Three Bach Cantatas

J.J.

Preliminary Acknowledgment

These three cantatas by Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) were recently performed by La Follia Austin Baroque. I was graciously given the opportunity to work with these cantatas in connection with this concert, for which I hereby express my deepest gratitude to the ensemble’s director. As a result of this work, my faith in my Savior Jesus was strengthened, as was my ability to express it, and my prayer is that readers of this post will experience the same benefit. I also wish to acknowledge the lovely performances in that concert by the singers and instrumentalists, especially of the arias.

BWV 151 – Süßer Trost, mein Jesus kömmt

Foreword

This cantata was first performed on December 27, the Third Christmas Day, in 1725. However, while it was the first time this text was set to Bach’s music, it was very likely not the first time this text had ever been set to music. Bach took this text from a book titled Gottgefälliges Kirchen-Opffer (God-Pleasing Offering for Worship), written by Georg Christian Lehms (Darmstadt: Johann Levin Bachmann, 1711). In his foreword, Lehms said that he wrote the book for use in the city of Darmstadt, and that the plan was to have one of his pieces of poetry sung to accompaniment every Sunday and festival, and he wanted as many people as possible to have his book in front of them as the words were being sung so that they could, as he put it, “really fix the words into [their] soul.” That means it was most likely set to music by some composer in Darmstadt in 1711, or perhaps 1712, but that composer’s cantata setting is unknown…because that composer was not Johann Sebastian Bach.

This particular libretto by Lehms is based on the appointed Gospel from the Third Christmas Day, John 1:1-14, in which John, one of Jesus’ apostles, meditates on the mystery of the incarnation, the taking on of human flesh by the Son of God and his dwelling in our midst. Borrowing from John’s thoughts and others elsewhere in the Bible, Lehms puts himself as a representative Christian in the stable of Bethlehem, watching from a distance as Jesus is being born and applying to himself the beauty of the moment, and the profound, invisible, and eternally signficiant truths behind it.

Bach takes the meditations of that spectator in Bethlehem’s stable and makes them soar on the wings of music. You can watch a performance of his beautiful music here.

A few notes on the German text: In the opening aria, kömmt is simply an older variant of kommt, the regular third person, singular, present tense form; Lehms perhaps considered it a more poetic form (somewhat akin to cometh for comes in English). It is also important to note that, although many translations render the second line simply, “Jesus is now born,” wird geboren is an emphatic present passive construction – is being born – not a present perfect construction like ist geboren – is/has been born. This is underscored by the addition of anitzt, “under the present circumstances, at present, presently, now.”

Unless it was simply a hasty mistake (possible, but not likely), Bach made a telling change in the fourth movement, the tenor recitative. In the original, Lehms says that since Jesus has left his Father’s home out of love for us, we in turn desire “to let” (lassen) Jesus into our heart. I do not know the extent to which Lehms was influenced by Pietism or might have been a Pietist himself, but regardless, the language of “letting Jesus into one’s heart” is Pietistic language (and has carried over into much of modern day American Christianity). Bach changed lassen to fassen; instead of letting Jesus into our hearts, Bach has us fixing him more firmly, or framing him, in our hearts. In other words, Bach recognized that if we believe that Jesus is our Savior from sin, death, the devil, and hell, Jesus is already there in our hearts through such faith (a fact which Pietism seemed to enjoy calling into doubt). But the more we consider Jesus’ self-giving love for us, the more we want to make sure he is fixed there firmly, stays there, and holds more sway there.

For the chorale, Lehms incorporated the final (eighth) stanza of Nicolaus Herman’s Christmas hymn, “Lobt Gott, ihr Christen alle gleich,” which is usually dated to 1560, when it first appeared in print in its complete form. However, a four-stanza version had already appeared in print around 1550, though with serious typographical errors.

1. Soprano Aria

Süßer Trost, mein Jesus kömmt,
Jesus wird anitzt geboren!
Herz und Seele freuet sich,
Denn mein liebster Gott hat mich
Nun zum Himmel auserkoren.

Sweet comfort, my Jesus is coming;
Jesus is now being born!
Heart and soul rejoice,
for my God most dear has
now selected me for heaven.

2. Bass Recitative

Erfreue dich, mein Herz,
Denn itzo weicht der Schmerz,
Der dich so lange Zeit gedrücket.
Gott hat den liebsten Sohn,
Den er so hoch und teuer hält,
Auf diese Welt geschicket.
Er läßt den Himmelsthron
Und will die ganze Welt
Aus ihren Sklavenketten
Und ihrer Dienstbarkeit erretten.
O wundervolle Tat!
Gott wird ein Mensch und will auf Erden
Noch niedriger als wir und noch viel ärmer werden.

