Hymn History: “I Must Tell Jesus”

2 min

The poor, ill woman had seen many afflictions. The pastor, Elisha Hoffman, was known for his compassion for the destitute and those literally from the poorer side of town. As he visited this suffering lady, she wearily unburdened her heart to him. She looked to him in pain and discouragement and begged of him, “What shall I do? What shall I do?”

How well the pastor understood her pain and sorrows! His own life had been touched with deep sorrow when his young wife had died several years earlier. With tenderness and heartfelt empathy, he prayed with the suffering woman. He shared specific Scriptures to comfort her. Then he added, “You
cannot do better than to take all of your sorrows to Jesus. You must tell Jesus!”

Her eyes lit up as she exclaimed, “Yes! I must tell Jesus!”

Pastor Hoffman later recorded: “As I left her home I had a vision of that joy-illuminated face . . . and I heard all along my pathway the echo, ‘I must tell Jesus. . . I must tell Jesus.’”

Once home, the pastor wrote down those words and the lines they inspired. From burdens to troubles to temptations, over and over the refrain answered: “I must tell Jesus!” Pastor Hoffman’s hymn proclaims the loving compassion of Christ. Similarly, Pastor Hoffman’s Christlike concern for others is a wonderful illustration of the operational definition of compassion, which is “investing whatever is necessary to heal the hurts of others.” He recognized those in helpless situations, visiting and listening when people shared their woes with him. He was ready to be involved to help the hurting and downcast as God enabled him. He understood God’s merciful compassion, having experienced it deeply with his own painful, personal loss. 

Pastor Elisha Hoffman not only wrote the words to this particular hymn, but he also composed the tune. He named the tune “Orwigsburg,” which is the name of the small Pennsylvania town where he was born in 1839. Pastor Hoffman also wrote many other hymns and their tunes. By the time he died at the age of ninety, he had penned over 2,000 hymns! 

The next time you don’t know what to say or do to encourage someone, remember these words from the hymn: “Jesus can help me, Jesus alone.” Ask Jesus to enable you to have compassion for the hurting, the poor, and the lonely. He is willing and able to answer your prayer to help heal the hurts of others.

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