Zwingli’s Christian Song (Poem) When Smitten with Pestilence (1519)

ulrich-zwingli-monumentYesterday while comparing a more recent translation of the works of Ulrich Zwingli (1484-1531) with the edition we have in the PRC Seminary library, I discovered a striking poem the Swiss Reformer penned during the time of a great plague (pestilence) that struck him and devastated the city of Zurich (and the rest of the Swiss confederation), the heart of the Reformation in Switzerland.

The title as it appears in the collected works of Zwingli we have (Samuel M. Jackson ed.) is “A Christian Song Written by Huldreich Zwingli When He Was Attacked by the Pestilence” (with this date, “End of 1519”). It includes this editor’s note:

This is the most successful of Zwingli’s preserved poetry. It was the memorial of his serious illness from the plague which in 1519 carried off nearly half of the population of Zurich. Though unadapted to singing, it has been given a tune and is found in many hymn-books of the 15th and 16th centuries, published in Zurich.

In another place, one finds this more complete introduction explaining the context in which Zwingli wrote the song:

In August 1519, whilst Zwingli was visiting the spa town of Bad Pfäfers, news came to him that the plague which was sweeping through the Swiss Confederacy had arrived in Zürich. Zwingli had only been ministering in the city for a matter of months, having been installed as the Leutpriester (People’s Priest) in the Grossmünster in January. The Black Death of the fourteenth century had long passed, but across sixteenth-century Europe there were still devastating waves of bubonic plague. The symptoms included painful swollen lymph nodes (buboes) which gave the disease its name. Often those with the means to leave the city would have retreated, but Zwingli immediately returned to the city in order to minister to the sick and the dying. By mid-September, when the epidemic had taken some 2,500 lives, Zwingli and his brother Andreas contracted the disease and fell seriously ill. Over the course of several months, Zwingli battled the disease and he made a slow recovery by the spring of 1520. Altogether, the Zurich plague claimed the lives of over 7,000 people, a quarter of the population, including Andreas.

Zwingli’s “Christian Song” has three (3) parts to it:

I. At the Beginning of the Illness (and here follows the lines that belong to each section):

Help, Lord God, help
In this trouble!
I think death is at the door.
Stand before me, Christ;
For Thou hast overcome him!

To Thee I cry:
If it is Thy will,
take out the dart,
which wounds me
Nor lets me have an hour’s
rest or repose!

Will’st Thou, however,
that death take me
in the midst of my days,
so let it be!
Do what Thou wilt;
Me nothing lacks. [or, “nothing shall be too much for me”]
Thy vessel am I;
to make or break altogether.

For if Thou takest away
My spirit
From this earth,
Thou dost it
that it [my spirit] may not grow worse
Nor spot
The pious lives and ways of others.

II. In the Midst of His Illness:

Console Me, Lord God, console me!
The illness increases,
Pain and fear seize
My soul and body.
Come to me then,
With Thy grace,
O my only consolation!

It will surely save
Everyone, who
His heart’s desire
And hopes sets
On Thee, and who besides
Despises all gain and loss.
Now all is up.

My tongue is dumb,
It cannot speak a word.
My senses are all blighted.
Therefore is it time
That Thou my fight
Conductest hereafter;
Since I am not
So strong, that I
Can bravely
Make resistance
To the Devil’s wiles and treacherous hand.

Still will my spirit
Constantly abide by Thee,
however he rages.

III. During Convalescence [recovery]:

Sound, Lord God, sound!
I think I am
Already coming back. [i.e., to health]
Yes, if it please Thee,
That no spark of sin
Rule me longer on earth.
Then my lips must
Thy praise and teaching
Bespeak more
Than ever before,
However it may go,
In simplicity and with no danger.

Although I must
The punishment of death
Sometimes endure,
Perhaps with greater anguish
Than would now have
Happened, Lord! [i.e., if I had died this time]
Since I came
So near; [i.e., to death’s door]
So will I still
The spite and boasting
Of this world
Bear joyfully for the sake of the reward
By Thy help,
Without which nothing can be perfect.

I find these words a powerful testimony to the way we must respond to life and death during these pandemic days. Are we able to sing with Zwingli in this way, whatever our portion is right now?

