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Now Thank we all our God, with heart and hands and voices,
Who wondrous things has done, in whom his world rejoices;
Who from our mothers’ arms has blessed us on our way
With countless gifts of love and still is ours today.Martin Rinkart (1636)
Martin Rinkart was born in Eilenberg, Saxony, but which part of present day Germany. Martin was the son of a coppersmith. He loved music and sung as a chorister in the famous St. Thomas Church in Leipzig where Bach was later the musical director. Rinkart graduated from Leipzig University and he wanted to serve the people in his village, so he became a Lutheran pastor.
Then the Thirty Years War struck Germany. All the countries in Europe were at war with one another, causing unimaginable destruction, death, and famine all across the continent. The people, cities, and villages in Germany suffered the most. Many had their homes and property burned. Enemy soldiers treated Martin cruelly, quartering in his house, and frequently plundered his small stock of grain and household goods. Survivors ran for their lives and left everything behind, hoping to find kind people and some help in the next town. Eilenberg was a country village with a small walled city, and many displaced people came there to seek protection and shelter. Of course this put a major strain on the food supply and many suffered and died from starvation, including poor Martin’s wife. So hungry were the poor people of Eilenberg that it wasn’t surprising to see thirty or forty persons fighting in the streets for a dead cat or crow. But Martin didn’t give up and he stood by his flock for the entirety of the war, offering the meager rations of food he had and helping people under every kind of distress imaginable. Many people died from either starvation or the plague in 1637. Martin was the only minister left in his village and was needed to perform burial services for 40 to 50 people a day, in all for about 4,480 souls. In the end, the deaths grew so numerous that bodies were laid in massive trenches without services.
Making a bad situation worse, the Swedish army had surrounded the small city of Eilenberg, stopping anyone from leaving the village unless the large sum of 30,000 florins was paid. Trusting God with his life, Martin agreed to leave the safety of the city walls to talk and negotiate with the army. When his negotiations were refused, he turned to his countrymen saying, “Come, my children, we can find no hearing, no mercy with men, let us take refuge with God.” He fell on his knees, and prayed with such strength and beauty that the Swedish general gave in, and lowered his demand at last to 2,000 florins. Martin paid the fee and the siege was lifted. (Oron)
Scholars have disagreed about the circumstances in which this hymn was written. Some have asserted it was written to celebrate the end of the Thirty Years’ War. Others claim it was simply a song to sing to give thanks before meals, hence the original title: “Tisch-Gebetlein,” or “A little table prayer.” Either way, we know that sometime during this devastating war, this hymn of thanks overflowed from Martin’s heart. We can be sure that Martin survived the 30 Years War by God’s immeasurable grace, and was able to thank him even in the midst of the most intense suffering. How often he must have meditated upon the Psalms, asking for God’s deliverance, and upon 1 Peter 5:6-7: “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.”
Martin died shortly after the war in 1649. What an immense blessing he was in the lives of so many needy, displaced, distressed, fatherless and widowed people. May God raise up more beautiful souls like Martin Rinkart.
HOW WE DO HYMN OF THE MONTH
If you are new to this community, welcome! It is a great time to join in and make family worship a priority if you haven’t already. You may or may not be familiar with this hymn. Either way, we invite you to spend this month singing it and meditating on its truths.
To get you started, we’ve provided free printable lyrics, music and copywork — all found here!
You can find fresh versions of the hymn on our YouTube channel that you and your family can sing along with. There are loads of fresh versions of our favorite hymns on our hymn of the month playlist.
KEEP IT SIMPLE
When we began singing hymns with our littles about 12 years ago, we kept it simple… We prayed and sang one hymn together every night at bedtime for a whole month. At the end of that month, our toddler knew just about every verse of the hymn and was even able to join us in singing it at church! Everyone’s family rhythm is different, so we welcome you to gather up your families, for just a few minutes each day, to sing, discuss and memorize this hymn (following your daily time in the Scriptures and in prayer) whether it is first thing in the morning, or around the dinner table or before bedtime – whatever works best for your family. We would so love to know how learning this hymn is going for you! If you have a moment, let us know how it’s going by posting either a video or a photo on Instagram. Just tag it with #happyhymnody! As always, if you have any questions or if you’d like to share your heart with us, please don’t hesitate to reach out!
God bless you all this month as you worship and follow Jesus together as a family!
Singing along with you,
PS. Our family video will be up shortly!