The story and message behind the hymn itself.
This hymn is a truly beautiful testimony of Jesus Christ; focused on His power and authority and on His mission to save people from sin. In my study of the hymn, I recognized a fascinating pattern to the structure of the verses. There are four verses in total and each has a specific focus on Christ. Verse 1 talks about what he means to us and about his birth and the power and miracles that he is capable of, verse 2 focuses on his mortal ministry in particular, verse 3 speaks about his relationship with us specifically and what we think of Him, and verse 4 focuses on the Second Coming. So, in effect, it progresses through His life and how each part has affected our world and the people that live within it.
The words of the hymn are incredibly powerful, but I think my favorite line is from verse 3: “I believe in Christ; he ransoms me. From Satan’s grasp, he sets me free”. It reminds me of the poem ‘Good Friday, 1613. Riding Westward’ by John Donne(https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/44103/good-friday-1613-riding-westward) in that Christ’s sacrifice ransoms us and saves us from sin through His Grace.
As for the background of the hymn, it was written by President Bruce R. McConkie who was a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. He served in the First Council of the Seventy from 1946 to 1972 when he joined the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. He remained a member of that group within the church until his death in 1985. The composer of this hymn was John Longhurst, also a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. He was a singer in the then Mormon Tabernacle Choir(now the Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square) in the 1960s and was an organist for this choir from 1977 to 2007. Originally the hymn had 8 verses, but they ended up pairing together the verses to create only four verses.
Elder McConkie first shared the words of this hymn in the April 1972 General Conference for the Church in his talk titled ‘The Testimony of Jesus’, only six months before he was called to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles:
After this, John Longhurst was asked to create the tune so that this song could be added to the 1985 Church Hymnbook. Additionally, this song was introduced by the then Mormon Tabernacle Choir in the April 1985 General Conference- Elder McConkie’s talk this conference was entitled, “The Purifying Power of Gethsemane”:
This talk would be Elder McConkie’s final testimony to the Church and the world as, two weeks later, he would pass away on April 19, 1985 after a long battle against colon cancer. What better time to introduce the hymn to the church than when the last sermon and testimony was given by the hymns author? I’m still amazed at the timing of this all and remember it every time I hear or sing this hymn. It is truly filled with a strong testimony of Christ forged through the life long service of one of his disciples.
Davidson, Karen Lynn. “Our Latter-Day Hymns: The Stories and the Messages.” Deseret Books: Salt Lake City, Utah, 2009.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. “Hymns of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, 1985.” Hymns, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints: Salt Lake City, Utah.