Sunday, January 03, 2021

O God, be merciful to me

Magnus Brostrup Landstad wrote the hymn posted below. Landstad was born October 7, 1802 in Måsøy, Norway, the son of Hans Landstad (1771-1838), a minister, and Margrethe Elisabeth Schnitler (1768-1850). Magnus Landstad married Wilhelmine Margrete Marie Lassen (1808-1892) in 1828 or 1829. They had twelve children.

In his early years, Landstad was educated by his father. He then studied at the University of Christiania (Oslo), earning a theology degree in 1827. He was a Norwegian Lutheran minister, psalmist, poet, and collector of traditional Norwegian ballads. Landstad compiled and published the first collection of authentic Norwegian traditional ballads in 1853, Norske Folkeviser (or Norwegian Folk Ballads). He also prepared a national hymnal (Kirkesalmebog, or Church Hymn Book), which included about fifty of his own hymns. Magnus B. Landstad died October 8, 1880 and is buried in Vår Frelsers Gravlund at Oslo, Norway.

Carl Døving translated a number of Scandinavian and German hymns into English, including in 1909 this hymn by Magnus B. Landstad. Døving was born March 21, 1867, in Norway, and died October 2, 1937, Chicago, Cook County, Illinois. He is buried at the Lutheran Cemetery, Decorah, Winneshiek County, Iowa. Carl Døving was a Lutheran minister. There are two versions of the hymn (below) both of which I have seen credited to . One is probably his original translation and the other reflecting changes made in it. (I do not know which is which.)

English version 1

1. To thee, omniscient Lord of all,
In grief and shame I humbly call;
I see my sins against Thee, Lord,
The sins of thought and deed and word.
They press me sore; I cry to Thee:
O God, be merciful to me!

2. O Lord, my God, to Thee I pray;
O cast me not in wrath away!
Let Thy good Spirit ne’er depart,
But let Him draw to Thee my heart
That truly penitent I be:
O God, be merciful to me!

3. O Jesus, let Thy precious blood
Be to my soul a cleansing flood.
Turn not, O Lord, Thy guest away, 
But grant that justified I may 
Go to my house, at peace with Thee:
O God, be merciful to me!

English version 2

1. To Thee, O Lord, the God of all,
With contrite heart I humbly call,
And view my sins against thee, Lord,
The sins of thought and deed and word;
In my distress I cry to Thee,
O God, be merciful to me!

2. My Lord and God, to thee I pray,
Oh, cast me not in wrath away;
Let thy good Spirit ne’er depart,
But draw me closer to thy heart;
This is my penitential plea,
O God, be merciful to me!

3. Let thy beloved Precious Blood
Be to my soul a cleansing flood,
To wash my sins and guilt away;
That, pardoned by thy grace, I may
Go to my house with peace from thee;
O God, be merciful to me!

The hymn is in meter of 8s, 6 lines, and usually sung to the tune Vater Unser. Vater Unser is named for the first words in Martin Luther’s German hymn “Vater unser im Himmelreich” (“Our Father in Heaven,” a paraphrase of the Lord’s Prayer from 1538). Valentin Schumann paired this hymn with Luther’s words in Geistliche Lieder, a hymnal he produced in 1539. This tune is called Old 112th in some hymnals, where it was used as a setting for Psalm 112.

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