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Hymns And Hymnwriters Of Denmark by Jens Christian Aaberg

Chapter Fifteen Grundtvig's Hymns

Grundtvig wrote most of his hymns when he was past middle age, a man of extensive learning, proved poetical ability and mature judgment, especially in spiritual things. Years of hard struggles and unjust neglect had sobered and mellowed but not aged or embittered him.

His long study of hymnology together with his exceptional poetical gift enabled him to adopt material from all ages and branches of Christian song, and to wield it into a homogenous hymnody for his own church. His treatment of the material is usually very free, so free that it is often difficult to discover any relationship between his translations and their supposed originals. Instead of endeavoring to transfer the metre, phrasing and sentiment of the original text, he frequently adopts only a single thought or a general idea from its content, and expresses this in his own language and form.

His original hymns likewise bear the imprint of his ripe knowledge and spiritual understanding. They are for the most part objective in content and sentiment, depicting the great themes of Biblical history, doctrine and life rather than the personal feeling and experiences of the individual. A large number of his hymns are, in fact, faithful but often striking adaptations of Bible stories and texts. For though he was frequently accused of belittling the Book of Books, his hymns to a larger extent than those of any other Danish hymnwriter are directly inspired by the language of the Bible. He possessed an exceptional ability to absorb the essential implications of a text and to present it with the terseness and force of an adage.

Although Grundtvig's hymns at times attain the height of pure poetry, their poetic merit is incidental rather than sought. In the pride of his youth he had striven, as he once complained, to win the laurel wreath, but had found it to be an empty honor. His style is more often forceful than lyrical. When the mood was upon him he could play the lyre with entrancing beauty and gentleness, but he preferred the organ with all stops out.

His style is often rough but expressive and rich in imagery. In this he strove to supplant time-honored similes and illustrations from Biblical lands with native allusions and scenes. Pictures drawn from the Danish landscape, lakes and streams, summer and winter, customs and life abound in his songs, giving them a home-like touch that has endeared them to millions.

His poetry is of very unequal merit. He was a prolific writer, producing, besides many volumes of poetry on various subjects, about three thousand hymns and songs. Among much that is excellent in this vast production there are also dreary stretches of rambling loquacity, hollow rhetoric and unintelligible jumbles of words and phrases. He could be insupportably dull and again express more in a single stanza, couplet or phrase than many have said in a whole book. A study of his poetry is, therefore, not unlike a journey through a vast country, alternating in fertile valleys, barren plains and lofty heights with entrancing views into far, dim vistas.

This inconsistency in the work of a man so eminently gifted as Grundtvig is explainable only by his method of writing. He was an intuitive writer and preferred to be called a |skjald| instead of a poet. The distinction is significant but somewhat difficult to define. As Grundtvig himself understood the term, the |skjald|, besides being a poet, must also be a seer, a man able to envision and express what was still hidden to the common mortal. |The skjald is,| he says, |the chosen lookout of life who must reveal from his mountain what he sees at life's deep fountain. When gripped by his vision,| he says further, the skjald is |neither quiescent nor lifeless but, on the contrary, lifted up into an exceptional state of sensitiveness in which he sees and feels things with peculiar vividness and power. I know of nothing in this material world to which the skjald may more fittingly be likened than a tuned harp with the wind playing upon it.|

A skjald in Grundtvig's conception was thus a man endowed with the gift of receiving direct impressions of life and things, of perceiving especially the deeper and more fundamental truths of existence intuitively instead of intellectually. Such perceptions, he admitted, might lack the apparent clarity of reasoned conclusions, but would approach nearer to the truth. For life must be understood from within, must be spiritually discerned. It could never be comprehended by mere intellect or catalogued by supposed science.

He knew, however, that his work was frequently criticized for its ambiguity and lack of consistency. But he claimed that these defects were unavoidable consequences of his way of writing. He had to write what he saw and could not be expected to express that clearly which he himself saw only dimly. |I naturally desire to please my readers,| he wrote to Ingemann, |but when I write as my intuition dictates, it works well; ideas and images come to me without effort, and I fly lightly as the gazelle from crag to crag, whereas if I warn myself that there must be a limit to everything and that I must restrain myself and write sensibly, I am stopped right there. And I have thus to choose between writing as the spirit moves me, or not writing at all.|

This statement, although it casts a revealing light both upon his genius and its evident limitations, is no doubt extreme. However much Grundtvig may have depended on his momentary inspiration for the poetical development of his ideas, his fundamental views on life were exceptionally clear and comprehensive. He knew what he believed regarding the essential verities of existence, of God and man, of good and evil, of life and death. And all other conceptions of his intuitive and far-reaching spirit were consistently correlated to these basic beliefs.

