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Karolina Sandell-Berg: Songs out of tragedy

August 2019 | by Alec Taylor

Lina Sandell
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Karolina Sandell was born on 3 October 1832. Her father was a Lutheran pastor and, being a frail child, she would spend hours in her father’s study rather than playing outside with other children. She grew up to become Sweden’s most celebrated author of gospel hymns, writing so many that she is often called ‘the Fanny Crosby of Sweden’. Very few of her hymns have been translated into English.

When she was 26, Karolina (or Lina as she preferred to be called) experienced a tragedy which profoundly affected the course of her life. She was crossing Lake Vättern with her father when the ship suddenly lurched. She saw her beloved father thrown overboard and drown. Lina had written hymns before, but following her bereavement she would write over 650 more.

These were beautiful hymns which greatly influenced the revival that swept across Scandinavia after 1850. The words of Lina’s hymns were enhanced in their popularity by the simple, beautiful melodies written for them, especially those of Oskar Ahnfelt who played his guitar and sang her hymns throughout Scandinavia. Lina once said that Ahnfelt sang her songs ‘into the hearts of the people’.

Lina was married in 1867 to Oskar Berg, a wholesale merchant and future member of the Swedish Parliament. They lived in Stockholm and she knew more sorrow when their only child was stillborn.

Lina became ill with typhoid fever in 1892. She died in 1903 and was buried at Solna Church in greater Stockholm. Oscar Berg died the same year due to complications caused by diabetes.

Jenny Lind, the world-famous concert vocalist known as ‘the Swedish Nightingale’, was greatly moved by Lina’s hymns and sang them in factories throughout Sweden. Lina’s hymns came from a heart which was filled with love for her Saviour and which expressed her trust in him.

In one of them, Day by Day, she had this to say:

Day by day, and with each passing moment,

Strength I find to meet my trials here;

Trusting in my Father’s wise bestowment,

I’ve no cause for worry or for fear.

He whose heart is kind beyond all measure

Gives unto each day what he deems best –

Lovingly, its part of pain and pleasure,

Mingling toil with peace and rest.

Every day, the Lord himself is near me

With a special mercy for each hour;

All my cares he fain would bear, and cheer me,

He whose name is Counsellor and Pow’r.

The protection of his child and treasure

Is a charge that on himself he laid;

‘As thy days, thy strength shall be in measure’,

This the pledge to me he made.

Help me then in every tribulation

So to trust thy promises, O Lord,

That I lose not faith’s sweet consolation

Offered me within thy holy Word.

Help me, Lord, when toil and trouble meeting,

E’er to take, as from a father’s hand,

One by one, the days, the moments fleeting,

Till I reach the promised land.

It was through the Rosenius movement that Lina Sandell became known to her countrymen as a great hymn writer. Rosenius was born on 3 February 1816, the son of a parish pastor in Norrland, Sweden. His godly parents desired that he too enter the Christian ministry.

He studied for a short time at Upsala University but he became disgusted with the low moral and spiritual standards found among the students. For a time his own faith was severely shaken. During these spiritual struggles, he came into contact with George Scott, a Methodist evangelist in Stockholm.

In 1842, Scott and Rosenius began the publication of Pietisten, a monthly magazine that was destined to play a crucial part in the spiritual revival in Sweden. Scott was obliged to leave Sweden in the same year because of violent opposition to his movement. Rosenius became his successor, not only as editor of Pietisten, but as an outstanding leader among those who longed for spiritual refreshing.

Rosenius centred his activity in the Swedish capital, preaching, writing and producing hymns. He travelled throughout Sweden, accompanied by Ahnfelt. Both of them preached and Ahnfelt sang his hymns as well as those of Lina Sandell. They encountered much persecution in their evangelical efforts but the movement rapidly spread. Numerous lay preachers (known as ‘läsare’) sprang up everywhere, holding private meetings in homes and in so-called ‘mission houses’ that were built near parish churches.

King Karl XV, ruler of the united kingdoms of Sweden and Norway, was petitioned to forbid Ahnfelt’s preaching and singing. The king refused until he had had an opportunity to hear the man known as ‘the spiritual troubadour’. Ahnfelt was commanded to appear at the royal palace. Being much concerned as to what he should sing to the king, he besought Lina Sandell to write a hymn for the occasion. She was equal to the task and within a few days the song was ready. Ahnfelt went to the palace with his guitar and the hymn in his pocket. He sang:

Who is it that knocketh upon your heart’s door

In peaceful eve?

Who is it that brings to the wounded and sore

The balm that can heal and relieve?

Your heart is still restless, it findeth no peace

In earth’s pleasures;

Your soul is still yearning, it seeketh release

To rise to the heavenly treasures.

 The king listened with tears in his eyes. When Ahnfelt had finished, he gripped Ahnfelt by the hand and exclaimed: ‘You may sing as much as you like in both of my kingdoms!’

Alec Taylor, author of Pilgrim Bible Notes, and for many years the pastor of Chelmsley Wood Baptist Church, Solihull.