Today’s Word from Trinity Keyboardist Sheila Weidendorf…

This tender and much beloved hymn was composed – both tune and text – by Will Lamartine Thompson, (1847-1909). Thompson had composed many pieces for the commercial market but didn’t find a publisher to accept his works. A composer of sacred, secular and patriotic songs, Thompson then founded his own publishing house. This hymn was published in 1880 in his two-volume collection entitled Sparkling Gems. Softly and Tenderly has since made its way into 782 hymnals! Popular late 19th century evangelist Dwight L. Moody is reported to have said to Thompson – and on his deathbed, no less – “I would rather have written Softy and Tenderly, Jesus is Calling than anything I have been able to do in my whole life.” High praise, indeed, and the motivation Thompson needed to devote his life to writing/composing thereafter.

Softly and tenderly Jesus is calling,
Calling for you and for me;
See, on the portals He’s waiting and watching,
Watching for you and for me.

Why should we tarry when Jesus is pleading,
Pleading for you and for me?
Why should we linger and heed not His mercies,
Mercies for you and for me?

Time is now fleeting, the moments are passing,
passing from you and from me;
shadows are gathering, deathbeds are coming,
coming for you and for me.

O for the wonderful love He has promised,
Promised for you and for me!
Though we have sinned, He has mercy and pardon,
Pardon for you and for me.

Come home, come home,
Ye who are weary, come home;
Earnestly, tenderly, Jesus is calling,
Calling, O sinner, come home!

Some hymns turn the believer’s attention upward to heaven, or to the Great Someday when suffering shall cease and all shall be well for the faithful. Other hymns join the people of God in verses of praise or thanksgiving. Some hymns gather up the community of believers in common concern or call to rightful action. Softly and Tenderly is a different kind of hymn altogether. Along with others of its general tone and tenor, such as, “Just As I Am,” or “In the Garden,” Softly and Tenderly draws the attention to a very personal and conversational level.

Today’s hymn is more akin to a loving parent calling a child to their arms after some misdeed with an assurance of unwavering love, or a concerned friend offering assurance to another that forgiveness of any wrongs and the tender mercies of God’s unfailing love are readily available. When thirsty, the parched soul only needs ask and all thirst could be quenched. God the Almighty, omnipotent and omniscient, becomes a personalized and immediate God – the caring friend, the tender mother, the constant beloved. The latter 1800s saw many a hymn (and corollary theology) like this, sometimes with an exaggeratedly personalized – even lapsing into romanticized – view of Jesus.

This era was known as the “Third Great Awakening” in Protestant America (the later 1800s and into the 20th century). In its greater expression, this “awakening” began with a personal relationship with Jesus, then turned outward in individual acts and a collective movement toward social justice. In accepting the mercies of Christ, the believer becomes like Christ and then turns the Christian commitment into good works for the greater good – the micro becoming the macro and a far cry from the image of a distant and angry god meting out only judgment. Knowing the direct, tender, personal love of God, the believer becomes more like God and can then turn that love outward in doing good for others. Arising out of this “awakening” era was the revival movement across the nation, the Women’s Temperance Movement (and its pleas for prohibition) and even the Suffragette movement.

Please enjoy my organ improvisation on Softly and Tenderly, Jesus is Calling, by clicking HERE!

Sheila Weidendorf