Posted by: rcottrill | July 18, 2014

All My Heart This Night Rejoices

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Words: Paul Gerhardt (b. Mar. 12, 1607; d. May 27, 1676); translation of the German, Catherine Winkworth (b. Sept. 13, 1827; d. July 1, 1878)
Music: Ebeling (or Bonn) by Johann Georg Ebeling (b. July 8, 1637; d. Dec. 4, 1676)

Links:
Wordwise Hymns (Catherine Winkworth)
The Cyber Hymnal
Hymnary.org

Note: As you can see from all the above dates, this is a very old hymn. The German version was written in 1656, the English translation in 1858. The German original begins, “Fröhlich soll mein herze springen” (“Gladly shall my heart leap”).

Catherine Winkworth is considered a truly great translator, and particularly the foremost translator of German hymns. Her work did a great deal to bring these hymns to the awareness of English-speaking congregations. Other hymns she brought us include: Praise to the Lord, the Almighty, and Now Thank We All Our God.

The complex structure of the present hymn is interesting. (It’s somewhat obscured by the Cyber Hymnal’s printing of the stanzas in four lines.) The first and third lines of each stanza rhyme, as do the fourth and sixth. Then, there are internal rhymes in lines two and five. This gives the song a joyful, sprightly movement, something like the ringing of bells. Here are stanzas one and five, for example.

1) All my heart this night rejoices,
As I hear, far and near,
Sweetest angel voices;
“Christ is born,” their choirs are singing,
Till the air everywhere
Now with joy is ringing.

5) Softly from His lowly manger
Jesus calls one and all,
“You are safe from danger.
Children, from the sins that grieve you
You are freed; all you need
I will surely give you.”

Of the fifteen original six-line stanzas, only three or four are generally used today. These have been modified considerably. What I have below is somewhat different from the version given on the Cyber Hymnal.

When Catherine Winkworth cut down the number of stanzas for her translation, she explained:

“In many instances even fine hymns are weakened by repetition, or disfigured by verses of decidedly inferior merit. This is essentially the case with Paul Gerhardt, notwithstanding the remarkable beauty of his works.”

Though this is a Christmas hymn, Pastor Gerhardt does not linger long on the details of Christmas night. He is more concerned to glorify the Son of God, and remind us of the reason why He came to this earth.

Stanza 2. In His incarnation, and through His saving work, Christ fulfils the early promise that the seed (descendant) of the woman would crush the serpents head (Gen. 3:15). “Inasmuch then as the children have partaken of flesh and blood, He Himself likewise shared in the same, that through death He might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil” (Heb. 2:14).

2) Hear! The Conqueror has spoken:
“Now the foe, sin and woe,
Death and hell are broken!”
God is man, man to deliver,
And the Son now is one
With our blood forever.

Stanza 3. In His love for sinful, fallen mankind, God the Father sent His Son to be our Saviour (Jn. 3:16; I Jn. 4:9). What a costly sacrifice this was! As Paul Gerhardt puts it, He “freely gave His most precious treasure.” In the Gospels, God the Father declares Jesus to be His “beloved Son”–at His baptism, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (Matt. 3:17), and at His glorious transfiguration before Peter, James and John (Matt. 17:5);

3) Should we fear our God’s displeasure,
Who to save, freely gave
His most precious treasure?
To redeem us He has given
His own Son from the throne
Of His might in heaven.

Stanza 6. There is reason for abounding and eternal joy in this. We praise our dear Saviour, “whom having not seen you love. Though now you do not see Him, yet believing, you rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory” I Pet. 1:8).

6) Come, then, banish all your sadness!
One and all, great and small,
Come with songs of gladness.
We shall live with Him forever
There on high in that joy
Which will vanish never.

Questions:
1) Which Christmas carols best carry us beyond the manger, the shepherds and such, and point us to the reason why Christ came?

2) If Pastor Gerhardt’s hymn is not in your hymn book, could it be printed on a bulletin insert and included in your Christmas worship?

Links:
Wordwise Hymns (Catherine Winkworth)
The Cyber Hymnal
Hymnary.org


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