Thursday, December 09, 2010
The Pastor's Perspective
"Now Thank We All Our God"
First Published: October 15, 2007
One of my very favorite hymns is Now Thank We All Our God, written in 1636 by Martin Rinkart (1586-1649), who was a Lutheran minister in Eilenburg, Saxony. “During the Thirty Years’ War, the walled city of Eilenburg saw a steady stream of refugees pour through its gates. The Swedish army surrounded the city, and famine and plague were rampant. Eight hundred homes were destroyed, and the people began to perish. There was a tremendous strain on the pastors who had to conduct dozens of funerals daily. Finally, the pastors, too, succumbed, and Rinkart was the only one left—doing 50 funerals a day. When the Swedes demanded a huge ransom, Rinkart left the safety of the walls to plead for mercy. The Swedish commander, impressed by his faith and courage, lowered his demands. Soon afterward, the Thirty Years’ War ended, and Rinkart wrote this hymn for a grand celebration service. It is a testament to his faith that, after such misery, he was able to write a hymn of abiding trust and gratitude toward God.”
This was one of the first hymns I sang with you as your minister. I wept then as I sang and I never fail to be moved when I sing it with you still. It is one of the best in our hymnal. Let’s walk together through its glorious text.
Now thank we all our God, with heart and hands and voices,
Who wondrous things has done, in Whom this world rejoices;
Who from our mothers’ arms has blessed us on our way
With countless gifts of love, and still is ours today.
The first stanza has us sing, roughly: “Let us now all thank our God, with everything we are (heart, hands, and voices). He has worked wonders and the whole world rejoices in him (if we don’t, the stones will cry out!). He has shown us his favor from the first time we were held by our mothers, and all along on the way. He has blessed us with innumerable gifts flowing from his love, and he is still our God today.
Notice how the first line reminds one of Romans 12:1 (present your body, the whole of your self, as a living sacrifice). This whole first stanza is both thanks and praise, but did you catch how the hymn gives us reasons to praise God (unlike many songs written for use in worship today)? In fact, in just this first stanza, Rinkart gives you five reasons to praise God: (1) He has done wondrous things; (2) the World rejoices in him; (3) he has blessed us from the time we were first in our mothers’ arms; (4) with unnumbered gifts of love, (5) and he’s still ours today.
O may this bounteous God through all our life be near us,
With ever joyful hearts and blessPd peace to cheer us;
And keep us in His grace, and guide us when perplexed;
And free us from all ills, in this world and the next!
In this second stanza we are exhorting one another to worship and prayer, like this: May our generous God always be nears us all life long. May we have always joyful hearts and God-given peace to cheer us on our way. May God keep us, preserve us in his grace and give us guidance when we are baffled. May God deliver us from evil, now here and forevermore in the world to come.
So, this second stanza is a petition, and a glorious one. We pray for God’s constant presence or nearness, for joyful hearts, and God’s peace, for perseverance in grace, guidance in perplexity, and for deliverance from evil, both in this world and the world to come.
All praise and thanks to God the Father now be given;
The Son and Him Who reigns with Them in highest Heaven;
The one eternal God, whom earth and Heaven adore;
For thus it was, is now, and shall be evermore.
The third stanza returns us to praise: God the Father, we give all praise and thanks to you now. And to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, as you all reign in heaven. Three, yet one eternal God, adored in heaven above and here below. For thus, the Triune God, was, is and ever shall be blessed, forever.
Notice how adoration is given to Father, Son and Holy Spirit (in beautiful English verse!). The end of the hymn, indeed, reminds one of the “Gloria Patri” (with “it” referring to the Holy Trinity).
Sing it with joy and understanding next time we sing it!
Posted by Ligon Duncan at 1:26 PM