Danish: Guds Søn kom ned fra Himmerig
German: Es ist das Heil
Text: Paul Speratus (1484-1551). Tune: From medieval Nürnberg
1 To us salvation now is come, Through free-est grace and favor, Our works could not avert our doom, They keep and save us never; Faith looks to Jesus Christ alone, Who did for all the world atone; He is our one Redeemer.
2 What God doth in His law demand, No man to Him doth render; Before His bar all guilty stand; His law speaks curse in thunder The law demands a perfect heart; We were defiled in every part, And lost was our condition.
3 False dreams deluded minds did fill, That God His law did tender, As if to Him we could, at will, The due obedience render: The law is but a mirror bright To bring the inbred sin to sight, That lurks within our nature.
4 To cleanse ourselves from sinful stain, According to our pleasure, Was labor lost--works were in vain-- Sin grew beyond all measure; For when with power the precept came, It did reveal sin's guilt and shame And awful condemnation.
5 Still all the law fulfilled must be, Else we were lost forever, Then God His Son sent down that He Might us from doom deliver; He all the law for us fulfilled And thus His Father's anger stilled Which over us impended.
6 As Christ hath full atonement made And brought to us salvation, So may each Christian now be glad And build on this foundation: Thy grace alone, dear Lord, I plead, Thy death now is my life indeed, For Thou hast paid my ransom.
7 Not doubting this, I trust in Thee, Thy word cannot be broken, Thou all dost call, "Come to Me!" No falsehood hast Thou spoken: "He who believes and is baptized, He shall be saved," say'st Thou, O Christ, And he shall never perish.
8 The just is he--and he alone-- Who by this faith is living, The faith that by good works is shown, To God the glory giving; Faith gives thee peace with God above, But thou thy neighbor, too, must love, If thou art new created.
9 The law reveals the guilt of sin, And makes man conscience-stricken The gospel then doth enter in, The sin-sick soul to quicken: Come to the cross, look up and live! The law no peace to thee doth give, Nor can its deeds afford it.
10 Faith to the cross of Christ doth cling And rest in Him securely; And forth from it good works must spring As fruits and tokens surely; Still faith doth justify alone, Works serve thy neighbor and make known The faith that lives within thee.
11 Hope waits for the accepted hour-- Till God give joy for mourning, When He displays His healing power, Thy sighs to songs are turning; Thy needs are known unto thy Lord, And He is faithful to His word, This is our hope's foundation.
12 Though it may seem, He hears thee not, Count not thyself forsaken; Thy wants are ne'er by Him forgot, Let this thy hope awaken; His word is sure, here is thy stay, Although thy heart to this saith nay, Let not thy faith be shaken.
13 All blessing, honor, thanks and praise, To Father, Son and Spirit, The God who saved us by His grace, All glory to His merit: O Father in the heavens above, The work begun performs Thy love, Thy worthy name be hallowed.
14 Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done In earth, as 'tis in heaven: Keep us in life, by grace led on, Forgiving and forgiven; Save Thou us in temptation's hour, And from all ills; Thine is the power, And all the glory, Amen! Tr. Henry Mills (1786-1867)
MEDITATION This hymn--too long for us today--needs to be here for historic reasons. The writer, Paul Speratus, worked with Martin Luther and others, like Johann Walter, and Elisabeth Cruciger in the late fall of 1523 and winter of 1524, creating the first Lutheran hymnal. Martin Luther is said to have wept when he heard this clear statement of his theology, Law and Gospel, preached as he had suggested.
Luther had written a letter to his confession, court chaplain Georg Spalatin saying “I intend to make German Psalms for the people, i.e., spiritual songs so that the Word of God even by means of song may live among the people.” (LW 53:221) Scripture and the sermon, and hymns were the Word of God—and would awaken faith in the singers.
Before I fully understood this, I thought this hymn to be missing any devotion. It was a breakthrough when I started reading Luther and Melanchthon on what they understood a hymn should do. It is to teach and preach. Luther Reed, the editor of the Service Book and Hymnal, wrote in the preface they were no longer interested in hymns that were homiletical and "manward," but hymns that were "devotional, and Godward." They preferred English devotional hymns, Anglican and Methodist, which meant they could leave hymns like this out. We got them back when we worked with Missouri on the LBW committee. For them this was a keeper without which no hymnal would be Lutheran. Pray at least the last stanza, a paraphrase of the Lord's Prayer.
"A hymn of Law and Faith, powerfully furnished with God's Words" by Doctor Paul Speratus. He was an early devotee of the evangelical faith. A monk, he started preaching the evangelical faith so clearly that his bishops either put him in prison or sent him off to another call. Born in Swabia, he became the preacher in Würzburg. His bishop sent him away in 1520. He began preaching in the cathedral in Salzburg until the archbishop heard what he was preaching. In 1519, he had married and defended marriage in a sermon condemned by the faculty in Vienna. He ended up in Moravia where he became a popular preacher. He also had to flee and came to Wittenberg at the end of 1523. A gifted man, he was invited to help in the project of writing new hymns. He wrote three hymns and Luther four with one by Justus Jonas, eight hymns that appeared in the first Lutheran hymnal Achtliederbuch, 1524. The tune was a medieval song from Nürnberg. Speratus was appointed bishop of Pomerania by Luther. He died there.
Bach used the hymn in Cantata BWV 9 and Brahms in his Motet Opus 29 which I include below.
LINKS Concordia Publishing Version of the hymn https://youtu.be/bSRMAr4K_gY
Sung with guitar, probably the first way it was heard https://youtu.be/w0Sim2ZSqtA
Brahms' Motet 29 Es ist das Heil https://youtu.be/C4wTo5GKT1Y
Bach Cantata BWV9 Es ist das Heil https://youtu.be/Gp4B9HN-cPY
NB: Lent is less than a month away. A wonderful Lenten discipline is reading the Passion hymns, one for every day of Lent. Follow the link to buy it and receive it in time.