"WE GATHER TOGETHER"
"What shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?" (Ro. 8.31)
INTRO.: A hymn which asks God to be for us and praises Him for His help is "We Gather Together." The text, written to celebrate Dutch independence from Spain in the late 16th century, and the tune (Kremser or Netherlands) were both first printed anonymously in the Nederlandtsch Gedenckclank compiled by Adrianus Valerius (c. 1575-1625; some sources give the date of his death as 1620). The work was published at Harlem, the Netherlands, posthumously in 1626, and it is thought that the song dates from around 1625. Sometimes Valerius is identified as the author and/or composer, but most sources now consider the song an anonymous Dutch folk hymn and folk tune. The translation of the text was made by Theodore Baker who was born at New York City, NY, on June 3, 1851. Although he originally prepared for a business career, he turned his interest to music. After his musical training in Germany, where he received his doctoral degree at the University of Leipzig in 1881, he studied the music of the Seneca Indians of North America. From 1892 to 1926 he was a literary editor with G. Shirmer, Inc.
While with Schirmer Baker translated this Dutch hymn as "We Gather Together" in 1894, for an anthem setting entitled "Prayer of Thanksgiving," and it was first published in the 1917 Dutch Folksongs compiled by Coenraad V. Bos. It has been quite popular. In 1900 Baker, who was active in the promotion of American music and composers, compiled his most famous work, the Biographical Dictionary of Music and Musicians, which is still in print. In 1927 Baker made an English libretto version of the French cantata Les Sept Paroles du Christ or The Seven Last Words of Christ written and composed by Theodore Dubois (1837-1924). Several of our books have a song, "Christ, We Do All Adore Thee," taken from this. After his retirement in 1927, Baker returned to Germany, and his death occurred at Dresden, Germany, on October 13, 1934. The arrangement of the tune was made by Edward Kremser (1838-1914). It was published at Vienna, Austria, in his 1877 Sechs Altniederlandische Volkslieder. Its first publication in America was in 1894 by Wm. Rohlfing and Sons of Milwaukee.
Among hymnbooks published by members of the Lord’s church during the twentieth century for use in churches of Christ, most include alterations to the original translation made by Elmer Leon Jorgenson (1886-1968). They were made around 1944 when the song was added to the front flyleaf in his 1937 Great Songs of the Church No. 2; it then appeared in the 1975 Supplement. It was also used in the 1959 Majestic Hymnal No. 2 edited by Reuel Lemmons; the 1963 Christian Hymnal edited by J. Nelson Slater; and the 1963 Abiding Hymns edited by Robert C. Welch. A two-stanza arrangement was made in the 1966 Christian Hymns No. 3 by editor L. O. Sanderson. Today the song may be found in the 1977 Special Sacred Selections (with an arrangement copyright 1963 by M. Lynwood Smith) edited by Ellis J. Crum; the 1978/1983 (Church) Gospel Songs and Hymns edited by V. E. Howard; the 1986 Great Songs Revised edited by Forrest M. McCann; and the 1992 Praise for the Lord edited by John P. Wiegand.
In 1902, the popularity of this song apparently prompted J. Archer Gibson, music director of the Brick Presbyterian Church in New York City, NY, to desire another text for the tune. He asked Julia Bulkley Cady (1882-1963; she later married Robert Haskell Cory in 1911). After struggling for two weeks, Julia, who was not long out of school, produced three stanzas.
1. "We praise Thee, O God, Our Redeemer, Creator,
In grateful devotion our tribute we bring.
We lay it before Thee, we kneel and adore Thee,
We bless Thy holy name, glad praises we sing."
2. "We worship Thee, God of our Fathers, we bless Thee;
Through life’s storm and tempest our guide hast Thou been.
When perils o’er-take us, Thou wilt not forsake us,
And with Thy help, O Lord, life’s battle’s we win."
3. "With voices united our praises we offer,
And gladly our songs of true worship we raise.
Thy strong arm will guide us, our God is beside us,
To Thee, our great Redeemer, forever be praise."
The song was first sung that year on Thanksgiving Day at the Brick Presbyterian Church. A month later, the author’s father, J. Cleveland Cady, wished to use this hymn for a service on Dec. 25 at the Church of the Covenant, also in New York City, so Miss Cady added a fourth stanza.
4. "Thy love Thou didst show us, Thine only Son sending,
Who came as a babe and whose bed was a stall,
His blest life He gave us and then died to save us;
We praise Thee, O Lord, for Thy gift to us all."
William J. Reynolds notes that while this hymn was written as a substitute for "We Gather Together" it is not another translation or version of the original. "We Praise Thee, O God," with the first three stanzas only, is found in the 1986 Great Songs Revised edited by Forrest M. McCann and the 1992 Praise for the Lord edited by John P. Wiegand. It was used in the original edition of Shepard and Stevens’ Hymns for Worship but omitted from the revised edition.
"We Gather Together" is a song of both praise to God and request for God’s help.
I. The first stanza refers to God as the Lord
"We gather together to ask the Lord’s blessing;
He chastens and hastens His will to make known;
The wicked oppressing now cease from distressing:
Sing praises to His Name–He fails (orig. forgets) not His own."
A. When we gather together, we can and should ask God’s blessings because He is the Lord: Ps. 24.1
B. As Lord, He chastens us so that we might seek His will in our lives: Heb. 12.5-11
C. But as Lord, He also has the power to cease the wicked who oppress His people from their distressing: Dan. 2.20-21
II. The second stanza refers to God as our Guide
"Beside us to guide us, our God with us joining,
Ordaining, maintaining His kingdom divine;
So from the beginning the fight we were winning:
Lord, Thine be all the glory–The victory is Thine!"
(orig. "Lord, Thou, Lord, wast at our side; all glory is Thine!")
A. God has promised to guide His people: Ps. 32.8
B. Because of God’s guidance, His people have the assurance that even from the beginning they can win the fight: Eph. 1.4-6
C. Yet the victory is not ours; it is the Lord’s: 1 Cor. 15.57
III. The third stanza refers to God as our Defender
"We all to extol Thee, Thou Leader triumphant,
And pray that Thou still our Defender wilt be;
(some books have, "Thou King of the nation," and others "Thou Leader in battle")
May (orig. Let) Thy congregation escape tribulation:
Be Thou for ever praised, Thou God of the free!"
(orig. "Thy Name be ever praised! O Lord, make us free.")
A. As our King, God is also our triumphant leader in battle as we strive to wage a good warfare and fight the good fight of the faith: 1 Tim. 1.18, 6.12
B. And as soldiers of Christ, our prayer is that He will continue to be our Defender: Ps. 59.9
C. Thus, while we know that all who are in His kingdom will suffer tribulation, our prayer is that our Defender will help us to escape the temptations that this tribulation will bring: Acts 14.22, 1 Cor. 10.13
CONCL.: Carlton Young wrote, "Baker’s text, faithful to the spirit of the original nationalistic hymn, was introduced to the church and the general public in patriotic celebrations of thanksgiving extolling the USA, who with God’s help and favor, vanquished its various enemies and became the haven for the oppressed while at the same time affirming the manifest destiny and duty of those elected and protected by God to govern." While Christians are certainly thankful for the blessings that we have as citizens of this great nation, we can use these same words to thank God for all His blessings, both physical and spiritual, that we have as citizens of His spiritual kingdom and to ask His continued guidance in our lives as His servants when "We Gather Together."