Ein’ feste Burg ist unser Gott
Music and text by Martin Luther based upon Psalm 46
YouTube recording: http://youtu.be/cnvnfq5ut7s
1. A mighty fortress is our God,
a bulwark never failing;
our helper he amid the flood
of mortal ills prevaling.
For still our ancient foe
doth seek to work us woe;
his craft and power are great,
and armed with cruel hate,
on earth is not his equal.
2. Did we in our own strength confide,
our striving would be losing,
were not the right man on our side,
the man of God’s own choosing.
Dost ask who that may be?
Christ Jesus, it is he;
Lord Sabaoth, his name,
from age to age the same,
and he must win the battle.
3. And though this world, with devils filled,
should threaten to undo us,
we will not fear, for God hath willed
his truth to triumph through us.
The Prince of Darkness grim,
we tremble not for him;
his rage we can endure,
for lo, his doom is sure;
one little word shall fell him.
4. That word above all earthly powers,
no thanks to them, abideth;
the Spirit and the gifts are ours,
thru him who with us sideth.
Let goods and kindred go,
this mortal life also;
the body they may kill;
God’s truth abideth still;
his kingdom is forever.
No other hymn has the same connection to the German and Lutheran Reformation as this hymn. (And is now ironically begun to be used in the Roman Catholic Church) Luther wrote it very early in his reformation efforts. He possibly wrote it as a dedication for his friend Leonhard Kaiser, who was executed on August 16, 1527. It is also recorded that it was sung by Luther and his companions as they entered The Diet of Worm on April 16, 1521 where he was called to defend his 95 Thesis. Though in all likelihood it was written around 1527… almost 500 years ago.
One of Luther’s goals for the reformation was to reintroduce congregational singing to the service and to that end he wrote many hymns (poetic texts) and tunes to accompany those hymns.
Luther used his hymns to teach important theological truths and declare those truths in no uncertain terms. This direct truthfulness is one of the many reasons his hymns still resonate centuries after they were written.
He starts with declaring in terms very understandable to his audience of the confidence they can have in their protector. Life and security was very tenuous in his day. Neighboring towns or provinces would wage war over the slightest of provocation or ambition, and often did. The security of the community rested in the protective fortresses. We can find refuge from the ancient foe, the devil, (and in Luther’s mind probably Pope Leo X), whose craft and power is greater than all others. None of this is from our own strength, but rather from a man of God’s own choosing, his Son. Ultimately the truth will win the day and our enemies will be vanquished. The Spirit of God will provide all we need. Though this mortal body may be killed, God’s truth will not fail, for His Kingdom is forever! Amen and Amen.
Luther was facing significant pressure from the Roman Church to recant his teaching. His life, and the lives of his friends and family were most certainly in danger. It was a common practice to kill political and spiritual opponents during this time in Europe. The reformers, if captured by the authorities of the Roman church could certainly have been executed for their crimes of heresy. This explains the strong language in many of Luther’s hymns, they quite accurately reflect his life and times and one does not face certain death over trivial matters.
“It was … the Marseillaise of the Reformation. It was sung at Augsburg during the Diet, and in all the churches of Saxony, often against the protest of the priest. It was sung in the streets; and, so heard, comforted the hearts of Melanchthon, Jonas, and Cruciger, as they entered Weimar, when banished from Wittenberg in 1547. It was sung by poor Protestant emigrants on their way into exile, and by martyrs at their death. It is woven into the web of the history of Reformation times, and it became the true national hymn of Protestant Germany.” Louis Benson Studies of Familiar Hymns 1903
And it continues to speak to us today and will continue speak until he comes again.
Ah, Holy Jesus, How Hast Thou Offended (1630)
by Johann Heermann 1585-1647 tr. Robert Bridges 1844-1930
Traditional tune: Herziebster Jesu (1640)
YouTube recording: http://youtu.be/RkI838hBO9M
1. Ah, holy Jesus, how hast thou offended,
that we to judge thee have in hate pretended?
By foes derided, by thine own rejected,
O most afflicted!
2. Who was the guilty? Who brought this upon thee?
Alas, my treason, Jesus, hath undone thee!