Bishop H. Martensen, the celebrated theologian, relates an illuminating conversation between Grundtvig and the German theologian, P. K. Marheincke, during a visit which the Bishop had arranged between the two men. Dr. Marheincke commenced a lengthy discourse on the great opposites in life, as for instance between thinking and being, and Grundtvig replied, |My opposites are life and death| (Mein Gegensatz ist Leben und Tod).

|The professor accepted my statement somewhat dubiously,| Grundtvig said later, |and admitted that that was indeed a great contrast, but -- | The difference between the two men no doubt lay in the fact that Prof. Marheincke, the speculative theologian, was principally interested in the first part of the assumed contrast -- thinking, whereas Grundtvig's main concern was with the last -- being, existence, life. In real life there could be no more fundamental, no farther reaching contrast than the continuous and irreconcilable difference between life and death. The thought of this contrast lies at the root of all his thinking and colors all his views. From the day of his conversion until the hour of his death, his one consuming interest was to illuminate the contrast between the two irreconcilable enemies and to encourage anything that would strengthen the one and defeat the other.

Grundtvig loved life in all its highest aspects and implications, and he hated death under whatever form he saw it. |Life is from heaven, death is from hell,| he says in a characteristic poem. The one is representative of all the good the Creator intended for his creatures, the other of all the evil, frustration and destruction the great destroyer brought into the world. There can be no reconciliation or peace between the two, the one must inevitably destroy or be destroyed by the other. He could see nothing but deception in the attempts of certain philosophical or theological phrasemakers to minimize or explain away the eternal malignity of death, man's most relentless foe. A human being could fall no lower than to accept death as a friend. Thus in a poem:

Yea, hear it, ye heavens, with loathing and grief;

The sons of the Highest now look for relief

In the ways of damnation

And find consolation

In hopes of eternal death.

But death is not present only at the hour of our demise. It is present everywhere; it is active in all things. It destroys nations, corrupts society, robs the child of its innocence, wipes the bloom from the cheeks of youth, frustrates the possibilities of manhood and makes pitiful the white hair of the aged. For death, as all must see, is only the wage of sin, the ripe fruit of evil.

I recognize now clearly;

Death is the wage of sin,

It is the fruitage merely

Of evil's growth within.

And its danger is so actual because it is active in every individual in himself as well as in others:

When I view the true condition

Of my troubled, restless heart,

Naught but sin can I envision

Even to its inmost part.

Such then is his fundamental view of the condition of man, a being in the destructive grip of a relentless foe, a creature whose greatest need is |a hero who can break the bonds of death|. And there is but one who can do that, the Son of God.

Grundtvig's hymns abound in terms of adoration for the Savior of Man. He names Him the |Joy of Heaven|, |The Fortune of Earth|, |The Fount of Light|, |The Sovereign of Life|, |The Fear of Darkness|, |The Terror of Death|, and speaks of the day when all the |nations of the earth shall offer praise in the offer bowl of His name.| But he sees the Christ less as the suffering Lamb of God than as the invincible conqueror of death and the heroic deliverer of man.

Like his other hymns most of his hymns to the Savior are objective rather than subjective. They present the Christ of the Gospels, covering his life so fully that it would be possible to compile from them an almost complete sequence on His life, work and resurrection. The following stately hymn may serve as an appropriate introduction to a necessarily brief survey of the group:

8,8,8,8,8,8,8

Grundtvig, Nicolai Frederik Severin, 1783-1872

tr., J. C. Aaberg

Jesus, the name without compare;

Honored on earth and in heaven,

Wherein the Father's love and care

Are to His children now given.

Saviour of all that saved would be,

Fount of salvation full and free

Is the Lord Jesus forever.

Jesus, the name alone on earth

For our salvation afforded.

So on His cross of precious worth

Is in His blood it recorded.

Only in that our prayers are heard,

Only in that when hearts are stirred

Doth now the Spirit us comfort.

Jesus, the name above the sky

Wherein, when seasons are ended,

Peoples shall come to God on high,

And every knee shall be bended,

While all the saved in sweet accord

Chorus the praise of Christ, the Lord,

Savior beloved by the Father.

Grundtvig sang of Christmas morning |as his heaven on earth|, and he wrote some of the finest Christmas hymns in the Danish language. A number of these have already been given. The following simple hymn from an old Latin-Danish text is still very popular.

8,4,8,4,4

Grundtvig, Nicolai Frederik Severin, 1783-1872

tr., J. C. Aaberg

A babe is born in Bethlehem,

Bethlehem,

Rejoice, rejoice Jerusalem;

Hallelujah, hallelujah.

