James Gray lived and served the Lord at a time when what is now known as “liberal theology” was on the rise. There have always been those who denied that Jesus Christ was anything more than a man — but those who made such claims didn’t pretend to be Christians.
In the last half of the nineteenth century, though, a movement among those who called themselves Christian theologians began to increase in numbers and influence. They taught that Jesus was not God, but He was special. He had come, they said, not as the Son of God, but as an example, the “ideal” of what a man should be. They usually denied His miracles, claiming that their importance was not whether they actually happened, but rather that the stories of miracles helped us to see Jesus as a model to follow.
It was at the time when these ideas (which pervade much of so-called Christianity today) were spreading that James Gray wrote the following hymn. It is his answer to the false teachers — we don’t need your new ideas, for the only Jesus we know is the one the Bible tells us about. The hymn is also sometimes called, “The True Historic Jesus.”
Our church doesn’t claim the name “evangelical,” because that means such different things to different people, and most of what is known as “evangelical” doesn’t match what we believe. We tell people we believe in “historic Christianity — what Christians have always taught and believed.” We aren’t interested in what Peter called “cunningly devised fables,” even if it sounds high-minded to talk about Jesus as an “ideal.” We follow “the true historic Jesus” — the Son of God, born of a virgin, who died for us and rose from the dead.
If I were going to list my favourite hymns, it would be very difficult, because there are so many that I love — but I am certain this one would make the list. I’ll always be grateful to Pastor Gary Rhodes from Vershire, Vermont, for introducing it to our family when he and his wife came to visit years ago.
We sing it to the tune EWING (named for its composer), which is often used with the hymn, “Jerusalem the Golden” (which we sing to another tune). The recording below was recorded for four verses of “Jerusalem the Golden.” I recommend taking advantage of it to sing the third verse of this one twice — it’s well worth a double treatment! 🙂
I know no other Jesus than He who died for me;
The Saviour of lost sinners, the Christ of Calvary.
I know no ‘ideal’ Jesus that human minds invent;
The only Christ I worship is whom the Father sent.
That human christs could save me is inadmissible;
My Jesus is the image of God invisible.
My Christ became incarnate and of the Virgin born;
He left a crown of glory to wear the platted thorn.
The Infant of the manger, the village Carpenter,
The Teacher sent from heaven to men to minister;
The true historic Jesus, who died and rose again,
He only is the Jesus that I proclaim to men.
James M. Gray, 1851-1935
Music: Alexander Ewing, 1830-1895