Jesus Christ, The Crucified
Johann Christoph Schwedler, son of a German farmer and local magistrate, was a prolific hymn writer with hundreds of hymns.
Ask Ye What Great Thing I Know, one of his hymns, is represented by forthrightness and belief in Christ. The song emphasizes the importance for us to know about the crucifixion of Jesus.
The song drew its inspiration from two specific Bible texts:
“I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified” (I Cor. 2:2).
“God forbid that I should boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Gal. 6:14).
In 1863, the hymn was translated by Benjamin Kennedy from German to English. It was included in Hymnologia Christiana, or Psalms and Hymns Selected and Arranged in the Order of the Christian Seasons (1863). Originally, it had six four-line stanzas with at least one and as many as three non rhetorical questions, and a one-line refrain, Jesu der Gekreuzigte (Jesus the Crucified). The tune Hendon is also used commonly with the hymn Take My Life and Let It Be.
In stanza one, the question is about who is the greatest, most delightful, what is the highest reward and who has the most glorious name.
Stanza two gives a deeper understanding into the nature of Christ - powerful and all-compassionate, a being that defeats the fiercest foes, consoles the saddest woes and revives the fainting heart.
The third stanza points to a singular being who is both “life in life” and “the death of death.”
In the last stanza, there were no questions asked but it stands as a powerful assertion of faith.
The hymn reminded me of a scene in the 1953 film, Martin Luther. As a young priest, he started questioning some of the beliefs and practices of the Church in Rome. Confronted by and asked his superior with what would take place of all the rituals and relics of the church, he replied with "Christ".