‘Twas I, Lord Jesus, I it was denied thee;
I crucified thee.
3. Lo, the Good Shepherd for the sheep is offered;
the slave hath sinned, and the Son hath suffered.
For our atonement, while we nothing heeded,
4. For me, kind Jesus, was thy incarnation,
thy mortal sorrow, and thy life’s oblation;
thy death of anguish and thy bitter passion,
for my salvation.
5. Therefore, kind Jesus, since I cannot pay thee,
I do adore thee, and will ever pray thee,
think on thy pity and thy love unswerving,
not my deserving.
Isaiah 53 3-7
12 Therefore will I divide him a portion with the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong; because he hath poured out his soul unto death: and he was numbered with the transgressors; and he bare the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.
(A number of Lutheran hymnals use a translation written in 1863 by Catherine Winkworth which begins “O dearest Jesus, what law hast thou broken?”[)
Johann Heerman was born in Raudten (modern day Rudna) in Silesia which is wedged between modern Poland and the Czech Republic. He was the fourth son of a middle-class Protestant family; none of his elder siblings survived beyond their childhood. As a thirteen year old child he was sent to a nearby town to further his education. His health proved too fragile and he had to frequently interrupt his learning to return home to recover.
During his early 20’s his patron (for whom he was tutoring his children) took him on a tour of Europe and Heerman was able to spend time studying in many capitals of Europe. He eventually settled in Chobienia, Poland and began work at the Lutheran congregation in a role we would call the assistant pastor today. The senior pastor was in poor health and died days after he began his duties. That Fall in 1611 he married Dorothea Feige, the daughter of the mayor of Raudten.
However, life in the 1600’s was generally short and brutish. By 1613 the Plague was ravaging the area, in 1616 a fire nearly destroyed the entire town and Johan’s wife died childless in 1617. He remarried the next year and eventually he had four children we know of. A few years later Johan once again fell ill and never recovered his health, though he lived another 25 years. By the 1630’s his community fell victim to the 30 Year War and was plundered by Catholic armies repeated over the next decade. Survival was tenuous at best, by the 1630’s his health was so poor he was unable to work.
Despite all of the hardship Johan Heermann endured throughout his life this poem shows he still understood his dependence upon God for salvation and his gratitude for the underserved mercies of his salvation.
The first two stanzas ask a questions which are answered in their final verse. Jesus, what did you do to deserve this? Who brought this upon you? The answer is: O most afflicted, I crucified thee. But God interceded for my salvation, which I did not deserve.
Savior, When in Dust to Thee by Robert Grant, 1779-1838
A recording is available here: http://youtu.be/3RIypqGC6x4
- Savior, when in dust to Thee
Low we bow the adoring knee,
When, repentant, to the skies
Scarce we lift our weeping eyes,
Oh, by all Thy pains and woe
Suffered once for man below,
Bending from Thy throne on high,
Hear our solemn litany!
By Thy helpless infant years,
By Thy life of want and tears,
By Thy days of sore distress
In the savage wilderness,
By the dread, mysterious hour Of the insulting Tempter’s power,
Turn, O turn, a favoring eye,
Hear our solemn litany!
3.By Thine hour of dire despair,
By Thine agony of prayer, By the cross, the nail, the thorn,
Piercing spear, and torturing scorn,
By the gloom that veiled the skies
O’er the dreadful sacrifice,
Listen to our humble cry,
Hear our solemn litany!
- By Thy deep expiring groan,
By the sad sepulchral stone,
By the vault whose dark abode
Held in vain the rising God,
Oh, from earth to heaven restored,
Mighty, reascended Lord,
Listen, listen, to the cry
Of our solemn litany!
But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, say, “God be merciful to me, a sinner!”
Two men went to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee, the other a despised tax collector. One boasted of his righteousness to the righteous one, the other knew his sine and unworthiness before God. We acknowledge our utter dependence God as we bow down into the dust. Acknowledgment of our sins brings with it the knowledge of our guilt before God. How can we even lift our eyes to the cross, knowing ourselves as we do? Yet, God reached down from his throne to hear our prayers.
