W(h)ither the Great Lutheran Hymns? – Trinity 8: “In God, My Faithful God”

I think this will be the featured image for all of these posts from now on. It’s the perfect visual representation of the damage which is being done to our heritage.

I should probably start out with a big “thank you” to the Calvinists who put together hymnary.org. Their felicitously inconsistent website has been an invaluable resource for me as I’ve been working on this project. Here is the index for TLH, and here is the index for LSB. It won’t surprise you to learn that more of TLH is available in facsimile scans, as it is a much older book. By the same token, many more actual TLHs are available for free or cheap. Many churches still have them squirreled away somewhere in one of their labyrinthine closets. Get a torch and go exploring. You just might find them.

A friend writes regarding the last installment:

I think that if you are going to continue this series, which you should, this will be a great convincing piece for people. It’s not the first, but it’s early in the series. And that’s great. But it’s sort of the thesis statement. It’s not anti-“guys who made the LSB,” but it also sort of is. It says, “Let’s judge the hymnal result, not the individuals on the hymnal committee.”

I don’t know if anyone found last week’s entry convincing or not, but I guess it was a bit of a thesis-statement, as my friend put it. To avoid repeating myself, I will take advantage of this. For example, when the LSB needlessly modernizes the language of a hymn, I’ll just say, “needless modernization – see post for Trinity 7,” or something like that.

Another friend writes:

LSB was kind of damage-control or patch-up of LW. And, yes, it is ultimately reflective of Kieschnick’s administration, though better than he would have liked. Jerry should take the blame for all the bad, and no credit for the good. But in the aftermath, the “confessionals” support it for the sake of unity.

That’s also true. Too often this line gets trotted out as a last ditch: “it’s not our fault, the confessional agenda was hamstrung by Kieschnick’s boys.” I’m not sure I buy that, at least not entirely. The “confessional agenda” was not and is not monolithic. In every project like this, there is a middle faction. They’re the ones who end up saying that while they might have wanted a horse at the outset, a camel is ultimately much better. Whatever they are, they are not traditionalists.

The chief hymn for Trinity 8 is “In God, My Faithful God,” by Sigismund Weingärtner. Very little is known about old Siggy the Wine-Gardener, other than that he wrote a wonderful hymn.

Here’s are the TLH and LSB versions in parallel:

TLH 526

LSB 745

1. In God, my faithful God,
I trust when dark my road;
Tho’ many woes o’ertake me,
Yet He will not forsake me.
His love it is doth send them
And, when ’tis best, will end them.
1. In God, my faithful God,
I trust when dark my road;
Great woes may overtake me,
Yet He will not forsake me.
My troubles He can alter;
His hand lets nothing falter.
2. My sins assail me sore,
But I despair no more.
I build on Christ who loves me;
From this rock nothing moves me.
To Him I all surrender,
To Him, my soul’s defender.
2. My sins fill me with care,
Yet I will not despair.
I build on Christ, who loves me;
From this rock nothing moves me.
To Him I will surrender,
To Him, my soul’s defender.
3. If death my portion be,
Then death is gain to me
And Christ my life forever,
From whom death cannot sever.
Come when it may, He’ll shield me,
To Him I wholly yield me.
3. If death my portion be,
It brings great gain to me;
It speeds my life’s endeavor
To live with Christ forever.
He gives me joy in sorrow,
Come death now or tomorrow.
4. O Jesus Christ, my Lord,
So meek in deed and word,
Thou once didst die to save us
Because Thy love would have us
Be heirs of heavenly gladness
When ends this life of sadness.
4. O Jesus Christ, my Lord,
So meek in deed and word,
You suffered death to save us
Because Your love would have us
Be heirs of heav’nly gladness
When ends this life of sadness.
5. “So be it,” then I say
With all my heart each day.
We, too, dear Lord, adore Thee;
We sing for joy before Thee.
Guide us while here we wander
Until we praise Thee yonder.
5. “So be it,” then, I say
With all my heart each day.
Dear Lord, we all adore You,
We sing for joy before You.
Guide us while here we wander
Until we praise You yonder.

Verses 2, 4, and 5 in the LSB have all been minorly but needlessly tweaked. These are”just because” changes. People who introduce “just because” changes in hymnody and liturgy should not be trusted. Whatever their intentions may be, they are presumptuous and solipsistic, and they do not know the worth of the things they handle. Remember that, because it’s true.

