Text: Annabelle Catherine Hankey (1834-1911). Tune: William G. Fischer (1835-1912)
1. I love to tell the story Of unseen things above, Of Jesus and his glory, Of Jesus and his love. I love to tell the story Because I know 'tis true; It satisfies my longings As nothing else could do. R/I love to tell the story; 'Twill be my theme in glory To tell the old, old story Of Jesus and his love.
2. I love to tell the story; More wonderful it seems Than all the golden fancies Of all our golden dreams. I love to tell the story, It did so much for me; And that is just the reason I tell it now to thee. R/
3. I love to tell the story; 'Tis pleasant to repeat What seems, each time I tell it, More wonderfully sweet. I love to tell the story,
For some have never heard The message of salvation From God's own holy Word. R/
4. I love to tell the story, For those who know it best Seem hungering and thirsting To hear it like the rest. And when in scenes of glory I sing the new, new song, 'Twill be the old, old story That I have loved so long. R/
Many years ago, just after graduating from college, I saw a film on missions. One of the people in it who had been reached by a missionary with the Gospel spoke about her conversion. She talked about the idea of Jesus and how much it had meant to her and changed her. It struck me. I am sure she had a close relationship with Jesus, but her choice of word seemed off. We do not teach an idea. We teach a person: Jesus, whose story began long before Creation, who became flesh to live with us, and be with us, and show us who God is. In our worship, our educational programs, in the sweep of the church year, it is the life story of Jesus we tell. It begins for most people at Christmas with the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem as a living baby in flesh and blood, his life on earth and his teachings, with his giving of himself on the cross, his death and resurrection. He in himself gives people reason to believe in him.
Telling his story is what Jesus commands us to do in his Great Commission: "teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you." To do that you have to tell his story. I have often marveled at Jesus’ ability to teach and make his lessons stick. He didn’t give us ideas: he gave us parables, sayings that are memorable, his own life and actions, how to celebrate the Lord’s Supper. Take this, he says of the bread and wine. Eat, Drink. Do this, he says. We follow him by doing what he did or marking what he did.
The remarkable thing is that anyone can do these things. From the little child to a grandparent. They can teach the life of Jesus to others without a formal education. Think of it—most of his disciples were simple fishermen or laborers. And yet, as they told his story wherever they went, people came to faith. It changed the entire world. All Jesus asks us to do is tell his story: his life, death and resurrection to others, in language that anyone can understand. He will do the rest.
Telling the story was the passion of my preacher father. We never had friends home without him asking where they went to Sunday School. The day after my father had suffered the heart attack that he would die of in a few days, we left him in the care of a night nurse in the hospital, with strict instructions to call us if anything seemed to change. He was clearly failing, his speech somewhat garbled. The next morning when I got there early to hear from her how things had gone, she said, "We have had Bible study all night. I am going to have to go home and make things right in my life."
The good news we have to share gives life. We just have to tell it so people hear it. Not only to those who are hearing it for the first time, but also, as the song says, "those who know it best/seem hungering and thirsting/ to hear it like the rest." Each time it seems more and more wonderful. Praise God!
Annabelle Catherine Hankey, (Kate) the daughter of a wealthy English banker, was an active member of the Clapham Sect, which had been led by William Wilberforce (1759-1833). Wilberforce was the great opponent of slavery. Although the slave trade had been abolished in the British Empire by Parliament in 1833, the year before Hankey was born, abolition still needed support--in fact, slavery remains a terrible scourge in the world today.
Wilberforce and the Clapham Sect vigorously supported missionary efforts around the world and to that end established the British and Foreign Bible Society. They knew that when people heard or read Scripture, they would be changed by it. Hankey worked to teach the Bible during her long life. As a Bible teacher of young working girls in London she taught them about Jesus. She was also active in other works to bring the gospel of Jesus to others, visiting the sick and supporting mission projects with the profits from her writings.
In the early part of the 1860s she went to South Africa as a nurse where she intended to serve. She became quite ill which led to her being bed ridden for many years. During her convalescence she wrote a long poem on the life of Jesus: the first fifty stanzas asking about Jesus, and the second fifty giving the answer. From that came her two most well-known hymns, “I love to tell the story,” and “Tell me the Old, Old Story.”
Hankey could write tunes as well, and set this hymn, as did another well-known composer, but the tune that made it popular was this tune by William Fischer. He was like many other writers of gospel music at the time associated with Dwight Moody and Ira Sankey. After he set the text to this tune, and it was sung at their gatherings, it became popular and well loved throughout the world. It is one of the most frequently printed mission hymns in the hymnals around the world.
LINKS First Plymouth Church Lincoln Nebraska https://youtu.be/onJLwQS8dR0
Chris Rupp a Cappella https://youtu.be/OPtzKT-JLw0
Dordt College Choir/Gospel version https://youtu.be/JDPXRxTdFmM