Hymn text by Eliza R. Snow, 1804-1887. View the full text of this hymn.

©2008, Mike Vondran, via Flickr (http://flic.kr/p/5RvC6E). CC BY 2.0

There is nothing more central to our religion than the Atonement of Jesus Christ. His suffering in Gethsemane, his death at Golgatha, and his resurrection in the Garden are the very core of the entire message of Christianity. Without these things, there is no salvation to proclaim, no redemption to offer. Without these things, Christianity has little to give.

It is fitting, then, that as we prepare to make sacramental covenants each week, we remember these central events. After all, the covenants we make when we partake of the sacrament can only have meaning in the context of Christ’s Atonement.

Behold the Great Redeemer Die reviews the events around the death and resurrection of Christ. However, the doctrine of the Atonement is not merely that he died and was resurrected. Rather, it is that through his sacrifice, we can receive forgiveness, strength, and eventually exaltation. If we desire to be spiritually nourished as we sing this hymn, we must do more than merely sing the words—we must ponder how these events apply to our own lives.

Behold the great Redeemer die,
A broken law to satisfy.
He dies a sacrifice for sin,
That man may live and glory win.

What broken law did Christ satisfy? Divine law decrees that no unclean thing can dwell in the presence of God. We all sin, and thus we have all broken the law. By that law, we cannot dwell with God.

Sometimes we get caught up in judging each other, trying to determine who has broken divine law most severely. This misses the point—we have all broken the law, and thus are all in equal need of redemption. Whether you have sinned once or a thousand times, you are still in violation of divine law. It is only through Christ’s sacrifice for sin that man be redeemed. It is only through him that glory may win.

His high commission to fulfill,
He magnified his Father’s will.

Christ was submissive to his Father’s will in all things. His atonement for our sins was not an easy thing; if possible, he would have preferred another way. Yet despite the physical and spiritual pain, he remained true to his Father. How thankful we should be for his faithfulness. How humbled we should be by his sacrifice.

I’ve noticed we have an unfortunate habit in church meetings: we tend to only sing those verses that are written within the music notation. Additional verses listed below the music are only rarely used. We should remember that most hymns were not written with the current print layout in mind. (Until 1889, all official LDS hymnals contained only words, with no printed music.) The text of the hymns is meant to be read as a whole; just as you would not skip over the last third of a novel, we should not discard the last verses of our hymns.

The sixth and final verse is one such verse that we often pass over, and yet it provides meaning to the whole hymn. After recounting the terrible scene of His death, we return to our own preparation for the Sacrament and sing this:

He lives–he lives. We humbly now
Around these sacred symbols bow
And seek, as Saints of latter days,
To do his will and live his praise.

This hymn is written to be a sacrament hymn. It seeks to prepare us to make sacred covenants—covenants to take his name upon us, to always remember him, and to keep his commandments. We remember Christ’s death not just to acknowledge the gravity of the Atonement, but also to bring to mind the symbolism present in the sacramental symbols, the bread and water. The water reminds us of blood shed in our behalf. The bread reminds us of his broken body, risen again. In coming weeks, don’t just “take the sacrament.” Rather, use these symbols to make a covenant with our Father, a covenant that can bring rich blessings to your life if regarded and kept properly.

Finally, I’ll leave you with a question, one that has intrigued me as I’ve written. The very last words of this hymn suggest that as saints we should seek to “live his praise.” What does that mean to you? How might you live his praise? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Image Credit: “Christ the Redeemer”, Mike Vondran, ©2008 via Flickr (http://flic.kr/p/5RvC6E). CC BY 2.0

3 thoughts on “Hymn #191: Behold the Great Redeemer Die”:

    I am a bit behind (can you hear the understatement in that comment?). I want to answer your question. I interpret the last phrase of the song as meaning the following: the way we live our lives should be an act of praise for our Savior. What we do should be a reflection of the inner spirit and the covenant to always remember him. If we have his spirit to be with us always, then our mortal lives should always bring glory and praise to Jesus Christ. I think the phrase, “pressing forward with steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope,” describes this well.

    Many years ago I was leading this hymn in sacrament meeting. I looked down and noticed that my autistic oldest son was crying. As soon as the sacrament was over I went down to ask him what the trouble was. He explained that the song had made him sad because Jesus had died. I pointed out to him that he needed to read the last verse – the one we almost never sing. Through that verse I was able to help him understand that Jesus was resurrected and that he would be also.

    I am grateful that I had this opportunity to teach my son. A few years later he was diagnosed with a terminal illness. When he passed on, he had the assurance that he would live again.

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