Several incidents have been narrated as having suggested to Charles Wesley this hymn. One, that a narrow escape from death in a storm on the Atlantic inspired him to portray the thoughts of a Christian in deadly peril. Another, that as he stood at an open window on a summer day a little bird, pursued by a hawk, sought refuge in his bosom, giving him the idea of pointing out the soul's one sure place of refuge in time of need.
Mrs. Mary Hoover, of Bellefonte, Pennsylvania, whose grandmother was the heroine of the story, has related to her pastor this family tradition: Charles Wesley was preaching in the fields of the parish of Killyleagh, County Down, Ireland, when he was attacked by men who did not approve of his doctrines. He sought refuge in a house located on what was known as the Island Band Farm. The farmer's wife, Jane Lowrie Moore, told him to hide in the milk house, down in the garden. Soon the mob came and demanded the fugitive. She tried to quiet them by offering them refreshments. Going down to the milk house, she directed Mr. Wesley to get through the rear window and hide under the hedge, by which ran a little brook. In that hiding-place, with the cries of his pursuers all about him, he wrote this immortal hymn. Descendants of Mrs. Moore still live in the house, which is much the same as it was in Wesley's time.
The great evangelist and president of Oberlin College, Charles G. Finney, was walking about his grounds shortly before his death. In the church where he had preached for forty years the evening service was going on. Presently he heard this hymn floating to him from the distance. He joined with the invisible congregation in singing the hymn to the end. Before the next morning he had joined the choir about the throne.
“An ungodly stranger, ”said Mr. Spurgeon,” stepping into one of our services at Exeter Hall, was brought to Christ by the singing of ' Jesus, Lover of my soul.' 'Does Jesus love me? ' said he; ' then why should I live in enmity with him?'“
Tom was a drummer boy in the army, and the men called him”the young deacon”because of his sobriety and religious example. One day the chaplain found him sitting under a tree alone, with tears in his eyes.
“I had a dream last night, which I can't get out of my mind."
"What was it?"
“Thank God, Tom,”said the chaplain,” that you have such a mother, not really dead, but in heaven."
The boy wiped his eyes and was comforted. The next day Tom's drum was heard all day long in a terrible battle. At night it was known that ”the young deacon ”was lying wounded on the field. In the evening, when all was still, they heard a voice singing away off on the field, and they felt sure that it was Tom's voice. Softly the words of ”Jesus, Lover of my soul ”floated on the wings of the night. After the second verse the voice grew weak and stopped. In the morning the soldiers found Tom sitting on the ground, leaning against a stump, dead.
A vessel had gone on the rocks in the English Channel. The crew, with their captain, took to the boats and were lost. They might have been safe, had they remained on the vessel, as a huge wave carried her high up on the rocks. On the table in the captain's cabin was found a hymn-book, opened at this hymn, and in it lay the pencil which had marked the favorite words of the captain. While the hurricane was howling outside and the vessel sinking, he had drawn his pencil beneath these words of cheer:
Let me to Thy bosom fly.
While the nearer waters roll,
While the tempest still is high.”
Dr. George Duffield—himself the author of so fine a hymn as ”Stand up, stand up for Jesus”—in his old age paid this tribute out of a lifelong experience: ' One of the most blessed days of my life was when I found, after my harp had long hung on the willows, that I could sing again; that a new song was put in my mouth; and when, ere ever I was aware, I was singing, ' Jesus, Lover of my soul.' If there is anything in Christian experience of joy and sorrow, of affliction and prosperity, of life and death—that hymn is the hymn of the ages!”
This was the last hymn we sang as the body of Mr. Moody was being lowered into the grave.