by Rev. Rich Heinz
There is a Latin saying in the Church: Lex orandi, lex credendi – literally, “the law of prayer is the law of belief.” In plain English, this means that what we pray and how we pray contributes to the form and practice of our faith. Likewise, our faith shapes the content and pattern of our prayers.
Hymnody is also prayer. What we sing contributes to the formation of our doctrine and practice – our faith – and our faith directs our selections in song. As we sing to the Lord, He is speaking to us – teaching, proclaiming, and declaring Christ to us! That is one of the marks of a truly Lutheran hymn; it is not simply singing about Christ – it proclaims Christ and His saving work for you!
One such song that is returning to us is Paul Gerhardt’s “All Christians Who Have Been Baptized” (#596 in Lutheran Service Book.) This treasure of a hymn was written by one of Lutheranism’s — indeed, one of the Western Catholic Church’s — greatest hymn writers. Sadly, most English language hymnals seem to have set it aside, and not translated it. However, thanks to the scholarly efforts of the Rev. Dr. Jon D. Vieker, it returns to us as fresh and lively teaching on our new life, cleansed in Christ.
All Christians who have been baptized,
Who know the God of heaven,
And in whose daily life is prized
The name of Christ once given:
Consider now what God has done,
The gifts He gives to ev’ryone
Baptized into Christ Jesus!
Stanza 1 is an invitation. The first half of the stanza tells us who we are, the baptized Christians that the hymn writer is addressing. Then he urges us to consider the works of God – the gifts He gives through our Baptism into Christ. In the following five stanzas he then proclaims those gifts!
Stanza 2 speaks clearly on the scriptural truth of original sin:
You were before your day of birth,
Indeed, from your conception,
Condemned and lost with all the earth,
None good, without exception.
For like your parents’ flesh and blood,
Turned inward from the highest good,
You constantly denied Him.
Here is echoed King David’s preaching that we are conceived in sin – flawed from the moment our first two cells united. At the same time, this is a reminder of our Lord’s biblical teaching on the gift of life from conception, and a reinforcement of the teaching of original sin. Flesh and bone descendants of Adam, we inherit his rebelliousness. Left to our own works and words, we are self-centered, inward-turned, doomed creatures.
On the other hand, we dare not despair! Stanza 4 proclaims our joy of putting on Christ!
In Baptism, we now put on Christ –
Our shame is fully covered
With all that He once sacrificed
And freely for us suffered.
For here the flood of His own blood
Now makes us holy, right, and good
Before our heav’nly Father.
The Lord has not left us dead in our trespasses. He has given new birth – new life, made right and holy and good with God! We rejoice and love others and we live out our faith in our vocation.
Stanza 5 goes on to encourage Christians: “firmly hold this gift.” Why? “When nothing else revives your soul, your Baptism stands and makes you whole, and then in death completes you.” In this world there is no creature or thing can truly give and refresh life. Life is given by God alone, and He alone sustains it. He blesses and revives our lives beyond imagination, with this sacred New Birth. The Eternal Word who spoke all things into existence gives true life as He attaches His Name to the water. We are gifted to fully enjoy this forgiven, renewed life here and now. However, the best is yet to come—He will fulfill and complete it all when we fall asleep in Jesus and He gathers us to Himself.
“All Christians Who Have Been Baptized” is a joyous gift from God, teaching us about original sin and our depravity. Yet it also teaches the absolute joys of living as New Creatures, baptized into Christ! At the same time, because we believe these truths of Holy Scripture, we joy in singing such a hymn.
What a joy, dear saints of God, that the Lord has taken this old song, and given it new life among us! A dear blessing has been given to us with a larger section of baptismal hymns in Lutheran Service Book. Our Savior is giving sweet comforting Gospel, assuring you of the treasure of this sacred washing with lasting effects!
Jesus now blesses you as His new creation. He places you in your various vocations to live in faith toward Him and in fervent love toward one another. As you do, rejoicing in your Baptism, He leads you to anticipate:
…that day when you possess
His glorious robe of righteousness
Bestowed on you forever!