The thrust of the song is to follow Jesus without regard to circumstances. The words alone are a great encouragement to steadfastness in the Lord, but when we learn the story of the man who inspired the song, it truly comes alive. A man named Nokseng, from the Northeast Indian state of Assam is the originator of this popular nineteenth century hymn. The lyrics are taken from his last words leading up to his execution.
As the chief of his village called for him to renounce his newfound faith in Christ he declared “I have decided to follow Jesus.” The chief responded by killing his two children and threatening his wife. Nokseng continued “Though none go with me, I still will follow.” The chief then executed his wife. As the executioner turned to Nokseng, he sang “The cross before me, the world behind me”, and he was then executed. An Indian missionary named Sadhu Sundar Singh originally formed the words into a song. Later, an American hymn editor named William Jensen Reynold’s arranged the song into its current form which we recognize from our song books.
In the Bible, we read many stories of those who refused to relinquish their faith despite pressure from the opponents of God. In Hebrews 11, we have account after account of those who did extraordinary things because their faith was so strong. Many went to their deaths just like Nokseng for their dedication (Heb. 11:35-38). Sadly, these examples are so outstanding because they are the exception and not the rule.
The fact is, most people either reject the Lord from the start, or they are fickle in their faith and quick to turn away. The history of the nation of Israel is a constant roller coaster ride of faith, apostasy, punishment, repentance, and restoration. In Hebrews 3:1-19, the writer encouraged his readers not to follow this pattern of unbelief. He used the faithfulness of Moses and Jesus to demonstrate that men can be faithful despite extraordinarily difficult circumstances. He then reminded them of the dire consequences of those who rebel against God in their unbelief.
Therefore, as the Hebrews writer warned, we must “Beware, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God; but exhort one another daily, while it is called “Today,” lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin” (Heb. 3:12-13). With the promise that Christ has defeated death (Heb. 2:14-16; 1 Cor. 15:50-57), we must “…be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the world of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord” (1 Cor. 15:58). Let us not be fickle in our faith but let us be fully grounded in our faith.