Posted by: rcottrill | September 5, 2011

Now Thank We All Our God

Words: Martin Rinkart (b. Apr. 23, 1586; d. Dec. 8, 1649)
Music: Nan Danket, by Johann Cruger (b. Apr. 9, 1598; d. Feb. 23, 1662)

Links:
Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal

Note: Of the old German hymns, this one is second only to A Mighty Fortress Is Our God in popularity. Martin Rinkart called it simply “Thanksgiving.” In Catherine Winkworth’s excellent 1858 English translation, it takes its title from the opening phrase.

CH-1) Now thank we all our God, with heart and hands and voices,
Who wondrous things has done, in whom this world rejoices;
Who from our mothers’ arms has blessed us on our way
With countless gifts of love, and still is ours today.

Some form of the word “thank” is found one hundred and thirty-six times in our English Bibles. When we thank the Lord for something He has given, or something He has done, we show our appreciation for it, and express a recognition of its value. With the understanding that an all-wise God will not allow anything to touch the lives of His children that is not ultimately for our good (Rom. 8:28), and for His glory (Rom. 11:36), we can thank Him, in faith, for all things (I Thess. 5:18; Eph. 5:20), finding reason to be joyful, even in the midst of our trials (Jas 1:2).

Many instances of joyful thanksgiving are found in the Old Testament (cf. I Chron. 16:8-10, 34). The wording of First Chronicles 29:13 seems close to the beginning of Rinkart’s hymn: Now therefore, our God, we thank You, and praise Your glorious name.” Not surprisingly, Psalms, a book that emphasizes the praise of God, contains many exhortations to be grateful, or expressions of thanks (Ps. 75:1; 92:1; 140:13).

CH-2) O may this bounteous God through all our life be near us,
With ever joyful hearts and blessèd peace to cheer us;
And keep us in His grace, and guide us when perplexed;
And free us from all ills, in this world and the next!

When we move into the New Testament, and especially on this side of the cross, we as the people of God find new reasons for thanksgiving, and a new dimension to our praise, because of all that Christ has done for us. “Thanks be to god, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (I Cor. 15:57). “Therefore by Him [Christ] let us continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name” (Heb. 13:15).

The book of Colossians, with its focus on the preeminence of Christ, mentions our theme again and again (Col. 1:3, 12; 2:6-7; 3:15, 17; 4:2). Thanksgiving to God is to infuse our prayers (Phil. 4:6; I Tim. 2:1). The Philippians text is notable because it suggests that we can (and should) thank the Lord, even while presenting our requests to Him, thanking Him in faith, for how He is going to answer.

Luke 17:11-19 records an interesting incident in the life of Christ. He healed ten lepers, and sent them off to be examined by the priests, as the Law of Israel required. But only one of the ten turned back to say thank you to the Lord. It has often made me wonder whether we’re each about 10% as thankful as we should be, or whether, perhaps, only about 10% of us are thankful to our great God at all!

Praise and thanksgiving should infuse all of our days. Nor will death still the voice of praise. In the light of heaven, we’ll have an even greater awareness of things for which we should go on showing gratitude to our wonderful Lord. Thanksgiving will resound around the throne of God (Rev. 4:9; 7:12; 11:16-17).

CH-3) All praise and thanks to God the Father now be given;
The Son and Him who reigns with Them in highest heaven;
The one eternal God, whom earth and heaven adore;
For thus it was, is now, and shall be evermore.

Questions:
1) What are some of the things for which we rarely think to thank the Lord?

2) What are some reasons why we can be thankful, even for our trials?


Responses

  1. Hi, Robert,

    I do love this hymn, though I don’t usually pick it for a song service until the fall of the year (which is fast approaching, as I’m sure you’ve noticed up in Canada ). It frequently humbles me, and sometimes amazes me, that our greatest and most beloved hymns in Christianity quite often flow out of great pain, great strife, and great turmoil. This hymn is such an example.

    It saddens me, in a way, though, that this hymn was written, because of the circumstances in which it was conceived. The Thirty Years War was a vicious, truly ugly war based almost entirely in politics but waged in the name of religion. The effects of that war persisted in Europe – especially Germany! – for hundreds of years thereafter, and it is, I think, one of the roots of modern Europe’s disaffection with religion generally and Christianity in particular.

    The issue of strife and turmoil as a basis for great hymns, though, leads me to another point and a question. The point is that current American culture (and I hear that Canada is in a similar condition) is jaded, bored, and ungrateful for the blessings that have been poured out on it. We have been relatively insulated from serious shock and dislocation until the last few years when the recession hit, and even now, the recession has not seriously disrupted life and culture across the board. The question is whether that jaded, bored, ungrateful attitude among all ages and generations of our culture, but among our youth especially, has led to the loss of prominence for hymnody and the rise of cacophonous pop entertainment in our churches as the musical medium for worship of our Lord.

    As always, I look forward to your response.

    Robert Woodman

    • The answer to your question is yes, absolutely. The relatively affluent, peaceful and healthy life we live in North America is a major factor in the abandonment of our traditional hymns. While we may sorrow and sympathize at the trying circumstances of individuals or whole nations, it’s at such times that many seek the Lord with new urgency, finding comfort and strength in Him. Out of such experiences, hymns with greater devotional and doctrinal depth have come. It’s the same with the book of Psalms. Many of them were demonstrably written in painful circumstances. And many where this is not immediately evident may have been as well.

      Long ago in my research I noticed a lack of recent hymns on heaven and the second coming. Ira Sankey, in his Sacred Songs and Solos, included about 150 of them! Part of the reason for that emphasis (I think) was the nearness of death in the nineteenth century and before–the days before the development of many powerful drugs, and new and amazing surgical techniques. Sankey himself was a veteran of the Civil War, where he saw so many–some mere boys–slaughtered. Death was a very present reality in those days.

      Whether we’d actually put it into words, I fear so many of us are infected with the philosophy of the rich fool: “Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years; take your ease, eat, drink, and be merry” (Lk. 12:19). Things like the terrorist attacks of 9-11, and the recession, have shaken our confidence a little. Perhaps it will result in some churches revisiting our traditional hymnody. However, I’m not optimistic. The problem is not only that the people in the pews are unfamiliar with these great songs, the leadership is too. Bible colleges, I believe, have failed the church in not teaching courses on Christian hymnody.

      There are other factors too, of course. The entertainment mindset of our culture has invaded the church. More than doing business with God, congregants want to have their ears tickled. And the “seeker sensitive” philosophy so prevalent today calls for the dumbing down of preaching, and cloning of the music of the world, in order to attract those with little or no interest in church. Well, they may come all right. But to what?

      Apologies for rambling on. Bottom line: I agree. 🙂


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