HYMN 118 If God Himself be for Me
German: Ist Gott für mich
Norwegian: Er Gud for meg, så trede
Text: Paul Gerhardt (1607-1676) Tune: Melchior Teschner (1584-1635)
1. If God Himself be for me, I may a host defy; For when I pray, before me My foes confounded, fly. If Christ, my Head and Master, Befriend me from above, What foe or what disaster Can drive me from His love? 2. This I believe, yea, rather, Of this I make my boast, That God is my dear Father, The Friend who loves me most, And that, whate'er betide me, My Savior is at hand Thro' stormy seas to guide me And bring me safe to land. 3. I build on this foundation, That Jesus and His blood Alone are my salvation, The true, eternal good. Without Him all that pleases Is valueless on earth; The gifts I owe to Jesus Alone my love are worth. 4. My Jesus is my Splendor, My Sun, my Light, alone; Were He not my Defender Before God's awe-full throne, I never should find favor And mercy in His sight, But be destroyed forever As darkness by the light. 5. He canceled my offenses, Delivered me from death; He is the Lord who cleanses My soul from sin through faith. In Him I can be cheerful, Bold, and undaunted aye; In Him I am not fearful Of God's great Judgment Day. 6. Naught, naught, can e'er condemn me Nor set my hope aside; Now hell no more can claim me Its fury I deride. No sentence e'er reproves me, No ill destroys my peace; For Christ, my Savior, loves me And shields me with His grace. 7. His Spirit in me dwelleth, And o'er my mind He reigns. All sorrow He dispelleth And soothes away all pains. He crowns His work with blessing And helpeth me to cry, "My Father!" without ceasing, To Him who dwells on high. 8. And when my soul is lying Weak, trembling, and opprest, He pleads with groans and sighing That cannot be expressed; But God's quick eye discerns them, Although they give no sound, And into language turns them E'en in the heart's deep ground. 9. To mine His Spirit speaketh Sweet word of holy cheer, How God, to him that seeketh For rest, is always near And how He hath erected A city fair and new, Where what our faith expected We evermore shall view. 10. In yonder home doth flourish My heritage, my lot; Though here I die and perish, My heaven shall fail me not. Though care my life oft saddens And causeth tears to flow, The light of Jesus gladdens And sweetens every woe. 11. Who clings with resolution To Him whom Satan hates Must look for persecution; For him the burden waits Of mockery, shame, and losses. Heaped on his blameless head; A thousand plagues and crosses Will be his daily bread. 12. From me this is not hidden, Yet I am not afraid; I leave my cares, as bidden, To whom my vows were paid. Though life and limb it cost me, And everything I own, Unshaken shall I trust Thee And cleave to Thee alone. 13. Though earth be rent asunder, Thou'rt mine eternally; Not fire nor sword nor thunder Shall sever me from Thee; Not hunger, thirst, nor danger, Not pain nor poverty Nor mighty princes' anger Shall ever hinder me. 14. No angel and no gladness, No throne, no pomp, nor show, No love, no hate, no sadness, No pain, no depth of woe, No scheme of man's contrivance, Though it be small or great, Shall draw me from Thy guidance Nor from Thee separate. 15. My heart for joy is springing And can no more be sad, 'Tis full of mirth and singing, Sees naught but sunshine glad. The Sun that cheers my spirit Is Jesus Christ, my King; The heaven I shall inherit Makes me rejoice and sing.
Tr. Richard Massie (1800-1887)
This is the crowning hymn of Paul Gerhardt's work, too long for people today. Especially if you stand to sing the hymn, something Lutherans rarely did until recently. Their hymns were long sermons on Scripture. When Lutherans started standing to sing, the stanzas had to be cut.
Put yourself back in a time when the hymnal was for home use. Time weighed heavily upon you during the long winter months; you had only the hymnal to read, which included the Bible readings for each Sunday. The hymnal would be the place you would go for spiritual succor. Long hymns were a blessing.
This hymn was published in Praxis Pietatis Melica in 1654, a relatively peaceful time, but things would deteriorate badly for Gerhardt in the next decade when he moved to Berlin to work with Johann Crüger (1598-1662), the musician. His wife would die, as would four of their five children, he would lose his call, and face dire poverty. We can hear in the hymn he knew whereof he spoke. The portrait above stands in the chancel of Gerhardt's church in Lübben, with the title, "Paul Gerhardt, a theologian sifted in the crib of Satan."
The hymn teaches us how to face trouble, standing firm in the faith, joyfully, with words from the most significant verses in one of the greatest chapters in the Bible, Romans 8:31-39.
The translation in the Concordia, also by Massie, has a different ending. “The sun which always cheers me is Jesus Christ alone./To have him always near me/Is heav’n itself begun.” The German means something like that, but Massie's most common version is "The heaven I shall inherit/Makes me rejoice and sing." The Concordia translation says more than the German, but it says it better!
Knowing Jesus is knowing heaven. It brought joy to those singing the hymn in dark times. The people gathered around grandma or grandpa in their simple homes must have found great comfort and joy in singing these hymns, maybe a few stanzas at a time. The hymn teaches and preaches what Gerhardt calls the sun at the center of our faith, Jesus Christ our Lord. "With joy my heart is springing!"
The tune used in Germany and most places now is the beautiful tune, "Valet will ich dir geben," also known as St. Theodulf. Bach used the tune in his St. John’s Passion, and in Cantata 95. It is a lovely tune well-matched to the text.
German jazz trio
Bach Cantata 95. Christus, der ist mein Leben/ Valet Will ich dir geben at 4:30