Theme for Insomniacs
Was it written to send insomniacs to sleep? Not the sole intent of the Methodist movement leader and hymn writer Charles Wesley, though insomniacs might be able to relate to the hymn about their crisis. Nighttime terrors may be triggered by the madness that haunts the world, similar to the one that Jacob in Genesis 32 wrestled with. Wesley based “Come, O Thou Traveler Unknown” on this scriptural story and wrote his poem in 1742. Jacob awaited an attack by his brother Esau on the road to Canaan. He was attacked instead by a benevolent spirit whom Jacob mistook as his enraged brother. The traveler wished for their wrestling to end but Jacob wouldn’t let it until he gets a blessing. Wesley’s poem indicates Jacob is us and the traveler is God. The journey is long and troubled but neither will let go, God shall have our backs, love us, and absolve us at the end of the struggle because it’s not only ours but also His. This is universal love.
This is the hymn that holds the most importance amongst all of Wesley’s hymns. This is also the view of “The Father of Hymnology” Isaac Watts about “Come, O Thou Traveler Unknown”. Other theologians and hymn writers sang their praises to Wesley’s hymn. The hymn was admired though it was rarely sung. Back then the reason was the length (14 verses then, which have been abridged to merely 5), perhaps even the story itself was deemed controversial by some sectors. But however it was judged throughout the centuries, Wesley’s message is important: Struggles transform us, that is why there are struggles.
Having substance, “Come, O Thou Traveler Unknown” also has various sounds or tunes. Sometimes it’s sung to a traditional English or Irish tune, but however it’s sung, its substance carries the entire hymn through. It is that we are loved by God and we cling to Him for that endless love.