A lowly virgin gave Him birth,

Gave Him birth,

Who rules the heavens and the earth;

Hallelujah, hallelujah.

He in a simple manger lay,

Manger lay,

Whom angels praise with joy for aye;

Hallelujah, hallelujah.

And wise men from the East did bring,

East did bring,

Gold, myrrh and incense to the King;

Hallelujah, hallelujah.

Now all our fears have passed away,

Passed away,

The Savior blest was born today;

Hallelujah, hallelujah.

God's blessed children we became,

We became,

And shall in heaven praise His name;

Hallelujah, hallelujah.

There like the angels we shall be,

We shall be,

And shall the Lord in glory see;

Hallelujah, hallelujah.

With gladsome praises we adore,

We adore,

Our Lord and Savior evermore;

Hallelujah, hallelujah.

His hymns on the life and work of our Lord are too numerous to be more than indicated here. The following hymn on the text, |Blessed are the eyes that see what ye see, and the ears that hear what ye hear|, is typical of his expository hymns.

8,7,8,7,8,8

Grundtvig, Nicolai Frederik Severin, 1783-1872

tr., J. C. Aaberg

Blessed were the eyes that truly

Here on earth beheld the Lord;

Happy were the ears that duly

Listened to His living word.

Which proclaimed the wondrous story

Of God's mercy, love and glory.

Kings and prophets long with yearning

Prayed to see His day appear;

Angels with desire were burning

To behold the golden year

When God's light and grace should quicken

All that sin and death had stricken.

He who, light and life revealing,

By His Spirit stills our want;

He, who broken hearts is healing

By His cup and at the font,

Jesus, Fount of joy incessant,

Is with light and grace now present.

Eyes by sin and darkness blinded

May now see His glory bright;

Hearts perverse and carnal minded

May obtain His Spirit's light.

When, contrite and sorely yearning,

They in faith to Him are turning.

Blessed are the eyes that truly

Now on earth behold the Lord;

Happy are the ears that duly

Listen to His living word!

When His words our spirits nourish

Shall the kingdom in us flourish.

Grundtvig reaches his greatest height in his hymns of praise to Christ, the Redeemer. Many of his passion hymns have not been translated into English. In the original, the following hymn undoubtedly ranks with the greatest songs of praise to the suffering Lord.

8,8,8,8,7

Grundtvig, Nicolai Frederik Severin, 1783-1872

tr., J. C. Aaberg

Hail Thee, Savior and Atoner!

Though the world Thy name dishonor,

Moved by love my heart proposes

To adorn Thy cross with roses

And to offer praise to Thee.

O what moved Thee so to love us,

When enthroned with God above us,

That for us Thou all wouldst offer

And in deep compassion suffer

Even death that we might live.

Love alone Thy heart was filling

When to suffer Thou wert willing.

Rather givest Thou than takest,

Hence, O Savior, Thou forsakest

All to die in sinner's place.

Ah, my heart in deep contrition

Now perceives its true condition,

Cold and barren like a mountain,

How could I deserve the fountain

Of Thy love, my Savior dear.

Yet I know that from thy passion

Flows a river of salvation

Which can bid the mountain vanish,

Which can sin and coldness banish,

And restore my heart in Thee.

Lord, with tears I pray Thee ever:

Lead into my heart that river,

Which with grace redeeming cleanses

Heart and soul of all offences,

Blotting out my guilt and shame.

Lord, Thy life for sinners giving,

Let in Thee me find my living

So for Thee my heart is beating,

All my thoughts in Thee are meeting,

Finding there their light and joy.

Though all earthly things I cherish

Like the flowers may fade and perish,

Thou, I know, wilt stand beside me;

And from death and judgment hide me;

Thou hast paid the wage of sin.

Yes, my heart believes the wonder

Of Thy cross, which ages ponder!

Shield me, Lord, when foes assail me,

Be my staff when life shall fail me;

Take me to Thy Paradise.

Grundtvig's Easter hymns strike the triumphant note, especially such hymns as |Christ Arose in Glory|, |Easter Morrow Stills Our Sorrow|, and the very popular,

Move the signs of gloom and mourning

From the garden of the dead.

For the wreaths of grief and yearning,

Plant bright lilies in their stead.

Carve instead of sighs of grief

Angels' wings in bold relief,

And for columns, cold and broken,

Words of hope by Jesus spoken.

His Easter hymns fail as a whole to reach the height of his songs for other church festivals. In this respect, they resemble the hymnody of the whole church, which contains remarkably few really great hymns on the greatest events in its history. It is as though the theme were too great to be expressed in the language of man.

