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Chapter Six Kingo’s Church Hymns

Kingo’s church hymns naturally differ from his spiritual songs. They are more objective in form and less fiery in spirit. Most of them follow their themes quite closely, reproducing in many instances even the words of their text. Kingo is too vital, however, to confine himself wholly to an objective presentation. Usually the last stanzas of his hymns are devoted to a brief and often striking application of their text. He possessed to a singular degree the ability to express a thought tersely, as for instance in the following stanza, the last of a hymn on the baptism of the Lord:

Our Lord is then our brother

In whom we may confide,

The Church of God our mother,

The Holy Ghost our guide;

Our blest baptismal dower

The bands of hell has riven

And opened us God’s heaven,

This is our faith each hour.

The hymns may be classed under four headings: Festival Hymns, Sacramental Hymns, Historical Hymns and Hymns on the Gospels and Epistles.

With the exception of his Easter anthem, his festival hymns cannot compare with those of later authors. Some of his Pentecost hymns, such as the hymns given below, are, however, still favorites.

8,8,8,8

Kingo, Thomas, 1634-1703

tr., J. C. Aaberg

45

The day of Pentecost draws nigh;

Come, Holy Spirit from on high,

Who with the Father and the Son

Is God eternal, three in one.

O God triune, Thy grace impart

Into my carnal, sinful heart,

That it a temple blest may be

Prepared and set aside for Thee.

Come, Holy Ghost, and witness bear

That I the life of Christ do share,

And that I know no other name

To save my soul from guilt and shame.

O Counselor of truth and light,

Teach me to know my Lord aright,

That from the way of faith I may

Not even for a moment stray.

Blest Spirit of my God and Lord,

Preserve me in Thy way and word,

Imbue me with Thy life and breath,

Console me in the hour of death.

Kingo frequently is referred to as “the Easter Singer of Denmark”. His claim to this title rests mainly on one song. Easter with its story of triumphant victory appealed especially to him; and he wrote several excellent hymns on the theme, but they are all overshadowed by the splendid anthem presented below.

8,7,8,7,7,7,8,8

Kingo, Thomas, 1634-1703

tr., J. C. Aaberg

46

Like the golden sun ascending

In the darkly clouded sky

And on earth its glory spending

Until clouds and darkness fly,

So my Jesus from the grave,

From death’s dark, abysmal cave,

Rose triumphant Easter morning,

Brighter than the sun returning.

Thanks, O thanks, to Thee arisen

Lord and God Immanuel,

That the foe could not imprison

Thee within his hell-dark cell.

Thanks that Thou didst meet our foe

And his kingdom overthrow.

Jubilant my spirit raises

New Thy never ending praises.

Sin and death and every arrow

Satan hence may point at me

Fall now broken at the narrow

Tomb that saw Thy victory;

There Thou didst them all destroy

Giving me the cup of joy

That Thou glorious resurrection

Wrought my pardon and protection.

Thou wilt hence to life awake me

By Thy resurrection power;

Death may wound and overtake me,

Worms my flesh and bones devour,

But I face the threat of death

With the sure and joyful faith

That its fearful reign was ended

When Thy might its portal rended.

Blessed Jesus, let the Spirit

So imbue my heart with grace

That I walk by Thy blest merit

And no more the way retrace

To the vile and miry pit

Where I lay condemned, unfit,

Till redeemed to life victorious

By Thy resurrection glorious.

In this rugged hymn Kingo is at his best—fiery, vital, a master of imagery and graphic expression.

His hymns on the sacraments faithfully reflect the doctrines of the Lutheran Church. Here he most clearly shows his ability to present objective truths in a devotional spirit. We meet in these a Christian who humbly and prayerfully accepts the whole mystery of God. For centuries these rugged songs have served to express the sentiments of millions as they met at the baptismal font or knelt before the altar. The following is one of the most favored baptismal hymns both in the Danish and Norwegian churches:

8,7,8,7,8,8,7

Kingo, Thomas, 1634-1703

tr., J. C. Aaberg

Whoso believes and is baptized33Another translation: “He that believes and is baptized” by G. T. Rygh in “Hymnal for Church and Home”.

