Home History of Hymns: "Living for Jesus" pledges full commitment to Christ

History of Hymns: "Living for Jesus" pledges full commitment to Christ

“Living for Jesus”
Thomas O. Chisholm
The Faith We Sing, No. 2149

Living for Jesus a life that is true, striving to please him in all that I do,
yielding allegiance, glad-hearted and free, this is the pathway of blessing for me.

O Jesus, Lord and Savior, I give myself to thee, for thou, in thy atonement, didst give thyself for me;
I own no other master, my heart shall be thy throne, my life I give, henceforth to live,
O Christ, for thee alone.

A native of a small Kentucky town, Thomas Obadiah Chisholm (1866-1960) lacked formal education. Nevertheless he became a teacher at age 16 and associate editor of his hometown weekly newspaper, the Franklin Advocate, at age 21.

In 1893 Chisholm became a Christian through the ministry of Henry Clay Morrison, the founder of Asbury College and Seminary, Wilmore, Ky. Morrison persuaded Chisholm to move to Louisville where he became editor of the Pentecostal Herald. Though he was ordained a Methodist minister in 1903, he served only a single, brief appointment at Scottsville, Ky., due to ill health.

Chisholm relocated his family to Winona Lake, Ind., to recover, and then in 1916 to Vineland, N.J., where he sold insurance. By the time of his retirement he had written over 1,200 poems, 800 of which were published in a number of periodicals such as The Sunday School Times, Moody Monthly and Alliance Weekly. Many of these were set to music.

Thomas Obadiah Chisholm, author of “Living for Jesus”

The late hymnologist William J. Reynolds noted that this gospel song started with the tune:

“C. Harold Lowden [1883-1963] composed the tune about 1915, and it was first published under the title ‘Sunshine Song’ in a Children’s Day Service that he wrote. Early in 1917, while preparing a collection of hymns for publication, he came across this song and was impressed that the tune needed a stronger text. He substituted ‘Living for Jesus’ for the original title and sent the tune to Thomas O. Chisholm, then living at Winona Lake, Indiana for a new text.”

Even though Chisholm protested that he had never written a text for a pre-existing tune, Lowden insisted, telling the author that he “believed God had led me to select him” to provide a text for this music. Within a short time, Chisholm returned the tune with four stanzas and a refrain.

The hymn appeared as a separate song sheet in the spring of 1917, and was used at a number of youth conferences that summer. More than a million copies of the hymn were sold in this form. By the fall the hymn appeared in a collection compiled by Lowden and Rufus W. Miller entitled Uplifting Songs.

As in most gospel songs, the theme may be found in the refrain. The refrain stresses personal commitment to Jesus Christ because of what he did for us through his atonement. This commitment is total as the singer “own[s] no other master” than Christ, who sits on the “throne” of our heart.

The stanzas provide further insight as to the nature of this commitment. In stanza one, we “strive . . . to please him in all that [we] do” and offer “allegiance, glad-hearted and free.”

Stanza two states that we are responding to Christ’s atonement on Calvary and that “such love constrains [us] to answer his call.” Stanza three emphasizes that it is our “duty . . . to suffer affliction or loss . . . [as] a part of [our] cross.”

The final stanza points us toward the ultimate goal of heaven as we live “through earth’s little while.” We claim “the light of his smile” as our “dearest treasure.” Our task is to “bring . . . the weary to find rest in Christ.”

Like most gospel songs, the message is exclusively Christological. Our mission is to bring the lost ones to Christ and, in doing so, submit totally to him. Hymnologist Kenneth Osbeck suggests that the biblical basis for this song may be found in the famous passage, Romans 12:1-2, beginning with “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice. . . .”

Chisholm once stated his purpose for writing songs: “I have sought to be true to the Word, and to avoid flippant and catchy titles and treatment. I have greatly desired that each hymn or people might have some definite message to the hearts for whom it was written.”

Chisholm, resisting writing a text to a pre-existing tune, had protested that “he didn’t have the slightest idea as to the method used in writing words to music.” The result, however, was a song by the author second in popularity only to his renowned “Great Is Thy Faithfulness.”

Dr. Hawn is professor of sacred music at Perkins School of Theology.

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