From Christ’s birth, through his sore temptation in the desert by Satan himself to that faithful day on the cross, through nails, thorns, and spear, God listens to our humble cry.
When Jesus therefore had received the vinegar, he said: “It is finished,” and he bowed his head, and gave up the ghost.
With a deep groan, heard for millennium to come: “IT IS FINISHED”. We are redeemed from the grave. The grave will wait in vain for he is risen! He has heard our solemn litany!
by Isaac Watts, (1674-1748)
Usually sung to the tune “Martydom” by Hugh Wilson (1764-1824)
YouTube recording: http://youtu.be/pOwkhlqehgw
- Alas! and did my Savior bleed,
and did my Sovereign die!
Would he devote that sacred head
for sinners such as I?
- Was it for crimes that I have done,
he groaned upon the tree?
Amazing pity! Grace unknown!
And love beyond degree!
- Well might the sun in darkness hide,
and shut its glories in,
when God, the mighty maker, died
for his own creature’s sin.
- Thus might I hide my blushing face
while his dear cross appears;
dissolve my heart in thankfulness,
and melt mine eyes to tears.
- But drops of tears can ne’er repay
the debt of love I owe.
Here, Lord, I give myself away;
’tis all that I can do.
Isaac Watts was one of the most prolific English hymn writers with over 750 hymns to his credit and many are still used today. Watts was raised in what was known at the time as a “non-conformist” home. The life threatening aspects of the reformation had largely passed by Watts’ lifetime, however, there was still a considerable amount of social ostracization towards those who did not conform to the official religious prescripts as ordained by the Anglican Church. His father, also named Isaac Watts was incarcerated twice, including the time of Isaac’s birth. Watts attended the Dissenting Academy at Stoke Newington beginning in 1690 for his university training instead of Oxford or Cambridge. The later would have put him under the authority of the Church of England.
Watts was a brilliant linguist learning Latin at 4, Greek at 9, French at 11, and Hebrew at 13. In his mid-twenties he became the pastor at Mark Lane Independent Church in London. He began to suffer from several periods of illness, which over time led him to relinquish his duties. However, he continued to write hymns, several books about history and faith, and even an introductory book on logic which went to 20 editions. He was a small man with an over sized head and has been described by his contemporaries as “ugly”. His one known marriage proposal was rejected.
One of the more controversial aspects of Watts hymns was his rewriting of the psalms to reflect how he imagined David would have written them if he had lived in 17th century London. Watts wanted to imbue his texts with an immediacy and expressiveness not available in the stilted, unrhymed, unmetered Psalms.
Within the very first stanza of Alas! and Did my Savior Bleed we see the clarity of Watts’ anguish. His Savior had bled and died for such a horrible sinner as himself. Was it his very own sins which put him on the cross? The amazing grace and love, beyond degree which led to such a sacrifice that even the sun hid its face when the Maker died for the Made’s sin. How shameful, I too must hide my face when I see the cross as my heart breaks in thankfulness and I cry tears of grief. But even these tears cannot begin to repay my debt of love so all I can do is: give myself away.
The penitent heart can do nothing else.
Romans 8:26 (KJV revised by ANR)
Likewise the Spirit also helps our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered.
Music is the closest we can come to the groanings of Holy Spirit.
“Through the Night of Doubt and Sorrow”
by Bernhardt S. Ingemann, 1789-1862
Translated by Sabine BaringGould, 1834-1924
- Through the night of doubt and sorrow
Onward goes the pilgrim band,
Singing songs of expectation,
Marching to the Promised Land.
Clear before us, through the darkness,
Gleams and burns the guiding light.
Brother clasps the hand of brother,
Stepping fearless through the night.
One the light of God’s own presence,
O’er His ransomed people shed,
Chasing far the gloom and terror,
Brightening all the path we tread;
One the object of our journey,
One the faith which never tires.
One the earnest looking forward,
One the hope our God inspires.
One the strain the lips of thousands
Lift as from the heart of one;
One the conflict, one the peril,
One their march in God begun;
One the gladness of rejoicing
On the far eternal shore,
Where the one almighty Father
Reigns in love forevermore.
Onward, therefore, pilgrim brothers!
