The Story Behind We Gather Together
This hymn was originally a Dutch patriotic song, written around 1600 to celebrate the freedom of the Netherlands from Spanish rule. However, God's kingdom transcends national and ethnic boundaries. When the Church sings this hymn, she is reminded of the words of the apostle Paul: “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12, ESV). The day will come when God will overthrow the devil and all evil. Even now, we can say, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble” (Psalm 46:1). In singing this hymn, the people of God seek His help and thank Him for His presence in the pursuit of victory over evil, for we know that God “forgets not His own.”
The original Dutch text of this hymn, “Wilt heden nu treden,” was first published in 1626 by Adrian Valerius in his Nederlandtsch Gedenckclanck, though it may have been written earlier, in the late 16th century. The author is unknown. This text was written in celebration of the freedom of the Netherlands from Spanish rule. Theodore Baker, an American music scholar, translated the text into English in 1894 for an anthem titled “Prayer of Thanksgiving.”
When this hymn was first published in America, the idea of the United States' Manifest Destiny to overtake the American continent in God's name was still popular. The militant language and patriotic association can lend a sense of nationalism to the song that is inappropriate for a worship service. It may take some care to put this text in an appropriate context for worship. However, there are several phrases that may bring certain Scripture passages to mind (e.g., “the wicked oppressing,” Ps. 55:3; see also Scripture references below). When the hymn is put in this context, the message is clearly about the Church seeking God's help and thanking Him for His presence in the pursuit of victory over evil.
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