This page was created by Donal Hegarty.  The last update was by Alisa Clapp-Itnyre .

Sounding Childhood

Gentle Jesus, meek and mild

The hymn “Gentle Jesus, meek and mild” is an early children’s hymn written by Charles Wesley and published in Hymns and Sacred Poems (1742), then later republished in Hymns for Children (1763).  It is the only children’s hymn by Wesley ever to become popular, possibly because, unlike most of his hymns, it uses the voice of the child; too, it uncharacteristically avoids all mention of sin, death, and repentance.  Instead, this hymn is entirely focused on the worth of the child: “Look upon a little child,/ Pity my simplicity…” (v. 1).  At first glance, this seems demeaning of the child; however, its textual focus on the child reminds the child singing it and the adults listening that in God’s Kingdom even “a little child [has] a place” (v. 2).  Further, it reminds the audience that Jesus himself was “gentle, meek, and mild,” and he was “once a little child” (v. 3).  While a child might be pitied for his simplicity, so too was Jesus “pitiful and kind,” pity being a Christian virtue, not derogation.  Set to many charming tunes, we used that in 282 Hymns and Melodies (Inglis, 1893), “Innocents” from an old litany.  This tune especially exudes “innocence,” being in a major key, with simple three-note scale progressions both up and down the scale.  It even reaches up to an E two above middle C, this high-note suggesting an angelic purity.  

More discussion on this hymn can be found in Chapter 4, British Hymn Books for Children.

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