Most likely written during the Thirty Years’ War. It first appeared in Crüger’s Praxis pietatis melica, 1653, no. 106, in 15 stanzas of 4 lines. Later in Ebeling’s Pauli Gerhardi Geistliche Andachten, 1666/67, no. 58, and Feustking’s Pauli Gerhardi Geistreiche Hauss- und Kirchen-Lieder, 1707, p. 20.
Gerhardt uses a pair of rhyming couplets for each stanza (AABB) and utilizes numerous word pairs across this hymn (gehn und treten, tun und machen, Großen und Kleinen, etc.). It consists of two main parts: praising God for his protection and faithfulness (st. 1–7) and asking for his blessings (st. 8–15), which are intensified by the use of monosyllabic verbs that begin each petition in stanzas 8–13 (Laß, Gib, Schleuß, Sprich, Sei, and Hilf). The first-person plural is used (uns, wir) throughout, while the petition in stanza 9 is sung in the first-person singular (mir).
The song is intended for celebrations of the New Year as made clear in stanzas 2 and 15. Given the content of this hymn, we can assume that it was written sometime during the Thirty Years’ War (stanzas 3 and 10).
The hymn invites us to approach God with singing and prayer (stanza 1). Gerhard then shifts from the picture of walking (gehn) to that of a feeling of wandering (wandern) through the passage of time in stanza 2. This is emphasized in stanza 3, which gives an escalating series of sufferings that people were enduring at the time.
In response to this sense of aimless wandering through the horrors of the time in which they lived, stanzas 4 and 5 offer pictures of comfort in that of a faithful mother (Isaiah 66:13) and ultimately, our heavenly Father (1 John 5:18):
As a mother comforts her child,
so will I comfort you;
We know that anyone born of God does not continue to sin; the One who was born of God keeps them safe, and the evil one cannot harm them.
Stanza 6 reflects on the futility of our endeavors without this protection and preservation from our Lord. Here Gerhardt alludes to the first verse of Psalm 127:
Unless the Lord builds the house,
the builders labor in vain.
Unless the Lord watches over the city,
the guards stand watch in vain.
This is then followed by a statement of praise at the central point of the hymn, which summarizes Lamentations 3:22-23:
Because of the Lord’s faithful love we do not perish,
for his mercies never end.
They are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness!
Notes on 8:
You will joyfully draw water
from the springs of salvation, (HCSB)
Then those who sing as well as those who play the flutes shall say, “All my springs of joy are in you.” (NASB)
Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. (NIV)
Notes on 9:
2 Thessalonians 3:5
And the Lord direct your hearts into the love of God, and into the patient waiting for Christ. (KJV)
Notes on 10:
The gates of Zion will lament and mourn;
destitute, she will sit on the ground. (NIV)
There is a river—
its streams delight the city of God,
the holy dwelling place of the Most High. (HCSB)
Notes on 11–15:
|Now let each humble creature||15/15||1754||Anonymous||SHGP, p.7|
|Year after year commenceth||6/15||1789||Anonymous||MHB 507|
|O come with prayer and singing||15/15||1865||R. Massie||BH p.8|
|In prayer your voices raise ye||15/15||1867||Kelly||PGSS p.45|
|Christians all, with one accord||13/15||1867||E. Massie||SO2 p.168|
|With notes of joy and songs of praise||10/15||1883||Maguire||MF p.24|
|Now let us come and go (Literal)||15/15||2016||Ian Welch||—|
The tune most commonly associated with this text has a long and interesting history. The melody originates from Nicolaus Selnecker’s Christliche Psalmen, Lieder, und Kirchengesänge (1587) in which he set music to Ludwig Helmbold’s “Nun laßt uns Gott dem Herren.” Selnecker’s melody, however, is a variation of the descant melody of the hymn found in Helmbod’s Geistliche Lieder, den Gottseligen Christen zugericht (1575).
In 1649, Johann Crüger introduced some modifications to Selnecker’s melody in his Geistliche Kirchen-Melodien (Zahn 159). The tune was tied to Gerhardt’s “Wach auf, mein Herz, und singe,” and as a result, the tune can be sometimes quoted as wach auf, mein herz, und singe, or awake. The tune name, nun lasst uns gott, dem herren, is far more common, especially in Germany. In some rare instances, the tune is called selnecker.
The melody occurs in Bach’s cantatas 79, 165, and 194. The closing chorale in bwv 194 is the only time this tune is associated with a Gerhardt hymn — in this case, stanzas 9 and 10 of “Wach auf, mein Herz, und singe.”
The tune has been universally accepted with “Nun laßt uns gehn und treten” since Crüger’s setting in 1649 and is still in wide use today throughout Germany.
Johann Ebeling, in his Pauli Gerhardi Geistliche Andachten, composed an original four-part musical setting for Gerhardt’s “Nun laßt uns gehn und treten.” The new tune ended up being used very little by churches, possibly due to the growing acceptance of nun lasst uns gott, dem herren made popular by Crüger. Even Ebeling himself offered the option to sing the text with this tune in his book.