As years go by I appreciate more and more the heritage we hold in the hymnology of the church of Christ. The hymns of the past contain not only beautiful truth, but also the expression of hundreds of years of spiritual experience preserved for the benefit of believers today. My favorite is “Praise to the Lord, the Almighty, the King of Creation.” I remember as a teenager pondering the future, being gripped by the line, “Hast thou not seen, all thy desires e’er have been, granted in what He ordaineth.” Now as an adult, grappling with the stuff of life, entrenched in its joys and sorrows, I constantly replay this phrase in my head as it expresses clearly the deep truth of the sovereignty of God and how it relates to me.
I was deeply touched about a year ago when I learned that the man who wrote these words faced an early death from the dreaded lung disease tuberculosis. “Praise to the Lord” was published the same year he died and, more than three hundred years later, it remains one of the most well used and well loved praise hymns in the church today. How could he write such things as he faced an untimely death?
This man was Joachim Neander, born in 1650 in Bremen, Germany, to a family of the German Reformed Church. His family’s religion was the legacy of Luther’s Reformation, but he himself was not saved until he was in his early twenties. While studying theology in Bremen, Joachim came under the preaching of Pastor Under-Eyck, a Pietist, whose influence on Neander was very significant. That is when Neander came to a true spiritual understanding of the theology he had been studying.
Neander then moved to Dusseldorf to take up a teaching post at the grammar school. He eventually became an assistant pastor in the city. It was a stable position with possibilities of promotion, but he was often frustrated with problems so that his years of service in the Duesseldorf church were very difficult. During these difficult times Neander found some consolation in composing hymns. Eventually another assistant pastor was appointed and it seems Neander was pushed out, but his hymns had already been circulating among friends and he had left his mark. In 1679 he became a pastor in Bremen, but his health declined and he died of tuberculosis in 1680 when he was only thirty years old.
Although they were written during a decade of stressful circumstances and debilitating illness, we see in Neander’s hymns a thirst after God, an awe towards God’s creation and power, and the recurring theme of the sovereignty of God. Neander’s greatest recreation was to enjoy nature. Spending many hours in the Dussel River Valley nearby his town, he found much to write about in the creation around him.
Joachim gave the German church a great gift in his more than sixty hymns, the best known of which is “Praise to the Lord,” which was translated into English by Catherine Winkworth in 1843. We do not hear of amazing success or influence during Joachim’s short life. It was perhaps mundane in many ways. Nor was he miraculously healed from the illness that led to his death as a young man, but we have this treasury of poetry which was the direct result of his devotional life. Here are a few verses of my favorite hymn by
Praise to the Lord, the Almighty,
the King of creation!
O my soul, praise Him, for He is
thy health and salvation!
All ye who hear, now to his temple draw
Praise him in glad adoration.
Praise to the Lord, who over all
things so wondrously reigneth,
Shelters thee under his wings,
yea, so gently sustaineth!
Hast thou not seen
how thy desires e’er have been
Granted in what He ordaineth?
Praise to the Lord, who doth prosper
thy work and defend thee;
Surely His goodness and mercy
here daily attend thee.
Ponder anew what the Almighty can do,
If with His love He befriend thee. (1680)
Grace Goligher Dunlop is the wife of Rev. Aaron Dunlop, minister of Victoria FPC in Victoria, British Columbia.