HYMN 18 Ah! Holy Jesus
Updated: Mar 27, 2021
German: Herzliebster Jesu
Text: Johann Heerman (1585-1647) Tune: Johann Crüger (1598-)
1. Ah, holy Jesus, how hast thou offended,
That we to judge thee have in hate pretended?
By foes derided, by thine own rejected,
O most afflicted!
2. Who was the guilty? Who brought this upon thee?
Alas, my treason, Jesus, hath undone thee!
'Twas I, Lord Jesus, I it was denied thee;
I crucified thee.
3. Lo, the Good Shepherd for the sheep is offered;
The slave hath sinned, and the Son hath suffered.
For our atonement, while we nothing heeded,
4. For me, kind Jesus, was thy incarnation,
Thy mortal sorrow, and thy life's oblation;
Thy death of anguish and thy bitter passion,
For my salvation.
5. Therefore, kind Jesus, since I cannot pay thee,
I do adore thee, and will ever pray thee,
Think on thy pity and thy love unswerving,
Not my deserving.
Tr. Robert Bridges 1844-1930
When children, especially, are first told the story of Jesus, his kindness, his love for people, his miracles to heal and feed all that came to him, and then hear that he was crucified,
they are shocked and dumbfounded! Why? How could this be?
This is the question of our hymn today. Although the original included fifteen
stanzas, the Robert Bridges’ translation, a classic piece of English poetry, features
the stanzas that have been used for the past century. Each of the first four stanzas marvels at the paradox here. I am the guilty one, yet Christ was “offered” for me.
There are lots of people today who do not think Christ’s sacrifice on the cross was
necessary and are sure they are not guilty. The hymn says otherwise: “I it was
denied thee/I crucified thee.” In saying we did nothing wrong and do not need Jesus,
we are denying the Lord Jesus. This prayer of confession from the heart of a pious
man, one we have sung for centuries, should be one we pray frequently in joy that
the Lord: “while we nothing heeded/… interceded, ” to save us from ourselves.
I frequently wonder what I would have done if I had been around in Jerusalem at the
time of the crucifixion. As a religious professional and professor, I am not very
confident I would have seen that Jesus was God. I maybe would have been a leader
among those who crucified him. This song convicts me and says that even now my
sin makes me guilty. Out of love Christ died for me, a sinner. How can that be? Thus,
as the last stanza has it, all we can do is adore and think on Christ’s sacrifice for us
and give thanks. Amen!
Johan Heerman’s (1585-1647) life is a study in suffering. Born in Silesia, he had
poetic gifts and was encouraged in them by friends and teachers. He almost died as a
child. His first wife died in their first year of marriage. He suffered poor health his
entire life. He wrote this hymn in 1630 during his pastorate in Koben where he
served from 1611-1634. Plagues, fires, pestilence, and war ravaged the area many
times. Several times he and his family had to flee the armies pillaging the town. In
1634, he finally had to give up his work because of a continuing sinus infection that
some say even spread to the bones in his skull. He died in Lissa, in what is now
This hymn, with its tune by Johan Crüger became a Holy Thursday/Good Friday
classic among Lutherans and many other traditions. Johan Sebastian Bach used it in
his great St. Matthew Passion. It is surprising how popular it is on Youtube. It
appears in many styles, from Bach to rock. Here are some versions:
Choir, congregation arrangement Craig Courtney
Choir/John Ferguson Arrangement/First Plymouth Church/viola
Chorale from the St. Matthew Passion