Onward, with the cross our aid!
Bear its shame and fight its battle
Till we rest beneath its shade.
Soon shall come the great awaking,
Soon the rending of the tomb,
Then the scattering of all shadows,
And the end of toil and gloom.
Commonly sung to the tune: Ebenezer (remember last month’s article?).
There is but one reason to sing and that is to worship and there are three primary types of songs we sing. We sing to praise, we sing to proclaim, and we sing to pray. This is a hymn of proclamation usually sung during Lent.
The most important part of a hymn, (it is the very definition of a hymn) is the text. The most important aspect to the text is that it faithfully declares the Glory of God. Every aspect of the text must speak to the Biblical truth clearly, it shouldn’t be mistaken for a song for some other purpose. I have heard some songs in church where any reference to God was purely inferred and these songs could just have easily been about some lost lover.
This hymn of proclamation describes the pilgrim’s journey which begins in darkness surrounded by doubt and sorrow. In the second stanza we find a great example of how hymns can teach and reinforce Biblical truths. The idea of God ransoming his people starts early in the Old Testament and finds its culmination at the foot of the cross. The fourth stanza makes a clear statement of the importance of cross and the empty tomb.
One of the most radical transformations which the reformers Luther, Knox, and Calvin wrought was the incorporation of congregational singing. At the time of the reformation worship was done in Latin, a language which had effectively been dead for nearly 1000 years, which all but the most educated had no understanding. The music was performed by professional musicians and choirs. The congregation simply stood there for hours and watched the actions of others.
Moving worship to the vernacular and even letting the congregation sing spiritual poems set to simple tunes was such a profound change we have difficulty understanding it today. The fathers of the reformation and many since have left us thousands of hymns of praise, proclamation, and prayer.
Every Sunday your pastoral and musical staff endeavor to bring music which clearly and unabashedly proclaims God’s truth.
I would challenge you to read the text of each hymn and song we sing and consider the Biblical truths present and even more importantly, dialogue with the text. Consider the implication for your life in the truths proclaimed.
Rejoice, Rejoice, Believers (Llangloffan)
Text by: Laurentius Laurenti 1700
Translated by: Sarah B Findlater 1854
Tune: Llangloffan, a Welsh hymn melody
Here is one of four tunes I have recorded for this text:
Rejoice, rejoice, believers, And let your lights appear;
The evening is advancing, And darker night is near.
The bridegroom is arising And soon is drawing nigh.
Up, pray and watch and wrestle; At midnight comes the cry.
The watchers on the mountain Proclaim the bridegroom near;
Go forth as He approaches With alleluias clear.
The marriage feast is waiting; The gates wide open stand.
Arise, O heirs of glory; The bridegroom is at hand.
The saints, who here in patience Their cross and sufferings bore,
Shall live and reign forever When sorrow is no more.
Around the throne of glory The Lamb they shall behold;
In triumph cast before Him Their diadems of gold.
Our hope and expectation, O Jesus, now appear;
Arise, O Sun so longed for, Over this benighted sphere.
With hearts and hands uplifted, We plead, O Lord, to see
The day of earth’s redemption That sets Your people free!
Allusions to Biblical text abound here! Most hymn books place this hymn within the Advent section. While the advent of something is surely present, it just isn’t the usual sense of Advent we have. The allusions are more appropriate to Revelations than the synoptic Gospels.
A great celebration is here as we await the arrival of the bridegroom and the watchers proclaim he is drawing near. The marriage between the bride (the church) and the bridegroom is at hand.
With the third stanza we have the second Advent for it is now after the saints have born their cross and sufferings shall they live with no more sorrow in the presence of the Lamb of God. This imagery of the Lamb and Bride of Christ can be found in Revelations chapters 19 and 20.
The final stanza calls for the redemption which will set the bridegroom’s people free from this benighted sphere.
Within the celebration of the Advent season sits the anticipation of the second coming of Christ. He came once to save and redeem, and he has promised to come again?
The author is a man who took the name Laurentius Laurenti (1660-1722). He spent most of his life in northern Germany. Laurenti was born: Lorenz Lorenzen but after a year studing music at the university of Rostock he adopted the latinized version of his name, a common practice at the time. In 1684 he became the music director at the Bremen Cathedral and wrote several dozen hymns.