If you are interested in the original Swiss version, visit this page for Gebetslied in der Pest.

Good Friday Gospel in Poetry

On this Good Friday 2019 I re-post poems (hymns) from two of my favorite poet/writers – Augustus Toplady and William Cowper. April is also National Poetry Month, so  we may also acknowledge this special time of celebrating good poems, especially in the Christian tradition.

May these poems give expression to our own faith-confession concerning Christ crucified. Poems are meant to be read and meditated on, as well as sung (as hymns), in order to praise the God of great grace and mighty mercy.

AToplady-poems-hymns

Augustus M. Toplady Hymn XIV. Thanksgiving for the Sufferings of Christ

1 O Thou who didst thy glory leave,
Apostate sinners to retrieve,
From nature’s deadly fell;
Me thou hast purchas’d with a price,
Nor shall my crimes in judgment rise,
For thou hast borne them all.

2 Jesus was punish’d in my stead,
Without the gate my surety bled,
To expiate my stain;
On earth the Godhead deign’d to dwell,
And made of infinite avail,
The suff’rings of the man.

3 And was he for his rebels giv’n?
He was: th’ incarnate King of hev’n
Did for his foes expire;
Amaz’d, O earth, the tidings hear;
He bore, that we might never bear,
His Father’s righteous ire.

4 Ye saints, the man of sorrows bless,
The God for your unrighteousness,
Deputed to atone:
Praise him ’till with the heav’nly throng,
Ye sing the never-ending song,
And see him on his throne.

Hymns and Poems, Augustus M. Toplady (Cross Publishing, 1971)

CowperOlneyHymns

William Cowper, Olney Hymns, XV. Praise for the Fountain Opened (Zech.xiii 1)

There is a fountain fill’d with blood,
Drawn from Emmanuel’s veins;
And sinners, plunged beneath that flood,
Lose all their guilty stains.
The dying thief rejoiced to see
That fountain in his day;
And there have I, as vile as he,
Wash’d all my sins away.
Dear dying Lamb, Thy precious blood
Shall never lose its power,
Till all the ransom’d church of God
Be saved, to sin no more.
E’er since, by faith, I saw the stream
Thy flowing wounds supply,
Redeeming love has been my theme,
And shall be till I die.
Then in a nobler, sweeter song,
I’ll sing Thy power to save;
When this poor lisping stammering tongue
Lies silent in the grave.
Lord, I believe Thou hast prepared
(Unworthy though I be)
For me a blood-bought free reward,
A golden harp for me!
‘Tis strung and tuned for endless years,
And form’d by power divine,
To sound in God the Father’s ears
No other name but Thine.

Sovereign Ruler of the Skies – John Ryland

I came across part of this comforting hymn today in a “Grace Gems” devotional, and had to look it up. The first result of my search gave the fullest version of “Sovereign Ruler of the Skies,” though it is also found on hymnary.org. I found this nice summary of the hymn on the Founders website:

“Sovereign Ruler of the Skies” [was written] by the English Baptist pastor and hymn writer John Ryland (1753–1825). The hymn was written in 1777 and included in Rippon’s Selection (1787) #545. It originally had nine verses. Unfortunately, as with many hymns, it is often shortened to four or five verses when included in hymnals.

…The longer composition is worth singing. It reveals Ryland’s intentions in thought and structure. The hymn begins with doctrine that overflows into devotion. As in a well-crafted sermon, he takes time to proclaim truth and then apply truth. In the first six verses he declares what is true about God and about himself. Then in verses 7–9 he responds to that truth. His response is a model for us in how we should respond:

He prays, entrusting himself to God: “In Thy hands my life I trust.”

He examines his heart and motives, wanting nothing to surpass God in his life, asking himself: “Have I somewhat dearer still?”

He commits himself to God’s will, acknowledging that all he has and is belongs to God.

He praises God, desiring to bless Him “at all times”

And he closes the hymn by preaching to his own soul. God is sovereign over all. If I have Him, I have all I need. He will never leave me or forsake me. So how could I ever be orphaned or abandoned?

Take time to read Ryland’s hymn—all nine verses. He has much to teach us about savoring truth and crafting praise.

