Thursday, August 6, 2020

Tacky Hymns 75

Again I repeat:
We continue our run-through of the hymns in The Lutheran Hymnal (Concordia Publishing House, 1941) with emphasis on three types of hymns: (1) instances of bad judgment by the folks who selected hymns for the book, judged on the basis of historic, confessional and liturgical Lutheranism; (2) noteworthy quirks of hymn-tune pairing; and (3) wonderful hymns that I think should receive more play time (by which I mean singing time) in confessional Lutheran congregations, even if it means undertaking a challenging process of getting acquainted, because of their precious spiritual and artistic value.
(352) O Savior, precious Savior is a hymn by Frances Ridley Havergal (1870), set to the tune ANGEL'S STORY by Arthur H. Mann (1851). This is the first appearance in TLH of a hymn by Havergal, an Anglican vicar's daughter who only lived 43 years. Five hymn texts and one hymn tune by her appear in TLH, including the ubiquitous "Take my life and let it be," "I am trusting Thee, Lord Jesus" and "Now the light has gone away." There is a certain soft-focus romanticism in her style. I raise no particular objection to her text in this instance – I'll save that for TLH 405 – but I do think Mann's tune – originally written for a piece by another female hymn writer – has an overly popular ring to it, with a smarm factor that some hymnals ramp up by adding a chromatic passing note to the melody, right at the start of the chorus.

(353) Lord Jesus Christ, my Savior blest is a "Type 3" hymn I want to highlight because I don't think I heard much of it during my German-American centered Lutheran upbringing. With lyrics translated from 16th century Danish and a tune by Ludvig M. Lindeman (1874), of whom I have previously voiced admiration, it's a Scandinavian Lutheran treasure that deserves to be better known outside lutefisk eating circles. Hans Sthen's poem expresses deep trust in Christ and His word, using a striking and unusual meter, while Lindeman's music is richly expressive, in a register of Romanticism that hews closer to fine-art music than the syrupy trash that clogs all too many collections of 19th century hymnody.

(356) Jesus, Savior, come to me is the first of four hymns by Johann Scheffler (a.k.a. Angelus Silesius) in TLH – the others are "O Love, who madest me to wear," "Thee will I love, my Strength, my Tower" and "Come, follow Me, the Savior spake." They're all more or less good hymns (and this one, at least, isn't hurt by being translated by Matthias Loy), but there is something (I think) remarkable about Lutherans buying into the work of a sometime Lutheran mystic who fell into heresy and later became a Catholic priest who (I forget what authority I have this on) wrote polemics against Lutheranism. I guess anything can be forgiven if you write something good. What strikes me as especially interesting about this hymn is that you have to defend it against the charge of decisionism or semi-Pelagianism – as if you have to invite Christ into your heart to be saved – by underscoring that Scheffler's text expresses the sentiments of one who is already a believer. It does, however, place a warm emphasis on religious feelings that wouldn't sound out of place in a Pietistic context. On a "Type 2" note, although TLH sets this hymn to the 18th century chorale GOTT SEI DANK, multiple hymn tunes have (to judge by their titles) been written expressly for this hymn, including Lindeman's JESU, KOM DOG SELV TIL MIG, a tune by Norwegian composer Jacob Hveding Sletten (1923) titled JESUS, COME TO ME (cf. The Concordia Hymnal, hymn 341), and a German chorale, JESU, KOMM DOCH SELBST ZU MIR.

(362) My soul's best Friend, what joy and blessing is a prolix, shmaltzy and not particularly inspired combination of late 17th century words by Wolfgang Dessler and the tune WIE WOHL IST MIR (1704) from that hotbed of Pietism, Halle. Other than a couple references to "Savior" it doesn't actually name Jesus, but it isn't a big leap to guess that's who is being addressed. Already in the first line you can see where its spiritual/theological emphasis lies. In stanza 1, it depicts Him as one into whose arms for rest I flee, whose love banishes all anguish, pain and fear from my heart, and who is always lovingly near so that I can say "Yea, here on earth begins my heaven." Stanza 2 renounces the world, personifying her as a deceitful woman, and confiding rather in His loyalty. Stanza 3 depicts Him as leading us "thro' deserts of the cross," where He produces food and water, and whose way is to be trusted "howe'er distressing." Stanza 4 professes contentment to rest in His breast, where "by sin no more am I tormented," and describes His grace as "a foretaste ... of heaven." It concludes, "Away, vain world, with fleeting pleasures; In Christ I have abiding treasures" – at last it comes that close to naming Him! – "O comfort sweet, my Friend is mine!" For the most part, all this can be read as a personal profession of faith – but it's so very personal. Also, for all its vastness of scale, it doesn't find room to locate Jesus' presence, grace, the food or drink he gives along the cross-shadowed way, etc., specifically in word and sacrament. All the spiritual transactions tallied up in this account are of a touchy-feely, emotional variety, verging on romantic. And if there's one line to which the stench of Pietism clings, surely it is the one about no more being tormented by sin – an expectation that a well catechized Lutheran would only pin on the life to come.

