The Story Behind The Song – I Know Whom I Have Believed
On Sep 3, 2011
Hymnology | Music Theory
This beloved hymn written by Major Daniel Webster Whittle, the exact date of his composition is not known, but it was originally published in 1883 in Gospel Hymns No. 4. It is one of about two hundred hymns composed by Major Whittle as he was known. It is one of his most well known hymns, one other popular hymn that he wrote is “There Shall Be Showers of Blessings” If you look at these two hymns for the authorship you may be a bit confused, you will see the name El Nathan on the left hand side indicating that El Nathan wrote the Lyrics, and you will see James McGranahan on the right hand side, indicating that he wrote the music. El Nathan is a pseudonym – a fictitious name used by a person or sometimes a group, which Daniel Webster Whittle used. He also used the pseudonyms Elias Nathan and W.W.D.
Daniel Webster Whittle was born in Chicopee Falls, Massachusetts on November 22, 1840. He was named after the great American politician Daniel Webster who was greatly admired by Whittle’s father. Little is known of his childhood. His father had heard Daniel Webster, the great statesman, make a stirring speech. Daniel Webster in this speech said “It is my living sentiment, and by the blessing of God it shall be my dying sentiment — independence now and independence forever!”
This would later inspire his parents to name him after Daniel Webster in hopes that he would become a great leader in the fight for freedom as well. His mother is said to have been a godly woman who instilled in him and his three brothers strong Christian principles.
Daniel Whittle worked as a cashier for Wells Fargo bank as a teenager and into his early twenties. He was not a wicked man at first, on the contrary, he was quiet religious. He surrendered his life to the Lord one night while acting as a night watchman at the Wells Fargo Bank. He went into the vault, got down on his knees and gave his surrendered his life for the Heavenly Father to use as he would. He even became the Sunday School Superintendent at the great Tabernacle in Chicago where he would meet his wife, Miss Abbie Hanson. He would join the army in 1861 and be commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant. In the summer of 1862, August as the Civil War began to intensify his unit was called to go South. August 22, 1862, the night before his departure, he and Abbie were married. It would be a year before they would be reunited. In his own words he tells of his departure, “My dear mother was a devout Christian, and parted from me with many a tear, and followed me with many a prayer. She had placed a New Testament in a pocket of the haversack that she’d arranged for me”
This little New Testament would pay a vital part in his rededication. Whittle rose to the rank of Major and while leading a charge, actually filling in, and he was wounded in his sword arm which led to the amputation of his arm and a stay in a prisoner of war camp. It was while he was in this POW camp that out of boredom he began to search for something to read. He found in his personal effects the little New Testament that his Mother had placed there. He read through the New Testament in a matter of days and started through it again. One night the nurse woke him up and told him that one of his men was dying and had been begging for someone to pray for him. The nurse told Major Whittle that he (the nurse) was a wicked man and could not pray. Major Whittle confessed that he too was wicked man with many sins in his own life and could not pray either. The nurse said that he thought Major Whittle was a Christian because he had observed him constantly reading the Scripture and the Major Whittle did not cuss as the other men. The nurse begged Major Whittle to at least accompany him to see the boy as he did not want to return alone. Moved with compassion, Major Whittle reluctantly agreed. Here, in Major Whittle’s own words, is what took place that night: “I dropped on my knees and held the boy’s hand in mine. In a few broken words I confessed my sins and asked Christ to forgive me. I believed right there that He did forgive me. I then prayed earnestly for the boy. He became quiet and pressed my hand as I prayed and pleaded God’s promises. When I arose from my knees, he was dead. A look of peace had come over his troubled face, and I cannot but believe that God who used him to bring me to the Savior, used me to lead him to trust Christ’s precious blood and find pardon. I hope to meet him in heaven.”
Ten years later at the encouragement of his close friend D.L. Moody he would enter into evangelism. Some of his first songs were set to music by Phillip Bliss. Whittle attended and participated in the memorial service for Phillip Bliss. Later he would work closely with the man who would set to music many of his later songs, and who set the music to this song, “I Know Whom I Have Believed”, James McGranahan. Major Whittle died March 4, 1901 after having written over 200 hymns.
The refrain of the hymn is a direct quotation from the King James Bible in II Timothy 1:12 “…for I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day.” From the standpoint of theology and the content of this hymn, there are many things that could be considered, the first two verses clearly fall into the study of Soteriology, the doctrine of Salvation. The third verse could be looked at from two different ways, Pneumatology, the doctrine of the Holy Spirit, and Harmitiology, the doctrine of sin. The last verse could be explored using Eschatology, the doctrine of last things. The doctrine of Grace could not be overlooked from the standpoint of the song as a whole, neither could Christology be ignored. We will look briefly at all of these doctrines contained within this great hymn.