Here, then, are all nine verses of the original hymn of Rylands:

1.   Sovereign Ruler of the skies!
Ever gracious, ever wise!
All my times are in Thy hand,
All events at Thy command.

2.   His decree, who formed the earth,
Fixed my first and second birth;
Parents, native place and time,
All appointed were by Him.

3.   He that formed me in the womb,
He shall guide me to the tomb;
All my times shall ever be
Ordered by His wise decree.

4.   Times of sickness, times of health,
Times of penury and wealth;
Times of trial and of grief,
Time of triumph and relief.

5.   Times the tempter’s power to prove,
Times to taste a Savior’s love:
All must come, and last and end,
As shall please my heavenly Friend.

6.   Plagues and deaths around me fly,
Till He bids I cannot die:
Not a single shaft can hit
Till the God of love thinks fit.

7.   O Thou Gracious, Wise and Just,
In Thy hands my life I trust:
Have I somewhat dearer still?
I resign it to Thy will.

8.   May I always own Thy hand
Still to the surrender stand;
Know that Thou art God alone,
I and mine are all Thine own.

9.   Thee, at all times, will I bless;
Having Thee, I all possess;
How can I bereaved be,
Since I cannot part with Thee?

Notice especially that 6th verse in our present calamity:

6.   Plagues and deaths around me fly,
Till He bids I cannot die:
Not a single shaft can hit
Till the God of love thinks fit.

Source: Hymns from History | Sovereign Ruler of the Skies

The Singing Christ – E. Clowney

The Singing Christ

Their mighty song burns heavenward
And glory shines in sound;
The herald angels praise the Lord
In shouts that shake the ground.
O sing, you sons of heaven’s joy,
The wonder of his ways;
The birth-cry of an infant boy
Perfects his Father’s praise.

Sing, O Jesus, Mary’s son,
The pilgrim songs appointed:
How great the works the Lord has done!
How blessed his Anointed!
Sing in Nazareth, young man,
The songs of Jubilee;
Today fulfill redemption’s plan,
Proclaim the captive free!

Sing, O Savior, lift the cup,
“Jehovah is my song!”
The sacrifice is offered up
Before the shouting throng:
“I come to do thy will, my God.
My body is prepared
To drink the cup and bear the rod
That sinners should be spared.”

Sing, O Christ, up Zion’s brow
From Kidron’s rocky bed;
The pilgrim songs are silent now,
And all thy friends have fled.
Sing in agony, my King,
The God-forsaken Lord;
And count thy bones in suffering
While malice mocks thy word.

Sing, ascending King of kings;
Lift up your heads, ye gates;
The King of Glory triumph sings,
The Lord that heav’n awaits.
Sing, O Son of God’s right hand,
Our Prophet, Priest and King;
The saints that on Mount Zion stand,
With tongues once dumb, now sing.

Sing, Lord Christ, among the choir
In robes with blood made white,
And satisfy thy heart’s desire
To lead the sons of light.
O Chief Musician, Lord of praise,
From thee our song is found;
Ancient of everlasting days,
To thee the trumpets sound.

Rejoicing Savior, sing today
Within our upper room;
Among thy brethren lift the lay
Of triumph from the tomb.
Sing now, O Lamb, that we may sing
The glory of thy shame,
The paean of thy suffering,
To sanctify thy Name!

Written by Edmund P. Clowney and found in The Country of the Risen King: An Anthology of Christian Poetry, Merle Meeter, Compiler (Baker Book House, 1978), pp.50-51. I recently found this nice collection of poems in a local thrift store and started browsing it tonight. When I came on this edifying poem, I thought I would post it for your benefit as well. Fitting for sabbath preparation.

Published in: on January 11, 2020 at 10:05 PM  Leave a Comment  

He Bore Our Griefs – J. Revius (1586-1658)

JRevius-dutch-poetAs we mark National Poetry month (April) and Good Friday this week, we may well ponder this poem by Dutch Calvinist Jacobus Revius (1586-1658), “a Protestant Baroque poet of the Netherlands.” The title is “He Bore Our Griefs” and is based on Isaiah 53.

