A HYMN OF GLORY LET US SING (TWENTY-FOURTH IN A SERIES)
When do Christians give thanks?
Initial answers would likely include mealtimes, happy times and moments of success. It’s relatively easy to express appreciation to God when something pleasant is at hand or in hand. But what about those times when things seem to get out of hand, when a serious hardship lingers, when uncommon difficulties become common? Could such times ever be filled with thanksgiving?
The inspired apostle left no room for doubt. In his first letter to the Thessalonians he directed the people of God to give thanks “in everything.” (I Thessalonians 5:18) Since all things are under the direct control of a Lord Who loves us and wants only the best for us, it is fitting to thank Him not only during times of peace and pleasure, but also during turmoil and trouble. We are assured that the Lord “is righteous in all His ways.” (Psalm 145:17) He always has reasons for doing what He does and for allowing what He allows. Christians throughout the ages, therefore, have been led by the Spirit to express gratitude also during uncommonly difficult times—Christians such as Martin Rinckart (1586-1649).
Little appears to have come easily to this servant of the Lord. Raised in humble circumstances, he scraped together what he could to support himself as he studied to become a Lutheran pastor. And when he did complete his studies he was initially passed over when he presented himself as a candidate for ministry in his home town of Eilenburg, Germany. It was only after a number of years in service elsewhere that he was welcomed to serve where he had spent his youth.
A return to his hometown, however, did not ensure that Rinckart’s life would be comfortable, for he lived and served during the tumultuous Thirty Years’ War, one of the most devastating events in European history. The walled city of Eilenburg became a refuge for many who were seeking safety. As a result, food became scarce. Extreme poverty was rampant. And the plague struck with particular force. Approximately 8000 residents died. At one point Rinckart, the only surviving pastor in the city, was conducting up to fifty funeral services a day. And in 1637 one of them was for his wife.
It was an uncommonly unpleasant time. Death filled the air. But so did songs of thanksgiving for the promise of salvation God had provided through His Son. Later in life, when Rinckart wanted to provide his children with a hymn appropriate for the time, he penned Now Thank We All Our God (TLH 36; LSB 895). Even after all the devastation he had seen and all the heartache he had experienced, he sang with gratitude for God’s grace in Christ.
Martin Rinckart recognized that, even during the struggles of a lengthy and destructive war, the Lord is One Who “wondrous things has done” and Who “has blessed us on our way with countless gifts of love.” This faithful servant of the Word acknowledged being “perplexed,” but, in manner similar to that of the apostle Paul, did not allow perplexity to result in despair. (See 2 Corinthians 4:8) Rinckart shared Paul’s confidence that the Lord Who had secured his salvation in Christ, would “free us from all ills in this world and the next.”
The faithful theologian and poet, Martin Rinckart, continues to serve the Christian community as an example of giving thanks “in everything.” Despite the sorrows and hardships which accompanied his earthly journey, the Good News of Jesus was able to replace his sighs with songs and dirges with doxologies.
All thanks and praise to God the Father now be given,
The Son, and Him Who reigns with them
in highest heaven,
The one eternal God, Whom earth and heav’n adore;
For thus it was, is now, and shall be evermore.
John Reim is a professor at Immanuel Lutheran College in Eau Claire, Wisconsin.