This hymn expounds on the theme of the beauty of Christ and the Creation in an overflowing expression of praise, similar to King David's statement: “One thing have I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord …” (Psalm 27:4 ESV).
The original, anonymous German text of this hymn first appeared in a 1662 manuscript in Münster, Germany. It was known in Germany, but its wider popularity came when A. H. Hoffman von Fallersleben and E. F. Richter published it in Schlesische Volkslieder,a collection of folk songs from Silesia, in 1842. There are two translations in common use. One is by Joseph Seiss and is titled “Beautiful Savior.” The other, which is more common, is anonymous and first appeared in Richard Storrs Willis's Church Chorals and Choir Studies in 1850. The text typically appears with four stanzas, which are all on the theme of the beauty of creation and the greater beauty of Christ, the Savior.
The tune that is best known with this text is usually called CRUSADER'S HYMN. It is also sometimes named SCHÖNSTER HERR JESU, after the first line of the German text. After it was used as a crusader's march in Franz Liszt's 1862 oratorio, The Legend of St. Elizabeth, the tune was also named ST. ELIZABETH. Though it is not the original tune for this text, SCHÖNSTER HERR JESU has been associated with “Fairest Lord Jesus” since both appeared in Fallersleben's and Richter's Schlesische Volkslieder in 1842.
This tune has the flexibility to be sung with a gentle mood or a powerful one, depending on the accompanying instruments and their volume. It is a flowing tune, and congregations may lose their rhythmic unison between the third and fourth lines unless the leader indicates clearly where to take a breath.
This hymn may be used as an opening hymn of praise or as a hymn of response. It may be sung at any time of year, and it is suitable for use at Christmas, especially in medley with carols, such as in the handbell setting combining “O Come Let Us Adore Him”with “Fairest Lord Jesus.” The frequent allusions to the beauty of nature make it suitable for use as a simple “Spring Carol,” in a choral setting for SAB choir accompanied only by a few handbells. The tune blends well with some contemporary worship songs, making it suitable for a blended worship service, such as in the medley “You Are My All in All/Fairest Lord Jesus.”