59

Comfort, Comfort Now My People (Isaiah 40:1-5)

Scripture References

Thematically related:

Further Reflections on Scripture References

This song is a versification of Isaiah 40:1-5, the passage that opens the final large group of prophecies in Isaiah 40-66. Many of these prophecies express consolation and hope that Judah's exile in Babylon is almost over. That is certainly the tone of 40: 1-5-words of comfort forecasting a new reign but also words that call for proper preparation–that is, repentance.
This biblical text opens the second section of prophecies by Isaiah (ch 40-66), which is characterized by offers of consolation and further calls to repentance.
 
Bert Polman
59

Comfort, Comfort Now My People (Isaiah 40:1-5)

Call to Worship

A voice cries:
“In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord,
make straight in the desert a highway for our God.”
As we worship today,
let us prepare to welcome God’s dramatic work in our midst,
in our hearts, in our community, and in all of creation.
Let us worship God.
—based on Isaiah 40:3, NRSV
— Worship Sourcebook Edition Two

The Lord be with you.
And also with you.
As we enter this season of Advent,
may the love of God the Father, and the grace of Jesus the Son,
and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be and abide with us all.
Amen!
[Reformed Worship 57:4]
— Worship Sourcebook Edition Two

Assurance

We are a people of hope
waiting for the return of our Lord.
God will renew the world through Jesus,
who will put all unrighteousness out,
purify the works of human hands,
and perfect our fellowship in divine love.
Christ will wipe away every tear;
death shall be no more.
There will be a new heaven and a new earth,
and all creation will be filled with God’s glory.
—from Our Song of Hope st. 1, 21
— Worship Sourcebook Edition Two

As followers of Jesus Christ,
living in this world—
which some seek to control,
and others view with despair—
we declare with joy and trust:
Our world belongs to God!
Remembering the promise
to reconcile the world to himself,
God joined our humanity in Jesus Christ—
the eternal Word made flesh.
He is the long-awaited Messiah,
one with us and one with God,
fully human and fully divine,
conceived by the Holy Spirit
and born of the virgin Mary.
We long for that day when our bodies are raised,
the Lord wipes away our tears,
and we dwell forever in the presence of God.
We will take our place in the new creation,
where there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain,
and the Lord will be our light.
Come, Lord Jesus, come.
With the whole creation we join the song:
“Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain,
to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength
and honor and glory and praise!”
He has made us a kingdom of priests to serve our God,
and we will reign on earth.
God will be all in all,
righteousness and peace will flourish,
everything will be made new,
and every eye will see at last
that our world belongs to God.
Hallelujah! Come, Lord Jesus!

—from Our World Belongs to God, st. 1, 23, 56, 58
— Worship Sourcebook Edition Two
59

Comfort, Comfort Now My People (Isaiah 40:1-5)

Tune Information

Name
FREU DICH SEHR / GENEVAN 42
Key
F Major or modal
Meter
8.7.8.7.7.7.8.8

Recordings

Musical Suggestion

When introducing this hymn to the congregation, take great care to avoid singing it too slowly. The nature of the text (the coming of the Messiah) and the rhythm of the tune suggest that this hymn might be sung as a joyful dance.
 
The harmonization with descants given here is by Johann Criiger, who wrote choral and instrumental arrangements of Genevan psalm tunes in Psalmodia Sacra (1657). The descants, which are found with Psalm 42 in the 1987 Psalter Hymnal, may be played by flutes, recorders, or violins.
 
There is a wealth of organ music based on this tune, often under the German title Freu dich sehr. In addition, there are a number of good choral settings of the hymn, which choirs could sing in preparation for, or in place of, the congregation singing the hymn.
(from Reformed Worship, Issue 13)
 
— Roy Hopp
59

Comfort, Comfort Now My People (Isaiah 40:1-5)

Hymn Story/Background

This song is a versification of Isaiah 40:1-5, the passage that opens the final large group of prophecies in Isaiah 40-66. Many of these prophecies express consolation and hope that Judah's exile in Babylon is almost over. That is certainly the tone of 40: 1-5—words of comfort forecasting a new reign but also words that call for proper preparation–that is, repentance.
 
Johannes Olearius's text was translated into English by Catherine Winkworth and published in her Chorale Book for England (1863); the first line originally read "Comfort, Comfort Ye My People."
 
