As will be noted in a subsequent chapter, the Nineteenth century witnessed the phenomenon of gifted Christian women assuming a place of primary importance among the foremost hymn-writers of the Church. Just as England had its Charlotte Elliott and Frances Havergal, and America had its Fanny Crosby, so Sweden had its Lina Sandell.
The rise of women hymn-writers came simultaneously with the great spiritual revival which swept over America and evangelical Europe in successive tidal waves from 1800 to 1875. In Sweden the religious renaissance received its first impulse, no doubt, from Lutheran Germany. However, the Wesleyan movement in England and America also began to make its influence felt in wider circles, and the coming to Stockholm of such a man as George Scott, an English Methodist, gave added impetus to the evangelical movement which was already under way. Carl Olof Rosenius, Sweden’s greatest lay preacher and the most prominent leader in the Pietistic movement in that country, was one of Scott’s disciples, although he remained faithful to the Lutheran doctrine and a member of the Established Church to the close of his life.
It was in the midst of the Rosenius movement that Lina Sandell became known to her countrymen as a great song-writer. She was born October 3, 1832, at Fröderyd, her father being the parish pastor at that place. She was a 178frail child who preferred to spend her hours in her father’s study rather than join her comrades in play. When she was twenty-six years old, she accompanied him on a journey to Gothenburg, but they never reached their destination. At Hästholmen the vessel on which they sailed gave a sudden lurch and the father fell overboard, drowning before the eyes of his devoted daughter.
This tragedy proved a turning point in Lina Sandell’s life. In the midst of her grief she sought comfort in writing hymns. Her songs seemed to pour forth in a steady stream from the depths of a broken heart. Fourteen of her hymns were published anonymously the same year (1858) in a Christian periodical, Budbäraren. Although she lived to write 650 hymns in all, these fourteen from the pen of the grief-stricken 26-year-old girl have retained a stronger hold on the hearts of her countrymen than most of her later productions. Among these “first-fruits” born in sorrow are such hymns as: “Saviour, O hide not Thy loving face from me,” “Others He hath succored,” and
Children of the heavenly Father
Safely in His bosom gather;
Nestling bird nor star in heaven
Such a refuge e’er was given.
The remarkable popularity which Lina Sandell’s hymns attained within a comparatively short time was due to a large extent to the music written for them by Oskar Ahnfelt, a “spiritual troubadour” of his day. Ahnfelt not only possessed the gift of composing pleasing melodies that caught the fancy of the Swedish people, but he traveled from place to place throughout the Scandinavian countries and sang them to the accompaniment of a guitar. Miss Sandell once 179said: “Ahnfelt has sung my songs into the hearts of the people.”
The inspiration for her songs came to Miss Sandell at sundry times and places. Sometimes in the midst of the noise and confusion of the city’s streets, she would hear the words of a new song. Sometimes she would awake in the still hours of the night with the verses of a hymn ringing in her ears. By her bedside she always kept a slate on which she might instantly record these heaven-born thoughts.
In 1867 Miss Sandell was married to a Stockholm merchant, C. O. Berg, but she continued to sign her hymns with the initials, “L. S.” by which she was familiarly known throughout Sweden. She died on July 27, 1903.
Not only Ahnfelt, but also Jenny Lind helped to make Lina Sandell’s hymns known. The “Swedish nightingale” was herself a Pietist and found great delight in listening to the preaching of Rosenius and the singing of Ahnfelt. At these conventicles the marvelous singer who had gained the homage of two continents sat with common workingmen on crude benches and joined with her sweet voice in singing the Pietist hymns. Ahnfelt, in visiting the home of the great singer, spoke of his ambition to publish these hymns. When Jenny Lind learned that financial difficulties stood in the way, she quickly provided the necessary funds, and so the first edition of “Ahnfelt’s Songs,” which in reality were mostly the hymns of Lina Sandell and Rosenius, was made possible.
Rosenius and Ahnfelt encountered much persecution in their evangelical efforts. King Karl XV was petitioned to forbid Ahnfelt’s preaching and singing. The monarch refused until he had had an opportunity to hear the “spiritual troubadour.” Ahnfelt was commanded to appear at the 180royal palace. Being considerably perturbed in mind as to what he should sing to the king, he besought Lina Sandell to write a hymn for the occasion. She was equal to the task and within a few days the song was ready. With his guitar under his arm and the hymn in his pocket, Ahnfelt repaired to the palace and sang:
Who is it that knocketh upon your heart’s door
In peaceful eve?
Who is it that brings to the wounded and sore
The balm that can heal and relieve?
Your heart is still restless, it findeth no peace
In earth’s pleasures;
Your soul is still yearning, it seeketh release
To rise to the heavenly treasures.
The king listened with tears in his eyes. When Ahnfelt had finished, the monarch gripped him by the hand and exclaimed: “You may sing as much as you like in both of my kingdoms!”
Mention has already been made of the hymns of Rosenius. These, like the songs of Lina Sandell, were likewise a powerful factor in the spread of the evangelical movement in Sweden.
