Skip to content ↓

Hymn Stories: I Heard the Voice of Jesus Say

Horatius Bonar was born in 1808 in Edinburgh, Scotland, the son of a ruling elder in the Church of Scotland. After a relatively uneventful upbringing, Bonar entered into the ministry himself, becoming pastor of the North Parish in the rural town of Kelso.

Not long after he entered the ministry there was a disruption in the Church of Scotland that resulted in the withdrawal of 451 ministers from the Established church, among whom were Bonar and a number of his friends. Together they formed The Free Church of Scotland.

Bonar spent the next 20 years pastoring the congregation in Kelso, writing, and engaging in evangelism. Throughout his life he had been strongly influenced by Thomas Chalmers, and in 1866 he planted a new church in his home city of Edinburgh: the Chalmers Memorial Chapel. He was to serve that church until the year before his death in 1889.

In Bonar’s day the Scottish church had no substantial library of hymns since they sang metrical Psalms almost exclusively. Bonar had begun to write hymns before his ordination when he was serving as superintendent of a Sunday school. He found that the youth had little love for either the words or the tunes they were singing, so he set out to write a few hymns with simpler lyrics and already familiar tunes. These hymns were received wonderfully.

It wasn’t long after this that Bonar, apparently having a gift and an interest in writing verse, took to writing adult hymns. This continued as a habit while he served as pastor, and in the course of his ministry he published a number of hymn compilations.

“I Heard the Voice of Jesus Say” was one of the hymns he wrote during his tenure at Kelso. This is perhaps his most famous song, having found good reception not only in Scotland but also in the wider English-speaking world.

What makes the hymn so widely appealing may well be its focus on the gospel call of Christ to come to him, look to him, drink, and rest, and the simple call to obey and to find in him all that he has promised. It is simple, sweet and encouraging.

I heard the voice of Jesus say, “Come unto Me and rest;
Lay down, thou weary one, lay down Thy head upon My breast.”
I came to Jesus as I was, weary and worn and sad;
I found in Him a resting place, and He has made me glad.

I heard the voice of Jesus say, “Behold, I freely give
The living water; thirsty one, stoop down, and drink, and live.”
I came to Jesus, and I drank of that life giving stream;
My thirst was quenched, my soul revived, and now I live in Him.

I heard the voice of Jesus say, “I am this dark world’s Light;
Look unto Me, thy morn shall rise, and all thy day be bright.”
I looked to Jesus, and I found in Him my Star, my Sun;
And in that light of life I’ll walk, till traveling days are done.


  • Lets Hear It For the Second Parents

    Let’s Hear It For the Second Parents

    While today we tend to associate step-parents with divorce, in previous centuries they were almost exclusively associated with death and with either widow- or widowerhood. In an era in which lifespans were shorter and, therefore, a greater number of parents died while their children were still young, there was a distinct and honored role for…

  • A La Carte Collection cover image

    A La Carte (June 17)

    A La Carte: Honor good fathers and bad fathers alike? / Don’t give up, dad / How I respond to pride month / 5 myths about the pro-life movement / A seminar on biblical counseling / How do I know if I’m one of the elect? / Kindle deals / and more.

  • The Glorious End without the Difficult Means

    The Glorious End without the Difficult Means

    Just as Olympic athletes cannot realistically expect to win a gold medal unless they strictly discipline themselves toward victory, Christians cannot hope to prevail in the Christian life unless they take a serious, disciplined approach to it. Yet lurking in the background is always the temptation to hope that we can have the result of…

  • A La Carte Collection cover image

    Weekend A La Carte (June 15)

    A La Carte: Learn to rest in God’s justice / 3 reasons why your small group is not a church / How can I be a godly father? / Gender in the void / Are images of Christ OK? / The getting of wisdom / and more.

  • Making Good Return

    Making Good Return

    I don’t think I am overstating the matter when I say that this has the potential to be one of the most important books you will read. It’s a book that may shape years of your life and transform the way you carry out one of the key roles God assigns to you…

  • A La Carte Friday 2

    A La Carte (June 14)

    A La Carte: 3 steps to find your voice / 7 things good dads say / One day leads to another / Let’s stop hyper-spiritualizing counseling / Enjoying the many flavors of the Word / What I wish you understood about the ethnic-specific church / and more.