Rose: Hymns – Thy Strong Word

Martin Hans Franzmann was born in Lake City, Minnesota to Else and William Franzmann on January 29, 1907. His father was a Lutheran pastor and immigrant from Germany. Martin had a diverse education, studying at the University of Chicago, Northwestern, and even in Greece before attending Western Lutheran Seminary. He taught Greek and English at Northwestern for ten years until 1946 at which point he was called to the St. Louis Concordia Seminary. Eleven years later, Franzmann was made chairman of Exegetical Theology. He also served on many other boards as a chairperson or member, as well as representing the LCMS to the Lutheran World Federation in 1962. Seven years later, he moved to Cambridge to serve as a tutor and retired in 1972 in Wells. On March 28, 1976, Martin Franzmann passed away in England, where he was buried.

The hymn’s tune is called “EBENEZER” or “Ton-y-Botel” and was written by Thomas John Williams. Williams was born in Ynysmeudwy, Wales in 1869. He was both organist and choir director from 1903-13 in Zion Church. in 1913, he moved to Llanelli and served at Calfaria Church for thirty-one years until his death on April 23, 1944. His 1890 tune, however, was applied to multiple other hymns, including “O the Deep, Deep Love of Jesus,” after it was first published in Llaw lyfr Moliant

Martin Franzmann wrote a handful of hymns and translated a few more. He also wrote and co-authored multiple books. As one of his above positions should imply, Franzmann was a staunch proponent of the inerrancy of Scripture. The hymn “Thy Strong Word,” better known than the man himself, was written in 1961 with the Seminary’s motto in mind: Anothen to Phos, Light from Above. Unsurprisingly then, the theme of light is central to the hymn, starting with Creation to the last days. Furthermore, this light is joined by the Word that created it and shall still be to the Last Day.

Thy strong word did cleave the darkness;
At Thy speaking it was done,
For created light we thank Thee,
While Thine ordered seasons run.
Alleluia, alleluia!
Praise to Thee who light dost send!
Alleluia, alleluia!
Alleluia without end!

As Genesis began in the beginning, so too does this verse begin with the annunciation of light. The world was shrouded in darkness, but by the voice of God, light entered in and separated the darkness (Gen. 1:1-5, 14-19). We praise God for His creation and especially for the creation of light. By this light we mark days, seasons, and years, and it is during all these times that we thank the Lord for what He has given to us (Jam. 1:16-18). Yet it was not only physical light that was present at the Creation of the universe. For what word was at the beginning? The Word that was with and was God (Jhn. 1:1-5). “In Him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind” (Jhn. 1:4). Thus, we praise Him who not only created light at the beginning of creation but who also sent us Word that gave us light.

 Lo, on those who dwelt in darkness,
Dark as night and deep as death,
Broke the light of Thy salvation,
Breathed Thine own life breathing breath.
Alleluia, alleluia!
Praise to Thee who light dost send!
Alleluia, alleluia!
Alleluia without end!

Thus, we were among those walking in darkness that have now seen a great light (Isa. 7:13-14, 9:1-7, Matt. 4:16). This was the light of Christ. How was this a darkness like night and death? Because this was more than a silent night on which Christ was born. At Christmas time, we remember Christ coming as a baby. But we also remember the reason for why He came: to save our sins. We were walking in the darkness of sin, death, and the devil. We were helpless, blind in this world, unable to see where we were going or what fault lay in us (Rom. 5:1-11). Yet in this verse, the Light of our salvation broke (compared with the last verse “cleave”) the darkness – the power of sin and death over our lives. This verse highlights that fact that just as mankind was first given the breath of life, and through that man came death, so too did Christ come as a man to breathe that same breath and give us life (Rom. 5:12-21, 1 Cor. 15:51-58). We praise God for shining down on us His holy light by sending His Son, born in the flesh, bringing us this darkness-shattering light, making us children of that light (Eph. 5:8-10). 

 Thy strong word bespeaks us righteous;
Bright with Thine own holiness,
Glorious now, we press toward glory,
And our lives our hopes confess.
Alleluia, alleluia!
Praise to Thee who light dost send!
Alleluia, alleluia!
Alleluia without end!

This same Word that spoke in the beginning and came in human flesh now also makes us righteous. Though we had sinned against God, we were justified by our righteous, merciful God and made holy and righteous in His sight (Psa. 51:4, Rom. 3, 1 Cor. 6:11, Titus 3:4-7, 1 Pet. 2:9). We were justified by faith and now continue to be sanctified by God as we “press toward glory” (Rom. 8, Eph. 1:3-14, 5:25-27, 2 Thes. 2:13-14). This is evident in the way we live, both in everyday activities and in our joyful spirit, a testimony to what Christ has done for us. This is how we are bright with His holiness and how we are both washed now and looking forward to our being with Christ (Psa. 16:10, 1 Cor. 13:12, Heb. 13:14, 1 Jhn. 3:2). Thus we praise Him again for this light of life that has entered into our lives. 

From the cross Thy wisdom shining
Breaketh forth in conqu’ring might;
From the cross forever beameth
All Thy bright redeeming light.
Alleluia, alleluia!
Praise to Thee who light dost send!
Alleluia, alleluia!
Alleluia without end!

While the last verse spoke more on Christ speaking the Gospel into our lives, this verse speaks more on how that redeeming act was accomplished. We did not think that this Light would come into the world to die, yet that is what Christ did. This is why the message of the cross is both foolishness and a stumbling block to many who hear (1 Cor. 1:18-31, 2 Cor. 4:4-7, Jhn. 12:23, 16:33). In our wisdom, we did not understand what it was that Christ had to do (Isa. 40:10-31). Thankfully, our salvation and how Christ was to come was not up to us. His wisdom shines from the cross because it was a redeeming act that we could not fathom nor accomplish on our own. God foresaw this need, the need for holy blood to be shed, and willingly died for us. Therefore, the God who made the light at the beginning has also made this redeeming light shine in us, and this is why we praise Him (Isa. 49:8-23). 

Give us lips to sing Thy glory,
Tongues Thy mercy to proclaim,
Throats that shout the hope that fills us,
Mouths to speak Thy holy name.
Alleluia, alleluia!
Praise to Thee who light dost send!
Alleluia, alleluia!
Alleluia without end!

In response to all that is recognized up until this point, we ask that the Lord would give us what we need to glorify Him. We ask for four things in this verse. Each of these are parts of the body that aid in proclaiming something. But now we want lips, tongues, throats, and mouths that sing of God’s glory, proclaim His mercy, shout this new hope, and speak His Name (Psa. 19:14, 51:15, Isa. 6:5-7, 53:7, Rom. 10:15, Heb. 13:15, Jam. 3:9-12). We want encouragement and the Spirit’s help; we desire to give the Lord what He is due. We wish to praise Him “without end” by all that we say and do. Yet this verse is not only a response to all that has come before but it is also a lead up to the final verse. 

God the Father, light-creator,
To Thee laud and honor be.
To Thee, Light of light begotten,
Praise be sung eternally.
Holy Spirit, light-revealer,
Glory, glory be to Thee.
Mortals, angels, now and ever
Praise the holy Trinity!

The final verse is a compilation of all the rest. It begins with the Father and His creation of light, It to Him that praise and honor are to be given. Next we say that praise should be eternally given to the son, who is begotten of the light creator and the Light of light, the Light of life. Finally, we have the Holy Spirit, also worthy of glory, who has revealed the light of Christ to us in our hearts (1 Jhn. 3:24, 4:13, 5:6-8). We now have the Holy Trinity that was present at the beginning and will also be at the end of days. One can almost hear parts of the Creed echoed in this verse. At the end of days, light will no longer come from the sun and moon but instead will come from God Himself, the Creator and giver of light and life (Isa. 60:1-3, 19-20, Rev 22:5). While this verse is ends with something a command for the here and now, angels and men will also praise God forever and ever in everlasting life (Rev. 5:11-12, 7:9-12). What a wonderful thing to look forward to as the once dark world looked forward to the coming Christ! How wonderful it is to praise Christ now! Let us continue to praise the everlasting Word that continues to sustain us. 

Blessings to you and yours,

~ Rose


Works Referenced 

“Ebenezer (hymn).”

“EBENEZER (Williams).”

Franzmann, Martin Hans

“Martin Franzmann.”

Roth, Nancy. Awake, My Soul!.

Stuempfle. The Hymns. Vol. 52, No. 1. 2001.

“Thy Strong Word.”

“Thy Strong Word Did Cleave the Darkness.”

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