08 May 2013

Gott ist nicht ein gebundner Gott

Here is my translation of a funeral hymn “Gott ist nicht ein gebundner Gott” (Johann Vogel, d. 1663), a consolation for those whose children died before baptism. It came to my attention through notes on the funeral service appointments for the stillborn in Paul Graff’s Geschichte der Auflösung… vol. 1 (p. 367), where he quotes from stanzas 8, 9, and 10.

The appointed melody is “Herr, wie lang willst vergessen mein,” from the popular
paraphrase of Psalm 13 by Vogels fellow Nürnberger Hans Sachs. I provide the proper melody below with thanks to Dr. Joseph Herl for locating it in Zahn.

GOD is no captive Deity,
But all things’ Source and Measure:
The Lord of life and death is He,
Who takes us at His pleasure.
When, where, and how He will ordain,
And we His subjects e’er remain
In all that we endeavor.

2. The course of life is His decree,
He knows the path most fitting;
He bids us yield His tribute fee,
Our lives to His committing;
But if He wills His way to turn,
Then let not Reason raise concern,
But simply follow forward.

3. “He who believes and is baptized
Will thereby have salvation.”
So spoke our faithful Shepherd, Christ,
While in His earthly station:
“He who does not believe is lost,”—

In endless torment shall be tossed,
And evermore shall perish.

4. The Lord, however, does not say
That those their baptism missing
To Satan’s clutches must fall prey,        
And pains of hell unceasing;
For then would many an infant child
From bounds of heaven be exiled
That for the font was headed.

5. That they should miss, do not despair!
This is not their misdoing.
The gracious Father will forbear,
Our grief in mercy
When life will not our will obey,
Although it follows not the way
To which the Lord had bound us.

6. Who will condemn the tender sons
Of many a hebrew mother,
Whose lives in Egypt midwives once
Were made to drown and smother—
Who in the waters were constrained
To die as Pharaoh had ordained,
Before their circumcision?

7. How many babes were buried low
When Israel homeless wandered
In desert places to and fro?
These all would have been sundered
From God’s own cov
nant and His face,
If He had not by means of grace
Received them to His bosom.

8. The infant son of David died
Before his circumcision,
Though much the king for mercy cried,
Denied was his petition;
When David yearned to go as well,
It was not to the flames of hell
But to the joy of heaven.

9. To paradise the robber went,
As Christ had plainly spoken,

Without this holy sacrament,
Nor was God’s ord’nance broken;
It is as it shall ever be:
We are the ones constrained, not He.
He never shall be captive.

10. Dear Christian mothers, then take heart!
For grief this comfort borrow,

That if your infants should depart
In urgency and sorrow,
When you commit them first to God,
The heav’nly gate through Jesus’ blood
Is open to receive them.

11. Life, life the
Father holds most dear,
Nor does destruction cherish.
He who declines
God’s Word to hear
Will be the one to perish.
Those who to death through Adam came
The Father saves from death and shame
Through Christ the only Savior.

12. In this God will His hand employ,
He has the pow’r to do it,
To bring His own to heights of joy,
Though here we may not view it.
If He has called the parents His,
Their blessed seed He also sees
As part of His own people.

13. Praise be to God upon the throne,
Our Father never failing;
Praise be to Christ, His dearest Son,
Whose death is all-availing;
Praise be to God the Holy Ghost,
Who shows us to the uttermost
In all our cares His comfort.

Translation © 2013 Matthew Carver.


1. Gott ist nicht ein gebundner Gott
an das, was er befohlen:
er ist Herr über Lebn und Tod,
er kann uns zu sich holen
wie, wo er will, zu welcher Zeit,
wir bleiben seine Lehenleut
in allen unsern Sachen.

2. Des Lebens Wege schrieb er für
wie ihm es wollt belieben:
er fordert von uns die Gebühr,
die wir da sollen üben.
Geht aber er ein andre Bahn:
geht die Vernunft dies gar nicht an,
sie hat ihm bloß zu folgen.

3. Wer glaubet und getaufet wird,
soll dadurch selig werden,
sagt unser treuer Seelen-Hirt,
weil er ging auf der Erden:
wer nicht glaubt, soll verloren sein,
and bleiben in der Höllenpein
auf ewig ganz verdorben.

