This popular Easter hymn, #200 in The Lutheran Hymnal (1941), was written by Samuel Medley (1738–1799) and first appeared in George Whitefield’s Psalms and Hymns in the year 1775. Medley apparently spent the first twenty-some years of his life like the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11ff.) in riotous living and blasphemous unbelief. But, while recovering from serious wounds suffered in battle during a tour of duty in the British navy, he lived at the home of his grandfather, who prayed for his conversion and read to him a sermon by Isaac Watts. According to several published sources, it was thus that Medley was brought to “the knowledge of the truth” (I Timothy 2:4b) and converted to faith in Christ Jesus as his Savior. He joined a Baptist church in London and, at the urging of his pastor, studied for the ministry. In 1767 he accepted a call to the pastorate of a small church at Watford and soon thereafter became the pastor of a congregation in Liverpool, where he served with apparent success until his death in 1799.
The hymn’s title is a paraphrase of Job’s initial statement in his prophecy of the Savior’s resurrection and in his bold confession of faith in his own resurrection on the Last Day, as we find this in Job 19:25–27, “I know that my Redeemer liveth, and that He shall stand at the latter day upon the earth; and though, after my skin, worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God, whom I shall see for myself; and mine eyes shall behold, and not another, though my reins be consumed within me.” The first two stanzas of the hymn express primarily the comfort of the Easter angel(s) in Matthew 27:5–7, Mark 16:6–7, and Luke 24:5–7 and of the purpose of Jesus’ ascension and exaltation to the right hand of God as stated in Ephesians chapter 4:
“‘I know that my Redeemer lives!’
What comfort this sweet sentence gives!
He lives! He lives, who once was dead;
He lives, my ever-living Head!
“He lives triumphant from the grave!
He lives eternally to save!
He lives all-glorious in the sky;
He lives exalted there on high!”
The next five stanzas summarize the Savior’s blessed ministration and gracious rule of His Church on earth in His state of exaltation according to His three-fold office: As our Divine Prophet, Christ continues to reveal Himself in the Gospel as the Son of God and the Redeemer of the world, and this very specifically in the proclamation of the Gospel through the Pastoral Office. As our Divine Priest, He imparts by means of the Sacraments and the Office of the Keys the satisfaction of God’s justice by His vicarious atonement; and, on the basis of His propitiation, He intercedes for us before the throne of God. And as our Divine King, He graciously rules over His Church on earth with His Word and mightily protects His saints against all of their enemies both temporal and spiritual. In running through those stanzas, we shall cite only one (or perhaps two) passages from which Medley’s statements might well have been derived, as the poet rejoices not only in the fact of Christ’s resurrection but also in the fruits of His resurrection as He “lives and reigns to all eternity” (Luther) as the Savior and Head of His Church.
We note that Medley does not refer to the various facets of our risen Savior’s care for His Church in any particular order but merely lets them flow freely from stanza to stanza in a poetic recitation of what great things He has done and continues to do for our salvation. While we could enlarge upon Medley’s words with extended commentary based on the texts cited, we prefer — not only for the sake of brevity but also to allow his stanzas to move along as we are used to singing them — only to cite familiar texts of Scripture for the reader to look up as the authority for the poet’s enumeration of the great blessings we enjoy day by day as Christians in the loving care of our resurrected, exalted, and ever-living Redeemer and Head.
“He lives to bless me with His love (Romans 8:35–39);
He lives to plead for me above (Romans 8:34; I John 2:1; I Timothy 2:5);
He lives my hungry soul to feed (John 6:35, 51; I Peter 2:2–3);
He lives to help in time of need (Hebrews 2:18; 4:14–16).
“He lives to grant me rich supply (Romans 8:31);
He lives to guide me with His eye (I Peter 3:12);
He lives to comfort me when faint (Matthew 11:28–29);
He lives to hear my soul’s complaint (John 16:24).
“He lives to silence all my fears (Luke 12:32);
He lives to wipe away my tears (John 16:20);
He lives to calm my troubled heart (John 14:27);
He lives all blessings to impart (John 14:13–14).
“He lives, my kind, wise, heavenly Friend (John 15:15);
He lives and loves me to the end (Matthew 28:20b);
He lives, and while He lives I’ll sing (Romans 15:9);
He lives, My Prophet, Priest and King (Deuteronomy 18:15;
Hebrews 7:26–27; II Timothy 4:18).
“He lives and grants me daily breath (Acts 17:25);
He lives, and I shall conquer death (I Corinthians 15:55–57);
He lives my mansion to prepare (John 14:2);
He live to bring me safely there (John 14:3).”
No wonder this hymn is a favorite, not only at Easter time when we specially commemorate the resurrection of our Savior, not only at the funeral of a believer when the confession of the risen Christ is of such great importance and comfort to us, but throughout our lives as we endure day after day “the sufferings of this present time” (Romans 8:18a) and confidently look to our “ever-living Head” for help, for comfort, for sustenance, for strength, for endurance, and for the sure and certain expectation of “the glory that shall be revealed in us” (v. 18b) by His grace!
As we therefore celebrate the mighty resurrection of our Savior on Easter morning, we focus not only upon the indisputable facts which, taken together, form a body of evidence that, on its face, would stand up in any court of objective inquiry as supporting both Jesus’ death and resurrection; but we rejoice particularly in the importance and comfort that His resurrection provides to us Christians for our faith (I Corinthians 15:17a), for the surety of our justification (I Corinthians 15:17b), and for our hope (I Corinthians 15:18 and 20). For, as we are reminded in summary by Question and Answer #152 in our Catechism (CPH, 1943 Ed.), our Savior’s resurrection definitely proves a) that He is the very Son of God, b) that His Word is absolutely true and reliable, c) that God the Father accepted His sacrifice as payment-in-full for the reconciliation of the world, and d) that on the Last Day all believers will rise to eternal life.
However, we also take note, as does the writer of the hymn before us, of unspeakably great blessings, both temporal and spiritual, that are ours as the result of Jesus’ resurrection — blessings to true believers that preceded His resurrection in time (as the Psalmist enumerates them in Psalm 103) and blessings that continue to come to us by virtue of it. This risen Savior is, after all, our exalted Prophet, Priest and King, whom the Father “gave…to be the Head over all things to the Church, which is His body, the fulness of Him that filleth all in all” (Ephesians 1:22–23). This is the very Lord of whom the Psalmist sings in Psalm 103 these familiar words not only about His divine providence of all His creatures but particularly about His special care of His believing children: “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all His benefits; who forgiveth all thine iniquities, who healeth all thy diseases; who redeemeth thy life from destruction; who crowneth thee with lovingkindness and tender mercies; who satisfieth thy mouth with good things so that thy youth is renewed like the eagle’s” (vv. 2–5; cf. Isaiah 40:28–31). It is these blessings and others which the hymnwriter enumerates in stanzas 3 through 7 for our Easter comfort and assurance as we journey through this vale of tears with our eyes of faith focused on “Jesus, the Author and Finisher of our faith” (Hebrews 12:2). “To Him be glory both now and forever! Amen!” (II Peter 3:18b).
“He lives, all glory to His name! (Philippians 2:9–11);
He lives, my Jesus, still the same (Hebrews 13:8).
Oh, the sweet joy this sentence gives:
‘I know that my Redeemer lives!’ (Job 19:25).”
— D. T. M.