Jesus, friend of little children,
Be a friend to me;
Take my hand, and ever keep me
Close to thee.
Teach me how to grow in goodness,
Daily as I grow;
Thou hast been a child, and surely
Thou dost know.
Never leave me, nor forsake me;
Ever be my friend;
For I need thee, from life’s dawning
To its end.
Walter J Mathams (1853-1931)
Despite its air of simplicity this ‘Child’s Prayer to Christ’ is sophisticated in what it is actually praying for, and complicated in its phraseology. It is clearly for a ‘little’ child; (one verse, not included here speaks of the child moving ‘into youth’). How much does such a child understand about growing and maturing in understanding? In other words this is another children’s hymn that hovers on the knife edge between what the child might say and what the adult thinks. The image of Jesus as ‘friend’ of children that opens and closes the hymn comes from the episode in the Gospels where the disciples try to keep the mothers and children away from Jesus, while he insists on taking them in his arms and blessing them.
This hymn has been immensely popular, having been translated into Welsh and much used in African churches.
Walter Mathams had an extraordinary career. He went to sea in his teens and got involved in the Alaska gold rush. At 21 he entered college to train for the Baptist ministry, and served in Preston. Failing health sent him to Australia in 1979. After four years he returned and served in Falkirk and Birmingham. In 1900 he became a Church of Scotland chaplain and spent three years in Egypt, after which he served churches in Orkney and Mallaig, retiring in 1919. He was widely admired as a preacher and writer. The tune was written for these words for a publication in 1930.