History of Hymns: 'Since Jesus Came into My Heart'
By Yvette Lau
“Since Jesus Came into My Heart”
(“What a wonderful change in my life has been wrought”)
By Rufus H. McDaniel
The Faith We Sing, 2140
What a wonderful change in my life has been wrought
Since Jesus came into my heart!
I have light in my soul for which long I have sought,
Since Jesus came into my heart!
Since Jesus came into my heart,
Since Jesus came into my heart,
Floods of joy o'er my soul like the sea billows roll,
Since Jesus came into my heart.
Rufus Henry McDaniel (1850–1940) was ordained to the ministry in the Christian Church (1873). He penned this hymn in 1914 after the tragic loss of his youngest son Herschel in 1913. Composing the text of this uplifting and jubilant gospel hymn was his way of honoring the memory of his son (Cottrill, 2010). Composed in the first-person singular, McDaniel’s testimony becomes the personal salvation experience of all who sing this gospel hymn. The author sets the succinct hook phrase—“since Jesus came into my heart”—twice in each stanza. He repeats this hook, alternating with other lines of text to form each stanza, three times in the refrain. Thus, singers will affirm this signature phrase twenty-five times over the course of the hymn!
McDaniel’s poem sets out a scripture-based drama in five scenes along a timeline that stretches from the past to future. The refrain anchors each stanza. The first scene (stanza 1) describes the dramatic change in the Christian’s life (2 Corinthian 5:17) when experiencing “light in my soul.” Scene two (stanza 2) rejoices in the dramatic ending to a wandering life (1 Peter 2:25), culminating in the “wash[ing] away” of sins (Acts 22:16). The author effectively reinforces the “water” imagery with the phrase “floods of joy o’er my soul like sea billows roll” in the refrain. The third scene (stanza 3), echoing stanza 1, expresses the abiding hope that “no dark clouds of doubt” will obscure the singer’s journey (1 Thessalonians 1:3). Scene four (stanza 4), maintaining the journey theme, offers a light of hope on the pathway from the valley of death (Psalm 23:4) to the gates of the City (Hebrews 11:16) ahead. The final scene (stanza 5) provides an eschatological glimpse of dwelling in that City (Revelation 21:2). The singer who completes this journey is “happy, so happy”—note the deliberate use of repetition, plus an emphasis of the word “so”—echoing the “floods of joy” in the refrain.
The hymn tune MCDANIEL contributes to a perfect marriage to the text. The tune, composed by an established gospel hymn composer and editor Charles H. Gabriel (1856–1932), consists of two contrasting rhythmic patterns. The non-hook phrases are sung to lyrical, upward-moving, stepwise scaling melodies with a simple rhythmic pattern. The phrases with the repeated textual hook use a contrasting syncopated rhythm. The use of these contrasting rhythmic styles makes the “hooking effect” more memorable. The ascending final two measures of each stanza anticipate the refrain by employing the only chromatic melodic tones. Each stanza concludes on the highest pitch with a fermata, producing a dramatic anticipation of the refrain. This fermata at the end of each stanza is an invitation to all the singers: “are you ready to sing your testimony with robust and passionate voice?” The proclamation is sure and spirited!
Gabriel became one of the most popular gospel song composers during the urban crusades of the 1910s led by Billy Sunday (William Ashley Sunday, 1862–1935) and Homer Rodeheaver (1880–1955). These evangelical revival meetings usually incorporated an element of fanfare-like entertainment especially when “Rodeheaver, a natural showman, warmed his audience with jokes and directed choirs and congregations with his trombone” (Homer Rodeheaver, Wikipedia). Originally, McDaniel sent this poem along with five others to Gabriel. He thought that Gabriel had rejected his texts, but Gabriel set the song to music (Mathews, 2016).
According to Donald P. Hustad, author of Dictionary Handbook to Hymns for the Living Church, the hymn first appeared in pamphlet form and was introduced to the Billy Sunday campaign in Philadelphia in 1915 by Gabriel and Rodeheaver (Hustad, 1978, pp. 103–104). However, author David Music states that the hymn was published earlier in Message in Song Number 1 and 2 (Philadelphia, 1914, No. 55), compiled by Arthur S. Magann, Charles F. Allen, and John P. Hillis (Music, 1992, p. 270). This song appeared that same year in Hymns of the Heart (Methodist Book Concern, 1914, No. 44), edited by Gabriel and others. Hustad notes that this song had become so popular that Rodeheaver later purchased the manuscript and published it in his Songs for Service (1915) [Hustad, 1978, p. 104].
