In the words of Terry L. Bresinger “I consider the traditional versus contemporary debate to be somewhat troubling. The question of hymns and choruses goes well beyond musical preferences. While I deeply enjoy much of what we call contemporary music, I fear that by discarding traditional music and various forms altogether, we may in fact be discarding the past. Hymns from various time periods, for example, provide windows into the experiences of the community of faith at that time. Were we to make the effort to learn them and understand the situations out of which they developed, we might discover riches that we never knew were there before. (Brensinger: A Theology of Worship).
This poem, written by an unknown author, also explains why I like delving into the theology and back story of a hymn:
The Power Of A Christian Song
There's something about a fine old hymn That can stir the heart of a man, woman, child; That can reach to the goal of his/her inmost soul Such as no mere preaching can. It's more than the tune of the song being sung And it's more than the verses' rhyme - It's the Spirit of God working through these things That gives them their power sublime! So we thank Thee, Lord, for the fine old hymns; May we use them again and again As we seek to save from a hopeless grave The souls of our fellow kin.
I grew up in a Methodist household. The church we attended sang wonderful hymns like How Great Thou Art; Holy, Holy, Holy; And Can It Be; It Is Well With My Soul; On Christ The Solid Rock I Stand, and so many others. At my family’s reunions held in July at the church built by ancestors who’d come from England to Wisconsin for religious freedom hymns were a mainstay of the event. To listen to a large gathering of relatives singing in four-part harmony wonderful words of life and God be with you til we meet again stirred my soul to ponder these words, to ponder upon God and His rich love.
John Calvin, in his commentary about the Psalms says this: “I have been accustomed to call this book… “An Anatomy of all the Parts of the Soul,” for there is not an emotion of which one can be conscious that is not here represented as in a mirror… …[and] they call, or rather draw, each of us to the examination of ourselves in particular so that none of the many infirmities to which we are subject, and the vices with which we abound, may remain concealed.”
I think hymns do a similar thing.
In my thirties I wrote a song for my Dad. He used to sing hymns to me when I was little as he tucked me into bed. I incorporated many lines from hymns in this song: Here are the lyrics:
Dad's Song On a hill far away, stood an old rugged cross, the emblem of suff'ring and shame and I love that old cross where the dearest and best for a world of lost sinners was slain........ My Father used to sing to me "The Old Rugged Cross" Tucked me in and rubbed my back and said "good night my child." His tenor voice would fill the room with sweet refrains of hymns And in my tender childhood days I knew I'd trust in Him Images of Jesus' death emblazened in my mind "Wondrous'ly attracting me to the Dear Lamb of God"* "Amazing Grace" has saved my soul and "It Is Well" "I Love To Tell The Story" that "Jesus Paid It All." As Father and Daughter we've travled rough roads And I never thanked my father for singing me those hymns I pray that in his twilight years he knows I've forgiven him Pain and darkness are turning to peace in my Heavenly Father's hands “Christ has regarded my helpless estate”*** “Gives me grace for every trial”**** I hope his soul has answered Him and His glory forever he shares. So I'll cherish the old rugged cross, where my trophies at last I'll lay down I will cling to the old rugged cross, and exchange it someday for a crown. I'm passing on the good things to children of my own Singing them the hymns I heard and grew to love so "Blest Be The Ties" and "God Be With You", "I'm Going Home" Songs rich in truth passed lovingly from him to me to them. To the old rugged cross I will ever be true, it's shame and reproach gladly bear Then He'll call me someday to my home far away where His glory forever I'll share So I'll cherish the old rugged cross, where my trophies at last I'll lay down I will cling to the old rugged cross, and exchange it someday for a crown. --------------------------------- Copyright 1996 - All Rights Reserved : * Line excerpted from "The Old Rugged Cross":"The Old Rugged Cross" copyright 1913 by George Bernard. ** Line excerpted from "Battle Hymn of the Republic"; ***Line excerpted from “It Is Well” ****Line exerpted from “All The Way My Saviour Leads Me” Words and music by Beth M. Symanzik ----- 5/23/1996
I was trying to find words to explain the importance of hymns in a Christian’s life and I found this article that explains so well what I wanted to say. Below are some excerpts taken from the full article that can be found at:
- Many hymns actually are born out of meditation upon scripture – an art we desperately need to relearn. Tim Keller (pastor at Redeemer Church in NYC) says meditation is thinking a truth in [into your heart] and then thinking it out [thinking out the implications of this truth for your life etc.] That is what the hymns help us do as they take their theme and turn it over and let us gaze upon it from all different angles. And they often will suggest (though by no means do they ever exhaust) ways in which this truth should change our lives. In this way they model how to meditate upon scripture and the truths of the gospel. This is not just a happy coincidence, it is born out of the fact that hymns are usually the result of meditation in the first place. A great example of this is “How Sweet the Name of Jesus Sounds” by John Newton (18th century.) We have the notes from Newton’s sermon the day he introduced this hymn to his congregation and it reveals that his text was “Thy Name is as ointment poured forth” (Song of Solomon 1:3). As he reflected upon that text all week he saw its fulfillment in Jesus and the implication for the trials and tribulations of the Christian’s life. When was the last time you got that much out of meditating on Song of Solomon 1:3?
- Hymns offer a more full emotional range of expression.Dan Allender (author and Christian counselor) has said that if we sang more Psalms we would have a lot less need for Christian counselors.
- Hymns are theology on fire.We need solid theology rather than just a constant diet of fluff and fads. Hymns are a great way to wrestle with theology because they connect theology to life and worship rather than allowing theology to just puff us up as disconnected truths that we memorize to impress our friends. J.I. Packer (in the introduction to “Knowing God”) says it is vital for us to turn what we know about God into a basis for praising God – and hymns are wonderful vehicles for this.
- Hymns remind us that the church is bigger than the people we know, or even who are alive today. Through hymns we can connect with believers who lived centuries before us. We can have “mystic sweet communion, with those whose rest is won” (from “The Church’s One Foundation” by Stone). When I introduce people to Anne Steele’s hymns (like “Dear Refuge of My Weary Soul”) they are struck by the powerful way she dealt with her immense suffering and find that her cries can become their cries, and her tears can join with their tears, and that her faith can encourage their faith. To see that we can connect with an English lady who lived in a small village 300 years ago and feel what she felt is powerful. All of the sudden the kingdom of God grows much bigger. Thus it really helps to study the stories behind the hymns.
So, pull out a hymnal and sing!!!!