(366) One thing's needful; Lord, this treasure is a hymn about the sufficiency of Christ's word, based on the story of Mary and Martha in Luke 10, with words by Johann H. Schroeder (1697). Maybe I think it's a more important hymn that in it really is, because it was a regular part of the town-gown tradition of my alma mater, Bethany Lutheran College, and its sister church down the street, Mount Olive (ELS) – both of which were big on the Mary and Martha story. (Old Main has a stained glass window depicting the story, and the college's seal depicts the words "One Thing Needful" in biblical Greek.) TLH sets it to Friedrich Layriz's 1849 tune EINS IST NOT, which was apparently written for it – both the hymn and the tune being of a rather peculiar meter. However, it isn't the only tune written for this hymn, nor the most popular. Among the American Lutheran hymnals I've studied, only ELHb, TLH and CW have Layriz's tune, while LHy, LW, ELHy, LSB and at least two more have Adam Krieger's 1657 tune of the same name, which, according to the TLH Handbook, even Layriz ultimately preferred. The later composer's serious sounding, Phrygian-mode melody is certainly an interesting alternative, but I think if given the choice, most anyone will choose Krieger's tune.

(370) My hope is built on nothing less is probably one of those hymns about which that lady, of whom I have previously written, complained that the tune in ELHy or TLH was the wrong tune, as opposed to the right tune that was in SBH. (You may recall, she was the only alum of an SBH church in that particular congregation, so nobody really sympathized with her point of view.) Well, TLH pairs this hymn by Edward Mote (1834) with John Stainer's warm, richly harmonized tune MAGDALEN, a.k.a. REST (1873), and it isn't alone in doing so: ELHb, CW, LW and ELHy also make the same pairing, while CSB and LHy each use it with another hymn. Meanwhile, CSB, SBH, LBW and at least one other hymnal opt for John B. Dykes' tune MELITA (you'd know it as the tune to "Eternal Father, strong to save"). This more or less divides the hymnals' choice of MAGDALEN vs. MELITA along the lines of fellowship between what used to be the Synodical Conference and what is now the Ev. Luth. Church in America. Meanwhile, LBW has as an alternate tune William Bradbury's THE SOLID ROCK (apparently written for it, considering the hymn's refrain), which I guess represents the taste of American Protestants outside of Lutheranism. Strangely, LSB chooses MAGDALEN and THE SOLID ROCK as its alternatives for this hymn, so my dear SBH-loving lady will be denied satisfaction there.

(371) Jesus, Thy blood and righteousness continues a streak of "Type 2" mentions, with words by Ludwig von Zinzendorf, here set to George J. Elvey's tune ST. CRISPIN (1862). I think Zinzendorf's text sounds much more impressive when paired with the B. Gesius tune HERRNHUT, as it is in LHy, SBH, ELHy and at least one more. (I keep saying "at least one more" because I've forgotten which book an acronym stands for in my copious notes, and I'm too lazy to dig through years worth of paper to refresh my memory. Clearly, I'm going to have to re-do a lot of work before ever I can publish my authoritative tome on all this.) Anyway, ST. CRISPIN is nice, but HERRNHUT is more the thing for a hymn rich in devotional thought and majestic, atonement theology.

(376) Rock of Ages, cleft for me, the quintessential English-language hymn by Augustus Toplady (1776), is set here (and most everywhere else, these days) to Thomas Hastings' 1830 tune TOPLADY. Unfortunately, it's also one of those hymns that I always hear (at least in my mind's ear) being sung and played badly, making me want to stand in front of the folks performing it, scowling fiercely and smacking a stout yardstick against my palm to drive home how very strongly I feel the importance of clearly articulating the 3/2 time signature and not shlurping between notes. As for the lyrics (not to mention the associations with a shapeless, nameless branch of Protestantism) – well, I give up.

