I Must Tell Jesus

Each morning, before we start the workday here at Steps to Life, we have staff worship. Part of our worship is singing a hymn. Recently, we sang I Must Tell Jesus, and after having sung the hymn, we contemplated what tragedy or discouragement might have befallen the writer of the song to elicit such a heartfelt declaration. I determined to see if I could find out.

I Must Tell Jesus was written, both lyrics and music, by Elisha (E. A.) Hoffman. He was born in 1839 in the town of Orwigsburg, Pennsylvania.

In 1864, at the age of 24, Elisha served in the Union Army during the Civil War. In 1865, he married Susan Orwig, who died in 1875. In 1879, he married Emma Sayres Smith. In total, he had three children, sons Orey and Harry, and daughter Florence.

He worked for eleven years in the Evangelical Association’s publishing house. In 1868, following in his father’s footsteps, he was ordained in the Presbyterian Church. He served as a minister for over 60 years in Ohio, Illinois, and Michigan, spending 33 of those years as pastor of the Benton Harbor Presbyterian Church.

He is credited with writing over 2,000 hymns, such as Are You Washed in the Blood?; Leaning on the Everlasting Arms; and I Must Tell Jesus. He was both lyricist and composer of his songs.

While serving a church in Lebanon, Pennsylvania, he visited a woman who had faced a number of struggles. He relates his visit with her thusly:

“There was a woman to whom God had permitted many visitations of sorrow and affliction. Coming to her home one day, I found her much discouraged. She unburdened her heart, concluding with the question, ‘Brother Hoffman, what shall I do?’ I quoted from the word, then added, ‘You cannot do better than to take all of your sorrows to Jesus. You must tell Jesus.’

“For a moment she seemed lost in meditation. Then her eyes lighted as she exclaimed, ‘Yes, I must tell Jesus.’ As I left her home, I had a vision of that joy-illuminated face, and I heard all along my pathway the echo, ‘I must tell Jesus. I must tell Jesus.’ ”

Upon arriving home, he wrote the words of this beloved hymn and composed the tune he titled “Orwigsburg” after his birthplace. I Must Tell Jesus first appeared in the Pentecostal Hymns hymnal in 1894.

Perhaps some might find the song simplistic or repetitious, since in the four stanzas, with their refrains, the phrase “I must tell Jesus” is repeated twenty-one times. But I think it would be true to say that, sometimes, we most definitely need to be reminded—and reminded again—that Jesus alone is the One who can help us.

“Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, yes, I will help you. I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.” Isaiah 41:10

Elisha Hoffman retired from the ministry in 1922, and died at the age of 90 on November 5, 1929, in Chicago, Illinois.

Sources: dianaleaghmatthews.com/i-must-tell-jesus; hymnary.org/person/Hoffman_Elisha; wordwisehymns.com/2011/12/02/i-must-tell-jesus; Wikipedia; hymnologyarchive.com/elisha-hoffman

I must tell Jesus all of my trials;

I cannot bear these burdens alone;

In my distress, He kindly will help me;

He ever loves and cares for His own.


I must tell Jesus! I must tell Jesus!

I cannot bear my burdens alone;

I must tell Jesus! I must tell Jesus!

Jesus can help me, Jesus alone.