Where We Got Our Hymns—Chapter 4

by J. Irving Erickson

The early Pietists sounded a new note in Swedish hymnody. This was especially true of Jacob Arrhenius (1642-1725), a professor of history at Uppsala University. Several of his lyrics were included in Jesper Swedberg’s edition of the Psalmbok in 1694. Some texts were translations and psalm paraphrases, but there were original texts as well. He is represented in the Covenant Hymnal by “Jesus, Lord and Precious Savior” (433). One of the so-called “Jesus Hymns,” it is a Swedish translation by Arrhenius of the German text, “Jesu, meine lust und wonne.” This was written by an unknown author sometime in the 17th century. The English version is by Augustus Nelson (1863-1949), an Augustana Lutheran pastor. The music setting, KALMAR, is a Swedish melody in the style of the German chorale. But the text represents a change from the Psalmbok’s formalism and objectivity to a personal and subjective character.

There were several Pietist hymn collections during the 18th century, but the first important songbook published by Swedish Herrnhutism was Sions Sånger (Songs of Zion). The Covenant Hymnal has two texts by Count Zinzendorf [Moravian Herrnhutter], but they are direct translations from German. “O Let Your Soul Now Be Filled with Gladness” (423) is Karl Olsson’s translation of a poem by Peter Aschan, the principal of a school in southern Sweden, who was active in Moravian circles. The song is a good example of a type of Moravian hymnody popular in the mid–l 700s. It communicates a spirit that is freer and more joyous than that of the average Pietist. Oscar Lövgren, the late Swedish hymnologist, said that “one finds in the song an almost thoughtless happiness.” The song was well-known in the free churches of Sweden but not in North America, even though it was printed in some of the early Swedish hymnals (e.g., Sionsharpan and Evangellii Basun). The text is one of several that Olsson translated for the North Park College choir, and it has proved to be one of the most popular in the present hymnal. The tune, RAMSOMED SOUL, is a Swedish folk melody.

A favorite collection of the Pietists for almost a century was Sions Nya Sånger (New Songs of Zion). It appeared in Sweden in 1778 and often was called “Rutström’s songbook.” Anders Rutström (1721-1772) did not compile the volume, but there are more of his texts in it than texts of any other writer. The volume was the work of his friends after his death, printed in Copenhagen, and smuggled into Sweden. (Neither Rutström nor the songs were approved by the leaders of the State Church.)

Rutström was a very controversial figure. Some regard him as an innocent martyr, and others look upon him as a hateful hothead. One of his contemporaries said of him, “In disposition he is as hot as a live coal, and voluptuous, and his face shows it.”

After his ordination in 1745, he became assistant curate in Storkyrkan (the cathedral church) in Stockholm. Soon he was known as an outstanding preacher and evangelist But, by 1748 the church consistory had begun to issue complaints against him. At one time he was charged for his Calvinistic leanings, and at another, for his Herrnhutism. Also, he became involved in the crucial political struggles of the day, allying himself with one of the parties. This served him well so long as his party was in power. In 1758 he was appointed pastor of Hedvig Eleanora Church in Stockholm. His enemies gave him no peace there, and, when his party lost power, he sought refuge in Denmark and Germany. After five years, he returned only to meet more persecution. He was arrested in 1772 and died in prison just as King Gustave III’s assurance of lasting reparation reached him.

Probably Rutström is the author and composer of the hymn that became a kind of theme song of the conventicle movement—“Chosen Seed and Zion’s Children” (473). The English translation was done by Claude Foss who taught history at Augustana College for fifty years. Foss also translated “My Crucified Savior” (195) (actually, “My Bleeding King”). This text was the work of Fredrika Falck, a pastor’s wife who was greatly influenced by Herrnhutism. Witness the emphasis on the blood, suffering, and Christ’s finished work on the cross. In order to bring the last line of stanza two into harmony with traditional Covenant theology, the word “appeased” was changed to “obeyed.” Another Rutström text is “O Savior, Thou Who for Us Died” (461). The translator was E. Gustav Johnson, and the setting is the familiar German chorale tune, NUN FREUT EUCH. Sions Nya Sånger went through thirty-five editions, the final one published in 1923 as Bibel-trogna vänners sångbok (Bible-Believing Songbook).