If Thou But Suffer God to Guide Thee

Georg Neumark

This morning the choir sings an anthem version of this German chorale, it is played as the communion voluntary, and sung as a communion hymn. This hymn, often sung during Lent, was written by Georg Neumark (1621-1681), a hymnwriter for whom the most productive part of his life was spent in the midst of the trials of the Thirty Years War (1618-1648), a war which decimated the European continent. After he had graduated from the Gymnasium (the German equivalent of our high school) Neumark joined a caravan on its way to Koenigsberg, to attend the only university not disrupted by the Thirty Years’ War.  While en route, the caravan was attacked by robbers, and Neumark lost all his possessions, save a prayer book and some money he had sown into his clothes.  Unable to arrive at Koenigsberg, he searched for employment in Magdeburg, Lueneberg, Winsen, and Hamburg, all to no avail.  Desperate for survival, a pastor friend in Kiel eventually obtained for Neumark the position of a tutor to a local judge.  Neumark wrote this hymn shortly after finding this employment.  His relief is evident in the stanzas:  “What gain is there in futile weeping, In helpless anger and distress?  If you are in His care and keeping, In sorrow will He love you less?  For He who took for you a cross will bring you safe through every loss.”  Certainly the Lord had brought Neumark through a great loss.  But the faith that inspired these words would again be tried.

After two years in the judge’s employment, Neumark had saved enough money to travel to Koenigsberg where he would study law and poetry for five years.  However, he again lost all his possessions, this time in a fire in 1648.  We consider his third stanza:  “In patient trust await His leisure, In cheerful hope, with heart content.  To take whatever your Father’s pleasure and all-discerning love have sent;  Doubt not your inmost wants are known to Him who chose you for His own.”  With great determination, Neumark continued moving from city to city and from one employment to the next in the ensuing years.  He finally ended up as court poet and librarian to Duke Wilhelm II of Sachse-Weimar.  He became a well-known poet (and a member of the poetic “Fruit-Bearing Society) during the last years of his life.  However, he was unable to accomplish his duties after he became blind in 1680.  Yet, he continued in the spirit of the fourth stanza of his hymn:  “Sing, pray, keep His ways unswerving, offer your service faithfully, and trust His word;  though undeserving, you’ll find His promise true to be.  God never will forsake in need the soul that trusts in Him indeed!”

A town besieged during the Thirty Years’ War.