Danish: Skriv Dig, Jesus, på mit hjerte
Norwegian: Skriv Deg, Jesus, på mitt hjerte
Text: Thomas Kingo (1634-1703). Tune: Louis Bourgeois (1510-1561)
1. On my heart imprint your image, Blessed Jesus, King of grace, That life's riches, cares, and pleasures Never may your work erase; Let the clear inscription be: Jesus, crucified for me, Is my Life, my hope's foundation, And my glory and salvation!
Translator: Peer Strømme (1856-1921)
My father, raised by a very pious couple, his adoptive parents, was steeped in Norwegian piety and practice. Every night at their evening devotions they would sing this hymn in Norwegian. It became an evening or closing hymn for many. My mother’s little congregation, St. Petri, in Cyrus, Minnesota, ended every Sunday service singing it.
We would go to the farm where she grew up every June to be on the home farm with her aunt and uncle for some weeks. I remember humid Minnesota summer Sunday noons, waiting outside the little white frame church in the middle of the green fields of June. Standing on the church steps, where earlier my parents stood for their wedding pictures, I could hear the old reed organ playing the hymn and the congregation singing it before they walked out into the heat, the fields steaming with growing corn or soybeans. The translation in the Concordia was pretty much the same as above except for the first lines, "Seal my heart with Thine impressure/Jesus, King and God of Grace./That no pain or earthbound pleasure/Shall thine image there efface." They included Kingo's point that Jesus was both God and King.
The Concordia hymnal committee had revised Strømme’s translation of “Skriv deg, Jesus, på mitt hjerte” for what I imagine were theological reasons. Since there is no extant account of its deliberations on this, I suppose it came from an argument about our being made in the image of God and whether Adam and Eve destroyed that image in their fall. Some theologians have argued they did. Both translations indicate that it is possible to efface, or erase, the image of God in one’s heart, but the first one hints that Jesus' image needs to be reprinted in one's heart, maybe suggesting it had not been there. That may have been their issue.
Taken from a Good Friday hymn of 29 stanzas, it is the 15th stanza in the hymn. Kingo was not referring to the image of Christ in this hymn. The language about Jesus inscribing, or simply writing, as the Danish has it, on our hearts, refers to the inscription over Jesus' head on the cross. INRI, Jesus of Nazareth King (Rex) of the Jews. (Kingo's sixth line reflects the inscription when he writes "Jesus, come from Nazareth" something neither translation does.) Pilate had ordered those words in three languages inscribed on a sign above Jesus' head on the cross. Kingo helps us pray for those words to be written in our hearts. Pilate allowed Jesus to be crucified because his claim to be a king was a threat to Roman powers. It was also mockery. It irritated the religious leaders enormously. They came to Pilate and suggested he rewrite it to say, “He said, 'He was King of the Jews.'” Pilate, in an act of surprising defiance, refused and said, “What I have written, I have written!”
Theologians have argued that Pilate, in mocking the Jewish leaders, unwittingly told the truth. Furthermore, he proclaimed the Gospel by this inscription above Jesus’ head on the cross. Its words were, in effect, the first Gospel writing because they announced in three of the local languages--Hebrew, Latin and Greek--who Jesus was for all to read.
John's Gospel makes it clear that on the cross Jesus is being invested as king. Every bit of the mocking of him as king serves to show he is every inch a king: the crown of thorns, his gorgeous robe, the mock scepter, his being worshiped by the soldiers, were all typical ceremonies used to crown a king. In these humiliations, Jesus is crowned king of the universe and shown to be God--because he rules, finally, over sin, the devil and death, the number one enemy.
Every time it is sung singers both confess their faith and profess their faith to others as to what they believe. A wonderful way to end a service or the day: announcing to one's self and others that Jesus is Lord!
Thomas Kingo is considered the first of the three great Danish hymn writers. His grandfather was a Scottish weaver who had moved to Denmark about 1590. Growing up in Slangerup, a small city northwest of Copenhagen, Kingo became an early shaper of the Danish language with his poetry and writings. A pastor who became bishop of Odense on the island of Fyn, Kingo began writing hymns for the Dano-Norwegian church in the 1670s. He was asked by the church, king and bishops, to compile a hymnal for use throughout the Twin Kingdoms, Denmark and Norway. This he did, although his first version was rejected. His revision was accepted and became the authorized hymnal in 1699. This hymn appeared in his collection (1689) called Vinterparten: The Winter collection, for the festival half of the year. Many of the earliest Norwegian immigrants to America brought Kingo with them.
Wilhelm Wexels (1797-1866), pastor of the Cathedral in Christiania, picked this stanza out of the larger hymn and let it stand alone in his 1840 hymnal, Christelige Psalmer. That made it quite a different hymn from what it was in the longer hymn. It has become a classic and favorite of many.
The tune by the French composer Louis Bourgeois crossed into English and German usage early on. It is the tune for many familiar hymns in the English language. The Missouri Synod used another tune for the text, Der Am Kreuz, by Johan König (1691-1758) and it is now the preferred one in the USA.
Faroe Islands congregation/how hymn singing used to sound
Oslo Domkor/choral arrangement