Sunday, 25 February 2018

Christian War Hymns: Gustavus Adolphus Battle Song

Out of the heroic struggles of the Thirty Years' War, which saved for the world the fruit of the sixteenth century Reformation, there stands forth one gigantic son of the Vikings, the noble Gustavus 
Adolphus, king of Sweden. 

His name is inseparably linked with one of the really great hymns of the Church — a hymn which was born in the midst of the conflict and is especially expressive of the faith and heroism which characterizes all true believers in the midst of trials and dangers. 


Fear not, little flock, the foe 
Who madly seeks your overthrow; 

Dread not his rage and power: 
What though your courage sometimes faints. 
His seeming triumph o'er God's saints 

Lasts but a little hour. 

Be of good cheer; your cause belongs 
To Him who can avenge your wrongs; 

Leave it to Him, our Lord. 
Though hidden yet from mortal eyes, 
Salvation shall for you arise: 

He girdeth on His sword! 

As true as God's own word is true, 
Not earth nor hell with all their crew 

Against us shall prevail. 
A jest and byword are they grown: 
God is with us; we are His own; 

Our victory cannot fail. 

Amen, Lord Jesus, grant our prayer! 
Great Captain, now Thine arm make bare; 

Fight for us once again! 
So shall Thy saints and martyrs raise 
A mighty chorus to Thy praise, 

World without end. Amen. 



The hymn was written to commemorate the victory of the Protestant armies under Gustavus Adolphus on the field of Leipzig, September, 17, 1631. 

The authorship is somewhat uncertain. It is popularly ascribed to King Gustavus Adolphus himself. There are good authorities who say that his chaplain, Jacob Fabricius, was the real author. 

Still others, and with the weight of evidence in their favor, say that the author was Johann Michael Altenberg, a Lutheran pastor, who was compelled to flee from his home during the Thirty Years' War. 

While at Erfurt he wrote this hymn to celebrate the victory of the Swedish king and his army over Roman Catholic forces at Leipzig. Gustavus Adolphus, the Swedish king and commander, was so taken with it that he used it constantly and ordered it to be sung before every battle thereafter. This accounts for the title and the accredited authorship. He made it his own. 

The oldest form of the hymn is published as a pamphlet, which appeared shortly after the battle of Lutzen. A copy of this pamphlet is to be found in the Royal Library in Berlin and another in the Totvh Library in Hamburg. 

We are told that on the morning of November, 16, 1632, King Gustavus Adolphus' forces engaged Wallenstein's army in the decisive battle of Liitzen. Early in the morning the king summoned his court preacher, Fabricius, and directed him to hold a service of prayer for the whole army. 

While a thick mist still covered the field the king's battle hymn was sung. Gustavus then gave the watchword for the fight — ''God with us" — rode before the army to encourage his soldiers and commanded that as the troops advanced the trumpets should play ''Ein Feste Burg" and "Es woll uns Gott gnadig sein." 

The battle was fiercely fought, the king falling, but victory came and evangelical liberty was assured and sealed by the blood of the martyred Swedish king. Because of the use of this hymn on the morning of his death it is often called 'The Swan Song of King Gustavus Adolphus." 

The prayer which the king uttered that morning has been preserved. It was his usual battle prayer, and embraced the following brief sentences: "O Lord Jesus Christ, bless our armies and this day's battle, for the glory of Thy holy name! Amen." 

Uttering the battle cry, "God with us!" he fought till he fell from his charger in the front of his valiant troops, when from the lips of the dying king came these words, "I seal with my blood the liberty and religion of the German nation." It was the heroic and worthy ending of a martyr, an incident which adds imperishable interest to the hymn. 

Well has Frederick Saunders said: "What struggles of soul have some of these hymns not witnessed, in what strange and stirring scenes have they not mingled! How has their melody and sweet inspiration brought solace to sorrow, and lent ecstasy to spiritual joy! Like the words of the Holy Book, they linger in the memory; and, in the hours of despondency and gloom, how often have they lifted us up from the earthliness of our being, and also imparted even to the sick and dying wondrous consolation." 

