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It is a significant fact that the first Lutheran pastor to be ordained in America was a hymn-writer. He was Justus Falckner, author of the stirring hymn, “Rise, ye children of salvation.”

Falckner, who was born on November 22, 1672, in Langenreinsdorf, Saxony, was the son of a Lutheran pastor at that place. He entered the University of Halle in 1693 as a student of theology under Francke, but for conscientious reasons refused to be ordained upon the completion of his studies. Together with his brother Daniel he became associated with the William Penn colony in America and arranged for the sale of 10,000 acres of land to Rev. Andreas Rudman, who was the spiritual leader of the Swedish Lutherans along the Delaware.

Through Rudman’s influence Falckner was induced to enter the ministry, and on November 24, 1703, he was ordained in Gloria Dei Lutheran Church at Wicacoa, Philadelphia. The ordination service was carried out by the Swedish Lutheran pastors, Rudman, Erik Björk, and Andreas Sandel. Falckner was the first German Lutheran pastor in America, and he also had the distinction of building the first German Lutheran church in the New World—at Falckner’s Swamp, New Hanover, Pa. Later he removed to New York, where for twenty years he labored faithfully among the German, Dutch, and Scandinavian settlers in a parish that 464 extended some two hundred miles from Albany to Long Island.

It seems that Falckner’s hymn, “Rise, ye children of salvation,” was written while he was a student at Halle. It appeared as early as 1697 in “Geistreiches Gesangbuch,” and in 1704 it was given a place in Freylinghausen’s hymn-book. There is no evidence that Falckner ever translated it into English.

Since the Lutheran Church in America to a large extent employed the German and Scandinavian languages in its worship, it was content for nearly two hundred years to depend on hymn-books originating in the Old World. Not until the latter half of the nineteenth century were serious efforts made to provide Lutheran hymn-books in the English language. Writers of original hymns were few in number, but a number of excellent translators appeared.

Through the efforts of these translators, an increasing number of Lutheran hymns from the rich store of German and Scandinavian hymnody are being introduced in the hymn-books of this country. Pioneers in this endeavor about half a century ago were Charles Porterfield Krauth, noted theologian and vice-provost of the University of Pennsylvania; Joseph A. Seiss, of Philadelphia, pastor and author, to whom we are indebted for the translation of “Beautiful Saviour” and “Winter reigns o’er many a region”; and Charles William Schaeffer, Philadelphia theologian, who translated Held’s “Come, O come, Thou quickening Spirit” and Rambach’s beautiful baptism hymn, “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.” Mrs. Harriet Krauth Spaeth also belongs to this group, her most notable contribution being the translation of the medieval Christian hymn, “Behold, a Branch is growing.”


Later translators of German hymns were Matthias Loy, for many years president of Capital University, Columbus, Ohio; August Crull, professor of German at Concordia College, Fort Wayne, Ind., and Conrad H. L. Schuette, professor of theology at Capital University and later president of the Joint Synod of Ohio. Loy was not only a translator but also an author of no mean ability. Among his original hymns that seem destined to live are “Jesus took the babes and blessed them,” “I thank Thee, Jesus, for the grief,” and “O great High Priest, forget not me.” His splendid translations include such hymns as Selnecker’s “Let me be Thine forever,” Schenck’s “Now our worship sweet is o’er” and Hiller’s “God in human flesh appearing.” From Schuette we have received in English dress Behm’s “O holy, blessed Trinity,” while Crull’s most successful translations are Homburg’s “Where wilt Thou go, since night draws near?” and Ludaemilia Elizabeth of Schwartzburg-Rudolstadt’s beautiful hymn, “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus only.”

Among the living translators of German hymns, H. Brueckner, professor at Hebron College, Hebron, Nebraska, takes first rank. In the American Lutheran Hymnal, published in 1930 by a Lutheran intersynodical committee, he is represented by some seventy translations from the German, three from the French, and four original hymns. Although Brueckner’s work is too recent to be properly evaluated, his hymns reveal evidences of genuine lyrical quality and true devotional spirit.

