Such, Wer Da Will, Ein Ander Ziel

For reasons that are somewhat complicated and not particularly relevant to the discussion at hand, I am very fond of early modern motets and hymns in general that take as their text biblical passages and contain complicated and worthwhile reflections on them [1]. Today I would like to take as the text to reflect upon an early Lutheran hymn named Such, Wer Da Will, Ein Ander Ziel, which, translated from the German, means something like “Search, If You Will, For Another Goal.” While it is my hope that the reasons for the exploration of the larger context of this song, and its biblical reference, will be obvious, after reading, I would like to discuss at the outset that what interests me the most about this song is the layers and layers of meaning and implication that the song has, and how the overall impression of the work is influenced by a knowledge of the skill and craft and complexity of the work and its contexts. It is also my hope that those who understand my great personal interest in these matters when it comes to obscure religious music may profitably draw appropriate conclusions to my personal interest in complexity of meaning, deeply layered meaning, and a deep concern for context and situation, if it is not obvious to the reader already.

What are the contexts of the German hymn under consideration? Let us first note the biblical context, namely Matthew 11:2-10, which reads as follows: “And when John had heard in prison about the works of Christ, he sent two of his disciples and said to Him, “Are You the Coming One, or do we look for another?” Jesus answered and said to them, “Go and tell John the things which you hear and see: The blind see and the lame walk; the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear; the dead are raised up and the poor have the gospel preached to them. And blessed is he who is not offended because of Me. As they departed, Jesus began to say to the multitudes concerning John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind? But what did you go out to see? A man clothed in soft garments? Indeed, those who wear soft clothing are in kings’ houses. But what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I say to you, and more than a prophet. For this is he of whom it is written: ‘Behold, I send My messenger before Your face, who will prepare Your way before You.’””

Let us explore this context in deeper detail, as it contains many layers of context itself. John the Baptizer had been thrown into prison for his opposition of the adulterous and incestuous union between Herod Antipas and his sister-in-law Herodias, who had married one of his non-tetrarch brothers in this confusingly named family, which was contrary to several different biblical laws. He wondered, as was natural, if he was to be delivered from prison, and if his cousin Jesus Christ was really the promised Messiah, and so he sent two disciple to investigate. Jesus’ reply was complicated. He pointed out the ways that He was fulfilling Isaiah 61, implicitly pointing out that He was the Messiah. He explains this point more fully when he turns to the audience, after the disciples of John the Baptizer have left, and tells them outright that John was the messenger promised before the first coming of Jesus Christ in the book of Malachi, his mission to turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and the hearts of the children to their fathers successful. Yet there is more, in that Jesus hinted on a different level to his beloved cousin that he would not delivered from the prison, but would die there. It is courtiers who belong in kings’ houses, not the prophets of God, who are constrained by their covenant to God to be honest to corrupt rulers, and to call upon them to repent, rather than flatter them as is the usual fashion. Jesus’ messiahship did not, at that time, deliver His servants from the repercussions of being godly in an ungodly world, and so Jesus subtly raises a difference between the Messiah He was and the sort of Messiah He was taken to be. Most did not take the hint. Most people, myself included, do not tend to take hints very well, especially if those hints contradict our own wishes and ideas.

Having briefly examined the biblical context of this hymn, what other contexts remain? For one, it is worthwhile to examine the formal structure of the lyrics and music, without attempting to subject them to a close analysis which my limited knowledge of German does not permit [2]. The lyrics were the second hymn written by Georg Weissel upon being appointed minister of the Altrossgarten Church in Konigsberg in 1623. The hymn we now have can be traced back to a 1642 collection of hymns written by Weissel and his teacher, one Johannes Eccard. Each stanza of the hymn has eleven lines in a complicated rhyme scheme where eight of the lines have two stressed syllables and the other lines have three stressed syllables. The first stanza is an individual profession of faith in Jesus Christ, the second focuses on the congregation, the third is a missionary invitation, and two individual prayers follow at the end [3]. Intriguingly enough, the music of the hymn was taken from a recently composed marriage song from Johann Stobaus, who was an acquaintance of the lyricist, called “Wie’s Gott bestelt, mir wohlgefalt.” It seems striking, and worthy of comment, that a hymn expressing faith in Jesus Christ, the promised Bridegroom of the Church, would be set to a marriage song, as that adds yet more layers of meaning to the particular words.

This is worthy of at least some additional comment as well. The promise of being married to Christ is perceived of in several ways—an individual union with God, a collective marriage as part of the Israel of God with Jesus Christ upon His return, and a call to proclaim the Gospel of the Kingdom to the world at large, which is to be brought in His time into harmony once more with Him. In the contemporary religious context, this expression of a personal faith and a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, without any other intermediaries, can be taken as a firm rejection of the sacerdotal system of Roman Catholicism, of superstitutious veneration of the Virgin Mary, and of a plethora of supposed patron saints that filled the imaginary pleroma between the individual believer and Christ Jesus. These others, whether Mary or the ordained ministry or deceased saints, are or were fellow sinners in need of God’s grace, and therefore are in the same position as David, Abraham, and Paul, blessed because their lawless deeds are forgiven, whose sins are covered, and who are not imputed sin by God (see, for example: Genesis 15:6, Romans 4:1-8, Psalm 32:1-2). Such people in need of help from Jesus themselves cannot serve as intermediaries between God and man, but are fellow peers, fellow defendants in the dock before the bar of our heavenly Judge, fellow petitioners of the gracious mercy and forgiveness of Jesus Christ. The song therefore cuts the entire structure of Catholic hierarchy from discussion, making this hymn a particularly strong political statement in its seventeenth century context.

Let us also note that this meaning is not merely smuggled in illegitimately by a political minded writer, although it is easy to find politically-minded people who seek with their pen or keyboard to undercut the idolatrous claims of authorities who claim to be more than the human servants of God but somehow on a semi-divine or divine order themselves. I need only look in the mirror to find such a person myself [4]. Rather, this layer of meaning springs from the biblical passage in question itself. It was Jesus Christ who was doing the healing of the people who came to Him when John sent his disciples to investigate Jesus’ messianic credentials in a moment of doubt and despondency. It was Jesus Christ who pointed out to the audience, most of whom were friendly to John the Baptizer, that John was a prophet, and a messenger of Jesus Christ. Not an intermediary, but a messenger, a forerunner, someone whose example and message pointed to the Messiah but did not stand in the way or bar the door to belief in Jesus as the Christ. And so it is with us. If we are truly the servants of God, people will look at our service and our example, and hopefully see some sort of shadow or intimation of the One whom we serve. We will not be blocking their way, demanding the sort of regard that is proper and fit for God alone, but rather we will be helping them along as fellow pilgrims en route to the Jerusalem above, encouraging those who we meet along the road with us as we travel together as brethren to the eternal city of our common Father. Search, if you will, for another goal, if that is not your aim.

[1] See, for example:

[2] For those whose German is better than I, I refer you to the following sources:

Henkys, Jürgen (2013). IV. “Such, wer da will, ein ander Ziel” von Georg Weissel und Johann Stobäus. Dichtung, Bibel und Gesangbuch: Hymnologische Beiträge in dritter Folge (in German) (Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht). pp. 29–33.

Lauterwasser, Helmut (2012). Hahn, Gerhard, ed. 346 Such, wer da will, ein ander Ziel. Liederkunde zum Evangelischen Gesangbuch, Issue 17; Issue 20 (in German) (Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht). pp. 56–62. ISBN 9783525503409.


[4] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in Bible, Christianity, Church of God, History, Love & Marriage, Music History, Musings and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Such, Wer Da Will, Ein Ander Ziel

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