All posts by Toulouse

W(h)ither the Great Lutheran Hymns? – Trinity 13: “Jesus Thy Boundless Love To Me”

We begin today’s hymnological examination with some wise words from Pastor David Peterson:

If we are to debate practices — and we must — then we will denigrate. This might be slightly painful, but it should be no surprise. Consider the matter of LSB hymnody. We must all surely know that its hymns are unequal. They all passed doctrinal review. Thus we trust that they are all free of blatant false teaching. But some are abysmally weak, have to be explained away from their original context, and do little actually to teach the faith. Others are confession, praise, and catechesis of the highest order. We may not agree on which hymns fall into which category, but we all know that some hymns are stronger than others. We all choose hymns in context. We don’t use the strongest hymn in the hymnal each Sunday. We vary hymns week to week. So also, not every hymn, regardless of its merits, is necessarily immediately accessible, while some hymns, weak as they are, are simply congregational favorites for sentimental reasons and for the sake of love we sing them. We don’t dogmatize the hymns of the day. But we certainly should teach both our pastors and laity to practice theological discernment in hymn choice and also encourage them to strive for stronger and stronger hymnody as they are able. A congregation or pastor without discernment who choses hymns merely for entertainment or emotional value deserves rebuke.

Good stuff. With respect, though I might qualify something he said: while the hymns in LSB are free of blatant false teaching, they are not free of subtle false teaching. That’s almost more of a problem. People get used to hearing and singing sub-orthodox formulations of our doctrine Sunday by Sunday, week by week. Eventually they will bristle when the weaknesses are pointed out to them. “Hey! I like that hymn. Quit being mean!” “Yeah, well it’s—” “SHUT UP. I LIKE THE LSB. THE LSB IS THE BEST. LOOK, I WROTE IN MY COPY. IT LOOKS LIKE A BAPTIST’S BIBLE.” Which proves…what, exactly? I happen to like cigarettes, which I know are bad for me.

The chief hymn for Trinity 13 is Paul Gerhardt’s “Jesus Thy Boundless Love To Me.” The first and most obvious problem with the LSB version of this hymn is the melody. Here is the melody for TLH’s version:

You probably already know the LSB melody. There’s no contest. LSB’s tune, composed by Norman Cocker (1889-1953), sounds like it’s straight out of Porgy & Bess. It’s not an unpleasant melody—I like Gershwin just fine. But this melody is not churchly. It’s big-band sing-songy schmaltz.

This hymn by no means the only one whose glorious traditional tune LSB has dispensed with in favor of some airy schlock. This isn’t even the worst offender. The worst offender may in fact be LSB 941, “We Praise You And Acknowledge You,” which is set to a theme from Gustav Holst’s suite The Planets, movement four: “Jupiter: The Bringer of Jollity.” Don’t get me wrong, I like Holst fairly well, and I once enjoyed a live performance of “The Planets.” Holst does a masterful job in the fourth movement of acoustically conjuring Jovial imagery in the minds of his hearers. That said, I don’t worship Jove/Jupiter/Zeus, so I personally find it a little off-putting that this theme is used as the musical setting for a (mediocre) paraphrase of the Te Deum, which is a glorious hymn to the One True God. (Unsurprisingly, the Te Deum only made it into LSB’s Matins after a botched plastic surgery—that might merit its own piece.) Yes, the theme from “Jupiter” is beautiful and soaring…in the context of the movement and of the whole Planets suite. When it gets looped for use as a hymn tune, though, it sounds canned, kitschy, and sentimental. To adapt the great Scaer the Elder: it makes your mother, who is a Methodist, want to sing with her eyes closed. It simply is not churchly. As for the lyrics…Stephen Starke is a good man, but St. Ambrose of Milan he ain’t. As for me and my house, we will sing the actual Te Deum—from TLH.

At least there is some context in which Holst’s music is beautiful and fitting, though. Look up LSB 406, Martin Luther’s “To Jordan Came The Christ Our Lord,” a very welcome addition to the Kernlieder, and set to Johann Walter’s beautiful 1524 melody. Not so fast, though! With fear and trembling, turn the page to 407. What’s this? Same hymn? No, not exactly. The “alternate melody” for this great hymn is truly awful. It sounds like somebody mashed up the soundtrack of Muppet Treasure Island with something by Rodgers & Hammerstein. If you have never sung this hymn to this tune—if you have never even heard this tune—pray that you never do. Unfortunately, your chances of hearing it are higher than you might have thought: turn to LSB 823 & 824, two facing pages containing two settings of Luther’s “May God Bestow On Us His Grace.” There it is again on 824, ringing the changes. Not content to let either of these marvelous hymns come into our use in their singularly majestic musical idioms, LSB’s editors had to provide a way to make them sound jejune. Somebody once told me that they liked 824 better “because it’s sort of fun and bouncy.” Indeed. It is certainly bouncy. With that said, I’d like to cede the rest of my time to my opponent.

I’ve gotten off track from “Jesus Thy Boundless Love To Me.” So far I’ve only talked about the music, but that’s not the only problem with LSB’s version. Here are the two versions in parallel:

TLH 349

LSB 683

1. Jesus, Thy boundless love to me
No thought can reach, no tongue declare;
Unite my thankful heart with Thee
And reign without a rival there.
To Thee alone, dear Lord, I live;
Myself to Thee, dear Lord, I give.
1. Jesus, Thy boundless love to me
No thought can reach, no tongue declare;
Unite my thankful heart to Thee,
And reign without a rival there!
Thine wholly, Thine alone I am;
Be Thou alone my constant flame.
2. Oh, grant that nothing in my soul
May dwell but Thy pure love alone!
Oh, may Thy love possess me whole,
My Joy, my Treasure, and my Crown!
All coldness from my heart remove;
My ev’ry act, word, thought, be love.
2. O grant that nothing in my soul
May dwell, but Thy pure love alone!
Oh, may Thy love possess me whole,
My joy, my treasure, and my crown!
All coldness from my heart remove;
My ev’ry act, word, thought be love.
3. O Love, how cheering is Thy ray!
All pain before Thy presence flies;
Care, anguish, sorrow, melt away
Where’er Thy healing beams arise.
O Jesus, nothing may I see,
Nothing desire or seek, but Thee!
4. This love unwearied I pursue
And dauntlessly to Thee aspire.
Oh, may Thy love my hope renew,
Burn in my soul like heav’nly fire!
And day and night be all my care
To guard this sacred treasure there.
3. This love unwearied I pursue
And dauntlessly to Thee aspire.
Oh, may Thy love my hope renew,
Burn in my soul like heav’nly fire!
And day and night be all my care
To guard this sacred treasure there.
5. Oh, draw me, Savior, e’er to Thee;
So shall I run and never tire.
With gracious words still comfort me;
Be Thou my Hope, my sole Desire.
Free me from every guilt and fear;
No sin can harm if Thou art near.
6. Still let Thy love point out my way;
What wondrous things Thy love hath wrought!
Still lead me lest I go astray;
Direct my work, inspire my thought;
And if I fall, soon may I hear
Thy voice and know that love is near!
7. In suffering be Thy love my peace,
In weakness be Thy love my power;
And when the storms of life shall cease,
O Jesus, in that final hour,
Be Thou my Rod and Staff and Guide
And draw me safely to Thy side!
4. In suff’ring be Thy love my peace,
In weakness be Thy love my pow’r;
And when the storms of life shall cease,
O Jesus, in that final hour,
Be Thou my rod and staff and guide
And draw me safely to Thy side!

TLH has seven verses, LSB has four. LSB’s first verse has been neutered, because twenty-first century Lutheran antinomians are unable to comprehend the Scriptural truth that while unregenerate man is incapable of “giving himself” to Jesus in any sense, the the regenerate Christian’s entire life is a living sacrifice in which he constantly gives himself to Jesus for the sake of his neighbor and his neighbor for the sake of Jesus. This is not some automatic phenomenon effected by vocation tractor-beams. Yes, it has to do with vocation, but it involves your active striving. (See my comments on LSB’s edits to verse 3 of “In God My Faithful God”; the same are applicable here.) Unable to handle nuanced (or just plain basic) spiritual truths, the neo-Lutheran editors of the LSB have ensured that no one will experience the discomfort of encountering such truths in the hymns of our church. Instead we get “Be thou alone my constant flame,” which is bad poetry and weirdly vague. For one, fire is the heraldry of the Holy Spirit, not of Jesus. For two, “Jesus, be my flame”? I’ll pass. You should, too.

Mark well the verses that LSB omits. Read them. Sing them—but don’t sing them to the LSB tune: not only is it inferior, it doesn’t work metrically with these verses. Ask yourself, “Why would someone leave these verses out?” Well, they really needed to save space so that we could include the Jamaican sing-along, “All You Works of God Bless the Lord,” (LSB 930). Yeah, mon! Get out de steel drum and pass de chalice! Let’s ruin de Easter Vigil…

Worst construction? It’s not even a construction. It’s just what happened when LSB was put together. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: the LSB is the camel built by the committee that was charged with building a horse. A committee is a democracy in miniature, and democracy is a cancer.

Here’s TLH’s version of “Jesus Thy Boundless Love To Me.” Sing it, and be blessed!

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W(h)ither the Great Lutheran Hymns? – Trinity 12: “My Soul, Now Bless Thy Maker”

Here are the TLH and LSB versions of what should be the chief hymn for Trinity 12:

TLH 34

LSB 820

1. My soul, now bless thy Maker!
Let all within me bless His name
Who maketh thee partaker
Of mercies more than thou dar’st claim.
Forget Him not whose meekness
Still bears with all thy sin,
Who healeth all thy weakness,
Renews thy life within;
Whose grace and care are endless
And saved thee thro’ the past;
Who leaves no suff’rer friendless,
But rights the wronged at last.
1. My soul, now praise your Maker!
Let all within me praise His name
Who makes you full partaker
Of mercies more than you dare claim.
Forget Him not whose meekness
Still bears with all your sin,
Who heals your ev’ry weakness,
Renews your life within;
Whose grace and care are endless
And saved you through the past;
Who leaves no suff’rer friendless
But rights the wronged at last.
2. He shows to man His treasure
Of judgment, truth, and righteousness,
His love beyond all measure,
His yearning pity o’er distress,
Nor treats us as we merit,
But lays His anger by.
The humble, contrite spirit
Finds His compassion nigh;
And high as heav’n above us,
As break from close of day,
So far, since He doth love us,
He puts our sins away.
2. He offers all His treasure
Of justice, truth, and righteousness,
His love beyond all measure,
His yearning pity o’er distress,
Nor treats us as we merit,
But sets His anger by.
The poor and contrite spirit
Finds His compassion nigh;
And high as heav’n above us,
As dawn from close of day,
So far, since He has loved us,
He puts our sins away.
3. For as a tender father
Hath pity on his children here,
He in His arms will gather
All who are His in childlike fear.
He knows how frail our powers
Who but from dust are made;
We flourish like the flowers,
And even so we fade;
The wind but o’er them passes,
And all their bloom is o’er,
We wither like the grasses,
Our place knows us no more.
3. For as a tender father
Has pity on His children here,
God in His arms will gather
All who are His in childlike fear.
He knows how frail our powers
Who but from dust are made.
We flourish like the flowers,
And even so we fade;
The wind but o’er them passes,
And all their bloom is o’er.
We wither like the grasses;
Our place knows us no more.
4. God’s grace alone endureth,
And children’s children yet shall prove
How He with strength assureth
The hearts of all that seek His love.
In heav’n is fixed His dwelling,
His rule is over all;
Angels, in might excelling,
Bright hosts, before Him fall.
Praise Him who ever reigneth,
All ye who hear His Word,
Nor our poor hymns disdaineth—
My soul, O bless the Lord!
4. His grace remains forever,
And children’s children yet shall prove
That God forsakes them never
Who in true fear shall seek His love.
In heav’n is fixed His dwelling;
His rule is over all;
O hosts with might excelling,
With praise before Him fall.
Praise Him forever reigning,
All you who hear His Word—
Our life and all sustaining.
My soul, O praise the Lord!