Be jubilant, my heart,
for now the pain departs
which has so long burdened you.
God has his Son most dear,
whom he so esteems and cherishes,
sent down to this world.
He leaves the throne of heaven
and will the entire world
from its chains of slavery
and its bondage deliver.
O marvelous deed!
God becomes a human, and wishes to become on earth
still lowlier than we and still far more wretched.

3. Alto Aria

In Jesu Demut kann ich Trost,
In seiner Armut Reichtum finden.
Mir macht desselben schlechter Stand
Nur lauter Heil und Wohl bekannt,
Ja, seine wundervolle Hand
Will mir nur Segenskränze winden.

In Jesus’ humility I can find comfort,
in his poverty, riches.
For me this man’s sorry state makes known
nothing but pure happiness and well-being;
yes, his marvelous hand
will only twine wreathes of blessing for me.

4. Tenor Recitative

Du teurer Gottessohn,
Nun hast du mir den Himmel aufgemacht
Und durch dein Niedrigsein
Das Licht der Seligkeit zuwege bracht.
Weil du nun ganz allein
Des Vaters Burg und Thron
Aus Liebe gegen uns verlassen,
So wollen wir dich auch
Dafür in unser Herze fassen.

O precious Son of God,
now you have opened heaven to me
and through your humiliation
the light of salvation have restored.
Since you now, all on your own,
the Father’s castle and throne
have left out of love toward us,
so we desire also,
in return, to frame you in our heart.

5. Chorale

Heut schleußt er wieder auf die Tür
Zum schönen Paradeis,
Der Cherub steht nicht mehr dafür,
Gott sei Lob, Ehr und Preis.

The door to paradise so fair
He op’ns again today,
No more a cherub guarding there—
To God all praises pay.

BWV 82 – Ich habe genung

Foreword

Bach composed this cantata in preparation for the Festival of the Purification of Mary (sometimes also called the Presentation of Our Lord) in 1727, though he had already composed the second and third movements for his wife Anna Magdalena at least two years earlier. Since the Law of Moses pertaining to purification after childbirth said that the appropriate sacrifices were to be made 40 days after the birth (Leviticus 12:1-8), the Festival of the Purification was fixed on February 2 – 40 days after Christmas Day, counting inclusively.

In preparing this cantata, Bach as usual had the appointed Gospel reading for that festival in mind, Luke 2:22-32. Here is a portion of Martin Luther’s translation of that text, to which Bach would have referred:

And when the days of [Mary’s] purification arrived, according to the Law of Moses, they brought him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord… And behold, a man named Simeon was in Jerusalem, and he was pious and God-fearing and was waiting for the Consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was in him. And he had received an answer from the Holy Spirit that he would not see death until he had first seen the Christ of the Lord. And he came into the temple at the instigation of the Spirit. And when the parents brought the child Jesus into the temple…he took him in his arms, praised God, and said, “Lord, now you let your servant depart in peace, just as you said, for my eyes have seen your Savior, whom you have prepared before all peoples, a light to enlighten the heathens and for the glory of your people Israel.”

The particular libretto Bach selected especially seized and expanded upon the little word “now,” spoken by Simeon, and the contentment with which that word is positively dripping. Why was Simeon ready now? What was he now ready for and looking forward to? How can the peace and contentment conveyed in that word now be ours? And how might we put that resignation and contentment into our own words today?

In order to answer these questions, the as-yet unknown poet juxtaposes Simeon’s physical taking of the Christ into his arms, especially in view in the first half of the first movement, with our spiritual embracing of Christ through faith in him, which is in view in the subsequent movements. And Bach puts the poet’s resultant readiness, even eagerness, to face death to music. There is perhaps no better piece of music a Christian could be listening to, pondering, or singing as he or she dies than the aria constituting the third movement. You can watch a performance of this cantata here.

A few notes on the German text: The most discussed word in this cantata is usually the third – genung. Most performances and printings of the text today will use the modern genug, but it is clear that Bach himself, probably relying on his source text, consistently used the variant genung, which dates back to the 14th century and – according to the Deutsches Wörterbuch (1961), the definitive German language dictionary based on work begun by the Brothers Grimm in 1838 – “also appeared often enough in the 18th century both in prose and in verse.” Regarding the pronunciation, the Wörterbuch says:

[This form of this variant] is Middle German in the widest sense, including Franconia and the Rhine, but it also appears in Upper [i.e. Southern] German in isolated instances. It was pronounced genunk, which is also how it was written at first, for the form cannot be explained from the pronunciation standpoint of genûch or genŭch, but only from the standpoint of genŭk, which thus must also date back to the 14th century.

