centuries—was banished by purer standards of living and saner systems of sanitation: whilst philanthropic and benevolent institutions sprang up like mushrooms on a misty morning. If Susannah Wesley, that twenty-fifth child, had never appeared; or if John and Charles, the two boys at the tail-end of her own enormous family, had never been born, the world would never have known what it had missed; but its loss would have been stupendous.


My second exhibit is a newspaper cutting. Unhappily, it is not dated; but the journal from which I snipped it went out of existence many years ago, and the extract itself is yellow with age. It says that Mr. Charles Wesley was one day sitting by an open window of his home, enjoying the fresh spring air and the fragrant breath of the garden below. All at once, the element of tragedy disturbed the tranquillity around him. His attention became focused upon the frantic flutterings of a sparrow that was attempting to elude the pursuit of a hawk. In its terror, the tiny creature darted hither and thither, always to be followed by its tormentor. Then, just as Mr. Wesley thought that the little bird's strength was exhausted, and that it must miserably succumb, it flew straight towards him and buried itself in the folds of his ample coat. Mr. Wesley, according to this newspaper-cutting, was himself in circumstances of grave anxiety at the moment, and fancied that he saw in the incident that had so deeply moved him a parable of his own deliverance. Reaching for a sheet of paper, he wrote:

Jesus, Lover of my soul,
Let me to Thy bosom fly!

And thus was born the hymn that my congregation sang so feelingly last night—the hymn that has been a comfort and inspiration to millions.

I notice that the modern experts on hymnology declare this dainty narrative to be of doubtful authenticity. I sometimes wonder on what their scepticism is based. I have reasons of my own for clinging to the story until it is absolutely torn from my grasp. And this brings me to my third and fourth exhibits.

During my college days, more than fifty years ago, it was my good fortune to preach on Sundays at a pretty little village in Epping Forest, a pretty little village from which, incidentally, I brought away a pretty little villager as a souvenir. But she was not the only souvenir. For here on my desk at this moment are a paperknife and a little casket, both of solid oak. In the construction of the casket there is no joint anywhere; it is a masterpiece of exquisite carving. It chanced that, in that village congregation of mine, there was a carpenter named Somner who was good enough to tell me that my poor 'prentice ministry had been a means of grace to him. On the night before I sailed for New Zealand he brought me these gifts.

'Some time ago,' Mr. Somner said, `I was employed on structural alterations to the house that was once occupied by Mr. Charles Wesley. The window-sill on which Mr. Wesley was leaning when the sparrow flew to his breast had to be removed, and, unhappily, was broken in the process. I managed to obtain a large splinter of it from which I have carved this paper-knife and casket. You will make me very happy if you will accept them and take them with you to New Zealand!' And, as a consequence, here they still are!

This, of course, proves nothing. But it serves to remind me that, fifty years ago, the story of the sparrow and the hawk was generally accepted; and, on the face of it, it would appear probable that those who lived fifty years nearer than we do to Mr. Wesley's time were as likely to know the facts as those who stand half a century farther away.


I confess frankly that I do not understand the Wesleys, and I think the more of them because of my failure in that respect. I should think less of Almighty God if I could understand Him.

I am completely mystified, for example, by their missionary adventure. As soon as they were ordained, they both sailed for America, John as a missionary to the Red Indians, and Charles, although nominally as secretary to General Oglethorpe, with the same high end in view. Yet they both assure us that they were utterly unregenerate at the time; they were not Christians; they had little or nothing to do with the Indians; they spent all their time at cross purposes with the authorities and the settlers; they were like square pegs in round holes; they simply did not fit. They realized that they were pitifully out of their element. Charles returned to England almost at once; John followed him eighteen months later.

This brings me to my fifth exhibit—a copy of John Wesley's Journal. `It is two years and four months', John says, on his arrival home, `since I left my native country to teach the Indians of Georgia the nature of Christianity; but what have I myself learned in the meantime? Why, what I least suspected, that I, who went to America to convert others, was never myself converted to God!' This is a terrible piece of self-condemnation; and John afterwards felt that it was too positive and too drastic; for, in revising his Journal, he adds the footnote: 'I am not sure of this.'

But whether we regard John as a converted or as an unconverted man at the time of his return from America, there can be no doubt about Charles. And this brings me to my sixth exhibit—the journal of Charles Wesley. At the time of John's return from America, Charles, who had been more than a year in England, was very ill. He was visited by Peter Bohler.
'Do you hope to be saved?' Bohler inquired.
'I do!' replied Charles, and Bohler asked him on what ground.
'On the ground that I have used my best endeavours to serve God,' poor Charles answered. Bohler shook his head, obviously dissatisfied. `I thought him', writes Charles, `very uncharitable, saying in my heart, "What, are not my endeavours a sufficient ground of hope? Would he rob me of my endeavours? I have nothing else to trust to!”’

This speaks for itself. Whether or not any work of grace had gone forward in the soul of John, it is clear that Charles, at any rate, is still in darkness. He was a very long, long way as yet from:

Thou, O Christ, art all I want,
More than all in Thee I find.

