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TLH 609 “Wake, Awake, for Night is Flying”


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We know that trials will always be a part of every believer’s life, for the Bible tells us that “we must through many tribulations enter into the kingdom of God.” (Acts 14:22) But we would never go looking for trials, nor would we ever ask God to send them. We are content to leave the time, place, and degree of these things entirely to Him.

Still, we know that when God does permit trials in our lives, He intends that they should be for our blessing. By them He brings us closer to Him as we go to Him for relief. By them He directs our hopes away from this life and this world to the life and world to come.

We see this in the life of Philipp Nicolai (1556-1608), German Lutheran pastor, poet, and composer; the author of our hymn. This great hymn that expresses the believer’s longing for eternal life grew out of great adversity in the author’s life.

In 1596 he was called to be pastor in the German town of Unna. During his time there, the town was devastated by the plague. The toll on Nicolai’s congregation was staggering. Over 1,300 of the members died. Burials were a daily occurrence, sometimes as many as thirty in a single day. Death was on Nicolai’s mind constantly as he conducted burial services and when he was in his study with its window looking out on the church graveyard.

For life in the midst of all this death, Nicolai turned to the Word of God, especially the promises of eternal life in Christ. And from his studies of these passages came a book of devotional meditations called Freudenspiegel (Mirror of Joy), an expression of his hope of eternal life. His stated purpose in writing it was that it would be a witness of his faith should he also be taken by the plague. And if it were God’s will that he should survive, he would use it to comfort grieving members of his congregation. In the preface to this work, Nicolai wrote, “There seemed to me nothing more sweet, delightful, and agreeable, than the contemplation of the noble, sublime doctrine of Eternal Life obtained through the Blood of Christ. This I allowed to dwell in my heart, day and night, and searched the Scripture as to what it revealed on this matter. . . . Then day by day I wrote out my meditations, found myself—thank God!—wonderfully well, comforted in heart, joyful in spirit, and truly content.”

Included as an appendix to Mirror of Joy was the hymn “Wake, Awake, for Night Is Flying.” It is based on several biblical texts. In the first two stanzas we see Jesus’ parable of the Ten Virgins (Matthew 25:1-13) in which the return of Christ in glory is pictured as a wedding procession. Believers are encouraged to be ready for His coming by continuing to believe in Him as the Savior, drawing strength for their faith from the Gospel. “The Bridegroom comes, awake! Your lamps with gladness take! Hallelujah! With bridal care Yourselves prepare To meet the Bridegroom, who is near.” In the third stanza, Christ has come, and the believers have entered into eternal life with Him, as it is pictured for us in Revelation 21. “Of one pearl each shining portal, Where, dwelling with the choir immortal, We gather round Thy radiant throne.”

On the closing Sundays of the Church Year as we consider death, Judgment Day, the Resurrection, and eternal life, many of us will be singing Philip Nicolai’s great hymn in a Sunday service. But why wait? God intends the trials and troubles that He allows in our lives to turn us to thoughts of the glory that awaits us. When those trials begin to weigh you down, turn to this hymn and let it transport you to the life and world to come. “No vision ever brought, No ear hath ever caught, Such great glory; Therefore will we Eternally Sing hymns of praise and joy to Thee.”

John Klatt is pastor of Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in Loveland, Colorado.