The author of this hymn, Joachim Neander, was born in Bremen, Germany in 1650. In his early years, he lived a lusty, immoral life. Then he and a group of friends decided to attend a service conducted by a visiting preacher, Pastor Under-Eyke, and Neander was quickly converted. He was then influenced by Philipp Jakob Spener, a Pietist who sought to return vitality to the Lutheran church, which in his opinion had become staid and barren. The Pietists emphasized individual piety, and instituted small groups for prayer, scripture study, personal accountability, and good works. They believed that trust in Christ rather than correct theology constituted the core of the faith. This de-emphasis on theology brought the Pietists into conflict with the more traditional Lutherans.
In his mid-20s, Neander became director of the Latin School of Dusseldorf, where he served for several years. He experienced considerable opposition there because of his pietism, and was eventually dismissed from that position. He then suffered declining health, and died at age 30.
Neander’s life was tragic in the classic sense—a life of great potential cut short by an untimely death. However, he wrote 60 hymns—most during his tenure at the Latin School. Most are hymns of joyful praise, even though they were written at a time when Neander was living under considerable stress. Several of his hymns can be found in hymnals today, having inspired Christians around the world for more than three centuries. Few of us, regardless of longevity, can hope to have a legacy as enduring. It seems fair to say that God made more of Neander’s life than Neander could ever have expected.
“Praise to the Lord, the Almighty” is based on Psalms 103 and 150. It was inspired not only by those psalms but also by the beauty of the hills and rivers that Neander experienced on his walks through the German countryside.
We owe a debt of gratitude to Catherine Winkworth, who translated this and a number of other German hymns during the 19th century. But for her efforts, we would know nothing of Neander or his hymns today.
— Copyright 2006, Richard Niell Donovan