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Appreciating Our Lutheran Hymns

Great God, We Sing That Mighty Hand

A Hymn for the New Year

#119 in The Lutheran Hymnal

Awareness of God’s help in the past enables us to enter a new year with confidence. From the Scriptures we have come to know and believe in the only true God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And, knowing Him, we have seen His hand in our lives, helping us in every need.

This hymn was first published with the heading, “Help obtained of God. For the New Year.” This was a reference to Paul’s defense before Agrippa: “Therefore, having obtained help from God, to this day I stand, witnessing both to small and great” (Acts 26:22). These words of Paul are echoed in the opening lines of the hymn: “Great God, we sing that mighty hand By which supported still we stand.”

Philip Doddridge (1702-1751), the author of the hymn, was very much aware of God’s help in his past. He had been a sickly child, so much so that his parents feared that he would not survive.

But God spared his life, and this act of divine mercy surely must have been impressed on young Philip by his mother, the daughter of a Lutheran pastor, who had sung hymns to her son in his boyhood. For Philip was the last of the twenty children she had borne, eighteen of whom had died in infancy.

He experienced the help of God again when he was only thirteen and lost both his parents within a year. He was taken in by kind friends who cared for him and sent him to school.

Though in frail health much of his life, Doddridge had a fruitful career as a pastor and especially as head of a seminary in which about two hundred students were prepared for the ministry.

As we enter this new year, all of us ought to take time to remember how the mighty hand of God has supported us and made us to stand in past years. Such remembrance of the mercy that God has shown us will make us thankful for the past and confident about the future.

And as the hymn reminds us, the opening of a new year is in itself a token of God’s mercy. He has given more time for the Gospel to be preached, calling souls to repentance and faith in Jesus Christ, offering life and salvation to all. He has given to each of us a new year in which to serve and glorify Him who has called us out of darkness into His marvelous light.

Our New Year’s hymn also reminds us that the years will not go on forever. Death shall interrupt our songs. But even then: “Our Helper, God, In whom we trust, In better worlds our soul shall boast.”

–Pastor John Klatt