How Lovely Shines the Morning Star
1 How lovely shines the Morning Star!
The nations see and hail afar
The light in Judah shining.
Thou David’s Son of Jacob’s race,
My Bridegroom and my King of Grace,
For thee my heart is pining.
Great and glorious,
Prince of graces,
Filling all the heav’nly places.
2 Now richly to my waiting heart,
O thou, my God, deign to impart
The grace of love undying.
In thy blest body let me be,
E’en as the branch is in the tree,
Thy life my life supplying.
For the savor
Of thy favor
Till I rest in thee for ever.
3 Thou, mighty Father, in thy Son
Didst love me ere thou hadst begun
This ancient world’s foundation.
Thy Son hath made a friend of me,
And when in spirit him I see,
I joy in tribulation.
He that liveth
To me giveth
Nothing me from him can sever.
Hymn #515, our hymn of the month, is an ode of worship and adoration to Jesus Christ. It was written by Philipp Nicolai, a Lutheran pastor, toward the end of the sixteenth century, less than a century after the Reformation began. He also wrote “Wake, Awake, for Night is Flying” (#317), which together with 515 are often known as the King and Queen of Chorales, and inspired J.S. Bach to compose the two arrangements in which these two hymns most often appear in hymnals today.
The first verse describes him in the language of Revelation 22:16, of the Morning Star. It is a vivid picture of the dark world being pierced, broken into, by the light coming from one obscure little country, the land of Judah. A light rose out of Judah which has spread throughout the world, a light which was not some abstract doctrine but a man, Jesus Christ. In a very real way it is Jesus Himself who spreads throughout the world, because it is the very life and image of Jesus Christ that is being worked in people all over the world.
The hymn is not a reflection on the global impact of Christ’s coming, however. It is Christ’s place in our hearts on which the hymn focuses. The writer addresses Jesus as “my bridegroom” and “my king of grace”, showing his highly personal feelings toward Christ. He longs to be united to Christ; his heart “is pining” for Him. The hymn expresses the great irony of Christ- though He is lowly, yet He is the victorious and glorious king whose glory now fills heaven and one day will fill earth as well.
In the second verse the writer calls on God to fill him with love for Christ, to implant him truly into the body of His church, as a branch in a tree, and to empower him with Christ’s life. He recognizes his salvation entirely as a work of God’s grace, forgiving his sin, teaching him faith and love, and granting him new life. The last line of verse two is especially poignant- “Sighing, crying, for the savor of thy favor; resting never- till I rest in thee forever.” This beautifully expresses the heart of every Christian, who cannot rest at all until he rests in Jesus.
The third verse expresses the writer’s confidence and amazement that God’s love for him precedes the creation of the world. What an incredible joy it is to know that the worlds themselves were created to express God’s particular love for each of His people! That love preceded our own faith or knowledge; Jesus’ action in making Himself our friend initiates and creates our fellowship with Him. That knowledge is a great comfort to the writer. No matter what happens, he can “joy in tribulation” because he knows of God’s sovereign love for him in Christ. The last line echoes the last part of Romans 9, and the sure confidence we can have that since God loved us before the world even began, nothing in this world or out of it can ever separate us from that love.
No wonder this hymn has been so beloved for so long, since it so beautifully and personally expresses the joy and love that fills all those who have the knowledge of Christ.