First in a series featuring songs from my CD New Creation. For more information, read this link.
Behind the Song
The story of Martin Luther (1483–1546) is familiar to anyone who knows even the slightest bit of church history. A German peasant turned Franciscan monk, Luther searched desperately for an authentic grace-based spirituality, leading somewhat inadvertently to the upheaval of the church in the Protestant Reformation. The social, theological, and religious ramifications of the Reformation are complex enough to keep scholars busy for a very long time. For the moment, we’ll skip past them and go directly to the heart of the matter.
Luther was keenly aware of his own sinfulness and inadequacy before God’s holiness. He was also a big proponent of congregational worship in song. These two passions met in the hymn texts he composed for his own congregation. In the preface to his hymnal, he wrote:
Accordingly, to make a good beginning and to encourage others who can do it better, I have myself, with some others, put together a few hymns, in order to bring into full play the blessed Gospel, which by God’s grace hath again risen: that we may boast, as Moses doth in his song (Exodus xv.) that Christ is become our praise and our song, and that, whether we sing or speak, we may not know anything save Christ our Saviour, as St. Paul saith (1 Cor. ii.).
This Christ-centeredness is endemic to all of Luther’s hymn texts. The most famous, a paraphrase of Psalm 46, is still widely sung today (even appearing in some Catholic hymnals) as “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.” His first hymn, “Come, Christians One and All, Rejoice,” is less well known but more personal.
With vivid metaphors and frank description, the text begins by portraying the deep sense of sin, guilt, and helplessness that comes from seeing ourselves in the light of God’s Law. It’s very easy to see Luther’s autobiographical tone in the sense of crushing despair he describes over the complete inability of human good works to meet God’s holy standard. It’s important that we see ourselves there too.
Since our sin makes us unable to reach up to God on His terms, our situation would be hopeless unless God decided to reach down to us. As Luther zealously believed and defended, God did precisely that by providing the sacrificial atonement of His own Son. Thus our salvation does not depend on our good works but on Christ’s saving work. This belief is as central to Luther’s hymnody as it is to his theology.
The recording here covers the first four of ten stanzas. It’s perhaps unfortunate that a typical congregation today probably wouldn’t have the patience to sing a ten-stanza hymn; all ten verses are full of deeply Christ-centered theology. As it is, the first four are sufficient to show the scope of the problem of our sin and its resolution in God’s mercy in Christ. My tune portrays the sweep of the epic story of grace while still being—as Luther would have insisted—accessible for congregations to sing. This is a great introduction to the themes that are addressed throughout the “New Creation” album.
Text: Martin Luther, alt. Music: Eric M. Pazdziora
Come, Christians, one and all, rejoice,
With exultation ringing,
And, with united heart and voice,
In adoration singing.
Proclaim the wonders God has done,
How His right arm the victory won,
Though dearly it has cost Him.
Fast bound in Satan’s chains I lay,
Death brooded darkly o’er me.
Sin was my torment night and day,
Holding my guilt before me.
Yea, deep and deeper still I fell,
Life had become a living hell,
So firmly sin possessed me.
My own good works availed me naught,
No merit they attaining.
Free will against God’s judgment fought,
Dead to all good remaining.
My fears increased till sheer despair
Left naught but death to be my share;
The pangs of hell I suffered.
But God beheld my wretched state,
Before the world’s foundation,
And, mindful of His mercies great,
He planned my soul’s salvation.
A Father’s heart he turned to me,
Sought my redemption fervently,
He gave His dearest treasure.
Get the Song
Buy the MP3 on iTunes:
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Click here to get chord charts and lead sheets for the entire album.
If you would like this song in another arrangement, feel free to contact the composer. I’m always open to new commissions, projects, and ideas.
If you use this song in your worship or other performance and make a recording, I’d love to see a copy!
Music Copyright © 2010 Eric M. Pazdziora. All Rights Reserved.