However, poets like Lessing (1729-1781) and Göthe (1749-1832) would occasionally rhyme genung with words like jung, suggesting that perhaps by the (late?) 18th century, when used, it did not retain its original pronunciation. Bach’s libretto does not help, since the word is not rhymed with anything, except perhaps itself. I personally cannot imagine Bach wanting the word to get lost in the back of the throat at the end of the phrase, especially considering its importance to the cantata’s message, and I therefore personally prefer the genunk pronunciation, although I have only heard it employed by one virtuoso (very beautifully, I might add).

As for the phrase “Ich habe genung” itself, the literal rendering “I have enough” communicates almost nothing clearly in English. The phrase is an idiomatic one in the biblical and liturgical context, which could be paraphrased, “There is nothing else I need and I am completely prepared to die.” Thus my rendering: “I am content.” There is some precedence for this; there is an Easter hymn titled, “Es ist genug,” that has been translated “I am content!”

Another mistake commonly made in translations is to render the first line of the fifth movement, “I rejoice in my death.” Sich freuen auf etw. (acc.) is an idiomatic phrase meaning “to look forward to/eagerly anticipate something.” A literal translation misses the full impact of this powerful expression of faith in Christ.

1. Bass Aria

Ich habe genung,
Ich habe den Heiland, das Hoffen der Frommen,
Auf meine begierigen Arme genommen;
Ich habe genung!
Ich hab ihn erblickt,
Mein Glaube hat Jesum ans Herze gedrückt;
Nun wünsch ich, noch heute mit Freuden
Von hinnen zu scheiden.
Ich habe genung.

I am content;
the Savior, the hope of the pious,
I have taken into my eager arms.
I am content!
I have beheld him;
my faith has pressed Jesus against my heart.
Now I wish—gladly were it yet today—
to depart from here.
I am content.

2. Bass Recitative

Ich habe genung.
Mein Trost ist nur allein,
Daß Jesus mein und ich sein eigen möchte sein.
Im Glauben halt ich ihn,
Da seh ich auch mit Simeon
Die Freude jenes Lebens schon.
Laßt uns mit diesem Manne ziehn.
Ach! möchte mich von meines Leibes Ketten
Der Herr erretten;
Ach! wäre doch mein Abschied hier,
Mit Freuden sagt ich, Welt, zu dir:
Ich habe genung.

I am content.
My comfort is just this alone,
that Jesus can be mine and I his very own.
In faith I hold him,
since I too see with Simeon
the joy of that life already.
Let us go with this man.
Ah! If only from the chains of my body
the Lord would deliver me.
Ah! Even if I were to depart right here,
gladly would I say, world, to you:
I am content.

3. Bass Aria

Schlummert ein, ihr matten Augen,
Fallet sanft und selig zu!
Welt, ich bleibe nicht mehr hier,
Hab ich doch kein Teil an dir,
Das der Seele könnte taugen.
Hier muß ich das Elend bauen,
Aber dort, dort werd ich schauen
Süßen Friede, stille Ruh.

Sleep sweetly, you weary eyes,
close gently and happily!
World, I will stay here no longer;
there is simply no part of you
that could be of use to my soul.
Here must I heap up misery,
but there, there shall I see
sweet peace, quiet rest.

4. Bass Recitative

Mein Gott! wann kömmt das schöne: Nun!
Da ich im Friede fahren werde
Und in dem Sande kühler Erde
Und dort bei dir im Schoße ruhn?
Der Abschied ist gemacht,
Welt, gute Nacht.

My God, when is that beautiful “Now!” coming
when I will depart in peace
and rest in the sand of the cool earth
and there with you in your embrace?
My farewell has been said,
world, good night.

5. Bass Aria

Ich freue mich auf meinen Tod,
Ach, hätt er sich schon eingefunden.
Da entkomm ich aller Not,
Die mich noch auf der Welt gebunden.

I look forward to my death—
ah, had it but arrived already!
There shall I escape all the trouble
which has as yet confined me to the world.

BWV 8 – Liebster Gott, wenn werd ich sterben

Foreword

The early 16th century Scottish poet William Dunbar, in his famous “Lament for the Makars,” writes:

Since there for death is rem’dy none,
Best is that we for death dispone,
After our death that live may we.
The fear of death discomfits me.

