A HYMN OF GLORY LET US SING
One of Martin Luther’s greatest contributions to Christian worship was his effort to collect and produce hymns for the congregation in their own language. He was insistent that people should become active participants in learning and proclaiming the Gospel through singing. For the Festival of Pentecost he wrote the German hymn Komm, Heiliger Geist, Herre Gott — Come, Holy Ghost, God and Lord!
He based this hymn on a text and melody that was already familiar. There was a Latin antiphon (responsive prayer) in use that was spoken or sung at Pentecost. It went, “Come, Holy Spirit, fill up the hearts of your believers, and kindle in them the fire of your love: You who have gathered the nations in the unity of the faith through all the diverse languages. Alleluia, Alleluia.” Luther translated this antiphon and made it the first verse of his hymn, fitting it to a melody that was similar to the one heard in church. It is a prayer that the Holy Spirit would come and pour out His gifts in our hearts, gifts such as faith, peace, and forgiveness. Truly, without the Spirit’s work in us we could neither receive nor hold on to any of these blessings, as Paul teaches, “No one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ except by the Holy Spirit.” (1 Corinthians 12:3 NIV84) Further, we do not ask the Spirit’s blessings for ourselves alone, but for people everywhere. We pray that He would work in others too, and unite them with us in the Holy Christian Church. Thou in the faith dost men unite / Of ev’ry land and ev’ry tongue; / This to Thy praise, O Lord, our God, be sung. Hallelujah! Hallelujah!
To the first verse, based on the 11th century antiphon, Luther added two more original verses. In the second verse he addressed how it is that we receive the Spirit’s gifts. Namely, they come to us through the Word of God. The Word is the tool the Spirit uses to work faith in our hearts, so we pray that the Word be preached to us without error and that it lead our hearts and minds to trust in Christ Jesus our Lord. Oh, cause the Word of Life to shine! / Teach us to know our God aright . . . / From ev’ry error keep us free; / Let none but Christ our Master be / That we in living faith abide, / In Him, our Lord, with all our might confide. We make so much of the Word of God in our worship services and teaching today because the Word cannot be separated from the work of the Spirit. Where the Spirit is, there is the Word. Where the Word is, there is the Spirit.
The closing verse is a prayer that, having heard the Word of God, the Spirit would help us lead holy lives according to it, especially in times of trial and temptation. There are echoes here of Luther’s explanation to the Second Petition of the Lord’s Prayer: “God’s kingdom comes when our heavenly Father gives us His Holy Spirit, so that by His grace we believe His holy Word and live a godly life here in time and hereafter in eternity.” Compare this with our hymn: Grant us the will Thy work to do / And in Thy service to abide; / Let trials turn us not aside. / Lord, by Thy pow’r prepare each heart . . . / That bravely here we may contend, / Thro’ life and death to Thee, our Lord, ascend. To this we say: Hallelujah! Hallelujah!
David Schaller has recently accepted a call to serve on the faculty of Immanuel Lutheran College in Eau Claire, Wisconsin.