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When Longfellow translated Tegnér’s Swedish poem, “Children of the Lord’s Supper,” he introduced Johan Olof Wallin to the English-speaking world in the following lines:

And with one voice

Chimed in the congregation, and sang an anthem immortal

Of the sublime Wallin, of David’s harp in the Northland.

Wallin is Scandinavia’s greatest hymnist and perhaps the foremost in the entire Christian Church during the Nineteenth century. The Swedish “Psalm-book” of 1819, which for more than a century has been the hymn-book of the Swedish people in the homeland and in other parts of the world, is in large measure the work of this one man. Of the 500 hymns in this volume, 128 are original hymns from his pen, 178 are revisions by Wallin, twenty-three are his translations, and thirteen are semi-originals based on the hymns of other authors. In brief, no less than 342 of the hymns of the “Psalm-book” reflect the genius of this remarkable writer.

Early in life Wallin began to reveal poetic talent. Born at Stora Tuna, Dalarne province, in 1779, he overcame the handicaps of poverty and poor health and at the age of twenty-four he had gained the degree of Doctor of Philosophy at the University of Upsala. In 1805, and again in 1809, he won the chief prize for poetry at the University.

In 1806 he was ordained to the Lutheran ministry. Very soon he began to attract attention by his able preaching. In 162 1812 he was transferred to Stockholm, and in 1816 he became dean of Vesterås. In 1824 he was elevated to the bishopric, and thirteen years later became Primate of the Church of Sweden when he was made Archbishop of Upsala. He died in 1839.

As early as 1807 Wallin had begun to publish collections of old and new hymns. He possessed the rare ability of translating sacred poetry of other lands in such a way that often the translation excelled the original in virility and beauty.

In 1811 a commission was appointed by the Swedish parliament to prepare a new hymn-book to succeed that of Jesper Swedberg, which had been in use for more than a century. Wallin was made a member of this body. Within three years the commission presented its labors in the form of a first draft. However, it did not meet with universal favor, nor was Wallin himself satisfied with the result. By this time Wallin’s genius had been revealed so clearly that the commission was moved to charge him with the entire task of completing the “Psalm-book.” He gladly undertook the work and on November 28, 1816, he was able to report that he had finished his labors. A few minor changes were subsequently made, but on January 29, 1819, the new hymn-book was officially authorized by King Karl XIV. It has remained in use until the present day.

Unfortunately, Wallin’s hymns have not become generally known outside of his own native land. It is only in recent years that a number have been translated into English. One of these is his famous Christmas hymn, which for more than a century has been sung in every sanctuary in Sweden as a greeting to the dawn of Christmas day. The first 163 stanza reflects something of the glory of the Christmas evangel itself:

All hail to thee, O blessed morn!

To tidings long by prophets borne

Hast thou fulfilment given.

O sacred and immortal day,

When unto earth, in glorious ray,

Descends the grace of heaven!



Sounds are blending,

Praises sending

Unto heaven

For the Saviour to us given.

Although Wallin reverenced the old traditional hymns of the Church in spite of their many defects in form and language, he was unrelenting in his demand that every new hymn adopted by the Church should be tested by the severest classical standards. “A new hymn,” he declared, “aside from the spiritual considerations which should never be compromised in any way, should be so correct, simple and lyrical in form, and so free from inversions and other imperfections in style, that after the lapse of a hundred years a father may be able to say to his son, ‘Read the Psalm-book, my boy, and you will learn your mother tongue!’”

The profound influence which Wallin’s hymns have exerted over the Swedish language and literature for more than a century is an eloquent testimony, not only to his poetic genius, but also to the faithfulness with which he adhered to the high standards he cherished.

The charge has sometimes been made that a number of Wallin’s hymns are tinged by the spirit of rationalism. It is true that in his earlier years the great Swedish hymnist 164 was strongly influenced by the so-called “New Theology,” which had swept over all Europe at that time. His poems and hymns from this period bear unmistakable marks of these rationalizing tendencies. Even some of the hymns in the first part of the “Psalm-book,” dealing with the person and attributes of God, are not entirely free from suspicion.

However, as Wallin became more and more absorbed in his great task, his own spiritual life seems to have been deepened and a new and richer note began to ring forth from his hymns. In 1816 this change was made manifest in an address Wallin delivered before the Swedish Bible Society, in which he declared war on rationalism and the “New Theology,” and took his stand squarely upon the faith and confessions of the Lutheran Church. He said:

“So far had we traveled in what our age termed ‘enlightenment’ and another age shall call ‘darkness,’ that the very Word of God ... was regarded as a sort of contribution to the ancient history which had already served its purpose and was needed no more.”

