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History of Hymns: “Here, O my Lord, I See Thee”

by Laura Bertwell

"Here, O my Lord, I See Thee"
Horatius Bonar
The United Methodist Hymnal, No. 623

Horatius Bonar

“Here, O my Lord, I see Thee face to face;
Here would I touch and handle things unseen;
Here grasp with firmer hand eternal grace,
And all my weariness upon Thee lean.”


Horatius Bonar (1808-1899) is the best-known hymn writer from the Free Church of Scotland. He was devoted to ministry and scholarship, and wrote many evangelical tracts and devotionals. 

Born on Dec. 19, 1808 in Edinburgh, Scotland, Bonar was welcomed into a family with a long line of ministers who served 364 years in the Church of Scotland. He was educated at the University of Edinburgh, studied under the Rev. John Lewis at St. James in Leitn and was ordained to be minister at North Parish at Kelso. 

During the “Disruption” in 1843, the evangelicals, including Bonar, pulled out of the national Church of Scotland to form the Free Church of Scotland. After 27 years at Kelso, Bonar moved to Chalmers Memorial Church in Edinburgh, a church that was erected for Dr. Thomas Chalmers, his friend and leader of the Free Church movement in Scotland. 

In 1883, he was elected the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Free Church of Scotland. 

Bonar’s hymns truly convey both subjective emotion and a personal grasp of divine truth that he gleaned through his biblical studies and constant prayer life: a free and universal divine grace and communion with God through the Eucharist. 

The poet’s output included 600 hymns, many of which were widely accepted in Scotland and beyond. Four are still in regular use: “I heard the voice of Jesus say,” “Here, O My Lord, I see Thee,” “Blessings and Honor” and “I Lay My Sins on Jesus.” 

Bonar died in Edinburgh on July 31, 1889 at the age of 81 and was buried in the Conangate Churchyard. 

Bonar’s older brother John James Bonar was a pastor at St. Andrews Free Church in Greenock, Scotland. After each communion service, J. J. Bonar would produce a service leaflet with hymns attached. He asked Horatius to compose a hymn, which was printed in the leaflet for the first Sunday in October 1855 under the title, “This do in Remembrance of Me.” 

The original hymn, with 11 stanzas, was included in Bonar’s hymnbook Hymns of Faith and Hope (1857). The original stanzas are still in use in many hymnals, including The Hymnal 1982, Hymns Ancient and Modern, The Lutheran Book of Worship and The United Methodist Hymnal. Of the original 11 stanzas, the majority of the current hymnbooks, including The United Methodist Hymnal, include four to five. 

This communion hymn is filled with Eucharist images: partaking in the “Bread of God” and “wine of heaven” suggest a sense of “the burden of sin removed.” The elements point beyond themselves to a greater reality as we sing the paradox of communion—a time when we “touch and handle things unseen.” 

Bonar’s emotional vision of Jesus as a personal and loving friend is conveyed through his language:

“I have no help but Thine; nor do I need,
Another arm save Thine to lean upon;
It is enough, my Lord, enough indeed;
My strength is in Thy might, Thy might alone.”


The last stanza strongly expresses an eschatological vision. Hymnologist Albert Bailey comments in his book The Gospel in Hymns, “These recurring feasts hint at the eternal feast in heaven when the marriage of the Lamb and His bride the Church will be celebrated.” 

Bonar, a celebrated Scottish poet and preacher, will be remembered for the wonderful imagery in his hymns and his devotion to ministry. The stanza that most fittingly comments on his life and ministry is one that illustrates his utter dependence on and trust in God:

“Jesus, O Son of God, I build
on what Thy cross has done for me;
there both my death and life I read;
my guilt, my pardon there I see.”


 

Ms. Bertwell is a student of Dr. Michael Hawn and a candidate for the master of sacred music degree at Perkins School of Theology.

Categories: History of Hymns