Biographical information on the author here.

If I have any commentary to add, I will update this post later. For now I just want to make good on my promise to get the side-by-side translations up and circulating a week ahead of time.

W(h)ither the Great Lutheran Hymns? – Trinity 11: “Oh, How Great Is Thy Compassion”

Sorry, I’m late.

Here’s the damage:

TLH 384

LSB 559

1. Oh, how great is Thy compassion,
Faithful Father, God of grace,
That with all our fallen race
And in our deep degradation
Thou wast merciful that we
Might be saved eternally!
1. Oh, how great is Your compassion,
Faithful Father, God of grace,
That with all our fallen race
In our depth of degradation
You had mercy so that we
Might be saved eternally!
2. Thy great love for this hath striven
That we may from sin be free
And forever live with Thee;
Yea, Thy Son Himself hath given
In His grace an earnest call
To His Supper unto all.
2. Your great love for this hath striven
That we may, from sin made free,
Live with You eternally.
Your dear Son Himself has given
And extends His gracious call,
To His Supper leads us all.
3. And for this our souls’ salvation
Voucheth Thy good Spirit, Lord,
In Thy Sacraments and Word.
He imparteth consolation,
Granteth us the gift of faith
That we fear nor hell nor death.
3. Firmly to our souls’ salvation
Witnesses Your Spirit, Lord,
In Your Sacraments and Word.
There He sends true consolation,
Giving us the gift of faith
That we fear not hell nor death.
4. Lord, Thy mercy will not leave me—
Truth doth evermore abide,—
Then in Thee I will confide.
Since Thy Word cannot deceive me,
My salvation is to me
Well assured eternally.
4. Lord, Your mercy will not leave me;
Ever will Your truth abide.
Then in You I will confide.
Since Your Word cannot deceive me,
My salvation is to me
Safe and sure eternally.
5. I will praise Thy great compassion,
Faithful Father, God of grace,
That with all our fallen race
And in our deep degradation
Thou wast merciful that we
Might bring endless praise to Thee.
5. I will praise Your great compassion,
Faithful Father, God of grace,
That with all our fallen race
In our depth of degradation
You had mercy so that we
Might be saved eternally!

Boomer fingerprints everywhere.

I’d turn this into a shorthand, “BFE,” but in addition to referring to a certain unpleasant locale in Egypt, in Lutheran-land this acronynm also refers to a certain editor-in-chief of Gottesdienst, and I don’t want to suggest that he is somehow culpable for the desecration that I’ve been cataloguing here. He is not.

Just…look what they did to this hymn.

Hymnary doesn’t have a scan of TLH’s version available. Sorry.

Does anyone else feel like they’re watching a train-wreck? I sure do. On to the next disappointment.

W(h)ither the Great Lutheran Hymns? – Trinity 10: “I Will Sing My Maker’s Praises”

I’m not reviewing “The Church’s One Foundation.” It’s not that it’s a bad hymn, it’s just that there’s little to say about it, and it’s not a very traditional selection for the chief hymn for Trinity 10. I had an interesting conversation about this with Pr. Jesse Krusemark in the comments on my post for Trinity 8. (For those of you who don’t know Pr. Krusemark, he’s the compiler of the list of appointed hymns that I linked to in the first post in this series. Here it is again.) Pr. Krusemark writes:

[N]ext week, Trinity 10, LSB departs in its selection from the Kernlieder with LSB 644 [The Church’s One Foundation]. Interestingly, American Lutherans (and maybe those on the continent) translated that hymn into German in order to sing it.

I just learned how to block-quote. Very cool. The bigger text makes it seem like I’m yelling, though, or at least speaking like John Nordling. That could be useful. I’ll have to see to what extent I make use of this newfound blogging gnosis.

Anyway, even though “The Church’s One Foundation” is not a Lutheran chorale, it was adopted into our usage before the switch to English, and that does give it a bit more Lutheran church-cred than, say, your favorite plodder by Tim Dudsmith. It also has good content.

Most versions of this hymn have a selection of only four or five verses. In fact the only source that I could find with more than that was “The Cyber Hymnal,” which records seven verses. The only noteworthy difference between TLH and LSB’s versions of this hymn is that they each omit a different verse. Below is the verse that TLH has which LSB does not, and the verse that LSB has which TLH does not:

TLH 430

LSB 644

3. The Church shall never perish!
Her dear Lord, to defend,
To guide, sustain, and cherish,
Is with her to the end.
Tho’ there be those that hate her,
False sons within her pale,
Against both foe and traitor
She ever shall prevail.
5. Yet she on earth has union
With God, the Three in One,
And mystic sweet communion
With those whose rest is won.
O blessed heav’nly chorus!
Lord, save us by Your grace
That we, like saints before us.
May see You face to face.

So take your pick: you can have a never-perishing Church -OR- mystic sweet communion with the departed, but not both. TLH’s verse 3 does seem pretty negative, what with its talk of “false sons” and “traitors” within the church, so I can see why LSB didn’t keep it. It probably wouldn’t be a good soundtrack for, say, a dream of a united synod. I mean, it might make into my dream of a united synod, but that’s a different story…which reminds some people of the Spanish Inquisition.

