“Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins” (Isaiah 40:1–2).
Isaiah 40 begins with some amazing words of hope. In the midst of pending judgment, Isaiah points the nation of Judah to the coming of the Messiah. He speaks of Christ who would come and tell the weary and downcast:
“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28–30).
In 1741 George Fredrick Handel opened his oratorio Messiah with a setting of Isaiah 40. Seventy years earlier, in 1671, a German minister named Johannes Olearius fashioned the same passage into a hymn: Comfort, Comfort Ye My People. Olearius was born in 1611 (the same year the KJV translation of the Bible was completed) and he attended the University of Wittenberg (where Martin Luther had taught theology).
The hymn is set to a tune from the Genevan Psalter composed by Louis Bourgeois to fit Psalm 42. Psalm 42 includes the refrain:
Why are you cast down, O my soul,
and why are you in turmoil within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
my salvation and my God.
Olearius’ hymn is a beautiful setting of God’s words of comfort to His people. It was translated into English by Catherine Winkworth in 1863.
Comfort, Comfort Ye My People
Comfort, comfort ye my people,
Speak ye peace, thus saith our God;
Comfort those who sit in darkness,
Mourning ‘neath their sorrow’s load.
Speak ye to Jerusalem,
Of the peace that waits for them;
Tell her that her sins I cover,
And her warfare now is over.
Yea, her sins our God will pardon,
Blotting out each dark misdeed;
All that well deserved His anger
He no more will see or heed.
She has suffered many a day,
Now her griefs have passed away;
God will change her pining sadness
Into ever springing gladness.
For the herald’s voice is crying
In the darkness far and near,
Bidding all men to repentance,
Since the kingdom now is here.
O that warning cry obey!
Now prepare for God a way;
Let the valleys rise to meet Him,
And the hills bow down to greet Him.
Make ye straight what long was crooked,
Make the rougher places plain;
Let your hearts be true and humble,
As befits His holy reign.
For the glory of the Lord
Now o’er earth is shed abroad;
And all flesh shall see the token,
That His word is never broken.
“Comfort, Comfort Ye My People”
Words by Johannes Olearius, 1671
Translated by Catherine Winkworth, 1863
Music by Louis Bourgeois, 1551
Arranged from the tune GENEVAN 42
From the Genevan Psalter, 1551
Words and Music ©Public Domain
Download free sheet music (PDF), including guitar chord charts and an arrangement of the hymn tune THIRSTING for classical guitar.
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