Church Hymnal #426
Words: Benjamin Schmolk (1672-1737) was born to a Lutheran pastor in Silesia, Germany, a region now contained in modern Poland. As a young man, he once filled in for his father and preached a sermon so impressive that a local benefactor paid for his university schooling at Leipzig. Upon graduating, Schmolk joined his father as assistant pastor.
A year later, in 1702, Schmolk was assigned to the Friedenskirche, a church outside the city walls of Schweidnitz. The fallout of the Thirty Years’ War had left Schweidnitz a predominantly Catholic region, and the Lutherans were allowed only one small church building to serve thirty-six villages. Like the Anabaptists elsewhere in Germany, Lutherans in the Catholic areas were just barely tolerated to exist and were continually suppressed by legal restrictions.
So Schmolk knew something about resigning his will to God’s will in unpleasant situations. Yet he poured out his life in his calling, pastoring for thirty years until a stroke partially paralyzed him, and even then preaching another five years. He also wrote numerous devotional books and some 900 hymns.
This poem exudes the quiet confidence of a man who kept his eye on his Savior. Jesus wept for me, why shouldn’t I do a little crying? He let jealous thugs nail Him to a post, why shouldn’t I take a few scratches?
Jane Borthwick (1813-1897) of Edinburgh, Scotland translated Schmolk’s hymn into English. It was first published in Hymns from the Land of Luther in 1853, a collection of hymns translated by Borthwick and her sister.
Music: Carl Maria von Weber (1786-1826) was born into a musically talented German family. His father wanted him to be a child prodigy like Mozart and pushed him with the best education he could afford. By age twelve his first compositions were published, and at fifteen he was writing critical reviews in music journals.
This particular tune, now known as JEWETT, comes directly from the opening lines of Weber’s most famous opera, Der Freischütz, based on an old German legend about a hunter who makes a pact with the devil to be a perfect marksman. The hunter learns too late that the devil plays for keeps and ends up destroying himself and others. Weber opened the work with a meditative melody for a horn quartet, which Joseph Holbrook happily lifted out for a hymn tune.
A musician’s living ever runs a little thin. Invited to present a commissioned work in London, Weber accepted despite his broken health. “Whether I go to London or not, in a year I’m a dead man. But if I go, my children will eat when their father is dead, and if I stay, they’ll starve.”
He made it to England and accomplished his task to great public acclaim. But the effort cost him too much. Weakened by tuberculosis, he wrote on his deathbed, “Let me go back to my own home, and then God’s will be done.” He never made it home, dying at age thirty-nine, but his deathbed testimony strangely foreshadowed the famous hymn whose music he never knew he had provided.
Church Hymnal #426