A HYMN OF GLORY LET US SING
In the three decades following Luther’s death in 1546, the biblical doctrines he had struggled to teach and uphold came under severe attack. No less than six significant church controversies marked this period in Lutheranism. At issue were matters such as justification by faith, conversion, original sin, good works, church ceremonies, and the Lord’s Supper. On July 22, 1577, the Formula of Concord was published. It was a work which presented and defended the true Scriptural position on these controversies.
One of the three principal authors of the Formula was Nicholas Selneccer (1530-1592). Selneccer was an important theologian in his day and a graduate of the University of Wittenberg, where Luther had been so influential. Much could be written about Selneccer the preacher and pastor, but for this article, we are especially interested in Selneccer the musician and hymn writer, for he was also immensely gifted in these areas. Already a church organist by the age of twelve, at one point he even assisted in building up the famous choir at St. Thomas Church in Leipzig—a choir which the great Johann Sebastian Bach would lead some hundred years later.
His music and theology come together in his best-known hymn Lord Jesus Christ, With Us Abide (German: Ach bleib bei uns, Herr Jesu Christ). First published in Leipzig in 1589, the hymn is a defense of Scripture as the Word of God and a prayer that it would guide and sustain the Christian in life and death. Involved as he was in the controversies of the church, it is easy to see how a hymn such as this would have come from Selneccer’s pen.
Lord Jesus Christ, with us abide, / For round us falls the eventide; / Nor let Thy Word, that heavenly light, / For us be ever veiled in night. The first verse as well as the remaining verses are simple and direct in their poetry. O Lord, stay with us and let your Word be with us always!
In these last days of sore distress / Grant us, dear Lord, true steadfastness / That pure we keep, till life is spent, / Thy holy Word and Sacrament. The times and days in which we live grow steadily worse. Sometimes we wonder, “When Jesus comes again, will He even find faith on the earth?” (see Luke 18:8) The Lord works through the Word of God and the visible Gospel (the sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper) to keep us faithful.
A trusty weapon is Thy Word, / Thy Church’s buckler, shield and sword. / Oh, let us in its power confide / That we may seek no other guide! The Scriptures we have been given are the very Word of God, just as God wanted them written and containing everything necessary for our faith and life. The world around us offers many different spiritual paths, but only the Bible gives us the guidance of the true God! We pray that the church would always trust in Scripture rather than in the thoughts and opinions of man.
Oh, grant that in Thy holy Word / We here may live and die, dear Lord; / And when our journey endeth here, / Receive us into glory there. As Nicholas Selneccer knew so well, Satan does not rest, so battles over the Word of God will not cease. Scripture, however, will not pass away and the Lord will continue to use it to bring us to our heavenly home.
David Schaller is pastor of Redeemer Evangelical Lutheran Church in Sister Lakes, Michigan. He also prepares the “Bread of Life” devotions for the Lutheran Spokesman.