No, it was not the Jews who crucified,
Nor who, Lord Jesus, spat into your face,
Nor who betrayed you in the judgment place,
Nor who with buffets struck you as you died.

No, it was not the soldiers fisted bold
Who lifted up the hammer and the nail,
Or raised the cross on Calvary’s cursed hill,
Or cast the dice to win your seamless robe.

I am the one, O Lord, who brought you there,
I am the heavy cross you had to bear,
I am the rope that bound you to the tree,

The whip, the nail, the hammer, and the spear,
The bloody, thorny crown you had to wear:
It was my sin, O Lord, it was for me.

by Jacobus Revius (Translated by Henrietta ten Harmsel)

This poem can be found in multiple places in print and online. It was published in The Reformed Journal, as well as in Leland Ryken’s collection of poems, titled The Soul in Paraphrase: A Treasury of Classic Devotional Poems (Crossway, 2018). At that link you may also find Ryken’s helpful commentary on this poem, which includes these words:

The poem is a confession of guilt addressed directly to Christ in a prayer-like stance. …Jesus’ death was an atoning substitutionary death for sinners, so that every sinner for whom Christ died can be said to be the one who killed him. In this poem, Revius does what his contemporary Dutch artist Rembrandt did when he painted himself at the foot of the cross as Christ is raised on it (in Raising of the Cross).

Below is an image of the original poem in Dutch.

Revius-poem-he-bore-our-griefs-Dutch

Published in: on April 17, 2019 at 11:03 PM  Leave a Comment  

Christmas Eve 2018 in Poetry and Song

On this Christmas Eve 2018 we share a couple of edifying items – one a classic Christmas poem and the other a beautiful choral piece we heard in a program recently. The latter is not strictly speaking a Christmas song and, yet, is certainly appropriate for the gospel of Christmas. The lyrics really point us to the second coming of our Lord, and from our perspective as NT Christians that is now our hope and prayer.

First, then, is this classic Christmas poem, penned by Welsh poet Henry Vaughn (1621-1695) and titled “Christ’s Nativity.” It may take you a few times to go through to get the sense, due to the seventeenth-century-style English, but the poem is a powerful tribute of praise to the Christ of Bethlehem and to the power of His person as the Savior.

Awake, glad heart! get up and sing!
It is the birth-day of thy King.
Awake! awake!
The Sun doth shake
Light from his locks, and all the way
Breathing perfumes, doth spice the day.
Awake, awake! hark how th’ wood rings;
Winds whisper, and the busy springs
A concert make;
Awake! awake!
Man is their high-priest, and should rise
To offer up the sacrifice.
I would I were some bird, or star,
Flutt’ring in woods, or lifted far
Above this inn
And road of sin!
Then either star or bird should be
Shining or singing still to thee.
I would I had in my best part
Fit rooms for thee! or that my heart
Were so clean as
Thy manger was!
But I am all filth, and obscene;
Yet, if thou wilt, thou canst make clean.
Sweet Jesu! will then. Let no more
This leper haunt and soil thy door!
Cure him, ease him,
O release him!
And let once more, by mystic birth,
The Lord of life be born in earth.

Secondly, the song we wish to feature is “E’en So, Lord Jesus, Quickly Come” and was written by Paul Manz (a Lutheran). The lyrics go like this (and to learn more about the context in which it was written, visit the link provided):

Peace be to you and grace from him
Who freed us from our sins,
Who loved us all and shed his blood
That we might saved be.

Sing holy, holy to our Lord,
The Lord, Almighty God,
Who was and is and is to come;
Sing holy, holy, Lord!

Rejoice in heaven, all ye that dwell therein,
Rejoice on earth, ye saints below,
For Christ is coming, is coming soon!

E’en so, Lord Jesus, quickly come,
And night shall be no more;
they need no light nor lamp nor sun,
For Christ will be their all.

This is a glorious performance of it I found on YouTube – by a famed British Boys Choir! Rejoice in Jesus’ second coming, even as we celebrate His first!

Published in: on December 24, 2018 at 5:59 AM  Leave a Comment  

Christian Poems: “Triune Comfort” and “The Christian’s Rest”

Earlier today I was thumbing through a book of Christian poetry by local poet Nancy Moelker (Jenison, MI).

