Savior of the Nations, Come

Scripture References

Thematically related:

Further Reflections on Scripture References

Stanzas 1-3 explain in hymn form what the Apostles' Creed confesses: he was "conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary" (see also Luke 1:26-45). Stanza 4 alludes to Philippians 2:6-11, which speaks of Christ's humiliation and exaltation. Stanza 5 is a prayer for faithfulness, and stanza 6 is a plea that Christ continue to intercede for his people. Stanza 7, a doxology, points to Christ's second coming and the coming of his eternal "lasting kingdom."


Psalter Hymnal Handbook

Confessions and Statements of Faith References

Further Reflections on Confessions and Statements of Faith References

What is notable about this song is that it concludes with a Trinitarian doxology, thus pointing to the truth that the coming of Christ was clearly a redeeming action involving all three members of the Trinity. Heidelberg Catechism captures the role of each member of the Trinity in Lord’s Day 12, Question and Answer 31 when it professes that Christ is called anointed, because he has been “ordained by God the Father and has been anointed with the Holy Spirit” to be our prophet, priest, and king.


Savior of the Nations, Come

Call to Worship

The Lord be with you.
And also with you.
As we enter this season of Advent,
may the love of God the Father, and the grace of Jesus the Son,
and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be and abide with us all.
[Reformed Worship 57:4]
— Worship Sourcebook Edition Two


O Holy Child of Bethlehem,
descend to us, we pray.
Cast out our sin and enter in;
be born in us today.
[“O Little Town of Bethlehem” Phillips Brooks (1835-1893), PD ]
— Worship Sourcebook Edition Two

Additional Prayers

Covenant God,
you heard your people yearning for a Savior.
Thank you for sending your Son so long ago.
We now rehearse your promise
that Christ will come again,
that death and suffering will end
and every tear will be wiped away.
Come, Lord Jesus, come.
As you fulfilled Israel’s hopes long ago,
so we long for all these promises to be fulfilled. Amen.
[The Worship Sourcebook]
— Worship Sourcebook Edition Two

Savior of the Nations, Come

Tune Information

g minor


Musical Suggestion

To introduce "Savior of the Nations," consider both organ and choral settings. Composers from J. S. Bach to Paul Manz have provided wonderful organ settings for this hymn. For instance, Bach's setting could be sung by choir on one of the stanzas, and again by organ (and brass!) on the final doxology stanza.
For choral settings, consider Stephen J. Wolff's SAB setting with congregational participation (GIA Publications, Inc. G-2685) as well as Donald Busarow's delightful SAB setting with flute (recorder) descants (Concordia 11-9942).
As you move toward Christmas, it may be effective to build the intensity of the accompaniment for this hymn by adding instruments on successive Sundays. As with many hymns, "Savior of the Nations, Come" provides us with a sung prayer that will surely enhance not only our worship, but our own devotional life as well.
(from Reformed Worship, Issue 37)
— Amy Van Gust

Minor keys strike many people as sad, and music leaders often reinforce that by choosing tempos that are too slow. A firm tempo will help this rugged Advent Carol convey its intrinsic musical energy. On the other hand, there is enough unfulfilled longing in this prayerful text, that you may consider a completely different approach. Bruce Benedict has a mesmerizing folk arrangement that brings out the more introspective overtones of the text: http://cardiphonia.bandcamp.com/track/savior-of-the-nations-come.
— Greg Scheer

Savior of the Nations, Come

Hymn Story/Background

As attested by Augustine in 372, as well as by other early writers, Ambrose wrote this hymn in Latin ("Veni, Redemptor gentium") in the fourth century. The text appears in a number of eighth- and ninth-century manuscripts. Martin Luther (b. Eisleben, Saxony, Germany, 1483; d. Eisleben, 1546) translated this text into German ("Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland") in 1523 and included it in the Erfurt Enchiridia (1524). Consequently "Savior of the Nations" has become possibly the best known of the Lutheran Advent hymns. Various English translations are found in modern hymnals, many of which use, at least in part, William M. Reynolds's translation from his Hymns, Original and Selected (1851). Using the Latin and German texts as well as several English translations, Calvin Seerveld prepared the translation in the 1987 Psalter Hymnal in Toronto, Ontario, in 1984.
Stanzas 1-3 explain in hymn form what the Apostles' Creed confesses: Jesus Christ was "conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary" (see also Luke 1:26-45). Stanza 4 alludes to Philippians 2:6-11, which speaks of Christ's humiliation and exaltation. Stanza 5 is a prayer for faithfulness, and stanza 6 is a plea that Christ continue to intercede for his people. Stanza 7, a doxology, points to Christ's second coming and the coming of his eternal "lasting kingdom."
NUN KOMM DER HEIDEN HEILAND is a chorale derived from a chant. Among the simplest of the Lutheran repertoire, it is framed by identical lines–l and 4. Sing the entire hymn with antiphonal groups (the practice its original Latin author, Ambrose, strongly promoted). Sing some stanzas in unison and others in harmony. Always reserve stanza 7, the doxology, for a strong unison with full accompaniment. Play this music in two long lines to match the couplet structure of the textual lines.
The tune dates from a twelfth- or thirteenth-century Einsiedeln manuscript. Presumably by Johann Walther, the adaptation of the tune was published in the 1524 Erfurt Enchiridia. Johann S. Bach used the tune for preludes in the Clavierübung and Orgelbüchlein and in his cantatas 36 and 62.
— Bert Polman

