God Is No Captive Deity: Comfort When a Child Dies before Baptism
1. God is no captive Deity,
But all things’ Source and Measure:
The Lord of life and death is He,
Who takes us at His pleasure.
When, where, and how He will ordain,
And we His subjects e’er remain
In all that we endeavor.
2. The course of life is His decree,
He knows the path most fitting;
He bids us yield His tribute fee,
Our lives to His committing;
But if He wills His way to turn,
Then let not Reason raise concern,
But simply follow forward.
3. “He who believes and is baptized
Will thereby have salvation.”
So spoke our faithful Shepherd, Christ,
While in His earthly station:
“He who does not believe is lost,”—
In endless torment shall be tossed,
And evermore shall perish.
4. The Lord, however, does not say
That those their baptism missing
To Satan’s clutches must fall prey,
And pains of hell unceasing;
For then would many an infant child
From bounds of heaven be exiled
That for the font was headed.
5. That they should miss, do not despair!
This is not their misdoing.
The gracious Father will forbear,
Our grief in mercy viewing,
When life will not our will obey,
Although it follows not the way
To which the Lord had bound us.
6. Who will condemn the tender sons
Of many a Hebrew mother,
Whose lives in Egypt midwives once
Were made to drown and smother—
Who in the waters were constrained
To die as Pharaoh had ordained,
Before their circumcision?
7. How many babes were buried low
When Israel homeless wandered
In desert places to and fro?
These all would have been sundered
From God’s own cov’nant and His face,
If He had not by means of grace
Received them to His bosom.
8. The infant son of David died
Before his circumcision,
Though much the king for mercy cried,
Denied was his petition;
When David yearned to go as well,
It was not to the flames of hell
But to the joy of heaven.
9. To paradise the robber went,
As Christ had plainly spoken,
Without this holy sacrament,
Nor was God’s ord’nance broken;
It is as it shall ever be:
We are the ones constrained, not He.
He never shall be captive.
10. Dear Christian mothers, then take heart!
For grief this comfort borrow,
That if your infants should depart
In urgency and sorrow,
When you commit them first to God,
The heav’nly gate through Jesus’ blood
Is open to receive them.
11. Life, life the Father holds most dear,
Nor does destruction cherish.
He who declines God’s Word to hear
Will be the one to perish.
Those who to death through Adam came
The Father saves from death and shame
Through Christ the only Savior.
12. In this God will His hand employ,
He has the pow’r to do it,
To bring His own to heights of joy,
Though here we may not view it.
If He has called the parents His,
Their blessed seed He also sees
As part of His own people.
13. Praise be to God upon the throne,
Our Father never failing;
Praise be to Christ, His dearest Son,
Whose death is all-availing;
Praise be to God the Holy Ghost,
Who shows us to the uttermost
In all our cares His comfort.
Translation © 2013 Matthew Carver. Permission granted from Matthew Carver to reprint for non-commercial purposes.
Note from the Translator
The preceding is my translation of a funeral hymn “Gott ist nicht ein gebundner Gott” (Johann Vogel, d. 1663), a consolation for those whose children died before baptism. It came to my attention through notes on the funeral service appointments for the stillborn in Paul Graff’s Geschichte der Auflösung…, vol. 1 (p. 367), where he quotes from stanzas 8, 9, and 10.
The appointed melody is “Herr, wie lang willst vergessen mein,” from the popular paraphrase of Psalm 13 by Vogel’s fellow Nürnberger Hans Sachs. The original German lyrics plus a musical score for the melody are posted at Hymnoglypt.
Alternative Melodies (Meter: 8787 887)
Matthew Carver is an independent scholar and translator with degrees in Classical Studies and German from California Statue University, Long Beach, and an M.F.A in Painting and Drawing from San Francisco Art Institute. He currently resides in Nashville, Tennessee, with his wife Amanda and their two sons, where they are members of Redeemer Evangelical Lutheran Church.
TAGS: Parenting, Counseling, Baptism
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