I always thought of “We Gather Together” as a Thanksgiving Day hymn, but that’s not the case. It IS a hymn of praise to God for blessings that had been received, but it’s origin is much different than I expected.
The story behind the hymn began a long time ago in the 1500s. Times were very turbulent throughout much of the world. Charles V was the Holy Roman Emperor. He and his son, King Philip II, considered it their duty to eradicate Protestantism, which had established a strong foothold in the Netherlands.
When Dutch Protestants staged a minor rebellion and stormed the Catholic churches destroying statues that they deemed idolatrous, King Phillip sent the Duke of Alba to restore order. The Duke was decisive and violent. He executed many of the Dutch Protestants for what they had done and even executed Catholics who tolerated the Protestantism.
Heavy taxation led to further rebellion, which ended in more executions. In 1576, Spanish soldiers invaded Antwerp and killed 8,000 citizens. Then in 1585, Spanish soldiers invaded Antwerp again, executing large numbers of people and sending many thousands into exile.
A period of relative peace began in Holland in 1588 – a peace that ushered in Holland’s Golden Age.
This hymn was written near the end of the 16th century to acknowledge that turbulent past and to look to a better future:
“We gather together to ask the Lord’s blessing” acknowledges their need – a need made apparent by the suffering they had undergone.
“He chastens” refers to the events just past.
“The wicked oppressing now cease from distressing” is about the violence of the Spanish soldiers— a violence now stilled.
“He forgets not his own” is a tribute of praise to God for allowing them to emerge triumphant from their turbulent history.
The hymn was published in Nederlandtsche Gedenckclanck in Haarlem in 1625. Edward Kremser discovered it in 1877, translated it into Latin, and published it in Vienna in 1877. In 1894, Theodore Baker translated the hymn into English for his employer, G. Shirmer, Inc., a major New York music publishing house.
Life isn’t easy. We all go through ups and downs, trials and challenges. My husband and I have health issues that have changed our lives. We look at the blessings we have and not the losses. We choose to “bloom where we’re planted”.
Throughout history there have been times of trial, tragedy and more. There were also people during those times who loved the Lord and turned to God in their need. If people could lift their voices in praise and thanksgiving during those times, we surely can do the same now.
While “We Gather Together” was not created for OUR Thanksgiving Day, it is a song of thanksgiving that has lasted through centuries and still has a message for us.
I hope you have enjoyed this little glance at the history of another beloved hymn. As you sit down to your Thanksgiving dinner and thank God for all he has provided, take a moment to reflect on all those who came before us. I know our family will be doing that!
Happy Thanksgiving from our house to yours!
I hope you enjoyed reading this article.
Be sure to check out another of my articles: Is There Room?
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