As sweet as a lullaby, “Fairest Lord Jesus” seems like a delicate hymn for rosy-cheeked children. But it has a surprising and legendary German history, originally sung as a far rougher, more warlike battle hymn.
Legend has it that the hymn originated in the 12th century as a Teutonic Knights’ anthem sung in Prussia under the Holy Roman Empire, or as an 18th century tune from the Germanic region of Silesia. Either way, the current tune carries the rousing moniker of “Crusader’s Hymn” (Brink 62).
This is due in part to Franz Liszt, prodigy pianist and world-renowned composer. He used this tune in his 1862 oratorio, “The Legend of St. Elizabeth,” as the battle march for his costumed crusaders. Suddenly, this quiet, lullaby of a song appeared in an entirely new light, all dressed up and armed for war.
With a closer look, we see this is true for many hymns and truths of the gospel as well. They can be sung gently and reassuringly, for we are God’s children, and we desperately need the comfort and beauty of this promise: “to dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, gazing on the beauty of the Lord” (Psalm 27:4).
But the gospel is also a clarion call to the safety of our Lord in battle: “For He will conceal me in His shelter in the day of adversity; He will hide me under the cover of His tent; He will set me high on a rock” (Psalm 27:5-6). Thanks be to God, who preserves us and fights for us. And thanks be to Jesus, our Savior, the ruler of all nature.
Fairest Lord Jesus
By Joseph A. Siess
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.
Fair are the meadows,
fairer still the woodlands,
robed in the blooming garb of spring:
Jesus is fairer,
Jesus is purer
who makes the woeful heart to sing.
Fair is the sunshine,
fairer still the moonlight,
and all the twinkling starry host:
Jesus shines brighter,
Jesus shines purer
than all the angels heaven can boast.
Lord of all the nations!
Son of God and Son of Man!
Glory and honor,
now and forevermore be thine.
Brink, Emily R. Psalter Hymnal Handbook. Edited by Bert Polman. Grand Rapids, MI: Faith Alive Christian Resources, 1998.