Grundtvig wrote a number of magnificent hymns on the themes of our Lord's ascension and His return to judge the quick and the dead. Of the latter, the hymn given below is perhaps the most favored of those now available in English.

8,8,7,8,8,7

Grundtvig, Nicolai Frederik Severin, 1783-1872

tr., J. C. Aaberg

Lift up thy head, O Christendom!

Behold above the blessed home

For which thy heart is yearning.

There dwells the Lord, thy soul's delight,

Who soon with power and glory bright

Is for His bride returning.

And when in every land and clime,

All shall behold His signs sublime,

The guilty world appalling,

Then shalt with joy thou lift thine eyes

And see Him coming in the skies,

While suns and stars are falling.

While for His coming thou dost yearn,

Forget not why His last return

The Savior is delaying,

And ask Him not before His hour

To shake the heavens with His power,

Nor judge the lost and straying.

O saints of God, for Sodom pray

Until your prayers no more can stay

The judgment day impending.

Then cries the Lord: |Behold, I come!|

And ye shall answer: |To Thy home

We are with joy ascending!|

Then loud and clear the trumpet calls,

The dead awake, death's kingdom falls,

And God's elect assemble.

The Lord ascends the judgment throne,

And calls His ransomed for His own,

While hearts in gladness tremble.

Grundtvig is often called the Singer of Pentecost. And his hymns on the nature and work of the Spirit do rank with his very best. He believed in the reality of the Spirit as the living, active agent of Christ in His church. As the church came into being by the outpouring of the Holy Ghost on the day of Pentecost, so our Lord still builds and sanctifies it by the Spirit, working through His words and sacraments. His numerous hymns on the Spirit are drawn from many sources, both ancient and modern. His treatment of the originals is so free, however, that it is difficult in most cases to know whether his versions should be accepted as adaptations or originals. Of mere translations there are none. The following version of the widely known hymn, |Veni Sancte Spiritus,| may serve to illustrate his work as a transplanter of hymns.

7,7,6,7,7,6

Grundtvig, Nicolai Frederik Severin, 1783-1872

tr., J. C. Aaberg

Holy Spirit, come with light,

Break the dark and gloomy night

With Thy day unending.

Help us with a joyful lay

Greet the Lord's triumphant day

Now with might ascending.

Comforter so wondrous kind,

Noble guest of heart and mind

Fix in us Thy dwelling.

Give us peace in storm and strife,

Fill each troubled heart and life

With Thy joy excelling.

Make salvation clear to us,

Who despite our sin and dross

Would exalt the Spirit.

For without Thine aid and love

All our life and work must prove

Vain and without merit.

Raise or bow us with Thine arm,

Break temptation's evil charm,

Clear our clouded vision.

Fill our hearts with longing new,

Cleanse us with Thy morning dew,

Tears of deep contrition.

Blessed Fount of life and breath,

Let our hope in view of death

Blossom bright and vernal;

And above the silent tomb

Let the Easter lilies bloom,

Signs of life eternal.

Many of Grundtvig's original hymns evince a strong Danish coloring, a fact which is especially evident in a number of his Pentecost hymns. Pentecost comes in Denmark at the first breath of summer when nature, prompted by balmy breezes, begins to unfold her latent life and beauty. This similarity between the life of nature and the work of the Spirit is strikingly expressed in a number of his Pentecost hymns.

The following hymn, together with its beautiful tune, is rated as one of the most beautiful and, lyrically, most perfect hymns in Danish. Because of its strong Danish flavor, however, it may not make an equal appeal to American readers. The main thought of the hymn is that, as in nature, so also in the realm of the Spirit, summer is now at hand. The coming of the Spirit completes God's plan of salvation and opens the door for the unfolding of a new life. The translation is by Prof. S. D. Rodholm.

9,9,8,8,8,8

Grundtvig, Nicolai Frederik Severin, 1783-1872

tr., S. D. Rodholm

The sun now shines in all its splendor,

The fount of life and mercy tender;

Now bright Whitsunday lilies grow

And summer sparkles high and low;

Sweet songsters sing of harvest gold

In Jesus' name a thousand fold.

The peaceful nightingales are filling

The quiet night with music thrilling.

Thus all that to the Lord belong

May rest in peace and wake with song,

May dream of life beyond the skies,

And with God's praise at daylight rise.

It breathes from heaven on the flowers,

It whispers home-like in the bowers,

A balmy breeze comes to our coast

From Paradise, no longer closed,

And gently purls a brooklet sweet

Of life's clear water at our feet.

This works the Spirit, still descending,

And tongues of fire to mortals lending,

That broken hearts may now be healed,

And life with grace and love revealed

In Him, who came from yonder land

And has returned to God's right hand.