In-Gods-arms-Moelker

Her poems breathe biblical and Reformed themes: sovereignty of God, salvation in Christ alone, sovereign grace, the comfort and hope of the gospel, and more. I referenced one of her special poems before – on Q&A 1 of the Heidelberg Catechism – titled “My Only Comfort.”

Tonight I give you a few more, in part because April is National Poetry month, but mostly because Moelker’s poems feed the soul and make for good preparation for the Lord’s Day.

Triune Comfort

When all around me dark thunderclouds roll,
Deep, deep inside there’s no fear in my soul,
For God, my Father, has all in control –
My Father: Creator and King.

The LORD hath prepared his throne in the heavens; and his kingdom ruleth over all. Psalm 103:19

Though in my heart I still see so much sin,
I know that Jesus is dwelling within,
And I’m washed whiter than new snow in Him –
My Jesus: Redeemer and Lord.

There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. Romans 8:1

Though doubts and trials seem never to cease,
Sweet Holy Spirit brings comfort and peace,
Giving my spirit a blessed release –
My Comforter, living within.

The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God. Romans 8:16

O Triune God, throned on Thy mercy seat –
Holy, thrice Holy! I bow at Thy feet.
O how I thank Thee for Thy work complete –
My Father! My Savior! My Peace!

Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, which was, and is, and is to come. Revelation 4:8d

The Christian’s Rest

Resting in the arms of God –
Oh, what joy divine,
Just to know that I am His
And He is mine!

Resting in the arms of God,
I’ve no cause for fear.
Satan may assail me,
But my sovereign God is near.

Resting in the arms of God,
Submissive to His will,
Knowing He’ll work good for me
Through times of good or ill.

Resting in the arms of God,
Doubts and strivings cease.
Christ is all my righteousness,
And I have perfect peace.

Resting in the arms of God
Through life’s pilgrim way,
Trusting in His promises,
He leads me day by day.

Resting in the arms of God
At my final breath –
Christ has won the victory!
“Where’s thy sting, O death?”

Resting in the arms of God,
Heaven’s gates unfold.
Forever with my Savior
I’ll have joy and peace untold!

Resting in the arms of God –
Oh, what joy divine,
Just to know that I am His
And He is mine!

The eternal God is thy refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms. Deuteronomy 33:27

Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ: By whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Romans 5:1,2

In-Gods-arms-MoelkerTaken from Nancy Moelker’s collection of poems published under the title In God’s Arms: Inspirational Poems for the Christian Soul (Golden Apple Greetings, 2012).

Reading the Christian Classics: Milton’s Epic Poem – L. Ryken

GuidetoClassics-LRykenOver the last few years we have been working our way slowly through Leland Ryken’s recent book, A Christian Guide to the Classics (Crossway, 2015). Of late, we have been in chapters 7 and 8 where the author treats the great classics of literature that may be identified as Christian.

Having completed our look at Ryken’s thoughts in chap.7, we turn to some of his thoughts in chap.8. Here he continues to consider various categories of Christian literature, including one that he classifies as “the Christianized secular text.” This is how he explains it with a true Christian classic – Milton’s Paradise Lost:

…There are some Christian classics that were intended by their authors to serve the polemical or argumentative purpose of refuting a non-Christian tradition. The technical term for this is intertext – a situation in which a work is designed as an interaction with an already-existing text or body of literature in such a way that the meaning of the enterprise can be viewed as existing between the two texts. The dialogue or refutation is an important part of the meaning.

Milton’s Paradise Lost is the best example. Milton participated in a tradition that began relatively early in the Middle Ages to determine how the Christian faith related to the classical tradition in which the authors and readers had been educated. There is evidence within Paradise Lost that Milton intended his epic to refute the epic tradition that he inherited, not at the level of epic form but at the level of ideas and values.

paradise lost-milton

That last point Ryken explains and develops further in the next paragraphs:

The classical epic tradition was humanistic in orientation. Its heroes were not irreligious, nor were the gods absent from the action, but the heroes achieved their feats mainly through human self-reliance. The goals that these heroes pursued were earthly fame, success, and empire. The epic feat was winning a battle, and it was axiomatic in this tradition that the crucial events of history happened on the battlefield.

