Our devotion focuses on Philipp Nicolai and comes from The Handbook to the Lutheran Hymnal. Our hymn text is one that Nicolai himself wrote.
NICOLAI, Philipp (1556–1608), the son of a Lutheran pastor, was born on August 10, 1556, at Mengeringhausen. He studied at both the universities of Erfurt and Wittenberg (D. D. 1594). In 1583 he was ordained as Lutheran pastor at Herdecke only to resign this position three years later because of the prevalence of strong Roman Catholic sentiment in that city. In 1587 he became pastor of Niederwildungen, after having served there as diaconus for a year. The next year he became chief pastor of Altwildungen and also court preacher to Countess Margareta of Waldeck. It was while there that he took part in the Sacramentarian controversy raging at that time and firmly upheld the Lutheran point of view. In 1596 Nicolai became pastor at Unna in Westphalia, where he became embroiled in the controversy with the Calvinists. During his ministry at Unna the town was devastated by the pestilence. Nicolai’s window looked out to the cemetery where often thirty interments a day took place. In these dark days when every household was in mourning Nicolai wrote in his Frewden-Spiegel:
“There seemed to me nothing more sweet, delightful, and agreeable than the contemplation of the noble, sublime doctrine of Eternal Life obtained through the Blood of Christ. This I allowed to dwell in my heart day and night and searched the Scriptures as to what they revealed on this matter, read also the sweet treatise of the ancient doctor Saint Augustine (De Civitate Dei). . . . Then day by day I wrote out my meditations, found myself, thank God, wonderfully well, comforted in heart, joyful in spirit, and truly content; gave to my manuscript the name and title of a Mirror of Joy, and took this so composed Frewden-Spiegel to leave behind me (if God should call me from this world) as the token of my peaceful, joyful, Christian departure, or (if God should spare me in health) to comfort other sufferers whom He should also visit with the pestilence. . . . Now has the gracious, holy God most mercifully preserved me amid the dying from the dreadful pestilence and wonderfully spared me beyond all my thoughts and hopes, so that with the prophet David I can say to Him ‘Oh, how great is Thy goodness, which Thou hast laid up for them that fear Thee.’”
Nicolai gained great fame as a preacher and was called a “second Chrysostom.” He was a genius who not only possessed the gift of writing sublime poetry but revealed talent as a composer. His tune for his own “Wachet auf” has been justly called the “King of Chorales.” His tune for his other famous hymn, “Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern,” has been called the “Queen of Chorales.” While at Unna Nicolai had to flee before the invasion of the Spaniards in December of 1598, but was able to return by April of the next year. In 1601 Nicolai took his last charge as chief pastor of St. Katherine’s Church in Hamburg, where he died of a fever.
Now let all the heav’ns adore Thee,
Let saints and angels sing before Thee
With harp and cymbals’ clearest tone.
Of one pearl each shining portal,
Where, joining with the choir immortal,
We gather round Thy radiant throne.
No eye has seen the light,
No ear has heard the might
Of Thy glory;
Therefore will we
Sing hymns of praise and joy to Thee!
Devotional reading is from The Handbook to the Lutheran Hymnal, pages 555–56 © 1942 Concordia Publishing House. All rights reserved.
Hymn text is from LSB 516:3.