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Words: Gerhard Tersteegen (b. Nov. 25, 1697; d. Apr. 3, 1769); English translation by Emma Frances Shuttleworth Bevan (b. Sept. 25, 1827; d. Feb. 13, 1909)
Music: Hold the Fort, by Philip Paul Bliss (b. July 9, 1838; d. Dec. 29, 1876)
Note: As of the writing of this blog, the Cyber Hymnal does not include this fine hymn, though the editor plans to add it. Apparently there has been some question as to whether Tersteegen created it. One writer offers the theory that translator Emma Bevan actually wrote it herself. Another says maybe Paul Gerhardt was the author. But in my view Tersteegen is the most likely writer of the original text.
Hymnary.org has an arrangement of it, under a different title, set to a tune composed by Robert Harkness. Some of the words are different from what I have below, and it only has three stanzas of the original fourteen (or more). I found four stanzas in Choice Hymns of the Faith, set to Bliss’s tune for his gospel song Hold the Fort. Not ideal perhaps, but it does fit the metre.
Often they are buried deep in the earth. Discovering them, and mining them, is arduous, and sometimes dangerous, work. Then, when they are brought out of the dark deeps, the sight is disappointing.
Though there are reflected sparks here and there, they seem mostly to consist of unsightly gray rock. It takes the skill of others to peel away millennia of unwanted debris, then shape and polish, and mount the result. All of that before some wealthy matron can dazzle the public by wearing a necklace or bracelet of near priceless gems.
That reminded me for the work of those who translate the hymns of ancient times. Where are they to be found? Often in fragile manuscripts housed in one of the museums of the world, places few of us get to visit. Usually written in Latin or Greek, they remain inaccessible for that reason too. Even ones in a modern language other than our own can’t be sung with understanding.
It has taken the patient work of skilled translators to find them, and render them in English. This is a most difficult enterprise. Not only must the words be expressed in a new language. They must also fit the metre of the tune, while retaining the meaning of the original. It seems nearly impossible, but there were a few men and women, especially in the nineteenth century, who have done it exceedingly well. They have brought hidden gems to light.
Here are a few of the names of translators that are inscribed in our hymnals: Jane Borthwick (1813-1897), who translated Be Still My Soul; John Mason Neale (1818-1866), who translated O Come, O Come, Emmanuel–and also wrote the Christmas song Good King Wenceslas; Catherine Winkworth (1827-1878), who translated Now Thank We All Our God; and Emma Frances Bevan (1827-1909), who translated the present hymn, Midst the Darkness, Storm, and Sorrow.
That hymn was written in German, I believe by the Christian mystic Gerhard Tersteegen (1697-1769). In his day he was an outstanding theologian, pastor, and itinerant preacher. He also wrote quite a number of hymns. The one we are looking at is about the anticipation believers have of being carried to our heavenly home, either at death, or at the time of Christ’s return.
Before He ascended back into heaven again, the Lord Jesus made this promise to His followers:
“In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also” (Jn. 14:2-3).
Amazing! The Son of God wants our eternal fellowship! He even prayed to God the Father that it might be so (Jn. 17:24). No wonder the Apostle Paul declared he had, “a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better” (Phil. 1:23). Here is Tersteegen’s hymn about it:
1) Midst the darkness, storm, and sorrow,
One bright gleam I see;
Well I know the blessed morrow,
Christ will come for me.
Midst the light, and peace, and glory
Of the Father’s home,
Christ for me is watching, waiting,
Waiting till I come.
3) O the blessed joy of meeting,
All the desert past!
O the wondrous words of greeting
He shall speak at last!
He and I, together ent’ring
Those bright courts above;
He and I together sharing
All the Father’s love.
I invite you especially to dwell upon the moving and sublime last four lines of the hymn, about the shared joy of the saint and the Saviour (cf. Heb. 12:2). Biblical, yet loaded with personal passion. Simple, yet profound. Wonderful truth!
4) He, who in His hour of sorrow
Bore the curse alone;
I, who through the lonely desert
Trod where He had gone;
He and I, in that bright glory,
One deep joy shall share–
Mine, to be forever with Him;
His, that I am there.
1) What in today’s news particularly strikes you as “darkness, storm, and sorrow”?
2) Can you quote special lines from a few hymns that have greatly blessed you, and stuck with you?