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The Desired Haven

Yesterday I gave you an early listen to Matthew Smith’s new song Goodnight. That song was drawn from the old hymn book titled Hymns from the Land of Luther which features German hymns translated to English by Jane Borthwick.

After I listened to Matthew’s hymn I immediately went looking for a copy of Hymns from the Land of Luther and found it on Google Books. I’d love to find a printed copy, but for now have been contenting myself with the PDF version. I was surprised to see how many of these hymns deal with death. There is even a hymn titled “To a Dying Child” (Depart, my child! the Lord thy spirit calls / To leave a world of woe. / Sad on my heart the heaveny summons falls; / Yet since He wills it so / I calm the rising agitation / And say, with humble resignation / Depart, my child!).

It is fascinating to see how different German hymnody is than its British and American equivalents. The majority of the songs simply wouldn’t fit our contemporary context. I wouldn’t anticipate using the word “Fatherland” in modern-day Canada! Of course there are at least a few that do work very well, including one we’re all familiar with, “Be Stil, My Soul” (the Lord is on thy side…).

Here is one I quite liked, though I think it works better as a poem than as a hymn. While I can’t quite imagine singing it in church, I’ve sure enjoyed reading it. Attributed simply to H.L.L., it is titled “The Desired Haven.” It speaks of the desire to depart this world, but humble resignation to remain.

“Lord, the waves are breaking o’er me and around,
Oft of coming tempests I hear the moaning sound;
Here there is no safety, rocks on either hand,
‘Tis a foreign roadstead, a strange and hostile land.
Wherefore should I linger ? others gone before
Long since safe are landed on a calm and friendly shore.
Now the sailing orders in mercy, Lord, bestow,—
Slip the cable, let me go!

“Lord, the night is closing round my feeble bark,
How shall I encounter its watches long and dark?
Sorely worn and shattered by many a billow past,
Can I stand another rude and stormy blast?
Ah! the promised haven I never may attain,
Sinking and forgotten amid the lonely main!
Enemies around me, gloomy depths below,—
Slip the cable, let me go!

“Lord, I would be near Thee, with Thee where Thou art,—
Thine own Word hath said it, ’tis ‘better to depart,’
There to serve Thee better, there to love Thee more,
With Thy ransomed people to worship and adore:
Ever to Thy presence Thou dost call Thine own,—
Why am I remaining, helpless and alone ?
Now to see Thy glory, Thy wondrous love to know,—
Slip the cable, let me go!

“Lord, the lights are gleaming from the distant shore
Where no billows threaten, where no tempests roar.
Long beloved voices calling me I hear,
Oh, how sweet their summons falls upon my ear!
Here are foes and strangers, faithless hearts and cold,
There is fond affection, fondly proved of old!
Let me haste to join them,—may it not be so?
Slip the cable, let me go!

Hark, the solemn answer!—hark, the promise sure!
“Blessed are the servants who to the end endure!
Yet a little longer hope and tarry on,
Yet a little longer, weak and weary one!
More to perfect patience, to grow in faith and love,
More my strength and wisdom and faithfulness to prove;
Then the sailing orders the Captain shall bestow,—
“Slip the cable, let thee go!”


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