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Appreciating Our Lutheran Hymns

Flung to the Heedless Winds

A Reformation Hymn

#259 in The Lutheran Hymnal

In the early days of the New Testament church Stephen was put to death, being falsely accused of blasphemy by a group of men who could not refute his teaching of Jesus as the promised Messiah. He became the first Christian martyr.

The word martyr is taken over from a Greek word that means witness. Stephen and the many others who have been killed because they confessed faith in Christ are witnesses for Him. By giving up their lives rather than denying Him, they testified that Jesus is the Lord of life. Even life itself can be sacrificed for Him since He will raise to eternal life all who believe in Him.

Christ had his faithful martyrs also in the Reformation era. As Luther’s gospel writings were distributed throughout Europe, many joyfully embraced the truth of justification by grace alone.

And some were persecuted for professing this faith. At an Augustinian monastery in Belgium, the prior and two young monks were sentenced to death for refusing to give up their faith. The prior was put to death in his prison cell, and the two young men, Heinrich Voes and Johann Esch, were burned at the stake in Brussels on June 30, 1523.

Deeply moved by the deaths of these faithful young men, Luther wrote a poem to commemorate their martyrdom. This poem of twelve stanzas is more a ballad than a church hymn. Yet apparently it was the beginning of Luther’s hymnwriting, his first poetic effort. The complete text in English translation can be found in The Handbook to the Lutheran Hymnal (page 190).

The hymn “Flung to the Heedless Winds” is a paraphrase of one of the stanzas of Luther’s ballad. It expresses the confidence that the sacrifice of Christian martyrs is not in vain. God uses their testimony to bring some to faith and to strengthen the faith of others.

By means of Luther’s poem and the hymn derived from it, the voices of two long-dead martyrs continue to be heard.

    Still, still, tho' dead, they speak, 
    And, trumpet-tongued, proclaim
    To many a wak'ning land 
    The one availing Name.

–Pastor John Klatt