This article first appeared in the September 2017 issue of the parish magazine. You can read it again here:
This is one of my favourite hymns, learned at High Down County Junior School, Portishead, back in the 1970s, and always sung with gusto by everyone present. I never quite understood who Julie was, nor why I should hope to follow her (see v5, line 3!) In fact, there were quite a lot of phrases that I didn’t fully understand, but I knew that I liked the sound of the words, that Jesus was my friend, and that it was a cracking good tune to sing.
- O Jesus, I have promised To serve Thee to the end;
- Be Thou forever near me, My Master and my Friend;
- I shall not fear the battle If Thou art by my side,
- Nor wander from the pathway If Thou wilt be my Guide.
- Oh, let me feel Thee near me; The world is ever near;
- I see the sights that dazzle, The tempting sounds I hear;
- My foes are ever near me, Around me and within;
- But, Jesus, draw Thou nearer, And shield my soul from sin.
- Oh, let me hear Thee speaking, In accents clear and still,
- Above the storms of passion, The murmurs of self-will;
- Oh, speak to reassure me, To hasten, or control;
- Oh, speak, and make me listen, Thou Guardian of my soul.
- O Jesus, Thou hast promised To all who follow Thee
- That where Thou art in glory There shall Thy servant be;
- And Jesus, I have promised To serve Thee to the end;
- Oh, give me grace to follow, My Master and my Friend.
- Oh, let me see Thy footmarks, And in them plant mine own;
- My hope to follow duly Is in Thy strength alone.
- Oh, guide me, call me, draw me, Uphold me to the end;
- And then to rest receive me, My Saviour and my Friend.
Naturally, I assumed that I had learned the only tune to this hymn. Not so! I was put right on that score when I joined the choir at St Margaret’s, where the preferred tune is “Wolvercote”, and “my” tune was dismissed as being in poor taste. And so it continued until June of this year.
In May 2017, this hymn was chosen for one of the regular Sunday morning services. During the preceding week, Misha, our new pianist, messaged me to ask which of the three tunes he should practice playing. Three tunes? I took a look in Hymns Old and New.
I didn’t recognise the first tune at all, tune two was Wolvercote, and tune three was the modern one. I replied to Misha that although my personal preference was for tune three, tune two is usually used at St Margaret’s. He agreed that tune three is livelier, but prepared tune two for the service.
The following month St Margaret’s hosted a large confirmation service. Our church was packed, with many young people and their families present. Quite by chance, Rev Deborah had chosen some of my favourite Hymns, including this one, and Tom played my tune! What a treat it was for me!
I have written previously about how music is a fundamental element of worship for me, and that many people can get quite upset about the “wrong” choices of Hymns and their tunes. It turns out though that there is no “right” tune for any hymn; it’s just that sometimes we are each more familiar with different versions, and we should tolerate and respect each other’s preferences. If we can manage tolerance and respect of others’ choices in regard to music, then we have a firm platform from which to begin to understand, tolerate, respect and accept others’ choices in other areas of society – such as faith and politics.
There are many possible tunes that could be used for O Jesus I Have Promised. You can listen to my modern tune here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aNz-33V1V8A, and to Wolvercote here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SHXR-6Se7xA.
For interest, I recently discovered this blog post by Paul Newbury about the diversity of tunes for much loved Hymns – you might like to take a look: https://paulwalternewbury.wordpress.com/2011/05/29/different-tunes-for-much-loved-hymns/
2020 EDIT: You can sing along with our Lockdown version of this hymn here: