When the Thirty Years’ War (1618–1648) engulfed northern Europe, Christians in Germany suffered under the terrors of war, famine, and plague. As a new pastor in the walled city of Eilenberg, Martin Rinkart knew the spiritual strain of ministry under these trying circumstances.
Refugees congregated in Eilenberg, but the siege by the Swedish and Austrian armies led to famine and disease within the city. Homes were destroyed as the armies invaded parts of the city. During 1637, all pastors except Rinkart either died or fled, leaving Rinkart alone to perform funerals. At the height of the devastation, he held burial services for 40 to 50 people a day. Among the 8,000 dead was Rinkart’s own wife.
Through Rinkart’s prayers and diplomacy, he negotiated a reduction of a payment demanded by the attacking armies. Rinkart’s courage and faith led to an end of the siege of Eilenberg.
Under these circumstances, what kind of hymn would you write? Rinkart’s answer: a hymn of thanks. Some time during the war, he wrote the immortal words of “Now Thank We All Our God.” Originally intended as a prayer before meals, this hymn has become known in English through the vigorous translation by the inimitable Catherine Winkworth. The tune came from noted hymn composer Johann Crüger, and its common harmonization derives from its use in an 1830 cantata by German composer Felix Mendelssohn.
The most trying times and challenging circumstances have frequently driven God’s people to a deeper trust in Him. David, reflecting on his own deliverance from a dangerous situation, wrote in Psalm 34:1, “I will bless the Lord at all times; His praise shall continually be in my mouth.”
Now thank we all our God, with heart and hands and voices,
Who wondrous things hath done, in whom this world rejoices;
Who from our mothers’ arms has blessed us on our way
With countless gifts of love, and still is ours today.
O may this bounteous God through all our life be near us,
With ever joyful hearts and blessed peace to cheer us;
And keep us in His grace, and guide us when perplexed;
And free us from all ills, in this world and the next!
All praise and thanks to God the Father now be given;
The Son and Him who reigns with Them in highest Heaven;
The one eternal God, whom earth and Heaven adore;
For thus it was, is now, and shall be evermore.
—Martin Rinkart, c. 1636