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Acceptance in German Worship

Of these 132 poems a large proportion have become embodied in church music of Germany and many of them may be counted among the most beautiful in German hymnody. How widely they have been adopted into general use is shown by the fact that in modern hymnals in Germany there appear either in expanded or cento form,4747Cf. Dietz: "Tabellarische Nachweisung des Liederbestandes," Marburg, 1904. Fischer-Tümpel: "Das deutsche evangelische Kirchenlied des 17. Jahrhs." (Gütersloh, 1906) includes 116 of Gerhardt's hymns. altogether 78 of his hymns, while in the Schaff-Gilman "Library of Religious Poetry," which may be regarded as a representative collection of universal hymnody, the proportion among German hymn writers is as follows:--Luther 10, Goethe 8, Gerhardt 7,4848There is an exact total of 10 of Gerhardt's poems, different versions being given of "O Haupt voll Blut und Wunden." and "Befiehl du deine Wege." Spitta 6, Scheffler 4, Schmolk 4, etc. Pietism and rationalism transferred the centre of gravity in hymnody to a different point; that is, it changed the type of hymn or required of it other features, and thus it is that during the XVIIIth century, while Gerhardt's hymns lived on with others they are rarely accorded a leading place. It was only the reawakening of a life of faith that needed worship and strong evidence of reverence such as followed the wars of liberation that brought his hymns into the forefront once more and prompted further publications of them.

Rarely has there been, taking all in all, a time when there existed a greater gulf between poets and their effusions than in the XVIIth century. Most poets of that time gave forth what they had learned and what they knew,--not what they really were. Theirs was a play of the intellect and imagination on objects outside them. Hence their works displayed a universal lack of inner truth. In the biographical sketch of Gerhardt we have given a broken account of his life. Different from this is the story of the individual in his poems which are his very personality. His work is not what he learned from others. Instead, he gives us his own life unadorned 17 and true, and for the very reason that he leads a rich inner life is he able to give it. He wrote preeminently as a living member of Christ's church. The same quiet sincerity, depth of feeling and warmth that are seen in his face, stand out in his poetry.

Luther sang: "Ein' feste Burg ist unser Gott," but Gerhardt has: "Ist Gott für mich, so trete,"4949Goed. 229. and "Ich singe dir mit Herz und Mund."5050Goed. 118. Thus, as has been said in the early part of this chapter,5151Cf. p. 14. the hymns no longer acknowledge the truths of the Gospel as in the days of the Reformation, but the poet lives them. Approximately one-eighth5252There are 16 beginning with "ich." of Gerhardt's hymns begin with "Ich," while not one of Luther's begins this way. Gerhardt's hymns, then, proclaim his own personal experiences, many of them having their inspiration in the intimate circle of his own family and friends. Yet observe that in none of them is there any personal experience that is not enlightened by its relation to the external truths of Christian Belief so that it has a universal significance. Assuming that one takes for granted the incontestable truth of evangelistic Philosophy of Life as does Gerhardt, one may find one's own thoughts and feelings expressed in these poems. Every pious worshipper can follow Gerhardt, every one may find in him peace for the soul, the consecration of happiness and comfort in dark hours. Universal life and not merely the life of one reared in the church is unfolded in his hymns.

Mention has several times been made of Luther5353Cf. pp. 1 and 13. in connection with Gerhardt. Every Protestant hymn writer must undergo comparison with the great father of German hymnody and none can stand the test better than Gerhardt. Let us take the hymns cited above: "Ein' feste Burg," and "Ist Gott für mich." In the very choice of material the likeness is striking. In Luther's song of defiance the XLVIth Psalm is born anew. In Gerhardt it is the triumphant song of Paul that they who are in Christ are free from condemnation. We see, then, that while the one is concerned with the congregation of God's church, the other treats of life's experiences. In the form of the verse Luther displays the greater strength and Gerhardt the greater art.


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