Awaken then all tongues to honor

Lord Jesus Christ, our blest Atoner;

Let every voice in anthems rise

To praise the Savior's sacrifice.

And thou, His Church, with one accord

Arise and glorify the Lord.

Of his other numerous hymns on the Spirit, the one given below is, perhaps, one of the most characteristic.

8,8,7,8,8,7

Grundtvig, Nicolai Frederik Severin, 1783-1872

tr., J. C. Aaberg

Holy Ghost, our Interceder,

Blessed Comforter and Pleader

With the Lord for all we need,

Deign to hold with us communion

That with Thee in blessed union

We may in our life succeed.

Heavenly Counsellor and Teacher,

Make us through Thy guidance richer

In the grace our Lord hath won.

Blest Partaker of God's fullness,

Make us all, despite our dullness,

Wiser e'en than Solomon.

Helper of the helpless, harken

To our pleas when shadows darken;

Shield us from the beasts of prey.

Rouse the careless, help the weary,

Bow the prideful, cheer the dreary,

Be our guest each passing day.

Comforter, whose comfort lightens

Every cross that scars and frightens,

Succor us from guilt and shame.

Warm our heart, inspire our vision,

Add Thy voice to our petition

As we pray in Jesus' name.

Believing in the Spirit, Grundtvig also believed in the kingdom of God, not only as a promise of the future but as a reality of the present.

Right among us is God's kingdom

With His Spirit and His word,

With His grace and love abundant

At His font and altar-board.

Among his numerous hymns on the nature and work of God's kingdom, the following is one of the most favored.

14,14,4,7,8

Grundtvig, Nicolai Frederik Severin, 1783-1872

tr., J. C. Aaberg

Founded our Lord has upon earth a realm of the Spirit

Wherein He fosters a people restored by His merit.

It shall remain

People its glory attain,

They shall the kingdom inherit.

Forward like light of the morning its message is speeding,

Millions receive and proclaim it with gladness exceeding

For with His word

God doth His Spirit accord,

Raising all barriers impeding.

Jesus, our Savior, with God in the highest residing,

And by the Spirit the wants of Thy people providing,

Be Thou our life,

Shield and defender in strife,

Always among us abiding.

Then shall Thy people as Lord of the nations restore Thee,

Even by us shall a pathway be straightened before Thee

Till everywhere,

Bending in worship and prayer,

All shall as Savior adore Thee.

The kingdom of God is the most wonderful thing on earth.

8,7,8,7

Grundtvig, Nicolai Frederik Severin, 1783-1872

tr., J. C. Aaberg

Most wonderful of all things is

The kingdom Jesus founded.

Its glory, treasure, peace and bliss

No tongue has fully sounded.

Invisible as mind and soul,

And yet of light the fountain,

It sheds its light from pole to pole

Like beacons from a mountain.

Its secret is the word of God,

Which works what it proposes,

Which lowers mountains high and broad

And clothes the wastes with roses.

Though foes against the kingdom rage

With hatred and derision,

God spreads its reign from age to age,

And brings it to fruition.

Its glory rises like a morn

When waves at sunrise glitter,

Or as in June the golden corn

While birds above it twitter.

It is the glory of the King

Who bore affliction solely

That he the crown of life might bring

To sinners poor and lowly.

And when His advent comes to pass,

The Christian's strife is ended,

What now we see as in a glass

Shall then be comprehended.

Then shall the kingdom bright appear

In glory true and vernal,

And usher in the golden year

Of peace and joy eternal.

But the kingdom of God here on earth is represented by the Christian church, wherein Christ works by the Spirit through His word and sacraments. Of Grundtvig's many splendid hymns of the church, the following, in the translation of Pastor Carl Doving, has become widely known in all branches of the Lutheran church in America. Pastor Doving's translation is not wholly satisfactory, however, to those who know the forceful and yet so appealing language of the original, a fate which, we are fully aware, may also befall the following new version.

8,8,8,8,8,8,8

Grundtvig, Nicolai Frederik Severin, 1783-1872

tr., J. C. Aaberg

Built on a rock the church of God

Stands though its towers be falling;

Many have crumbled beneath the sod,

Bells still are chiming and calling,

Calling the young and old to come,

But above all the souls that roam,

Weary for rest everlasting.

God, the most high, abides not in

Temples that hands have erected.

High above earthly strife and sin,

He hath his mansions perfected.

Yet He, whom heavens cannot contain,

Chose to abide on earth with man

Making their body His temple.

We are God's house of living stones,

Built for the Spirit's indwelling.

He at His font and table owns

Us for His glory excelling.

Should only two confess His name,

He would yet come and dwell with them,

Granting His mercy abounding.

