Praise to the Lord the Almighty – Audio
This free MP3 of Praise to the Lord the Almighty is brought to you by Redemption Hill Church.
About the Hymn: Praise to the Lord the Almighty
Our hymn focus this month is Praise to the Lord, the Almighty, by Joachim Neander. Neander, was born in Bremen, Germany in 1650. His father was a Latin teacher, and his grandfather (all Joachim Neanders) was a musician, who had changed the family name from Neumann (New man), to the Greek form of the surname, as was fashionable during this time. After the death of his father, he could not afford to study at a famous university, so he entered the Academic Gymnasium of Bremen at the age of sixteen. There he studied theology from 1666 to 1670. At first, his heart was not in it, as he was known to be a pretty wild and rebellious student.
But then in 1670, when Neander was twenty years old, him and two of his friends attended a service at St. Martin’s Church in Bremen, where Theodore Under-Eyck had recently been appointed pastor. Their main purpose in going was to make fun of the people attending the service, and to laugh at the new pastor during his sermon. What Neander did not plan on though was the Gospel taking hold of his life with the burning words of Under-Eyck. Instead of laughing at the message being presented, he was burdened to pray for his own soul. It proved the turning point in Joachim’s life, and under the guidance of Under-Eyck, he was led to embrace Christ as his Savior, and from that time on, he and Under-Eyck became close friends.
Neander continued to study theology at Bremen, and the following year he became tutor to five young students, accompanying them to the University of Heidelberg. He then went on to study in Frankfurt, where at the age of 23, he met the great German Pietist scholars Philipp Jakob Spener and Johann Jakob Schütz. He was particularly influenced by Spener, who as a Pietist, sought to return vitality to the Lutheran church, which in his opinion had become dry and barren. The Pietists emphasized individual holiness, 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.
Neander spent about three years in Frankfurt, before moving to Düsseldorf to become a rector in the local Latin school. The school was under the supervision of a Reformed pastor, Sylvester Lürsen, who was known to be contentious and hard to get along with. At first the two men got along great, with Neander assisting in pastoral duties, and even preaching occasionally. However, he began to become increasingly uncomfortable with some of the church practices, which came to a head when he began refusing to receive Communion on the grounds that he could not partake of it with unbelievers. He slowly divorced himself from the regular services, and along with a group of other like-minded individuals, began holding Bible studies and prayer meetings in the nearby valley of Düssel.
Now the valley of Düssel was a place that Neander was quite familiar with, as almost immediately upon his arrival in Düsseldorf, he would frequently take walks through the lush woods and hills of the valley. The Düssel River flowed through the valley, and Neander would frequently compose poems and songs as he strolled through the valley, singing loudly as he did so. There was a cave in the hills that he especially enjoyed, and he would go on to conduct his prayer meetings and Bible studies there. He spent so much time in both the valley and cave, that the valley became known as the “Neander Valley,” and the cave itself as “Neander’s Cave.”
Many of the poems and hymns Neander would compose on his walks were odes to nature, but there is always a note of praise to the God who created nature. In his hymn Heaven and Earth, and Sea and Air, he goes on to proclaim:
Heaven and earth, and sea and air,
All their Maker’s praise declare;
Wake, my soul, awake and sing,
Now thy grateful praises bring!
In 1678, the local church council and elders of Düsseldorf began to investigate Neander because of the increasingly popularity of the meetings and services he was holding in the valley. He was subsequently accused of heresy, and publicly removed from his position at the school. Many accounts reported that the elders of the church made their way into the school, and charged him with various errors of doctrine, ending with his dismissal, all right in front of his students. He was also forbidden to preach, and banished from the town. His students wanted to fight for him, but he told them not to, and he ultimately submitted to the elders.
Fourteen days after his dismissal though, Neander signed a declaration in which he promised to abide by the rules of the church and school, after which he was promptly reinstated. There is speculation surrounding the fourteen days after his dismissal, in which it is said that Neander lived in the cave that he so often frequented, giving more credence to name, “Neander’s Cave.”