How we should seek to know the origin and enter into the spirit of the hymns we sing ! 

Concerning Gustavus Adolphus' hymn we might add that it is published in the Swedish hymn book of 1819, a book in extensive use both in Sweden and America, and there ascribed to the king himself. 

In the Swedish Lutheran churches in this country it is invariably sung at Reformation festivals and also at Gustavus Adolphus Day (November 6) celebrations. It is also in very general use in all Lutheran churches in this country and increasing in popularity and use every year. 

It was sung at the dedication of the Gustavus Adolphus Chapel at Liitzen November 6, 1907. This chapel was the gift of Conrad Oscar Ekman, of Sweden, to the city of Liitzen. 

It stands on the spot which tradition points out as the place where the great king fell and where "Schwedenstein" was placed. At the dedication there were present representatives of the Church in Germany, Sweden, Finland and America, officially speaking for the followers of Luther and Gustavus Adolphus in those lands. 

It was a great occasion and a high tribute to the man who fell there and whose favorite melody rang out to honor the man who had found strengthening for his faith in the rugged words of the old battle song, which had aided in bringing to a successful issue the terrors of the Thirty Years' Wax. 

Whether German or Swede may claim this hymn is a question. They both rightly own it. It is a general favorite in Germany. Every Sunday in the home of the great German Lutheran pietist, Philip Jacob Spener, this hymn was sung. 

It is regularly used at the meetings of the Gustavus Adolphus Union, an association organized for the express purpose of helping Protestant Churches in Roman Catholic countries. This would seem to be an eminently appropriate use of this hymn so closely associated with the Protestant struggle and the Protestant 
victory. 

The hymn has been translated into many languages and is in wide use. There are a number of English translations, the most generally used of which is the one we have given above from the pen of Miss Winkworth. 

A hymn which is a contrast to the battle hymn of the Swedish king is Dr. Paul Eber's hymn, which he composed, based on the words of King Jehoshaphat (2 Chron, 20 : 12). There are a number of translations, but as is so often the case, the favorite one which we give is that from the pen of 
Miss Wink worth. 

Zion stands by hills surrounded. The Safety of the Church

Among the seven hundred and sixty-five hymns written by Thomas Kelly is one on the safety of the Church which is worthy of a place in any good hymn book. 

The author, who was a son of an eminent Irish judge, was educated with a view to the law; but through spiritual conviction gave himself to the work of the ministry. With Rowland Hill, because of his earnest evangelical preaching, he was inhibited by the Archbishop of Dublin and compelled to preach in unconsecrated buildings. 

He eventually seceded from the Established Church and erected a number of places of worship in which he conducted worship and preached. This insight into the life of the author will materially increase our appreciation of his hymn in which he sings of the safety of the Church. 

HYMN ON THE SAFETY OF THE CHURCH 

Zion stands with hills surrounded; 

Zion kept by power divine; 
All her foes shall be confounded. 

Though the world in arms combine. 
Happy Zion, 

What a favored lot is thine! 

Every human tie may perish; 

Friend to friend unfaithful prove; 
Mothers cease their own to cherish; 

Heaven and earth at last remove; 
But no changes 

Can attend Jehovah's love. 


In the furnace God may prove thee, 
Thence to bring thee forth more bright, 

But can never cease to love thee; 
Thou art precious in His sight: 

God is with thee, 
God, thine everlasting Light. 

The Church's One Foundation : Festival Hymn of the Church

A hymn which has an interesting origin and history is the hymn usually called by its first line, "The Church's One Foundation." It was written by Samuel J. Stone in 1866. 

The story of its conception in the mind of the waiter is that he was impressed by the defence of the Catholic Faith made by Bishop Gray, of Capetown, against the teachings of Bishop Colenso. This fact gives it an historic association which adds interest and meaning to its stanzas, which in the original number ten. 

