Norwegian: Kven kan seia ut den glede
Text: Lars Oftedal (1838-1900). Tune: Folk tune from Setesdal
1. Who can tell their joy and gladness
To be made a bride of Christ,
Wear a crown and wedding garment
On the way to Paradise!
2. Once I lay in sin and darkness
Heavy were my steps and way,
Then came Jesus with his mercy
Made me joyful on that day.
3. Yes, that day—oh, what a blessing!
Nevermore will I forget
When I heard my shepherd calling
And was made my Jesus’ friend.
4. Who can tell of all the pleasures
To belong to Christ my Lord.
Jesus is my life, my ending
His I am forevermore!
Tr. Gracia Grindal
The untrammeled joy of this hymn has made it one of the favorites in Norway for those who have experienced a dramatic new birth in Christ. It is filled with images common to pietism—to be a bride of Christ, to be his friend, for him to be our Shepherd whose voice we hear—it brings a joy to the singer that cannot be stopped, and maybe is over the top for some. Hyperbole, as I have said, is the language of hymnody and here we have it.
The writer of the text, and the one who chose the tune, Lars Oftedal, of Stavanger, had just suffered a fall from grace that is still remembered in Norway.
Lars had experienced an awakening while at Christiania University where he was studying theology with Gisle Johnson, the teacher of many of the pastors who came to America from Norway. Oftedal's younger brother Sven Oftedal (1844-1911) was a leading professor with Georg Sverdrup (1849-1907) at Augsburg Seminary in Minneapolis. After Sverdrup's death, Sven served briefly as president of Augsburg. Both had studied with Johnson.
After Lars passed his examination in 1865, he worked for Bergen's Innermission Society as a traveling evangelist. His ministry from the first was filled with strife and opposition. Troubles with his bishop led him to become a pastor in the Seaman’s Mission in Cardiff where he served two years, but left after his sermons were criticized for their strong condemnation of worldliness. He returned to Norway without a call, and suffered much opposition from local pastors while he served the Innermission in the Arendal district.
He was named to a post in Hetland near Stavanger in 1874. His work continued and grew. He built a prayer house (bedehus) in Stavanger that year, but by the next year it had to be added to in order to hold the large crowds his ministry drew. Around that he built a school, an orphanage, and other institutions of mercy, later a publishing house and factories where the orphans could work. He was always seeking new enterprises that would help the poor in the area. Thousands were inspired by his preaching and encouragement, despite the fierce opposition of other pastors.
Knut Hamsun later wrote a book about him, as did Alexander Kielland, one of Norway's greatest writers at the time. His novel, Sankt Hans Fest, (1887) satirized Oftedal who, while he was in Parliament, opposed Kielland's being awarded a writer's stipend. Despite that, maybe because of that, his work flourished. He became spiritual advisor to many in the region. Even the deaconess Elisabeth Fedde (1850-1921) sought his advice about going into the diaconate. He told her to do so and wrote her a recommendation.
He was an important figure in the country. He became a member of the Norwegian Parliament, and a newspaper editor, establishing Vestlandsposten. But on November 21, 1891, he stood before his congregation and confessed that he had not been faithful to his wife. He resigned his pastorate and suffered what has ever since been called his fall. What exactly he did is not clear to his biographers. The rumors were lurid and ugly--his enemies took great pleasure in them. His offense never was explained except for his confession that he had been unfaithful.
Money and sex are the big temptations for charismatic evangelists, Their opponents accuse them of failing in these regards, even Hans Nielsen Hauge was accused of things he did not do. Billy Graham, when he founded his association, wisely made the strict rule that he would never be alone with a woman except for his wife, nor would he have anything to do with the money the Billy Graham Association raised. It served him well throughout his ministry.
After his fall, Oftedal continued as a preacher and built a larger prayer house in the city. In 1893 he began editing the paper, Stavanger Aftenblad, which continued long after his death, under the editorship of his son, Lars Oftedal, and later his grandson. Regardless of his critics, his sins, and his fall, historians regard him as someone to whom attention must be paid, a man of many gifts, restless ambition, and eloquence.
Whether or not this hymn was written out of his own grief and joy over his sin and forgiveness, it has the sound of someone who understands the great gift of salvation from Jesus. The joy he felt is clear in the song. Whether or not we have had such an experience of falling and being raised up by the grace of God, the hymn can speak for many of us and give us words to express our own joys in the love of Jesus. To belong to him and to be made new can be a one time cataclysmic experience, but it is also something we can experience each day as we confess our sins and hear Jesus, once again, promise that we are his.
This hymn first appeared in a novel Oftedal wrote. He printed it in his songbook, Basunrøst og Harpen, 1893, which he had been printing and editing since 1870. He was very shrewd about the folk tunes he found for his hymns. He may have learned this folk tune during his travels in Setesdal during his work around Sørlandet. He knew the area well and was well known there. Over the decades it sold over 200,000 copies, a substantial number, almost one tenth of the population, as Norway had some 2,200,000 inhabitants in 1900. It was a popular book in America as well, but his fall caused some people to draw back from supporting him. It is an important song from a time of many such spiritual songs. It has only increased in popularity. Don’t miss the organist, Mons Takle’s spectacular version of it!
Arve Moen Bergset
Mons Takle/organ version