The more traditional Lutheran selection for Trinity 10, however, is “Lord To Thee I Make Confession.” The LCMS has this hymn appointed for Trinity 3. Here are the TLH and LSB versions in parallel:

TLH 326

LSB 608

1. Lord, to Thee I make confession:
I have sinned and gone astray.
I have multiplied transgression,
Chosen for myself my way.
Led by Thee to see my errors,
Lord, I tremble at Thy terrors.
1. Lord, to You I make confession:
I have sinned and gone astray,
I have multiplied transgression,
Chosen for myself my way.
Led by You to see my errors,
Lord, I tremble at Your terrors.
2. Yet, though conscience’ voice appal me,
Father, I will seek Thy face.
Tho’ Thy child I dare not call me,
Yet receive me to Thy grace.
Do not for my sins forsake me;
Do not let Thy wrath o’ertake me.
2. Yet, though conscience’ voice appall me,
Father, I will seek Your face;
Though Your child I dare not call me,
Yet receive me in Your grace.
Do not for my sins forsake me;
Let Your wrath not overtake me.
3. For Thy Son did suffer for me,
Gave Himself to rescue me,
Died to heal me and restore me,
Reconciled me unto Thee.
‘Tis alone His cross can vanquish
These dark fears and soothe this anguish.
3. For Your Son has suffered for me,
Giv’n Himself to rescue me,
Died to save me and restore me,
Reconciled and set me free.
Jesus’ cross alone can vanquish
These dark fears and soothe this anguish.
4. Then on Him I cast my burden,
Sink it in the depths below.
Let me know Thy gracious pardon,
Wash me, make me white as snow.
Let Thy Spirit leave me never;
Make me only Thine forever.
4. Lord on You I cast my burden—
Sink it in the deepest sea!
Let me know Your gracious pardon,
Cleanse me from iniquity.
Let Your Spirit leave me never;
Make me only Yours forever.

Boomer fingerprints everywhere. Was there something wrong with TLH’s version? No, there was not.

You know what word is ugly when sung, besides “murmur”? “Your.” Very ugly when sung, probably 95% of the time. Now just think about how many times “Your” has been substituted for “Thy,” which is far more euphonious, in foolhardy attempts to “update the language” of beautiful old hymns.

I figured I would take this opportunity to highlight a hymn which no one has listed as the chief hymn for Trinity 10, but which is appointed as such by the hymnal of the Evangelical Lutheran Synod, the Evangelical Lutheran Hymnary (1996). The ELH is arguably the best Lutheran hymnal out there: it has a larger percentage of great hymns than any other English-language hymnal in regular use* (*Walther’s Hymnal may have more) and the translations are un-mutilated. It also has the fewest omitted verses. Unfortunately, though, it’s not too great as a service-book: its version of the Common Service has been thoroughly modernized. This seems rather inconsistent with its excellent hymn-section.

ELH’s selection for Trinity 10 is one of the greatest hymns ever written, and one of Paul Gerhardt’s forgotten gems: “I Will Sing My Maker’s Praises.” Just how forgotten, you ask? So forgotten that the only decent recording of it that I could find is from a weird CREC “Federal Vision” church:

For shame, Lutherans. For shame. I am issuing a plea and a challenge right now:

Someone, anyone—please make a recording of this majestic Lutheran chorale in its rightful home: a Lutheran mass. (By anyone, I mean “any orthodox Lutheran congregation.” No sodomy-loving, chick-ordaining, inspiration-denying or otherwise nominal “Lutherans” need apply.)

These wannabe-Lutheran Calvinists know not the worth of the things they handle, and they skip vv. 2-4—puny Calvinist lungs can’t handle full-length Lutheran hymns! I jest, of course. Well, kind of. I’m not actually sure. Six verses is nothing, though: hymns with twenty or even thirty verses were common in the Age of Orthodoxy. These Calvinists do sing with gusto, I will give them that, and they know how to harmonize. Also, you can clearly hear men singing, which is another clue that this isn’t an LCMS church. If you’re thinking “Hey! You can hear the men sing in my church!” then your church is an exception—thank the Lord, and fortify the ramparts. Here’s the sadly typical progression:

  1. (Typically 25-40 years ago) The men of an LCMS congregation vote to let their women rule over them. (Famous last words: “Voting is ‘adiaphora,’ not in the Bible, etc.; therefore there’s no way this could be wrong, imprudent, a bad idea, etc.; no harm done when they did the same in the civil realm, amirite?”)

  2. The liturgical life and general parish life of a congregation come to reflect the demands of a new female voting-bloc (which includes, if not men, at least “males”) and new female officers, who are incapable of not power-tripping, because this is one of the ways in which the Curse affects women. (Note: I am not saying that all women participate in this degeneracy. Some do not, and they will get crowns in heaven.)

  3. Men consciously or unconsciously realize that they or their dads made a Faustian bargain, but…actually, not really. It was nothing that darkly Romantic. They just, shall we say, “unmanned” themselves. It’s as simple as that. Do you really think that that same church Voters Assembly, now flush with women, is going to vote to take the vote away from women? Correct. It is not.**

  4. Men submit to their wives and accept their new status as literal or figurative “house-husbands.” At church they are either cowed into silence or they become shameless patsies and white knights for an agenda set by women. (Single men attach themselves to factions led by various warring queen bees.) Pastors who attempt to circumvent, dismantle, or gainsay this caste-system either succumb to it, get canned and end up on CRM, or **God grants a miracle which results in a restoration of godly patriarchy.

  5. This is why men don’t sing.

Long digression, but my guess is that if you’re still reading this series (or this blog), you’ve come to expect such tangents and are willing to wade through them, and you might even think of them as features rather than bugs. I would like to point out that in addition to my block quotes I’m getting really good with asterisks. That’s twice now that I’ve used them to add caveats to my extreme pessimism.

Anyway, you won’t find “I Will Sing My Maker’s Praises” in the regular LSB. It’s in the accompaniment edition, and presumably that means that it’s also available in the Lutheran Service Builder Extended Universe—I take it that’s what the numbering of “977” indicates. But it’s not going to be in any church’s regular rotation that way, and if you were hoping to sing this hymn at home as part of your personal or family devotions, you’d be out of luck.

