The Mouth of Fools May Well Confess

Tune: Es spricht der Unweisen Mund wohl

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The 14th Psalm. Dixit insipiens in corde suo.

  1. The mouth of fools may well confess,
    “True God, we glorify Him”;
    Yet unbelief doth fill their breast,
    With deeds do they deny Him.
    Their nature is corrupted quite,
    Right loathsome are they in God’s sight,
    And none does good among them.

  2. God hath from heav’n looked down below
    On all mankind together;
    He then betook Himself, to know
    If any He’d discover
    Who all their understanding bent
    To do His Word with good intent,
    Into His will inquiring.

  3. None walked upon the narrow way,
    Therefrom they all had wandered;
    Each did whate’er his dreams might say;
    In wicked ways they foundered.
    Not one did any good at all,
    And yet full many had the gall
    To deem their deeds God-pleasing.

  4. How long shall they as fools endure,
    Who bear such needless burdens
    And who My people thus devour
    And feed on their misfortunes?
    They do not trust in God indeed,
    Nor call on Him in time of need,
    They’d be their own protectors.

  5. Therefore their heart seeks peace in vain,
    Fears constantly dismay them;
    God with the pious will remain,
    Who in true faith obey Him.
    The poor man’s counsel ye despise,
    And scoff when unto you he cries
    That God is made his Comfort.

  6. Who shall to Israel, poor and lone,
    From Zion bring salvation?
    God shall have mercy on His own,
    And loose His captive nation.
    This shall He do through His own Son;
    So shall for Jacob joy be won,
    And Israel leap with gladness.

Es spricht der Unweisen Mund wohl
Martin Luther, 1523
Tr. Christopher J. Neuendorf, 2017

German Text

Tune: Es spricht der Unweisen Mund wohl

  1. Es spricht der Unweisen Mund wohl:
    Den rechten Gott wir meinen;
    Doch ist ihr Herz Unglaubens voll,
    Mit Tat sie ihn verneinen.
    Ihr Wesen ist verderbet zwar,
    Für Gott ist es ein Greuel gar,
    Es tut ihr keiner kein gut.

  2. Gott selbst vom Himmel sah herab
    Auf aller Menschen Kinden;
    Zu schauen sie, er sich begab,
    Ob er jemand würd finden,
    Der sein Verstand gerichtet hätt,
    Mit Ernst nach Gottes Worten tät
    Und fragt nach seinem Willen.

  3. Da war niemand auf rechter Bahn,
    Sie warn all ausgeschritten;
    Ein jeder ging nach seinem Wahn
    Und hielt verlorne Sitten.
    Es tät ihr keiner doch kein gut,
    Wiewohl gar viel betrog der Mut,
    Ihr Tun sollt Gott gefallen.

  4. Wie lang wollen unwissend sein,
    Die solche Müh aufladen,
    Und fressen dafür das Volk mein
    Und nährn sich mit seim Schaden?
    Es steht ihr Trauen nicht auf Gott,
    Sie rufen ihm nicht in der Not,
    Sie wolln sich selbst versorgen.

  5. Darum ist ihr Herz nimmer still
    Und steht allzeit in Furchten;
    Gott bei den Frommen bleiben will,
    Dem sie mit Glauben g’horchen.
    Ihr aber schmäht des Armen Rat
    Und höhnet alles, was er sagt,
    Daß Gott sein Trost ist worden.

  6. Wer soll Israel, dem armen,
    Zu Zion Heil erlangen?
    Gott wird sich seins Volks erbarmen
    Und lösen die Gefangen.
    Das wird er tun durch seinen Sohn,
    Davon wird Jakob Wonne han
    Und Israel sich freuen.

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

“The Mouth of Fools May Well Confess” (“Es spricht der Unweisen Mund wohl“) is Martin Luther’s metrical setting of Psalm 14. Probably written late in 1523, it appeared in the first Lutheran hymnal, the Achtliederbuch of 1524. The melody appeared in 1524 as well, in Johann Walter’s collection of polyphonic hymn arrangements, the Wittenberg Geystliche gesangk Buchleyn.

Notable is Luther’s shift from the literal meaning of the Psalm. Whereas the original begins, “The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God,” Luther has the “fools” publicly making the claim that they worship the one true God. But Luther contrasts mouth and heart, attributing the hypocritical worship of God to the mouth alone, and placing the atheism of unbelief in the heart. The entertaining of false doctrine, particularly in the service of spiritual enthusiasm, is for Luther no different than the denial of God altogether.

A translation by Richard Massie, “The Mouth of Fools Doth God Confess,” appeared in the Evangelical Lutheran Hymn-Book, but the hymn is missing from The Lutheran Hymnal and the Lutheran Service Book. Since there is no currently established tradition of singing this hymn in English, it was thought appropriate to offer a new translation for the Free Lutheran Chorale-Book that remains as close as possible to Luther’s original in word choice and phrasing. The musical setting, adjusted to fit the original form of the melody, is slightly altered from the setting found in the Mehrstimmiges Choralbuch, 1906, which is based in turn upon the 1627 setting of Johann Hermann Schein. Both text and music may be freely used and reproduced for any purpose whatever, and are offered with the prayer that they may serve for the edification of Christian people everywhere.

"Es spricht der Unweisen Mund wohl" as it first appeared with what would become its proper melody, in Johann Walter's 1524 "Geystliche gesangk Buchleyn"

“Es spricht der Unweisen Mund wohl” as it first appeared with what would become its proper melody, in Johann Walter’s 1524 “Geystliche gesangk Buchleyn”

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