Justus Jonas (1493-1555): If God were not upon our side…

 

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Justus Jonas (1493-1555) was a professor of theology and a colleague of Martin Luther at Wittenberg. Jonas was influential in a number of disciplines, not least in Lutheran hymnody, where he helped Luther in preparing German metrical versions of the Psalms, choosing by preference, as one can well understand given the times in which he lived, those which speak of David’s sufferings from his enemies, and his trust in God’s deliverance. At the request of Luther, he wrote the following hymn in 1524, a paraphrase of Psalm 124 titled Wo Gott der Herr nicht bei uns hält, translated below into English by Catherine Winkworth:

 

If God were not upon our side

When foes around us rage,

Were not Himself our Help and Guide

When bitter war they wage,

Were He not Israel’s mighty Shield,

To whom their utmost crafts must yield,

We surely must have perished.

 

But now no human wit or might

Should make us quail for fear,

God sitteth in the highest height,

And makes their counsels clear;

When craftiest snares and nets they lay,

God goes to work another way,

And makes a path before us.

 

In wrathful pride they rage and mock

Against our souls in vain:

As billows meet with angry shock

Out on the stormy main,

So they our lives with fury seek;

But God hath pity on the weak,

And Him they have forgotten.

 

They call us heretics, and lie

In wait to spill our blood;

Yet flaunt their Christian name on high,

And boast they worship God.

Ah God! that precious name of Thine

O’er many a wicked deed must shine,

But Thou wilt once avenge it.

 

They open wide their ravenous jaws

To swallow us indeed,

But thanks to God, who rules our cause,

They shall not yet succeed:

Their snares He yet will bring to nought,

And overthrow what they have taught;

God is too mighty for them.

 

How richly He consoleth those

Who have no other friend!

The door of grace doth never close;

Sense cannot comprehend

How this may be, and deems all lost,

When through this very cross a host

Of champions God is raising.

 

Our foes, O God, are in Thy hand,

Thou knowest every plot;

But only give us strength to stand,

And let us waver not,

Though Reason strive with Faith, and still

She fear to wholly trust Thy will,

And sees not Thy salvation.

 

But heaven and earth, O Lord, are Thine,

By Thee alone were made,

Then let Thy light upon us shine,

O Thou our only aid!

Kindle our hearts to love and faith

That shall be steadfast e’en to death,

Howe’er the world may murmur!

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