Stanza 1 calls upon "the water and the blood From Thy riven side which flowed" to "be of sin the double cure." I've been told by one highly esteemed theologian, who is now in glory, that this "double cure" bit makes this the most profoundly Lutheran of hymns by tying in the sacraments of baptism and communion with Jesus' atoning sacrifice and applying it to both the forgiveness of sin and freedom from bondage to it, as evidenced by the concluding line, "cleanse me from its guilt and power." Then again, I've been told by an equally well-qualified expert that the phrase "double cure" refers to a doctrinal tenet of early Pentecostalism, which stressed that Jesus both heals and forgives through the redeeming power of His blood (from which follows the whole faith-healing racket). I sniffed around on the Internet just now and found that there are Pentecostals around today who support this. Obviously, this is a case of people seeing what they want to see, or of the adherents of opposing doctrines finding confirmation of their opinions in exactly the same evidence. So, let me ask you this: Do you really suppose Toplady – an Anglican preacher who went through a Wesleyan Methodist conversion experience, only to end up defending Calvinism against John Wesley's Arminianism – had it in him to think baptism and communion when he said water and blood?

(377) Salvation unto us is come is a great hymn by Paul Speratus about the atonement and justification, dating from early in the Lutheran Reformation (1523) and set to the amazing chorale ES IST DAS HEIL, one of the best-known examples of Mixolydian melody in Lutheran hymnody. (I'm referring to the persistent C-natural in the tune, despite its D-major key signature, which has a C-sharp.) It lends just that little bit of oddness to an already strong, confident and energetic tune, making it an unforgettable vehicle for Speratus' summary of salvation history.

(383) Seek where ye may to find a way is a fine hymn whose rhyme scheme chops it up into a lot of short, four-syllable lines. TLH sets it to an arrangement of Johann Stobaeus' tune SUCH, WER DA WILL that heightens the tedium of this pattern. I strongly recommend substituting the version of the same tune used in LW 358, which has more rhythmic drive. Unfortunately, LSB 557 rolled it back to the TLH version of the tune – another example of the latest Missouri Synod pew hymnal's tendency to fix what ain't broke, or perhaps more aptly put, to re-break things that LW fixed.

(384) Oh, how great is Thy compassion, with words by Johann Olearius (1671) and the chorale tune ACH, WAS SOLL ICH (1653), is my favorite hymn ever. I'm not kidding, even though I've already said that of at least three hymns in this book.

(386) My Savior sinners doth receive, however, is one I'm not overly fond of. It's not to be confused with Erdmann Neumeister's "Jesus sinners doth receive" (TLH 324) – a 1718 hymn whose eight shapely stanzas succinctly yet thoroughly apply gospel medicine to the sinner's afflicted conscience. In contrast, this 1731 text by Leopold Lehr sprawls in tedious prolixity, compressing Law and Gospel into three stanzas (albeit long-winded ones), then spends stanza 4 on an altar call ("O trembling sinner ... to Christ draw near. Come now ... Accept His mercy") before finally addressing Christ in prayer. I could have done without 10 lines of anxious bench cajolery, thank you.

(387) Dear Christians, one and all, rejoice is that hymn by Martin Luther – the one that, in 10 stanzas, recalls the agony of an individual conscience soiled by sin, then weaves that into a dramatic dialogue between God the Father and the Son, taking counsel about their plan of salvation, before finally turning the floor over to Christ speaking to the sinner with strong words of encouragement to trust in His atoning work and His admonishment to hold firmly to His gift of salvation. Like Bonar's "I heard the voice of Jesus say," it could be read as a bit of spiritual autobiography. But unlike that other hymn, its focus is increasingly tight on the cross of Jesus and its deepest implications for every sinner who seeks a gracious God. It is also an example of Luther's powerful directness as a hymn writer. While heeding my "Type 3" advice to see to it that you and your congregation know this hymn well and sing it often, with gusto – maybe spreading the stanzas out over different parts of the service – I should also hint, in a "Type 2" vein, that the TLH tune NUN FREUT EUCH (Wittenberg, 1524) isn't the only chorale you might find under that name. If you're an organist, and you're scrambling for a sight-readable chorale prelude on NUN FREUT EUCH to play when this hymn sneaks onto the number-board, you might be a little put out to find that Buxtehude, for example, calls ES IST GEWISSLICH (Wittenberg, 1535) by that name.

(388) Just as I am, without one plea is a hymn that I've dished on before. In that previous mention, I took out on it a bit of my frustration lingering from an incident, many years ago, that involved this exact number in this exact hymnal, with exactly these two tunes, ST. CRISPIN and WOODWORTH. It's one of those moments that reminds me, when I become frustrated with the vicissitudes of being an organist, how much rather I would be the organist (who only has to play the hymns chosen for worship, teeth clenched if necessary) than the pastor (who has to make decisions about what hymns to use in worship and then, as it were, face the music).

I've made it through several topical divisions of TLH's hymns in this post. I now see a new heading, "Sanctification (The Christian Life)," looming over Hymn 393, which I think is my cue to knock this off for the night. Flee tackiness, brothers and sisters!

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