No, not really—actually you’d be in luck, because LSB is pretty worthless as a home devotional or prayerbook for many reasons beside the fact that it omits this hymn. Just use TLH. TLH’s version of this hymn has six verses; LSB’s has only five, and the five that it has have been severely beaten with the ugly-stick. See for yourself:

TLH 25

LSB 977

1. I will sing my Maker’s praises
And in Him most joyful be,
For in all things I see traces
Of His tender love to me.
Nothing else than love could move Him
With such sweet and tender care
Evermore to raise and bear
All who try to serve and love Him.
All things else have but their day,
God’s great love abides for aye.
1. I will sing my Maker’s praises
And in Him most joyful be,
For in all things I see traces
Of His tender love for me.
Nothing else than love could move Him
With such sweet and tender care
Evermore to raise and bear
All who try to love and serve Him.
All things else have but their day,
God’s great love abides for aye.
2. Yea, so dear did He esteem me
That His Son He loved so well
He hath given to redeem me
From the quenchless flames of hell.
O Thou Spring of boundless blessing,
How could e’er my feeble mind
Of Thy depth the bottom find
Tho’ my efforts were unceasing?
All things else have but their day,
God’s great love abides for aye.
2. He so cared for and esteemed me
That the Son He loved so well
He has given to redeem me
From the quenchless flames of hell.
O my Lord, the Spring of blessing,
Could somehow my finite mind
Of Your love the bottom find
Though my efforts were unceasing?
All things else have but their day,
God’s great love abides for aye.
3. All that for my soul is needful
He with loving care provides,
Nor of that is He unheedful
Which my body needs besides.
When my strength cannot avail me,
When my powers can do no more,
Doth my God His strength outpour;
In my need He doth not fail me.
All things else have but their day,
God’s great love abides for aye.
3. All that for my soul is needful
He with loving care provides,
Nor of that is He unheedful
Which my body needs besides.
When my strength cannot avail me,
When my pow’rs can do no more,
Then will God His strength outpour;
In my need He will not fail me.
All things else have but their day,
God’s great love abides for aye.
4. When I sleep, He still is near me,
O’er me rests His guardian eye;
And new gifts and blessings cheer me
When the morning streaks the sky.
Were it not for God’s protection,
Had His countenance not been
Here my Guide, I had not seen
E’er the end of my affliction.
All things else have but their day,
God’s great love abides for aye.
5. As a father never turneth
Wholly from a wayward child,
For the prodigal still yearneth,
Longing to be reconciled,
So my many sins and errors
Find a tender, pardoning God,
Chastening frailty with His rod,
Not, in vengeance, with His terrors.
All things else have but their day,
God’s great love abides for aye.
4. As a father, ever yearning
Longing to be reconciled,
Seeks the prodigal’s returning,
Loving still the wayward child,
So my many sins and errors
Find a tender, pard’ning God,
Chast’ning frailty with His rod,
Not in vengeance with His terrors.
All things else have but their day,
God’s great love abides for aye.
6. Since, then, neither change nor coldness
In my Father’s love can be,
Lo! I lift my hands with boldness,
As Thy child I come to Thee.
Grant me grace, O God, I pray Thee,
That I may with all my might,
All my lifetime, day and night,
Love and trust Thee and obey Thee
And, when this brief life is o’er,
Praise and love Thee evermore.
5. Since there’s neither change nor coldness
In God’s love that on me smiled,
I now lift my hands in boldness,
Coming to You as Your child.
Grant me grace, O God, I pray You,
That I may with all my might,
All my lifetime, day and night,
Love and trust You and obey You
And, when this brief life is o’er,
Praise and love You evermore.

No contest.

Dr. D. Richard Stuckwisch selects this hymn as an option for Quinquagesima, Pentecost Tuesday, and Trinity 3; Dr. Daniel Reuning selects it as an option for Trinity 9 and 19, and Zion Lutheran Church in Detroit selects it as an option for Trinity 11 and 19. I’m sure all of these congregations (Emmaus South Bend; Redeemer St. Wayne; Zion Detroit) could do justice to this hymn on a Sunday morning. Here’s hoping they set up some (discretely placed) microphones some Sunday and rise to my challenge!

Once again, I’m sorry that this post is appearing too late to be of any potential use in picking the upcoming Sunday’s hymns. We’ll see what the week brings. I will try to get parallel versions of the chief hymns for Trinity 11 and 12 posted soon.

Here’s TLH 25:

 

W(h)ither the Great Lutheran Hymns? – Trinity 9: “What Is The World To Me”

The chief hymn for Trinity 9 is “What Is the World to Me,” by Georg Michael Pfefferkorn, who, incidentally, is my favorite deceased musician named George Michael. Granted, he had the advantage of not being a degenerate. Also, talent.

This week’s post will be shorter. There just isn’t as much to say. Going forward, I will at least post the parallel versions and the scan from TLH way out ahead of time for convenience’s sake if people want to print it out and use it. Then, if I have commentary and time to add it, I will go back and do so and then update the post.

Here are the TLH and LSB versions of this week’s hymn in parallel:

TLH 430

LSB 730

1. What is the world to me
With all its vaunted pleasure
When Thou, and Thou alone,
Lord Jesus, art my Treasure!
Thou only, dearest Lord,
My soul’s Delight shalt be;
Thou art my Peace, my Rest–
What is the world to me!
1. What is the world to me
With all its vaunted pleasure
When You, and You alone,
Lord Jesus, are my Treasure!
You only, dearest Lord,
My soul’s delight shalt be;
You are my peace, my rest.
What is the world to me!
2. The world is like a cloud
And like a vapor fleeting,
A shadow that declines,
Swift to its end retreating.
My Jesus doth abide,
Tho’ all things fade and flee;
My everlasting Rock–
What is the world to me!
3. The world seeks to be praised
And honored by the mighty,
Yet never once reflects
That they are frail and flighty.
But what I truly prize
Above all things is He,
My Jesus, He alone–
What is the world to me!
2. The world seeks to be praised
And honored by the mighty
Yet never once reflects
That they are frail and flighty.
But what I truly prize
Above all things is He,
My Jesus, He alone.
What is the world to me!
4 The world seeks after wealth
And all that Mammon offers,
Yet never is content
Tho’ gold should fill its coffers.
I have a higher good,
Content with it I’ll be:
My Jesus is my Wealth–
What is the world to me!
3. The world seeks after wealth
And all that mammon offers,
Yet never is content
Though gold should fill its coffers.
I have a higher good,
Content with it I’ll be:
My Jesus is my wealth.
What is the world to me!
5. The world is sorely grieved
Whenever it is slighted
Or when its hollow fame
And honor have been blighted.
Christ, Thy reproach I bear
Long as it pleaseth Thee;
I’m honored by my Lord–
What is the world to me!
6. The world with wanton pride
Exalts its sinful pleasures
And for them foolishly
Gives up the heavenly treasures.
Let others love the world
With all its vanity;
I love the Lord, my God–
What is the world to me!
7. The world abideth not;
Lo, like a flash ’twill vanish;
With all its gorgeous pomp
Pale death it cannot banish;
Its riches pass away,
And all its joys must flee;
But Jesus doth abide–
What is the world to me!
8. What is the world to me!
My Jesus is my Treasure,
My Life, my Health, my Wealth,
My Friend, my Love, my Pleasure,
My Joy, my Crown, my All,
My Bliss eternally.
Once more, then, I declare:
What is the world to me!
4. What is the world to me!
My Jesus is my treasure,
My life, my health, my wealth,
My friend, my love, my pleasure,
My joy, my crown, my all,
My bliss eternally.
Once more, then, I declare:
What is the world to me!

