I was first introduced to this beautiful hymn in college while studying at John Brown University. It had become tradition for the Cathedral Choir to conclude the annual “Candlelight” service with this a cappella piece. While this is not traditionally thought of as a Christmas song, our director’s motivation was to fix our eyes on the beautiful Savior. Christ humbly came to this earth as a baby, but all “Glory and honor, praise and adoration, now and forevermore” belong to Him.
The following recording is the same arrangement recorded by the John Brown University Cathedral Choir years before I would have the privilege of joining in this tradition and being introduced to this simple yet profound hymn.
Scriptural Themes and Theology
Ruler of Creation
For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities — all things were created through him and for him. -Colossians 1:16
The first stanza ascribes to Christ not only the title of Creator, but also Ruler of all nature. This truth is at the heart of Christian doctrine because it shapes our worldview — not only about the origins of the world around us, but about the One by whom and for whom we were each created.
Ruler of All Nations
O Lord, God of our fathers, are you not God in heaven? You rule over all the kingdoms of the nations. In your hand are power and might, so that none is able to withstand you. -2 Chronicles 20:6
In addition to ruler of all nature, the final stanza describes Christ as ruler of all nations. Jesus often preached about the coming kingdom. Not only does he establish all rulers and authorities, but the day will come when he returns to establish his rule and reign in full as the rightful King over all.
The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. Their voice goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world. -Psalm 19:1, 4
The beginning of stanzas 2 and 3 point to God’s general revelation in creation, then emphasize Christ himself as the more perfect and specific revelation of God. I liken this poetic form to what one might experience when overwhelmed by the grandeur of nature, for example, the Grand Canyon. The beauty of creation is overwhelming to take in, but when we think about the One through whom all this beauty came, the creation pales in comparison with the Creator.
The majority of this hymn rightfully addresses the beauty and majesty of Christ. However, the first stanza includes the opportunity for the worshiper to respond, “Thee will I cherish, Thee will I honor; Thou, my soul’s glory, joy, and crown.” God’s glory should always impact the worshiper. While it is imperative to declare his holiness and authority, it is also important for us to respond to the “Ruler of all nature” and “Ruler of all nations.”
Authorship and Translation
This hymn was first published in the Münster Gesangbuch (Münster Songbook) in 1677. However, the author of the original German text is unknown, as well as the English translator for the first three stanzas. Josepsh August Seiss is attributed to translating the final stanza beginning with “Beautiful Savior,” occasionally the hymn’s given name in various hymnals.
This text follows an irregular meter of 126.96.36.199.5.8. and is set to the tune CRUSADERS’ HYMN or ST. ELIZABETH — a folk melody derived from the central European area of Silesia. Legend says it dates back to the twelfth-century crusades, and the current pairing of text and tune was first published in German in 1842.
The melody and rhythm are simple, with the exact range of one octave and rhythmically notated by quarter and half notes (until the ends of phrases).
Because of its relatively simple musical setting, arrangements have been made for various worship settings from choral ensembles to modern instrumentation. One such example of the latter is the following recording by Christy Nockels. The stanza structure remains the same (with occasional vocal embellishments), and a refrain was added for modernization.
Fairest Lord Jesus, ruler of all nature,
O thou of God and man the Son,
Thee will I cherish, Thee will I honor,
thou, my soul’s glory, joy, and crown.
Fair are the meadows, fairer still the woodlands,
robed in the blooming garb of spring:
Jesus is fairer, Jesus is purer
who makes the woeful heart to sing.
Fair is the sunshine, fairer still the moonlight,
and all the twinkling starry host:
Jesus shines brighter, Jesus shines purer
than all the angels heaven can boast.
Beautiful Savior! Lord of all the nations!
Son of God and Son of Man!
Glory and honor, praise, adoration,
now and forevermore be thine.