Fairest Lord Jesus

Anon. German, 1677; anon. trans. of st. 1–3, 1850; st. 4 by J. A. Seiss, 1873
Addressed to Jesus, to each other, and then again to Jesus
   Fairest Lord Jesus,Is. 4:2; Zech. 9:17
   Ruler of all nature,Gen. 1:1; Eph. 1:21
Son of God and Son of Man!Mark 1:1; Luke 3:22–23; Ps. 80:17; Luke 22:69
   Thee will I cherish,
   thee will I honor,1 Pet. 3:15
thou, my soul’s glory, joy, and crown.
   Fair are the meadows,
   fair are the woodlands,1 Chr. 16:33
robed in the blooming garb of spring:Matt. 6:29; Gen. 1:12
   Jesus is fairer,
   Jesus is purer,
who makes the woeful heart to sing.Ps. 84:2; Jer. 31:7–26
   Fair is the sunshine,
   fair is the moonlight,
and all the twinkling, starry host:Gen. 1:18
   Jesus shines brighter,2 Cor. 4:6; Rev. 22:16
   Jesus shines purer
than all the angels heav’n can boast.Heb. 1:4
   Beautiful Savior!
   Lord of the nations!Rev. 15:4
Son of God and Son of Man!
   Glory and honor,Rev. 5:12–13; 7:12
   praise, adoration,
now and forevermore be thine.Jude 25

Perhaps it is not unusual for the Christian to be distracted from his prayers and scriptural meditation by the beautiful tree that grows outside his study window or the moonbeam from the skylight in the night hour he normally dedicates to devotions. God’s glory, ever clear in creation and being almost absolute, becomes absolute. For such Christians (perhaps fewer now than in the nineteenth century) this anonymous hymn is a necessary correction. In comparing God favorably against other things, it echoes the psalmist’s preference for “a day in your courts” over “a thousand elsewhere” (Ps. 84:10). The tree and the moonbeam are like a mirror. They have no light of their own. All their beauty comes from Him who is both the source of all beauty and more beautiful than all the things he’s reflected in.

Because this is the case, the first and last stanzas are dedicated solely to the beauty of Christ, who is not only fair, but also “ruler” over all the nature admired in the interior stanzas. It may seem discursive, in line 3 of the first stanza, to muse on Christ’s humanity and divinity, but the doctrine of the incarnation must always be tied directly to the doctrine of general revelation. God does not despise the material world. Its loveliness and his incarnation in it both speak to its virtues. But it isn’t “nature” but the “ruler of all nature” that we must honor and cherish.

The second stanza reminds us that nature is beautiful under the rule of our dominion (“meadows”) but also as wilderness (“woodlands”). To find a scriptural passage about the beauty of nature, the poet turns to Christ’s language in Matthew 6, where he compares the lilies of the field with the robes of Solomon (“robed in the blooming garb of spring”). This comparison is developed in the last line of the second stanza, for it is the woeful heart that Christ comforts in Matthew 6 by causing anxieties to cease. The pattern of comparison established in the second stanza continues to the third as we now turn our attention on the heavens. Here, too, the third line connects to the last, where “host” makes us think of angels. Since Scripture habitually refers to angels in terms of light (Acts 12:7) it makes sense to see Christ as not only brighter than sun, moon, and stars but as brighter than the angels, too.

The last stanza is a response to all that comes before. Rather than remarking more on creation, we turn back to the creator and note that he—not the things he has made, but he himself—is the object of all worship, and not just for his role in creation but also for the salvation and rule that he has obtained.

The tune CRUSADER’S HYMN is masterful—a folk tune to make envious even the most studied melodist. It begins with a rather static opening idea (measures 1–2), which then repeats two steps higher (on the third scale-degree, “mi,” in measures 3–4). The idea threatens to repeat again, yet two steps higher still (on the fifth scale-degree, “sol,” in measure 5), but leaps up to the melody’s climax unexpectedly early. It then gradually descends to a cadence at the tune’s half-way mark. Then the same pattern continues in the second half, with a new idea—only slightly less static in that it descends by a step from B-flat in measure 9 to A-flat in measure 10—that is repeated, though this time a step lower instead of two steps higher. The tune’s final phrase relates to the opening one with its repeated notes as well as to the end of the tune’s first half with its two half-notes.

The form of the tune works especially well with the repeated grammatical structures of the text in lines 1–2 and lines 4–5 in most stanzas. The tune’s own parallel ideas match these perfectly. In addition, the abundant parallelism of the tune helps make the comparative nature of the hymn’s text sink in. And when Nature is compared to her Creator, she concedes to him his rightful place.