In this cantata, Bach attempts to help his audience do just that—dispone or prepare for death. He composed it in preparation for the Sixteenth Sunday after Trinity in 1724, which fell on September 24 that year. In preparing it, he once again had the appointed Gospel reading for that Sunday in mind, Luke 7:11-17. Here is a portion of Martin Luther’s translation of that text:

But as [Jesus] was drawing near the town gate [of Nain], behold, a dead man was being carried out who was the only son of his mother, and she was a widow, and many people from the town were accompanying her. And when the Lord saw her, he was grieved for her and said to her, “Don’t cry.” And he stepped forward and touched the coffin, and the pallbearers stopped, and he said, “Young man, I say to you, get up.” And the dead man sat up and began to talk, and he gave him to his mother.

With that concept in mind of Jesus bringing comfort in the midst of death and its sorrow, Bach selected a libretto for his cantata that was based on a hymn written around 1690 by Kaspar Neumann, who had been a well-known Lutheran pastor in Breslau, Silesia – today Wrocław, Poland. Even though only the first and fifth stanza of Neumann’s hymn are incorporated word for word as the first and last movements of the cantata, the other movements, written by an as-yet unknown poet, are based on all the intervening stanzas of Neumann’s hymn. One can therefore effectively argue that Kaspar Neumann is really ultimately responsible for all of the textual content of this cantata.

What Bach heard in this libretto, and in Neumann’s hymn on which it was based, was a personal meditation on Jesus’ words, “Don’t cry.”

Neumann first squarely confronts the fact that death is unavoidable, due to original sin—the teaching that we are not born with a blank slate, but a blackened one, and are therefore deserving of death and headed for death. Bach reflects Neumann’s expression of the inexorable countdown to death with a very clock-like rhythm in the first movement.

Neumann then acknowledges and addresses the fears that all people, including Christians, have as they consider the inevitable reality of death.

But then the voice of his faith in Christ takes over and Neumann concludes by expressing the serenity he is able to have in the face of death because of Christ’s saving work and his promise to raise the bodies of believers from death on the Last Day and bring them safely to his side.

You can read a rhyming translation of Neumann’s original hymn here.

1. Chorus

Liebster Gott, wenn werd ich sterben?
Meine Zeit läuft immer hin,
Und des alten Adams Erben,
Unter denen ich auch bin,
Haben dies zum Vaterteil,
Daß sie eine kleine Weil
Arm und elend sein auf Erden
Und denn selber Erde werden.

Dearest God, when will I die?
My time continually slips away,
and heirs of the old Adam,
among whom I too am included,
have this as their patrimony,
that they for a short while
are poor and miserable on earth
and then themselves turn into earth.

2. Tenor Aria

Was willst du dich, mein Geist, entsetzen,
Wenn meine letzte Stunde schlägt?
Mein Leib neigt täglich sich zur Erden,
Und da muß seine Ruhstatt werden,
Wohin man so viel tausend trägt.

Why, my spirit, do you shudder at the thought
of when my final hour will strike?
My body draws closer to the earth each day,
and there must eventually be laid to rest,
where so many thousands are carried.

3. Alto Recitative

Zwar fühlt mein schwaches Herz
Furcht, Sorge, Schmerz:
Wo wird mein Leib die Ruhe finden?
Wer wird die Seele doch
Vom aufgelegten Sündenjoch
Befreien und entbinden?
Das Meine wird zerstreut,
Und wohin werden meine Lieben
In ihrer Traurigkeit
Zertrennt, vertrieben?

I confess my weak heart does feel
fear, worry, distress:
Where will my body find its rest?
Who is going to be the one
to free and unfasten my soul
from the yoke of sin imposed upon it?
What’s mine will be dispersed,
and where will my loved ones,
left behind in their sorrow,
be separated and scattered?

4. Bass Aria

Doch weichet, ihr tollen, vergeblichen Sorgen!
Mich rufet mein Jesus: wer sollte nicht gehn?
Nichts, was mir gefällt,
Besitzet die Welt.
Erscheine mir, seliger, fröhlicher Morgen,
Verkläret und herrlich vor Jesu zu stehn.

No! Begone, you absurd, useless worries!
The one calling for me is my Jesus; who would not go?
Nothing I truly enjoy
is in the world’s possession.
Show yourself, blessed, joyful morning,
when I get to stand transfigured and glorious before Jesus.

5. Soprano Recitative

Behalte nur, o Welt, das Meine!
Du nimmst ja selbst mein Fleisch und mein Gebeine,
So nimm auch meine Armut hin;
Genug, daß mir aus Gottes Überfluß
Das höchste Gut noch werden muß,
Genug, dass ich dort reich und selig bin.
Was aber ist von mir zu erben,
Als meines Gottes Vatertreu?
Die wird ja alle Morgen neu
Und kann nicht sterben.

