Many distinguish between “children’s songs” and “grown-up songs” in the musical repertoire of God’s people. Most songs sung in children’s Bible classes or in Vacation Bible Schools never see the light of day in the worship assembly. While there are some songs that are childish in their tone and language, there are also some songs that have content more suitable for adults than children. A number of songs contain references allusions to having been saved (in the past tense) which may not be applicable to the children who sing them. The song, “Jesus Loves Me,” demonstrates that a simple “children’s” song can contain a wealth of spiritual instruction for adults. While its theology is less developed than songs like “His Grace Reaches Me,” it contains more Scriptural content than some of what is being sung in the assembly today
Jesus loves me! This I know for the Bible tells me so.
The song immediately expresses confidence in Jesus’ love. This confidence and trust is based on God’s revelation. The Bible speaks abundantly of God’s love for us, and specifically of Jesus’ love. Paul wrote in Galatians 2:20 about “the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.” As opposed to “feeling” something (a theme in a number of “adult” songs), here we are admonished to have confidence in the facts given to us by God.
Little ones to Him belong; they are weak, but He is strong.
While the direct application here may be to children, we should remember that Jesus tells us to become as little children. Even those of us who have grown past the stage of physical weakness can appreciate the fact that we can do all things through Him who strengthens us (Philippians 4:13).
Jesus loves me, He who died, heaven’s gate to open wide.
This is the core of the gospel: that Jesus died for us so that we may have access to heaven and fellowship with the Father (see again Galatians 2:20). The willingness to go to the cross for us is the ultimate expression of Jesus’ love.
He will wash away my sin, let His little child come in.
This couplet expresses certainty in Jesus’ ability to save. He is the one who washes away sin (Titus 3:5). “His little child” contributes to the “children’s song” stigma, but where this may be intended in the sense of a physical child, we can understand it in the sense of a spiritual child (1 John 3:1).
Jesus, take this heart of mine; make it pure and wholly Thine.
The third verse expresses our commitment to follow Jesus and be completely devoted to Him. We are to love the Lord with all of our heart. We are to serve without pretense. All of these things are expressed in this couplet.
Thou hast bled and died for me; I will henceforth live for Thee.
This is the reciprocal commitment that Jesus has called us to. He loved us and died for us, therefore we express our love for Him through our life.
Just because a song is sung primarily with children does not render it unsuitable for use in the worship assembly. Many of these songs contain scriptural truths that we need to be reminded of on a regular basis. Because of their simplicity, many of the musical and linguistic devices that might obscure the songs’ meaning are not present. Some have proposed a “Jesus Loves Me” test for the scriptural content of songs. That is, if a song doesn’t have at least as much of a scriptural basis as this song, then it probably should not be sung. As we have seen, that is a higher standard than we might think it to be.
Our definition of a “children’s song” has changed over the years. Consider that the second song in Isaac Watts’ Divine and Moral Songs for Children was a hymn beginning with the words, “I sing th’almighty power of God,” now a staple in many congregations. Children’s songs should not be “dumbed down” songs that don’t really say much of a spiritual nature, but have a catchy tune. Rather, the ideal children’s song is one which expresses God’s divine truth as boldly and coherently as any “adult” song, yet with the simplicity and vocabulary suitable for the young. Such expressions should be usable in the assembly without shame or reservation, as the worship of God should be practiced to the same standard whether out of the mouth of adults or babes (Psalm 8:2).