Built On A Rock

Hymnody and Theology                                                                 – Tim McKamey

Built On A Rock by Nikolai Grundtvig, 1837 (lyrics below)  Tune: KIRKEN EN DER ET 

Originally arranged by Ludvig M. Linderman, 1840
Hear my arrangement for fingerpicking guitar and voice here: Built On A Rock

     Translated from Danish in 1840 by Carl Doving, many hymnals have it as Built on The Rock, but originally it was A rock. The idea throughout the hymn is that even in spite of “falling steeples” and “crumpled spires in every land”, God’s temples are built of “living stones”, “His temple stands” … “above all earthly temples excelling”, and that through Christ He chose to “abide on earth with men” and “built in our bodies His temple.” So regardless of the impermanence of structural forms, “The Church” is Built On A Rock, capable of outliving whatever forms we might shape, and meant to last.

Nikolai Grundtvig,
by Constantin Hansen

      “Nikolai Grundtvig (1783-1872) is perhaps the most prominent Danish thinker next to Kierkegaard, and had a great impact on religious thought in that nation, as well as being a democratic reformer and promoter of public education. A child of the Romantic era in arts and literature, he accused the Lutheran state church of having become a rationalist abstraction, and argued instead for the historicity of the church as the revealed, miraculous body of Christ. Unable to maintain a pastorate because of his views, he was nonetheless made a bishop–without a diocese — and remained a prominent if controversial voice in his generation.”

     “Grundtvig was also an important historian, and did some of the earliest scholarly work on the Norse eddas (the great repositories of pagan Scandinavian history and mythology), as well as an important translation of Beowulf that advanced the study of the Anglo-Saxon language. From his own poetry, however, he is best remembered as a hymn-writer. His Sang-vaerk til den danske kirke (“Vocal works for the Danish church”), a five-volume collection published between 1837 and 1881, is considered one of the greatest contributions to Scandinavian hymnody.(Britannica)”

Grundtvig’s Church, Copenhagen, Denmark

     My thanks to Pastor Jeremy Ashworth for attracting my attention to this hymn. You could take the tune in a variety of ways musically, this version for fingerpicking guitar just fell out. The biographical information above and the musical analysis below is from David Hamrick. See David’s Hymn Blog for more wonderful articles on great and lesser known hymns. http://drhamrick.blogspot.com/2011/05/built-on-rock.html

     The music is roughly based on the traditional Dorian tune KIRKEN EN DER ET. All seven verses are written out here, I usually sing at least verses 1, 2, 5 & 7. “This particular tune was written for the 1840 Christ­elige Psalm­er published by Wexel in Oslo. The melody is not minor, but actually Dorian mode, a close cousin. (If you play a scale on the piano starting on D, but play only white notes, that’s Dorian. It’s a common scale in European-based folk styles, from the Tudor-era “Greensleeves” right down to the theme from Gilligan’s Island.) Technically the Dorian scale on D differs from the natural minor scale on D in that it has a B-natural instead of a B-flat; but in actual practice, the “melodic minor” form of the minor scale would often raise the B-flat and C pitches when going up to the tonic, and the Dorian scale often uses a C-sharp to make a strong cadence.”

Built On A Rock by Nikolai Grundtvig

Built on a rock the church doth stand,
Even when steeples are falling;
Crumbled have spires in every land,
Bells still are chiming and calling;
Calling the young and old to rest,
But above all the soul distressed,
Longing for rest everlasting.

Surely in temples made with hands,
God, the Most High, is not dwelling;
High above earth His temple stands,
All earthly temples excelling;
Yet He whom heavens cannot contain
Chose to abide on earth with men,
Built in our bodies His temple.

We are God’s house of living stones,
Builded for His habitation;
He through baptismal grace us owns,
Heirs of His wondrous salvation;
Were we but two His Name to tell,
Yet He would deign with us to dwell,
With all His grace and His favor.

Now we may gather with our King;
Even in the lowliest dwelling:
Praises to Him we there may bring,
His wondrous mercy foretelling;
Jesus His grace to us accords,
Spirit and life are all His words,
His truth doth hallow the temple.

Still we our earthly temples rear,
That we may herald His praises;
They are the homes where He draws near
And little children embraces,
Beautiful things in them are said,
God there with us His covenant made,
Making us heirs of His Kingdom.

Here stands the font before our eyes
Telling how God did receive us;
The altar recalls Christ’s sacrifice
And what His table doth give us;
Here sounds the Word that doth proclaim
Christ yesterday, today, the same,
Yea, and for aye our Redeemer.

Grant then, O God, wherever men roam,
That, when the church bells are ringing,
Many in saving faith may come
Where Christ His message is bringing:
“I know Mine own, Mine own know Me;
Ye, not the world, My face shall see.
My peace I leave with you.”

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