Go ahead, O world, keep what’s mine!
You’re already taking my flesh and my bones for yourself,
so take away, too, my poor possessions.
It’s enough that, out of God’s great bounty,
I still get to have the highest good;
it’s enough that I am rich and blessed there in heaven.
What really is there to inherit from me,
except my God’s paternal faithfulness?
That is new every single morning
and cannot die.

6. Chorale

Herrscher über Tod und Leben,
Mach einmal mein Ende gut,
Lehre mich den Geist aufgeben
Mit recht wohlgefaßtem Mut.
Hilf, daß ich ein ehrlich Grab
Neben frommen Christen hab
Und auch endlich in der Erde
Nimmermehr zuschanden werde!

Ruler over death and life,
make one day my end a good one;
teach me to give up my spirit
with truly calm and composed courage.
Grant that I have a decent grave
next to pious Christians
and also that at last, in the earth,
I nevermore be put to shame.

S.D.G.

Strieter Autobiography: Counseling and Instructing

[Continued from Part 22. If you have not yet read Part 1, click here.]

Wisconsin (continued)

One time a woman asked me to stop by her place sometime; she had something to tell me about. I stop by. There she relates this: Over in Germany she had been a rich farmer’s daughter, and her husband had been her father’s servant, and because he was such a good person, she had fallen in love with him and suggested that they get married. But he had said, “Get that idea out of your head. Your father will not agree to it, and if he did agree to it, our wealth would come from you. I have nothing, and it is not good when the wife makes her husband rich. You are a hothead; you’ll fly off the handle at some point and rub it in my face.”

“So I promise him, ‘I will say nothing about it all my life.’

“I approach my mother and she approaches my father. ‘Good,’ said my father, ‘I will give you such and such an amount, then the two of you can move to America.’

“We got married. My father gave me money and we came to America and bought ourselves the land here. Just think, sir, I got annoyed over something recently and say to my husband, ‘You didn’t have anything but your jacket!’

“He doesn’t say a word, but shoots me a look. Oh, that look went right through my heart! If only he weren’t so good! But I have such a good man. He can go anywhere and while this one or that one comes home and has too much, mine never does. And he is so good to me and the children. And now I had promised him I would never rub it in his face, and I did it anyway. So do you think that God can forgive me my sin?”

I say, “First of all, you must apologize to your husband, ma’am, and he must first forgive you.”

She says, “Ah, I have already asked him for forgiveness many times, and he has said to me, ‘Just forget about it; everything is fine!’”

I say, “Good, now ask your dear God for forgiveness too.”

She says, “O how often I have done that!”

I say, “Okay, what more do you want? Now everything is just fine. Your husband has forgiven and God has forgiven, and you don’t need any forgiveness beyond that.”

She says, “Has God really forgiven me too?”

I say, “Why, in the Fifth Petition he says he has.”

Then she was happy. —

One time a man came to me with his wife and told me that his wife was going out of her mind. He had heard that such women should be given a good, sound beating, and should he try it once?

I say, “Of course not. How is that going to help? You must be kind, sir.”

I speak with the woman. She said that one child after another would die on her when it was born, and that was God’s punishment for her sins. I point her to her Savior and recite passages to her. She listens to it, but that’s it. I arrange to meet the man again and again. Finally have no idea what else to say. One day I had her in front of me again and asked her whether she really wanted to be saved.

“Oh yes!” she exclaimed.

I say, “Good, and God wants it too and affirms it with an oath [cf. Hebrews 6:13-20]. Now who’s going to prevent it?”

Suddenly she lifts up her head and looks at me beaming with joy and cries out, “That is true!” From then on she stayed happy.

Yes, when God’s hour has struck, he helps through a simple little word.

One time a man came and told me that his woman was a Jewess. They were not married yet and his girl, 12 years old, was also not baptized yet.

I say, “Come over and bring the woman along.”

He came. I start with Moses and the Prophets and prove to the woman that Jesus of Nazareth is the Messiah promised by the prophets and ask her what is her position on that. But she gave me no answer. He says, “Come on, talk to the preacher.” She remains stock-still.

I arrange to meet her again. She comes and I take her alone and start again and ask what she thinks, but she remains stock-still. If I talk about something else, she is very talkative. If I start talking about Jesus, her head turns to the ground and not a word. I cannot start anything with the woman.

