Hymn Story

I Heard the Voice of Jesus Say

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I Heard the Voice of Jesus Say

Andrew Bonar (1808-1889) was a clergyman in the Church of Scotland.  He came from a long line of clergy, and two of his brothers were also clergy.  A prolific author, he wrote a number of books and hymns.  Of his hymns, two—”I Heard the Voice of Jesus Say” and “Blessing and Honour and Glory and Power” are still being sung today.

Stop and consider that for a moment.  Bonar wrote “I Heard the Voice” two centuries ago, but it continues to speak to people’s hearts today.  Bonar died before automobiles were invented—airplanes—phones—photography—and a million more things that we consider essential today.  His was a world of teaming cities where most people lived in appalling conditions—and villages where people tended small plots of ground to feed themselves.  It is a world so far removed from our world today that it is difficult for us to imagine—and the people of Bonar’s day couldn’t, in their wildest dreams, have anticipated the world in which we live today.

But Bonar’s hymns continue to minister to people who use cell phones to pay bills—and cash checks—and text—etc., etc., etc.  In other words, the old, old promise of these hymns still speaks to our hearts—because, while everything around us has changed, our spiritual needs are very much like those of people in Bonar’s day.  He says:

I heard the voice of Jesus say,
“Come unto Me and rest;
Lay down, thou weary one, lay down
Thy head upon My breast.”

I came to Jesus as I was,
Weary and worn and sad;
I found in Him a resting place,
And He has made me glad.

And we respond, “Thank you, Jesus.  I am so weary––so in need of rest.  Thank you for your promise.  Thank you for providing a resting place.  Thank you for making me glad.”

Bonar’s words have endured so long because (1) they speak to our human needs and (2) are rooted in the promises of scripture:

• God, speaking through the prophet Isaiah, said:

Come, everyone who thirsts, to the waters!
Come, he who has no money, buy, and eat!
Yes, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.
Why do you spend money for that which is not bread?
And your labor for that which doesn’t satisfy?
Listen diligently to me, and eat you that which is good,
and let your soul delight itself in fatness.
Turn your ear, and come to me;
hear, and your soul shall live (Isaiah 55:1-3).

• But the hymn has its most direct roots in the words of Jesus himself.  Jesus promised:

“Come to me, all you who labor and are heavily burdened,
and I will give you rest.
Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me,
for I am gentle and lowly in heart;
and you will find rest for your souls.
For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light”
(Matthew 11:28-30).

And Bonar’s hymn is enduring, because we have seen Jesus’ promise fulfilled.  We have seen people who, at the precipice, have turned to Jesus—and have found rest for their souls.  We have experienced it personally.  We have come to him in the dark night of the soul, and found light—and comfort—and peace.  We know that Jesus’ promise is true, because we have been there and done that.

So let us hear the voice of Jesus say:

“Come unto Me and rest;
Lay down, thou weary one, lay down
Thy head upon My breast.”

And let us find our peace in him.

And let us proclaim far and wide that Jesus has the answers to people’s deepest needs.

Copyright 2015, Richard Niell Donovan

Scripture quotations from the World English Bible.