O Lord, Look Down from Heaven, Behold

Tune: Ach Gott vom Himmel

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The 12th Psalm. Salvum me fac Domine.

  1. O Lord, look down from heav’n, behold
    And let Thy pity waken;
    How few are we within Thy fold,
    Thy wretched saints forsaken.
    Thy Word is nowhere kept aright,
    And faith is quenched and veiled in night
    Among all Adam’s children.

  2. They teach a false and idle word
    Which their own wits have founded;
    Their hearts are not with one accord
    On God’s pure doctrine grounded.
    Each seeks in his own way to guide,
    And so Thy people they divide,
    Though fair be their appearance.

  3. God surely will uproot the ones
    Who with their lies enclose us
    And who with bold and haughty tongues
    Say, “Who would dare oppose us?
    We have the right and might alone,
    What we determine shall be done,
    Who then shall be our master?”

  4. Therefore saith God, “I must arise,
    The poor see devastation
    And unto Me have come their sighs,
    I’ve heard their lamentation.
    My saving Word upon the plain
    Shall fight My foes with might and main,
    The poor with strength upholding.”

  5. As silver sev’n times tried by fire
    Is found right purely shining,
    So doth God’s Word our trust require
    Until its full refining.
    When through the cross it shall be tried,
    Then shall its strength and light abide
    As in all lands it shineth.

  6. Preserve Thy Word e’er pure and free
    From this vile generation,
    And keep us subject unto Thee,
    Safe from their infiltration.
    The godless ev’rywhere abound,
    Where’er such wicked men are found
    Exalted midst Thy people.

Ach Gott vom Himmel, sieh darein
Martin Luther, 1523
Tr. composite

German Text

Tune: Ach Gott vom Himmel

  1. Ach Gott vom Himmel, sieh darein
    Und laß dich des erbarmen:
    Wie wenig sind der Heilgen dein,
    Verlassen sind wir Armen.
    Dein Wort man nicht läßt haben wahr,
    Der Glaub ist auch verloschen gar
    Bei allen Menschenkindern.

  2. Sie lehren eitel falsche List,
    Was eigen Witz erfindet;
    Ihr Herz nicht eines Sinnes ist,
    In Gottes Wort gegründet.
    Der wählet dies, der ander das,
    Sie trennen uns ohn alle Maß
    Und gleißen schön von außen.

  3. Gott wollt ausrotten alle Lahr,
    Die falschen Schein uns lehren,
    Darzu ihr Zung stolz offenbar
    Spricht: Trotz, wer wills uns wehren?
    Wir haben Recht und Macht allein,
    Was wir setzen, das gilt gemein;
    Wer ist, der uns soll meistern?

  4. Darum spricht Gott: ich muß auf sein,
    Die Armen sind verstöret,
    Ihr Seufzen dringt zu mir herein,
    Ich hab ihr Klag erhöret.
    Mein heilsam Wort soll auf den Plan,
    Getrost und frisch sie greifen an
    Und sein die Kraft der Armen.

  5. Das Silber, durchs Feur siebenmal
    Bewährt, wird lauter funden;
    Am Gotteswort man warten soll
    Desgleichen alle Stunden;
    Es will durchs Kreuz bewähret sein,
    Da wird sein Kraft erkannt und Schein
    Und leicht stark in die Lande.

  6. Das wollst du, Gott, bewahren rein
    Für diesem argen G’schlechte,
    Und laß uns dir befohlen sein,
    Daß sichs in uns nicht flechte.
    Der gottlos Hauf sich umher findt,
    Wo diese lose Leute sind
    In deinem Volk erhaben.

Martin Luther, 1523
Source: C.F.W. Walther’s Kirchen-Gesangbuch, 1898 printing


Martin Luther

Martin Luther, 1483–1546, portrait by Lucas Cranach the Elder, 1533

Author: Martin Luther
Source: Etlich Christlich Lider (Achtliederbuch), Wittenberg, 1524

Martin Luther prepared his hymn “O Lord, Look Down from Heaven, Behold (Ach Gott vom Himmel, sieh darein)” late in the year 1523 as a metrical setting of Psalm 12. Its first extant appearance in print was in the first Lutheran hymnal, the Achtliederbuch of 1524, where, together with the Psalm settings “The Mouth of Fools May Say Indeed (Es spricht der Unweisen Mund wohl)” and “From Depths of Woe I Cry to Thee (Aus tiefer Not schrei ich zu dir),” it was assigned the tune “Es ist das Heil.” The present tune, “Ach Gott vom Himmel,” appeared later that same year in the Erfurt Enchiridion.

Ach Gott vom Himmel, sieh darein (Original Appearance)
“O Lord, Look Down from Heaven, Behold (Ach Gott vom Himmel, sieh darein)” as it originally appeared in the Achtliederbuch, 1524.

While Luther’s paraphrase closely follows the text of the Psalm on which it is based, Luther is quick to apply the ancient Psalm to his own day. The plaintive cry of the Psalmist is applied to conditions during the early days of the Reformation, when it was by no means certain that the Evangelical doctrine would survive the attacks and persecutions of Rome. The “flattering lips” and “proud tongues” of the Psalm become the false teachers of Luther’s day, who deceive the people into accepting the doctrine of salvation by works, and who impress the simple with their outward show of learning.

“O Lord, Look Down from Heaven, Behold” is not included in the Lutheran Service Book, 2006, but appears in The Lutheran Hymnal, 1941, No. 260, and in the Evangelical Lutheran Hymn-Book, 1927, No. 278, with the first line “O God, from Heaven Look Down and See.” Though the translation in The Lutheran Hymnal is based mostly upon that found in Leonard Woolsey Bacon, Dr. Martin Luther’s Deutsche Geistliche Lieder, 1884, which itself is an altered version of that by Frances Elizabeth Cox, Sacred Hymns from the German, 1841, the text in The Lutheran Hymnal is copyright 1941 Concordia Publishing House and so could not be used for the Free Lutheran Chorale-Book. We have therefore prepared a new composite translation, incorporating elements of Woolsey and Cox, the Evangelical Lutheran Hymn-Book, and George MacDonald as presented in the Luther’s Works entry on this hymn, as well as some portions unique to the Free Lutheran Chorale-Book.

The arrangement of the tune used for the Free Lutheran Chorale-Book is a slightly modified version of that found in the Mehrstimmiges Choralbuch, 1906. The text and music here provided may be used and reproduced for any purpose whatever, and are offered with the prayer that they may serve for the edification of Christian people everywhere.