Some Timely Help from Martin Rinkart

I’ve had a hard time waking up and getting started this Saturday morning. It was an exhausting week, and I’ve felt vexed juggling church work, writing deadlines, family responsibilities, and care-giving. But last night and again this morning, I picked up a book I’d purchased in a London shop earlier this year.

It told the story of Martin Rinkart, a German pastor in the early 1600s. It was his misfortune to minister in the worst of times. He lived in a walled town into which hoards of refugees poured during the Thirty Years’ War. Great armies crossed the land, pillaging shops and farms, leaving ruin and desolation behind. Farming activities were so interrupted by the war that famine ensued throughout Saxony. Then the plague broke out. The other two ministers in town died, leaving Martin to care for the multitudes alone. All day he went from bed to bed, nursing the sick and comforting the dying. He conducted thousands of funerals, sometimes reading the funeral service over forty or fifty bodies at once. Among the eight thousand who perished in one particular year was his own wife. A year after the war ended, Martin himself died. But he left behind a remarkable hymn—one of my favorites, but one I hadn’t sung or thought about for awhile.

 It’s one of our greatest hymns of – thanksgiving!

 The writing of this hymn must have provided therapy and vigor for Martin’s own spirit. I especially like the prayer in the middle of verse 2: “And guide us when perplexed….”

The first verse is a declaration of praise:

Now thank we all our God,

With hearts and hands and voices;

Who wondrous things hath done,

In whom His world rejoices;

Who, from our mother’s arms,

Hath blessed us on our way

With countless gifts of love,

And still is ours today.

 The second verse becomes a prayer:

O may this bounteous God

Through all our life be near us,

With ever-joyful hearts

And blessed 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.

 The last verse is devoted to Trinitarian praise:

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 heaven and earth adore;

For thus is was, is now,

And shall be evermore.

 My recounting of the story above was aided by Elsie Houghton, Christian Hymn-Writers (Evangelical Press of Wales, 1982), chapter 4. If you want to hear the melody for this hymn, click here. For information about my own books of hymn stories, click here.