A Reformation Hymn

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Salvation Unto Us Has Come

By Doug Schlegel

As the sparks of Reformation kindled fires all around the spiritual dry-brush that was Europe in the mid-16th century, the Palatinate merely smoldered. Elector Frederick II, though sympathetic, was reluctant to move toward the Reformation. The people, however, were more inclined to embrace the Reformation than their leader.

On December 20, 1545, the Church of the Holy Spirit in Heidelberg was filled with parishioners. As the priest made preparations for the sacrifice of the Mass, a lone voice began singing a hymn: “Salvation unto us has come, By God’s free grace and favor…”

As this first stanza was finished by this lonely voice (some say it was Otto Henry, Frederick’s nephew who started it all), there was a stunned silence that hung over the people. After a few moments of quiet, other voices joined the song until the whole congregation began to sing of God’s free grace and the once for all sacrifice of Christ. The surprised priest ran out of the building as the people declared their allegiance to the Reformation in song. At last, the Reformation had come to Heidelberg. Eventually, the city of Heidelberg became a center of the Reformed faith, and Elector Frederick III one of its strongest supporters, as well as patron of the catechism that bears its name.

The hymn that served as an inspiration to the people of Heidelberg was written by Paul Speratus, an early companion of Martin Luther. He was twice imprisoned for his outspoken faith, condemned to death, spared by the emperor, banished, and ultimately excommunicated by the Church of Rome. “Es ist das Heil Uns Kommen Her” was written during one of his imprisonments and was included in the first Protestant hymnal, the Achtliederbuch, which he helped publish in 1523. An English translation was also included in Miles Coverdale’s hymnal in 1539.

Hymns of depth and doctrinal purity are a rich Reformation heritage, and it all began with hymns such as this one. Originally having 14 stanzas, it stands as one of the jewels of Reformation hymnology.