Wednesday, April 3, 2024

508. We are beggars. This is true.

Today's hymn-writing project takes Luther's last words, actually found on a scrap of paper in his pocket at the time of his death, and adapts them into the form of a hymn. It's a pretty free adaptation because, while the full text of his last words is beautifully structured, their references to Vergil and Cicero may not hold much currency on today's streets. According to Luther's Table Talk, his last words were: "Nobody can understand Vergil in his Bucolics and Georgics unless he has first been a shepherd or a farmer for five years. Nobody understands Cicero in his letters unless he has been engaged in public affairs of some consequence for twenty years. Let nobody suppose that he has tasted the Holy Scriptures sufficiently unless he has ruled over the churches with the prophets for a hundred years. Therefore there is something wonderful, first, about John the Baptist; second, about Christ; third, about the apostles. 'Lay not your hand on this divine Aeneid, but bow before it, adore its every trace.' We are beggars. That is true." I hope you'll appreciate what I did both to compress and to expand on Luther's thoughts. I have no tune in mind at present, but (I presume) years to worry about that before the current hymn-book project comes to fruition.

I am a beggar; this is true.
Likewise are all of Adam's breed,
And with this beggarhood in view
I seek God's word in every need.

His word excels all arts of thought.
A hundred years would not suffice
That, every mote of wisdom got,
I'd dare make spoil of Paradise.

How wonderful it is, to delve
In prophet, patriarch and psalm;
In John, in Jesus and the twelve;
Revealed and hidden, bane and balm!

How wonderful, aye, to apply
The same to every church concern,
And more amazed to grow, that by
Such power it works at every turn!

Lay hand not on God's epic word,
But bow, adore its every trace.
A beggar's rags upon you gird
And grasp with joy His spoken grace.

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