Obviously you have only half the number of verses in LSB as you get in TLH. That’s sad, if you ask me. Thankfully, the verses that you do get are relatively unmaimed, but the language has been modernized because, again, you just can’t understand Jacobean (or Elizabethan, etc.) English unless you’re praying the Lord’s Prayer.

Personally, I’d rather have the extra page or half-page with the four deleted verses of this wonderful hymn than any modern hymn whose printing required the same amount of ink. I mean, I would have been glad to see some of the Methodist hymns from TLH get the axe so that previously absent Lutheran chorales could be included. Yet if LSB isn’t as thick with Methodist hymns as TLH, it is far thicker with bad hymns in general—hymns that I won’t ever review in this column because, one, they’re never appointed as the chief hymn (mercy), and two, they’re just so bad.

Anyway, as you look at this week’s hymn (below), just remember that instead of four extra verses of wonderful, comforting doctrine, you got a two-page spread of schlock about high school chemistry class, construction work, and the pep band at a football game.

(Note: I haven’t cropped the second page of this hymn. The hymn that follows it in TLH, “The King of Love My Shepherd Is,” is beautiful. Sadly, the version of this hymn in LSB is set to another melody, which, for all of its merits (I personally find it kind of Schwaermerisch), was not written by Michael Praetorius. Abandoning a melody by Praetorius is pretty much always a downgrade.)

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.

W(h)ither the Great Lutheran Hymns? – Trinity 7: “All Praise to God Who Reigns Above”

The chief hymn for Trinity 7, “All Praise to God Who Reigns Above,” is one of my favorite Lutheran chorales. Like many of the great seventeenth-century hymns, it was written by a guy who was so pietistic that he makes Roger Williams and Anne Hutchinson look tame. Read about Johann Jakob Schütz here. J. S. Bach expanded on this hymn in one of his chorale-cantatas (see above), BWV 117, “Sei Lob und Ehr dem höchsten Gut.”

Here’s the damage:

TLH 19
“All Praise to God Who Reigns Above”

LSB 819
“Sing Praise to God The Highest Good”

1. All praise to God, who reigns above,
The God of all creation,
The God of wonders, pow’r, and love,
The God of our salvation!
With healing balm my soul He fills,
The God who ev’ry sorrow stills,–
To God all praise and glory!
1. Sing praise to God, the highest good,
The author of creation,
The God of love who understood
Our need for His salvation.
With healing balm our souls He fills
And ev’ry faithless murmur stills:
To God all praise and glory!
2. What God’s almighty pow’r hath made,
His gracious mercy keepeth;
By morning dawn or evening shade
His watchful eye ne’er sleepeth;
Within the kingdom of His might,
Lo, all is just and all is right,–
To God all praise and glory!
2. What God’s almighty pow’r has made,
In mercy He is keeping.
By morning glow or evening shade
His eye is never sleeping.
Within the kingdom of His might
All things are just and good and right:
To God all praise and glory!
3. I cried to Him in time of need:
Lord God, oh, hear my calling!
For death He gave me life indeed
And kept my feet from falling.
For this my thanks shall endless be;
Oh, thank Him, thank our God, with me,–
To God all praise and glory!
3. We sought the Lord in our distress;
O God, in mercy hear us.
Our Savior saw our helplessness
And came with peace to cheer us.
For this we thank and praise the Lord,
Who is by one and all adored:
To God all praise and glory!
4. The Lord forsaketh not His flock,
His chosen generation;
He is their Refuge and their Rock,
Their Peace and their Salvation.
As with a mother’s tender hand
He leads His own, His chosen band,–
To God all praise and glory!
4. He never shall forsake His flock,
His chosen generation;
He is their refuge and their rock,
Their peace and their salvation.
As with a mother’s tender hand,
He leads His own, His chosen band:
To God all praise and glory!
5. Ye who confess Christ’s holy name,
To God give praise and glory!
Ye who the Father’s pow’r proclaim,
To God give praise and glory!
All idols under foot be trod,
The Lord is God! The Lord is God!
To God all praise and glory!
5. All who confess Christ’s holy name,
Give God the praise and glory.
Let all who know his pow’r proclaim
Aloud the wondrous story.
Cast ev’ry idol from its throne,
For God is God, and He alone:
To God all praise and glory!
6. Then come before His presence now
And banish fear and sadness;
To your Redeemer pay your vow
And sing with joy and gladness:
Though great distress my soul befell,
The Lord, my God, did all things well–
To God all praise and glory!
Uh, what happened?

The translation of the first line of this hymn as found in LSB is closer to the German. That is the last nice thing I am going to say about the LSB version.

In fact, that isn’t really a positive, because it requires monkeying with a perfectly good rhyme scheme. I guess references to God “reigning” must be omitted, as they might make us think that God is a king or something, rather than a president whom we got to vote for. “God the highest good” might be closer to the German, but it makes God sound like Aristotle’s Unmoved Mover. Then we’re off to the races, rhyming with “understood.” Really? Does anyone think this is pretty? “Uh-un-der-stood”? It’s ridiculous.