First, consider the refrain of the hymn, as already mentioned, it is a direct verbatim quotation (excluding the conjunction “But”, the Scriptures says for) from II Timothy 1:12 from the King James Version of the Scripture. Volumes could be written in defense of the use of the King James Bible, but suffice it to say, that the King James Bible is the Word of God for the English speaking people. It rests upon the Masoretic text of the Old Testament and the Greek Textus Receptus text of the New Testament.
In the first verse, there are two Biblical words that are doctrines within themselves, the word Grace and the word Redeemed. Grace has adequately been defined in an acrostic as God’s Riches At Christ Expense. Grace is God’s unmerited favor toward lost humanity. The word grace appears 170 times in 159 verses of our King James Bible. It first appears in Genesis 6:8 where Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord it comes from the Hebrew word khane and means favor, pleasant and precious. The first time it appears in the New Testament is in Luke 2:40 where Jesus as a child grew in wisdom and the grace of God was upon him. They are two different Greek words used for grace in the New Testament, euprepeia, and charis. Euprepeia is used only once, in James 1:11 and it speaks of appearance and beauty. All of the other New Testament appearances of grace is the word charis and it speaks of “the merciful kindness by which God, exerting his holy influence upon souls, turns them to Christ, keeps, strengthens, increases them in Christian faith, knowledge, affection, and kindles them to the exercise of the Christian virtues”
The other Bible word used in the first verse of “I Know Whom I Have Believed” is the word Redeemed and it appears 142 times in 119 verses in some form of redeem, or redeemed. In the New Testament it has the meaning of to buy as in the marketplace. You and I were on the slave market of sin, but the Lord Jesus paid the price for our redemption with his own blood and purchased us, as the verse says “for his own”.
Emery Bancroft defines regeneration as “the communication of the divine nature to man by the operation of the Holy Spirit through the Word.” Major Whittle is saying in these verses what many Christians have declared, “I don’t know how or why he did it, I just know he did it.” You and I may not understand all that God has provided for us through regeneration, but the blind man explained it very well when he said “I was blind, but now I see”
In the lines of the third verse Major Whittle makes it clear that it is the Spirit of God, the Holy Spirit, that convinces man of sin. For man to be converted, he must be convicted of his sin and convinced of his need for Salvation and upon his confession he will be converted. The Bible declares in John 16:8 that when he (the Holy Spirit) is come, “he will reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness and of judgment:”6 The word “reprove” means to convict and to convince and that is what the Holy Spirit does, he convicts and convinces men of sin.
The lines “Revealing Jesus through his Word” and “Creating faith in Him” takes us to the book of Romans chapter 10 verse 13 where the Bible says “so then faith cometh by hearing and hearing by the Word of God.7 Adam Clarke in his commentary on this verse said: “Preaching the Gospel is the ordinary means of salvation; faith in Christ is the result of hearing the word, the doctrine of God preached. Preaching, God sends; if heard attentively, faith will be produced; and if they believe the report, the arm of the Lord will be revealed in their salvation.”
The Lord Jesus is revealed through the preaching of the Scriptures. Creation Conscience and the Cross are the three great witnesses of the Lord Jesus. Rom 1:19 “Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them. Rom 1:20 For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse:”
Man’s Conscience testifies to the fact that there is good and evil and that there is a God “…that which may be known of God is manifest in them…”. God has put in the conscience of every man the fact that there is a higher power, and this knowledge of the conscience, this light, this witness, testifies to the fact that there is a God – but this alone will not save a man. Creation itself testifies to the fact that there is a higher deity, there is a God. “For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen…” Anyone with a rational mind knows that this earth, the universe, this cosmos did not just happen, this creation testifies to that fact. But yea, again, this testimony, this light, this witness will not save a man. It is only by the testimony and witness of the Cross that a man or woman may be saved, and that testimony is revealed in the Word of God. Some have said in disbelief “how could a loving God send someone in Africa to Hell who has never heard the Gospel?” The answer could be that if that person rejects the testimony of conscience and rejects the testimony of creation, why do you think he would respond any differently to the testimony of the cross. If however they were to accept the testimony of the conscience and creation, God can and often does send a missionary thousands of miles with the message of the witness of the cross so that man may hear the Word, believe and be saved.
Verse four is a testimony of Daniel Whittle of his faith in the Lord Jesus, that no matter what the days may hold, that he will see the face of God.
In verse five we see hints of eschatology, “I know not when my Lord may come” this is a direct reference to Matthew 24:36 and Mark 13:32, of that day and hour knoweth no man. We do not know when he is coming, but we can rest assured that he is coming.
The main subject of the song is assurance. Salvation is not something that you hope for, Salvation is not something that you try for, it is not something that you work for, the work is already done and you can know that you are saved. The Bible declares in 1Jn 5:13 These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God. I’m glad I can say along with Paul and with Major Daniel Webster Whittle “I KNOW whom I have believed”!
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