Milton introduces aspects of this into his poem only to expose their deficiency. For example, he introduces a boastful warrior – Satan – only to show how evil he is. Overall, Milton’s anti-epic strategy… consisted of replacing the epic hero with the Christian saint as hero, and replacing military values with pastoral and domestic values. Milton made the garden rather than the battlefield the scene of his epic feat. And what is that feat? Eating an apple – not an act of glory but of shame, thereby exploding classical and humanistic illusions of human greatness. The setting for the epic feat was not the battlefield but the human soul, and it was not a physical act but a spiritual one.

And so Ryken finishes this point with these thoughts:

Epics always represent the author’s verdict on what constitutes heroic (exemplary) action. Homer assumed that human self-exertion and earthly success constitute heroic action. Milton’s version of heroic action is seen in Adam and Eve’s virtuous life in Paradise and consists of devotion to God, perfect married companionship, harmony with nature, contentedness, and living the simple life. These virtues are virtually the opposite of the virtues of classical epic [pp.74-76].

A Hymn for Christmas Day

A Hymn For Christmas Day

Almighty Framer of the Skies!
O let our pure devotion rise,
Like Incense in thy Sight!
Wrapt in impenetrable Shade
The Texture of our Souls were made
Till thy Command gave light.
The Sun of Glory gleam’d the Ray,
Refin’d the Darkness into Day,
And bid the Vapours fly;
Impell’d by his eternal Love
He left his Palaces above
To cheer our gloomy Sky.

How shall we celebrate the day,
When God appeared in mortal clay,
The mark of worldly scorn;
When the Archangel’s heavenly Lays,
Attempted the Redeemer’s Praise
And hail’d Salvation’s Morn!

A Humble Form the Godhead wore,
The Pains of Poverty he bore,
To gaudy Pomp unknown;
Tho’ in a human walk he trod
Still was the Man Almighty God
In Glory all his own.

Despis’d, oppress’d, the Godhead bears
The Torments of this Vale of tears;
Nor bade his Vengeance rise;
He saw the Creatures he had made,
Revile his Power, his Peace invade;
He saw with Mercy’s Eyes.

How shall we celebrate his Name,
Who groan’d beneath a Life of shame
In all Afflictions tried!
The Soul is raptured to concieve
A Truth, which Being must believe,
The God Eternal died.

My Soul exert thy Powers, adore,
Upon Devotion’s plumage sar
To celebrate the Day;
The God from whom Creation sprung
Shall animate my grateful Tongue;
From him I’ll catch the Lay!

Thomas Chatterton, 1752-1770 (This amazing poem was written when Thomas was but eleven years old.)
Published in: on December 20, 2017 at 11:13 PM  Leave a Comment  

Thanksgiving – Thelma Westra

Thanksgiving

I thank the Lord for countless blessings daily sent;
For circumstances notwithstanding, making me content;
For gifts of health, but also gifts of death and pain,
For pleasant sunny days, but also icy wind and rain,
For warmth and shelter, clothing, and for food in vast supply;
For mountain lake, the flow’ring tree, the butterfly.
For loving family, with joyful celebrations,
Who also share my griefs with me, and tribulations.
For scores of friends, who in my need are glad to give;
For opportunities to serve when others too need help to live.
Yet most of all, I thank my heavenly Father for His love
In sending One, His own begotten Son, from heaven above
To suffer and to die to make me free from every sin,
And give me peace and joy, and knowledge that within
The trials sent, His love for me is ever shining through.
His everlasting arms around me strengthen and renew.
And when I give Him thanks, He shows to me by divine grace
That He has placed thanksgiving in my heart – ’tis His, not mine!

PoemsofPraise-TWestra“Thanksgiving” is the opening poem in Mrs. Thelma Westra’s collection of poems, Poems of Praise (self-published). Mrs. Westra is a godly widow and fellow church member at Faith PRC in Jenison, MI. She has been writing beautiful poems of faith and hope for many years, including for our monthly church newsletter.

Published in: on November 22, 2017 at 10:43 PM  Leave a Comment