"NOW REST BENEATH NIGHT’S SHADOW"
"I will both lay me down in peace, and sleep: for thou, Lord, only makest me dwell in safety" (Ps. 4.8)
INTRO.: A hymn which expresses trust in in God for peace and safety during the evening is "Now Rest Beneath Night’s Shadow." The text was written by Paul Gerhardt (1607-1676). A native of Wittenberg, Germany, he became a Lutheran minister and served first in Berlin and then in Luben, authoring a number of hymns, but is probably best remembered for his German translation of a Latin hymn which, when then translated from German into English, became known as "O Sacred Head, Now Wounded." In
Hymns of Our Faith, William Reynolds wrote that his hymns "mark the transition in Lutheran hymnody from the confession and ecclesiastical hymns of an earlier era to the hymns of subjective, devotional piety." "Now Rest Beneath Night’s Shadow," beginning in German "Nun ruhen alle Walder," was first published in the third edition of Johann Cruger’s Praxis Pietatis Melica in 1648 (some sources say second edition of 1647). Originally in nine six-line stanzas, it was immediate favorite, quickly being included in almost all German hymnals, and is often thought of as a children’s hymn because of its simple language, beautiful imagery, and childlike trust. It has been translated into English many times. Fred Precht calls it "a pearl of Lutheran hymnody."
One translation was made by Catherine Winkworth (1827-1878). It was published in her 1855 Lyra Germanica. Another translation was made by Frances Elizabeth Cox (1812-1897). It was published in her 1864 Hymns from the German, second edition. Then an altered composite translation, drawing from both Winkworth and Cox, was made by Herman H. M. Bruckner (1866-1942). It was published in The Common Service Book with Hymnal of the Lutheran Church of 1917 (or 1927). What is used today is an updated version of Bruckner’s composite that has seen several changes through The Lutheran Hymnal of 1941 and Lutheran Worship of 1982. Another translation that is sometimes seen is "The Duteous Day Now Closes" by Robert S. Bridges, in which he made a loose paraphrase of Gerhardt’s first two stanzas and then provided two of his own for his Yattendon Hymnal of 1899. The tune (Innsbruck, Nun Ruhen Alle Walder, or O Welt Is Muss Dich Lassen) is usually attributed to Heinrich Isaac (or Isaak), who
was born in Flanders around 1450 to 1455. A Renaissance composer, he spent most of his life in Italy, though he greatly influenced German music. In 1485, he began a long association with the Medici family in Florence, Italy, when he joined the Cantori di San Giovanni. Then in 1497 he became court composer to Maximilian I.
Travelling between Italy and Germany, Isaac lived for a time in Innsbruck, Austria, where he produced a four-part polyphonic setting of the folk song, "Innsbruck, ich muss dich lasser" ("Innsbruck, I Must Leave Thee") around 1515. Having produced many choral works, including motets and dozens of secular songs, he died on Mar. 26, 1517, at Florence. His tune was not published until 1539 in Georg Foster’s Ein ausug guter alter und neuer Teutschen liedlein. Many scholars believe that Isaac simply took an already existing fifteenth century German melody and prepared only the harmonization. It was adapted for Johann Hesse’s funeral hymn "O Welt, ich muss dich lassen" ("O world, I now must leave thee"), a take-off on the folk song, in the Eisleben Gesangbuch of 1598. The modern harmonization was made by Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750). It was done for the "Choral gesange" of his 1729 St. Matthew Passion. Among hymnbooks published by members of the Lord’s church for use in churches of Christ during the twentieth century, this song appeared in the 1937 Great Songs of the Church No. 2 edited by E. L. Jorgenson. Today it can be found in the 1986 Great Songs Revised edited by Forrest M. McCann, and the 1992 Praise for the Lord edited by John P. Wiegand. All of these have only stanzas one (from Cox) and four (from Winkworth).
The song reminds us of God’s protection and care through the night.
I. Stanza 1 emphasizes praise to God at night
"Now rest beneath night’s shadow The woodland, field, and meadow:
The world in slumber lies.
But thou, my heart, awake thee, To prayer and song betake thee;
Let praise to thy Creator rise."
A. God created the night: Gen. 1.1-5
B. The purpose for the night is that the world may slumber and rest: Eccl. 5.12
C. But even in the night, we can praise the Creator with prayer and song: Ps. 16.7, 17.3, 42.8
II. Stanza 2 emphasizes the light of Christ at night
"The radiant sun has vanished, Its golden rays are banished
From darkening skies of night;
But Christ, the sun of gladness, Dispelling all our sadness,
Shines down on us in warmest light."
A. The radiant sun sets each night: Ps. 50.1, 113.3
B. But even when the sun has set, Christ is still the sun of righteousness and gladness: Mal. 4.2
C. And thus, at all times His light can shine down on us, dispelling our sadness: Jn. 8.12
III. Stanza 3 emphasizes the beauty of God’s creation at night
"Now all the heavenly splendor Breaks forth in starlight tender
From myriad worlds unknown;
And we, this marvel seeing, Forget our selfish being
For joy of beauty not our own."
A. Even the stars declare the glory of God: Ps. 19.1-6
B. And the marvel of the vast starry sky reminds us of our small place in the universe and helps us forget our selfish being: Gen. 12.5, Ps. 8.1-4
C. Yet, the fact of God’s creation also brings us a joy not our own: Ps. 30.5
IV. Stanza 4 emphasizes the love of Christ at night
"Lord Jesus, who dost love me, O spread Thy wings above me,
And shield me from alarm.
Though Satan would devour me, Let angel guards sing o’er me:
‘This child of God shall meet no harm.’"
A. Certainly the Lord loves us and spreads His wings above us to shield us: Ps. 17.8, 36.7
B. Yes, Satan would devour us: 1 Pet. 5.8
C. Yet, with Christ and His angel guards over us, we can trust that all will be well with us: Ps. 121.3-8
V. Stanza 5 emphasizes God’s care and protection at night
"My loved ones, rest securely, For God this night will surely
From peril guard your heads;
Sweet slumbers may he send you, And bid His hosts attend you,
And through the night watch o’er your beds."
A. This is a request that God will guard our loved ones at night–cf.: 3 Jn. vs. 1-2
B. We do not know exactly what services God provides us through His angelic hosts, but we do know that they are our ministers: Heb. 1.13-14
C. Therefore, we can put our trust in God to watch over those for whom we care.
CONCL.: A couple of other stanzas not normally found in hymnbooks are as follows:
3. "The rule of day is over And shining jewels cover
The heaven’s boundless blue;
Thus I shall shine in heaven, Where crowns of gold are given
To all who faithful prove and true."
5. "To rest my body hasteth, Aside its garments casteth,
Types of mortality;
These I put off and ponder How Christ will give me yonder
A robe of glorious majesty."
John Julian says that this "is one of the finest of Gerhardt’s hymns" and quotes Baron Bunsen (1830): "Ever since its publication this hymn has been one of the most beloved and best known hymns of devout meditation over the whole of Germany. Experienced and conceived in a truly childlike popular spirit, it unites with a rare naive simplicity of expression, a loftiness of thought, a depth of Christian experience, a grace of poetry, so that for this union of qualities it must rank as an enduring masterpiece among hymns." It is good to think of the God who watches over nature and protects us in our sleep when we "Now Rest Beneath Night’s Shadow."