Posted by: rcottrill | October 22, 2014

How Brightly Beams the Morning Star

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Words: Johann Adolf Schlegel (b. Sept. 17, 1721; d. Sept. 16, 1793); English translation by Catherine Winkworth (b. Sept. 13, 1827; d. July 1, 1878)
Music: Wie Schön Leuchtet (How Beautiful Shines), by Philipp Nicolai (b. Aug. 10, 1556; d. Oct. 26, 1608)

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

Note: The Cyber Hymnal credits Johann Schlegel with the text. However, what he produced was a reworking of the original by Philipp Nicolai. Thus, the latter man was largely responsible for both words and music. The tune, as it was first composed in 1599, was adapted by Nicolai for his purpose. There are many variations and adaptations of this hymn’s text. William Mercer (1811-1873) produced another English version. It is worth going to the Cyber Hymnal to read Catherine Winkworth’s full translation.

The Cyber Hymnal seems to give us the original tune, with its strange variations in the rhythm. Lines begin slowly, but suddenly speed up. (It gave me the sensation of a scurrying motion, like a startled mouse racing to its secure hole!) The versions harmonized by Bach and Mendelssohn even out the rhythm making the hymn tune what is called isorhythmic. To my mind, this gives the text a more suitable frame, suggesting stately majesty.

P hilipp Nicolai wrote the hymn at a time of great suffering in his town. In 1597, Unna, in Westphalia, was stricken by a deadly plague. Fourteen hundred people died. Nicolai, the Lutheran pastor, saw a steady stream of funeral processions past his window. This deluge of death turned his thoughts to the glorious future awaiting the saints, through Christ. This became the inspiration for the present hymn and one other one. One author describes the experience in this way:

“One morning in great distress and tribulation in his quiet study, he rose in spirit from the distress and death which surrounded him to his Redeemer and Saviour, and while he while he clasped Him in ardent love, there welled forth from the inmost depths of his heart this precious hymn of the Saviour’s love and of the joys of heaven. He was so entirely absorbed in this holy exaltation that he forgot all around him, even his midday meal, and allowed nothing to disturb him in his poetical labours till the hymn was completed–three hours after midday.” (Dictionary of Hymnology, by John Julian, Vol. I, p. 806)

Pastor Nicolai called the text, “A spiritual bridal song of the believing soul concerning Jesus Christ, her heavenly Bridegroom, founded on the 45th Psalm of the prophet David.” If you look at the psalm, you’ll see that it is actually attributed to “the sons of Korah” (temple musicians), not to David (though it’s not impossible that David wrote it and dedicated it to them).

Psalm 45 is a royal wedding psalm. And given that Christ was to come from the house of David, it is appropriate to see a prophetic application to Him and His heavenly bride, the church. It is the Lord Jesus Himself who says, “I am the Root and Offspring of David, the Bright and Morning Star” (Rev. 22:16). He is “the brightness of His [the Father’s] glory” (Heb. 1:3).

CH-1) How brightly beams the Morning Star!
What sudden radiance from afar
Doth glad us with its shining,
Brightness of God that breaks our night
And fills the darkened souls with light
Who long for truth were pining!
Thy Word, Jesu, inly feeds us,
Rightly leads us, life bestowing;
Praise, oh praise such love o’erflowing.

“Here my comfort, there my crown” (CH-2) reminds me of the refrain of Lydia Baxter’s Precious Name (“Take the name of Jesus with you”) which calls our Saviour the “Hope of earth and joy of heaven.” Or John Monsell’s Fight the Good Fight, which says, “Life with its way before us lies, / Christ is the path and Christ the prize.” The Son of God, in His Person does not change (Heb. 13:8), but our perspective will. With cleansed and renewed vision “we shall see Him as He is” (I Jn. 3:2).

CH-2) Thou here my comfort, there my crown,
Thou King of heav’n, who camest down
To dwell as man beside me;
My heart doth praise Thee o’er and o’er,
If Thou art mine I ask no more,
Be wealth or fame denied me;
Thee I seek now; none who proves Thee,
None who loves Thee finds Thee fail him;
Lord of life, Thy powers avail him!

CH-5) All praise to Him who came to save,
Who conquered death and burst the grave;
Each day new praise resoundeth
To Him the Lamb who once was slain,
The Friend whom none shall trust in vain,
Whose grace for aye aboundeth;
Sing, ye heavens, tell the story
Of His glory, till His praises
Flood with light earth’s darkest places.

Questions:
1) What is for you the greatest blessing described in this wonderful hymn of worship?

2) Is this a hymn you could use in your church?

Links:
Wordwise Hymns (none)
The Cyber Hymnal
Hymnary.org


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