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  14 October 2018

If Thou But Suffer God to Guide Thee

Text: Georg Neumark
trans. Catherine Winkworth
Tune: Wer nur den lieben Gott lasst walten

Georg Neumark (1621-1681), who lived a rather unremarkable -- and often miserable -- life, is known primarily for this hymn, which was written in the midst of a very bitter experience of victimization, destitution and unemployment. Robbed and left with only his prayerbook and a few coins while enroute to the University at Konigsberg, he spent nearly 2 years trying to find work in 4 different cities so that he could save enough money to finish his education.

It was upon the occasion of finally being given a tutoring job in the home of a wealthy judge, that he wrote this text and tune. It is based on Psalm 55:22 and originally entitled, "A Song of Comfort: God will care for and help everyone in His own time."

He eventually returned to the University and studied law, but he aimlessly wandered about for 3 years after graduation. He finally found a clerical position, in which he remained until his death. The last months of his life were spent in blindness. Most of his 34 hymns were written during times of great trial and suffering. Catherine Winkworth is credited with translating this hymn from German.

Think prayerfully of those who rely on the Lord through their suffering and challenges as you ponder these words:

1. If thou but suffer God to guide thee, 
and hope in God through all thy ways, 
God will give strength, whate'er betide thee, 
and bear thee through the evil days. 
Who trusts in God's unchanging love 
builds on the rock that naught can move.
2. Only be still, and wait God's leisure 
in cheerful hope, with heart content 
to take whate'er thy Maker's pleasure 
and all-discerning love hath sent; 
we know our inmost wants are known, 
for we are called to be God's own.
3. Sing, pray, and keep God's ways unswerving; 
so do thine own part faithfully, 
and trust God's word; though undeserving, 
thou yet shalt find it true for thee. 
God never yet forsook at need 
the soul that trusted God indeed.
Neumark also wrote the hymn's tune. It is better known than its composer. Bach is said to have loved this chorale-like tune, using it in a number of ways in his works: as the basis for a cantata by the same name; as the closing chorale in 4 other cantatas; and as the theme of one of his organ compositions. Mendelssohn also used it as a chorale in the oratorio St. Paul. Lutherans especially loved this tune, and used it for more than 400 hymns.

The first inclusion in a Methodist hymnal was in 1905, using only 4 stanzas of the original seven. The 1964 Methodist Hymnal restored the tune from 4/4 time to its original 3/4 time.

If your congregation has never sung this hymn, perhaps your musicians would be willing to use one of the classical compositions based on the tune as part of their offerings of music for the day. Certainly the story behind the hymn's text and tune is worthy of telling as an illustration to illumine the lections of the day.

God Bless You!


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