Verse 3’s mutations are equally needless, but quite a bit more significant. The last line in TLH’s version, “To Him I wholly yield me,” is probably the culprit. It suggests that you, as a Christian, actually do something as a baptized child of God. That’s “Law-talk,” and it has to go. People submitting their wills to God’s? That, like, has no place in my neo-Lutheran Christian life, man. I don’t have any reason or strength. I, like, just can’t even, so stop harshing my mellow.

I don’t know if such debased understanding is the cause or the effect of our neutered hymn poetics, but it’s everywhere in the Lutheran Church. Aside from the stoner slang which maybe no one uses anymore, the above is not a caricature.

I’m no scholar, but I have read the Book of Concord a few times. (It’s a good book, and all good books should be read more than once.) There are some pretty clear references in the Book of Concord to Christians striving and actively struggling in their lives under the cross. The Apology of the Augsburg Confession, Article 15, “Of Human Traditions in the Church,” paragraphs 45-46, says this:

And of the mortification of the flesh and discipline of the body we thus teach, just as the Confession states, that a true and not a feigned mortification occurs through the cross and afflictions by which God exercises us. In these we must obey God’s will, as Paul says, “Present your bodies a living sacrifice” (Rom. 12:1). And these are the spiritual exercises of fear and faith. But in addition to this mortification which occurs through the cross, there is also a voluntary kind of exercise necessary, of which Christ says: “Take heed to yourselves lest at any time your hearts be overcharged with surfeiting” (Luke 21:34). And Paul: “I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection” (1 Cor. 9:27), etc.

The version of verse 3 that you find in TLH fits right in with this. LSB’s, not so much. It’s covered with the fingerprints of people who just couldn’t leave a good thing be.

The real travesty in LSB’s version of this hymn, though, is verse 1. Not only has this verse been beaten with the ugly stick, it has also been doctrinally eviscerated. The last two lines of verse 1 in TLH give the Christian words to sing in the midst of affliction, reminding him that God has allowed him to be afflicted so that his faith would be strengthened:

His love it is doth send them [i.e., woes]
And, when ’tis best, will end them.

It is God’s love which sends us woes, grief, and calamity. What a comfort to know that even if God does not alter our suffering or take it away, that doesn’t mean that He has abandoned us—no, but opposite is true: when God’s hand is most heavy upon us, that is because He loves us. That is Him chastening our hearts and conforming us to the likeness of His Son. It brings to mind 1 Peter 4:12-13: “Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you: But rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ’s sufferings; that, when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy.”

LSB’s version offers cold comfort by comparison. Instead of singing the hard but reassuring truth attested by the TLH version, we give voice to some anemic Reader’s Digest sentiment about the possibility that God might relent and alter our woes:

My troubles He can alter;
His hand lets nothing falter.

What, will God alter my troubles if I “have enough faith”? This is terrible. It introduces uncertainty. Instead of helping us to see that our sufferings themselves are the loving work of God, LSB’s version of verse 1 directs us to the possibility that God might alter our troubles, and sort of reminds you that you’ll “get through it.” So much for the theology of the cross—and I mean the actual theology of the cross, not just antinomians talking about how hard their lives are as a result of their sexy debauchery.

There’s no cosmic law that prohibits a LCMS church from putting TLH back into use; in fact, I know of several LCMS congregations which have done this—I know of others who have never adopted LSB to begin with. TLH is far from perfect, but it is far better than LSB. And you can go back to it. This realization, once it dawns on you, is very liberating, and not in the Tchividjian way.

LSB would be useful as a hymnal supplement. It has some Lutheran chorales and old Latin office hymns that were not included in TLH, and, I admit, this is valuable. But it’s inferior as a service book and inferior as a hymnal. And it’s pretty expensive as a hymnal supplement. I don’t know if it’s possible for a congregation just to get a digital version of LSB that allows them to print inserts, but that sounds like it might be the best option. So, here’s my advice:

  1. If you have LSBs, sell them.
  2. Buy the digital version of LSB so you can print off good hymns and make your own hymnal supplements/put them in your bulletin from time to time as inserts.
  3. Unpack the boxes of TLHs that are in your church closet, dust them off, and put them back in the pews. If you’ve already gotten rid of them, buy some new ones for cheap at the next CPH warehouse sale, or get some old ones from another LCMS church that is never going to use them.

As Dr. Anthony Esolen likes to say: begin. (Interesting fact: Esolen, a papist, was recently knighted by Concordia Theological Seminary in St. Wayne, Indiana. I wonder how Martin Luther would feel about this.)

