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Christian History & BiographyThe Gospel According to J.S. Bach
Issue 95 | 2007

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The Gospel Truth
Luther believed that music has the power to teach Christian doctrine. He put this belief into practice with his catechism hymns.

Luther wrote six hymns to be sung as part of his instruction in the catechism, which was his simple but powerful explanation of the Ten Commandments, the Apostles' Creed, the Lord's Prayer, Baptism, and the Lord's Supper.

When he preached on the Lord's Prayer, for example, the congregation also sang the hymn he wrote that paraphrased and expanded each of the prayer's petitions. Luther's explanation of the final "amen" echoed his instruction from the Small Catechism about what the believer should do after saying a final evening prayer ("Then go to sleep at once and in good cheer"):

Amen! that is, let this come true!
Strengthen our faith ever anew,
That we may never be in doubt
Of that we here have prayed about.
In thy name, trusting in thy word,
We blithely say Amen, O Lord.

The hymn for the Apostles' Creed features a memorable versification of the second part concerning Christ and his work:

He was made our elder brother
That the lost might find salvation;
Slain on the cross by wicked men
And raised to life again.

The hymn to accompany instruction on baptism, which was the last of these hymns that Luther composed, first tells the story of Jesus' own baptism:

To Jordan when our Lord had gone,
His Father's pleasure willing,
He took his baptism of St. John,
His work and task fulfilling.

Then it turns to the contemporary significance of the rite and offers a full summary, not only of Luther's theology, but of the theology that drove J. S. Bach as well:

The eye but water doth behold,
As from man's hand it floweth;
But inward faith the power untold
Of Jesus Christ's blood knoweth.
Faith sees therein a red flood roll,
With Christ's blood dyed and blended,
Which hurts of all kinds maketh whole,
From Adam here descended,
And by ourselves brought on us.

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