The Tabernacle Choir Blog

“Jesus, Once of Humble Birth”: A Poetic Reflection of the Savior’s Life

The poetic hymn “Jesus, Once of Humble Birth” was written by Parley P. Pratt, a member of the original Twelve Apostles of the Restoration. Pratt, who was nicknamed “the poet Apostle,” wrote the text for seven hymns that are included in the current hymnbook of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Author Karen Lynn Davidson describes the hymn as “a triumphant meditation on the paradoxes of the Savior’s life and ministry” (Our Latter-Day Hymns: The Stories and the Messages [1988], 229). In his lyric, Pratt set up alternating contrasts of “once” and “now,” which repeat throughout the hymn. The contrasts begin each verse with the Savior’s humble birth, suffering, and pain and end with His divine power, Atonement, and Resurrection.  

The music for the hymn was adapted from a tune that was composed by Giacomo Meyerbeer, from an opera titled Il Crociato in Egitto. In the earlier Latter-day Saint hymnals, dynamic markings were used to indicate certain measures that would be sung louder or softer. A former conductor of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, J. Spencer Cornwall, once said, “The dynamic markings found in the earlier editions of the hymnal are omitted in the 1950 edition. It is my opinion after hearing it sung by congregations both ways that the loud and soft variations enhance the interest in this hymn.”

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Jesus, Once of Humble Birth (Lyrics)

Jesus, once of humble birth,
Now in glory comes to earth.
Once he suffered grief and pain;
Now he comes on earth to reign.
Now he comes on earth to reign.

Once a meek and lowly Lamb,
Now the Lord, the great I Am.
Once upon the cross he bowed;
Now his chariot is the cloud.
Now his chariot is the cloud.

Once he groaned in blood and tears;
Now in glory he appears.
Once rejected by his own,
Now their King he shall be known.
Now their King he shall be known.

Once forsaken, left alone,
Now exalted to a throne.
Once all things he meekly bore,
But he now will bear no more.
But he now will bear no more.