The Hymns and Carols of Christmas

From Heav'n On High To Earth I Come

For Christmas

Words: Vom Himmel hoch da komm ich her, by Martin Luther
Translation by "R."
See: Notes for Vom Himmel Hoch Da Komm Ich Her

Music: Not Stated

Source: Church of England Magazine, Edition LXXII, No. 2124 (London: January 20, 1872), pp. 44-45. From an article titled “Luther's Hymns. No. I”

1. From heav'n on high to earth I come,
And bring good news to every home;
Glad tidings of great joy I bear,
And thus to all mankind declare:

2. “ 'To you this day is born a Child,
Son of a virgin undefiled;
A Child Who, though of humble birth,
Shall be the joy of all the earth.

3. “ ' 'Tis Christ the Lord, Who, thron'd on high,
Attended to your bitter cry;
He will Himself your Saviour be,
And from your sins will set you free.

4. “ 'He brings salvation from above,
Which God prepar'd for you in love,
That you might have your home on high,
In bliss with us beyond the sky.

5. “ 'The signs which you much search with care
The swaddling-clothes and manger are;
There you will find the Infant laid
By Whom the heav'ns and earth were made.'

6. “O let us all rejoice to-day,
And with the shepherds homage pay;
Come, see the gift our God hath giv'n,
His own dear Son sent down from heav'n.

7. “Awake, my soul, from sadness rise;
See what in yonder manger lies;
Who is this young and lovely Child?
The infant Jesus, sweet and mild.

8. “O welcome, welcome, heav'nly Guest,
Who hast a world of sinners blest,
Who came to share our misery –
What can we render, Lord, to Thee?

9. “Ah, Lord, the everlasting King,
Hast Thou become so mean a thing?
And hast Thou made Thy infant bed
Where ass and ox but lately fed?

10. “Were this wide world far wider made,
With precious gems and gold arrayed,
To narrow, Lord, it still would be,
Too mean to make a crib for Thee.

11. “Not velvets soft and silk array
Compose Thy couch, but coarsest hay;
Were Thou, a King, so rich and great,
Art throned as in Thy heav'nly state.

12. “And this was pleasing, Lord, to Thee,
To manifest this truth to me,
That this world's honour, wealth, and might,
Are all as nothing in Thy sight.

13. “Jesus, my Saviour, come to me;
Make pure and soft a bed for Thee
Here in the corner of my heart,
That I from Thee may never part.

14. “My heart for very joy doth leap,
My lips no more can silent keep;
I, too, with joyful tongue will raise
A carol to my Saviour's praise.

15. “Glory to God in highest heav'n,
Who unto man His Son has given!
His angel doth to us appear;
Then let us hail the glad New Year.”

Note:

The author wrote that the original title was Von Himmel hoch da komm ich her,” “... which Luther composed for his little son Hans, when the latter was five years old. He entitled it 'A Christmas Child's Song concerning the Child Jesus.' ”

This translation appeared in the context of an article titled "Luther's Hymns. No. I." beginning on p. 43. The text that preceded this hymns appears below. After this hymn, another hymn was given, a translation of “Gelobet seist du, Jesu Christ”, All Glory, Jesus Christ, To Thee.

LUTHER'S HYMNS.

No. I.

It is well known that the church in Germany possesses an extensive storehouse of hymns and spiritual songs of peculiar excellence and beauty. A very considerable number of them are, through the medium of translations, familiar to English readers, and are much prized both for private devotion and for use in the sanctuary. For it would be difficult to name a hymnal at all popular and comprehensive which does not contain a greater or a less proportion of hymns from German sources.

