Gave My Life for Thee

Frances Ridley Havergal, 1836 -78

I gave my life for thee, My precious blood I shed, That thou might ransomed be. . . . What hast thou given for me?

This song has never been among my favorites.

As a kid learning to play the piano, I pounded the life out of the unimaginative tune-—-one of the hymnal's easiest, no sharps, no flats, no tricks.

And the words—written as if by Jesus addressing you or me as a disciple—do not draw me to service motivated by gratitude. Rather, they drag me down with guilt. I hear a stereotypical martyr mother saying, "After all I've done for you ... you should be grateful." Duty-bound debt.

And yet I write of this song, viewing it differently in the context of its origin and the author's life.

As a young woman Frances Havergal traveled from her home in England to advance her education in Dusseldorf, Germany. While on the Continent, in a pastor's study she saw a motto printed beneath a Sternberg painting titled "Ecce Homo." The portrayed scene is Christ at his trial, whipped mercilessly, wearing a crown of thorns and a purple robe meant for mockery. He's standing between a crowd demanding death and Pilate, who says, "Ecce Homo": "Behold the Man."

 Sternberg's arresting depiction of Jesus' trial struck Havergal, who paused to contemplate the biblical event. Before leaving the scene, she copied the caption-phrase, translated: I did this for you. What have you done for me?

Later, back home in England, she noticed the line in her notebook, recalled her emotional response to the painting, and quickly embellished the caption. She wrote a poem of five stanzas, each ending with a pointed challenge: "What have you given to ... left for ... borne for ... brought to ... the Christ?

Pausing to read through her completed verse, Havergal thought poorly of her endeavor, and threw the paper into the fireplace. Yes, into the fire.

But it didn't burn.

Retrieving the lines, she eventually showed them to her father, who suggested they be saved. The next year the poem was printed as a pamphlet, then in a magazine, then with its own tune in an American Sunday school songbook.

Years later she wrote what would become one of her most famous hymns, "Take My Life." The first phrase is reminiscent of the earlier "I Gave My Life," but here she claims the "I-my" as her own: "Take my life and let it be / Consecrated Lord to thee...."

A few lines of a Havergal letter further connect her two songs.The "what have I given for Christ?" question is poignantly answered in the context of these later lines: "Take my silver and my gold, / Not a mite would I withhold." Her letter:

"Take my silver and my gold" now means shipping off all my ornaments—-including a jewel cabinet which is really fit for a countess—to the Church Missionary Society where they will be accepted and disposed of for me. I retain only a broach for daily wear ... also a locket ... Nearly fifty articles are being packed off. I don't think I need tell you I never packed a box with such pleasure.

This giving-up is no duty-bound debt. It is no casting away of the unsatisfactory endeavor. It is sacrificial—something precious relinquished as Havergal consecrated her Hfe to the God who asks no more of us than he asked of himself.

In her relatively short life (forty-two years), Havergal wrote what has been called a "huge volume" of hymns. Time has borne away the memory of all but a score, including these two: "Take My Life" and the earlier "I Gave My Life"—the poem thrown into the fire.

Intended for destruction—like Christ led by the crowd to Calvary.

But not destroyed—like Christ whose executioners did not have the final say.

At Jesus' trial Pilate said, "Behold the man" (John 19:5 KJV), beaten bloody." With spiritual insight John the Baptist said, "Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world" (John 1:29 KJV).

I gave my life for thee . . . That thou might ransomed be, And quickened from the dead.

This death would result in life—-an abundant life that could prompt a young woman to give away what she considered a "jewelers shop"-—with delight.

Two biblical men-—-Pilate and John the Baptist—saw one Son of God from two radically different perspectives.

And Havergal's story allows me to see new meaning in a throwaway line-—Jesus' hypothetical question: "What have you given for me?"

Lord, open my eyes to show me who you are and what you did for me. Allow me to feel such gratitude that I open my hands and my heart. Generously. Because I want to. Not because I have to.

From the book "Spiritual Moments with the Great Hymns" by Evelyn Bence.


Being saved by grace does not mean we can live any way we desire. Jesus said man was not to live by bread alone, but by EVERY WORD of God (Mat.4;4). We are to be reading and studying from Genesis to Revelation to learn how to live by God's every word. You may be wondering how we can do this. I have on my website a study that will give you the keys, it is called "Living by Every Word of God - How?"

Keith Hunt