Wayne S. Walker

“I come not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance” (Lk. 5:32)

     A song which reminds us that we are saved by responding to the call of Jesus in the gospel to repent is “Softly and Tenderly” (#274 in Hymns for Worship Revised, #640 in Sacred Selections for the Church).  The text was written and tune (Thompson or Come Home) was composed both by Will Lamartine Thompson, who was born at East Liverpool, OH, on Nov. 7, 1847.  His father, Josiah Thompson, was a member of the Ohio State Legislature for two terms.  Will was educated at Mt. Union College in Alliance, OH, at the Boston (MA) Conservatory of Music, and later in Leipzig, Germany.  His chief ambition was to write music for the people, and in this endeavor he became eminent.  His first song was composed in 1863 when he was just sixteen.  Ten years later, he came out with “Gathering Up Seashells From The Seashore,” which became such a hit that it swept the nation from shore to shore and gathered a fortune for its youthful composer who became known as the “bard of Ohio.” 

     However, after a very successful career writing secular and patriotic music, at age forty Thompson turned to composing sacred songs and established the Will L. Thompson Co., a profitable music publishing firm with offices both in East Liverpool and in Chicago, IL.  Other well known hymns by Thompson include “Lead Me Gently Home, Father,” “There’s A Great Day Coming,” and “Jesus Is All The World To Me.”  In Chicago, he became a personal friend of revival evangelist Dwight Lyman Moody and his chief song director Ira David Sankey.  “Softly and Tenderly,” sometimes given the title of “For You and For Me,” was apparently produced and copyrighted in 1880 and was a favorite of Moody’s.  It may have first appeared that year in Sparkling Gems, Nos. 1 and 2 Combined, edited by J. Calvin Bushey.  It was definitely published in 1882 in Songs of Triumph, edited by J. S. Inskip, and was soon widely used as an invitation song in the great evangelistic campaigns conducted by Moody and Sankey in both the United States and Great Britain. 

     The story is told that in 1899 Thompson made a visit to Northfield, MA, where Moody was lying on his deathbed.  Visitors were forbidden, but when Moody heard that Thompson was there, the dying evangelist ignored doctors’ orders and demanded that his old friend be admitted.  Though very ill, Moody greeted the songwriter most cordially, took him by the hand, and feebly whispered, “Will, I would rather have written ‘Softly and Tenderly’ than anything I have been able to do in my whole life.”  Some sources have listed Thompson as a hymn writer among churches of Christ, and it is possible that his religious roots were in “the restoration movement,” but it appears that he himself was a member of the Methodist Church.  Some confusion may be due to the fact that there was a gospel preacher in Texas named Will M. Thompson.  Will L. Thompson, the Ohio musician, died in New York City, NY, on Sept. 20, 1909, after cutting short a trip to Europe on which he became ill and returning home.

     Among hymnbooks published by members of the Lord’s church for use in churches of Christ, “Softly and Tenderly” has appeared in the 1921 Great Songs of the Church (No. 1) and the 1937 Great Songs of the Church No. 2 both edited by E. L. Jorgenson; the 1935 Christian Hymns (No. 1), the 1948 Christian Hymns No. 2, and the 1966 Christian Hymns No. 3 all edited by L. O. Sanderson; the 19/1944 New Wonderful Songs edited by  Thomas S. Cobb; the 1940 Spiritual Melodies and the 1965 Great Christian Hymnal No. 2 both edited by Tillit S. Teddlie; the 1940 Praise and Revival Songs and the 1959 Hymns of Praise and Devotion both edited by Will W. Slater; the 1940 Complete Christian Hymnal edited by Marion Davis;  the 1959 Majestic Hymnal No. 2 and the 1978 Hymns of Praise both edited by Reuel Lemmons; the 1963 Abiding Hymns edited by Robert C. Welch; the 1963 Christian Hymnal edited by J. Nelson Slater; the 1971 Songs of the Church, the 1990 Songs of the Church 21st C. Ed., and the 1994 Songs of Faith and Praise all edited by Alton H. Howard; the 1978/1983 Church Gospel Songs and Hymns edited by V. E. Howard; the 1986 Great Songs Revised edited by Forrest M. McCann; the 1992 Praise for the Lord edited by John P. Wiegand; the 2007 Spiritual Songs of the Church edited by William D. Jeffcoat; the 2009 Favorite Songs of the Church and the 2010 Songs for Worship and Praise both edited by Robert J. Taylor Jr.; and the 2012 Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual Songs edited by Steve Wolfgang et. al.; in addition to Hymns for Worship and Sacred Selections.

     The song emphasizes the call that Jesus issues through the gospel to come to Him for salvation.

I. Stanza 1 tells us that Jesus is calling us

Softly and tenderly Jesus is calling,

Calling for you and for me;

See, on the portals He’s waiting and watching,

Watching for you and for me.

 A. Jesus came to call sinners to repentance: Matt 9:13

 B. Paul tells us that the means by which this call comes to us is through the gospel: 2 Thess. 2:14

 C. Portals are gates or doors, and Jesus is pictured as standing at the door of our hearts, asking for us to open so that He may come in: Rev. 3:20

II. Stanza 2 remind us that as He calls, Jesus is pleading with us to come to Him

Why should we tarry when Jesus is pleading,

Pleading for you and for me?

Why should we linger and heed not His mercies,

Mercies for you and for me?

 A. We should not tarry but rather hear His voice today and not harden our hearts: Heb. 3:15

 B. If we but listen, Jesus is pleading with us to come to Him that we might find rest for our souls: Matt. 11:28-30

 C. If we linger, we may not have the opportunity to receive His mercy and its benefits: Tit. 3:5

III. Stanza 3 indicates that we need to respond to Jesus’s pleading call now because time is fleeting

Time is now fleeting, the moments are passing,

Passing from you and from me;

Shadows are gathering, death beds are coming,

Coming for you and for me.

 A. Time is now fleeting because the days of our lives are limited: Ps. 90:9-10

 B. Because the moments are passing, now is the accepted time for salvation: 2 Cor. 6:2

 C. Evidently a lot of editors just haven’t liked the phrase “death beds are coming.”   Some denominational books change it to “death’s night is coming.”  L. O. Sanderson in the Christian Hymns series changed it to “death warnings coming.”  Hymns for Worship has “life’s end is coming.”  Whichever wording is used, the point is, unless the Lord comes first, we need to be prepared because we are going to die: Heb. 9:27

IV. Stanza 4 points out that the reason why Jesus calls us to come now is because of His great love for us

O for the wonderful love He has promised,

Promised for you and for me!

Though we have sinned, He has mercy and pardon,

Pardon for you and for me.

 A. Jesus loved us so much that He laid down His life for us to save us from our sins: 1 Jn. 3:16

 B. Because of this love, He has promised those who come to Him eternal life: 1 Jn. 2:25

 C. To make this possible, those who come to Him are offered pardon: Isa. 55:6-7

     CONCL.:  Therefore, the chorus continues to invite us to:

Come home, come home,

Ye who are weary, come home;

Earnestly, tenderly, Jesus is calling,

Calling, O sinner, come home!

Through the years, this song has often been popular at funerals, and I have never understood why.  It is calling not the faithful Christian to “come home” and be with the Lord in heaven but the sinner to “come home” to Christ for salvation in obedience to the gospel (although that might be more appropriate at some funerals than one might think!).  The Bible says that all have sinned.  But God loves us enough to make salvation possible through the blood of Christ.  So to receive His mercy and pardon, we must come to Jesus as He calls us “Softly and Tenderly.”

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