Even the temples built on earth

Unto the praise of the Father,

Are like the homes of hallowed worth

Whence we as children did gather.

Glorious things in them are said,

God there with us His covenant made,

Making us heirs of His kingdom.

There we behold the font at which

God as His children received us;

There stands the altar where His rich

Mercy from hunger relieved us.

There His blest word to us proclaim:

Jesus is now and e'er the same,

So is His way of salvation.

Grant then, O Lord, where'er we roam,

That, when the church bells are ringing,

People in Jesus' name may come,

Praising His glory with singing.

|Ye, not the world, my face shall see;

I will abide with you,| said He.

|My peace I leave with you ever.|

As a believer in objective Christianity, Grundtvig naturally exalts the God-given means of grace, the word and sacraments, through which the Spirit works. In one of the epigrammatic expressions often found in his writings, he says:

We are and remain,

We live and attain

In Jesus, God's living word

When His word we embrace

And live by its grace,

Then dwells He within us, our Lord.

This firm belief in the actual presence of Christ in His word and sacraments lends an exceptional realism to many of his hymns on the means of grace. Through the translation by Pastor Doving the following brief hymn has gained wide renown in America.

8,7,8,7,6,6,6,6,7

Grundtvig, Nicolai Frederik Severin, 1783-1872

tr., Carl Doving

God's word is our great heritage,

And shall be ours forever.

To spread its light from age to age,

Shall be our chief endeavor.

Through life it guards our way,

In death it is our stay.

Lord, grant, while worlds endure,

We keep its teachings pure

Throughout all generations.

Of his numerous hymns on baptism, the following, which an American authority on hymnody calls the finest baptismal hymn ever written, is perhaps the most representative.

9,8,9,8

Grundtvig, Nicolai Frederik Severin, 1783-1872

tr., J. C. Aaberg

O let Thy spirit with us tarry,

Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,

So that the babes we to Thee carry

May be unto Thy death baptized.

Lord, after Thee we humbly name them,

O let them in Thy name arise!

If they should stumble, Lord, reclaim them,

That they may reach Thy paradise.

If long their course, let them not falter.

Give to Thine aged servants rest.

If short their race, let by Thine altar

Them like the swallows find a rest.

Upon their heart, Thy name be written,

And theirs within Thine own right hand,

That even when by trials smitten,

They in Thy covenant firm may stand.

Thine angels sing for children sleeping,

May they still sing when death draws nigh.

Both cross and crown are in Thy keeping.

Lord, lead us all to Thee on high.

His communion hymns are gathered from many sources. Of his originals the following tender hymn is perhaps the most typical.

7,7,7,7,7,7

Grundtvig, Nicolai Frederik Severin, 1783-1872

tr., J. C. Aaberg

Savior, whither should we go

From the truest friend we know,

From the Son of God above,

From the Fount of saving love,

Who in all this world of strife

Hath alone the word of life.

No, I dare not turn from Thee,

Though Thy word oft chasten me,

For throughout this world, O Lord,

Death is still the cruel word.

Whoso saves the soul from death

Brings redemption, life and breath.

|Eat my flesh and drink my blood.|

Saith our Lord, so kind and good.

|Whoso takes the bread and wine,

Shall receive my life divine,

Be redeemed from all his foes

And arise as I arose.|

Hear Him then, my heart distressed,

Beating anxious in my breast.

Take Thy Savior at His word,

Meet Him at His altar-board,

Eat His body, drink His blood,

And obtain eternal good.

Grundtvig also produced a great number of hymns for the enrichment of other parts of the church service. Few hymns thus strike a more appropriate and festive note for the opening service than the short hymn given below.

11,5,11,9

Grundtvig, Nicolai Frederik Severin, 1783-1872

tr., J. C. Aaberg

Come, Zion, and sing to the Father above;

Angels join with you

And thank Him for Jesus, the gifts of His love.

We sing before God in the highest.

Strike firmly, O Psalmist, the jubilant chord;

Golden be your harp

In praise of Christ Jesus, our Savior and Lord.

We sing before God in the highest.

Then hear we with rapture the tongues as of fire,

The Spirit draws nigh,

Whose counsels with comforts our spirits inspire,

We sing before God in the highest.

Equally fine is his free rendering of the 84th psalm.

5,5,4,5,5,4,10,10
Psalm 84

Grundtvig, Nicolai Frederik Severin, 1783-1872

tr., J. C. Aaberg

Fair beyond telling,

Lord, is Thy dwelling,

Filled with Thy peace.

Oh how I languish

And, in my anguish,

Wait for release

That I may enter Thy temple, O Lord,

With Thee communing in deepest accord.

