top of page

HYMN 306 Built on a Rock the Church Does Stand

1 Peter 2:4-8

Danish: Kirken, den er et gammelt hus

Icelandic: Kirkja vors Guðs er gamalt hús

Norwegian: Kirken, den er et gammelt hus

Text: Nikolaj Fredrick Severin Grundtvig (1783-1872) Tune: Ludvig Lindeman (1812-1887)

Burning of Cathedral in Copenhagen 1807 by Christoffer Wilhelm Eckersberg

1 Built on the Rock the Church does stand, Even when steeples are falling; Crumbled have spires in every land. Bells still are chiming and calling; Calling the young and old to rest, But above all the soul distressed Longing for rest everlasting. 2 Surely in temples made with hands, God, the Most High, is not dwelling, High above earth His temple stands, All earthly temples excelling; Yet He who heavens cannot contain Chose to abide on our earth again- Building in mortals His temple. 3 We are God's house of living stones, Built for His own habitation; Through his baptismal grace he owns Us by His wondrous salvation; Though we were only two or three He, as he promised us, will be Here with His grace and His favor. 4 Now we may gather with our Lord; Here in the lowliest of houses. As Peter said, “Lord, it is good

Being with you on this mountain;”

Jesus to us his word accords;

Spirit and life are all His words, His truth will hallow our temples. 5 Still we our earthly temples build, So we may herald His praises; They are the homes his presence fills And little children embraces, Beautiful things in them are said, God has in them his promise made, Making us heirs of His kingdom. 6 Here stands the font before our eyes Telling how God has received us; Here we recall Christ's sacrifice And what His table does give us; Here sounds the word that still proclaims Christ yesterday, today the same, Yea, and for aye our Redeemer. 7 Grant then, O God, where'er we live, That when the church-bells are ringing, Many will faith in Christ receive Where he his message is bringing: “I know mine own, mine own know me, You, not the world, my face shall see: My peace I leave you forever.”

8. Never forget what God has done,

Making us stones that are living,

Built by the Word, God’s only Son,

Whom we by faith are receiving.

All that the Spirit does will last

Everything else will fade and pass,

Only God’s Word makes us holy!

Tr. Carl Døving, Stanza 8 GG


Greybrothers square in Copenhagen after the Bombardment 1807 by J.P.Møller

A good hymn for today. Gruntdtvig is said to have written this remembering the 1807 bombardment of Copenhagen by the British during the Napoleonic wars. It destroyed the cathedral and leveled much of the city so he had really seen steeples falling. He understood the fragility of even the sturdiest buildings around him.

Grundtvig after his trial sermon

Grundtvig suffered personally for his ideas. For his trial sermon he preached the sermon “Why has God’s Word departed from his house.” It did not bring him acclaim from church officials. His great hymns celebrating the 1000th anniversary of Christianity in 1826 were forbidden during the festivities. He was fined 100 specie dollars for libeling the theologian Henrik Nicolai Clausen and banned from the pulpit for seven years. Later he became pastor at the workhouse church of Vartov hospital where he served until he died. His extensive writings and longevity make him something of an icon in Danish culture. One cannot understand Denmark without coming to grips with Grundtvig.

In 1825 he had what he called a matchless discovery--mageløs opdagelse—that the church was created by the word of our Lord which preceded the Bible. Scripture came from the church which Christ established by his Word, and sacraments—which makes it living today. That put the Apostles’ Creed on par with the Bible. This hymn, the classic of his youth, expresses his discovery clearly.

It is a good hymn for American Lutherans to sing on this day as we watch the inauguration of a new president and the change in leadership that has been about as stormy as any in American history.

Earthly powers are not where believers are to put their trust. Grundtvig speaks of the peace Christ gives when he dwells within us. Politics will never give us that kind of peace, a peace that the world simply cannot understand.

Grundtvig as an old man

Grundtvig wrote this in a time of great upheaval for him and his ideas. When everything is crashing down around us, it is a wonderful to think we are God's temple of living stones. We can find peace in the faith that God is among us, dwelling with us. That should give us peace whether we are joyful at the results of the election or upset. So today, as the last stanza, which was not translated before, has it, “Never forget what God has done---All that the Spirit does will last/Everything else will fade and pass/Only God’s word makes us holy!”


This first appeared in Grundtvig’s collection Sang=Værk in 1837. Lindemann’s tune appealed very much to Grundtvig. This is the one hymn from the Dano-Norwegian tradition popular world wide. Carl Døving’s translation is pretty good. While the first line is not a literal translation of the Danish—The church is an ancient house—Doving’s version resonates with the other images of God’s living stones. Grundtvig's matchless discovery, however, gave Norwegian theologians in America the hives, especially that the Apostles' Creed was equal with Scripture. Hermann A. Preus, (1826-1894), president of the Norwegian Synod, banned any Grundtvig hymns in the hymnal, and resolutely opposed Grundtvigianism, calling him the great "destroyer of Lutheranism." His colleague Vilhelm Koren, the editor of the hymnal, observed the ban, but after Preus died, included some Grundtvig hymns in the hymnal.


National Lutheran Choir with Dave Cherwien/a bit long but thrilling!

St. Olaf Choir with F. Melius Christiansen’s famous arrangement

Muica Ficta Bo Holten’s Choir

Mons Takle’s version played by Jan Peter Teeuw

Norwegian Choir from Hymns Minute by Minute

Iver Kleive and Knut Reiesrud

NB: Lent is less than a month away. A wonderful Lenten discipline is reading the Passion hymns, one for every day of Lent, by Icelandic poet Hallgrímur Pétursson. Follow the link to buy it and receive it in time.

110 views0 comments


bottom of page