If Thou But Suffer God to Guide Thee

Hymnology: If Thou But Suffer God to Guide Thee

“Cast your burden on the LORD, and he will sustain you; he will never permit his righteous to be moved.” ~ Psalm 55:22

Hymn Story

In the fall of 1641, in the midst of the violent Thirty Years War, young Georg Neumark was traveling across Germany to begin his law studies at the University of Königsberg. On the way, he was attacked by bandits, and robbed of everything he owned, save for his prayer book and the cloak he was wearing. Though he was forced to put off his plans of studying at the University, he never gave up his trust in God to provide for his every need. After months of searching for work and shelter during a harsh winter, a pastor helped Neumark land a job as the tutor for the family of a judge. The day he got the job, the 20-year-old wrote “If Thou But Suffer God to Guide Thee”, rejoicing that the Lord had been faithful to keep the promises contained in His Word, just as Neumark knew He would! Within a few years, he’d saved enough and was able to resume his studies. In addition to being a brilliant hymn text, the melody — also composed by Neumark — is considered one of the most beautiful melodies ever written. It makes use of the melodic minor scale; seldom used today, but popular during the baroque and classical eras of music. Here is a recording of this hymn in it’s original German: And here is the hymn with English translation: Johann Sebastian Bach loved this hymn so much that he used its text and melody in at least seven chorales. A devout Christian himself, Bach signed his work with the initials “S.D.G.” This stood for the Latin term Soli Deo Gloria: To God Alone Be the Glory! See if you can pick out the hymn’s melodic line in the first movement of this Cantata:

Hymn Study

Scripture exhorts us in several places to trust in God for guidance (for instance, Psalm 55:22;56:11; and Proverbs 3:5-6). This recurring theme is very present throughout the text for Neumark’s hymn. All seven stanzas are excellent, though only stanzas 1, 3, and 7 appear in most hymnals:

If thou but suffer God to guide thee, And hope in Him through all thy ways, He’ll give thee strength whate’er betide thee, And bear thee through the evil days. Who trust in God’s unchanging love Builds on the rock that naught can move.

What can these anxious cares avail thee, These never-ceasing moans and sighs? What can it help, if thou bewail thee O’er each dark moment as it flies? Our cross and trials do but press The heavier for our bitterness.

Only be still and wait His leisure In cheerful hope, with heart content To take whate’er thy Father’s pleasure And all-deserving love hath sent. Nor doubt our inmost wants are known To Him who chose us for His own.

He knows the time for joy, and truly Will send it when He sees it meet, When He has purged and tried thee throughly And finds thee free from all deceit, He comes to thee all unaware And makes thee own His loving care.

Nor think amid the heat of trial That God hath cast thee off unheard, That he whose hopes meet no denial Must surely be of God preferred; Time passes and much change doth bring And sets a bound to everything.

All are alike before the Highest, ‘Tis easy to our God, we know, To raise thee up though low thou liest, To make the rich man poor and low; True wonders still by Him are wrought Who setteth up and brings to naught.

Sing, pray, and keep His ways unswerving, So do thine own part faithfully, And trust His Word, though undeserving, Thou yet shalt find it true for thee! God never yet forsook at need The soul that trusted Him indeed.

As an aside, not all German lyrics translate well into English. This translation by Catherine Winkworth manages to retain both its poetic language AND rhyme scheme… not an easy feat to accomplish! One of the greatest things about this hymn of praise is the way it worships God for many of his divine attributes. Here are just a few examples:

  • Sovereignty — God is in control of every situation (“Only be still and wait his leisure in cheerful hope, with heart content to take whate’er thy Father’s pleasure and all-deserving love hath sent” – Isaiah 46:8-11)
  • Immutability — God is unchanging (“God’s unchanging love” – Malachi 3:6James 1:17)
  • Goodness — God desires good for his chosen people (“He knows the time for joy, and truly will send it when He sees it meet” – Psalm 37:4Matthew 7:11)
  • Omniscience — God is all-knowing (“Nor doubt our inmost wants are known” –Psalm 147:51 John 3:19-20)
  • Omnipotent — God is all-powerful (“The rock that nought can move” – 2 Samuel 22:2-4)
  • Omnipresence — God is everywhere (“Whate’er betide thee” – Psalm 139:8)
  • Merciful — God shows compassion to the undeserving (“though undeserving, thou yet shalt find it true for thee” – Exodus 34:6)
  • Love — God is love! (“God never yet forsook at need the soul that trusted him indeed” – 1 John 4:8)

Neumark reminds the singers of this hymn that God sees the big picture, while we see very little. When we trust Him to guide us, He will ALWAYS be faithful to work for our good, even though it may not seem like it at the time. The fourth stanza is particularly helpful in this regard. In the heat of trial, it is easy to think that God is not listening. We wonder why others have their prayers answered and we seemingly do not. We must trust that God has heard our prayers, and that if we are truly seeking his ways, He will provide for our needs… even if what we need isn’t what we thought we needed.

Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the Lord your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you.” ~ Deuteronomy 31:6

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