I tell the man, “So I cannot marry you, sir, for the woman does not believe in Jesus, so I also cannot marry her in the name of Jesus. Go to the justice of the peace. Your child, though, I will instruct and baptize.” The child is sent to me and I instruct and baptize it in the presence of witnesses. The mother, however, did not show her face.19

While I’m on the subject of the Jewess, I will also add this: One woman asked me, “Mr. Preacher, your wife is a Jewess, is she not? She has such large, black eyes and such heavy, black hair.” —

I also had to deal with the musicians. Especially at weddings they knew how to have a good time. If it was going to be a proper one, it lasted three days and three nights. During that time there would be music-playing, dancing, and boozing. The performers were my churchgoers. One of them, a teacher from abroad, knew better than to go to the Lord’s Supper, but always went to church; the others – there were 4 of them usually – also went to the Supper. I speak with the musicians, but accomplish nothing except that they become defiant towards me. I thought, “You must put up with this for the time being.” But it didn’t take long before I just couldn’t give the performers the Supper any more in good conscience, but they still went to church and their wives also went to the Supper. Not just at weddings, but also at get-togethers things often got out of hand. I had to rebuke and to instruct; had much opposition from the flesh and often unpleasant confrontations. Ah, many sighs were sent to heaven, many tears were shed. My short impromptu prayer was always: “Comfort me once again with your help and let your joyful Spirit uphold me!” [Psalm 51:12].20

I did most of my studying when I was riding, driving, or sitting. I had Luther, the Erlangen edition, the German volumes, which I picked up cheaply in Euclid from one of Kühn’s members through Kühn’s negotiation. Luther’s House Postil was my constant companion, as well as another extra volume.21 I read my Luther, and my manner and method of preparing my sermon in my mind, as already noted, now came in very handy. First I would go through my Gospel, then I would run through my Luther, then I would outline, then I would think and organize, then I would preach in front of the group in question in my mind all the way from the first word to the last, and would then step confidently in front of my people. I never preached long.

For confessional services I used the Catechism exclusively, simply covering part for part in order, but I didn’t just preach outright, but asked a lot of questions, doing more catechesis and taking answers so that I would also know whether they understood it. Especially a former teacher [Mr.] F. answered me very often.

I did not labor in vain. Quite often it was expressed: “We never heard such sermons abroad.” Quite a few tears were cried; quite often there was grieving over the fleshly condition.

The people were not to blame, for they must have had miserable preachers – rationalists, hirelings, belly-servers,22 and babblers. You could tell from some of the things that were said. One man, Administrator B., was once asked to tell me that I should preach more humbly. I say, “I am constantly striving to be humble and am not aware of anything particularly arrogant in my sermons.”

He says, “Oh, that’s not what I meant. What I mean is this: Our preachers would often have the whole church in tears when they preached.”

“Ah, so,” I replied, “you mean, sir, that I should preach more emotionally?” Their preachers had had it as their goal to elicit the emotions, so that they would be praised for what a fine sermon they had given.

Especially for funerals they must have had this practice, for one man even gave me two dollars before his mother’s burial. That was unheard of. He said, “Please give a nice address; my mother was a good woman.”

But I read as my text: “Death is the wages of sin” [Romans 6:23], and preached law and gospel.

One man told me, “What my pastor [Seelsorger] in Germany liked best was when he got to sit down with the musicians at weddings and play the Brumm” – the bass viol.

They also could be bribed. I noticed that too. There was a man who came from 12 miles away to bring us two beautiful, nicely dressed ducks, and soon he started in, telling me that he was living in conflict with his neighbor, and I should settle it. But he gave me to understand that I should take his side.

Another man asked if he could ride with me to the next congregation. I invited him up. Soon he pulled a small, folded-up paper parcel from his pocket and handed it to me saying, “Mr. Preacher, I would very much like to give you some pay, sir.”

I say, “You certainly don’t owe me any pay, sir. You’re just a servant on the prairie.”

He says, “Even so, I want to give you this just this once. Please take it; I give it gladly.”

I took it, stick it in my waistcoat pocket and say, “Thank you very much!”

Pretty soon he started in: “Mr. Preacher, you have a girl as your maid, sir, whom I would very much like to have as my wife. You will put in a good word for me, won’t you?”

I say, “Listen here, sir, I did not study for the matchmaking trade, but let me give you a good piece of advice: Ask L.’s parents” – he had none himself – “and if they say Yes, ask L., and if she also says Yes, then come to me and I will marry you.”

He was quiet. In front of my house he got down and went on his way. My L. saw us coming and I hardly get into the house before she asks, “Papa, what did he want from you, sir?”

I say, “He wanted you.”

L. says, “Just what I thought! How often have I already told that guy that I do not want him.”

I say, “Yeah, but he gave me money too,” and pull out my small parcel. It is 5 dollars. I say, “You poor guy, spending so much money for nothing!”

My L. laughs and claps her hands: “If only it were 10!”

Whenever anyone came with a gift, I was suspicious. But soon they learned to think differently.