McDaniel expressed regret for not entering into the field of hymn writing earlier in his career, but he had a great passion for leading song services (Gabriel, 1916, p. 66). Though he wrote about one hundred hymns, “Since Jesus Came into My Heart” stands out as his most popular and beloved hymn, having been included in at least 224 hymnals (according to hymnary.org). Within a year of its publication, it became “the song of the day” (Gabriel, 1916, p. 67). One account testifies that a police officer in Philadelphia named Fowler was converted because of this song while he was on duty during one of the evangelistic meetings. The officer, in turn, then led over a hundred of his fellow colleagues to follow Christ (Cottrill, 2011). Gabriel records that “many thousands” of new converts gathered at the train station to bid farewell to Billy Sunday after a meeting in Des Moines, Iowa, by singing this song, changing the words to “Since Jesus came into my home!” (Gabriel, 1916, p. 67)
This testimonial poem is not some quick sparkling firework celebration of faith but the testimony of an authentic Christian journey of faith with a clear spiritual vision of God’s salvation and kingdom. This hymn vividly mirrors the author’s vision for crafting hymns:
The old desire for hymn writing has lately been around. I feel in my soul that God has something for me to do in brightening the experience of struggling souls. My chief desire is to be a blessing, if possible, to my fellow-men through these hymns and thereby glorify God in the name of his dear son “whose I am and whom I serve.” (Gabriel, 1916, p. 67)
“Since Jesus Came into My Heart” appears in collections for evangelical faith traditions in the UK and USA, including a number of African American hymnals. It is particularly popular in Asia, where it appears in Chinese-speaking contexts, especially among Baptists (Century Praise, Hong Kong, 2001) and Christian Missionary Alliance congregations (Hymns of Life, Hong Kong, 1986), and in mainland China (The New Hymnal, 1983). It appears in the Korean-English Hymnal (Seoul, 2010) as well as in the Indonesian Bahasa-Chinese hymnal, Kidung Puji-Pujian Kristen (Malang, 1976).
Numerous YouTube videos indicate the hymn’s popularity with gospel quartets. Others reveal that this hymn is loved worldwide. Some examples are below:
- The Call to the Mountain Top (Singing group from Meghalaya, India): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LHNeBDHPUSg
- Collingsworth Family (Southern Gospel/Inspirational group, USA): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F0Eq7yK6eLU
- The Statler Brothers (Country music, gospel, and vocal quartet group, USA) : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WAmkqRH4AJY
- Jim Hill, Jack Toney, Jimmy Blackwood, Dean Hopper (Gaither Vocal Band with audience singing): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eoCC1NjIHPE
- Youth Hymn (Cantonese version): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9HdONl-OLLA
- Charis Chua (Mandarin Version, Malaysia): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MPmGopzelbM
SOURCES AND FURTHER READING:
Michael Boutot, 2012, “Hymn History: Since Jesus Came Into My Life,” (posted November 15, 2012), http://hishymnhistory.blogspot.com/2012/11/since-jesus-came-into-my-heart.html (assessed January 5, 2021).
Robert Cottrill, 2010, “(2) Today in 1940 – Rufus McDaniel Died,” Wordwise Hymns, (posted February 13, 2010), https://wordwisehymns.com/2010/02/13/today-in-1881-eleanor-farjeon-born/ (assessed January 5, 2021).
Robert Cottrill, 2011, “Since Jesus Came into My Heart,” Wordwise Hymns, (posted August 15, 2011), https://wordwisehymns.com/2011/08/15/since-jesus-came-into-my-heart/ (assessed January 5, 2021).
Harry Eskew, n.d. “Gospel Songs and Hymns, USA,” The Canterbury Dictionary of Hymnology, Canterbury Press, http://www.hymnology.co.uk.proxy.libraries.smu.edu/g/gospel-songs-and-hymns,-usa (accessed January 4, 2021).
John Fea, 2014, “Homer Rodeheaver: ‘Since Jesus Came Into My Heart.’” (posted April 26, 2014), https://thewayofimprovement.com/2014/04/26/homer-rodeheaver-since-jesus-came-into-my-heart/ (assessed February 6, 2021).
Charles H. Gabriel, The Singers and their Songs: Sketches of Living Gospel Hymn Writers (Chicago; Philadelphia: The Rodeheaver Company, 1916), https://archive.org/details/singerstheirsong00gabr/page/66/mode/2up (accessed February 10, 2021).
Donald P. Hustad, Dictionary Handbook to Hymns for the Living Church (Illinois: Hope Publishing Company, 1978).
Diana Leagh Matthews, 2016, “Hymn Story: Since Jesus Came into My Heart,” (posted November 6, 2016), http://dianaleaghmatthews.com/since-jesus-came-heart/#.YCDsWegzbIV (assessed January 5, 2021).
David Music, “What a Wonderful Change 441,” Handbook to the Baptist Hymnal, ed. Jere Adams (Nashville: Convention Press, 1991).
Bert Polman, Richard Watson J. and Carlton Young, n.d. “Charles Hutchinson Gabriel,” The Canterbury Dictionary of Hymnology Canterbury Press, http://www.hymnology.co.uk.proxy.libraries.smu.edu/c/charles-hutchinson-gabriel (accessed January 4, 2021).
“Homer Rodeheaver,” Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Homer_Rodeheaver (assessed February 6, 2021).
“Since Jesus Came into My Heart,” n.d. Inspiration Ministries, https://inspiration.org/daily-devotional/since-jesus-came-into-my-heart/ (assessed January 5, 2021).
Yvette Lau is a worship pastor and consultant in the Christian Missionary Alliance Church in Hong Kong where she is the director of the Anabas Ministry. She translates hymns into Cantonese and worship texts into Chinese. A graduate of the worship program at Calvin Theological Seminary, where she studied with John Witvliet, she is a candidate in the doctor of pastoral music program at Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University, where she studies hymnology with C. Michael Hawn.