Having a hard time finding anything to be thankful for? Do you think your life is about as bad as it can get? Or is that one nagging issue still bringing you down on a day when you should be focused on giving thanks?
If any of that is the case, you obviously don’t know Martin Rinkart. He was a Lutheran minister in Eilenburg, Saxony, during the Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648). He is also a man from whom we all can learn a great deal about thankfulness.
Eilenburg was a stronghold of protestantism and thousands of refugees fled there as the Catholic army, led by the brutal Albrecht von Wallenstein, swept through Germany and the lowlands killing any protestants unfortunate enough to fall into their hands.
The city was ravaged by famine and pestilence, was under a nearly constant siege, and three times was overrun by the Papal armies. Yet as many of the city’s clergy left to seek a less difficult ministry, Rinkart soldiered on.
The most severe plague was in 1637, when only three pastors remained for a city filled with refugees numbering in the tens of thousands. Rinkart opened his home to scores of diseased and starving people, and even mortgaged his house and future income to buy food to feed them all.
The Swedish army had surrounded the city, and during the siege thousands of people died, including the other two pastors and even Rinkart’s own wife. He alone was left to minister to the sick and conduct funerals for the dead — nearly 50 died every day, and Rinkart even took up the role of gravedigger when no one else was left to perform the task. The selfless preacher performed 4,480 funerals in the space of only a few months.
The physical suffering he had brought upon the city not enough, the Swedish commander demanded the residents of Eilenburg either pay him 30,000 thalers (a king’s ransom, a sum the poor refugees could not begin to pay), or he would sack the town and put everyone to the sword.
Rinkart, now the de facto leader of the city, left the safety of the walls to meet the Swedish commander and plead for mercy. He was refused, and returned to the town, where he summoned the people together at the city gates and said, “Come, my children, we can find no mercy with men, let us take refuge in God.”
Almost to a man, the townspeople fell on their knees, and led by Rinkart, they prayed fervently for more than an hour. As hopeless as the situation may have seemed, mercy was indeed found with God — for the Swedish commander was so moved by their devotion that he lowered his demand to 2,000 florins (the price of a day’s supplies for his army), lifted the siege, and marched away.
A few days later, Rinkart held a special service celebrating God’s faithfulness and Eilenburg’s deliverance. Though nearly half of their previous congregation had fallen to famine or disease during the siege, those that remained sang with great fervor the now-famous hymn Rinkart had written for the occasion:Now thank we all our God, with heart and hands and voices, Who wondrous things has done, in Whom this world rejoices; Who from our mothers’ arms has blessed us on our way With countless gifts of love, and still is ours today.
O may this bounteous God through all our life be near us, With ever joyful hearts and blessed peace to cheer us; And keep us in His grace, and guide us when perplexed; And free us from all ills, in this world and the next!
All praise and thanks to God the Father now be given; The Son and Him Who reigns with Them in highest Heaven; The one eternal God, whom earth and Heaven adore; For thus it was, is now, and shall be evermore.
This was a man who had lost everything there was to lose — If anyone ever had an excuse to wallow in self-pity, it would have been him. Martin Rinkart lost wife, friends, children, money, possessions, health — and still, when the horror finally ended, he did not gather his flock to mourn the pain they had undergone and friends they had lost, but rather to sing a hymn of thanksgiving. A hymn of thanksgiving not for material blessing and a comfortable life, but for God’s faithfulness and preserving Grace.
If I were to lose everything, this kind of faith would be hard. I honestly don’t know if I could do what Rinkart did — hopefully none of us ever has the need to. Regardless, no matter what the current circumstances of your life may be, today or in the future, remember this — if you have experienced God’s Grace, you have everything to be thankful for.
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written:
“For Your sake we are killed all day long; We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.”
Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
By Jonathan Hermes