Endnotes

19 The man in this story was Gottlieb Busse and “his woman” was Charlotte Jacobson. Their 12-year-old daughter was Julie Busse, born on February 15, 1851. (Thus most of the events in this story took place in 1863.) Strieter baptized her on March 27, 1864, in the presence of Julius and Rose Breitenfeld and his wife Elizabeth.

20 One of the evils of Pietism enumerated by Valentin Ernst Loescher (1673-1749) in The Complete Timotheus Verinus (Milwaukee: NPH, 1998) is precisionism in matters of adiaphora, that is, unyielding strictness in matters neither explicitly commanded nor forbidden in Holy Scripture (p. 150-160). Pietists like Joachim Lange (1670-1744), Gottfried Vockerodt (1665-1727), August Hermann Francke (1663-1727), and Paul Anton (1661-1730) taught that producing or attending comedies, joking, and dancing were sinful. Pietists took activities that often lead to sin – e.g. dancing often leads to lust (cf. Matthew 5:28; Romans 13:14), and those who love to joke often end up being obscene or coarse (cf. Ephesians 5:4) – and wrongly labeled them sinful in themselves. The effects of the Pietistic movement can still be felt in the Lutheran Church today, and Strieter was not exempt from them in his day either, even though he certainly knew about Pietism and opposed it in principle. One can appreciate his concern: Lust, drunkenness, and self-abandonment are all sins, and certainly those sins abound in the kind of raucous scenes he is describing. However, while acknowledging that we do not know all the details and therefore must be cautious in judgment, it could be that Strieter went too far in refusing the Lord’s Supper to the musicians.

21 See previous chapter and endnote 12 there.

22 An expression taken from Romans 16:18

[Read the next part here.]

Prayer for the Love of Christ

By Johann Arndt

Translator’s Preface

The following was translated from Johann Arndt’s Paradies-Gärtlein Voller Christlicher Tugenden: Wie Dieselben durch Andächtige Lehr- und Trostreiche Gebete in die Seele zu Pflantzen Seyen (Little Garden of Paradise, Filled with Christian Virtues, Showing How They Should Be Planted in the Soul through Devotional Prayers That Are Rich in Doctrine and Comfort) (Nuremberg: Joh. Andreae Endters Seel. Sohn und Erben, 1710), p. 185-188. Arndt’s original work was published in Magdeburg in 1612.

The book is divided into three “registers” of prayers. The first register is divided into five “classes.” The first class contains prayers for virtues that follow the Ten Commandments. The second class comprises prayers of thanksgiving for the benefits shown to us by God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. The third class has prayers for comfort in time of cross and tribulation. The fourth class contains prayers that are a sort of companion to Luther’s Table of Duties in the Small Catechism. And the fifth and final class consists of prayers of praise and joy “to the honor and praise of God’s name.”

The particular prayer that follows is #5 from the second class in the first register. It is significant for the Lutheran Church because Paul Gerhardt (1607-1676), her most famous poet, penned his originally-16-stanza hymn, “O Jesu Christ, mein schönstes Licht,” on the basis of this prayer. (In hymn 479 in Christian Worship, it is reduced to four stanzas under the title, “Jesus, Your Boundless Love to Me.”)

Gerhardt’s poem inspired Philip Friedrich Hiller to transform all the prayers in Arndt’s work into German hymns in the mid-1700s. More recently, Seminarian Kent Reeder set the words of the Christian Worship translation of Gerhardt’s poem to new music, and his arrangement was chosen as the class hymn by the 2013 graduates of Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary.

In what follows, I have retained Arndt’s original paragraph format, but have inserted numbers to correspond to the stanzas of Gerhardt’s hymn. Perhaps the right reader will stumble upon it, resulting in either a fresh translation of Gerhardt’s (entire) hymn or a new and completely original hymn.

Johann Arndt (1555-1621) is often considered to be the forerunner of the Pietistic movement, due to the extremely devotional nature of his works. Then again, a pious author of a dogmatic treatise is often labeled an orthodoxist simply because he deals in dogmas, while a doctrinally-sensitive devotional writer is often labeled a pietist simply because he deals in prayers and meditations. (There are some religious scholars who seem to think that the internal life of Johann Gerhard, who came under Arndt’s influence in his teens, was one huge contradiction, since he made considerable contributions to both dogmatics and devotional literature.) The fact is, even the title of Arndt’s work (“…Prayers that Are Rich in Doctrine and Comfort“) shows that you cannot be a true dogmatician without being devotional, and no devotional writer worth his salt is ignorant of biblical doctrine. True doctrine, rightly understood and taught, always leads to and fuels personal piety. Paul Gerhardt himself clearly appreciated and benefited from Arndt’s devotional writings, and yet this was the same Gerhardt who, while pastor in Berlin, refused to sign a promise not to preach against Reformed doctrine from the pulpit, and was consequently deposed from his office in 1666.

