Jesus, Lead Thou On
Luke 12:32; 1 Peter 2:20b–21; 1 Corinthians 10:13; James 1:12
(Lutheran Service Book 718)
Words by: Nicolas Ludwig von Zinzendorf (1700-60) alt.
Count Nicolas von Zinzendorf was born in Dresden, the son of a wealthy nobleman whose family had Pietistic sympathies. When he grew up he became interested in the Moravian Brethren, a persecuted sect in Europe. Zinzendorf offered his estate of Berthelsdorf to house the Moravians (or United Brethren), which they accepted. Building a community called Herrnhut, the colony grew to about 600 with Zinzendorf as their leader. They later ordained him as a “bishop.” However his involvement with the Moravians brought criticism from the wider community and in 1734 he was exiled for false doctrine. During his exile he spent this time in preaching and traveling from St. Petersburg to the West Indies. He planted Moravian missions in America and founded settlements of the Brethren in Germany, Holland, England, and Scotland. A decade later his exile was rescinded and he returned home. He died a poor man, his entire fortune having been spent on religious work.
The United Brethren were dedicated to spreading the Gospel, which made them one of the dominant religious forces of the 17th century. One tried and true way to spread a message is through song. Zinzendorf wrote around 2,000 hymns, though the vast majority are no longer in use. The experts consider them either too subjective or too emotional. Some “dwell so deeply and descriptively on the wounds and sufferings of Christ as to be almost irreverent.” Our hymnal has two of his hymns, this one and “Jesus, Your Blood and Righteousness” (LSB 362).
Jesus, lead Thou on
Till our rest is won;
And although the way be cheerless,
We will follow calm and fearless.
Guide us by Thy hand
To our fatherland.
If the way be drear,
If the foe be near,
Let not faithless fears o’ertake us;
Let not faith and hope forsake us;
For through many a woe
To our home we go.
When we seek relief
From a long-felt grief,
When temptations come alluring,
Make us patient and enduring.
Show us that bright shore
Where we weep no more.
Jesus, lead Thou on
Till our rest is won.
Heav’nly leader, still direct us,
Still support, console, protect us,
Till we safely stand
In our fatherland.
“Jesus Lead Thou On” is a hymn intended to encourage us in this life as we move towards our heavenly future. Jesus, himself, also encourages us to fear not because we have a home in heaven.
“Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. (Luke 12:32)
Jesus says that it is the “Father’s good pleasure to give …,” indicating that the believers place in the kingdom is a gift. In Matthew 25:34 Jesus tells us that the Father prepared our place before “the foundation of the world.” In other words, in eternity the Father chose those who, through faith in His Son, would come into His kingdom of grace on earth (His Church) and then to His kingdom of glory (heaven). In His grace (unmerited love), He sent His Spirit to bring us into the “kingdom.” To use the image of the hymn, heaven is our “fatherland” by grace through faith. That is certainly encouraging, even if our way be “cheerless.”
One can not miss that the tone of the hymn is one of being opposed by various trials and even unchristian emotions. Christians have always had to battle in their effort to follow Jesus. St. Peter wrote:
20b … But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. 21For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. (1 Peter 2:20b–21)
Peter says that Jesus suffering and dying for our sins is an example for us. Not only is it an example in enduring but also an example of how many Christians must live. Consider all the countries in the world where being a Christian is against the law. Surely the persecution they suffer is covered by these words of Peter. The hymn directs our faith towards Jesus “who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross” (Hebrews 12:2). As the death of Jesus was pleasing to the Father, suffering for doing good, so when we suffer for doing what is right we please the Father (1 Peter 3:17-18; 4:13, 16).
In verse three of the hymn, we sing of the common experience of temptation. Jesus was also tempted. In Matthew 4 Jesus withdrew into the wilderness where Satan came to temp him. Matthew records three separate distinct attempts by this fallen angel. Each time Jesus rebuffs the temptation with the Word of God (Matthew 4:4, 6, 10). This was not the only time Jesus was assaulted by the Tempter. Luke 4:13 tells us that the devil simply began looking for other “opportune” times. He certainly found them, but Jesus never succumbed. His example of using God’s Word, the very Word through which he led his life, never failed. It is little wonder that St. Paul called Scripture the “sword of the Spirit” (Ephesians 6:17).
As Zinzendorf’s hymn implies, temptation is a common experience for believers. First Corinthians 10:13 reminds us of that as well.
No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it. (1 Corinthians 10:13)
In 1 Corinthians, Paul comforts us by assuring us that God will not permit us to be tempted more than we can endure and will help us to get through the trial. We can depend on this; “He is faithful.” This is not an invitation to walk blindly into danger. More than once Scripture encourages us to be prepared and watchful (1 Peter 5:8; Ephesians 6:10-20; Luke 21:34). We prepare with Word and Sacrament.
Zinzendorf’s hymn consistently holds heaven before our eyes. The assurance of heaven strengthens us when facing trials. There is a saying I once heard: He is so heavenly minded that he is of no earthly good. That statement is utterly false. Those who are heavenly minded are able to stand up under trials and resist temptation. If that example is not “good enough” as a model for others who are facing trials and temptation, we also know that it is heavenly minded Christians, the Church, that do more good in the world than any other group of people (Galatians 6:10; Titus 3:8; 1 Peter 5:15). In our denomination alone (LC-MS), we helped to rebuild over 6,000 homes after Katrina. I know of no non-Christian, non-heavenly minded group, which comes close to that help with the likely exception of government.
James 1:12 reminds us that those who are steadfast will receive “the crown of life.” How do we remain steadfast in the faith? We cling to the means God has give to us for this purpose—our Baptism, the Lord’s Supper and His Word. We remain steadfast “Till we safely stand, In our fatherland.”