God’s kingdom shall inherit,

For he is cleansed by Jesus Christ

Who, by His grace and merit,

Adopts him as His child and heir,

Grants him in heaven’s bliss to share

And seals him with His Spirit.

We ask with earnest faith of Thee,

Our Lord and blest Defender,

That Thou wilt guide us constantly

And, in Thy mercy tender,

Keep us in our baptismal grace

Until at last we take our place

With Thee ’midst heaven’s splendor.

Kingo’s communion hymns have to a large extent been superseded by later hymns of Grundtvig and others. But some of them are still in common use. The following characteristic hymn is frequently used before the communion.

8,8,8,8

Kingo, Thomas, 1634-1703

tr., J. C. Aaberg

Lord Jesus Christ receive me now

As with a heart contrite I bow

Before Thine altar, blessed Lamb,

Who bore my sorrow, sin and shame.

I am today my Saviour’s guest.

Bethink, my soul, the honor blest,

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That He, Thy Lord, will sup with thee

And will Himself Thy nurture be.

He offers to thee with the bread

His body riven for thy aid,

And with the wine His precious blood,

The price of thy eternal good.

How this can be, I cannot tell;

He did not on the mystery dwell;

No mind the secret can perceive,

It is enough that I believe.

Rejoice, then, O my soul today

That God’s appointed servant may

Now offer thee the gift so free

Through which thy Lord unites with thee.

O Lord, I offer Thee my soul

To nourish, strengthen and make whole.

Uphold me by Thy means of grace

Until I see Thee face to face.

The short hymn given below is a favorite after the communion in numerous Danish and Norwegian churches.

8,8,8,8

Kingo, Thomas, 1634-1703

tr., J. C. Aaberg

O dearest Lord, receive from me

The heartfelt thanks I offer Thee,

Who through Thy body and Thy blood

Hast wrought my soul’s eternal good.

Break forth, my soul, in joy and praise;

What wealth is mine this day of days!

My Jesus dwells within my soul;

Let every tongue His grace extol.

Kingo’s historical hymns, that is, his hymns on the stories of the Gospels, usually are not counted among the best. Yet there are many fine hymns among them, such as the annunciation hymn, “There Came a Message from the Sky”; the hymn about the wedding at Cana, “How Blessed Was that Wedding Feast”; and the splendid hymn on the transfiguration of the Lord, “I Lift My Eyes and Spirit Up unto the Hallowed Mountain Top Where Jesus Once Ascended”. Best known among this group of hymns is, however, his great sequence of songs on our Lord’s passion. In these inspired hymns we meet again the Kingo that we know from his spiritual songs, fiery, eloquent, imaginative, seeking to picture every detail and mood of the Savior’s suffering from the garden to the cross. Though it is difficult to choose among hymns so universally fine, the one given below is, at least, fairly representative of the group.

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8,7,8,7,7,7,8,8

Kingo, Thomas, 1634-1703

tr., J. C. Aaberg

49

Over Kedron Jesus passes

Ready for His passion day,

While the Prince of Darkness masses

All his legions for the fray.

Wily foes with evil hearts

Bend their bows and point their darts,

Aiming at the Savior solely,

As the world forsakes Him wholly.

David once in great affliction

Crossed the Kedron’s narrow stream,

While his foes without restriction

Hatched their vile and cunning scheme.

Darker far the shadows now

Bend about the Savior’s brow

As He hastens to His passion

For the sinful world’s salvation.

See Him, torn by woe appalling,

Kneeling in the garden still,

And upon His Father calling

That, if possible, He will

Take the bitter cup away.

But how meekly He doth pray!

What the Father shall Him offer,

He obediently will suffer.

