We sang this hymn yesterday on All Saints’ Sunday. I suppose I’ve sung it many times before, but as with so many hymns, I didn’t pay particular attention to the text. Then, a parishioner drew my attention to verse 4:
These are they whose hearts were riven,
sore with woe and anguish tried,
who in prayer full oft have striven
with the God they glorified;
now, their painful conflict o’er,
God has bid them weep no more.
The first two verses of the hymn are a description of the saints arrayed before God’s throne, asking the question: who are they? Verse three begins to answer the question. So verse four is an answer to the question of who are the saints?
What’s wonderful about verse four is that it describes people who do not simply submit to God’s will:
“who in prayer full oft have striven with the God they glorified.”
In other words, their prayer has often been an intense struggle with God. It’s a powerful description of one aspect of a devout Christian life.
The text is a translation by Frances Elizabeth Cox of a hymn written by Theobald Heinrich Schenck (1656-1727). I tried to learn more about the author. He was German, educated at Giessen University (in Hesse) taught in the high school (Gymnasium) there and then became a pastor. It’s the only hymn he wrote that was published. His other publications are several funeral sermons (a popular genre of edifying literature in the early modern period). Giessen was a hotbed of Pietism in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, but whether Schenck belonged to that reform movement is not mentioned in the material I found.
I was also unable to find the original German text of the hymn. No doubt I’ve got it in a hymnal somewhere, but apparently the Germans aren’t as quick to put stuff like that on the internet. I’d be curious to see what it reads like in the original. There are a total of fifteen verses in the original.