This past week I’ve really been drawn to listen to, sing, and remember a lot of hymns. Hymns both old and new that have crossed my path at some point and that really got me thinking about hymns on a lot of different levels.
I’ve never been a hymn hater. Now I’ve also never been the type who likes the church where all you ever sing are hymns straight out of the hymnal with the organ as the only accompaniment ever. No, I’ve always been in kind of the middle ground. Some hymns are among my favorite songs while others I feel are just a lot of archaic language put to boring melodies. Just like some modern praise songs are just repetitious drivel without much musicality. Just as there are some very bad modern praise songs there are some very bad hymns. I think there is a reason that a great deal of the hymns in hymn books have slipped into obscurity. Some of them were just plain bad. Others served their purpose well for their time but now no longer resonate with the current church climate, perhaps because of archaic language, or perhaps for some other reason. But then there are those classics that continue for generations. These hymns are real treasures that combine both beautiful truth and majestic melodies. These are songs that can hit both the head and the heart like nothing else can. Songs like Amazing Grace, When I Survey the Wondrous Cross, O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing, among others have been touching lives for 200 years. Truth does not expire and the melodies in hymns such as these gives that truth the power to break down the barriers we put up and reach into our hearts.
Just as I this week have been going through a hymn revival, I feel that the North American church has recently found a renewed appreciation for hymns and has been reworking old hymns as well as beginning to write new ones. They have pulled up many of the old hymns that were being lost and reworked them for a modern audience and also written new ones that speak to the churches current needs. Several artists have spearheaded this new push for hymns. Among them are Sandra McCracken who has worked to bring back many old hymns often reworking them for modern congregations. More information can be found at newoldhymns.com which includes this great quote from Basil Manley, “We cannot afford to lose these old hymns. They are full of the Gospel; they breathe the deepest emotions of pious hearts in the noblest strains of poetry; they have been tested and approved by successive generations of those that loved the Lord; they are the surviving fittest ones from thousands of inferior productions; they are hallowed by abundant usefulness and tenderest memories.” Wow, what a great prize these hymns were to Basil Manley, and what a great prize they still are to us. Others working on this hymn revival are Keith and Kristyn Getty who have introduced a multitude of modern hymns including “In
Christ Alone”, “By Faith”, “Behold the Lamb”, “Speak O Lord”, and “Power of the Cross”. These hymns seem to me to possess something more than so many of the praise songs that flood into churches now. They hold firm solid theology, preaching the salvation story through melody in a way that congregations can proclaim. I want to finish with the lyrics of a new hymn that has recently been my favorite. The lyrics combine truth and poetry with a power that strikes me every time I sing it.
All I Have is Christ
Sovereign Grace Praise
I once was lost in darkest night
Yet thought I knew the way
The sin that promised joy and life
Had led me to the grave
I had no hope that You would own
A rebel to Your will
And if You had not loved me first
I would refuse You still
But as I ran my hell-bound race
Indifferent to the cost
You looked upon my helpless state
And led me to the cross
And I beheld God’s love displayed
You suffered in my place
You bore the wrath reserved for me
Now all I know is grace
Hallelujah! All I have is Christ
Hallelujah! Jesus is my life
Now, Lord, I would be Yours alone
And live so all might see
The strength to follow Your commands
Could never come from me
Oh Father, use my ransomed life
In any way You choose
And let my song forever be
My only boast is You
And here is a video of the song.