"LORD JESUS CHRIST, BE PRESENT NOW"
"Let us come before His presence with thanksgiving, and make a joyful noise unto Him with psalms" (Ps. 95.2)
INTRO.: A song which asks the Lord to be present with us as we come before Him in worship is "Lord Jesus Christ, Be Present Now." The text is anonymous but has been attributed to Wilhelm August Saxe-Weimar, who was born on Apr. 11, 1598, son of Duke Johann of Saxe-Weimar and Gotha, in the castle of Altenburg, Germany. After studying for some time at the University of Jena where he devoted himself especially to music and mathematics, he espoused the cause of Friedrich V of the Palatinate on
the outbreak of the Thirty Years War. At the Battle of Weisse Berg near Prague, he was severely wounded, and at the battle of Stadtlohn in Westphalia, he was at first left for dead, and then taken prisoner by Tilly. Two years later, in 1625, the Emperor allowed him to go free, and he assumed the government of Weimar. In 1630, when Gustavus Adolphus came to Germany, Wilhelm did not join him till after the battle of Breitenfeld in 1631, and in 1634 was one of the consenting parties to the Peace of Prague between Saxony and the Emperor after which Swedish troops made inroads on his territory. When the final partition took place in 1644 between himself and his surviving brother, in which Gotha went to Ernst and Saxe-Weimar fell to Wilhelm, he set about to restore prosperity and godiness to the areas under his rule. After the peace of Westphalia in 1648, he found more time to devote to his studies of poetry and music until his death at Weimar, Germany, on May 17, 1662.
Some think that this hymn may have first appeared in Johannes Niedling’s Lutherisch Handbuechlein published at Altenburg in 1638, although some sources give the 1648 Pensum Sacrum of Altenberg as its origin, and one source says that the final stanza was not included until the second edition of the Cantionale Sacrum published at Gotha in 1651 (original edition 1646). No author’s name was given, and even Julian, who ascribes it to Wilhelm, admits, "The Duke’s authorship is decidedly doubtful." While there is no real evidence to support the claim of Wilhelm’s authorship, it is known that the Duke did produce some verse, including several hymns. Others believe that this hymn did not appear in Niedling’s Handbuechlein until the second edition of 1648 or even the fourth edition of 1655, where it is also without a name. Wilhelm’s name is not attached to it until the Altdorf Liedersfreud of 1676. In 1678 a command was issued that this hymn should be sung in all the churches of Saxony on Sundays and festivals.
The English translation was made by Catherine Winkworth (1827-1878). It first appeared in her 1863 Choral Book for England, but has been much altered by different hymnbook editors The tune (Herr Jesu Christ) is sometimes traced back to John Huss (1369-1415). Its earliest documented publication is in the 1628 Cantionale Germanicum of Gochsheim, coupled with another text, although some sources list the 1648 Pensum Sacrum mentioned earlier. Heussler notes, "Since the melody is found in several old hymn tunes, it was likely in use for some time before it ever appeared on the printed page." The tune was joined to the text in the 1651 Cantionale Sacrum also mentioned earlier. The modern arrangement was made for one of his cantatas by Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750). Among hymnbooks published during the twentieth century for use in churches of Christ, the song appeared in the 1963 Christian Hymnal edited by J. Nelson Slater. Today it is found in the 1986 Great Songs Revised edited by Forrest M. McCann.
The song is considered a simple and forceful hymn for the opening of a worship service.
I. Stanza 1 asks for the presence of Christ
"Lord Jesus Christ, be present now; Our hearts in true devotion bow.
Be present now with grace divine, And let Thy truth within us shine."
A. Some books alter the first line to "Lord Jesus Christ, be with us now," but I really see no difference in meaning and no reason to make any chanages; Jesus has promised to be present with His people when two or three gather together: Matt. 18.20
B. However, the fulfilment of this promise is understood to be on the condition that their hearts in true devotion bow
C. The original read, "Thy Spirit send with grace divine," as in Great Songs Revised, but the alteration is found in Christian Hymnal; in either case, the point is that Christ cannot be present spiritually in an assembly of people unless He and His Father dwell in their hearts through the truth: Jn. 14.23
II. Stanza 2 asks for the help of Christ
"Unseal our lips to sing Thy praise; Our souls to Thee in worship raise.
Make strong our faith, increase our light, That we may know Thy name aright."
A. We should desire the help of Christ to unseal (the original was "open" but that is not easy to sing on the first two notes of the tune) our lips to praise God: Heb. 13.15
B. The reason why this is important is that the primary purpose of our assembling together is to worship: Jn. 4.24
C. Yet, as we seek Christ’s help to praise and worship, one outcome is that we shall be strengthened in faith: Rom. 5.20, 10.17
III. Stanza 3 looks forward to the eternal worship of heaven
"Till we with saints in glad accord Sing ‘Holy, holy is the Lord!’
And in the light of heaven above Shall see Thy face and know Thy love."
Some books have a slightly different third stanza which says practically the same thing:
"Until we join the hosts that cry, ‘Holy art Thou, O Lord, most high!’
And in the light of that blest place Fore’er behold Thee face to face."
A. When the Lord returns, we shall join the saints of all ages to meet the Lord in the air: 1 Thess. 4.16-17
B. Then, we shall sing with the hosts that cry "Holy, holy, holy" before the throne of God: Rev. 4.8-11
C. Thus, our worship will be perfect there because we shall see His face: Rev. 22.1-4
IV. Stanza 4 gives praise to the Lord
"Glory to God the Father, Son, And Holy Spirit, Three in One!
To Thee, O blessed Trinity, Be praise throughout eternity."
A. Many ancient and medieval hymns of praise would often end with a "doxology" of praise to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit: Matt. 28.19
B. Because the Father, Son, and Spirit are three distinct persons but of one divine nature, they are often said to be "Three in One" in the same way that Jesus said specifically that He and the Father, though separate beings, are one: Jn. 17.21
C. Some object to using the word "Trinity" because it is not in the scriptures (though neither is the word "Bible") or because they disagree with various concepts of the "Trinity" as explained in creeds, but I simply use the term to mean the same thing as the "Godhead" or "Godhood": Acts 17.29, Rom. 1.20, Col. 2.9
CONCL.: Other than Martin Luther’s "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God," very few of the German chorales of the Reformation have appeared in our books, especially our newer books, but many of them have been translated and are available to English speaking people. Obviously we do not live during the Reformation period nor in central Europe, but that time and place are still a part of our Western cultural heritage. And while we may not fully agree with all the doctrinal positions of the Reformers, we can still appreciate the work that they did in trying to get back past the corruptions of the centuries and come nearer the pristine purity of the New Testament church as revealed in God’s word. And it should certainly be our desire when we gather together in worship to ask, "Lord Jesus Christ, Be Present Now."