HYMN 135 Jesus, Priceless Treasure
Updated: Aug 4, 2020
German: Jesu, Meine Freude
Swedish: Jesus, du min glädje
Text: Johann Frank (1618-1677). Tune: Johan Crüger (1598-1662)
1. Jesus, priceless treasure, Source of purest pleasure, Truest friend to me: Ah, how long in anguish Shall my spirit languish, Yearning, Lord, for thee? Thine I am, O spotless Lamb! I will suffer naught to hide thee, Naught I ask beside thee. 2. In thine arms I rest me; Foes who would molest me Cannot reach me here. Though the earth be shaking, Ev'ry heart be quaking, Jesus calms my fear. Lightnings flash and thunders crash; Yet, though sin and hell assail me, Jesus will not fail me. 3. Satan, I defy thee; Death, I now decry thee; Fear, I bid thee cease. World, thou shalt not harm me Nor thy threats alarm me While I sing of peace. God's great pow'r guards ev'ry hour; Earth and all its depths adore him, Silent bow before him. 4. Hence with earthly treasure! Thou art all my pleasure, Jesus, all my choice. Hence, thou empty glory! Naught to me thy story, Told with tempting voice. Pain or loss or shame or cross Shall not from my Savior move me, Since he deigns to love me. 5. Hence, all fear and sadness! For the Lord of gladness, Jesus, enters in. Those who love the Father, Though the storms may gather, Still have peace within. Yea, whate'er I here must bear, Thou art still my purest pleasure, Jesus, priceless treasure.
Tr. Catherine Winkworth
When singing this lovely hymn, I think of how the writer had to dodge armies, plagues and pestilence before and while he wrote it. Its language clearly acknowledges the violence and uncertainty happening in his world, threats from others and nature. The world shall not harm me, nor the flashing of lightning and thunder, or earthquakes. Jesus, priceless treasure!
The LBW Hymn Text Committee worked a long time trying to update Winkworth's translation. There was a common feeling that the original dealt with issues that were no longer present in the world—we were beyond such things. And Winkworth's language was too Victorian. We needed something modern. Someone said that the previous hymnal had been done by old men who were expecting to die soon so it had too many death and dying hymns. We should, he said, resist that. We were a young generation and needed hymns for living, not dying. Since I was thirty years his younger, I wondered at his breezy comment and also why we should make every other era sound like ours? Couldn't we write hymns that spoke from and to our moment in history and leave the old ones be? This spoke clearly from its own time to us; it gave us words for our relationship to Jesus. If we needed a contemporary one, it should be written. Unbeknownst to us, this was happening in Scandinavia with its hymn explosion. After the LBW was published in 1978 a flood of new hymns and songs were written that did speak to the times.
The hymn and its translation resisted all our efforts. For the most part, we let it stand, but it has lost some of its ranking in favorite hymns.
Then the issue of a tune. The Crüger tune has been made eternal by its inclusion in Bach cantatas and motets. It is a wonderful tune. But Norwegian Americans miss the Lindemann tune "Gud skal al ting mage" that had been used in Norwegian American Lutheran hymnals for fifty years. While both fit the tune very well, what happens to a favorite hymn when it no longer is sung to the tune you knew? The Service Book and Hymnal committee had wisely included both tunes, but by the Lutheran Book of Worship (1978) the Norwegian tune was there, but it has been overwhelmed by the German tune. Pastors need to think about this when they choose the tune. Which one works for their congregation?.
Some may not have noticed, but for others, the loss was serious. To say the text is still there, and the meaning, is to miss how physical the faith is. When we know a tune that we have loved to sing for our whole life, with the familiar text, it seems written into our very being. The faith is about much more than abstract meanings. It is also about memory. It is rituals and practices, melodies and expression, bodily movements like kneeling, folding one’s hands, clapping, that we teach the young with delight. We change these things at our peril. My mother used to say how meaningful it was to go to communion when she could kneel as she had nearly her whole life. Walking up to the one distributing, receiving the bread and wine while standing, and then moving on was not deeply traced in her being. It was not the same thing, even if we said it meant the same.
Today this hymn speaks much more clearly and tenderly to me than it did when I was trying, unsuccessfully, to “fix” it. It seems clearer to me that revising the past impoverished us. If we need new songs, we should make new songs about Jesus. But, from the past, some things endure and refresh us. For now, what better way to meet the day than with this wonderful stanza: “Hence, all fear and sadness!/For the Lord of gladness,/Jesus, enters in./Those who love the Father,/Though the storms may gather,/Still have peace within./Yea, whate'er/ I here must bear,/Thou art still my purest pleasure,/Jesus, priceless treasure.” Amen.
Johann Frank was born in Guben, Brandenburg, on what is now the German/Polish border, just as the Thirty Years War began. His father died when he was two and he was taken in by his uncle who made sure he got an education. When it was time for him to attend university, he was sent to the University of Königsburg, out of range of the war. There he made good friends with some of the better poets and writers of the day. In 1640 when the the marauding armies returned and threatened Guben, his mother demanded he return and watch over her. He did so and became an accomplished civil servant, holding various positions in the city government, ending up as mayor. He wrote this hymn in 1653. He continued writing poems and hymns. This is among the ones, along with "Deck Thyself my Soul with Gladness"
that have lasted.
Johann Crüger, who also grew up in Guben, wrote the tune for this. Enjoy, for your Sunday meditation, the Bach motet! It is one of his most beloved.
Organ at Elim Lutheran Church, Scandia, Minnesota with text
Bread of Life Gathering
Bach Motet BWV 227 Jesu Meine Freude
Organ Fantasia on the tune by Bach BWV 713