“Come, Thou Precious Ransom, Come!”
This hymn, #55 in The Lutheran Hymnal, is a prayer to the only Savior for the world of sinners, Christ Jesus. The writer of this hymn is unknown. In 1664, the Rev. Johann Gottfried Olearius of Halle, Germany, first published this hymn in his book Jesus! Poetische Erstlinge an geistlichen Deutschen Liedern und Madrigaleln [Poetic Firsts in Spiritual German Songs and Madrigals]. It was entitled “On Advent” and based on Matthew 21:5-9.
Professor August Crull, a graduate of Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, Missouri in 1865, translated this hymn into English, giving it the new title of “Come, Thou Precious Ransom, Come.” It was included among the hymns in the Evangelical Hymn Book of 1889. The Lutheran Hymnal of 1941 altered the second stanza extensively.
The opening stanza is an intercession by believers to Him who alone is “the Way, the Truth, and the Life” (John 14:6a):
Come, Thou precious Ransom, come;
only Hope for sinful mortals!
Come, O Savior of the world;
open are to Thee all portals.
Come, Thy beauty let us see;
anxiously we wait for Thee!
In this stanza we have the voice of saving faith in the “Seed” of the woman, “which is Christ” (Galatians 3:16b). An unbeliever would not talk as the hymn writer talks in this opening stanza, for “the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness unto him; neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned” (I Corinthians 2:14). However, we, as the disciples of Jesus, know and believe that He most certainly came in the “flesh” (John 1:14a) as our promised and absolutely-needed “Immanuel” (Isaiah 7:14b) “when the fullness of the time was come” (Galatians 4:4a), that is, at God’s own exact appointed time. Since we, as the followers of Christ, “walk by faith, not by sight” (II Corinthians 5:7), we again and again look, by faith, to “Jesus, the Author and Finisher of our faith, who, for the joy that was set before Him, endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:2). The Apostle Peter, in his First Epistle, wrote to his dear brethren about Jesus Christ in this way: “Whom having not seen, ye love; in whom, though now ye see Him not, yet believing ye rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory, receiving the end of your faith, even the salvation of your souls” (1:8-9).
As God’s dear “children by faith in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:26), we want Him, who is our precious and priceless Ransom, to keep coming to us through His written Word of “truth” (John 17:17b), to keep reminding us that when we sin and fall short of being “perfect” (Matthew 5:48a), “we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous, and He is the propitiation [the totally satisfactory ransom and payment] for our sins, and not for our sins only, but also for the sins of the whole world” (I John 2:1b-2).
Since the Law of God demands complete compliance to all of its demands and commands, we, who were conceived “in sin” (Psalm 51:5b) and are included in St. Paul’s declaration that “all have sinned and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23), are “guilty” (James 2:10b) and “cursed” (Galatians 3:10b) before God according to His holiness and His justice. How can we be freed from this great guilt and complete curse of God’s Law? We have the only right and changeless answer to this question in the priceless words of Jesus Himself in John 8: “If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed” (v. 36). The Apostle Paul also gave and continues giving lasting comfort to us undeserving sinners when he wrote in his Epistle to the Galatian Christians: “Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the Law, being made a curse for us, for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone that hangeth on a tree’” (3:13). No one else but Christ Jesus has paid the full and completely satisfactory ransom price to God for us and for all sinners in the world. We are assured of this marvelous truth by the Apostle Paul’s message to Timothy: “There is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time” (I Timothy 2:5-6).
Therefore, God’s “people” (I Peter 2:10a), generation after generation, century after century, sing with persistent intercession, grateful worship, and genuine faith: “Come, Thou precious Ransom, come; only hope for sinful mortals; come, O Savior of the world, open are to Thee all portals; come Thy beauty let us see, anxiously we wait for Thee.” By God’s grace in Christ, coming to us through His Gospel to work in our hearts and souls, may this also be our continuing song and prayer.
In the second stanza of this hymn, the individual disciple of Jesus sings:
Enter now my waiting heart,
glorious King and Lord most holy.
Dwell in me and ne’er depart,
tho’ I am but poor and lowly.
Ah, what riches will be mine,
when Thou art my Guest Divine.
This is, once again, the “supplication” (Philippians 4:6b) of a dear “sheep” (John 10:27a) of “the good Shepherd” (John 10:11a). Only a believer in Jesus has a waiting heart, a trusting heart, a heart which identifies Jesus as his glorious King and Lord most holy. The Psalmist David, in the 62nd Psalm, confessed: “Truly my soul waiteth upon God; from Him cometh my salvation. He only is my Rock and my Salvation; He is my Defense; I shall not be greatly moved” (vv. 1-2). This same psalmist, in the 27th Psalm, made this confession and gave this counsel to all of his readers: “I had fainted, unless I had believed to see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait on the Lord; be of good courage, and He shall strengthen thine heart; wait, I say, on the Lord” (vv. 13-14).