In the last installment I criticized the change from third-person singular to first-person plural, as in that particular instance it introduced needless introspection at an inappropriate juncture. This doesn’t mean that I’m against the first-person point-of-view or introspection in hymns—I am not. But I am against random changes for no reason. For example, I’m against weirdly pluralizing the first person POV. Take another look at the changes above: every “I” is now “we,” every “me” is now “us,” every “my” is now “our.” Whatever is the point of this, besides tripping up bitter TLH-clingers? LSB’s edits in this regard aren’t even consistent, so it can’t be that they think it’s never appropriate for the whole church to sing as the singular Body of Christ, with each person confessing the faith personally (as we do in the Creed). With both last week’s hymn and this week’s hymn, everything ends up in the first-person plural: “we,” “us,” and “our.” Why?

The words “the author” are awkward to sing, as you get locked into a shapeless elided vowel. Most people are going to sing “thuh” rather than “thee,” and this only makes it worse. It’s another needless change. But it doesn’t hold a candle to “faithless murmur.” I don’t know if I can think of a word less given to being set to music than “murmur.” If you’re alone, try shouting the word “murmur” at the top of your lungs. It’s awful. “MURRRR-MURRRR!!!” Yeah, they got rid of “every sorrow” so that we could all sound like seven-year-old boys making sound-effects for our toy lawnmowers.

Then there’s verse 2. Verse 2 in LSB is garbage. It’s a prime example of a huge problem with LSB in general, so I’ll talk about the huge general problem first:

When you say the Lord’s Prayer, would it ever occur to you to say this?

Our Father in heaven:
Holy be your name,
Your kingdom come,
Your will be done
on earth as in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
Forgive us our sins,
as we forgive those who sin against us.
Save us in the time of trial,
and deliver us from evil,
For yours is the kingdom, the power,
and glory forever. Amen.

The above is from what is commonly called the ’69 Worship Supplement, whose merits, if it had any, were drowned in the sea of its nonsensical blunders. I hope it would never occur to you to use that version of the Lord’s Prayer. If you really think this modernized version of the Lord’s Prayer is good, I wouldn’t trust you as far as I could throw you. And if I met you, and I somehow had learned of your vile modernism ahead of time, chances are good that I wouldn’t even say “hello,” I would just try to throw you. I don’t care if you’re 300 pounds, I’d do my best.

Imagine this conversation:

“How about we change the Lord’s Prayer?”

“No! Are you crazy? The Lord’s Prayer is special. Everyone knows that.”

“But no one talks that way anymore.”

“So? That’s part of what shows you that it’s sacred: it’s set apart from our everyday speech. A fixed idiom symbolizes the unchanging nature of God’s Word. An older idiom reminds us that God’s Word, our great heritage, is from of old, and that it’s timeless.”

“OK. Well, how about we change the text of the liturgy so that it’s a weird mixed idiom where everything that’s sung is Jacobean and everything that’s spoken is modern? And let’s ‘update the language’ of random hymns.”

“Oh, that’s fine. The liturgy and hymns aren’t special. Only the Bible is. And not even the whole Bible—just the Lord’s Prayer.”

“OK. Here, I made you a hymnal. I call it Lutheran Service Book.”

“What’s that on the cover?”

“Clip art.”

I rest my case.

If we come across a hymn written in 1970, we shouldn’t expect it to sound like Victorian poetry (although given the general quality of that decade’s output, that would be a pleasant surprise). But when we come across hymns that were composed or translated in the Victorian era, we act like we can’t possibly understand them: “‘Keepeth’? ‘Thy’? ‘Ye’? What do these words mean? Why can’t everyone talk like me?”

Actually, we, the laity, don’t say that. Rather, the LCMS hymnal committee imagines that such people exist. If such people exist, their whims should be corrected, not indulged. And whoever they are, they’re not jonesing for language updates to the hymnal—they don’t even use the hymnal, or hymns, for crying out loud! They use projector screens and maybe Lutheran Service Builder, and they sing pitchy crap like “In Christ Alone” led by a “worship team.” They find the very idea of a hymnal to be confining. Ironically, they’re exactly the sort of people who would probably really dig verse 5 of LSB 585, “Lord Jesus Christ With Us Abide.” They’d probably sing it from a projector screen at their “traditional service,” set to keyboard, and they’d all think about those closed-minded people who would dim the words God’s Spirit wants them to sing by forcing them to use a hymnal/drop their Beth Moore study. Some of the aging soccer moms would read ahead quickly so that they could sing this line with their eyes closed and their hands raised. You know I’m right. “Language updates” are not made because a significant subset of the laity is requesting them. They’re just not.

No, “language updates” are made by synod-o-crats with little or no pastoral experience who think that the reason people don’t use the hymnal is because they don’t know what “thy” means. But this is absurd. The hymnal committee was not responding to this sort of feedback:

Yes, hello? My 1.2 children don’t know what ‘thy’ means in the hymns that we never sing in our church, because we only sing the Methodist hymns/do contemporary worship, and by the way we don’t even attend regularly—but that’s also because the hymns which we don’t sing make us feel unwelcome. In the next hymnal, which we won’t use, could you ruin all of those hymns?

Come on. The people who love and sing the great Lutheran chorales have never wanted or asked for the language to be updated, and the people to whom the updates are supposedly going to make these hymns “more accessible” never sang them to begin with and aren’t going to start singing them just because they now sound like crap. That’s called a failure of in-reach.

Here’s the thing: a poet or hymn-writer can reach back and make use of an older idiom, and his work can still sound beautiful. He doesn’t have to, but he can. The older idiom has stood the test of time. It is not just time-tested, but time-honored. To imitate it is to be informed by and defer to its wisdom and beauty. We need to kill this stupid notion that the essence of creativity is “being original.” That’s a load of godless secular crap. (I would use stronger words, but I don’t want to cut too much into the Jagged Word’s readership.) Good artists imitate. Good artists respect convention. Good artists incorporate the past into their present work. Bach did this all the time with the well-loved hymns of his day.

