1 If you but trust in God to guide you
and place your confidence in him,
you'll find him always there beside you
to give you hope and strength within;
for those who trust God's changeless love
build on the rock that will not move.
2 Only be still and wait his pleasure
in cheerful hope with heart content.
He fills your needs to fullest measure
with what discerning love has sent;
doubt not our inmost wants are known
to him who chose us for his own.
3 Sing, pray, and keep his ways unswerving,
offer your service faithfully,
and trust his word; though undeserving,
you'll find his promise true to be.
God never will forsake in need
the soul that trusts in him indeed.
Psalter Hymnal, (Gray), 1987
|First Line:||If thou but suffer God to guide thee|
|Title:||If Thou but Suffer God to Guide Thee|
|German Title:||Wer nur den lieben Gott läßt walten|
|Author:||Georg Neumark (1641)|
|Translator:||Catherine Winkworth (1855, 1863)|
|Liturgical Use:||Scripture Songs|
|Article:||"If Thou but Suffer God to Guide Thee": The Journey of a Lutheran Hymn by Lawrence L. Lohr (from "The Hymn")|
all st. = Ps. 55:22, Ps. 56:11, Prov. 3:5-6
Georg Neumark (b. Langensalza, Thuringia, Germany, 1621; d. Weimar, Germany, 1681) lived during the time of the Thirty Years' War, when social and economic conditions were deplorable. He had personal trials as well. On his way to Konigsberg to study at the university, traveling in the comparative safety of a group of merchants, he was robbed of nearly all his possessions. During the next two years he spent much of his time looking for employment. He finally secured a tutoring position in Kiel. When he had saved enough money, he returned to the University of Konigsberg and studied there for five years. In Konigsberg he again lost all his belongings, this time in a fire. Despite his personal suffering Neumark wrote many hymns in which he expressed his absolute trust in God. In 1651 he settled in Weimar, Thuringia, where he became court poet and archivist to Duke Johann Ernst and librarian and registrar of the city. Neumark wrote thirty-four hymns, of which "If You But Trust in God to Guide You" has become a classic.
Neumark wrote this text at age twenty, just after he had finally been able to find employment as a tutor for a judge in Kiel. Neumark was so relieved and grateful to God by his change in circumstance that he wrote this text, saying, “This good fortune, which came so suddenly and, as it were, from heaven, so rejoiced my heart that I wrote my hymn 'Wer nur . . .' to the glory of my God on that first day.”
Written in Kiel, Germany, in 1641, the seven-stanza text (“Wer nur den lieben Gott lasst walten”) had the following heading: "a hymn of consolation, that God will care for and preserve his own in his own time; after the saying 'cast thy burden upon the Lord and He shall sustain thee.' Psalm 55:22." The text was published with the tune, also composed by Neumark, in Fortgepflanzter Musikalisch-Poetischer Lustwald (1657).
Catherine Winkworth (PHH 194) prepared two translations of the original German text: one published in her Lyra Germanica (1855) and one published with substantial revision in her Chorale Book for England (1863), in which the first stanza began "If thou but suffer God to guide thee." Winkworth's revised translation of Neumark's original Stanzas 1, 3, and 7 is the basis for the three stanzas found in the Psalter Hymnal.
A classic German chorale, this fine text focuses on trust in God's care in all of life's circumstances, both prosperous times and "evil days." As Christians we are counseled to be confident (st. 1), to have patience (st. 2), and to be faithful in service (st. 3).
Many occasions in Christian worship when profound trust and hope in God's providence and faithfulness needs to be affirmed as only song can express it.
--Psalter Hymnal Handbook
Neumark’s original German text, written in 1641, consisted of seven verses. In 1855, Catherine Winkworth translated the text into English, and in 1863 drastically revised her translation, the first line now reading, “If thou but suffer God to guide thee.” Her revisions of the original stanzas one, three, and seven are found in most modern hymnals. Changes in word choice abound between hymnals, but despite different wording, the different texts all ultimately say the same thing. For example, in the Psalter Hymnal, the third stanza reads, “Sing, pray and keep his ways unswerving, offer your service faithfully...” compared to the same line in the Presbyterian Hymnal, which reads, “Sing, pray, and swerve not from God’s ways, but do thine own part faithfully.” Other changes between hymnals amount to changing “thy” and “thine” and other antiquated language to a more modern text.
The tune WER NUR DEN LIEBEN GOTT (same name as original German hymn) was composed by Neumark in 1657 to accompany his text. This became a very popular tune, used in organ variations by Lutheran composers, and in a number of Bach’s cantatas. This is a rather interesting tune because, as Paul Westermeyer states, it can be sung at a number of different tempos, and the meaning of the text will change depending on the speed. For example, you would sing the hymn at a faster tempo when celebrating God’s faithfulness, and at a much slower tempo when singing it in a time of crisis or hardship. The words stay the same, but the meaning changes quite drastically depending on how fast you sing those words. For example, Madeline Robison's slower version in a minor key speaks of heartache much more than Bach's Orgel Buchlein, BWV 607.
Throughout the year we have reasons to remind ourselves to rely on God alone for our help and our safety. This hymn is thus appropriate at any time during the liturgical calendar, but especially during times of crisis in your church or when you need a reminder of God’s faithfulness. It can also be very powerful in services of celebration in which you remember and re-tell the stories of how God has been faithful to you and your church.
Laura de Jong, Hymnary.org