Monday, February 19, 2007

DEUS FORTIS

I first heard the hymn tune DEUS FORTIS (Service Book and Hymnal No. 357) while watching the Oscar-winning film Babette's Feast. The atrocious theology of the lyrics that went with it made me wince, even in Danish. It jammered on about the sovereignty of God, which (it said) would not be harmed if the whole world went to hell. Though it has a difficult metre to work with, one of my ambitions over the years has been to write a good, Lutheran text to go with this tune. Here's an excerpt from my current attempt:

No mere sound, the Word is God eternal,
And His Scripture no mean human journal;
For it is living,
It is life-giving,
At work within you
From sin and darkness to win you.

Once the Word was born of human mother;
God Himself became our very brother:
Our flesh receiving,
Its ills relieving,
For our flesh dying,
Thereby all flesh justifying.

So a maiden won a mother’s honor:
What the angel spoke was done upon her.
The Holy Spirit—
Not by her merit,
But through her hearing—
Begot the babe she was bearing.

Jesus said, “Which are more lightly broken?
Bonds of sin or sickness?” Then, in token
That God’s forgiving
In Him was living,
He charged the cripple:
“Rise, walk!” before all the people.

When the cripple walked, the people shivered:
God had visited and, yes, delivered
The halt and ailing,
The senses failing,
The flesh polluted;
Before His word, fiends were muted.

When in Nain a widow’s heart was breaking,
Her son lived again by Jesus’ speaking.
And she of Jairus
May well inspire us;
Her dirge was playing
When she sat up, Christ obeying.

One He loved had died; in grief appalling,
At the tomb His bitter tears were falling.
Though hope had died out,
Yet Jesus cried out,
So that the grieving
Rejoiced to see Laz’rus living.

To secure for us the Word of pardon,
That strong Word went silent from the garden
When man betrayed Him,
In bonds arrayed Him;
His own denied Him;
With crooked words men belied Him.

All our guilt in Jesus was collected;
As He died, He swore: “It is perfected.”
Thus death is shattered;
Hell’s gates are battered;
This oath of Jesus
From sin and Satan now frees us.

Ere the risen Christ went up to heaven,
Ere the cloud hid Him from the Eleven,
He sent them preaching,
Baptizing, teaching,
Sinners forgiving,
In Word and Sacrament living.

Tho’ to God’s right hand He has ascended,
Be assured: His nearness is not ended.
Where we, believing,
His gifts receiving,
His message telling,
Are gathered, there Christ is dwelling.

His clear voice addresses us, this hour,
With the same life-giving, living power.
He speaks to choose us,
From sins to loose us,
From hell to win us,
To shape His image within us.

Who would spread God’s Word, and yet defy it?
Let who will, do what he may and try it!
The One who sends it
Is He who tends it;
On His Word founded
Stand all His wonders unbounded.

How shall we believe unless we hear it?
How shall we receive the blessed Spirit?
Not by our cunning,
Toiling, or running,
Our will or reason;
He plants and reaps in His season.

Like a seed, His Word has life within it;
Our heart’s stony soil did naught to win it.
His power showing,
He set it growing;
A new creation
Are we, and heirs of salvation.

Father, watch over Thy Word, to do it;
Savior, bless all those who listen to it;
And let the Spirit
Lead us to fear it,
Trust and adore it,
As God Himself acting for us!

1 comment:

Robbie F. said...

This hymn illustrates a point I have made elsewhere: it's OK if a hymn is too long to sing in church. Some hymns are not really written to be sung at all. With this hymn I wrote what I had to write. I find that if I read it while singing DEUS FORTIS in my mind's ear, the tune becomes very annoying after a handful of stanzas. But if I just read it as spoken text, it's actually quite powerful. So I guess I'll have to use DEUS FORTIS for something else...