Other successful translators of German hymns are John Caspar Mattes, Lutheran pastor at Scranton, Pa.; Emmanuel Cronenwett, pastor emeritus at Butler, Pa., and Paul E. Kretzmann, of Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, Mo., Lutheran theologian and commentator. To Mattes we are indebted 466 for the English version of Gotter’s “Friend of the weary, O refresh us” and Albinus’ “Smite us not in anger, Lord.” Cronenwett and Kretzmann have written a number of excellent original hymns in addition to their translations. The American Lutheran Hymnal contains nine of these by the former and seventeen from the pen of the latter. Cronenwett’s hymns are chiefly didactic, but occasionally he soars to lyrical heights, as in “Of omnipresent grace I sing.” Among Kretzmann’s best efforts are “Lead on, O Lord” and “Praise and honor to the Father.” A note of praise to the Holy Trinity is heard in practically all of Kretzmann’s hymns.

The foremost translator of Swedish hymns is Ernst W. Olson, office editor of Augustana Book Concern, Rock Island, Ill. From his gifted pen we have received the English version of such gems as Wallin’s “All hail to thee, O blessed morn,” “From peaceful slumber waking,” “Jerusalem, lift up thy voice,” “Mute are the pleading lips of Him,” and “Heavenly Light, benignly beaming”; Franzén’s “Ajar the temple gates are swinging,” “Come, O Jesus, and prepare me,” and “When vesper bells are calling”; Söderberg’s “In the temple where our fathers,” “Geijer’s “In triumph our Redeemer,” Petri’s “Now hail we our Redeemer” and “Thy sacred Word, O Lord, of old,” and Carl Olof Rosenius’ “With God and His mercy, His Spirit and Word.” Olson has also written a number of excellent original hymns, including “Mine eyes unto the mountains,” “Behold, by sovereign grace alone,” and “Glorious yuletide, glad bells proclaim it.”

Other translators of Swedish hymns include Claude W. Foss, professor of history at Augustana College, Rock Island, Ill.; Victor O. Peterson, formerly with the same institution, 467 but now deceased; George H. Trabert, Lutheran pastor at Minneapolis, Minn.; Augustus Nelson, Lutheran pastor at Gibbon, Minn.; Olof Olsson, for many years president of Augustana College, and August W. Kjellstrand, who until his death in 1930 was professor of English at the same institution. Among the finest contributions by Foss are translations of Nyström’s “O Fount of truth and mercy,” Hedborn’s “With holy joy my soul doth beat,” and Franzén’s “Thy scepter, Jesus, shall extend.” Nelson has given us beautiful renderings of Franzén’s “Prepare the way, O Zion” and “Awake, the watchman crieth,” and Wallin’s “Jesus, Lord and precious Saviour.” Peterson is the translator of Arrhenius’ “Jesus is my friend most precious” and Wallin’s Advent hymn, “O bride of Christ, rejoice.” Olsson, who was one of the earliest translators of Swedish lyrics, has given us Franzén’s communion hymn, “Thine own, O loving Saviour,” and another on the Lord’s Supper by Spegel, “The death of Jesus Christ, our Lord.” Kjellstrand’s version of Hedborn’s sublime hymn of praise, “Holy Majesty, before Thee,” is one of the most successful efforts at converting Swedish hymns into the English language. To these translators should also be added the name of Anders O. Bersell, for many years professor of Greek at Augustana College, who gave poetic English form to Lina Sandell’s “Jerusalem, Jerusalem” and Rutström’s “Come, Saviour dear, with us abide.”

A number of translators and writers besides those here named made new contributions to the Hymnal of the Augustana Synod published in 1925.

