Home History of Hymns: "Give to the Winds thy Fears"

History of Hymns: "Give to the Winds thy Fears"

"Give to the Winds thy Fears"
Paul Gerhardt; trans. by John Wesley
The UM Hymnal, No. 129

Paul Gerhardt

Give to the winds thy fears;
hope and be undismayed.
God hears thy sighs and counts thy tears,
God shall lift up thy head.

“Give to the winds thy fears” (“Befiehl du deine Wege”) represents a collaboration of two ministers in two different centuries—each among the most influential of their time.

Next to Martin Luther, Gerhardt is the most significant Lutheran hymn writer. He was educated at the University of Wittenberg. In 1642 he moved to Berlin to assume the position as a tutor for the children of Andreas Barthold, and married Barthold’s daughter Anna Maria in 1655.

Following his ordination in 1651, Gerhardt served several congregations as pastor and deacon until he was appointed archdeacon and pastor of the congregation at Lübben, where he remained until his death.

Gerhardt refused to sign an edict from Elector Frederick Wilhelm I forbidding Lutheran pastors to preach on the doctrinal differences between Lutheran and Reformed theology. As a result he was deposed from his ministerial office and prohibited from performing any clerical functions.

Gerhardt began writing hymns during his years as a tutor, and following his marriage, began publishing them.

Gerhardt published this hymn in 1656 during his first pastorate in the village church in Mittenwald. It originally was 12 stanzas long with eight lines per stanza. In 1739 John Wesley reduced the number of stanzas to eight, and divided them into two parts: Part one began with “Commit thou all thy griefs” and part two begins with “Give to the winds thy fears.”

Hymnologist Albert Bailey notes: “No doubt [Gerhardt] repeated these lines to himself many a time in the after years when, one by one four of his five children died, his influential position in Berlin was taken away, and his wife succumbed after a long illness, leaving him with a single surviving son.”

John Wesley (1703-1791) immersed himself the hymns of the Moravians while sailing to Georgia in October 1735. While on board the ship, the Moravians practiced their Singstunde (singing meetings). The German version of our hymn was contained in this collection, prompting Carlton Young to suggest that the “first stanza may have been a comfort to Wesley during the stormy voyage to Georgia.”

Wesley immediately began translating German hymns and included some in the 1737 Collection of Psalms and Hymns published in Charlestown—the first hymnal published in the American colonies. This hymn was first published in Wesley’s Hymns and Sacred Poems (1739) in 16 stanzas in four lines apiece under the heading “Trust in Providence. From the German.”

No doubt this hymn served as a comfort to the Wesley brothers as they traveled into hostile towns to spread the gospel.

Mr. Bailey describes one such incident that happened in Devizes in February 1747: “The mob opposition was worked up by the local Anglican clergyman who went from house to house to make the absurd charge that he heard Charles preach blasphemy at the University. When the crowd got underway, the leaders proved to be led by ‘the chief gentleman of the town,’ accompanied by ‘the jealous curate, dancing for joy.’

“They surrounded the house where Wesley and his aides were staying, they broke the windows, ripped off the shutters and drove the horses into the pond. Next day they got out the fire engine and deluged the house in which Wesley had taken refuge, flooding all the rooms and ruining the stock-in-trade of the shopkeeper on the street floor. Local leaders of the Methodist Society were ducked in the pond.”

Though the circumstances that Gerhardt and the Wesleys faced were different, this hymn served as a source of comfort for two influential leaders in two different cultures, languages and centuries.

Dr. Hawn is professor of sacred music at Perkins School of Theology.

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