With Thy compassion,

Lord of Salvation,

Naught can compare.

Even the sparrow

Safe from the arrow

Rests in Thy care.

And as Thou shieldest the bird in its nest,

So let my heart in Thy temple find rest.

Years full of splendors,

Which to offenders

Earth may afford,

Never can measure

One day of pleasure

Found with Thee, Lord,

When on the wings of Thy quickening word

Souls are uplifted and Thou art adored.

Quicken in spirit,

Grow in Thy merit

Shall now Thy friends.

Blessings in showers

Filled with Thy powers

On them descends

Until at home in the city of gold

All shall in wonder Thy presence behold.

Grundtvig's hymns are for the most part church hymns, presenting the objective rather than the subjective phase of Christian faith. He wrote for the congregation and held that a hymn for congregational singing should express the common faith and hope of the worshippers, rather than the personal feelings and experiences of the individual. Because of this his hymns are frequently criticized for their lack of personal sentiment. The personal note is not wholly lacking in his work, however, as witnessed by the following hymn.

5,5,10,5,5,10

Grundtvig, Nicolai Frederik Severin, 1783-1872

tr., J. C. Aaberg

Suffer and languish,

Tremble in anguish

Must every soul that awakes to its guilt.

Sternly from yonder,

Sinai doth thunder:

Die or achieve what no sinner fulfilled.

Tremble with gladness,

Smile through their sadness

Shall all that rest in the arms of the Lord.

Grace beyond measure,

Comfort and treasure

Gathers the heart from His merciful word.

Bravely to suffer,

Gladly to offer

Praises to God 'neath the weight of our cross,

This will the Spirit

Help us to merit

Granting a breath from God's heaven to us.

Even stronger is the personal sentiment of this appealing hymn.

8,7,8,7,8,8,7

Grundtvig, Nicolai Frederik Severin, 1783-1872

tr., J. C. Aaberg

With her cruse of alabaster,

Filled with ointment rare and sweet,

Came the woman to the Master,

Knelt contritely at His feet,

Feeling with unfeigned contrition

How unfit was her condition

To approach the Holy One.

Like this woman, I contritely

Often must approach the Lord,

Knowing that I cannot rightly

Ask a place beside His board.

Sinful and devoid of merit,

I can only cry in spirit:

Lord, be merciful to me.

Lord of Grace and Mercy, harken

To my plea for grace and light.

Threatening clouds and tempests darken

Now my soul with gloomy night.

Let, despite my guilt and error,

My repenting tears still mirror

Thy forgiving smile, O Lord.

The following hymn likewise voices the need for personal perseverance.

8,7,8,7,8,8,7,7

Grundtvig, Nicolai Frederik Severin, 1783-1872

tr., J. C. Aaberg

Hast to the plow thou put thy hand

Let not thy spirit waver,

Heed not the world's allurements grand,

Nor pause for Sodom's favor.

But plow thy furrow, sow the seed,

Though tares and thorns thy work impede;

For they, who sow with weeping,

With joy shall soon be reaping.

But should at times thy courage fail --

For all may fail and falter --

Let not the tempting world prevail

On thee thy course to alter.

Each moment lost in faint retreat

May bring disaster and defeat.

If foes bid thee defiance,

On God be thy reliance.

If steadfast in the race we keep,

Our course is soon completed.

And death itself is but a sleep,

Its dreaded might defeated.

But those who conquer in the strife

Obtain the victor's crown of life

And shall in constant gladness

Forget these days of sadness.

It is, perhaps, in his numerous hymns on Christian trust, comfort and hope that Grundtvig reaches his highest. His contributions to this type of hymns are too numerous to be more than indicated here. But the hymn given below presents a fair example of the simplicity and poetic beauty that characterize many of them.

8,8,8,8,4

Grundtvig, Nicolai Frederik Severin, 1783-1872

tr., J. C. Aaberg

God's little child, what troubles you!

Think of your Heavenly Father true.

He will uphold you by His hand,

None can His might and grace withstand.

The Lord be praised!

Shelter and food and counsel tried

God for His children will provide.

They shall not starve, nor homeless roam,

Children may claim their Father's home.

The Lord be praised!

Birds with a song toward heaven soar,

Neither they reap nor lay in store,

But where the hoarder dies from need,

Gathers the little bird a seed.

The Lord be praised!

Clad are the flowers in raiment fair,

Wondrous to see on deserts bare.

Neither they spin nor weave nor sew

Yet no king could such beauty show.

The Lord be praised!

Flowers that bloom at break of dawn

Only to die when day is gone,

How can they with the child compare

That shall the Father's glory share?

The Lord be praised!

