Thank you to Hymns that Preach:
“WE GATHER TOGETHER” is listed as a Thanksgiving hymn in most modern hymnals but its origin predates our first American Thanksgiving. It began as a Dutch folk song and was crafted into a celebration hymn of petition and praise to God for His guidance and deliverance through times of religious persecution in 1597.
Some of the political overtones in this hymn are apparent. For example, the phrase, “The wicked oppressing now cease from distressing,” is an allusion to the persecution of Christians under the policies of Spain. The Dutch Protestants struggled against Spain for their political independence, and against the Catholic Church for their religious freedom. Thousands had been massacred and hundreds of homes burned by the Spanish in 1576 during the siege of Antwerp.
In 1597, in the Battle of Turnhout, Prince Maurice of Orange defeated the Spanish occupiers of a town in, what is now, the Netherlands.
Prior to that battle, they had been prohibited from worshiping under the Spanish king, Phillip II. The Dutch Christians celebrated the victory by borrowing a familiar folk melody and giving it new words. The very first line, “We Gather Together” was a bold, political declaration of their new freedom to worship together. The hymn first appeared in print in a 1626 collection of Dutch patriotic songs.
Had Prince William of Orange, the brother of Maurice, not led the Dutch to throw off King Phillip’s rule, there, likely, would not have been any safe haven for English, Welsh, and Scottish Protestants who had fled from persecutions under the Roman Catholic and the Anglican national leadership.
Some of those Dutch Christians were the Puritan Pilgrims. They brought the hymn with them to the New World in 1620.
The thanksgiving feast held at the Plymouth Bay Colony might never have occurred had there not been victories like the one this hymn celebrates.
Dutch Christians rarely sang anything, in their church services, that was not directly from the pages of Scripture (primarily the Psalms). But in 1937, the Christian Reformed Church made a controversial decision to permit other hymns to be sung in church. “We Gather Together” was chosen as the first entry in their new hymnal.
Today, even though much of our nation has turned away from God, our “gathering together” in the name of the Lord still stands as a remembrance of those times of oppression, persecution, and death, in Scotland and England. And, so we give thanks to God for His protection, for His providential care, and for His abundant blessings.
He is with us always no matter what comes!
Praising the LORD! Glory to His name!