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When the Swedish colonists along the Delaware gathered in their temples to worship God in the latter part of the 17th century, they sang songs from a hymn-book the use of which had been prohibited in Sweden. It was the much-mooted hymn-book of Jesper Swedberg. Originally published by the author in 1694 and intended for the Church of Sweden, it immediately came under suspicion on the ground that it contained unorthodox teachings and was promptly confiscated. This, however, did not hinder the authorities from sending the book in large quantities to America, and it was used on this side of the Atlantic for many years.

Swedberg, who was born near Falun, Sweden, in the year 1653, was the first important hymnist of his native land. From the days of the Reformation no noteworthy advance had been made in Swedish hymnody until Swedberg began to tune his lyre. The official “Psalm-book” had been revised on several occasions, but the Upsala edition of 1645 contained only 182 hymns, far too few to meet the needs of church worship and private devotion.

It was in 1691 that Swedberg received the royal commission to prepare a new hymn-book. He was fortunate in having the aid of such gifted poets as Haqvin Spegel, Petrus Lagerlöf, Israel Kolmodin and Jacob Boethius in the execution of his task.

The new book, containing 482 Swedish hymns and a few in Latin, made its appearance in 1694. A large edition 156 was printed, the financial cost of which was borne largely by Swedberg himself. It met with immediate opposition, particularly from Bishop Carl Carlsson, who charged that the hymn-book contained “innumerable heresies of a theological, anthropological, Christological, soteriological and eschatological nature.”

It was enough. King Karl XI immediately appointed a new commission to revise Swedberg’s work, with the result that 75 hymns were omitted and six new hymns added. It was printed in 1696 and remained in use as the “Psalm-book” of the Church of Sweden for more than a century, until it was succeeded in 1819 by Wallin’s masterpiece.

The unsold copies of the first edition, about 20,000 in number, were confiscated and stored away. From time to time quantities of these books were sent to the Swedish colonists in America, for whose “preservation in the true faith,” as the hymnologist Söderberg ironically remarks, “the Swedish authorities seemed less concerned.”

Swedberg felt the slight keenly and often made significant references in his diary regarding those who had been instrumental in rejecting his work. One of these notations tells how the Cathedral of Upsala was destroyed by fire in 1702, and how the body of Archbishop O. Svebilius, although encased in a copper and stone sarcophagus, was reduced to ashes. “But my hymn-books,” he adds, “which were only of paper, unbound and unprotected, were not even scorched by the flames.”

The final form in which his hymn-book was published nevertheless still retained so many of his own hymns, and the entire book was so impregnated with his own spirit, that it has always been known as “Swedberg’s Psalm-book.” A noted critic has called it “the most precious heritage he 157 left to his native land.” It was Swedberg who wrote the sublime stanza that has become the doxology of the Church of Sweden:

Bless us, Father, and protect us,

Be our souls’ sure hiding-place;

Let Thy wisdom still direct us,

Light our darkness with Thy grace!

Let Thy countenance on us shine,

Fill us all with peace divine.

Praise the Father, Son, and Spirit,

Praise Him all that life inherit!

Swedberg was elevated to the bishopric of Skara in 1702. He died in 1735, universally mourned by the Swedish people.

Haqvin Spegel, who collaborated with Swedberg in the preparation of his hymn-book, was the more gifted poet of the two. It was he who, by his hymns, fixed the language forms that subsequently became the model for Swedish hymnody. Although Spegel never stooped to sickly sentimentality, his hymns are so filled with the spirit of personal faith and fervent devotion that they rise to unusual lyric heights. A sweet pastoral fragrance breathes through the hymn, “We Christians should ever consider,” as the following stanza testifies:

The lilies, nor toiling nor spinning,

Their clothing how gorgeous and fair!

What tints in their tiny orbs woven,

What wondrous devices are there!

All Solomon’s stores could not render

One festival robe of such splendor

As modest field lilies do wear.

His communion hymn, “The death of Jesus Christ, our 158 Lord,” is a classic example of how Spegel could set forth in song the objective truths of the Christian faith.

The death of Jesus Christ, our Lord,

We celebrate with one accord;

It is our comfort in distress,

Our heart’s sweet joy and happiness.

He blotted out with His own blood

The judgment that against us stood;

He full atonement for us made,

And all our debt He fully paid.

That this is so and ever true

He gives an earnest ever new,

In this His Holy Supper, here

We taste His love, so sweet, so near.

For His true body, as He said,

And His own blood, for sinners shed,

In this communion we receive:

His sacred Word we do believe.

O sinner, come with true intent

To turn to God and to repent,

To live for Christ, to die to sin,

And thus a holy life begin.

Spegel was given the highest ecclesiastical honor bestowed by his country when he was created archbishop in 1711. He died three years later.

Among the other hymn-writers who contributed hymns to Swedberg’s noted book was Jacob Arrhenius, professor of history in the University of Upsala. This man, who devoted a great deal of his time to the financial affairs of the University, was also a richly-endowed spiritual poet. 159 The intimate tenderness with which he sang the Saviour’s praise had never before been attained in Swedish hymnody. It was he who wrote:

Jesus is my Friend most precious,

Never friend did love as He;

Can I leave this Friend so gracious,

Spurn His wondrous love for me?

No! nor friend nor foe shall sever

Me from Him who loves me so;

His shall be my will forever,

There above, and here below.

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