This hymn, written by Sigismund von Birken and published in Nürnberg in 1653, is a great Lenten favorite in Lutheran hymnody. As are many of the hymns written during this period, this one is very subjective or personal in its confession and in its message, with the pronouns “I,” “me,” and “my” throughout all six stanzas. It is, of course, very fitting for the season of Lent (Hymn #140 in the Lent section of The Lutheran Hymnal); but it can, with profit, be sung and “pondered” during every other season of the Church Year as a meditation on Christ’s vicarious atonement, as a confession of faith in its efficacy, and as a humble prayer for its benefits in the Christian’s life. Directed specifically to our Savior, the hymn is a very intimate and grateful prayer from the heart of a believer.
In the first stanza, the child of God, according to his “new man” (Ephesians 4:24), confesses and petitions:
Jesus, I will ponder now
on Thy holy passion.
With Thy Spirit me endow
for such meditation.
Grant that I in love and faith
may the image cherish
of Thy suffering, pain, and death,
that I may not perish.
The disciple of Jesus desires to “ponder,” to meditate upon, to consider in his mind and heart the holy, sinless “passion,” suffering, and death of “the Lamb of God” (John 1:29) “for the sins of the whole world” (I John 2:2). Is there anything more comforting and reassuring for the child of God to meditate upon “day and night” (Psalm 1:2b) than what God has graciously done in Christ Jesus for every single sinner who has lived in the past, is living at the present, or will live in the future?
“With Thy Spirit me endow for such meditation.” “Graciously send me Thy Holy Spirit, working through the written and spoken Word of God, which is His ‘sword’ (Ephesians 6:17b) in piercing, penetrating, and entering human hearts and souls, richly to bless my pondering and meditation on Jesus’ vicarious atonement, that perfect, finished, and completely satisfactory work by my Substitute before God, not only for me, but for all other human beings.” This is the plea of one of Jesus’ “sheep” (John 10:27), one who has been brought “out of [the] darkness” of ignorance and unbelief into the “marvelous light” (I Peter 2:9b) of God’s “grace” (Ephesians 2:8a), brought to receive, embrace, and enjoy for himself the priceless gifts of this undeserved love of God on account of Jesus’ passion. The first of these priceless gifts is the pardon of every sin (“not imputing their trespasses unto them” – II Corinthians 5:19b), and the second priceless gift is righteousness before the one, true and holy God (“by the obedience of One shall [the] many be made righteous” – Romans 5:19b).
“Grant that I in love and faith may the image cherish of Thy suffering, pain, and death, that I may not perish.” Here we have the petition of the disciple of Jesus that with grateful love and persistent trust he may continue to cherish, may continue to treasure, and may continue to remember that “Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the Just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but quickened by the Spirit” (I Peter 3:18). However, because of the wicked, evil, and completely corrupt “flesh” (Romans 7:18) with which all Christians have to contend during their earthly life, the warning of the writer to the Hebrews in chapter 3, verse 12, is needed and should be taken with due seriousness: “Take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God.” It was because of this ungodly flesh that some professing disciples of Jesus, as recorded in John 6, arrogantly dismissed what Jesus was teaching them: “This is a hard saying; who can hear it?” (v. 60). Sadly, we are informed by the Apostle John that “from that time many of His disciples went back and walked no more with Him” (v. 66). It was at this point that the Savior said to the twelve: “Will ye also go away?” (v. 67). Peter spoke up and gave this answer to Jesus’ question: “Lord, to whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life; and we believe and are sure that Thou art that Christ, the Son of the living God” (vv. 68-69). Oh, let us, by God’s grace, with His help and strength, ever make it clear, as Peter did, that we want to continue to follow our dear Savior and His precious Word when we are tempted to turn away from Him and His Word. What real encouragement we receive from Jesus in John 8, where He says to us and to all of His followers: “If ye continue in My Word, then are ye My disciples indeed; and ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (vv. 31-32).
