“If Thou but Suffer God to Guide Thee”

John Piper recently (12/21/16) highlighted one of his favorite hymns in a regular podcast of his: Georg Neumark’s “Wer nur den lieben Gott lässt walten,” written in 1641 or 1642, first published in 1657, appropriated by Bach for a number of his canatas, introduced to the English-speaking world in Catherine Winkworth’s translation, and most commonly sung today (in English) as “If Thou but Suffer God to Guide Thee.”

A worthy hymn! Julian (Dictionary of Hymnology [1907], p. 796) deems that it “may be fairly called classical and imperishable.” In Piper’s discussion of the hymn, he bemoaned the fact that he had been unable to find an English translation of the fifth verse, and so was left no recourse but to translate it himself. Most hymnals do eliminate several of the seven verses of the hymn, but Winkworth did translate all seven verses—twice! Other translations have been made, but Winkworth’s has risen to the top, which should surprise no one familiar with her work.

Neumark’s fifth verse in the original German runs thus:

Denk nicht in deiner Drangsalshitze
Daß du von Gott verlassen seyst
Und daß Gott der im Schoße sitze
Der sich mit stetem Glükke speist.
Die Folgezeit verändert viel

Und setzet Jeglichem sein Ziel.

Winkworth’s first rendition of the text may be found in her well-known Lyra Germanica (1st ed., c. 1855), and is known by its first line, “Leave God to order all thy ways.” Verse five:

Nor, in the heat of pain and strife,
Think God hath cast thee off unheard,
And that the man, whose prosperous life
Thou enviest, is of Him preferr’d.
Time passes and much change doth bring,

And sets a bound to everything.

About a decade later, Winkworth re-translated the hymn in The Chorale Book for England: A Complete Hymn-book for Public and Private Worship (1865) as “If thou but suffer God to guide thee,” with the fifth verse running thus:

Nor think amid the heat of trial
That God hath cast thee off unheard,
That he whose hopes meet no denial
Must surely be of God preferred;
Time passes and much change doth bring,

And sets a bound to everything.

This second effort by Winkworth may immediately be seen to be the better of the two so far as coherency is concerned; it is structured more efficiently, with syntactical breaks better matched to line breaks. The flow of the text is clearly better.

The hymn has a long history, for which I refer the interested reader to the 1998 Hymn article by Lawrence Lohr.
This entry was posted in Historic hymnody, Uncategorized, Underutilized hymnody. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to “If Thou but Suffer God to Guide Thee”

  1. bkilcup82 says:

    We recently taught this hymn to our congregation, but (not surprisingly) without that seventh verse. I like it. Thanks for increasing its visibility for the rest of us. (I listen to Piper’s podcast but only check in every few months).

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