God's little child, do then fore'er

Cast on the Lord your every care.

Trust in His love, His grace and might

Then shall His peace your soul delight.

The Lord be praised!

God will your every need allay

Even tomorrow as yesterday,

And when the sun for you goes down

He will your soul with glory crown.

The Lord be praised!

Grundtvig's friends were sometimes called the |Merry Christians.| There was nothing superficial or lighthearted, however, about the Christianity of their leader. It had been gained through intense struggles and maintained at the cost of worldly position and honor. But he did believe that God is love, and that love is the root and fount of life, as he says in the following splendid hymn. The translation is by the Reverend Doving.

8,7,8,7,8,8,7,7

Grundtvig, Nicolai Frederik Severin, 1783-1872

tr., Carl Doving

Love, the fount of light from heaven,

Is the root and source of life;

Therefore God's decrees are given

With His lovingkindness rife.

As our Savior blest declareth

And the Spirit witness beareth,

As we in God's service prove;

God is light and God is love.

Love, the crown of life eternal,

Love the brightness is of light;

Therefore on His throne supernal

Jesus sits in glory bright.

He the Light and Life of heaven,

Who Himself for us hath given,

Still abides and reigns above

In His Father's boundless love.

Love, alone the law fulfilling,

Is the bond of perfectness;

Love, who came, a victim willing,

Wrought our peace and righteousness.

Therefore love and peace in union

Ever work in sweet communion

That through love we may abide

One with Him who for us died.

But the fruit of God's love is peace. As Grundtvig, in the hymn above, sings of God's love, so in the sweet hymn given below he sings of God's peace. The translation is by Pastor Doving.

7,7,7,7,7,7

Grundtvig, Nicolai Frederik Severin, 1783-1872

tr., Doving, Carl, 1867-

Peace to soothe our bitter woes

God in Christ on us bestows;

Jesus wrought our peace with God

Through His holy, precious blood;

Peace in Him for sinners found

Is the Gospel's joyful sound.

Peace to us the church doth tell.

'Tis her welcome and farewell.

Peace was our baptismal dower;

Peace shall bless our dying hour.

Peace be with you full and free

Now and in eternity.

In this peace Christians find refuge and rest.

8,8,8,8

Grundtvig, Nicolai Frederik Severin, 1783-1872

tr., J. C. Aaberg

The peace of God protects our hearts

Against the tempter's fiery darts.

It is as sure when evening falls

As when the golden morning calls.

This peace our Savior wrought for us

In agony upon the cross,

And when He up to heaven soared,

His peace He left us in His word.

His word of peace new strength imparts

Each day to faint and troubled hearts,

And in His cup and at the font

It stills our deepest need and want.

This blessed peace our Lord will give

To all who in His Spirit live.

And even at their dying breath

Its comfort breaks the sting of death.

When Christ for us His peace hath won

He asked for faith and faith alone.

By faith and not by merits vain,

Our hearts God's blessed peace obtain.

Peace be with you, our Savior saith

In answer to the word of faith.

Whoso hath faith, shall find release

And dwell in God's eternal peace.

Grundtvig's hymns of comfort for the sick and dying rank with the finest ever written. He hates and fears death, hoping even that Christ may return before his own hour comes; but if He does not, he prays that the Savior will be right with him.

Lord, when my final hours impend,

Come in the person of a friend

And take Thy place beside me,

And talk to me as man to man

Of where we soon shall meet again

And all Thy joy betide me.

For though he knows he cannot master the enemy alone, if the Savior is there --

Death is but the last pretender

We with Christ as our defender

Shall engage and put to flight.

And His word will dispel all fear of the struggle:

7,6,7,6,7,7,6,6

Grundtvig, Nicolai Frederik Severin, 1783-1872

tr., J. C. Aaberg

Like dew upon the meadow

So falls the word of life

On Christians in the shadow

Of mortal's final strife.

The first fruit of its blessing

Is balm for fears distressing,

So gone is like a breath

The bitterness of death.

Like sun, when night is falling,

Sets stilly in the west

While birds are softly calling

Each other from their nest,

So when its brief day closes

That soul in peace reposes

Which knows that Christ the Lord

Is with it in His word.

And as we shiver slightly

An early summer morn

When blushing heavens brightly

Announce a day new-born,

So moves the soul immortal

With calmness through death's portal

That through its final strife

Beholds the Light of Life.

He could therefore exclaim:

Christian! what a morn of splendor

Full reward for every fear,

When the ransomed host shall render

Praises to its Savior dear,

Shall in heaven's hall of glory

Tell salvation's wondrous story,

And with the angelic throng

Sing the Lamb's eternal song.

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