Paul Gerhardt (1607-1676) was a German Lutheran pastor who managed to maintain a deep faith in the midst of terrible suffering.
The Thirty Years War (1618-1648) started while Gerhardt was yet a boy, and continued until he was in his early forties. That war devastated Europe—brought famine, disease, poverty, and death, especially to Germany. Just imagine growing from childhood to the beginning of middle age in the midst of that kind of terrible war.
In 1651, Gerhardt was called to serve the church at Mittenwalde, a small town near Berlin. While there, he married Anna Maria Barthold, and their first child was born there—but died in infancy.
In 1657, Gerhardt was called to serve a church in Berlin. However, a conflict between Lutherans and those from the Reformed tradition created a great deal of turbulence about that time—and resulted in Gerhardt’s dismissal.
Not long after that, his wife died.
In circumstances like that, people tend to do one of two things: (1) Give up, to include giving up their faith or (2) Stand even more firmly in their faith, gaining strength from their relationship to God. Gerhardt took this second course. That is reflected in the words to this song:
Give to the winds Thy fears;
Hope and be undismayed;
God hears Thy sighs and counts Thy tears,
God shall lift up Thy head (v. 1).
That verse is a resounding trumpet of faith in the midst of terrible adversity.
While Gerhardt was a great hymn writer, we probably would never have heard this hymn, except for John Wesley, who along with his brother Charles founded Methodism. Wesley translated this hymn into English, and it became a Methodist favorite.
Copyright 2014, Richard Niell Donovan