He had not begun to realize that desperate need which was to wring from his lips the heartbroken cry:

Jesus, Lover of my soul,
Let me to thy bosom fly!

But the day of his redemption was drawing near.

It was upon Charles that the light first broke. On WhitSunday, 1738, he was still desperately ill. He was staying with a Mr. Bray, whose sister, a simple and devout soul, was doing her best to nurse him. All at once it was borne in upon this good woman that she should speak plainly to her guest about the salvation of his soul. She shrank in horror from the suggestion. He was a clergyman: she was but a servant. What right had she to presume so far?

In an outbreak of emotion which almost rendered her voice inaudible, she told her brother of her perplexity. The two prayed together. Mr. Bray then told his sister that she had no option: she must follow the gleam. Trembling under a consciousness of her own unworthiness, she approached the minister's bedside: pointed him to the Saviour; and led him into the life everlasting.

That was on Sunday, May 21, John's deliverance soon followed. For it was on the Wednesday of that same week that John attended the memorable meeting at Aldersgate Street and passed through that transfiguring experience, the record of which has become one of the spiritual landmarks of our history. Charles, of course, was not present: he was still sick in bed. But, as soon as the meeting at Aldersgate Street broke up, John, with a number of kindred spirits, hurried to the bedroom of Charles and excitedly told the good news. Charles made it the occasion of the re-dedication of his own life; and the two brothers, with their friends, sang together the hymn which Charles had written a day or two earlier to celebrate his own conversion, and which I will make my seventh and last exhibit:

Where shall my wondering soul begin?
How shall I all to heaven aspire?
A slave redeemed from death and sin,
A brand plucked from eternal fire,
How shall I equal triumphs raise,
Or sing my great Deliverer's praise?

O how shall I the goodness tell,
Father, which Thou to me hast showed?
That I, a child of wrath and hell,
I should be called a child of God,
Should know, should feel my sins forgiven,
Blest with this antepast of heaven!

And so the work of grace was complete. The two brothers whose names appear on this monument at Westminster Abbey had clasped each other's hands in the brotherhood of the Kingdom of God.


During the years that followed, without any organization or collaboration, these two brothers changed the face of England. They seldom met; they saw little of each other; yet the work of each dovetailed most perfectly with the work of the other. From early morning until late at night, John rode up and down the country, preaching three or four times a day the everlasting Gospel. And, as the consequent revival swept across the land, Charles caught its spirit and perpetuated it in song. He wrote more than six thousand hymns, including Jesus, Lover of My Soul, of which Henry Ward Beecher said that he would rather have written that hymn than enjoy the glory of all the kings that have ever reigned. John set the country weeping, Charles set it singing, and those tears of bitter repentance and those songs of plenteous redemption were the outward and visible evidence of the mightiest spiritual surge in the nation's experience.

Charles Wesley's place in history is typical. Every religious quickening in the history of the ages has immortalized itself in song. To take an illustration from the happenings of our own time, we have forgotten all that Mr. Moody said, but we still sing the hymns that Mr. Sankey taught us. The principle has always held. The spirit of Hebrew devotion lingers in the Book of Psalms; the faith of the early Christians lives in the Te Deum; the choicest life of the medieval monasteries is bequeathed to us in the hymns of men like Bernard of Clairvaux; the age of the Puritans is revived in the stately melody of Milton. And, in the same way, the movement that brought new life to the world in the eighteenth century stands crystallized in the throbbing verse of Charles Wesley. His ministry, as Dr. J. W. Bready says in his Before and After Wesley, his ministry went to the very heart and core of human life. `It pointed the relationship between Earth and Heaven, between Time and Eternity; it radiated an atmosphere of peace and progress; it fostered human fellowship and gladness; it symbolized the triumph of faith and the immortality of the soul. All this was expressed in music at once lyrical, dignified, soulful, and sweet. It gave the English-speaking world its richest heritage of sacred song.' The minstrelsy of Charles Wesley was, in a word, the epoch-making revival set to deathless music.


This explains the mystery that captivated my mind last night as I listened to the people singing:

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 Saviour, hide,
Till the storm of life be past!
Safe into the haven guide,
O receive my soul at last!

Consciously or unconsciously, the people, as they sang the hymn, were caught in the sweep of the tremendous movement that gave it birth, whilst each individual worshipper found it the perfect expression of his own deep need. On the wings of that inspired song tempest-tossed souls find the heavenly shelter that offers perfect peace.

F W Boreham, ‘Jesus, Lover of My Soul’, A Late Lark Singing (London: The Epworth Press, 1945), 99-107.

Words of the Hymn and Tune Aberystwyth

Words of the Hymn and Tune Hollingside

Image: The Wesley Memorial that FWB refers to:

“On 30 March 1876 the Dean of Westminster, Arthur Stanley, unveiled a white marble memorial, by J.Adams-Acton, to Methodists John and Charles Wesley on the wall of the south choir aisle. The profile portraits of the brothers appear in a roundel at the top and below is a relief of John preaching from his father’s tombstone in Epworth churchyard (Lincolnshire) to a large congregation. The top inscription reads:

Two quotations by John follow:

and, at the base, Charles’ words: