Danish: Jeg ved et evigt himmerig
German: Ich weiss ein ewiges Himmelreich
Norwegian: Eg veit i himmelen ei borg
Text: Hans Christensen Sthen (1544-1610) Tune: Hallingdal Folktune
Congregation: 1. I know a kingdom without end,
Where shines a bright tomorrow.
There is no weeping there, nor sin,
No any tears of sorrow.
Congregation: 2. Within it dwells God’s only Son
In splendor and in glory;
My hope and comfort, he’s the one
Who waits in heaven for me.
Congregation: 3. A pilgrim here, I’m on my way,
Away from my deceiver.
I’m bound for heav’n, I long to be
Beside the crystal river.
Christ: 4. I have redeemed you with my blood
And I will come to greet you.
I’ll fill your heart with all things good,
With joy and gladness meet you.
5. My word and holy sacraments
I graciously have given.
I take into myself your sins
To make your home in heaven.
6. When gold and joy lose their allure
And worldly things assail you,
I’m waiting here to reassure
Your faith, for I’ll not fail you.
Congregation: 7. Into the world I naked came.
Now all that I have gathered
I leave behind without a claim
When passing through death’s waters.
8. And this I know, one morning bright
When death’s dark night is over,
My body will arise from night
And heav’nly joys discover.
9. So help us, dear Lord Jesus Christ;
Your blood for us was given,
Your bitter death and sacrifice
Has won for us bright heaven.
10. I thank you Lord eternally,
My gracious God forever,
For you have been so kind to me
In Jesus Christ our Savior!
Tr. Gracia Grindal
When hymn texts are translated from one language to another, it is probably not mainly for what they say, but the tune they are associated with. A beautiful melody is universal and people want to sing it. They need words. Poets who love music want to make it available to people in their own language. This hymn was on the lips of many people in Northern Europe, scholars say. Where it started is vague. It clearly had German roots. The melody, however, was not this one. The text has been in the hymnals of Danes since the Reformation. I grew up with it in the Concordia. It is where I first saw the strange name of the Danish pastor Hans Christensen Sthen. The spelling always interested me. He preceded the three great Danes of hymnody, and was a worthy poet.
Then I started seeing it on CDs of religious folk/pop and choral singers in the north. The text was longer than what was in our hymnal and involved a dialogue between Christ and the congregation. But what grabbed me was its beautiful folk tune. Its beauty and longing for the heavenly kingdom are simply transfixing. Performances range from classical choral to rock and roll.
A text longing for release from this world is not what the hedonists of our generation might be interested in, but here we have it. It has been very popular. Maybe the picture it paints of heaven and its glories still speak to those who have not yet said yes to the Gospel, but who will come to. Up against death the song teaches, the allures of the world do not count for much. We need something eternal. I am glad it is popular. Beauty can be a tool for evangelism.
It is likely that as some of those who came to love the hymn face their pilgrimage over the river, the words they sang in their youth will sound in their heads as they begin the journey. We know how even those with severe Alzheimers can remember words of songs long after they have lost the ability to have a conversation. What better reasons to have beautiful melodies with gospel words for people to sing: “When death’s dark night is over, /My body will arise from night/ And heav’nly joys discover.” The words teach them the way of salvation, how Jesus' sacrifice has won us heaven. So lovely, so true. God works in mysterious ways his wonders to perform!
Sthen was a pastor in the kingdom of Denmark, which at the time included much of southern Sweden, or Skåne, right across the water from Copenhagen. He heard the German version of this and translated it for inclusion in his En liden Vandringsbog before 1600. It was included in Danish collections until Kingo in 1699 who did not use it, but it remained in the memory.
It was translated into Nynorsk by Bernt Støylen in 1905. It has become a constant presence in the repertoires of performers. It is a little difficult for a congregation, but people love to hear it.
Sissel with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir
Anne Lise Berntsen and Nils Asheim
Tor Gustafson Quartet/jazz version
Saxophone and Organ
Sissel in 1995