William Ralph Featherston

William Featherston

Born: Ju­ly 23, 1846, Mon­tr­éal, Qué­bec, Ca­na­da.
Died: May 20, 1873, Mont­ré­al, Qué­bec, Ca­na­da.
Buried: Ci­me­ti­ère Mont-Roy­al, Mon­tré­al, Qué­bec, Ca­na­d

Hymns by William Featherston

Imagine a teenager, pen in hand, heart overflowing with newfound faith. In a quiet moment in 1860s Montreal, young William Ralph Featherston poured out his love for Christ in verse, unknowingly crafting words that would echo through centuries of Christian worship. “My Jesus, I Love Thee” – a hymn born from youthful devotion that would touch millions of hearts long after its author’s brief life had ended.

A Youthful Inspiration

William Ralph Featherston, born in 1848 in Montreal, Canada, left an amazing mark on Christian hymnody with a single poem penned in his youth. This work would become the beloved hymn “My Jesus, I Love Thee,” a staple in evangelical worship services around the world.

The Creation of a Timeless Hymn

Featherston is believed to have written the poignant lyrics of “My Jesus, I Love Thee” at the young age of 16 (some sources even say 12!) This remarkable feat speaks to the depth of his faith and his gift for expressing profound spiritual truths. The poem, which beautifully captures a believer’s devotion to Christ, was reportedly penned around the time of Featherston’s conversion experience.

A Mysterious Journey to Publication

The story of how Featherston’s poem reached the public is shrouded in mystery. One account suggests that he mailed it to his aunt in Los Angeles, who recognized its beauty and sought to have it published. Whatever the exact path, the poem found its way into “The London Hymn Book” in 1864, published anonymously with a different tune than the one we know today.

From Poem to Hymn

The transformation of Featherston’s poem into the hymn we sing today occurred after his death. In 1876, Adoniram Judson Gordon, a prominent Baptist minister and founder of Gordon College, discovered the lyrics in “The London Hymn Book.” Moved by the words but dissatisfied with the existing melody, Gordon composed a new tune that perfectly complemented Featherston’s heartfelt lyrics. This pairing created the hymn that has since become a cornerstone of Christian worship.

A Brief but Impactful Life

Tragically, Featherston’s life was cut short. He passed away in 1875, just shy of his 27th birthday. While he is not known to have written any other hymns, his single contribution to Christian music has ensured his lasting legacy.

Enduring Impact

“My Jesus, I Love Thee” has stood the test of time, appearing in nearly every evangelical hymnal since its publication with Gordon’s tune in 1876. The hymn’s enduring popularity is a powerful indicator of the universal appeal of Featherston’s youthful expression of faith and Gordon’s inspired musical setting.

While much about William Ralph Featherston remains unknown, his story reminds us that age is no barrier to creating works of lasting spiritual significance. His single poem, born from a young heart’s devotion, continues to touch lives and inspire worship nearly 150 years after it was written.

Don Chapman

Don Chapman

Composer/arranger Don Chapman has created HYMNDEX as a labor of love to help new generations learn about the lives, legacies and lyrics of historic hymn writers.