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– Text Background –

It has been proposed that the occasion of George Wiessel’s installation as pastor on the Third Sunday in Advent in 1623, one week following the dedication of the newly constructed Alt-Rossgärtsche church in Königsberg, Prussia where he would serve, is the context by which the text of “Seek where you may to find a way” was inspired and composed. Although Handbuch zum Evangelisch Kirchengesangbuch, the most recent and scholarly source only mentions the author’s installation, there does appear to be, even if ever so slightly, a nod to a right understanding of the new building.

On one hand, being the son of the mayor of Domnau, Weissel knew well the significance of the town church and its influence in the lives of the people. Quite often the only stone structure in a village or town, the church building was a centerpiece for community and considered to be quite an achievement for peasant and noble alike.[1] On the other hand, being a student of Lutheran theology, studying in places such as Wittenberg and Marburg, this hymnographer would have understood his role as pastor of the people, but also as one responsible for a liturgical locale, made by hands and capable of decay, and yet designed for the gathering of the people to those things that cannot be destroyed (Hebrews 12:18, 22-24).[2]

– Text Discussion –

This hymn is revealing of Wiessel’s devout pastoral character and confession. With the very first words of the hymn, it would appear that Wiessel seeks to provide clarity for his people regarding his intentions as the new pastor serving in the newly constructed church. Perhaps it is then that the first portion of the hymn (“Seek where you may to find a way that leads to your salvation”) rings with similar tones to that of Israel’s new leader, Joshua.  In Joshua 24:15, the churchman declares “choose this day whom you will serve” and then moves to highlight a building where the objective truth will be visible. This structure is his “house” where only those will be found whom serve YaHWeH. Perhaps it is that Weissel does the same, only more subtly. He highlights the same distinction when he begins “Seek where you may” and then uses familiar “construction” terms when he refers to his building on Christ as the one foundation, as if to say “Build whatever buildings you desire in this life. In the end, they will crumble. The eternal church is built on Christ, and my hope is in Him!”

Stanzas one and two are inextricably linked in that stanza two is cut from a similar pattern as stanza one. As each unfolds with the rhetorical tone of encouraging the reader to “seek” a solution to the sin problem, the reader is drawn to recognize the obvious solution, which is that Christ is not one redemptive foundation among many, but rather He is the only One to be sought (Matthew 11:3). He is the only unwavering foundation proven when all others have failed (Psalm 49:7-9). His Word is the source of certainty. The works of His life, death, resurrection, and ascension endure eternal authority over sin, death, and the power of the devil. The guilty, by faith in Christ as the only way (John 14:6), now stand before God justified and guiltless. Wiessel’s words, therefore, become a poetic rendition of the summary given by the Apostle Paul in his epistle to the Romans (8:28-39), a Gospel review which confesses that no matter what happens in this life, all things work for the good of those who believe in the Son. Nothing can separate a believer from the love of God in Jesus Christ. The foundation and cornerstone remains (1 Corinthians 3:11), and through faith in this Gospel, the believer is a conqueror in all things.

The reader has been carried to the firm locale of Christ as the only solution and so now the hymn continues toward capping the discussion by applying faith in Christ to life in this world. Stanza three moves to deliver with familiar language (“O seek Him first”) the Gospel promises of God’s abundant grace in all times of need (Matthew 6:19-21, 25-34) and the certainty of an overflowing abundance of mercy to live in this life as His forgiven child (Luke 6:37, 38).

In stanza four, the hymn shifts from 2nd person to 1st person, bringing the hymn to conclusion by declaring to the reader the personal certainty of the hymn writer with regard to the world to come, that is, the world inherited through faith in Jesus Christ (Matthew 25:34; John 15:18-19) revealed by His Word. It is by the word of the Gospel (both in its verbal and visible forms) that the one now singing is led in the way of salvation, knowing that even in the face of persecution and death, nothing can sever him from the God’s love in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:35-39). In this, the faith is kept and the crown of eternal life is given (Psalm 119:105; 2 Timothy 4:7, 8).

Reverend Christopher I. Thoma +

Bibliography

Aufdemberge, 411-12; EKG Hb, 3/2:196-99; Fischer/Tümpel, 3:5, 9-10; Polack, 273-74.

Norton, Charles Eliot. Historical Studies of Church-building in the Middle Ages. Harper and Brothers, 1880.

Schaff, Philip. History of the Christian Church – Volume III: Nicene and Post-Nicene Christianity A.D. 311-600. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1995.

Schaff, Philip. History of the Christian Church – Volume V: The Middle Ages A.D. 1049-1294. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1995.


[1] Norton, 16-22.

[2] Schaff surmises by his studies of various sources regarding Christian architecture that “(T)he cathedrals of the middle ages were the expression of religious praise and devotion and entirely the work of the Church… They were not due to the papacy but to the devotion of the cities, nobles, and people” (Volume V, 581-82). Schaff continues that within the church’s history, its buildings for worship were to be understood as required structures designed to provide “the suitable outward theatre for public worship of God, to build houses of God among men, where he may hold fellowship with his people and bless them with his heavenly gifts” (Volume III, 541).