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Saturday, June 21, 2014

The One About Hymns

You know what bothers me about the church? We don’t sing hymns anymore. Not really. Sure we might sing a stanza of Amazing Grace from time to time, but as a whole we don’t relish the old hymns like we used to. I miss going to church and hearing words like…

“And can it be that I should gain
an interest in the Savior's blood!
Died he for me  who caused his pain!
For me who him to death pursued?
Amazing love! How can it be
that thou, my God, shouldst die for me?
He left His Father’s throne above
So free, so infinite His grace—
Emptied Himself of all but love,
And bled for Adam’s helpless race:
’Tis mercy all, immense and free,
For O my God, it found out me!”

Or lyrics like:

Oh the deep deep love of Jesus
Vast, unmeasured, boundless free
Rolling as a mighty ocean
 in its fullness over me
Underneath me All around me
Is the current of thy love
Leading onward, leading homeward to
Thy glorious rest above”                 

Or even:

“And though this world, with devils filled,
should threaten to undo us,
We will not fear, for God hath willed
His truth to triumph through us"               

WOW I wish I could write like that!!!!! You can feel the sincerity of these magnificent words. There is so much theological meaning, so much hope.  Yet this treasure collects dust in church pews around the world every week.  I’m not saying I don’t like modern music. I do enjoy some of it. But it seems that nothing we produce nowadays has the same lyrical depth, timelessness, or integrity of some of our  hymns. A popular youtube channel parodies our modern church music here. I’m afraid that they are on to something! So much of what we call music today is repetitive and lyrically inferior.

I’m not an old person. I’m still in my twenties, but I have always felt a special appreciation for quality music, including the beautiful centuries-old hymns. I think this music has enduring relevance. That’s the thing about a classic: it doesn’t go out of style. Contemporary music and musicians shine for a moment and then fade into obscurity just as quickly with people asking what happened to [insert singer/band/composer here]. Ever heard anyone say that he didn’t want to visit the Sistine Chapel or explore the Coliseum because they are dated and out of style? That’s because real music, real art, and real historical treasures do not have an expiration date.

The modern church sings uplifting praise and worship music which I do not oppose. I go to church and see theatricals and inspirational dances, and all sorts of productions, which can have a proper place, but I miss the old hymns. I miss the solemnity and reverence. I hum hymns throughout my day. They refresh me when my spirits are down and my faith is dwindling.  A few modern musicians such as Selah, Fernando Ortega, Out of Eden etc. have started to rediscover the significance of hymns. They have taken 200 year old songs and transformed them into music that is appropriate for today’s audiences, without cheapening them or burying the sacred messages in loud rock or hiphop music. Yes, a few hymns could benefit from a little modernization, but their essence, their theology has intrinsic value. 

To close this post I will leave you with the lyrics to two of my favorite hymns Let All Mortal Flesh and Once to Every Man and Nation.  

Let all mortal flesh keep silence,
And with fear and trembling stand;
Ponder nothing earthly minded,
For with blessing in His hand,
Christ our God to earth descendeth,
Our full homage to demand….
Rank on rank the host of heaven
Spreads its vanguard on the way,
As the Light of light descendeth
From the realms of endless day,
That the powers of hell may vanish
As the darkness clears away.”

“Once to every man and nation, comes the moment to decide,
In the strife of truth with falsehood, for the good or evil side;
Some great cause, some great decision, offering each the bloom or blight,
And the choice goes by forever, ’twixt that darkness and that light….
Though the cause of evil prosper, yet the truth alone is strong;
Though her portion be the scaffold, and upon the throne be wrong;
Yet that scaffold sways the future, and behind the dim unknown,
Standeth God within the shadow, keeping watch above His own.”

Pure Poetry! What do we have today that can compare?

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