This prevailing characteristic of religious life in Germany—to give utterance to its feelings in sacred song—originated with the Reformation in the sixteenth century. Among German hymn-writers the great reformer of the church himself occupies a pre-eminent position. When a youth at school, Luther was obliged sometimes to sing in the streets with some of his companions for a livelihood; at Christmas time, in particular, he describes in one of his works how they sung carols in celebration of our Lord's birth at Bethlehem; and in after years the passion for music was always strong in him. The hymns and hymn-tunes which he adapted or composed speedily became popular, and produced at that period of religious awakening and inquiry a very great impression on the people. In quarters where his controversial books were carefully excluded, his hymns, printed on broad sheets, and carried by wandering students, pedlars [sic], and others, in spite of every precaution, penetrated; and familiarizing, as they did, men's minds with the doctrines which he taught, materially helped forward the cause of the Reformation. To this fact adversaries as well as friends bore testimony. "It is a matter of great wonder," wrote Thomas à Jesu, a Spanish monk, "how deep a root these hymns have taken, which, coming in numbers from Luther's workshop, are now sung in all houses and shops, markets, streets, and country lanes." It is the remark of Coleridge that " Luther did as much for the Reformation by his hymns as by his translation of the Bible. In Germany the hymns are known by heart by every peasant. They advise, they argue from the hymns; and every soul in the church praises God, like a Christian, with words which are natural, and yet sacred to his mind."

It was in the year 1522 that Luther published his German version of the New Testament, the entire Bible being completed in 1530. During the progress of this great work he endeavoured to afford his countrymen the means of worshipping God in their own language. For this purpose a treatise " On the Ordering of Divine Service in the Church" was published in 1523; and at Christmas, in the year 1525, the Holy Communion was administered in his own parish church of Wittenberg, according to this order, superseding for the first time the Romish mass. A complete liturgy for use in the German churches was published in 1526; and then the want being felt of psalms and hymns in the German language to supply the place of the Latin hymns and sequences which had previously been in use, Luther undertook to supply it. The germs, indeed, of a national church poetry existed in the verses, based upon Latin hymns, which were sung in German on pilgrimages or on high festivals. Some of Luther's compositions were adapted from verses of this class, others were versions of psalms or select passages of scripture, and others were original. They are often deficient in that polish of expression and correctness of metre which the taste of modern times requires—often quaint and rugged—but they are adapted to general comprehension, and are full of confidence and courage which sprung in him from steadfast faith in Christ; a simple beauty pervades them, and they breathe a deep spirit of devotion. Expressing the firm convictions of his own heart they powerfully impressed the hearts of his countrymen, and gained them to his side. The number of hymns which may with certainty be ascribed to Luther is thirty seven.

Luther not only composed hymns himself, he enlisted in this work the services of his immediate friends and associates. The work so begun was carried on by others, and a succession of hymn-writers continued during the centuries which followed to add to the devotional treasures of the German church.

The spirit influencing the great reformer in putting forth his "Spiritual Songs" will be seen from the following extract from the preface to the edition published in 1527: "No Christian, I think, will doubt that to sing spiritual songs is well-pleasing in the sight of God; for not only have we the example of prophets and kings in the Old Testament, who, with harp and song, with poetry and all kinds of stringed instrument, praised the Lord; but a similar custom, especially as regards psalms, has prevailed among Christians from the first. Indeed we find St. Paul insisting on it in the fourteenth chapter of his first epistle to the Corinthians; and again giving commandment in the third chapter of the epistle to the Colossians that they should sing psalms and spiritual songs from their hearts to the Lord; so that the word of God and the doctrine of Christianity might in every possible way be made known and practiced. Therefore, to make a good beginning, and to encourage those who can do it better, I have myself, with some others, put together a few hymns, in order to extend the knowledge of the blessed gospel which, by the grace of God, has again appeared; so that we may make our boast, like Moses in the fifteenth chapter of the book of Exodus, that 'Christ is our praise and our song'; and that we know nothing better of which to sing than, as St. Paul did in the second chapter of his first epistle to the Corinthians, that Jesus is our Saviour."

Two of the hymns of Luther appropriate to the present season may be here introduced. The first, commencing in the original, "Von Himmel hoch da komm ich her," is a Christmas carol which Luther composed for his little son Hans, when the latter was five years old. He entitled it "A Christmas Child's Song concerning the Child Jesus." "It is still sung," says Miss Winkworth in her preface to "Lyra Germanica," "from the dome of the Kreuzkirche in Dresden before daybreak on the morning of Christmas-day. It refers to the custom then and long afterwards prevalent in Germany of making at Christmas-time representations of the manger of the infant Jesus."

Editor's Note:

Then follows the above hymn. As noted above, the second hymn in this article is All Glory, Jesus Christ, To Thee, a translation of “Gelobet seist du, Jesu Christ.”

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