Here’s TLH’s version of this wonderful hymn. I’ve stitched it together into one page for your convenience, and I’m posting this entry a week late, for your inconvenience.

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6 thoughts on “W(h)ither the Great Lutheran Hymns? – Trinity 8: “In God, My Faithful God”

  1. I guess you’re following LSB’s chief hymn list in this series. You’ll probably wish to critique the list itself at points, the more traditional assignment for Trinity 8 being TLH 260, not in LSB. Thanks for the side-by-side translation comparisons.

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    1. Hello, Pastor Krusemark. Thank you for making the list. It’s great. I’m not really qualified to critique it. Yes, I have been following the LCMS appointed hymn so far, and I suppose there’s a bit of irony in that decision. However, it seemed like it would be a more effective series if I “met people where they live,” so to speak, and did my comparisons using the hymns that most LCMS folks (in historic-lectionary churches) will be singing that particular week. Since we’re talking, though, do you have a list of the “more traditional assignments”? Or is that just going to be the hymn in the slightly smaller font, usually from TLH, usually near the top of Zion Detroit’s list?

      The absence of “O Lord Look Down From Heav’n Behold” from LSB is of truly travestical proportions.

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      1. I think your approach is good, TLH vs. LSB, on LSB’s hymn of the day list. It’s so far produced informative and entertaining results. But next week, Trinity 10, LSB departs in its selection from the Kernlieder with LSB 644. Interestingly, American Lutherans (and maybe those on the continent) translated that hymn into German in order to sing it.
        My list (ever a work-in-progress), to which you referred above and linked in an earlier post in the series, is concerned with hymn-Sunday/feast associations beyond the chief hymn designation and collects older and newer lists from a variety of sources. It does note when a hymn is considered to be the chief hymn by that source. And I also grant a hymn the status of a potential chief hymn if it appears in three or more 16th c. hymn lists or if Bach bases an entire cantata upon it.
        There is no end all be all list of chief hymns out there. The Liliencron list ca. 1700 is considered by some to be the most complete and to have had the most influence for the longest period of time. You’ll note that many hymns in that list and those which Bach selected for his cantatas did not persist in our hymnals past Walther’s Hymnal (tr. Matthew Carver, CPH, 2012). So save some stones for TLH.
        In selecting the chief hymn, I think it’s important to have some operating principles. Judisch’s are good. I try to apply those while also making use of the resources now available through Matthew Carver’s translation efforts both in Walther’s Hymnal and at his Hymnoglypt blog.

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      2. Thanks for the conversation. Yes, I’ve been looking at Trinity X. ELH’s selection for Trinity X, “I Will Sing My Maker’s Praises,” is only available in the the LSB accompaniment edition/Lutheran Service Builder as #977. A great shame, if you ask me, as this is one of Gerhardt’s forgotten greats. As I’m sure you know, it’s #25 in TLH. I was thinking about taking the opportunity to sort of thump the tub for this great hymn. It’s not that I don’t like “The Church’s One Foundation,” but the differences between LSB and TLH are extremely minimal: they each omit a different verse, so pick between a never-perishing Church and mystic sweet communion, I guess. I don’t know. Again, I like the hymn just fine, but it’s not a native plant in our garden, and I personally do not have strong opinions on the matter.

        Thanks for the added explanation about your list. It’s a great resource. I will mention that we had this conversation and link to it in my next post.

        Believe me, I am very aware of the fact that TLH deserves a good stoning for some things! My aim in this series is just more limited than exploring all of the relative merits. I stand by what I have said, even if it’s taking my stand with a lost cause: TLH is a better book. By far. Compare anything you want, Sunday by Sunday. Compare the Altar Books. Look at what was done to the Sunday collects—the same antinomian, comfy-suburbanite leaven has gotten in there, too. Look at what was done to our rites. I (or someone else) could write something about the disastrous effect of introducing the Romish Higher Critical Lectionary in our churches, the disastrous effect of introducing multiple forms of the divine service. “Settings”? Please. We have four different rites—so much for a “sound pattern of words.” Yes, TLH has weaknesses. It’s not the Bible. The hymns in Walther’s Hymnal often excel its selections in many ways, to be sure—Matthew Carver does fine work. I guess I’m just trying to get people to see that we are losing our heritage in our unforced march toward the ecumenical First Things future which our handlers in the Blue Basilica think is the proper antidote to the vulgar sectarianism around us. TLH represents a pretty good system-restore point, and in the grand scheme of things, it wasn’t that long ago.

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