Many hymns have interesting histories behind them. One of my personal favorites is the story behind the hymn "It Is Well With My Soul" which was written by a grieving man, Horatio Spafford, who had lost his four daughters in a tragic shipwreck after earlier losing his entire fortune in the Chicago fire. While on a ship at nearly the same place that his daughters' ship had gone down, he wrote these incredible words:
When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou has taught me to say,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.
Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,
Let this blest assurance control,
That Christ has regarded my helpless estate,
And hath shed His own blood for my soul.
What incredible faith in the face of adversity. Like Job, who lost his family and his wealth, he did not curse God. I am sure that he had questions, but even when suffering horribly from events that probably gave him cause to questions his faith, he was able to look out and remember the great gift of God.
The hymn most often associated with Thanksgiving, "We Gather Together", also has an interesting history, according to yesterday's Wall Street Journal. In an article entitled A Hymn's Long Journey Home: The surprising origins of "We Gather Together," a Thanksgiving standard by Melanie Kirkpatrick, she reports that this hymn was originally transformed into a hymn from a folksong began on about January 1, 1597.
That was the date of the Battle of Turnhout, in which Prince Maurice of Orange defeated the Spanish occupiers of a town in what is now the Netherlands. It appears likely that Dutch Protestants--who were forbidden from practicing their religion under the Catholic King Philip II of Spain--celebrated the victory by borrowing the familiar folk melody and giving it new words. Hence "Wilt heden nu treden" or, loosely translated, "We gather together"--a phrase that itself connoted a heretofore forbidden act: Dutch Protestants joining together in worship. Its first appearance in print was in a 1626 collection of Dutch patriotic songs, "Nederlandtsch Gedencklanck."
I had never thought about this song as arising out of religious oppression. I don't know if I ever read the words carefully or thought about them in any real depth. But with the understanding given by the Wall Street Journal article, read the words again in this new light. Recognize that people who were being persecuted for their desire to follow God as they understood His will were the authors of the song, and I think it will breathe new life into an old, but excellent, hymn.
We gather together to ask the Lord's blessing;
he chastens and hastens his will to make known.
The wicked oppressing now cease from distressing.
Sing praises to his name, he forgets not his own.
Beside us to guide us, our God with us joining,
ordaining, maintaining his kingdom divine;
so from the beginning the fight we were winning;
thou, Lord, wast at our side, all glory be thine!
We all do extol thee, thou leader triumphant,
and pray that thou still our defender wilt be.
Let thy congregation escape tribulation;
thy name be ever praised! O Lord, make us free!
Cross-blogged at Apologia Christi