Salvation Unto Us Has Come

The true knowledge of the distinction between Law and Gospel is not only a glorious light, affording the correct understanding of the entire Holy Scriptures, but without this knowledge Scripture is and remains a sealed book. – CFW Walther

28For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law. – Romans 3:28

The hymn “Salvation Unto Us Has Come” was written by Paul Speratus, who lived from 1484 to 1551. He assisted Martin Luther in compiling Etlich Christlich lider, a collection of early Lutheran chorales in polyphonic style for choir. Salvation Unto Us Has Come was included in that collection and has endured to this day because it is possibly the best Lutheran hymn ever written. It preaches Law and Gospel so clearly that it gives us the fullness of the Gospel story and gives us a framework from which we can understand all of Scripture. The tune is from the same collection and is also a favorite of mine. The tune is fun to sing without being excessively difficult.

Paul Speratus was born in what is now Germany in 1484 and became a preacher in 1518. He believed Luther’s teachings to be in accordance with what Scriptures teach and he was persecuted for his faithfulness to the pure Gospel. He was fired from his early preaching posts for expressing his views too openly. He was also one of the first priests to get married during the reformation period. He received his Doctor of Divinity degree from the University of Vienna, but was later condemned by the Vienna faculty for defending marriage and the doctrine of justification by grace through faith. His preaching, however, became very popular with the people and he was thrown in prison for it in 1523, where he stayed for three months. It was while he was in prison that he wrote this hymn, based on Romans 3:28 (see above).

I don’t have any other comments to make about this hymn because it leaves very little unsaid. Our current hymnal includes 10 of the original 14 stanzas and we will be singing all 10 on Sunday, with some sung by the choir and one played by the organ.  I wish that all Christian churches in all places could sing this wonderful hymn on Reformation Sunday and throughout the year.


Salvation unto us has come

By God’s free grace and favor;

Good works cannot avert our doom,

They help and fail us never.

Faith looks to Jesus Christ alone,

Who did for all the world atone;

He is our one Redeemer.

What God did in His law demand

And none to Him could render

Caused wrath and woe on every hand

For man, the vile offender.

Our flesh has not those pure desires

The spirit of the law requires,

And lost is our condition.

It was a false, misleading dream

That God His Law had given

That sinners could themselves redeem

And by their works gain heaven.

The Law is but a mirror bright

To bring the inbred sin to light

That lurks within our nature.

From sin our flesh could not abstain,

Sin held its way unceasing;

The task was useless and in vain,

Our guilt was e’er increasing.

None can remove sin’s poisoned dart

Or purify our guileful heart

So deep is our corruption.

Yet as the law must be fulfilled

Or we must die despairing,

Christ came and has God’s anger stilled.

Our human nature sharing.

He has for us the law obeyed

And thus the Father’s vengeance stayed

Which over us impended.

Since Christ has full atonement made

And brought to us salvation,

Each Christian therefore may be glad

And build on this foundation.

Your grace alone, dear Lord, I plead,

Your death is now my life indeed,

For You have paid my ransom.

Let me not doubt, but truly see

Your Word cannot be broken;

Your call rings out, “Come unto Me!”

No falsehood have You spoken.

Baptized into Your precious name,

My faith cannot be put to shame,

And I shall never perish.

The Law reveals the guilt of sin

And makes us conscience- stricken;

But then the Gospel enters in

The sinful soul to quicken.

Come to the cross, trust Christ, and live;

The Law no peace can ever give,

No comfort and no blessing.

Faith clings to Jesus’ cross alone

And rests in Him unceasing;

And by its fruits true faith is known,

With love and hope increasing.

For faith alone can justify;

Works serve our neighbor and supply

The proof that faith is living.

All blessing, honor, thanks, and praise

To Father, Son, and Spirit,

The God who saved us by His grace;

All glory to His merit.

O triune God in heav’n above,

You have released Your saving love;

Your blessed name we hallow.




Want to Reach Young People? Give Them 16th Century Hymnody!

A couple of mid-week observations:

First, at choir rehearsal tonight the children’s choir raised the roof with the stanza of the hymn “Salvation Unto Us Has Come” that they are singing on Reformation Sunday. None of the kids had ever heard the hymn before last week, but they sing it as well or better than many who have sung the hymn their entire lives. There’s just something about those rhythmic 16th century German hymns that kids really grab onto. The same thing happens when we sing Luther’s hymn, “A Mighty Fortress is our God”.  I think it’s the fact that the melodies are singable, are in bar form (which means that the first few measures of music repeat themselves), and they allow you to sing them in an energetic, unrestrained way that kids love. What I really love about it is what the kids are singing. It’s not another chorus of “God is my super cool friend” or “Every move I make, I make in you. LALALLALALALALA”, but they are singing this:

Let me not doubt but truly see Your Word cannot be broken: Your call rings out, “Come unto Me!”  No falsehood have You spoken. Baptized into Your precious name, My faith cannot be put to shame, And I shall never perish.

