Paul Gerhardt

 •  5 min. read  •  grade level: 7
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PAUL GERHARDT wrote many hymns, and. is called in the Encyclopedia Britannica, "The greatest hymn-writer in Germany, if not indeed of Europe." He was born in a small town of Saxony, March 12, 1607, where his father was the chief magistrate. When only twelve years old the terrible "Thirty Years' War" broke out in Germany.
Little is known of Paul Gerhardt's early life, as most of his town's archives were destroyed in a fire occasioned by the Swedish soldiery. But he studied in the Wittenburg University, and when almost forty years of age he became tutor in the family of Bertholdt, the Chancellor-advocate at Berlin—a man "highly esteemed for his ability as a lawyer, and noted, in common with his pious wife Elizabeth, for the strict discipline of his house and the training of his children in the way they should go.
Ten years later, Gerhardt assumed the pastorate of a small congregation at Mittenwalde, about twenty miles from Berlin. His parents, brothers, and sisters had all been removed by death; he was poor, and his heart was lonely; so he took for his wife. Anna Bertholdt, daughter of his former patron, "whose exemplary attendance for years on a sick mother's couch must have added esteem to the admiration which her many engaging qualities of mind and person had created in Gerhardt's heart.
Six years later he became pastor of the church of St. Nicholas, in Berlin, where he was subjected to many and sore trials for conscience sake, and was dismissed from his pastorate in 1666. He received this message submissively, saying, "I am willing to seal with my blood the evangelical truth, and offer my neck to the sword." Then he was ordered by the king to quit the country, and, says a writer, "In reduced circumstances, he and his wife went, traveling on foot. One night coming to a village inn, weary with the journey and disheartened at her friendless situation, his wife sat down and began to weep. Behind her were the happy scenes of her youth; before her was a land of strangers." Her husband tried to comfort her with this verse of Scripture, "Commit thy way unto the Lord; trust also Him, and He will bring it to pass" (Psa. 37:55Commit thy way unto the Lord; trust also in him; and he shall bring it to pass. (Psalm 37:5)). "God will provide," he said; and, leaving his wife, he went to pray alone in a garden near at hand. "It was a lovely night in the rosy time of the year. The air was temperate, the sky serene; the moon shimmered on the groves, and was mirrored on the waters." It was here that for his wife's consolation he composed the verses beginning,
"Commit thou all thy griefs
And ways into His hands—
To His sure trust and tender care
Who earth and heaven commands.”
That night two gentlemen came riding to the inn and inquired for the deposed preacher, Paul Gerhardt. "I am Paul Gerhardt," he said firmly, though fearing further troubles were in store for him. But they were messengers from Duke Christian, who sent him his sympathies and an invitation to make Merseburg, his city, his home. "God be praised for this asylum,” said Gerhardt, "it is His will," and with beaming face, though tearful eyes, he hastened to tell his wife the good news of provision made for their sustenance. "See," said he, "how God provides! Did I not bid thee trust in Him, and all would be well?" He then handed her the hymn he had written in the garden, as a prophecy of what was in store for them.
Ten years after this incident, Gerhardt died at the age of seventy. He is said to have been "of medium height, of cheerful bearing, quiet, courageous, gentle and firm." In the church at Lübben, where he died, there is still a portrait of him, with this singular inscription,
"Theologus in cribo Satanas versatus,”
which translated into English is, "A theologian sifted in the sieve of Satan," in allusion to his many trials. (See Luke 22:31, 3231And the Lord said, Simon, Simon, behold, Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat: 32But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not: and when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren. (Luke 22:31‑32).) Several of Gerhardt's hymns were translated into English by John Wesley, and included in the Methodist hymnal.
May we learn from the life of Gerhardt to trust the Lord, even in life's darkest hour. He is faithful to His promises, and we can boldly say, "The Lord is my helper; I will not fear what man shall do unto me." But first of all, dear reader, cast thyself on Him for thy soul's salvation; then thou mayest trust Him for all things else.
Hymn of the Night Watches—by Paul Gerhardt
Quietly rest the woods and dales,
Silence around the earth prevails,
The world is all asleep:
Thou, my soul, in thought arise,
Seek thy Father in the skies,
And holy vigils keep.
Now my body seeks for rest,
From its vestments all undressed,
Types of immortality:
Christ shall give me soon to wear
Garments beautiful and fair,
White robes of majesty.
While mine eyes I gently close,
Stealing o'er me soft repose,
Who shall now my guardian he?
Soul and body now I leave,
And Thou wilt the trust receive,
Israel's Watchman, unto Thee.
God Sovereign—by Paul Gerhardt
Through waves, through clouds and storms,
God gently clears the way;
We wait His time; so shall the night
Soon end in blissful day.
He everywhere hath sway,
And all things serve His might;
His ev'ry act pure blessing is,
His path unsullied light.
We comprehend Him not,
Yet earth and heaven tell
God sits as sov'reign on the throne,
And ruleth all things well.