“Ask Ye What Great Thing I Know”


“For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and Him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:2)

     INTRO.:  A hymn which points out that in regard to salvation and our relationship with God we should determine not to know anything but Jesus Christ and Him crucified is “Ask Ye What Great Thing I Know.”  The text was written in German (Wollt ihr wis­sen, was mein Preis?) by Johann Christoph Schwedler, who was born on Dec. 21, 1672, at Krobsdorf in Schlesien (Silesia), Germany, the son of a farmer and rural magistrate.  Enrolling at the University of Leipzig in 1695, he graduated with an MA in 1697.  Then in 1698, he became assistant minister at Niederwiese, near Greifenberg also in Schlesien, following the death of his predecessor, Christoph Adolph.  In 1701, he became the minister there.   A gifted preacher, he also founded an orphanage in Niederwiese.  Count Nikolaus von Zinzendorf lived near him and the two were friends.

     Schwedler’s hymnbooks include Wöchentliche Hauss-Andacht in 1712 and Die Lieder Mose und des Lammes, oder neu eingerichtetes Gesang-Buch (Songs of Moses and the Lamb in 1720.  However, it was not until after his sudden death on Jan. 12, 1730, at Niederwiese that his best known hymn was published posthumously in the 1741 Hirschberger Gesangbuch.  The usual translation from German to English was made by Benjamin Hall Kennedy (1804-1899).  It first appeared in the 1863 Hymnologia Christiana, or Psalms and Hymns Selected and Arranged in the Order of the Christian Seasons.  Other translations have been made, including “Do you ask what most I prize?” by James Mearns in the Moravian Hymn Book of 1886; “Would you know my greatest prize?” by Herman H. Brueckner in the Wartburg Hymnal of 1918; and “What, ye ask me, is my prize?” by George Ratcliffe Woodward in the The Hymnal for the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. of 1933.

     The tune (Hendon) most often used in English books for Schwedler’s hymn was composed by Henri Abraham César Malan, first appeared in his 1827 Chants de Zion, was harmonized by Lowell Mason in his 1841 Carmina Sacra, and in our books is most often associated with William Hammond’s “Lord, We Come Before Thee Now.”  Some books use a tune (Redhead or Petra) composed by Richard Redhead for Augustus M. Toplady’s “Rock of Ages” but most often used with James Montgomery’s “Go to Dark Gethsemane” as well as sometimes with Thomas T. Lynch’s “Gracious Spirit, Dwell with Me.”  However, the traditional German tune (Wollt ihr Wissen) used with Schwedler’s hymn first appeared in the Melodienbuch von Rautenburg edited by J. Cammin.  The modern harmonization was made by G. H. Palmer.  Many newer books, in seeking to “update” the language for whatever reason, have changed the first line to read, “Ask ME what great thing I know.”

     The song emphasizes that the most important thing for us to know is the crucifixion of Jesus.

I. Stanza 1 tells us that it is the basis for our reward

“Ask ye what great thing I know,

That delights and stirs me so?

What the high reward I win?

Whose the Name I glory in?

Jesus, Jesus, Jesus Christ, the Crucified.”

 A. Because Jesus died for us, we can delight or rejoice in Him: Phil. 4:4

 B. One thing that enables us to rejoice is that through the death of Christ we can look for the reward: 2 Jn. v. 8

 C. Therefore, we should glory in the name of Him who was crucified for us: Gal. 6:14

II. Stanza 2 tells us that it is the basis for our faith

“What is faith’s foundation strong?

What awakes my heart to song?

He who bore my sinful load,

Purchased for me peace with God,

Jesus, Jesus, Jesus Christ, the Crucified.”

 A. One of the facts which forms the foundation for our faith is that Jesus Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures: 1 Cor. 15:1-4

 B. In doing this, He bore our sinful load on the tree: 1 Pet. 2:24

 C. Thus, He purchased for us peace with God through the cross: Eph. 2:14-17

III. Stanza 3 tells us that it is the basis for our wisdom

“Who is He that makes me wise

To discern where duty lies?

Who is He that makes me true

Duty, when discerned to do,

Jesus, Jesus, Jesus Christ, the Crucified.”

 A. Christ, the one who died for us, is wisdom from God: 1 Cor. 1:18, 30

 B. He helps us to discern good from evil: Heb. 5:14

 C. He also helps us to see where duty lies: Rom. 15:27

IV. Stanza 4 tells us that it is the basis for our victory

“Who defeats my fiercest foes?

Who consoles my saddest woes?

Who revives my fainting heart,

Healing all its hidden smart?

Jesus, Jesus, Jesus Christ, the Crucified.”

 A. It is the death of Christ that makes it possible for us to defeat our fiercest foes by destroying the power of the devil: Heb. 2:14-15

 B. In so doing, He consoles our saddest woes, giving us the comfort of God: 2 Cor. 1:3-5

 C. And He revives our fainting heart by healing all its hidden smart: Matt. 13:15

V. Stanza 5 tells us that it is the basis for our life

“Who is life in life to me?

Who the death of death will be?

Who will place me on His right,

With the countless hosts of light?

Jesus, Jesus, Jesus Christ, the Crucified.”

 A. Jesus who died came that we might have life and have it more abundantly: Jn. 10:10

 B. As a result, He will place us on His right at His throne just as He was placed at His Father’s right at His throne: Rev. 3:21

 C. There we can join with the countless hosts of light to praise the name of Him who redeemed us by His blood: Rev. 5:8-12

VI. Stanza 6 tells us that it is the basis for our salvation

“This is that great thing I know;

This delights and stirs me so;

Faith in Him who died to save,

Him who triumphed over the grave:

Jesus, Jesus, Jesus Christ, the Crucified.”

 A. One thing which we can know with assurance is that God commends His love toward us in that while we were sinners Christ died for us: Rom. 5:8

 B. Therefore, we must have faith in Him who died to save us: Acts 20:21

 C. And this faith is the result of the fact that He triumphed over the grave in His resurrection from the dead: Rom. 1:3-4

    CONCL.:  This hymn is practically unknown among churches of Christ because it has been in almost none of our hymnbooks published by brethren through the year.  There is the possibility which I can think of is that it might have been used in the 1986 Great Song Revised, but the vast majority of my hymnbooks are in storage so I cannot check on this.  There are many things about God’s dealings with mankind that we may never fully understand in this life.  But we can know beyond doubt that was crucified for our sins.  Thus, it is the best answer that we can give to the question, “Ask Ye What Great Thing I Know.”


One thought on ““Ask Ye What Great Thing I Know”

  1. EXCELLENT article for an outstanding hymn. What a shame that this hymn is not in more of our hymnals! What a wonderful meditation and testimony it is. Thanks very much for your scholarship and clear writing.

    Pastor Ron


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