A second, unrelated, thing I noticed this week was how ancient some parts of our old TLH liturgy are.  I had a recording of gregorian chant playing the other day while I was working and I suddenly found myself singing along. It was the preface to holy communion in the olde Lutheran Hymnal. I had no idea that some musical parts of that service were 1000 years old. That’s pretty cool stuff!

By the way, don’t tell the kids that the songs they like are from the 16th century.  They might find out that it’s not “cool” to like that sort of thing.





To Thee, Omniscient Lord of All

Our opening hymn this Sunday is by the Norwegian poet and hymnist Magnus Brostrup Landstad. He was born in 1802 in Masoy, Finnmarken, which is at the northern tip of Norway.  The harsh climate of northern Norway and the poverty of his family meant that his childhood was very difficult. He was taught at home by his father and, at the age of twenty, entered the University of Christiana in Oslo. He went on to be Pastor of several different churches throughout the country. It was while he was at the university that he came across hymns by the German hymn writer Philip Nicolai, the author of “Wake, Awake, for Night is Flying”.

Inspired by Nicolai, Landstad began writing his own hymns. His own writing expertise, along with his interest in the folk songs of Norway, led him to publish his own hymnal in 1861. This hymnal became the official hymnal of the country of Norway in 1869. On his retirement, he was granted a pension by the government for his service to the church and his work as a poet and publisher.

The hymn itself, To Thee, Omniscient Lord of All, is a short three stanza hymn. Each stanza is based on a penitential verse from the Bible, one of which is the Gospel text for this Sunday.  Much like a good sermon, this hymn takes those penitential Bible verses and applies them to the singer.  The confessions of Ezra, David, and the tax collector of Luke 18 become our own.


Here’s stanza 1:
To Thee, omniscient Lord of all.

In grief and shame I humbly call;

I see my sins against Thee, Lord,

The sins of thought and deed and word.

They press me sore; I cry to Thee:

O God, be merciful to me!


This stanza is based on Ezra 9:6

“O my God, I am ashamed and blush to lift my face to you, my God, for our iniquities have risen higher than our heads, and our guilt has mounted up to the heavens.

In context, Ezra is praying about the sin of intermarriage. The remnant has returned from exile and now they are disobeying God’s law and marrying people from all the surrounding nations.  Ezra knows that his people deserved God’s wrath and punishment, and this is why he is so ashamed.  If we are truly sorry for our sins, this will be our response as well.  We cry at the end of this and every stanza that God would be merciful to us.

Stanza 2:

O Lord, my God, to Thee I pray:

O cast me not in wrath away!

Let Thy good Spirit ne’er depart,

But let Him draw to Thee my heart

That truly penitent I be:

O God, be merciful to me!

This stanza is based on Psalm 51:10-11

Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and renew a right spirit within me.
11 Cast me not away from your presence,
and take not your Holy Spirit from me.

Psalm 51 is the great penitential Psalm of David, written and earnestly prayed after he had committed adultery with Bathsheba and murdered her husband Uriah. David knew that he deserved to be cast off, or thrown away, because of the sins he had committed. He also understood that his sin showed a need for a clean heart. A clean heart can only be made through the work of the Holy Spirit.  Do we really deserve to join in the penitential prayer of an adulterer and murderer? Sadly, yes, because we too have sinned against God and shown our hearts to be unclean. We pray in this second stanza that God would not take His Holy Spirit from us, but continue to work in our hearts.

Stanza 3:
O Jesus, let Thy precious blood

Be to my soul a cleansing flood.

Turn not, O Lord, Thy guest away,

But grant that justified I may

Go to my house at peace with Thee:
O God, be merciful to me!

This last stanza is based on Luke 18:12-14, which also happens to be the Gospel text for this Sunday:

13But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ 14I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”

Here is our third great Scriptural example of penitential prayer. It comes from one of Jesus’ parables, where he contrasts this prayer of confession with the self-righteous prayer of a Pharisee.  Again the example and parallel to our lives is striking. I pray that we may all take these words to heart! The hymn ends with a plea to God’s mercy, but in a very specific way. The hymn allows us to appeal to the precious blood of Jesus, which was shed to cleanse us from our sins. We know that we are forgiven for Jesus’ sake and that we will leave the worship service justified before God and at peace. Thanks be to God!

But if we confess our sins, God, who is faithful and just, will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. – 1 John 1:8-9