See, what agony assails Him

In that dark and fearful hour;

Every friend deserts or fails Him;

Satan strikes with all his power;

And the flowers beneath Him grow

Crimson with the purple flow

From His anguished frame distilling

As His cup of woe is filling.

But, O flower, whose tender blossom

Caught that precious, purple dew

From the Saviour’s riven bosom,

In a blessed hour you grew!

Eden’s flowers did not bear

Fruits that could with yours compare:

By the blood your petals staining,

I am now salvation gaining.

When I like the flower must wither,

When I wilt and fade like grass,

When the hour of death draws hither,

When I from this world shall pass,

When my heart has ceased to beat

When I face God’s judgment seat,

Then His blood, which stained the garden,

Shall procure my lasting pardon.

Kingo’s hymns on the pericopes have proved less resistant to time than most of his other work. They are in reality brief commentaries, presenting a practical rather than a poetical exposition and application of their texts. But even so, the singular freshness of their thought and style has preserved many of them until our day. The following hymn on Matthew 8, 23-27, the stilling of the storm, furnishes a characteristic example of this group of hymns.

7,6,7,6,6,7,7,6

Kingo, Thomas, 1634-1703

tr., J. C. Aaberg

What vessel is that passing

Across the boundless deep,

On which the billows massing

In foaming fury sweep?

She seems in sore distress

As though she soon would founder

Upon the shoals around her

And sink without redress.

It is the storm-tossed vessel

Of God’s own church on earth,

With which the world doth wrestle,

And send its fury forth,

While Jesus oft appears

As though He still were sleeping,

With His disciples weeping

And crying out in fears.

But let the world with fury

Against the church but rave,

And spend its might to bury

Her in the roaring wave!

It only takes a word

To hush the wild commotion

And show the mighty ocean

Her Lord is still aboard.

Kingo is often called the singer of orthodoxy. His hymns faithfully present the accepted doctrines of his church. No hymnwriter is more staunchly Lutheran than he. But he was too vital to become a mere doctrinaire. With him orthodoxy was only a means to an end, a more vigorous Christian life. Many of his hymns present a forceful and straightforward appeal for a real personal life with God. The following hymn may be called an orthodox revival hymn. It was a favorite with the great Norwegian lay preacher, Hans Nielsen Hauge.

7,6,7,6,6,7,7,6

Kingo, Thomas, 1634-1703

tr., J. C. Aaberg

The power of sin no longer

Within my heart shall reign;

Faith must grow ever stronger

And carnal lust be slain;

For when I was baptized,

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The bonds of sin were severed

And I by grace delivered

To live for Jesus Christ.

Would I accept the merit

Of my baptismal grace

And with my faith and spirit

The Savior’s cross embrace,

How great would be my blame

Should I abide in evil

And not renounce the devil

In Christ my Savior’s name.

It can bestow no treasure

On me that Christ arose.

If I will not with pleasure

The power of death oppose,

And with my heart embrace

The Savior, who is risen

And has from error’s prison

Redeemed me by His grace.

Lord Jesus, help me ever

To fight “the old man” so

That he shall not deliver

Me to eternal woe,

But that I here may die

From sin and all offences

And, by the blood that cleanses,

Attain my home on high.

Thus, the permanent value of Kingo’s hymns rests not only on their rugged and expressive poetry but on the earnest and warm-hearted Christian spirit that breathes through them. In the perennial freshness of this spirit succeeding generations have experienced their kinship with the poet and found expression for their own hope and faith. The following ageless prayer expresses not only the spirit of the poet but that of earnest Christians everywhere and of every age.

8,7,8,7,7,7,8,8

Kingo, Thomas, 1634-1703

tr., J. C. Aaberg

Print Thine image pure and holy44Another translation: “On my heart imprint thine image” by P. O. Stromme in “Hymnal for Church and Home”.

On my heart, O Lord of Grace;

So that nothing high nor lowly

Thy blest likeness can efface.

Let the clear inscription be:

Jesus, crucified for me,

And the Lord of all creation,

Is my refuge and salvation.


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