Text and Tune: Nils Frykman (1842-1911)
1. I have a friend who loveth me,
He gave His life on Calvary;
Upon the cross my sins He bore,
And I am saved forevermore.
R/Oh, hallelujah, He’s my friend,
He guides me to the journey’s end,
He walks beside me all the way,
And gives to me a crown some day.
2. My Savior’s love so full and free
Doth light the weary way for me;
It fills with joy each passing day
And drives my sorrows all away.
3. I have a friend, a mighty friend,
Upon His power I may depend;
He reigneth over every land,
O’er valley, hill, on sea and strand.
4. O brother, join us in our song!
This friend to you would fain belong;
Tho’ far from what you’d like to be,
His grace sufficient is for thee.
I see her standing beside a piano in a small country church singing this song in her light sweet mezzo. My mother loved singing this as a solo at evening services in our country congregations and during other small gatherings around God's Word. It was a comfort to her. She had lost her mother as a small child and craved friendship. Although her father and aunts and uncles loved her and raised her in a warm and loving home, she also had close friends whom she loved and kept close her entire life. It was the model for her understanding of Jesus as her friend. She spent every morning from her late teens until her death with him in devotion. When she was dying, all I could think of was that she was going home to be with her best friend.
When Jesus in his farewell discourses tells the disciples to love one another as he has loved them, we kind of know what he means. But when he tells them that he thinks of them, not as servants, but as friends, he is saying something easy and difficult to fathom. We know what a friend is—there is equality in a good friendship—and understand that relationship but can be overwhelmed when we come to understand this is God who has come to be our friend.
What does that mean? Those who have good friends know how precious such a relationships are. Many people during the pandemic have remarked on how much they miss the hugs of friends and family. The very old among us say the worst thing about living so long is the loss of old friends. We can tell good friends most anything, and trust them to be wise with our secrets, our hopes and fears. In some ways they can be like confessors.
The Germans and Scandinavians have a word we don’t really use much in English. Sjelevenn/soulfriend. Soulmate is our word, and it is okay, but it doesn’t say friend. While we may have good friends, there are some that immediately connect with our shared faith in Jesus and that makes for soul mates, or soul friends. Jesus is present in that relationship and deepens it beyond what we can measure.
The Swedish tradition seems to have more than its share of hymns and songs about Jesus as friend, "Jesus is my Friend most Precious,"(Arrhenius) "I have a Friend so Patient, Kind, Forbearing." "With God and his friendship," (Rosenius), etc. To be sure, we have it in the English tradition in one of our most beloved hymns, “What a Friend we Have in Jesus.”
My favorite, of the Swedish, is this one: Nils Frykman’s “I have a friend who loveth me/Jag har än vän some älskar mig.” While it hasn’t remained as popular in the tradition as others, it is there. It expresses the love Jesus has for us which fills us with the love in which we bask. It flows out of us to our friends and to others in whom we see the Lord. And that isn’t just our close friends. If we have this image of Jesus, and hear his voice in our daily lives, we can see and hear him in all others around us. His friendship fills us and the world. His call for us to love with a love that is greater than any other love, while a command at the beginning of the chapter, becomes irresistibly natural as his love and friendship spill out of us into the whole world to those who are desperately in need of a friend who loveth them. That is our joy and our calling: to bring the love of Jesus everywhere we go. Amen.
Nils Frykman (1842-1911) is one of the three Swedish American song writers whose songs are most beloved by those in the Swedish Covenant tradition. They also made it into the songbooks of the Norwegians who emerged from the Scandinavian Augustana Synod (1860-1870) when the Swedes, Norwegian and Danes, were together both in church and seminary.
Born on a farm in Sunne, Värmland, he became a teacher, all the while writing songs. He got involved in the strife that ended up in a split which created the Swedish Free Church. He was forced to give up his teaching because he would not agree to teach what the state church required. For some time he traveled around the district on horseback, preaching and singing his songs. He emigrated with his family of ten children to the United State in 1888, where he served congregations in Chicago and finally in Pennock, near Minneapolis. He appeared frequently at the Swedish Tabernacle, which became First Covenant Church, in the city. The Sunday evening services which featured many of his songs became hugely popular. My parents went there for Sunday evening services on their dates, walking home sharing their thoughts on the evening sermons and hymns.
When Frykman died in 1911, over 2000 people attended his funeral. He is buried in Lakewood Cemetery in Minneapolis where his favorite hymn verse, “I have a future all sublime” is carved on a stone beside the grave. He was called the Joyful Singer and his songs, some 300, are filled to overflowing with the joy he knew in Jesus.
In English Matt Werner and friends
Piano Solo/Emily Valine
In Swedish from Frykman’s home region