In the second stanza, we have this fervent, yet grateful plea to the Lord Jesus to impress upon the believer’s heart the cost of his redemption:
Make me see Thy great distress,
anguish and affliction,
bonds and stripes and wretchedness,
and Thy crucifixion.
Make me see how scourge and rod,
spear and nails did wound Thee;
how for man Thou diedst, O God,
who with thorns had crowned Thee.
The disciple of Jesus prays that he would be brought to see more and more the magnitude of his Savior’s suffering and His death by crucifixion for every man, woman, and child. How easy it is for us either to take for granted this unmerited and undeserved substitutionary work by our Savior, or to think little of it in our busy and full daily schedules. What wonderful spiritual profit is given to us and what excellent reminders are supplied to us when, in Philippians 2, the Apostle Paul addresses us with these words: “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, and took upon Him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men. And, being found in fashion as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross” (vv. 5-8).
In the third stanza, the follower of Jesus makes this humble appeal, that he be brought to acknowledge himself and his own sins as the cause of the Savior’s bitter suffering and death:
Yet, O Lord, not thus alone
make me see Thy passion,
but its cause to me make known
and its termination.
Ah! I also and my sin
wrought Thy deep affliction;
this indeed the cause hath been
of Thy crucifixion.
Here the Christian testifies that sin (including his own sin) was the cause for Jesus’ passion. The Old Testament prophet Isaiah supported this testimony when in chapter 53 he confessed in prophesy concerning Jesus’ passion and its cause: “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. …The Lord hath laid on Him the iniquity of us all” (vv. 5 and 6b). Moreover, the suffering and death of Jesus was carried out as an offering to God, vicariously, that is, in the place and in the stead of sinners, “once” (Hebrews 10:10b), not repeatedly, “for all.” The writer to the Hebrews, in chapter 7, provides further detail on this once-for-all sacrifice in verses 26-27: “Such an High Priest became us who is holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and made higher than the heavens; who needeth not daily, as those high priests, to offer up sacrifice first for His own sins and then for the people’s; for this He did once when He offered up Himself.” And in I Corinthians 15, the Apostle Paul set forth this clear declaration: “Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the Gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received and wherein ye stand, by which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain. For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures” (vv. 1-4). How true, wonderful, and comforting are the words written down by St. Paul in Romans 5: “Where sin abounded, grace did much more abound” (v. 20b).
Now let us go on to the fourth stanza of this very personal and edifying hymn:
Grant that I Thy passion view
with repentant grieving,
nor Thee crucify anew
by unholy living.
How could I refuse to shun
every sinful pleasure,
since for me God’s only Son
suffered without measure?
What is the response of the child of God to Jesus’ passion (His suffering and death in behalf of all mankind) as God’s abounding gift to poor sinners? Should the response be the callous words of the spiritual ingrate written by the Apostle Paul in Romans 6: “Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound?” (v. 1b). Oh, no!! “God forbid!” he says (v. 2a). Rather, we ought humbly to join the psalmist in confessing to our gracious God: “I acknowledged my sin unto Thee, and mine iniquity have I not hid; I will confess my transgressions unto the Lord, and Thou forgavest the iniquity of my sin” (Psalm 32:5). Young Joseph in Egypt could not even entertain the thought of indulging in fornication with another man’s wife; as a child of God he could not do otherwise than to say to her: “How then can I do this great wickedness and sin against God?” (Genesis 39:9). His refusal to say “Yes” to her sinful advances and wicked suggestions was anchored to the goodness and mercy of his God in promising and giving the “Seed” of the woman — His Son, the Redeemer of Israel — who would “bruise” or crush the head of the serpent (Genesis 3:15), defeating the devil and bringing victory over sin for “all the nations of the earth” (22:18a). It was God’s undeserved lovingkindness in the Messiah toward Joseph (and all other sinners) that moved him to “hate evil” (Psalm 97:10a). The Apostle Paul, speaking for himself and all other believers in the Savior, made it clear why Christians want to lead God-pleasing lives, when he wrote in II Corinthians 5: “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 born-again, spiritually alive believers in Christ] should not henceforth live unto themselves but unto Him which died for them and rose again” (vv. 14-15).
