Dr Albert Mohler, the President of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, was travelling to preach at the Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia. His subject was Luther’s hymnody.
His flight was experiencing problems because of the weather. Dr Mohler was spending some time doing some reading Luther. The flight attendant noticed this and asked, “Why are you reading about Luther?”
Dr Mohler explained that he was travelling to speak on Luther’s contribution to hymnody.
She then went on to tell how she had grown up in East Germany during the Communist era recalling how her grandmother sang Luther’s hymns to her. She said, “My parents weren’t Christians but as my grandmother sang I learned about Jesus because she sang Luther’s hymns as she baked, as she cooked, as she cleaned, as she bathed, as a little girl I learned the gospel by those hymns.”
She continued, “I remember this during those years of communism in the East lots of German grandmothers defied the communist party by singing these hymns to their grandchildren. I knew of little children in the East who came home from school wearing their communist cadet outfits and their grandmother would serve them a snack and would sing Luther’s hymns.”
It is most encouraging to learn that old hymns of the faith, penned anything up to 500 years ago, still have currency and, more importantly, are recognised on account of their ability to teach the Gospel to others.
If only this were the legacy of our modern hymns. There are, naturally, exceptions to the rule, but many of the productions of this era that lay claim to the description, "hymns of the church," would be better forgotten as they fail miserably on this count – they do not carry a clear Gospel message.
One example of a Luther hymn is 'Christ Jesus Lay In Death's Strong Bands':
1. Christ Jesus lay in death's strong bands,
For our offenses given;
But now at God's right hand He stands
And brings us life from heaven;
Therefore let us joyful be
And sing to God right thankfully
Loud songs of hallelujah!
2. No son of man could conquer Death,
Such mischief sin had wrought us,
For innocence dwelt not on earth,
And therefore Death had brought us
Into thraldom from of old
And ever grew more strong and bold
And kept us in his bondage.
3. But Jesus Christ, God's only Son,
To our low state descended,
The cause of Death He has undone,
His power forever ended,
Ruined all his right and claim
And left him nothing but the name, –
His sting is lost forever.
4. It was a strange and dreadful strife
When Life and Death contended;
The victory remained with Life,
The reign of Death was ended;
Holy Scripture plainly saith
That Death is swallowed up by Death,
His sting is lost forever.
5. Here the true Paschal Lamb we see,
Whom God so freely gave us;
He died on the accursed tree –
So strong His love! – to save us.
See, His blood doth mark our door;
Faith points to it,
Death passes o'er,
And Satan cannot harm us.
6. So let us keep the festival
Whereto the Lord invites us;
Christ is himself the Joy of all,
The Sun that warms and lights us.
By His grace He doth impart
Eternal sunshine to the heart;
The night of sin is ended.
7. Then let us feast this Easter Day
On Christ, the Bread of heaven;
The Word of Grace hath purged away
The old and evil leaven.
Christ alone our souls will feed,
He is our meat and drink indeed;
Faith lives upon no other.