Author Information

Ambrose (b. Treves, Germany, 340; d. Milan, Italy, 397), one of the great Latin church fathers, is remembered best for his preaching, his struggle against the Arian heresy, and his introduction of metrical and antiphonal singing into the Western church. Ambrose was trained in legal studies and distinguished himself in a civic career, becoming a consul in Northern Italy. When the bishop of Milan, an Arian, died in 374, the people demanded that Ambrose, who was not ordained or even baptized, become the bishop. He was promptly baptized and ordained, and he remained bishop of Milan until his death. Ambrose successfully resisted the Arian heresy and the attempts of the Roman emperors to dominate the church. His most famous convert and disciple was Augustine. Of the many hymns sometimes attributed to Ambrose, only a handful are thought to be authentic.
— Bert Polman

The influence of Martin Luther was monumental in biblical studies, theology, and the course of church history, but his influence was equally important in the worship and music of the church. He was educated at Magdeburg, Eisenach, and Erfurt and intended to enter the legal profession. But at the age of twenty-two he decided to become a monk and entered the Augustinian monastery in Erfurt. There he under­went the required rigors of spiritual training and was ordained in 1507. In 1510 he was commissioned to go to Rome to discuss a controversy within the Augustinian order. While in Rome, Luther was shocked by the worldliness and commercialism of the Italian clergy and the ostentation of the papacy.
After his return to Germany, Luther was appointed professor of sacred Scriptures at the University of Wittenberg, a position he retained until his death. In his lectures and preaching Luther began to teach the biblical and Augustinian doctrines of salvation by grace through faith in Christ, and he began to urge reforms of the abuses in the church. This call for reform came to a head when the Dominican friar Johann Tetzel appeared selling indulgences. Luther protested the whole system of salvation as taught by the church and published his "Ninety-five Theses" in 1517. This challenge resulted in a condemnation from Rome, and Luther found himself on a collision course with the church. He devoted the rest of his life to working out the implications of his stance and to assuming the leadership of the Protestant Reformation. Luther embodied his teachings in sermons, lectures, debates, table conversations, devotions, letters, and songs. His collected works number over fifty volumes (in English translation) not including one of his greatest contributions—the translation of the Bible into German.
Luther also became involved in the reformation of the worship of the church. It is generally recognized that in his liturgy Luther remained much closer to the Roman Catholic Church than did Calvin. However, both his Latin Mass ("Formula missae," 1523) and German Mass ("Deutscher messe," 1526) incorporated the basic teachings of the Reformation and became the model of worship for later Lutheran (and other) churches. Luther also promoted congregational singing and wrote thirty-five hymns, many based on the psalms and others on early hymns. Scholars are not completely certain how many hymn tunes he composed himself or arranged from other sources, but more are attributed to Luther now than in the past. Luther was a fine singer and lute player, and his love of music influenced the Lutheran tradition. In cooperation with a number of associates, Luther supervised the compilation of various hymnals, ranging from the Achtliederbuch (1524) to Babst's Geystliche Lieder (1545).
— Bert Polman

Calvin Seerveld (b. 1930) was professor of aesthetics at the Institute for Christian Studies in Toronto from 1972 until he retired in 1995. Educated at Calvin College, Grand Rapids, Michigan; the University of Michigan; and the Free University of Amsterdam (Ph.D.), he also studied at Basel University in Switzerland, the University of Rome, and the University of Heidelberg. Seerveld began his career by teaching at Bellhaven College in Jackson, Mississippi (1958-1959), and at Trinity Christian College in Palos Heights, Illinois (1959-1972). A fine Christian scholar, fluent in various biblical and modern languages, he is published widely in aesthetics, biblical studies, and philosophy. His books include Take Hold of God and Pull (1966), The Greatest Song: In Critique of Solomon (1967), For God's Sake, Run with Joy (1972), Rainbows for the Fallen World: Aesthetic Life and Artistic Task (1980), and On Being Human (1988). He credits the Dutch musician Ina Lohr for influencing his compositions of hymn tunes. Most of his Bible versifications and hymns were written for the Psalter Hymnal (1987), on whose revision committee he ably served.
— Bert Polman

Composer Information

Johann Walther (b. Kahla, Thuringia, Germany, 1496: d. Torgau, Germany, 1570) was one of the great early influences in Lutheran church music. At first he seemed destined to be primarily a court musician. A singer in the choir of the Elector of Saxony in the Torgau court in 1521, he became the court's music director in 1525. After the court orchestra was disbanded in 1530 and reconstituted by the town, Walther became cantor at the local school in 1534 and directed the music in several churches. He served the Elector of Saxony at the Dresden court from 1548 to 1554 and then retired in Torgau.
Walther met Martin Luther in 1525 and lived with him for three weeks to help in the preparation of Luther's German Mass. In 1524 Walther published the first edition of a collection of German hymns, Geystliche gesangk Buchleyn. This collection and several later hymnals compiled by Walther went through many later editions and made a permanent impact on Lutheran hymnody.
— Bert Polman

The harmonization comes from Seth Calvisius's Hymni Sacri (1594). Originally named Seth Kalwitz, Calvisius (b. Gorsleben, Thuringia, Germany, 1556; d. Leipzig, Germany, 1615) became known as the leading music theoretician of his time. He was educated at the universities of Helmstedt and Leipzig and spent much of his life teaching and writing about music history and theory. He taught at the Fürstenschule in Schulpforta from 1582 to 1594 and at the University of Leipzig from 1594 until his death. He also served as cantor at several churches. In addition to his theoretical work, Calvisius wrote psalm and hymn tunes and anthems, and he edited the first hymn book published in Leipzig, Harmonia cantionum ecclesiasticarum (1597).
— Bert Polman

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