In 1679, Neander’s longtime friend, Pastor Under-Eyck, invited him to come back to Bremen and become his assistant at St. Martin’s Church, the very place where his life was so dramatically changed by Christ. This was an invitation he gladly welcomed and accepted. The following year, however, he became sick, and after a lingering bout with what is thought to be tuberculosis, passed away on May 31st, 1680, at the age of only thirty years. During his illness he experienced severe physical and spiritual struggles. On the day of his death, when asked how he felt, he replied:
The Lord has settled my account. Lord Jesus, make also me ready.
A little later he also said in a whisper before he died:
It is well with me. The mountains shall be moved, and the hills shall tremble, yet the grace of God shall not depart from me, and His covenant of peace shall not be moved.
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 during a time when Neander was living under considerable stress and eventual sickness. Today Neander is considered one of the finest hymn writers in the German speaking church since the Reformation.
One interesting page in history is Neander’s roots, and the later use of his name. Two hundred years after his death, the valley area that he lived and worked in was owned by Herr von Beckersdorf, who mined some of the valley for limestone, used to manufacture cement. In 1856, miners discovered caves which contained human bones. Beckersdorf took the bones to a local science teacher who speculated they belonged to one who died in the Flood. But when William King, an Irish professor of anatomy, saw the bones, he claimed they were proof of evolution’s famous “missing link.” Since the German word for valley is “thal,” the bones became referred to as “Neanderthal” man. Other Neanderthal fossils were found, and for many years they were used to prove Darwin’s theory of evolution.
Praise to the Lord, the Almighty is a free paraphrase of Psalm 103:1-6, and Psalm 150, and was written towards the end of his life while battling tuberculosis. It is exceedingly rich in biblical allusions and piety, and anchors our life and our worship in the doctrine of God’s sovereignty, His creation, His providence, His goodness, His mercy, and His lovingkindness. It is a joyful, triumphant expression of praise to God for who He is, what He’s like, and what He does: sovereignly caring for his creation and people, and calling all His people and creation to praise God for his mercy towards us. Here are the verses that we will be focusing on as a congregation:
Praise to the Lord, the Almighty, the King of creation!
O my soul, praise Him, for He is thy health and salvation!
All ye who hear, now to His temple draw near;
Praise Him in glad adoration.
Praise to the Lord, who over all things so wondrously reigneth,
Shelters thee under His wings, yea, so gently sustaineth!
Hast thou not seen how all thy longings have been
Granted in what He ordaineth?
Praise to the Lord, who hath fearfully, wondrously, made thee;
Health hath vouchsafed and, when heedlessly falling, hath stayed thee.
What need or grief ever hath failed of relief?
Wings of His mercy did shade thee.
Praise to the Lord, who, when darkness of sin is abounding,
Who, when the godless do triumph, all virtue confounding,
Sheddeth His light, chaseth the horrors of night,
Saints with His mercy surrounding.
Praise to the Lord, O let all that is in me adore Him!
All that hath life and breath, come now with praises before Him.
Let the Amen sound from His people again,
Gladly for aye we adore Him.
We owe a debt of gratitude to Catherine Winkworth, who translated this hymn and a number of other German hymns during the 19th century. Winkworth was a nineteenth century Church of England hymn translator and writer. She traveled to the area around Dresden, Germany, in the middle of the nineteenth century, and found all sorts of hymns that were being sung by the German church. The Germans have historically been amazing singers and composers, and she brought back a number of the hymns that she heard being sung and translated them into English. Many of them would go on to become popular in the English churches, and several of Neander’s hymns can still be found in hymnals today, having inspired Christians around the world for more than three centuries.
About this Recording
: Shelby T. Murphy
Engineered and Mixed by: Jeff Carver and David Jackson
Vocals: Elizabeth Sullivan and Laura Agaba
Banjo and Kabosy: Zachary Banister
Mandolin: Mitch Tolson
Bass: Justin Bailey
Drums and Tambourine: Jonathan Tobin
: Justin Bailey, Jonathan Fuller, and David Jackson
Guitar: Shelby T. Murphy
Recorded and Mixed at: