Martin Rinkart’s Thanksgiving

Martin Rinkart knew a thing or two about thanksgiving.  He was just 31 years old when he became pastor of the Lutheran Church in his hometown of Eilenburg, Saxony.  A year later, one of Europe’s deadliest wars broke out.  During the years from 1618 to 1648, more than 8 million people died in what historians refer to as the Thirty Years’ War.  For more than a decade, Eilenburg avoided direct involvement in the war, but by 1631, the war moved to the city.  Sometime in 1636, according to historians, Martin Rinkart penned the words to the thanksgiving hymn Nun Danket Alle Gott – “Now Thank We All Our God.” The next year brought the greatest devastation of the war to the city.  Thousands fled the war, and Eilenburg became a place of refuge.  But in 1637, overcrowded conditions and the devastation of war brought famine and plague to the city.  During that one year alone, 8,000 souls were lost.

At the beginning of 1637, four pastors served the city of Eilenburg.  Soon after the plague struck, one of those pastors abandoned his post and fled to safer regions.  As the death toll mounted, Pastor Rinkart and the remaining two pastors conducted sometimes as many as 40-50 funerals in a day.  Then the two other pastors died.  Pastor Rinkart, sound in body but no doubt suffering in spirit, was left alone to deal with the dead and dying.  Over the course of that year, Martin Rinkart conducted more than 4,000 funerals.  Then, his own wife died.  By the end of the year, with no suitable burial ground remaining, the city of Eilenburg was forced to dig trenches to bury the dead.

Despite his grief, in the face of such extreme suffering and starvation, Martin Rinkart remained steadfast.  He organized efforts to feed the hungry, opened his own home to provide refuge for those in need, gave away his own wealth and all the provision not needed by his own hungry family, and faithfully served Christ and His people.

The story is told that towards the end of the Thirty Years’ War, the Swedish army surrounded Eilenburg and demanded a huge ransom in exchange for an end to the siege.  The tribute required much more money than the devastated city could ever possibly afford.  Some have said that Martin Rinkart led a delegation to the Swedish general to plead for mercy.  When the Swedes refused, Rinkart turned to the delegation and said, “Come, my children, we can find no hearing, no mercy with men; let us take refuge with God.”  Then, falling to his knees, Martin Rinkart pleaded with God for his people.  Seeing his passion, the Swedish general relented, reducing the tribute to an affordable amount.

Out of the depth of such extreme suffering came a song that continues to be a classic thanksgiving hymn nearly 4 centuries later.  “Now Thank We All our God” stands as a lasting testimony to the triumph of joy and the faith of the believer in the face of hard trials.

The Apostle Paul said of the Macedonian believers that

…in a great trial of affliction the abundance of their joy and their deep poverty abounded unto the riches of their liberality. (2 Corinthians 8:2)

True Christian joy can only be a work of the Holy Spirit in the heart of the believer.  There can be no other explanation for it.  We do not say that extreme sorrow or suffering is necessary for fullness of joy.  Where the Holy Spirit indwells the human heart, joy will be evidently present.  Great trials of affliction do not produce joy.  They are not necessary for joy.  But they do cause our joy to shine.  They make our joy evident.

How else can we explain the way joy lifts us up and causes us to triumph in the face of great trial and affliction?  How else can we understand the way joy overflows out of the cup of our sorrows, so that it seems the deeper the sorrow, the greater the joy.  When weeping endures for a night, joy comes in the morning.  Joy outlasts our sorrows.  When pain and sorrow weighs us down, joy outweighs our afflictions and lifts us above them.  Joy is a display of the power of God in the life of the believer to give him happiness when happiness is the last thing anyone would expect.

If we can only be thankful on warm, sunny days with favorable winds at our backs, then we need to learn the lesson of thanksgiving.

By him therefore let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of our lips giving thanks to his name. (Hebrews 13:15)


Now Thank We All Our God

Now thank we all our God, with heart and hands and voices,
Who wondrous things has done, in Whom this world rejoices;
Who from our mothers’ arms has blessed us on our way
With countless gifts of love, and still is ours today.

Oh, may this bounteous God through all our life be near us,
With ever joyful hearts and blessed peace to cheer us;
And keep us in His grace, and guide us when perplexed;
And guard us through all ills in this world, till the next!

All praise and thanks to God the Father now be given,
The Son, and Him Who reigns with Them in highest Heaven—
The one eternal God, Whom earth and Heav’n adore;
For thus it was, is now, and shall be evermore.

The Reading Report, September, 2017

Reading maketh a full man; conference a ready man; and writing an exact man. – Sir Francis Bacon “Of Studies”

I try to avoid the charge that “he writes more than he reads,” so I work on reading a little every day. Since life is busy, I read in the bathroom. And some days that is the only reading I have time for. But then that is an argument for reading in the bathroom, since we do that every day regardless of the schedule. But I digress.

From time-to-time, I will update my reading list. This gives me some good review and a good way to track my own reading. And who knows, one of my two readers might find a recommendation in what I say.

I read the way I eat: I call it “grazing.” I have about 5 books I am working through right now, here a little there a little. I will begin with a couple of books I recently finished, and then go on to the books I am reading now.

Recently Completed Books

John Adams by David McCullough

Every once in a while, you read a book that wows you from beginning to end, and this is one of those. It goes to my “all-time favorites” list, along with John Stott’s The Cross of Christ and Laura Hildenbrand’s Unbroken. I knew Adams was a great man, and I have heard plenty of people speak highly of this book, but I did not realize what a quality life he led. He was unusual even for his time. The book is well-written and a delight to read.

Fallen Founder: The Life of Aaron Burr by Nancy Isenberg

My wife and I took a long drive across country recently, and I wanted to listen to an audiobook. So on this one I cheated. I found the book in the library and I was interested, and since I was reading Adams already, I thought this would fit. Burr was not as bad as history paints him, but he was not a good man. I probably knew this before, but his father, also named Aaron Burr, married one of Jonathan Edwards’ daughters. In a matter of less than 1 year when Burr was a young boy, his father died, his mother died, his grandmother (Edwards’ wife) died, and his grandfather (Jonathan Edwards) died. The Edwards were moving to Princeton to raise young Aaron. We cannot deny that these early tragedies shaped his life and outlook.

My Current Reading List

A Theological Interpretation of American History by C. Gregg Singer

Yes, I enjoy history, and this one has been in my stack of books to be read for a while. It is not, in my opinion, well-written. The author has a passion for his subject and seems to have read much on the subject, but he provides little documentation, rarely sites a source or even gives a quotation. So he is giving his opinion of the way America’s changing theology impacted America’s development as a nation. Nonetheless, the thesis is interesting. I wish someone would take what he has done and document things for us.

Apologetics to the Glory of God by John Frame

I am teaching Apologetics in our Christian school right now, so this is part of the curriculum. I have read parts of this book in the past, but this year I made it our class text, so I am reading the entire book. Yesterday, I found this nugget:

To defend the Bible is ultimately simply to present it as it is — to present its truth, beauty, and goodness, its application to present-day hearers, and, of course, its rationale. (p. 18)

Seasons of a Leader’s Life by Jeff Iorg

A pastor-friend gave me this book a couple of years ago. I have been reading it for a while now. Some helpful advice for sure.

The Elements of Style by William Strunk, Jr. and E.B. White

A short little powerhouse of writing advice. I highly recommend it. Of course, it is the magnum opus on style, and everyone who aspires to write should read it. Consider this little nugget from my reading this week:

The adjective hasn’t been built that can pull a weak or inaccurate noun out of a tight place. (p. 71)

On the Preparation and Delivery of Sermons by John Broadus

I wish I would have read this book about 15 years ago. Every preacher should read it and then read it again. Consider this little gem on “subject-preaching” (aka “topical” preaching)

Subject preaching is the orator’s method par excellence. It lends itself to finished discourse. But it has its dangers. The preacher easily becomes interested in finding subjects that are interesting and readily yield a good oration rather than such as have a sure Christian and scriptural basis or such as come close home to the needs of his people. He is tempted to think more of his ideas and his sermons than of “rightly dividing the word of truth” and leading men into the Kingdom of God. He is in danger also of preaching in too narrow a field of truth and human need, since of necessity he will be drawn to those subjects that interest him personally or with which he is already familiar. Unless, therefore, he is constantly widening his horizon by diligent study, he will soon exhaust his resources. Accordingly, at the very beginning, the student should be warned against too exclusive use of this type of sermon. (pp. 136-7)

Fitting Words: Classical Rhetoric for the Christian Student by James Nance

You guessed it: another textbook. This is a new one this year for my Rhetoric class, and I have appreciated the opportunity to grow in my understanding of Rhetoric this year. We just finished reading “Phaedrus,” and I will leave you with this quote from Socrates:

And this skill he will not attain without a great deal of trouble, which a good man ought to undergo, not for the sake of speaking and acting before men, but in order that he may be able to say what is acceptable to God and always to act acceptably to Him as far as in him lies; for there is a saying of wiser men than ourselves, that a man of sense should not try to please his fellow servants (at least this should not be his first object) but his good and noble masters… (from p. 39)