Paul Gerhardt’s Counsel to His Son

Paul Gerhardt is remembered for his beautiful hymns. He was a German pastor in the 17th century who suffered much loss. But he is remembered today as the “Sweet Singer of Lutheranism” for both his unwavering faith in Christ, his beautiful hymn texts and his personal integrity.  He wrote this “testament” on his 70th birthday to his young son, the only surviving child of his five.

Now that I have reached the 70th year of my life and also have the joyful hope that my dear, holy God will soon rescue me out of this world and lead me into a better life than I have had until now on earth, I thank Him especially for all His kindness and faithfulness which, from my mother’s womb until the present hour, He has shown me in body and soul and in all that He has given me. Besides this, I ask Him from the bottom of my heart that when my hour comes He would grant me a happy departure, take my soul into His fatherly hands, and give my body a peaceful rest in the ground until the dear Last Day, when I, with all of my [family] who have been before me and also may remain after me, will reawake and behold my dear Lord Jesus Christ face to face, in whom I have believed but have not yet seen. To my only son whom I am leaving behind I leave few earthly goods, but with them I leave him an honorable name of which he will not have to be ashamed.

My son knows that from his tender childhood I have given him to the Lord my God as His possession, that he is to become a servant and preacher of His holy Word. He is to remain now in this and not turn away from it, even if he has only few good days in it. For the good Lord knows how to handle it and how sufficiently to replace external troubles with internal happiness of the heart and joy of the spirit.

Study holy theology in pure schools and at unfalsified universities and beware of the syncretists [those who mix religions or confessions], for they seek what is temporal and are faithful to neither God nor men. In your common life do not follow evil company but rather the will and command of your God. Especially: (1) Do nothing evil in the hope that it will remain secret, for nothing is spun so small that it is not seen in the light of day. (2) Outside of your office and vocation do not become angry. If you notice that anger has heated you up, remain still and speak not so much as a word until you have first prayed the Ten Commandments and the Christian Creed silently. (3) Be ashamed of the lusts of the flesh, and when you one day come to the years in which you can marry, then marry with God and with the good advice of pious, faithful, and sensible people. (4) Do good to people even if they have nothing with which to repay you, for the Creator of heaven and earth has long since repaid what humans cannot repay: when He created you, when He gave you His beloved Son, and when He accepted you in Holy Baptism as His child and heir. (5) Flee from greed as from hell. Be satisfied with what you have earned with honor and a good conscience, even if it is not all too much. But if the good Lord gives you something more, ask Him to preserve you from the burdensome misuse of temporal goods.

In summary: Pray diligently, study something honorable, live peacefully, serve honestly, and remain unmoved in your faith and confessing. If you do this, you too will one day die and depart from this world willingly, joyfully, and blessedly. Amen.

Source: Christian Bunners, Paul Gerhardt: Weg Werk Wirkung (Goettingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2006), 301-302. Translated by Benjamin T. G. Mayes, 5/4/2007

Here is one of his hymns. Find the full text of the hymn below the video, as there are more verses than what is sung in this clip.

 

 

Why should cross and trial grieve me?
Christ is near with His cheer,
Never will He leave me.
Who can rob me of the Heaven
That God’s Son for my own
To my faith hath given?

Though a heavy cross I’m bearing
And my heart feels the smart,
Shall I be despairing?
God, my Helper, who doth send it,
Well doth know all my woe
And how best to end it.

Hopeful, cheerful, and undaunted
Everywhere they appear
Who in Christ are planted.
Death itself cannot appall them,
They rejoice when the voice
Of their Lord doth call them.

Death cannot destroy forever;
From our fears, cares and tears
It will us deliver.
It will close life’s mournful story,
Make a way that we may
Enter heavenly glory.

What is all this life possesses?
But a hand full of sand
That the heart distresses.
Noble gifts that pall me never
Christ, our Lord, will accord
To His saints forever.

Lord, my Shepherd, take me to Thee.
Thou art mine; I was Thine
Even ere I knew Thee.
I am Thine, for Thou hast bought me;
Lost I stood, but Thy blood
Free salvation bought me.

Thou art mine; I love and own Thee.
Light of Joy, ne’er shall I
From my heart dethrone Thee.
Savior, let me soon behold Thee
Face to face—may Thy grace
Evermore enfold me!

~ Paul Gerhardt

3 thoughts on “Paul Gerhardt’s Counsel to His Son

  1. Steve says:

    Good counsel, indeed. We’ve been studying from one of Gerhardt”s works before the Sunday Service. Pastor just recently acquired the book, so I’m guessing it is this same 2006 publication.

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