Article

“Built on a Rock”

Hymn Study
by Dean McIntyre

TITLE: "Built on a Rock"
AUTHOR: Nikolai F. S. Grundtvig, 1783-1872; trans. Carl Doving, 1867-1937; adapt. Dean McIntyre
TUNE: KIRKEN DEN ER ET GAMMELT HUS
COMPOSER: Ludwig M. Lindeman, 1812-1887
SOURCE: Worship & Song, no. 3147 SCRIPTURE: Matthew 16:1
8; Romans 6:4; Hebrews 13:8; 1 Peter 2:1-7; Revelation 7:15 TOPIC: affliction, tribulation, struggle, strife, altar, table, worship, new birth, blessing, build/builder, building dedication, cheer, joy, cornerstone, foundation, covenant, eternity, faith, baptism, font, grace, house of God, kingdom of God, proclamation, redemption, Reformation, word of God, young and old, generation, church

 

Background

This hymn has long been a favorite among Scandinavians and Lutherans and included seven stanzas in the 1941 Lutheran Hymnal (Concordia), reduced to five in the 1978 Lutheran Book of Worship. The Scandinavian hymn's original seven stanzas were first published in 1837 in Sang-Värk til den Danske Kirke. The adaptation in Worship & Song is of the 1958 Service Book and Hymnal translation by Carl Doving done in 1909.

Author Nikolai Grundtvig was ordained in 1811. He wrote many works, including some on Norse mythology and more than 1,000 hymns. He became a bishop in 1861. Composer Ludwig Lindeman was the son of a concert pianist, an organist in Oslo, and one of Norway's leading musicians of the nineteenth century. He collected and published almost 2,000 Norwegian folk tunes.

The KIRKEN tune was composed for this text by Ludwig M. Lindeman. It was his first hymn tune, and it was first published in 1840 in Wilhelm Wexels' Christelige Psalmer.

This text and tune have never before appeared in any of our Methodist publications. The hymn is especially suited to themes of reformation, the church, worship, and proclamation.

Words

The Worship & Song version of this hymn has edited the original seven stanzas to make them more inclusive and slightly more modern and has reduced the number of stanzas by one. Here is a side-by-side comparison of Doving's original translation and the present version:

 

1. Built on the Rock the Church doth stand,
Even when steeples are falling;
Crumbled have spires in ev'ry land,
Bells still are chiming and calling,
Calling the young and old to rest,
But above all the soul distrest,
Longing for rest everlasting.

 

1. Built on a rock the Church shall stand,
Even when steeples are falling;
Crumbled have spires in ev'ry land,
Bells still are chiming and calling,
Calling the young and old to rest,
But above all, the souls distressed,
Longing for rest everlasting.

 

2. Surely in temples made with hands,
God, the Most High, is not dwelling;
High above earth His temple stands,
All earthly temples excelling.
Yet He whom heav'ns cannot contain
Chose to abide on earth with men,
Built in our bodies His temple.

 

2. Surely in temples made with hands,
Almighty God is not dwelling;
High above earth his temple stands,
All earthly temples excelling.
Yet he who never lived on earth
Abides with us through human birth,
Making our bodies His temple.
3. We are God's house of living stones,
Builded for His habitation;
He through baptismal grace us owns
Heirs of His wondrous salvation.
Were we but two His name to tell,
Yet He would deign with us to dwell,
Built in our bodies His temple.
3. We are God's house of living stones,
Built for God's own habitation;
He through baptismal grace us owns
Heirs of a wondrous salvation.
Were we together, two or three,
God in our midst shall always be,
Blessing with favor and mercy.
4. Now we may gather with our King
E'en in the lowliest dwelling;
Praises to Him we there may bring,
His wondrous mercy forthtelling.
Jesus His grace to us accords;
Spirit and life are all His words;
His truth doth hallow the temple.

 

 

 

5. Still we our earthly temples rear
That we may herald His praises;
They are the homes where He draws near
And little children embraces.
Beautiful things in them are said;
God there with us His covenant made,
Making us heirs of His kingdom.
4. Still we our earthly temples raise
Houses where God can draw near us;
Places for worship, prayer, and praise,
Beauty and blessing to cheer us.
Here God his covenant shall make,
Here sin and sorrow we forsake,
Making us heirs of the kingdom.
6. Here stands the font before our eyes
Telling how God did receive us;
Th' altar recalls Christ's sacrifice
And what His table doth give us;
Here sounds the Word that doth proclaim
Christ yesterday, today, the same,
Yea, and for aye our Redeemer.
5. Here stands the font before our eyes
Telling how God has received us;
Th' altar recalls Christ's sacrifice
And what his table now gives us;
Here sounds the Word that shall proclaim
Christ yesterday, today, the same,
Ever for all our Redeemer.
7. Grant, then, O God, where'er men roam,
That, when the church bells are ringing,
Many in saving faith may come
Where Christ His message is bringing:
"I know Mine own, Mine own know Me;
Ye, not the world, My face shall see.
My Peace I leave with you." Amen.
6. Grant, then, O God, where'er we go,
That, when the church bells are ringing,
Many in faith may come to know
This message Jesus is bringing:
"I know my own, my own know me;
You, not the world, my face shall see.
My peace I leave with you." Amen

 

Stanzas Summarized

  • Stanza 1: The church is built on a strong foundation. Although individual churches may struggle, even crumble, the mission and work of the church continue.
  • Stanza 2: While God dwells with us in our congregational buildings, God also dwells in heaven and, through Jesus' birth, in us.
  • Stanza 3: We, our bodies, are God's temple, built and claimed through baptism and salvation. Wherever two or three are gathered, God is in their midst.
  • Stanza 4: We continue to build churches as structures for worship, prayer, praise, beauty and blessing. Here we renew our covenant and experience salvation and mercy.
  • Stanza 5: It is in these dwellings that we experience God's grace – at the baptismal font, the altar, the Communion table, and where we hear the word of God proclaimed.
  • Stanza 6: May God keep the vhurch and our churches as places to come to know faith and experience Christ's message, presence, and peace.

 

Music

The tune is a strong, classic German hymn tune set homorhythmically with many quick chord changes - on nearly every melody note. The rich harmony and frequent chord changes make this a difficult hymn for guitarists. The bass line often takes the character of a second melody as it provides a strong foundation for the harmony. The lowest bass notes in measures nine and eighteen will prove a challenge for many basses. The second and third phrases make a brief move to the relative major key of Eb but both quickly return to the key of C minor. The melody makes use of the classic arch structure for each phrase, rising to a high point and falling to the close.

Sources

 

 

 

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Categories: Hymn Studies, Hymnals By Name, Worship & Song