The atonement of Christ now became the central theme in his hymn-book, the pure evangelical tone of which may be heard in one of his own hymns:

There is a truth so dear to me,

I’ll hold it fast eternally,

It is my soul’s chief treasure:

That Jesus for the world hath died,

He for my sins was crucified—

O love beyond all measure!

O blessed tidings of God’s grace,

That He who gave the thief a place

To paradise will take me

And God’s own child will make me!


Kind Shepherd, Son of God, to Thee

Mine eyes, my heart, so yearningly,

And helpless hands are lifted.

From Thee I strayed; ah, leave me not,

But cleanse my soul from each dark blot,

For I am sore afflicted.

A wandering sheep, but now restored,

Ah, bear me to Thy fold, dear Lord,

And let me leave Thee never,

O Thou who lovest ever!

Again we find him giving expression to faith’s certainty in a stanza that has become very dear to the Swedish people:

Blessed, blessed he who knoweth

That his faith on Thee is founded,

Whom the Father’s love bestoweth

Of eternal grace unbounded,

Jesus Christ, to every nation

A Redeemer freely given,

In whose Name is our salvation,

And none else in earth or heaven.

The poetic utterance and exalted language of Wallin’s hymns made him the hymnist par excellence for festival days, as witness the quotation above from his Christmas hymn and the following stanza from his Ascension hymn:

To realms of glory I behold

My risen Lord returning;

While I, a stranger on the earth,

For heaven am ever yearning.

Far from my heavenly Father’s home,

’Mid toil and sorrow here I roam.

His metrical version of the Te Deum Laudamus is also an impressive example of the poetic genius of this master psalmist:


Jehovah, Thee we glorify,

Ruler upon Thy throne on high!

O let Thy Word

Through all the earth be heard.

Holy, holy, holy art Thou, O Lord!

Thou carest gently for Thy flock;

Thy Church, firm-founded on the Rock,

No powers dismay

Until Thy dreadful day.

Holy, holy, holy art Thou, O Lord!

All nations, in her fold comprised,

Shall bow their knees unto the Christ,

All tongues shall raise

Their orisons and praise:

Holy, holy, holy art Thou, O Lord!

Around Thy throne the countless throng

At last in triumph swell the song,

When Cherubim

Shall answer Seraphim:

Holy, holy, holy art Thou, O Lord!

Although a hymn usually loses much of its original expression in translation, something of the rare beauty in Wallin’s poetry is still apparent in the following:

Where is the Friend for whom I’m ever yearning?

My longing grows when day to night is turning;

And though I find Him not as day recedeth,

My heart still pleadeth.

His hand I see in every force and power,

Where waves the harvest and where blooms the flower;

In every breath I draw, my spirit burneth:

His love discerneth.


When summer winds blow gently, then I hear Him;

Where sing the birds, where rush the streams, I’m near Him;

But nearer still when in my heart He blesses

Me with caresses.

O where such beauty is itself revealing

In all that lives, through all creation stealing,

What must the Source be whence it comes, the Giver?

Beauty forever!

Other noble hymns by the Swedish archbishop recently translated into English include “Behold, the joyful day is nigh,” “Guardian of pure hearts,” “I know in Whom I trust,” “Great joy and consolation,” “He lives! O fainting heart, anew,” “Mute are the pleading lips of Him,” “Thine agony, O Lord, is o’er,” “A voice, a heavenly voice I hear,” “Heavenly Light, benignly beaming,” “Father of lights, eternal Lord,” “In my quiet contemplation,” “Jerusalem, lift up thy voice,” “Jesus, Lord and precious Saviour,” “O blessed is the man who stays,” “O let the children come to Me,” “Strike up, O harp and psaltery,” “Watch, my soul and pray,” and “Again Thy glorious sun doth rise.”

Wallin’s “Psalm-book” has aroused the greatest admiration wherever it has become known. The hymnologists of Germany, including Mohnike, Knapp, Weiss and Wackernagel, have given it undivided praise. Mohnike declared, “This is undoubtedly the most excellent hymn-book in the entire Evangelical Church, and, if translated, it would become the hymn-book for all Christian people.” Knapp concurs by saying, “The Scriptural content of this book is clothed in the most beautiful classical language; there is nothing in Evangelical Germany to equal it.”

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