By Jaime Sherman
The authorship of this week’s hymn Jesus Wept (1853) is a tad confusing as hymnal compilers have attributed the lyrics to at least two poets — John Ross Macduff and Sir Edward Denny. MacDuff was born in 1818 on his father’s estate in Scotland and served as a Presbyterian parish minister until his death in 1895. Sir Edward Denny was an Irish baron born in 1796, who lived mostly in London and was a member of the Plymouth Brethren community until he died in 1889.
While Jesus Wept, also known as Weeping One of Bethany, has been attributed to each author equally in the hymn books of various church denominations, I personally lean toward Denny being the author of these lyrics. They fit the style of other poems solely attributed to him such as those that begin What grace, O Lord, and beauty shone around thy steps below! What patient love was seen in all thy life and death of woe! And those that begin Light of the lonely pilgrim’s heart, star of the coming day, arise, and with thy morning beams chase all our griefs away!
Whether Denny wrote the words or simply compiled them in one of his hymn collections or MacDuff wrote them for a Sunday service, the words are no less rich. They tell of our Savior who was “deeply moved in His spirit and greatly troubled” when faced with the questions of Martha, the tears of Mary, and the weight of His own loss. Jesus wept and His love for His friends was evident to a watching world.
Jesus wept! those tears are over, But His heart is still the same; Kinsman, friend, and elder brother, Is His everlasting name. Savior, who can love like Thee, Gracious One of Bethany? When the pangs of trial seize me, When the waves of sorrow roll, I will lay my head on Jesus, Refuge of the troubled soul. Surely, none can feel like Thee, Weeping One of Bethany! Jesus wept! and still in glory He can mark each mourner’s tear; Loving to retrace the story Of the hearts He solaced here; Lord, when I am called to die, Let me think of Bethany. Jesus wept! that tear of sorrow Is a legacy of love; Yesterday, today, tomorrow, He the same doth ever prove. Thou art all in all to me, Living One of Bethany.
Jesus Wept has been set to a variety of tunes since 1853 and is most often presented as a poem in hymn books we now classify as antiques. It hasn’t garnered the attention of recording artists, so for today, we simply offer you the beautiful words for you to read and enjoy. If you’re a musician, you might enjoy the simple composition we’ve included.
In the third stanza of Jesus Wept, the hymn writer says that Jesus “can mark each mourner’s tear,” which reminds us of the words of the psalmist David as the Philistines seized him. David cried out to God, saying, “You have kept count of my tossings; put my tears in your bottle. Are they not in your book?” (Psalm 56:8).
The concept of “tears in your bottle” began a long history of Jewish women treasuring lachrymatories, or tear jars. Also known as tear catchers, these small bottles served as reminders that God cares about the emotions of His children. Traditionally women would collect their spilled tears — the overflow of their various emotions — and then pour the tear jars out before the Lord in worship. In this simple act, these women acknowledged that God saw and cared about every feeling welling up inside them.
I don’t know about you, but I need physical reminders for myself and to share with others that every tear-producing event in my life is important to God. I have three ideas for you.
Bible teacher Kristi McLelland sells tear jars modeled after ancient tear jars found in Israel. While a bit expensive, these jars with names like Take heart, daughter! and Live Like a River make lovely gifts for sisters and friends who need special encouragement.
Lindsey Wheeler began her Bottle of Tears business seven years ago as a way for women to encourage each other that even in pain God sees, knows, and loves each of His children. In the tears of life, God is our hope! Use code “HAPPYBDAY” through March 22 to send a friend a little vintage bottle to remind her that God keeps a record of her tears.
While these two ideas are beautiful, you don’t need to spend money to be reminded that God is the recorder of all our tears. I have several miniature bottles on my kitchen windowsill that I use as bud vases and for small watercolor projects. You might have something similar that you could use or give away to a friend as a physical reminder of God’s loving care. A piece of ribbon or twine around the mouth of the bottle along with the printable below will make a sweet gift.