In the fifth stanza, we have more applications of how the passion of Jesus helps His followers in their daily lives:
If my sins give me alarm
and my conscience grieve me,
let Thy cross my fear disarm,
peace of conscience give me.
Grant that I may trust in Thee
and Thy holy passion.
If His Son so loveth me,
God must have compassion.
Here we see that the only real remedy for the guilt of sin and an accusing conscience is what God has done through Christ Jesus for the whole world of sinners, as we have that marvelous message placed before our hearts and souls in II Corinthians 5: “God was in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them” (v. 19a). This message is marvelous because it clearly reveals that God in Christ has objectively given to every sinner in the world peace with Him and forgiveness for all sins. It is this message, worth more than all the money in the world, which God wants all sinners to receive and take for themselves. God “will have all men to be saved and to come unto the knowledge of the truth. For 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 2:4-6). In his Gospel, the Apostle John sets forth these two truths: First of all, “He that believeth on Him [Christ Jesus] is not condemned [on account of his sins]” (3:18a); and secondly, “He that believeth not is condemned already [for his sins] because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God” (3:18b).
The child of God, already having been brought to saving faith in Jesus, desires, according to His new man, to remain and continue to be a believer in the only Savior and Hope for sinners. How is this possible? It is possible to be preserved in the saving faith only through God’s means of grace: # The precious Gospel of God’s grace and mercy in Christ Jesus on the basis of His finished active and passive obedience for all mankind, as this Gospel is revealed in the Holy Scriptures, and as it is preached and taught in its truth and purity. In Romans 1, the apostle confessed: “I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God unto salvation to everyone that believeth, to the Jew first and also to the Greek” (v. 16). # The Sacrament of Baptism, with its God-given, certain blessings: “As many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ” (Galatians 3:27); “Baptism doth also now save us” (I Peter 3:21a). # The Lord’s Supper, with its priceless gifts: In Luke’s Gospel, we have these documented truths – “And He took bread and gave thanks and brake it, and gave unto them, saying, ‘This is My body, which is given for you; this do in remembrance of Me.’ Likewise also the cup, after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new testament in My blood, which is shed for you’” (vv. 19-20).
Zacharias, upon having his speech restored, as recorded in Luke 1, declared: “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for He hath visited and redeemed His people, and hath raised up an Horn of Salvation for us in the house of His servant David, …to perform the mercy promised to our fathers and to remember His holy covenant” (vv. 68-69 and 72). It is most certainly true that God’s compassion toward the undeserving world of sinners showed itself most wonderfully in the promising, the sending, and the giving of His Son “not…to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved” (John 3:17).
The sixth and final stanza of this hymn has a number of pleas that the precious Savior grant the petitioner the fruits of saving faith in His holy passion even unto the end:
Grant that I may willingly
bear with Thee my crosses,
learning humbleness of Thee,
peace mid pain and losses.
May I give Thee love for love!
Hear me, O my Savior,
that I may in heaven above
sing Thy praise forever.
The child of God, attached by faith to Jesus’ passion, prays that he would more willingly bear whatever crosses God allows to come into his life, ever remembering how Jesus willingly bore His cross for the justification of all sinners (Romans 3:24). In his future days here on earth, the follower of Jesus desires to grow more and more in humility and submissiveness, recalling again and again the example of Jesus, who “humbled Himself and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross” (Philippians 2:8b). In gratitude for the sacrificial love which the Good Shepherd revealed when He gave “His life for the sheep” (John 10:11b), the redeemed and believing sheep now want to reveal and show their love for Him more and more (Philippians 1:9). Oh, our dear and only Savior, hear us as we confidently pray according to Thy will (I John 5:14-15), ever looking forward with great anticipation to that “inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for [every believer]” (I Peter 1:4), where we can praise, bless, and adore Thee forever and ever for all of Thy “benefits” (Psalm 103:2b) graciously showered on us, Thy dear children.
— R. J. L.