Rosenius was the son of a parish pastor in Norrland, Sweden. From the time of his birth, February 3, 1816, he was dedicated by his pious parents to the holy ministry. After having pursued studies for a short time at Upsala University, however, he became disgusted with the low moral and spiritual standards existing among the students, and for a while his own faith was severely shaken. During these spiritual difficulties he came in contact with George Scott, the Methodist evangelist in Stockholm, and eventually he began to hold meetings as a “lay preacher.”
In 1842 Scott and Rosenius began the publication of Pietisten, a religious monthly that was destined to play a most important part in the spiritual revival in Sweden. When Scott was constrained the same year to leave Sweden because of violent opposition to his movement, Rosenius became his successor, not only as editor of Pietisten, but also as the outstanding leader among those who were trying to bring about the dawn of a new spiritual day.
Rosenius centered his activity in the Swedish capital, preaching and writing. He also traveled extensively throughout the country, and so the movement spread. Numerous lay preachers, known as “läsare,” sprang up everywhere, holding private meetings in homes and in so-called “mission houses” that were built nearby the parish churches.
Agitation for separation from the Established Church found no sympathy with Rosenius, who stood firmly on the Lutheran doctrine and regularly took communion at the hands of its ordained ministers.
“How long do you intend to remain within the Church?” he once was asked.
“As long as Jesus is there,” was the answer of Rosenius.
“But how long do you think He will be there?”
“As long as men are there born anew, for that is not the work of the devil.”
In 1856 Rosenius, together with many earnest-minded ecclesiasts and leaders in the Established Church, organized the National Evangelical Foundation, which originally was intended to promote home and inner mission activities. It subsequently embraced the cause of foreign missions also and became one of the greatest spiritual influences emanating from Scandinavia. Rosenius died in 1868, at the age of fifty-two.
His hymns, like those of Lina Sandell, became known largely through the musical genius of Ahnfelt. Everywhere “Ahnfelt’s Songs” were on the lips of the so-called “believers.” Emigrants from Sweden to America brought them with them to the New World, where they were a source of solace and strength in the midst of spiritual and material difficulties. Perhaps no song verse was heard more often in their humble gatherings than the concluding stanza of Rosenius’ hymn, “With God and His mercy, His Spirit, and Word”:
O Shepherd, abide with us, care for us still,
And feed us and lead us and teach us Thy will;
And when in Thy heavenly fold we shall be,
Our thanks and our praises,
Our thanks and our praises we’ll render to Thee.
Then there is that other hymn by Rosenius, so dear to thousands of pious souls, “I have a Friend, so patient, kind, forbearing,” as well as that other one which Miss Anna Hoppe has so beautifully rendered into English:
O precious thought! some day the mist shall vanish;
Some day the web of gloom shall be unspun.
A day shall break whose beams the night shall banish,
For Christ, the Lamb, shall shine, the glorious Sun!
Although the songs of Lina Sandell and Rosenius do not attain to the poetic excellence and spiritual power of the noble hymns of Wallin’s “Psalm-book,” it is a significant fact that seven of Lina Sandell’s and three of Rosenius’ songs were included in an appendix adopted in 1920. This appendix is the first authorized change in Archbishop Wallin’s masterpiece in 102 years. The 500 hymns of the “Psalm-book” still remain unchanged, however, as they came from his hand in 1819. Although a number of commissions 183have endeavored since 1865 to make revisions of Wallin’s work, their proposals have been consistently rejected. The addition of 173 hymns in the form of an appendix was a compromise adopted by the Church of Sweden in 1920. It was sanctioned by the king and authorized for tentative use in the churches beginning Nov. 27, 1921, thus being given precedence over a revision made by a commission and sanctioned by the church but indefinitely deferred.
In the 1921 appendix hymn-writers of the Reformed Church are represented for the first time in the Swedish “Psalm-book.” Among the Reformed hymns found there may be mentioned Joachim Neander’s “Lobe den Herren,” Sarah Flower Adams’ “Nearer, my God, to Thee,” Henry Francis Lyte’s “Abide with me, fast falls the eventide,” John Marriot’s “Thou, Whose almighty Word,” and Lydia Baxter’s “There is a gate that stands ajar.” Classical Lutheran hymns, such as Gerhardt’s “O sacred Head, now wounded” and Luther’s “Lord, keep us steadfast in Thy Word,” have also been added, while other Lutheran writers, such as the great Danish hymnists, Brorson and Grundtvig, and the Norwegian psalmist, Landstad, are given recognition. Then there is the beautiful Christmas hymn, “Silent night, holy night,” by the Catholic priest, Joseph Mohr.
The more important of recent Swedish hymnists are Johan Alfred Eklund, bishop of Karlstad, who is represented by thirty-six hymns in the appendix; Svante Alin, pastor at Sventorp, eleven of whose hymns are included; the late Edvard Evers, pastor in Norrköping and a writer of some note, who contributed twelve hymns, and Erik Söderberg, writer and publicist, who is the author of seven.
Eleven hymns by two of Finland’s great poets, Johan Ludvig Runeberg and Zachris Topelius, are also found in the appendix.
From the book ‘Story of Our Hymns‘