I Need Thee, Precious Jesus

The Need of Jesus
Frederick Whitfield, 1855
Addressed to Jesus
I need thee, precious Jesus,Luke 10:42; Phil. 4:19; 1 Pet. 2:7 (KJV)
   for I am full of sin;Jer. 17:9; Matt. 15:19
my soul is dark and guilty,Deut. 28:29; Ps. 25:11; Jer. 4:22
   my heart is dead within.Ps. 61:2
I need the cleansing fountainZech. 13:1
   where I can always flee,Heb. 7:25
the blood of Christ most precious,1 John 1:7
   the sinner’s perfect plea.1 John 2:1–2
I need thee, precious Jesus,
   for I am very poor;Ps. 74:21; Rev. 3:17
a stranger and a pilgrim,1 Chron. 29:15; Heb. 11:13; 1 Pet. 1:1
   I have no earthly store.Matt. 6:19; Luke 12:20; 1 Tim. 6:7
I need the love of JesusPhil. 2:1
   to cheer me on my way,
to guide my doubting footsteps,Luke 1:79; John 10:4; 1 Pet. 2:25
   to be my strength and stay.2 Cor. 12:9
I need thee, precious Jesus,
   and hope to see thee soon,Luke 19:4; John 17:24; Rev. 1:1
encircled with the rainbowRev. 4:3
   and seated on thy throne.Luke 1:32; Rev. 3:21; 7:17
There, with thy blood-bought children,Acts 20:28; Rev. 7:14
   my joy shall ever be,Matt. 25:21; John 16:22; Rev. 19:7
to sing my Jesus’ praises,Phil. 3:3; Rev. 22:3
   to gaze, O Lord, on thee.Ps. 27:4; 2 Cor. 4:6; Rev. 22:4

Congregations who sing this hymn appreciate that it gets straight to the point, in words blunt but clear, since would-be worshippers burdened by sin cannot afford to beat around the bush. We need diction as plain as this hymn’s to confess our spiritual poverty with childlike candor and with no shade of self-pity or sullenness. The first reason we need Jesus is because we are “full of sin.” The effect is perfect, especially when joined to a tune as gentle as MEIRIONYDD—with its descending stepwise eight-notes, the medium-low range of most of its notes, and its transparent AAB form. A congregation with both “God Be Merciful to Me” and “I Need Thee, Precious Jesus” in its repertoire of hymns of confession will, between the thoroughness of the one and the brevity of the other, be prepared for any liturgical contingency. The latter even includes its own assurance of pardon, as we fix our attention, at the close of the first stanza, on the perfection of Christ’s priestly work on behalf of sinners.

But we need Jesus for more than justification. This little hymn, for all its apparent artlessness, is systematic in confessing our need for Jesus along the entire way of salvation. Stanza 2 says that sanctification, too, is a work of God in Jesus—the fruit of our union with Christ (John 15:4; Gal. 2:20). Sanctification being a temporal process or journey, the overarching theme of neediness naturally suggests the biblical picture of the stranger-pilgrim tramping in a foreign land—encouraged, comforted, strengthened, and supported by Jesus. Even at our glorification, according to stanza 3, it will be in Jesus that we see God face to face, find full satisfaction in him, and rejoice in him.

The poet knew his craft. We move, through metaphors of cleansing and journey, from darkness at the beginning to sight and light (rainbow) at the end. The first-line refrain carefully prepares us for its last word, “Jesus,” warming our mouths to the “ee” sound of the first syllable with “need” and “thee” (the sensitive singer will feel it even in the dipthong “I”—say it slowly—“ah-ee”) and to the schwa of the second syllable with the “-cious” of “precious.” The next fifteen lines work their way through three alliterative clusters of five lines each (for–full–fountain–flee; precious–perfect–plea–poor–pilgrim; store–steps–strength–stay). The most striking sounds in stanza 3, however, despite “blood-bought,” are vowels rather than consonants: the resonant, long o sounds that chime the key words in lines 2–4 (hope–rainbow–throne) and, best of all, the long a sounds in Whitfield’s evocation of the beatific vision (praise–gaze).