Having said that, the prayer below may strike the modern Lutheran reader as almost embarrassingly schmaltzy. If Gerhardt had not thought so highly of it, we might be tempted to dismiss it as emotional fluff. But such strong, poetic love language serves us well in three ways:

  1. It calls to mind the relationship between Christ and his Church, which the Bible portrays in terms of marriage.
  2. It vividly reminds us that Jesus should always be the Christian’s highest and greatest love. (If the prayer makes us uncomfortable, we do well to ask ourselves, “Am I uncomfortable simply because I don’t express my love the same way Arndt does, or is it because I don’t actually love Christ more than everything and everyone else?”)
  3. It shows us how profoundly the love of Christ can touch the emotions of certain Christian individuals. Even if we ourselves haven’t experienced that kind of emotional reaction, we can still appreciate the varied ways that the gospel affects humans.

To that end, I present what follows to the glory of the same God whom Arndt worshipped, out of love for the same Savior whom he so passionately loved.

Prayer for the Love of Christ

(1) Ah, my Lord Jesus Christ! Most noble Lover of my soul! Grant me your grace, that my love for you may ever be sincere and new, and that I may say to you: (2) Lord Jesus, my most cherished Love, let me feel nothing else in my heart but your love. Remove from my heart everything that is not your love, for I do not want to have anything else in my heart but your love. (3) Ah, how kind, how charming and sweet is your love! How it refreshes my soul! How it delights my heart! Ah, let me think of, see, desire, perceive, and feel nothing else but your love, for it is everything, it has everything, it touches everything, it surpasses everything. (4) Ah, how I desire to retain this noble treasure in me eternally! Let me keep watch over it day and night and diligently and actively guard this treasure, care for it, pray for it. For this love is the foretaste of eternal life, the portico of paradise. (5) Ah, my Lover! Out of love for me you were wounded; wound my soul with love for you. (6) Ah, your precious blood, poured out from such great love, is so noble, so penetrating, that it may well soften a stony heart. Oh, let it force its way into my heart! That way your love will permeate my heart, for your love is in your blood. (7) Oh, that my heart would open up! It would then receive and soak up your delicate and noble drops of blood, which fell upon the earth when you were in the throes of death [Luke 22:44]. Oh, that I would open the well of my eyes! I would then pour out ardent tears of love, (8) and I would follow after you crying for so long, like a child, until you came to me, took me in your arms, and united yourself with me in your spiritual, heavenly matrimony, so that I would be of one heart, one spirit, and one body with you. (9) Oh, draw me to yourself, so I may run [Psalm 119:32]. Oh, if only I could kiss you in my heart! If only I could perceive your sweet comfort from your mouth! (10) Oh, my Comfort! My Strength, my Life, my Light, my Treasure, my Salvation, my Highest Good, my Love! Unite me to yourself, for all that I have without you and apart from you is purely pain and gall, misery and sorrow, nothing but restlessness and worry. (11) You, however, are my soul’s only rest, peace, and joy.

Therefore, grant that your noble, tender love may always and eternally shine within me. Ah, let the holy fire of your charming love burn in me through and through. Let the fire of holiness, the fire of joy, the gentle, lovely little fiery flame which is without all toil, worry, and anxiety – let this fire refresh me. Let the noble fragrance of your love revive me. Let the precious balm of heaven soothe and heal my heart, that I may run after this noble fragrance of your ointment unobstructed.

(12) Ah, most beautiful Lover! What could there possibly be that I do not have in your love? It is indeed my pasture, my complete sufficiency, my food and drink, my heavenly bread, my sweet wine, my joy, my peace, my gentle rest, my life, my light, my salvation, my blessedness, my wealth, my desire, my honor, my adornment, my glory. (13) Ah, if I should lose your love, what would I have left? Would I not be naked and bare, poor and pitiful? Ah, then let me cry for you, and seek you with tears with Mary Magdalene [John 20:10-16], and never give up until I find you, (14) for you have loved me without fail. Therefore it is purely out of your goodness that you have drawn me to yourself. Ah, let your love guide me at all times! It will then remain with me (15) and bring me back when I go astray. Let it teach me in my ignorance. Let it be my wisdom in my foolishness. Let it call me back when I sin. Let it hold me steady when I stumble. Let it help me up when I fall. (16) Let it comfort me when I am troubled. Let it strengthen me when I am weak. Let it fan into flame the smoldering wick of my faith when it is about to go out. Let it take me to itself when I depart and keep me eternally at its side. Amen.