Hymn on the Carmen Christi

The Carmen Christi (Song of Christ) is a song (or hymn) that St. Paul, under inspiration of the Holy Spirit, wrote in the second chapter of his epistle to the Philippians.  As a divinely inspired hymn, giving a good example for our own hymn-writing, it is wonderfully didactic.  It is a confession of the obedience that Jesus rendered to God on our behalf, and Paul ties it into our lives of labor here on earth in which we struggle against the pride of our own flesh.  He uses this hymn for the piety of his hearers.  This is what hymns are for after all, just as Paul tells the Ephesians and the Colossians (Eph 5:19; Col 3:16).  Piety isn’t simply doing enough good things just to keep our consciences clean.  It isn’t creating for ourselves a special, charismatic environment that is supposed to uplift our souls.  No, Piety is walking in the conviction of the gospel and its power — the power of the Word — constantly reminding ourselves of God’s great and merciful deeds.  This is why we sing hymns that teach the faith.

St. Paul uses this hymn to show how the gospel actually changes our entire outlook on life, as we trust not in our merits, but in Christ, who humbled himself for our sake.  It is in this way, in knowing Christ our Savior, that we truly know suffering.  It is in thinking upon what Christ did for us that we can understand what it means to count ourselves less significant than our neighbors.  And it all comes back to knowing Christ, to having in mind (Phil 2:5) what Christ did.  Knowing Christ is not dependent upon first participating habitually in his suffering.  No, it’s the other way around!  By trusting in the vicarious, humble obedience of our Lord, being found in Him having His righteousness that is received through faith (Phil 3:9), we are then able to take comfort in our earthly struggles against the devil, the world, and our own sinful flesh.  It is by receiving his righteousness that we are able to know the power of his resurrection and share in his suffering (Phil 3:10).   cranach altar pieceThere is so much to meditate upon in this great epistle.  So here is a hymn I wrote based on the text.  

Following the hymn from which I obtained the meter, the 2nd line rhymes with the 4th, the 6th with the 8th, and the rest aren’t supposed to rhyme.

Philippians 2:5-13; 3:7-12Tune: Jeg Vil Mig Herren Love


H. O K. Zinck, 1746-1833

(I Pray Thee, Dear Lord Jesus, T. H. Kingo, ELH 178)

  1. Lord, keep this mind among me
    Of true humility
    That sees my lowly Savior,
    Who hid His majesty,
    Who, though in splendor shining,
    He chose a slave to be.
    Obedient in Your mission,
    He set the sinner free.

  2. Lord, Jesus, let me think this,
    That You, my Lord and God,
    Were found in human likeness
    And bore the cruel rod
    To satisfy God’s anger.
    You now, exalted, stand.
    To intercede for sinners
    You plead at God’s right hand.

  3. Oh, Paraclete and Helper,
    May I with Jesus shine.
    Give me a trusting spirit
    To claim His crown as mine,
    The crown of true salvation
    And righteousness. Oh keep
    My faith, and heart, and spirit
    Eternal life to reap.

  4. I strive, though weak and fearful
    My sinful flesh to slay,
    And count but loss my merit,
    Since Jesus did obey
    In my own stead to save me.
    He in my heart has sown
    His own good will to trust Him;
    He claims me as His own.

  5. So now I strive to meet Him,
    My God, my Lord, my Joy,
    When sin no longer threatens
    My conscience to annoy.
    May I be found possessing
    That guiltless robe so fair.
    May I remain with Jesus
    A brother, son, and heir.

About Pastor Andrew Preus

Pastor Andrew Preus is the pastor of Trinity Lutheran/St. Paul Lutheran, Guttenberg/McGregor, IA. He is the eighth of eleven sons, with one sister. He received his seminary training at Concordia Lutheran Theological Seminary, St. Catharines, ON (MDiv) from 2009 to 2013, and Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, IN (STM) from 2013 to 2014. His main theological interests include Justification and Church and Ministry. He is married to Leah Preus (nee Fehr), and they have five children: Jacob, Solveig, Kristiana, Robert, and Marian.


Hymn on the Carmen Christi — 3 Comments

  1. It is likely that St. Paul recorded an already extant Christian hymn, which the Holy Spirit inspired him to record in this letter.

    We should be wary of attributing everything in Paul’s (or any other inspired author’s) writings to the Holy Spirit working “on the fly.”

    Many things in Scripture have their historical origins prior to their being recorded in Holy Writ.

  2. Robert, I am aware of that possibility. Inspiration doesn’t necessarily mean an ecstatic experience. It means that the words written were guided and intended by the Holy Spirit both in clarity as well as in truth. If on the fly means a mechanical inspiration, that the holy authors were simply dictated to and had none of their own personal thinking or style, then I agree that we don’t teach this. But even though God allowed the authors’ various styles and personalities to show through, it was still the intent of the Holy Spirit whom Christ sent on his apostles to say everything that the apostolic authors wrote. And I don’t believe that there is any more reasonable assumption than that St. Paul, being a man of letters, wrote the hymn himself in order to include it in his letter. It wasn’t simply part of the church’s liturgical tradition that the Carmen Christi was included — even though it is certainly possible that it was used prior to this epistle. What’s important is that the eternal Spirit of God specifically willed it to be written by Paul, with all its unique style, precisely for our edification. While we can certainly say that the Scriptures didn’t come out of a vacuum, we also must be careful not to fall into the trap of form criticism, whether by subordinating the Scriptures to the church like the Papists do, or to the liturgy, like the Orthodox do.

    Anyway, I’m just on a tangent. Thanks for your comment. I appreciate it!

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