By: A. C. Bridges (Originally printed in the September 1986 The ARP Magazine.)
The Hymn of the month, “If Thou But Suffer God To Guide Thee,” was originally a hymn with seven six-line stanzas, first published in 1657. There are five stanzas in Trinity Hymnal, No. 567, and three in The Hymnbook, No. 344.
But what a hymn it is! It is a hymn of trust, of admonition, of praise and an urgent plea to allow God to guide His people.
The hymn was written by Georg Neumark, the son of a German clothier, when he was 19 years old in 1640. Neumark’s ambition was to attend the University of Konigsberg and study for a career in law. But on the way there he was set upon by robbers and was relieved of all his possessions except his prayer book and some money sewn into his clothing. The net months were spent in wandering and seeking work, food, and shelter.
After a period of trouble and anxiety and unemployment, he unexpectedly received an appointment as a tutor to the family of Judge Stephan Henning in Kiel. He wrote: “This good fortune which came so suddenly and, as it were, from heaven, gladdened my heart so that I, on the first day, to the glory of God, composed (the hymn) for I had ample reason to thank God heartily for this unexpected grace, both then and to the end.” We should keep these circumstances in mind as we read and study this hymn.
The author gives Psalm 55:22 as the text for the hymn: “Cast thy burden upon the Lord, and He shall sustain thee; He shall never suffer the righteous to be moved.” Look for Psalm 46:10 and Matthew 6:32b in the hymn also if you have a copy with several stanzas.
Neumark wrote both the words and the music. J.S. Bach used the tune in various cantatas and organ pieces, and it appears in Mendelssohn’s oratorio “St. Paul.”
This hymn was translated into English by one of the foremost translators of her day, Catherine Winkworth. Miss Winkworth was a pioneer in higher education for women. Many of her translations from German are found in our hymnals.
This hymn can be found in The Hymnal #344 and in the Trinity Hymnal #189. Click here to listen to the tune.