About twenty-five years ago a group of literary men within the Norwegian Lutheran Synods undertook the task of translating some of the gems of Danish and Norwegian 468 hymnody. Among these were C. Doving, now a city missionary in Chicago; George T. Rygh, also residing at the present time in Chicago; C. K. Solberg, pastor of St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, Minneapolis, Minn.; O. T. Sanden, and O. H. Smedby, former Lutheran pastor at Albert Lea, Minn., now deceased. Doving’s masterpiece undoubtedly is his translation of Grundtvig’s “Built on the Rock, the Church doth stand,” although he will also be remembered for his rendering of Holm’s “How blessed is the little flock,” and Landstad’s “Before Thee, God, who knowest all.” Rygh’s contribution consists of the translation of such hymns as Grundtvig’s “Peace to soothe our bitter woes,” Kingo’s “Our table now with food is spread,” Landstad’s “Speak, O Lord, Thy servant heareth,” Boye’s “O Light of God’s most wondrous love,” and Brun’s “Heavenly Spirit, all others transcending.” Sanden has translated Brun’s “The sun has gone down,” while Smedby has left us a fine version of Boye’s “Abide with us, the day is waning.” While Solberg has translated some hymns, he is known better as a writer of original lyrics. Among these are “Lift up your eyes, ye Christians,” “Fellow Christians, let us gather,” and “O blessed Light from heaven.”

Foremost among recent translators of Danish hymns are J. C. Aaberg, pastor of St. Peter’s Danish Lutheran church, Minneapolis, Minn., and P. C. Paulsen, pastor of Golgotha Danish Lutheran church, Chicago, Ill. In the American Lutheran Hymnal there are nineteen translations by Aaberg, while Paulsen is represented by a like number. Through the efforts of these men, both of whom possess no mean poetic ability, many of the finest hymns of Brorson, Kingo, Grundtvig, Ingemann, Vig, and Pawels have been introduced to American Lutherans. Paulsen is the author of three original 469 hymns, “Blest is he who cries to heaven,” “Take my heart, O Jesus,” and “Let us go to Galilee,” while Aaberg has written “There is a blessed power.”

One of the most richly endowed hymn-writers in the Lutheran Church today is A. F. Rohr, pastor at Fremont, O. From his pen we have received such hymns as “Eternal God, omnipotent,” “Lord of life and light and blessing,” “From afar, across the waters,” and “Living Fountain, freely flowing.” For poetic expression and graceful rhythm his hymns are unsurpassed by any contemporary writer. He also combines such depth of feeling with the lyrical qualities of his hymns, they no doubt possess enduring qualities. Witness the following hymn:

Living Fountain, freely flowing

In the sheen of heaven’s day,

Grace and life on us bestowing,

Wash Thou all our sins away.

Fountain whence alone the living

Draw the life they boast as theirs,

By Thy grace, a gift whose giving

Life of life forever shares.

Who Thy mighty depths can measure?

Who can sound, with earthly line,

Thy profundity of treasure,

Thy infinity divine?

They who quaff Thy wave shall never

Thirst again; for springing free

In their hearts, a fount forever

Thou to them of life shall be.

May we drink of Thee rejoicing,

Till on heaven’s sinless shore

We Thy virtues shall be voicing

With the blest for evermore.


Samuel M. Miller, dean of the Lutheran Bible Institute, Minneapolis, Minn., is the writer of a number of spiritual songs and hymns that have become popular in Bible conference circles. Among his hymns are “In the holy Father’s keeping” and “When Jesus comes in glory.”

W. H. Lehmann, superintendent of home missions in the American Lutheran Church, has written “Take Thou my life, dear Lord,” and “Beneath Thy cross I stand,” the latter a passion hymn of rare beauty:

Beneath Thy cross I stand

And view Thy marrèd face;

O Son of man, must Thou thus die

To save a fallen race?

Alone Thou bear’st the wrath

That should on sinners fall,

While from Thy holy wounds forthflows

A stream of life for all.

O Lamb of God so meek,

Beneath Thy cross I bow:

Heart-stricken, all my sins confess—

O hear, forgive me now!

O Son of God, look down

In mercy now on me

And heal my wounds of sin and death,

That I may live to Thee!

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