Sightings in Christian Music

by Glen Wiberg

Prior to our own hymnals and song books was the hymnal of the State Church of Sweden, Den Svenska Psalmboken (the Swedish Psalm-book). This was the major literary achievement of the archbishop of the Swedish church, Johan Olof Wallin (1779-1839). Among the 500 hymns in the psalmbook, Wallin wrote 128 original hymns, made 178 revisions, and translated 23 hymns from the German chorales. The late E.E. Ryden says: “Some of the enduring quality of Wallin’s hymns are reflected in the fact the Church of Sweden did not make a single change in his hymn-book (from 1819) for 101 years.”

As Walling was a poet and hymnodist in the highest of the church’s classical tradition, it is not surprising that Wallin had a profound dislike for the songs from the Pietistic tradition gathered in “The Songs of Moses and the Lamb” (first printed in 1717) and that he also disliked songs from the Moravian tradition, which had been in wide circulation in certain circles of Swedish piety. If he had lived to hear the songs of the revival movement from Rosenius, Ahnfelt, and Lina Sandell, he would most likely have expressed a similar distaste.

One of the best examples of a hymn from Oscar Ahnfelt’s “Spiritual Songs” is “Whereso’er I Roam.” In a personal conversation with Karl Olsson some months before his death, Karl said that this hymn by Carl Olof Rosenius expresses better than any other the theme of the revival movement hymn, namely, the believer’s mystical, intimate fellowship with the crucified and risen Jesus as Friend.

When Rosenius wrote this hymn, a hymn by Wallin in the psalmbook was well-known if not popular:

Where is the Friend for whom I’m ever yearning?
My longing grows when night to day is turning.
And though I find Him not as day recedeth,
My heart still pleadeth.

He searches in nature and beauty for intimations of this Friend but then finally concludes that only in heaven will that yearning be filled:

Soon on the shore where stormy wave ne’er breaketh
The weary dove its final refuge taketh;
The timorous lamb shall by the Shepherd’s favor
Find rest forever.”
(Hymn 517 in The Hymnal, Augustana)

One can’t help wondering if the hymn by Rosenius was written to answer Wallin’s poignant question. “Where is the Friend for whom I’m ever yearning?” At any rate, the two hymns represent the contrast between the piety of the established church and the revival movement: the objective psalmody of the Swedish Psalmbook and the subjectivity of the more folk-type music of Ahnfelt’s songbook.

Wheresoe’er I roam, through valleys dreary,
over mountains, or in pathless wood,
ever with me is a Friend to cheer me,
warning, comforting as none else could.
’Tis the Shepherd, who once dying, bleeding,
now through all eternity shall live.
Jesus leads his flock, protecting feeding,
and the tend’rest care does give.

The message of the revival movement was plain: one does not need to wait until we reach the final shore in heaven to have that yearning for friendship filled. The risen one can be known here and now as Friend walking ever beside us with wise counsel, comfort, and good cheer. And if Wallin’s “timorous lamb” shall at last find rest and favor, Rosenius’ vision of the final, gladsome meeting is anything but timorous:

To your presence–for this life is fleeting–-
take me, wash my garments in your blood;
and with Thomas may I, at your meeting,
cry with joy, “My Lord and God!”
(Hymn 427, The Covenant Hymnal: A Worshipbook)

I am glad that Wallin asks the question which is the human question, one we have all asked in our painful journey with less than certain faith: “Where is the Friend for whom I’m ever yearn-ing?” But I am also glad that Rosenius says that heaven does not need to wait for some final assurance of favor but that the Friend is ever with me even when “I often feel forsaken, lonely.” Perhaps this is why I count this hymn as one of my favorites.

Glen Wiberg (d. 2017), was a Covenant pastor and writer. He was Chairperson of the Covenant Hymnal Commission.

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