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Words: Gerhard Tersteegen (b. Nov. 25, 1697; d. Apr. 3, 1769); English translation of the German by Sarah Borthwick Findlater (b. Nov. 26, 1823; d. Dec. 25, 1907).
Music: Federal Street, by Henry Kemble Oliver (b. Nov. 24, 1800; d. Aug. 12, 1885)
Note: This lovely hymn was published in 1625. Though the Cyber Hymnal offers several possible tunes for it, I’m most familiar with Federal Street, which is also used with Jesus, and Shall It Ever Be? Translator, Sarah Findlater, was the sister of Jane Borthwick, another prominent translator of German hymns.
It often happens around the supper hour. The phone rings, and answering it brings the automated voice of “Amy” promising us a free cruise, or some other supposed bargain. In Canada, adding our phone number to the National Do Not Call List has certainly helped, but some annoying calls still slip through to interrupt our evening meals. I hang up within seconds.
But what of the call of God? Through His Word, the Bible, God has issued a number of urgent and important calls. Before we look together at the life of a remarkable man who answered God’s call, let’s take a moment to consider the nature of those divine calls.
There’s a call to accept God’s eternal salvation, through Christ. When we listen to the gospel preached, we are hearing it. As Paul tells the Thessalonian Christians, “He called you by our gospel, for the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ” (II Thess. 2:14). We are “called into the fellowship of His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord” (I Cor. 1:9), and “called…out of darkness into His marvelous light” (I Pet. 2:9). Christians are referred to as “the called of Jesus Christ” (Rom. 1:6).
As God’s called ones, believers are to live in a way that’s pleasing to Him. “As He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct” (I Pet. 1:15). We are “to walk worthy of the calling with which [we] were called” (Eph. 4:1). The Christian life also involves a call to service. We are to be God’s instruments, summoning others to put their faith in Him. “We are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us: we implore you on Christ’s behalf, be reconciled to God” (II Cor. 5:20).
Gerhard Tersteegen wrote a touching hymn about God’s call and his struggle with responding to it, more than two centuries ago. Translated into English, it says:
CH-1) God calling yet; shall I not hear?
Earth’s pleasures shall I still hold dear?
Shall life’s swift passing years all fly,
And still my soul in slumber lie?
CH-2) God calling yet; shall I not rise?
Can I His loving voice despise,
And basely His kind care repay?
He calls me still–can I delay?
Mr. Tersteegen had himself responded to that call. As a teen-ager, while walking through a forest alone, he was suddenly seized with intense pains. He believed he was going to die, and he cried out to God, asking that he be spared, promising to commit himself to the Lord. God answered his prayer and delivered him.
Gerhard’s father was dead and, when only fifteen years old, he had started a small business to support himself and his widowed mother. But when he saw how business duties interfered with his new commitment to Christ, he abandoned it, and found another that gave him more freedom to serve the Lord. Later, to give himself even more time for Christian service, he took on a partner and divided the responsibilities. Still later, to devote himself full-time to the work of the Lord, he gave up the business completely.
Christian friends supported his ministry, establishing a house called “The Pilgrims’ Cottage” as a retreat centre where he could assist others. It became a refuge for hundreds of poor and sick people. There they were given medicine, food and clothing. Tersteegen also traveled as an evangelist, carried on an enormous correspondence, and wrote over one hundred hymns. Biographers described him as “a gentle, heaven-inspired soul.” His influence spread through Germany, Denmark, Sweden, Holland, and even on to America.
Gerhard Tersteegen witnesses to his answer to God’s call in the final stanzas of the present hymn. May that willing submission be so of each of us. May our response be, as Samuel’s was, “Speak, Lord, for Your servant hears” (I Sam. 3:9).
CH-5) God calling yet; and shall I give
No heed, but still in bondage live?
I wait, but He does not forsake;
He calls me still–my heart, awake!
CH-6) God calling yet; I cannot stay;
My heart I yield without delay;
Vain world, farewell! from thee I part;
The voice of God hath reached my heart.
1) Where are you, in your own spiritual pilgrimage? Is there a call of God to which you need to respond?
2) If we are called of God to some kind of service, what can we be assured of as being provided by the Lord?