Updated: Jan 9, 2021
German: Christ, unser Herr, zum Jordan kam
Text: Martin Luther (1483-1546) Tune: Johann Walter (1486-1570)
1.To Jordan came the Christ, our Lord,
To do His Father’s pleasure;
Baptized by John, the Father’s Word
Was given us to treasure. This heav’nly washing now shall be
A cleansing from transgression
And by His blood and agony
Release from death’s oppression. A new life now awaits us. 2.O hear and mark the message well,
For God Himself has spoken. Let faith, not doubt, among us dwell
And so receive this token. Our Lord here with his Word endows
Pure water, freely flowing.
God’s Holy Spirit here avows Our kinship while bestowing The Baptism of His blessing.
3.These truths on Jordan’s banks were shown By mighty word and wonder. The Father’s voice from heav’n came down, Which we do well to ponder:
“This man is My beloved Son, In whom my heart has pleasure.
Him you must hear, and Him alone,
And trust in fullest measure The word that He has spoken.”
4.There stood the Son of God in love,
His grace to us extending; The Holy Spirit like a dove Upon the scene descending; The triune God assuring us, With promises compelling, That in our baptism He will thus
Among us find a dwelling To comfort and sustain us. 5.To His disciples spoke the Lord,
“Go out to ev’ry nation, And bring to them the living Word
And this My invitation: Let ev’ryone abandon sin And come in true contrition To be baptized and thereby win
Full pardon and remission And heav’nly bliss inherit.” 6. But woe to those who cast aside
This grace so freely given: They shall in sin and shame abide
And to despair be driven. For born in sin, their works must fail,
Their striving saves them never;
Their pious acts do not avail, And they are lost forever,
Eternal death their portion. 7. All that the mortal eye beholds Is water as we pour it. Before the eye of faith unfolds
The pow’r of Jesus’ merit. For here it sees the crimson flood
To all our ills bring healing The wonders of His precious blood
The love of God revealing,
Assuring His own pardon.
Tr. Elizabeth Quitmeyer (1911-1988)
Martin Luther knew early on that he had to provide educational resources in the vernacular so people could understand the faith into which they were being baptized. He began by translating the Bible, then writing German hymns. In 1523, he and musician Johann Walter started the work. Luther wanted German poets who could write poetry well enough for the people to sing—and these hymns would be the Word of God like sermons.
To that end he began writing hymn texts and tunes. He started with a hymn “Dear Christians, One and All, Rejoice." He then moved to hymns paraphrasing Scripture, like "Out of the Depths," a hymn version of Psalm 130. (See Hymn 49 and 71 for more on Luther.)
He also wanted a simple catechism. He finished his Small and Large Catechisms in 1529. During this time he also planned for a “Singing Catechism,” a series of hymns that taught the Catechism. Families could teach the Catechism through these hymns.
This hymn is probably the last hymn he wrote. It served as the Lutheran baptism hymn for generations. In its seven stanzas he teaches about baptism. It begins in Stanza one, on the fourth line: “This heavenly washing now shall be/A cleansing from transgression."
From there he goes on to recount the baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist. And then the Great Commission to his disciples to "Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And, lo, I am with you always to the end of the world." He ends with a further explanation of baptism.
Luther knew that it was important to teach children the faith they were baptized into. Without the teaching, the rite could descend into pure magic. That is why Lutherans have promised at baptism to teach their children the Scripture and Catechism—especially the Ten Commandments, the Apostles Creed, and the Lord’s Prayer.
Many millions have stood at the baptismal font and promised they would teach the faith to their children, but it was not clear they did. My father frequently told the story of a family in his first parish that had many children. They always got the kids "done" because, as the mother said, “They were better after that.” When the last baby came along, we were about to move. When the mother asked him to baptize the baby, he was reluctant to, fairly certain they would not keep the promises they would make. But he did so, admonishing her to remember her responsibilities. He prayed and fretted over that baby the rest of his life.
After his retirement he served as a visitation pastor. One day he told me, his eyes filled with joyful tears, that a woman in the congregation, in her late thirties, came to him and said she was that baby. And she thanked him for baptizing her. He shook his head in wonder. "Imagine that! Praise the Lord!"
Her mother had told her the story of his reluctance to baptize her, and his admonishment which she heeded. The “wonders of his precious blood/The love of God revealing,” had come to her through her mother. The faith planted in her blossomed like a wild rose. Thanks be to God!
Luther and Walter worked together in Luther's house some time during 1523 when they first started writing hymns. As director of Frederick the Wise’s chapel, Walter composed and led the singing there. He became the Lutheran composer of his time. While Luther was well trained as a musician, Walter probably helped him with his musical compositions, like "Out of the Depths." Walter wrote passions, motets and songs for use in the church. He lives on in the work he did with Luther on the first Protestant hymnals, the first, Eyn geystlich Gesangk Buchleyn in 1524.
Bach wrote three cantatas for St. John’s Feast, Midsummer. One on this hymn, BWV 7. Enjoy it. The first and last stanza begin and end it, the middle movements are on the themes of each stanza. Enjoy the musical waters flowing!
Concordia Publishing House version
Children's Choir Holy Cross Lutheran
Bach BWV 684 A setting of the hymn for soprano and organ
Bach's cantata BWV 7 Christ, unser Herr, zum Jordan kam