But it really doesn’t work in reverse. You can’t take something that was written in an older idiom and render it into a new one without doing violence to it. And you have no right to do so. Notice that little “alt.” after almost every author or translator’s name in LSB? Nine times out of ten, that means “we don’t have the talent to do our own hymn translations, but we will gladly screw with this one.” The analogy to this hilarious—yet horrifying—news story is too perfect:

Three separate photographs of “Ecce Homo” by painter Elias Garcia Martinez show extensive damage caused by an elderly woman who decided the masterpiece needed a little refurbishment.

But in a time of austerity, rather than calling in a professional to complete the job, the unnamed woman attempted to restore the mural herself – at a devastating cost.

The result was a botched repair where the intricate brush strokes of Martinez were replaced with a haphazard splattering of the octogenarian’s paint. Years of carefully calculated depth of expression simply washed out by copious amounts of red and brown.

The comparisons make themselves. Oy vey. Remember, this dear sweet lady had the best of intentions.

“Hey, but if you can’t take something that was written in an older idiom and render it into a new one, then we wouldn’t have the ESV.” Yeah, I know. And what a wonderful world it would be. The ESV is an absolute mule of a Bible translation. The King James Version is the most beautiful translation of Scripture out there. It’s not perfect, no, but it’s still the best. You modernists and your neverending quest for a perfect English translation have only ushered in confusion and uncertainty. If you don’t like the King James, I don’t know what to tell you. You’re probably a Philistine with a disordered soul. Get help.

I would guess that Martin Franzmann’s hymns have maybe twenty more years before an LCMS hymnal committee of the future decides to “fix” their archaic language. He wrote his hymns in the middle of the twentieth century, yet had the audacity to use fancy, confusing, purty-words. What a highbrow jerk! All confessional LCMS Lutherans seem to know and love “Thy Strong Word,” even though its not his best hymn (it’s still a good hymn, though), so let’s imagine what an updated version of it would look like:

Thy strong word did cleave the darkness;
At thy speaking it was done.
For created light we thank thee
While thine ordered seasons run.
Alleluia! Alleluia! Praise to thee who light dost send!
Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia without end!
Your strong word did cut the darkness;
At your speaking it was done.
You made light, so we say “thank you”
While the seasons run and run.
Alleluia! Alleluia! We praise you for justification!
Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia! Jesus has won.

You laugh, but this is what we do to the old translations of the great Lutheran chorales. Update the pronouns, rephrase things pointlessly, change the topic, and overcompensate for real or perceived weaknesses.

Make your own judgment about verse 3. LSB’s version is clearly inferior. Verse 4 is relatively unmaimed. Verse 5 is a train-wreck. In general, it is good English style to reserve the definite article “the” for things which are actually singular and distinct. This is one of the reasons why you sound like an idiot when you sing, “I’ve got the joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart,” although this wouldn’t be improved by getting rid of the definite article. All I’m saying is, “Give God the praise and glory” sounds schmaltzy and is a definite downgrade in eloquence from “To God give praise and glory.” And the lovely parallelism of TLH’s version with its double refrain of “To God give praise and glory” gets scrapped so that instead we can exhort each other to “proclaim / Aloud the wondrous story.” This is a line written for a warbling choir of suburbanite women, but no one else.

LSB says that you don’t get to sing verse 6. In a way this is good, because one shudders to think what would have happened to it. I think I know why it got the axe: “To your Redeemer pay your vow” makes it sound like worship is something we owe to God. Zounds, it might even make you think that you have to go church. I’ve got news for you: it is and you do. I know that we recently called Pastor Hans Fiene a troll, but he said something awhile ago that was spot on: “Saying that you don’t have to go to church in order to be a Christian is like saying, ‘I follow Jesus except everywhere He goes.” Something like that. It was good. “Thou shalt sanctify the holy day.” As God’s redeemed children, we are not burdened by this command, but it is still a command. But in the antinomian LCMS, we durst not talk this way. Snip, snip. Goodbye, verse 6, which is written for a choir of strong male voices—another reason why it had to go. Too manly. Anyway, nothing is stopping you from singing this verse, un-gutted, un-maimed, and un … molested. Just pick up your TLH.

Overall, what we see with this week’s chief hymn are yet more needless changes. Why? So that some committeeman could put his personal stamp on this hymn? I don’t know, maybe each person on a subcommittee got to edit a stanza. That sounds nice and collaborative. No elitism here! So the next time you lament the destruction of one of your favorite hymns by the LCMS, comfort yourself with this thought: every time the Schmitzes and the Muellers come over to that guy’s house for Thanksgiving, he’s going to get out the LSB, turn to that formerly great hymn, find the verse in question, and say, “That right there is my little contribution,” and beam with pride. Mark this well: boomers will sacrifice anything for a warm fuzzy feeling of personal accomplishment. Even your heritage.

I don’t judge these men’s hearts. I am not condemning them. This is not the end of the world we’re talking about here, just the ruination of a hymnal. I don’t doubt that the air in those committee-meetings was thick with good intentions. But many of those men just did not know what they did not know. They shouldn’t have been put in the position of editing a hymnal. Others knew a lot, but had an anti-traditional agenda. Others were exactly the sort of men you’d want working on a new hymnal, but they were outnumbered…or kicked off the committee. Now we have to pay the piper. And the drummer, and the guitarist, and the worship chanteuse.

Alright, I’m done. I think I’ll start doing these a week ahead of time. That way if I manage to convince (or embolden) the odd pastor to use the TLH version of the chief hymn, he can save the image and print it out. If a high-resolution scan of the hymn is available from hymnary.org, I will include it at the end of every post.

Aside from that one guy on Facebook, I don’t know if anyone reads these posts, and I don’t presume to think of myself as some great influencer of opinion, public or private. I’m just giving voice to what we all know to be true but don’t want to say because of the insane social pressure, gossip, and backstabbing of the world of Facebook Lutheranism: this is our heritage, and we’re losing it.