Louis Bourgeois composed this melody for use with Psalm 42 in the Genevan Psalter; in German hymnody this tune is known as FREU DICH SEHR.
— Bert Polman

Author Information

Johannes Olearius (b. Halle, Germany, 1611; d. Weissenfels, Germany, 1684) originally versified this text in German in honor of Saint John the Baptist Day.  He published it in his Geistliche Singe-Kunst (1671), a collection of more than twelve hun­dred hymns–three hundred of them by Olearius himself. Born into a family of Lutheran theologians, Olearius received his education at the University of Wittenberg and later taught theology there. He was ordained a Lutheran pastor and appointed court preacher to Duke August of Sachsen-Weissenfels in Halle and later to Duke Johann Adolph in Weissenfels. Olearius wrote a commentary on the entire Bible, published various devotional books, and produced a translation of the Imitatio Christi by Thomas a Kempis. In the history of church music Olearius is mainly remembered for his hymn collection, which was widely used in Lutheran churches.
 
Olearius's text was translated into English by Catherine Winkworth (b. Holborn, London, England, 1827; d. Monnetier, Savoy, France, 1878) and published in her Chorale Book for England (1863); the first line originally read "Comfort, Comfort Ye My People." Winkworth is well known for her English translations of German hymns; her translations were polished and yet remained close to the original. Educated initially by her mother, she lived with relatives in Dresden, Germany, in 1845, where she acquired her knowledge of German and interest in German hymnody. After residing near Manchester until 1862, she moved to Clifton, near Bristol. A pioneer in promoting women's rights, Winkworth put much of her energy into the encouragement of higher education for women. She translated a large number of German hymn texts from hymnals owned by a friend, Baron Bunsen. Though often altered, these translations continue to be used in many hymnals. Her work was published in two series of Lyra Germanica (1855, 1858) and in The Chorale Book for England (1863), which included the appropriate German tune with each text as provided by Sterndale Bennett and Otto Goldschmidt. Winkworth also translated biographies of German Christians who promoted ministries to the poor and sick and compiled a handbook of biographies of German hymn authors, Christian Singers of Germany (1869).
— Bert Polman

Composer Information

Louis Bourgeois (b. Paris, France, c. 1510; d. Paris, 1561), in both his early and later years, wrote French songs to entertain the rich, but in the history of church music he is known especially for his contribution to the Genevan Psalter. Apparently moving to Geneva in 1541, the same year John Calvin returned to Geneva from Strasbourg, Bourgeois served as cantor and master of the choristers at both St. Pierre and St. Gervais, which is to say he was music director there under the pastoral leadership of Calvin. Bourgeois used the choristers to teach the new psalm tunes to the congregation.
 
The extent of Bourgeois's involvement in the Genevan Psalter is a matter of scholar­ly debate. Calvin had published several partial psalters, including one in Strasbourg in 1539 and another in Geneva in 1542, with melodies by unknown composers. In 1551 another French psalter appeared in Geneva, Eighty-three Psalms of David, with texts by Marot and de Beze, and with most of the melodies by Bourgeois, who supplied thirty­ four original tunes and thirty-six revisions of older tunes. This edition was republished repeatedly, and later Bourgeois's tunes were incorporated into the complete Genevan Psalter (1562). However, his revision of some older tunes was not uniformly appreciat­ed by those who were familiar with the original versions; he was actually imprisoned overnight for some of his musical arrangements but freed after Calvin's intervention. In addition to his contribution to the 1551 Psalter, Bourgeois produced a four-part harmonization of fifty psalms, published in Lyons (1547, enlarged 1554), and wrote a textbook on singing and sight-reading, La Droit Chemin de Musique (1550). He left Geneva in 1552 and lived in Lyons and Paris for the remainder of his life.
 
 
— Bert Polman

Johann Crüger (b. Grossbriesen, near Guben, Prussia, Germany, 1598; d. Berlin, Germany, 1662) published his harmonization of the tune in 1658 as part of his com­plete setting of the Genevan Psalter in simple four-part chorale style with instrumental accompaniment.
 
Crüger attended the Jesuit College at Olmutz and the Poets' School in Regensburg, and later studied theology at the University of Wittenberg. He moved to Berlin in 1615, where he published music for the rest of his life. In 1622 he became the Lutheran cantor at the St. Nicholas Church and a teacher for the Gray Cloister. He wrote music instruction manuals, the best known of which is Synopsis musica (1630), and tirelessly promoted congregational singing. With his tunes he often included elaborate accom­paniment for various instruments. Crüger's hymn collection, Neues vollkomliches Gesangbuch (1640), was one of the first hymnals to include figured bass accompaniment (musical shorthand) with the chorale melody rather than full harmonization written out. It included eighteen of Crüger's tunes. His next publication, Praxis Pietatis Melica (1644), is considered one of the most important collections of German hymnody in the seventeenth century. It was reprinted forty-four times in the following hundred years. Another of his publications, Geistliche Kirchen Melodien (1649), is a collection arranged for four voices, two descanting instruments, and keyboard and bass accompaniment. Crüger also published a complete psalter, Psalmodia sacra (1657), which included the Lobwasser translation set to all the Genevan tunes.
— Bert Polman
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