The hymn as it appeared originally is an elaboration of that portion of the Apostles' Creed which is indicated by the title, 'The Holy Catholic Church: The Communion of Saints. He is the Head of the Body, the Church." 

This title is given to the hymn in the author's collection known as "Lyra Fidelium." It is a festival hymn of the church.
Samuel J. Stone

We give herewith those stanzas which are most familiar and most widely used. 


The Church's one foundation 

Is Jesus Christ her Lord; 
She is His new creation 

By water and the Word; 
From heaven He came, and sought her 

To be His holy Bride, 
With His own blood He bought her, 

And for her life He died. 



Elect from every nation, 

Yet one o'er all the earth, 
Her charter of salvation 

One Lord, one Faith, one Birth; 
One holy Name she blesses. 

Partakes one holy Food, 
And to one Hope she presses. 

With every grace endued. 



Though with a scornful wonder 

Men see her sore opprest, 
By schisms rent asunder. 

By heresies distrest; 
Yet saints their watch are keeping, 

Their cry goes up, "How long?" 
And soon the night of weeping 

Shall be the morn of song. 



Mid toil and tribulation, 

And tumult of her war, 
She waits the consummation 

Of peace for evermore; 
Till with the vision glorious 

Her longing eyes are blest, 
And the great Church victorious 

Shall be the Church at rest. 

Saturday, 24 February 2018

Saved From Certain Death While Singing Jesus Lover of My Soul Hymn

A War Incident 

A party of Northern tourists formed part of a large company gathered on the deck of an excursion steamer that was moving slowly down the historic Potomac one beautiful evening in the summer of 1881. 

A gentleman, who has since gained a national reputation as an evangelist of song, had been delighting the party with his happy rendering of many familiar hymns, the last being the sweet petition so dear to every Christian heart, "Jesus, lover of my soul.'' 

The singer gave the first two verses with much feeling, and a peculiar emphasis upon the concluding lines that thrilled every heart. A hush had fallen upon the listeners that was not broken for some seconds after the musical notes had died away. 

Then a gentleman made his way from the outskirts of the crowd to the side of the singer, and accosted him with, ''Beg pardon, stranger, but were you actively engaged in the late war?" 

''Yes, sir," the man of song answered, courteously; "I fought under General Grant." 

"Well," the first speaker continued with something like a sigh, "I did my fighting on the other side, and think, indeed am quite sure, I was very near you one bright night eighteen years ago this very month. 

It was very much such a night as this. If I am not mistaken, you were on guard duty. We of the South had sharp business on hand, and you were one of the enemy. I crept near your post of duty, my murderous weapon in hand. The shadows hid me. 

Your beat led you into the clear light. As you paced back and forth you were humming the tune you have just sung. I raised my gun and aimed at your heart, and I had been selected by our commander for the work because I was a sure shot. Then, out upon the night rang the words — 

'Cover my defenceless head 
With the shadow of Thy wing.' 

Your prayer was answered. I couldn't fire after that. And there was no attack made on your camp that night. I felt sure, when I heard you sing this evening, that you were the man whose life I was spared from taking.'' 

The singer grasped the hand of the Southerner, and said, with much emotion: ''I remember the night very well, and distinctly the feeling of depression and loneliness with which I went forth to my duty. 

I knew my post was one of great danger, and I was more dejected than I remember to have been at any time during the service. I paced my lonely beat, thinking of home and friends and all that life holds dear. 

Then the thought of God's care for all that He has created came to me with peculiar force. If He so cares for the sparrow, how much more for man created in His own image.

And I sang the prayer of my heart, and ceased to feel alone. How the prayer was answered I never knew until this evening. My heavenly Father thought best to keep the knowledge from me for eighteen years. 

How much of His goodness to us we shall be ignorant of until it is revealed by the light of eternity! 
'Jesus, lover of my soul,' has been a favorite hymn to me; now it will be inexpressibly dear." 

The incident given in the above sketch is a true one, and was related by a lady who was one of the party on the steamer. 

Source: Henky Maetyn Kieffeb, Short Stories of Hymns