This is one of my very favorite hymns. I love its true and moving words. It is a glorious and realistic and emphatically Christian and spiritual meditation on God’s providence. This one is worth memorizing. “It was composed in 1641 with the heading ‘A Song of Comfort. God will care for and help everyone in His own time,’ under the text Psalm 55:22. The author was robbed by highwaymen near Magdeburg as a student and left destitute with no prospect of earning a living. At last he unexpectedly received an appointment as tutor in the family of a judge, ‘which, he says, . . . greatly rejoiced me, and on that very day I composed to the honor of my beloved Lord [this] hymn’” (edited from the Cyberhymnal). In it, we profess our confidence in God’s goodness and guidance, even in the midst of trial.
Georg Neumark (16 March 1621 – 8 July 1681) was a German poet and hymnwriter (Here is a link to the Wikipedia entry on him: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Georg_Neumark). The Cyberhymnal (a good hymn site to know and use) provides a helpful short explanation of the background to Neumark’s famous hymn (available here: http://www.hymntime.com/tch/bio/n/e/u/neumark_g.htm) explaining:
Neumark was educated at the Gymnasiums in Schleusingen and Gotha. He received his certificate of dimission from the latter in September 1641. He left Gotha in the autumn of 1641, along with a number of merchants going to the Michaelmas Fair at Leipzig. He then joined a similar party going from Leipzig to Lübeck, planning to proceed to Königsberg and enroll at the university there. After passing through Magdeburg, they were attacked by bandits on the Gardelegen Heath, who robbed Neumark of all he had with him, except his prayer book and a little money sewed up in his clothes. He returned to Magdeburg, but could not find a job there, nor in Lüneburg, Winsen, or Hamburg, to which in succession the friends he made passed him on. In the beginning of December he went to Kiel, where he found a friend in Nicolaus Becker, a fellow Thuringian and then chief pastor at Kiel. Day after day passed without an opening, till about the end of the month the tutor in the family of judge Stephan Henning fell into disgrace and fled from Kiel. On Becker’s recommendation, Neumark got the job, and this sudden end of his anxieties was the occasion of the writing of his hymn Wer nur den lieben Gott lässt walten.
Neumark passed the time happily in the Henning home until he had saved enough to proceed to Königsberg, where he enrolled June 21, 1643, as a law student. He remained five years, also studying poetry under Dach and maintaining himself as a family tutor. During this time (in 1646) he again lost all his belongings, this time by fire. In 1648 he left Königsberg, was for a short time in Warsaw, and spent 1649-50 at Thorn. He was then in Danzig, and September 1651 in Hamburg. By the end of 1651 he had returned to Thuringia, and was noticed by Duke Wilhelm II of Sachse-Weimar, the president of the Fruitbearing Society, the principal German literary organization in the 17th Century. The Duke, apparently in 1652, appointed Neumark as court poet, librarian, and registrar of the administration at Weimar; and finally secretary of the Ducal Archives. In September 1653 Neumark was admitted as a member of the Fruitbearing Society, of which he became secretary in 1656. In 1679, Neumark also became a member of the Pegnitz Order. In 1681, he went blind, but was permitted to keep his posts until he died.
The song is written in the form of a testimonial (like so many of the Psalms), but is utterly God-centered. Here is the text with a brief explanation of each phrase. The translation (in bold) is by the great Catherine Winkworth (who attended an Anglican parish church near Chester where I was recently!). My explanatory language is to the right of the verse.
If thou but suffer God to guide thee If you will only trust God to guide you
And hope in Him through all thy ways, and hope in Him in every circumstance
He’ll give thee strength, whate’er betide thee, He’ll give you strength no matter what happens
And bear thee through the evil days. And he’ll carry you through bad and difficult times
Who trust in God’s unchanging love The person who trusts in God’s unchanging love
Builds on the rock that naught can move. Builds on the one Rock (foundation) that no one can move.
What can these anxious cares avail thee What good can your anxiety and worry do?
These never ceasing moans and sighs? What good is constant moaning and sighing?
What can it help if thou bewail thee What help is it if you simply regret your situation?
O’er each dark moment as it flies? Or bemoan every hard thing that comes along?
Our cross and trials do but press Our crosses and trials (hard providences) only get
The heavier for our bitterness. heavier if we are just bitter about them
Only be still and wait His leisure Be patient and await his timing
In cheerful hope, with heart content in cheerful hope, with a contented heart
To take whate’er thy Father’s pleasure to take (1) whatever your Father pleases to do
And His discerning love hath sent, and (2) whatever his wise love has sent you
Nor doubt our inmost want are known and (3) not to doubt your deepest needs are known
To Him who chose us for His own. To the God who chose us for his own
All are alike before the Highest: Indeed everyone is alike before the Most High God
’Tis easy to our God, We know, We all know that it is easy for our God
To raise thee up, though low thou liest, to raise up those who lie low
To make the rich man poor and low. To bring down the rich man to poverty and lowliness
True wonders still by Him are wrought God still works true wonders
Who setteth up and brings to naught. He sets up and brings to nothing.
Sing, pray, and keep His ways unswerving, Sing, pray and keep God’s ways with deviating
so do thine own part faithfully, Do your duties faithfully
And trust His Word: though undeserving, Trust God’s word, and though you are undeserving
Thou yet shalt find it true for thee. You will find God’s word (and promise) true for you.
God never yet forsook in need God has never ever forsaken in time of need
The soul that trusted Him indeed. Anyone who truly trusted him.