Today, on his memorial plaque in Lubben are inscribed the words, “Theologus in cribro Satanae versatus,” which is roughly translated, “A theologian sifted in Satan’s sieve” (compare Luke 22:31). From all we can tell, however, these fiery trials only served to strengthen Gerhardt’s faith in Christ and hope in God. I mentioned Gerhard’s hymns above. He is certainly one of the best known and loved Lutheran hymn writers. Yet several of his hymns tenderly encourage the believer to trust God’s sovereign care, even amidst trial and suffering.
In the midst of difficult days, it is helpful to learn from those saints who have endured hard times before us. We are self-centered enough to think that our personal plight is exceptional, when in reality it is not.
Paul Gerhardt, born in 1607, was a Lutheran pastor. Today he is remembered best for his hymns. In Hymns to the Living God alone, we have six hymns attributed to Paul Gerhardt. You know him best for hymns like “O Sacred Head, Now Wounded“; “Jesus, Thy Boundless Love to Me“; and “All My Heart This Night Rejoices.” You find his verses amply scattered throughout the sacred music of J. S. Bach.
I’m talking about Pastor Gerhardt because he was a man who knew acute suffering. Most of his early life was swallowed up in the Thirty Year’s War, one of the most horrific wars in history. By the time this war ended, Gerhardt was 41 years old.
Gerhardt was not able to settle down until he was 44 years old, when he was appointed pastor in Berlin. He married at 48, and only one of his five children survived childhood.