Rose: Hymns – I Love to Tell the Story

Arabella Katherine Hankey, known as Kate, was born in Clapham, England early in January of 1834. Her father, Thomas, was a banker in London. Though previously Anglican, he with his family became tightly involved with the “Clapham Sect” of evangelicals in England. Their greatest accomplishments included the abolition of the slave trade and slavery in general with the aid of William Wilberforce in the decades before.

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This poem was broken into two parts. Part one is called “The Story Wanted.” Part two is called “The Story Told.” This poem was then made into two hymns: “Tell Me the Old, Old Story” and “I Love to Tell the Story.” Kate composed the original tune for “I Love to Tell the Story,” though later William Doane composed another. Sadly, this hymn was basically unknown until 1869. At this time, William G. Fischer wrote a third tune for the hymn and added a refrain to the verses. This is the hymn sung today. This composition was first published in 1874 and later it was added to a collection by hymnists Ira Sankey and Philip Bliss. 

Truly, to understand the full scope of what Kate Hankey was trying to convey, one should read the full poem. The original tells much more of the “story” than what is contained in this shortened hymn. The Old, Old Story is a beautiful poem that describes the “story” of the Bible from Adam and Eve and the rebellion to Christ finally coming and paying for our sins. This old, old story has been told since the beginning; it was fulfilled in Christ. And we will get to continue singing this story of love for life eternal. This story is of Christ and His sacrifice for us, and that is why we love to tell this story.

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 can do.

I love to tell the story,
’twill be my theme in glory,
to tell the old, old story
of Jesus and his love.

The opening verse begins with a statement of what the story is. Obviously we know that there is a story that someone loves to tell, but what is it? The story is of unseen things, of Jesus, and of His glory and love (2 Cor. 4:18). These are all wonderful things to praise the Lord for and to sing about. Jesus demonstrated his love for us by coming down in the form of a man and dying for us, redeeming us from our sin (Rom. 5:8, Jhn. 3:16). Afterwards, He was taken back up into glory where we will join Him on the last day (1 Tim. 3:16).

But until that day, we wait in hope of His return and in the unseen things He has promised. We wait for eternal life with Him (Rom. 8:22-25, 2 Cor. 4:18). These unseen things are the results of something we already have: salvation from our sins. And this is truly the story we love to tell. It is not only that Jesus came, but because of His coming, we are free from bondage (Rom. 8:1-2, Isa. 53).  Therefore, we love to tell the story because it is true and awesome (Isa. 63:7). Nothing else on earth could match the wonderful gift of grace that God has given to us. Now we are satisfied, content in the mercy of God (2 Cor 12:9, Mat. 5:6, Psa. 107:8-9).

The refrain is simply a reminder that we do love to share this story. We do not keep this wonderful gift, this mercy, this grace hidden, but we share it to all who will hear (Mat. 5:14-16, Psa. 40:9-10, 71:15, 107:15 ). And we will not cease in singing this story when Christ returns, but will sing it all the more because we will forever be in the presence of Him who gave us the reason to sing, who gave us His love. 

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.

The second verse continues with the theme of telling the story because of the wonderful implication for believers. It is almost as if the author was trying to convey the uncontainable joy we have for knowing Christ. Yet it does not end there. As the verse states, there are some people who have not heard the message of salvation. Or perhaps there are some people who have heard of it but do not truly know it. They do not know the message of the Bible nor the Gospel, and perhaps this is because there has not been anyone around who loves to tell the story. But we are commanded to go and preach the Gospel to all (Rom. 10:12-15, Matt. 28:19-20, Acts 1:8). And this should not be difficult. Imagine the rejoicing there is for a lost sheep that is now found (Luk. 15:7)! How could we not want to share this story? Therefore, we should love to tell this story and tell it daily, for there are some who do not know the wonderful mercy and grace of our Savior yet (Rom. 4:25-5:2, Acts 4:19-20, Rom. 1:16, 1 Tim. 2:3-4)!

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. 

In addition to seeing a face light up with the realization that this wonderful grace is also for them, seeing the renewed joy in the face of a believer remembering what the Lord has done for them is equally as beautiful. Though we are saved, we continue reminding each other of the Lord’s saving act (1 Cor. 11:26). We are in no less need of Christ’s grace than anyone else. While others hunger and thirst for something they are unsure of, or are unsure if it exists, we continue to hunger for the Word of God and delight to hear it and its promises (Mat. 5:6, Jhn. 4:13-14). Therefore the author, as we should, loves to repeat this story to everyone because people need these reminders. It is good to be refreshed in this way. And as said before, we will not cease in singing this story when we leave this life for life eternal, for even then the new song we sing of Christ will be the same.

From the beginning of the world until now and to the future, the message of salvation has been proclaimed. This old, old story found in Scripture is the message that never wears out, and that is the love God has for us (Psa. 66:16, 2 Cor. 4:18, Rev. 5:9, 7:9-17). So we love to tell the story because this is an eternal message meant for all people. 

Blessings to you and yours, 

~Rose

 


Works Referenced

(Arabella) Katherine Hankey. Canterbury Dictionary of Hymnology.

Beall, Mary Kay. The Hymn. “I Love to Tell the Story!” Vol. 56, No. 2. 2005.

Hankey , Katherine. The old, Old Story. In Two Parts

“I Love to Tell the Story.”

Shiver, William. Stories Behind the Hymns. “I Love to Tell the Story.” Nov. 9 2007.

Smith, Jane & Betty Carlson. Great Christian Hymn Writers. 75-76.

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