Posted by: rcottrill | September 24, 2014

O Dearest Jesus

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Words: Johann Heermann (b. Oct. 11, 1585; d. Feb. 17, 1647); English translation by Catherine Winkworth (b. Sept. 13, 1827; d. July 1, 1878)
Music: Herzliebster Jesu (Dearest Heart of Jesus), by Johann Crüger (b. Apr. 9, 1598; d. Feb. 23, 1662)

Wordwise Hymns (Johann Heermann)
The Cyber Hymnal

Note: The translation of this poem quoted in the Wordwise Hymns link is different from what is used here, this one having been done by Catherine Winkworth in 1863. As to the author, it will be helpful for us to consider the comments of eminent hymn historian John Julian, concerning hymn writer Johann Heermann. He says:

“As a hymn writer Heermann ranks with the best of his century, some indeed regarding him as second only to [Paul] Gerhardt….He marks the transition from the objective standpoint of the hymn writers of the Reformation period to the more subjective and experimental [meaning experiential] school that followed him. His hymns are distinguished by depth and tenderness of feeling; but firm faith and confidence in face of trial; by deep love to Christ, and humble submission to the will of God.” (Dictionary of Hymnology, Vol. I, p. 505)

The present hymn illustrates many of these characteristics. It is a strongly emotional expression of wonder at the sufferings of Christ, and a clear explanation of what has brought about those sufferings. It is, in fact, a rich theology lesson!

Because if the length of the hymn (fifteen stanzas in Catherine Winkworth’s translation), and because of the carefully laid out logical argument, all through, it’s difficult to omit any stanzas, and therefore, perhaps, the hymn is less used. It might be possible, though, to plan a whole service around this hymn, treating it as several hymns (e.g. CH-1-4, then 5-7, then 8-11, and finally 12-15), with appropriate Scriptures and brief comments between It’s impossible to deal with the hymn in full here. But it would be worthwhile for you to go to the Cyber Hymnal page and read it in its entirety.

Heermann begins by asking a question:

CH-1) O dearest Jesus, what law hast Thou broken
That such sharp sentence should on Thee be spoken?
Of what great crime hast Thou to make confession–
What dark transgression?

Then comes the shattering answer, it is because of my sin (cf. I Cor. 15:3; I Pet. 2:24):

CH-3) Whence come these sorrows, whence this mortal anguish?
It is my sins for which Thou, Lord, must languish;
Yea, all the wrath, the woe, Thou dost inherit,
This I do merit.

The substitutionary nature of Christ’s death is recognized. It is also seen as a paradox–those deserving of punishment are delivered, while the holy and sinless One bears the burden (cf. Isa. 53:5-6).

CH-4) What punishment so strange is suffered yonder!
The Shepherd dies for sheep that loved to wander;
The Master pays the debt His servants owe Him,
Who would not know Him.

The utter sinfulness of sin is confessed, and its due condemnation (cf. Jer. 17:9; Rom. 3:10-18):

CH-6) There was no spot in me by sin untainted;
Sick with sin’s poison, all my heart had fainted;
My heavy guilt to hell had well-nigh brought me,
Such woe it wrought me.

There is a recognition that such a Saviour is worthy of our best, though even that is not enough to honour Him (Rom. 12:1).

CH-10) Yet unrequited, Lord, I would not leave Thee;
I will renounce whate’er doth vex or grieve Thee
And quench with thoughts of Thee and prayers most lowly
All fires unholy.

But even living a godly life escapes the author, as it does us, if we rely on our own strength. We must depend upon the work of the Holy Spirit to form the character of Christ in us (Gal. 5:16, 22-23):

CH-11) But since my strength will nevermore suffice me
To crucify desires that still entice me,
To all good deeds, oh, let Thy Spirit win me
And reign within me!

The hymn writer looks to the future, when in heaven with all the saints, he will give to the Lord unending praise (cf. Rev. 5:13; 19:5-6):

CH-15) And when, dear Lord, before Thy throne in heaven
To me the crown of joy at last is given,
Where sweetest hymns Thy saints forever raise Thee,
I, too, shall praise Thee.

1) What truths expressed in this hymn particularly impress you?

2) Is there any other hymn that deals with such depth and power with the work of salvation?

Wordwise Hymns (Johann Heermann)
The Cyber Hymnal


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