4. Wohl aber, daß der Herr nicht sagt:
Wer nicht getauft ist worden,
der ist vom Teufel ausgejagt
zu der verdammten Orden;
sonst müßten manche Kinderlein
vom Himmel ausgeschlossen sein,
die nicht zur Taufe kommen.

5. Und haben doch daran nicht Schuld,
daß sie so hingescheiden:
der Gnaden-Vater hat Geduld,
wo wir hier etwas leiden,
das nicht in unserm Willen steht;
ob es schon dem nicht gleich nachgeht,
worauf er uns verbunden.

6. Wer will die zarten Kinderlein
von Israel verdammen,
die in Egypten sollten sein
erdrücket von den Ammen?
Die in dem Wasser mußten gar
austehen, was gebotten war,
und sterben unbeschnitten?

7. Wieviel der Kinder gingen hin
dort in der großen Wüsten,
da Israel mußt umherziehn,
die alle darum müßten
geschloßen bleiben aus dem Bund,
wann Gott, aus seiner Gnade Grund,
sie nicht hätt eingenommen?

8. Das Söhnlein Davids starb auch noch,
eh als es wurd beschnitten,
für das der König bat so hoch;
doch es nicht konnt erbitten:
dem David wollte fahren nach,
gewiß nicht zu den Höllenbach,
vielmehr zur Himmelfreude.

9. Der Schächer fuhr ins Paradeis,
wie Christus ihm versprochen,
den man auch ungetaufet weiß,
und bleibt doch ungebrochen,
was Gottes Ordnung mit sich bringt,
die uns nur, ihm nicht, ist bedingt:
er bleibet unverbunden.

10. Da laßt, ihr Christen-Mütter, euch
zum Trost sein vorgesungen:
entgehen euch die Kinder gleich,
aus Not und Angst gedrungen.
Wann ihr sie Gott ergebt zuvor,
steht ihnen auch das Himmelstor
durch Christi Blut eröffnet.

11. Das Leben liebt der Vater dort,
er liebt nicht das Verderben:
wer widerstrebet seinem Wort,
der, der muß ewig sterben.
Wer durch den Adam kam zum Tod,
hilft er durch Christum aus der Not,
die ihm der Mensch nicht machet.

12. Gott hat hierin die freie Hand:
er, er kann alles schaffen,
daß es komm in den Freudenstand,
ob wir gleich drob entschlaffen.
Wenn er die Eltern hat erwählt,
hat er zu seinem Volk gezählt
auch ihren lieben Samen.

13. Lob sei Gott in dem höchsten Thron,
dem Vater aller Seelen.
Lob sei auch seinem liebsten Sohn,
durch den uns nichts kann quälen.
Lob sei auch seinem frohnen Geist,
der überall den Trost uns weist
in allen unsern Ängsten.


Todd A. Peperkorn said...

Is there accompaniment for this hymn melody somewhere?

Matt Carver (Matthaeus Glyptes) said...

I only know the tune from the list of melodies in Zahn's melody book, which Dr. Herl kindly excerpted for me. I don't doubt we have someone among us who can give it a quick harmony, or else we could find another tune perhaps.

Rev. Ray said...

You are a true blessing to the Lord's Church. Thank You for this translation as well as for all the many others that you are working on. This is a wonderful and beautiful hymn. God Bless

Matt Carver (Matthaeus Glyptes) said...

Thanks, Rev. Ray. That is very kind.

Marie M said...

Thank you for translating this beautiful and comforting hymn. We sang it with my family at a memorial service for our little one. The meter is quite common and so there are many melodies from the hymnal which will fit nicely. Our favorites for singing it aloud were Salvation Unto Us Is Come (http://www.hymnary.org/hymn/ELH1996/227); Lord Jesus Christ, Thou Living Bread (http://www.hymnary.org/hymn/ELH1996/322); and I Stand Beside Thy Manger Here (http://www.hymnary.org/tune/ich_steh_an_deiner_krippen_bach).

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for your translation of this hymn. My husband and I lost our son to stillbirth in February, and one of the pastors that visited brought this hymn. We used it for his funeral and heard from many what a comfort it was to them as well. I'm trying to share it with as many people as I can, hoping it is never needed for the same occasion, but wanting its existence known just in case.

Genevieve Wagner

Matt Carver (Matthaeus Glyptes) said...

Thank you for the Comments, Marie and Anonymous. I am moved by these personal accounts even more than I was moved by the words when I translated them, and I appreciate your sharing with me.