Posted by: rcottrill | November 10, 2010

Today in 1483 – Martin Luther Born

MLutherhaus (Lutherhalle)artin Luther was an Augustinian monk whose study of the Scriptures eventually led him to believe that the Church of Rome had become encrusted with empty traditions and false doctrine. On October 31st, 1517, he posted a list of 95 theses (topics for debate) on the door of the church at Wittenberg. Though there were other reformers before him (such as John Wycliffe and John Huss) this date is generally considered the beginning of the Protestant Reformation.

Luther declared Holy Scripture to be the Christian’s final authority, and he rejected the supremacy of the pope. He proclaimed the Bible’s teaching that sinners are saved through faith in Christ, apart from any works or religious rituals (Eph. 2:8-9). When commanded to recant, he refused unless his teachings could be refuted from the Word of God. (For more on Luther’s debate with the Church of Rome, see here.)

As opposition to Luther grew, he was abducted by sympathizers and hidden, for his own safety. While in hiding in Wartburg Castle, and in the room pictured above, Martin Luther translated the New Testament into German to make it available to all. When Luther’s writings were banned (in 1521 and again in 1529) a group of German princes wrote a letter of protest, and it is from their bold support of Luther that the term Protestant comes.

As well as being a brilliant theologian, Luther was also a hymn writer. A Mighty Fortress Is Our God is the most familiar of his hymns. But some hymn books also contain the carol From Heaven Above to Earth I Come. The latter was written for the Luther family’s celebration of Christmas, and was dedicated to his son Hans. The family had their own Christmas pageant. It began with the entrance of a man dressed as an angel. He sang the opening stanzas of the carol, beginning:

From heaven above to earth I come,
To bear good news to every home;
Glad tidings of great joy I bring,
Whereof I now will say and sing.

And the family responded with stanzas written for them, such as:

Now let us all, with gladsome cheer
Follow the shepherds, and draw near
To see this wondrous gift of God,
Who hath His only Son bestowed.

(2) Today in 1852 – Henry van Dyke Born
One day in 1907, Henry Jackson van Dyke gazed upon the rolling greenery of the Berkshire Mountains of Massachusetts. Van Dyke was considered one of the best preachers in the Presbyterian Church of his day, as well as being a prolific writer. His varied life included time as a professor at Princeton University, a chaplaincy in World War One, and a stint as America’s ambassador to Holland and Luxembourg, under President Woodrow Wilson.

It was while he was a guest speaker at Williams College, whose campus looks out on the Berkshires, that Henry van Dyke was overcome by the seeming joyful exuberance of creation itself. He penned a hymn poem to capture the thought. It was presented to the college president, with the instruction that it be sung to the tune of Ludwig van Beethoven’s Hymn of Joy (from his 9th Symphony). And with that happy pairing the author has given us one of the most joyous hymns in the English language.

Joyful, joyful, we adore Thee, God of glory, Lord of love;
Hearts unfold like flowers before Thee, opening to the sun above.
Melt the clouds of sin and sadness; drive the dark of doubt away;
Giver of immortal gladness, fill us with the light of day!

Below is an interesting choral arrangement of Van Dyke’s hymn, and it’s nicely done. But readers of this blog will know the video also illustrates one of my pet peeves. It appears the ushers are using  these moments in the service when congregants are ostensibly adoring the God of glory to collect  something or other. Please, oh please don’t do this. Surely we do not need to be in such haste that we cannot focus fully on words of worship for a few minutes.

(3) Today in 1933 – James Rowe Died
The son of a copper miner, James Rowe worked for the Irish government before emigrating to the United States. He worked on the railroads in New York for some years, then became an inspector for the Hudson River Humane Society. In his later years, he worked with his daughter Louise, a gifted artist, writing verses for greeting cards. Rowe also wrote a number of gospel song texts. (His claim to having written 19,000 seems far-fetched–or perhaps he was misquoted by his biographers.)

Two of Mr. Rowe’s songs are commonly found in our hymn books: Love Lifted Me, and I Would Be Like Jesus. The latter expresses an aspiration worthy of each child of God:

Earthly pleasures vainly call me;
I would be like Jesus;
Nothing worldly shall enthrall me;
I would be like Jesus.

Be like Jesus, this my song,
In the home and in the throng;
Be like Jesus, all day long!
I would be like Jesus.

That in heaven He may meet me,
I would be like Jesus;
That His words “Well done” may greet me,
I would be like Jesus.

Another song of James Rowe’s is also still in use, occasionally as a solo number: I Walk with the King.

In sorrow I wandered, my spirit oppressed,
But now I am happy—securely I rest;
From morning till evening glad carols I sing,
And this is the reason—I walk with the King.

I walk with the King, hallelujah!
I walk with the King, praise His Name!
No longer I roam, my soul faces home,
I walk and I talk with the King.


  1. One of my favorite Luther hymn texts, and I am using the Lutheran Hymnal, 1941, because later translations don’t quite say it the same way. I haven’t checked the German to see what is most accurate, though.

    May God bestow on us His grace and favor
    To please Him with our behavior
    And live as brethren here in love and union
    Nor repent this blest Communion!
    O Lord, have mercy!
    Let not Thy good Spirit forsake us;
    Grant that heavenly minded He make us;
    Give Thy church,
    Lord, to see
    Days of peace and unity:
    O Lord, have mercy!

    -Gott sei gelobet un gebenedeiet
    (O Lord, We Praise Thee)
    Stanza 3

    • Thanks, that’s one I’m not familiar with. In it we see Luther’s commendable desire for unity. But he came to realize that if this is not founded on the fundamentals of the Christian faith, it is not true biblical unity. It may be an organizational construct, or mushy sentimental camaraderie, but that is all. Ecumenical unity seeks the lowest common denominator too often at the expense of critical truths. (My! Too early in the morning to start preachin’! 🙂 )

      • Spot on with the Ecumenical movement. Preach it, Brother! Can I get a witness? AMEN! 🙂

  2. “I Walk with the King” has a **beautiful** melody.

    • I agree. And it is a more complex tune than is usual for a gospel song. Would make a good offertory.

    • I checked out “I Walk with the King” on Youtube and got many different hits. Can I get more info on this one?

      • Well, let’s see now. James Rowe was the author of the song. (He also wrote “Love Lifted Me,” and “I Would Be Like Jesus,” and many more. See the Cyber Hymnal.) He was vacationing at Winona Lake, Indiana, in June of 1911. One day gospel song writer Charles Gabriel dropped by, and the two of them sat at a piano discussing some of their new compositions. B. D. Ackley was there too. He played a couple of tunes he’d composed, and Gabriel suggested the first tune would make a good refrain for the second tune. That’s how the setting for James Rowe’s words was born.

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