The text was translated by Sarah B. Findlater (1823-1907). She was the wife of a pastor in Lochearnhead, Scotland, which then, as now, is nothing more than a wide spot in the road. Sarah wrote and translated (mostly from German) dozens of hymns throughout her life.
Earlier this year, just before Easter, I effectively lost the use of my left hand due to arthritis. I had surgery to restore some functionality and while the surgery went fine, the infection which followed was devastating. When I was admitted to the hospital I feared that anything which hurt this much could not stay attached to my body. But through the grace of modern medicine, the skill and patience of my doctors and nurses, the love of my wife Diane, and the many prayers from my fellow Christians I survived and have been able to return to my seat behind the keyboard.
Throughout this episode I had the time to reflect on a number of questions. Before I knew for sure that my hand would work well enough to play again I considered why was it so important for me to play again?
In Matthew 25:14-30 Jesus tells the parable of the master who gives his three servants various amounts of talents to manage in his absence. I had always assumed that my “talent” had been the ability to play and share my skill with others. For me to play is an act of worship. All of the many hours of preparation leading up to the first notes of the Prelude are an act of sacrifice and worship. Every day of the week I would rise and plan my day around the my preparation for each Sunday. And now I feared that this would soon end.
God and I had already faced the greatest test when my son Kurt died and I knew he was always faithful. So as I laid in the hospital and then spent weeks in occupational therapy I came to realize that my ability and opportunity to worship God extends to everything I do, not just my piano playing. How I treat my neighbor and how I encourage my brothers and sisters every day is an act of worship. The patience you show a restless child is an act of worship and the patience you show the careless driver is also an act of worship. The daily practice of life provides opportunities to worship our God. We don’t do this to “feel good” or for any other purpose. Worship is an expression than God is altogether worthy of worship and is deserving of our faithful worship for no other reason.
So Sunday morning as we gather together to worship corporately, when you first hear the piano or the band begin to play please join us for we are here to worship, we are here to bow down, and we are here to say that you’re our God.
This old Yiddish proverb has rung especially loudly in my life of late. If you would have asked me a year ago if I would ever open another piano store I would have stared at you mutely for a minute and simply said: “NO!” I also didn’t plan on losing the use of my left hand and having to endure three surgeries, nearly two weeks of hospitalization, and weeks of infusion antibiotics.
As I talked over my plans to reopen my store, my wise brother-in-law, Richard Southworth, shared this Yiddish proverb with me. It struck me as also quite a summary of my life. As the inveterate goal setter and planner, I am used to most of my plans and goals coming to naught. I always keep getting tripped up by the unexpected and the mundane of life.
A number of circumstances came together to make it almost inevitable that we would reopen our store so rather than sticking to a plan which was not working we decided to go ahead and reopen.
The new showroom is located at 2749 Curtiss St. in Downers Grove, IL; just a few blocks west of our previous location. It is open by appointment only for now.
The more I thought about what Rich said to me I realized that this laughter of God is not in the context of mockery. When the three travelers told Abraham that he and Sarah would have a son, Abraham laughed out of joy and Sarah laughed in derision. However, when Isaac, (whose name means laughter), was born all the laughter came from joy.
It is easy to become discouraged when things don’t go our way and our plans are thwarted. I am sure that the lack of offspring was a source of great pain and frustration for Abraham and Sari for decades. For their entire lifetimes they watched as those around them had children, gave their children away in marriage, and bounced their grandchildren on their knees. This vital marker of a complete life, which they surely wanted as much as their next breath, had eluded them into their old age.
Yet, God brought laughter and joy to this yearning of theirs after waiting until they were very old, and out of this laughter came the salvation of the world.
When I was asked last year how I felt about closing the 8000 sq ft shop, I answered that I had mixed emotions: joy and happiness. And now that my plans have once more met with holy laughter, I must meet this new opportunity with the mixed emotions of joy and happiness.
If you know anybody who needs a good used piano give me a call… I have a few.
2749 Curtiss St, Downers Grove, IL
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