Just as in the first stanza of this hymn where the born-again Christian (John 3:3; James 1:18) prays that his Savior would keep coming to him through His Word, the Holy Scriptures (John 17:17), so also, in this second stanza, we have a similar petition to the Savior to keep entering and to keep dwelling in the individual Christian’s waiting, believing, trusting heart and soul. Jesus, in John 8, taught the following: “He that is of God heareth God’s words” (v. 47a). The waiting heart, the believing heart, the trusting heart of the child of God keeps on hearing God speak to him through His Word, keeps on wanting the Word of God to enter, dwell, and live in his heart and soul more and more, again and again.
Though we, God’s children by faith in Christ Jesus, are poor and lowly on our own because of our flesh and our many sins and shortcomings; though we are not “worthy” (Genesis 32:10) of having any of God’s gifts and blessings through Christ Jesus, yet our glorious and gracious King, our divine Guest, “the true God and eternal life” (I John 5:20b), “though He was rich, yet for [our] sakes He became poor, that [we] through His poverty might be rich” (II Corinthians 8:9b), rich by “His grace,” having “the forgiveness of sins” (Ephesians 1:7b), rich because of “an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for [us]” (I Peter 1:4).
In the third stanza of this hymn, we have the believer in Jesus coming to Him “with thanksgiving” (Philippians 4:6b):
My hosannas and my palms
graciously receive, I pray Thee.
Evermore as best I can,
Savior, I will homage pay Thee;
and in faith I will embrace,
Lord, Thy merit through Thy grace.
An unnamed psalmist, in the 116th Psalm, asked a very important question and then gave a three-part answer: “What shall I render unto the Lord for all His benefits toward me? I will take the cup of salvation, and call upon the name of the Lord; I will pay my vows unto the Lord now in the presence of all His people” (vv. 12-14). This third stanza expresses similar thanks, praise and homage (respect, reverence) to the Savior for the benefits of His vicarious atonement, the merit of His fulfillment of God’s Law to earn righteousness for the world of sinners (Romans 5:19) and His innocent suffering and death as the payment to God for the elimination and cancellation of the huge debt caused by our sins and by the sins of the whole world (I Peter 1:18; I John 2:2; II Corinthians 5:19). In his second Epistle to the Corinthian Christians, the Apostle Paul confessed: “The love of Christ constraineth us, because we thus judge that if One died for all, then were all dead; and that He died for all, that they which live [the believers in Christ] should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto Him which died for them and rose again” (vv. 14-15). Here we see, as the third stanza sets forth, that saving faith embraces the meritorious, substitutionary work of Christ to God and that, in grateful remembrance of that work, true believers live each day for Him who lived, died, and rose from the dead for them. Let us, the disciples of Jesus today, grow in our desire to keep on embracing Him by faith, showing forth our ever-increasing homage for Him and for His work of Redemption manifested in His precious Word, thanking Him more and more because He first graciously “loved [us] and gave Himself for [us]” (Galatians 2:20b).
Now let us consider the fourth and final stanza of this Advent hymn:
Hail, hosanna, David’s Son!
Help, Lord, hear our supplication!
Let Thy kingdom, scepter, crown,
bring us blessing and salvation;
that forever we may sing:
“Hail, hosanna” to our King.
On Palm Sunday many centuries ago, Matthew, in his Gospel, reported that “the multitudes that went before and that followed, cried, saying: ‘Hosanna to the Son of David; blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord; hosanna in the highest!’” (21:9). This “Son of David” (Matthew 1:1 and 6), this Descendant of David, this human Seed of David deserves many on-going hosannas and many songs of praise, not only in this life, but also in the perfect life reserved and waiting for all of God’s “children” (Galatians 3:26) in the glory and bliss of “paradise” (Luke 23:43b). Why? He deserves such (and is accorded such in this final verse of the hymn) because “He was wounded for our transgressions; He was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement of our peace was upon Him, and with His stripes we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5). The Apostle John, in Revelation 5, wrote that he “heard the voice of many angels, …the number of them was ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice: ‘Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and blessing’” (v. 11).
In gratitude for this Lamb of God, this King of grace and mercy, this Son of David, who has brought us the rich blessings of pardon for all of our sins and the treasure of our eternal salvation, let us grow in continuing to bring Him our hosannas, our praise, our honor, our worship, our reverence, and our supplications in hymns such as “Come, Thou Precious Ransom, Come,” ever desiring to show our love and thanks more and more for Him who “first loved us” (I John 4:19b).
— R. J. L.