He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth (Isaiah 53:7).
Perhaps never a more somber hymn has been written or translated to the English language. O Sacred Head Now Wounded captures the passion of Christ and presents it in personal terms of you and me; it was for you and for me that Christ willingly suffered agony and death on the cross. “… was all for sinner’s gain; Mine, mine was the transgression, but Thine the deadly pain.” The second verse does not stop there, and then presents our hope. “Lo, here I fall, my Savior! ‘Tis I deserve Thy place; Look on me with Thy favor, vouchsafe to me Thy grace.” We see in this version what grace is: unmerited favor from God; favor of which we could never earn, not in past ages or future ones to come, favor we could never purchase. Even the suggestion that God’s grace could be earned (with good works) or purchased (through indulgences, tithes or offerings) is a very insult to Christ. Consider the reverse. If there is nothing one can do the earth His favor is there anything one can do, or not do, to lose His favor?
O Sacred Head Now Wounded turns to a joyous tone in closing, a theme of thankfulness by the author and we are presented with the notion not only is Christ our savior but our friend, our dearest friend! “What language shall I borrow to thank Thee, dearest friend?” Think about it. We all have close friends but have any of them took your place in punishment; and are any of them able to keep you from eternal damnation? The modern hymn arrangement closes with the line: “Lord, let me never, never outlive my love to Thee.” We love him, because he first loved us (1 John 4:19)? O reader, do you love Him, He that took your place, took your agony, bore your sin, and gave you life? Do you love Him?
O Sacred Head Now Wounded was adapted from a medieval Latin poem by Paul Gerhardt in German and to English by James W. Alexander in 1830 and Robert Bridges in 1899. The Waddell version is widely used today in America. The Latin poem was written by Arnulf of Louvain in the 13th century. The original Latin poem detailed sufferings by seven different parts of Christ’s body. The translated hymn has 11 verses modern hymnals I have seen publish only three or four. Music used in both the modern English and German translations of O Sacred Head Now Wounded was written by Hans Leo Hassler circa 1600 which was later simplified by Johann Cruger and later by J. S. Bach. The hymn has been recorded by several artists. I highly recommend the version by Fernando Ortega.
O sacred Head, now wounded, with grief and shame weighed down,
Now scornfully surrounded with thorns, Thine only crown;
O sacred Head, what glory, what bliss till now was Thine!
Yet, though despised and gory, I joy to call Thee mine.
What Thou, my Lord, hast suffered, was all for sinners’ gain;
Mine, mine was the transgression, but Thine the deadly pain.
Lo, here I fall, my Savior! ’Tis I deserve Thy place;
Look on me with Thy favor, vouchsafe to me Thy grace.
What language shall I borrow to thank Thee, dearest friend,
For this Thy dying sorrow, Thy pity without end?
O make me Thine forever, and should I fainting be,
Lord, let me never, never outlive my love to Thee.
Be Thou my consolation, my shield when I must die;
Remind me of Thy passion when my last hour draws nigh.
Mine eyes shall then behold Thee, upon Thy cross shall dwell,
My heart by faith enfolds Thee. Who dieth thus dies well.
May I ask you if you have called on Christ to accept His grace? Are you trying to earn it, or buy it? You can never do either, but no need to worry, His saving grace is free. For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord (Romans 6:23). He is waiting.