Danish: Jeg så ham som barn
Faroese: Eg sá hann sum barn vit ti vórika eyga
Norwegian: Jeg så ham som barn
Text: Schøller Parelius Vilhelm Birkedal (1809-1892) Tune: Norwegian Folktune
1 I saw Him in childhood with eyes brightly beaming, At home in the hills where the sun-light was streaming; We played with the stars, on the clouds swiftly riding, And saw not the cross which the woodlands were hiding.
2 I saw Him in youth when my soul was unfolding, My spirit flew high when His glory beholding; He beckoned my soul, and He filled me with gladness, His glory lent brightness to life's gloom and sadness.
3 I saw Him when grown up, when Adam resembling, My soul for His righteous judgment was trembling, When dimmed were my eyes and my vision was darkened, Since unto the tempter my spirit had harkened.
4 First then I could call Him my Master and Savior, First then I could look on the cross as a favor, First then I could give Him my down-broken spirit, In life and in death to rely on His merit.
5 Since then I have told Him, to Him I will hurry With weeping my face in His bosom to bury; Since then I have asked Him with mercy to guide me And in His pavilion securely to hide me.
6 To Him I will hasten, His name softly calling When broken and weary my house shall be falling; I'll greet Him with joy when my heart ceases beating, And unto His kingdom my spirit is fleeting. Tr. P. C. Paulson
MEDITATION Those who grew up with the Concordia hymnal will name this song, along with “The Sun has gone down” as a favorite hymn. The text is now very dated, sentimental and what English speakers would call Victorian. Mostly out of fashion today when our sentimentality has changed.
I often teased John Ylvisaker about “Borning Cry” saying it was the 20th century version of this hymn. Since we had both grown up with the Concordia and loved it, he knew whereof I spoke.
What both hymns do is give us ways to speak of the stages of our lives as they were graced by Jesus Christ. One of the reasons “Borning Cry” became so popular is that it gave people a song to sing during significant life passages—baptism, confirmation, marriage, growing older, and dying. Not many hymns are that comprehensive. These two do not fit a liturgical season or a weekly lesson, in fact this hymn has been criticized for not being liturgical or Scriptural enough. People needed them for the ceremonies in their lives. Looking for a song, they saw that John’s was a natural. Much like this one was. This hymn also has a lovely melody which helps a lot.
Birkedal’s text is vivid, especially the first stanza. We can understand its almost Wordsworthian glee in being young and innocent, and then the time when one is becoming an adult and beginning to see one’s sins and the need for the cross. Then we see how Christ brings us into his pavillions where he will keep us forever.
Frequently people will ask me about an old hymn their grandparents have requested for their funerals. Fewer and fewer are asking about this one. But for those who do, it is a pleasure for me to think of them singing it when they were young and remembering it when they grew old. It described their lives in relationship to the cross of Jesus Christ and what it meant as they grew into mature Christians and turned their eyes to the end where they will greet the Lord with joy.
Vilhelm Birkedal began his work in Denmark’s Golden age. He became a Danish pastor after some trouble identifying his calling. In 1829 he began studying theology with some of the most important thinkers in Denmark at the time, especially N. F. S. Grundtvig. After he became a pastor he made a mark as a warm and passionate preacher. He was a liberal in the political movements of the day, and known for his fervid partisanship on the Danish side of the Second Schleswig War of 1864. He was heard to have prayed during the service, "God, give the King a Danish heart, if it is possible.” This did not endear him to the authorities so his position was taken from him. His congregation defended him and became a free congregation (Valgmenighed) to call him as its pastor. He served there until he left to teach at a girls’ school in Vældegaard.
He continued writing through his life time; and was known in Denmark as one of its finest preachers, eloquent and poetic, tinged with some of the mysticism of the Middle Ages.
PS I have a vague memory that F. Melius Christiansen wrote a choral anthem on this hymn. Can anyone remember?
LINKS Aera Salmer https://youtu.be/eS-ZRDA0MUU
Faroese Version https://youtu.be/V9ftR7oeDj0
Aera Salmer https://youtu.be/NO1eXshEJac
Improvisations on tune Thorbjörn Sjögren https://youtu.be/SSVUa81e4Bc