Tag Archives: All Praise to God Who Reigns Above

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.