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From ‘Fairest Lord Jesus’ to ‘In Christ Alone,’ great hymns enrich our faith

If you are a regular reader of this column, you know how much I love great songs.
I was reminded of this on a recent Sunday evening as our congregation spent most of the hour singing significant and inspiring, meaningful hymns — new and old.
During the service I realized again that religious songs have shaped my spirituality and my theology for a lifetime.
When I was about 2 years old, my mother would rock and sing me to sleep. I don’t remember all the songs she sang, but “When He Cometh” which I called for nightly as “bright jewels” made an indelible impression on my thoughts for most of my childhood.
I have never heard the song in church, but I discovered that I could hear many versions of it online. The song is simple, but offers a wonderful image that — even at age 2 — I could understand.
When he cometh, when he cometh, to make up his jewels, his loved and his own. Like the stars of the morning, his bright crown adorning. They shall shine in their beauty, bright gems for his crown.
The last stanza was the prize to me.
Little children, little children, who love their Redeemer, are the jewels, precious jewels, his loved and his own.
The idea of being a jewel in the crown of the Redeemer fascinated me and inspired me to an early attraction to Jesus.
When I was in the eighth grade, I heard the old song “Jesus is All the World to Me.” At first I was attracted to the change of key in the middle of the song. But the more I sang it, the more I was attracted to the idea of a lasting friendship. As a child who had moved often, the idea of a friend who was always there meant much.
Jesus is all the world to me: My life, my joy, my all. He is my strength from day to day. Without him I would fall. When I am sad, to him I go. No other one can cheer me so. When I am sad, he makes me glad. He’s my friend.
The song continues to describe the way the world receives “sunshine and rain” to produce the “harvest’s golden grain.” The next stanza includes a simple thought:
Following him I know I’m right. He watches o’er me day and night. Following him by day and night, he’s my friend.
My first year in college, I was introduced to the amazing “Fairest Lord Jesus.’’ The song has a series of wonderful descriptions of the ways Jesus has control over the world. He also is compared to elements of nature and then declared to be greater than those elements of his creation.
The opening stanza has beautiful appeal:
Fairest Lord Jesus, ruler of all nature, O thou of God and man the Son. Thee will I cherish. Thee will I honor, thou my soul’s glory, joy and crown.
In such a short statement, so much of the nature of Jesus is drawn out. In the second stanza, the meadows, woodlands, and spring are praised, but Jesus is “fairer,” “purer” and “makes the woeful heart to sing.”
In the next stanza, the sunshine, moonlight, and starry hosts are adored, and then Jesus shines brighter and purer “than all the angels heaven can boast.”
The concluding stanza repeats the “Son of God and Son of Man” concept. He is praised as “Beautiful Savior” and “Lord of all nations” for whom “glory and honor, praise and adoration, now and forever more be thine.”
This past fall, I introduced this hymn to a group of college sophomores as part of a poetry unit. To my surprise, not one student had ever heard or sung this song. But most of them came to like the song and its power.
One of my newest sources of inspiration is “In Christ Alone.” It is well worth an hour or two of serious meditation, as its gospel message has tremendous appeal to help our connections with our Savior.
Our a cappella fellowship has a wonderful treasure in the elevated language of great hymns. Even many of the new songs are rich with language of praise and adoration. A lifelong love of song has opened my heart to God.
CONTACT [email protected].

  • Feedback
    Think how much of what you believe comes from songs and how much from the Bible. You just might be surprised how much of your faith depends on the song writers with whom you differ as to religious beliefs.
    John Jenkins
    Gatlinburg, TN
    August, 30 2012

    I too love great songs and am unable to reconcile the Church of Christ practice of singing primarily partial songs. Since the time saved by omitting a verse or two averages less than 45 seconds per verse there must be another reason. Possibly the omitted verses are considered off subject but too is seldom the cause. Can you suggest a reason for the practice?
    John Jenkins
    Gatlinburg, TN
    July, 16 2012

    Thank you, too, for introducing your class of college sophomores to “Fairest Lord Jesus” — a true hymn in terms of lyrical content. “In Christ Alone,” penned by two who are these days endowing Christendom with fine words for worship, began with relatively simple instrumental accompaniment, but is one of the relatively few contemporary songs that lends itself well to a cappella renditions. It’s so good to think about such songs!
    Brian Casey
    Lawson Road Church
    Fillmore, NY
    June, 22 2012

    I’m a regular reader, and I love great songs, too. Thank you for highlighting one I’d almost forgotten — “When He Cometh.” Probably 8 or 10 times from the 70s through the 90s, I *did* hear that song in church, and now I have the opportunity, thanks to your reminder, to share it with my young son. This is so much better fare for his precious heart and mind than “Father Abraham” or the song about Noah building an “arky, arky.”
    Brian Casey
    Lawson Road Church
    Fillmore, NY
    June, 22 2012

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