A choice evening hymn by Gerhard Tersteegen:
- The evening comes, the sun is sunk and gone,
And all things lie in stillness and in rest.
And thou my soul, for thee one rest alone
Remaineth ever on the Father’s breast.
The first two lines of the hymn are a simple, plain description of an evening in nature. Then the lyricist speaks to himself–to his soul. Soul, remember that there are many natural evenings in this life, but there is also one greater evening that separates this life from the one to come. Happy are they who rest in God in that evening, and who rest in Him in all the ones leading up to it.
- The wanderer now rests each weary limb;
Birds to their nests return from heath and hill;
The sheep are gath’red from the pastures dim:
In Thee, my God, my restless heart is still.
The second verse of the hymn is a re-statement and a depiction of the first verse. Where the first verse simply stated “the evening comes…all things lie in stillness and in rest,” the second verse provides three examples of God’s creation lying in stillness and in rest: a traveling man, the birds, and the sheep. In the fourth line, the lyricist turns from himself to address God. In contrast to the rest he sees in God’s creation, he acknowledges his own restless heart; he acknowledges God’s creation of a new heart–one at rest with Him.
- Lord, gather from the regions dim and far
Desires and thoughts that wandered far from Thee;
To home and rest lead on, O guiding Star
No other home or nest but God for me.
The third verse expands on the last line of the second verse. As is fitting for an evening prayer, the lyricist recollects himself–and asks God to re-collect his thoughts that wandered far from God. To what end? That God may guide him into home and rest, where the desires of the flesh and of the mind come no more. The birds of the air, mentioned in verse 2, have their nests, but as a follower of the Son of Man who had not “where to lay his head,” Tersteegen declares there is “no other home or nest but God for me.”
- The daily toil of this worn body done,
The spirit for untiring work is strong;
Still hours of worship and of love begun,
Of blessed vision and eternal song.
A well-written, well-translated evening hymn such as this has a tension between the evenings of this life and the evening of this life. Each evening is a rest from toil, but an evening hymn calls us not only to look at those evenings–to look at temporal rest–but also to look onward to that “rest to the people of God.” And so verse 4 begins with an end to daily toil, but ends with the beginning of “blessed vision and eternal song.”
- In darkness and in silence still and sweet,
With blessed awe my spirit feels Thee near,
Within the Holiest, worships at Thy feet:
Speak Thou and silence all my soul to hear.
As a radical Pietist, Tersteegen emphasizes the silent communion with the “sweet Christ,” to be experienced in this life in preparation for the life to come. Verse 5 describes this closeness with God. The singer already feels the nearness of God and silently worships, but asks God to silence him again.
- To Thee my heart as incense shall arise;
Consum’d upon Thine altar all my will.
Love, praise, and peace, an evening sacrifice,
And in the Lord I rest and I am still.
This evening prayer concludes by offering the heart and the will to God. The rest that Tersteegen reminded himself of in verse 1, the rest elusive in verse 2, sought for in verse 3, begun in verse 4, and felt in verse 5, comes to pass in verse 6.
As the singer’s own will is sacrificed, he can finally rest and be still in the Lord. As our own wills are sacrificed, we can finally rest and be still in the Lord.