Hymn of the Month, April 2016
Researched and written by Rev. Nicholas Davelaar
Many of the hymns we sing are gems of wisdom, guidance, and admonition, drawn from God’s Word and set to music so that the word of Christ might dwell in us richly. Let’s take some time to dig into another of these this month, “Jesus Lives, and So Shall I.”
Christian Gellert, the writer of this month’s hymn, was born in 1715 to a Lutheran pastor and his wife in the south-east part of what today is Germany, near the Czech border. As a young adult, he earned a degree in theology at the University of Leipzig, and afterwards returned home and began serving as an assistant to his father. Within a couple years, however, he abandoned the idea of following in his father’s footsteps. According to one account, he discovered that his memory was so treacherous that he could not deliver sermons without a manuscript, which was unacceptable in Lutheran churches at that time and place. Consequently, he became a private tutor and later pursued further academic studies.
In time Gellert became professor at the University of Leipzig, lecturing on poetry, rhetoric, and literary style. From then until his death in 1769, he served at that university, teaching students such as Goethe and Lessing, who would become literary and philosophical giants. Gellert would be long remembered by his students for his deep and sincere piety and his extraordinary interest in their welfare.
Gellert also produced many warm, pietistic poems and other writings, and these brought him great fame during his lifetime. For better or worse, however, the writings of students such as Goethe and Lessing would eclipse his (though not in piety). Thus today Gellert is known primarily as a forerunner of the golden age of German literature.
Gellert wrote this month’s hymn in German; we have a Presbyterian minister named John Dunmore Lang to thank for later recognizing its value and translating it into English. Though born in Scotland, Lang set sail for Australia in 1822, a couple years after finishing his ministerial studies. He holds the distinction of being the first Presbyterian minister in Sydney. He was a difficult man who is remembered not only as a pastor, but also as a great promoter of immigration to and education within the young colony.
The tune of our hymn predates its words by about a century. Johann Crüger, better known for the tune of “Now Thank We All Our God,” was born on 1598. For most of his life he served as a church musician and a teacher of music in Berlin, where he died in 1662.
Sources: Psalter Hymnal Handbook, Hymnary.com, Wikipedia.com, Australian Dictionary of Biography.
“Jesus Lives, and So Shall I” is, to borrow the description of one author, a strong song of comfort in Christ’s resurrection. Before his crucifixion Jesus told his disciples, “Because I live, you also will live” (John 14:19). In this hymn, sung in the wake of his death and resurrection, we rejoice that our Savior lives, and that because of death and resurrection we do too. We begin each verse declaring that Jesus lives, and then go on to articulate what that means for each of us who trusts in him.
Jesus lives, and so shall I.
Death! thy sting is gone forever!
He who deigned for me to die,
lives, the bands of death to sever.
He shall raise me from the dust:
Jesus is my hope and trust.
Our song begins with the joyful hope that comes first to many of our hearts and minds when we think about Christ’s resurrection: death’s sting is gone forever! Drawn from the lively testimony of the apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 15, Gellert’s words lead us to rejoice that the bands of death are severed and no longer have a hold on all we who are united with Christ. Why don’t they? Because, as each of us may rejoice to sing, Jesus deigned for me to die. Deigned is a lofty-sounding word that simply means “condescended” or “stooped down.” That’s what Jesus did, according to Romans 5:8: “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” He humbled himself to the point of death, to borrow the language of Philippians 2, in order that sinners might live. The apostle Paul made that clear in 1 Corinthians 15:21-22: “For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.”
Jesus lives, and so shall I. That is our hope and joy, even given the fact that each of us will die in time (unless Jesus first returns in glory). Why? Though we die, each of us may rejoice that Jesus shall raise me from the dust. Jesus assures us of that. In John 6:40 we hear him declare, “For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” Consequently, though each of us may well die before Jesus returns in glory, it is enough for us to know that Jesus lives. And so we sing: Jesus is my hope and trust.
Jesus lives, and reigns supreme;
and, his kingdom still remaining,
I shall also be with him,
ever living, ever reigning.
God has promised; be it must:
Jesus is my hope and trust.
This second verse opens with one of the glorious truths proclaimed throughout the New Testament: Jesus reigns supreme. 1 Corinthians 15:27, for instance, declares: “God has put all things in subjection under his feet.” That glorious truth is a comfort to us because he promised his disciples in John 14:3 that he would come again and taken them to himself. We hear that echoed in the closing strains of the book of Revelation. In Revelation 21:3 we hear our glorious future spoken of: “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.” We have every reason to look forward to that—living and reigning with Jesus Christ—not only because God has promised, but also because Jesus lives, and reigns supreme. He is capable of doing what he promised. And so we sing: Jesus is my hope and trust.
Jesus lives, and by his grace,
vict'ry o'er my passions giving,
I will cleanse my heart and ways,
ever to his glory living.
Me he raises from the dust:
Jesus is my hope and trust.
In this third verse we focus on the struggle against our sinful nature each of us is engaged in. Once again, our hope is that Jesus lives. More specifically, together we rejoice that he lives and by his grace gives each of us vict’ry o’er my passions, that is, our sinful desires. We hear that idea expressed, for instance, in Romans 6:3-4, where we’re told that we have been buried and raised with him so that we “might walk in newness of life.” Thus we go on in our hymn to commit together to cleanse my heart and ways, ever to his glory living, as we are exhorted to do in 1 Corinthians 10:31. Because he lives we will not fail, and so in the midst of even laborious efforts and disheartening failings, we carry on and sing with joy: Jesus is my hope and trust.
Jesus lives! I know full well
naught from him my heart can sever,
life nor death nor pow'rs of hell,
joy nor grief, henceforth forever.
None of all his saints is lost:
Jesus is my hope and trust.
This verse draws on one of the most beloved passages of Scripture, the conclusion of Romans 8: “For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” In this fourth verse we rejoice that Jesus lives and naught (nothing) can separate us from him. To put it differently, none of all his saints is lost. Jesus himself said as much in John 10:28: “I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.” Consequently, we who receive him and rest in him as our Lord and Savior today may sing with confidence: Jesus is my hope and trust.
Jesus lives and death is now
but my entrance into glory.
Courage, then, my soul, for thou
hast a crown of life before thee;
thou shalt find thy hopes were just:
Jesus is the Christian's trust.
In this final verse we remind ourselves of the glory that awaits us after we die because Jesus lives. We are being prepared for “an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison,” in the words of 2 Corinthians 4:17, and death is now but our entrance into that glory. Thus we finish our hymn calling ourselves and each other to take courage, much as David did in Psalm 31:24: “Be strong, and let your heart take courage, all you who wait for the LORD!” Jesus lives, and given that “none who wait for [God] shall be put to shame” (Ps 25:3), we call ourselves and each other to trust in him. Jesus, we testify in our final, joyful declaration, is the Christian’s trust!