Wednesday, April 09, 2008

A Lesson in Hymnody: They are Better Than You Think, Part 2

Yesterday I described my conversion experience to the joys of hymnody. Today, I want to tell you a little bit of the genius behind hymns and why it would be a great tragedy to lose that magnificent tradition. I will begin by investigation that great hymnal, The Baptist Hymnal, to tell you why I like it so much.

First, I will begin by naming a few of my favorite hymns. In no particular order they are: "Praise to the Lord, the Almighty," "A Mighty Fortress is Our God," "O Worship the King," and "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing." Here's a look at the respective authors.

The first hymn was written by Joachim Neander (1650-1680). Joachim was a member of the German Reformed Church and was one of the greatest of the early reformation hymn writers. This particular hymn is probably his greatest, and of the four verses in the hymn book, I like the second particularly well. Joachim writes:

Praise to the Lord, who o'er all things so wondrously reigneth,
Shelters thee under His wings, yea, so gently sustaineth!
Hast thou not seen How thy desires e'er have been
granted in what he ordaineth?

Ah yes! Even in tragedy the Lord guides us to the desire of our heart, which is, hopefully, conformity to the glorious image of our Lord Jesus Christ.

The second was written by none other than Martin Luther himself (1483-1546), the German leader and most outspoken proponent of the Reformation. Herr Luther reminds us to "Let good and kindred go, this mortal life also; the body they may kill: God's truth abideth still, His kingdom is forever." Amen, Brother Luther!

The third was written by Robert Grant (1739-1838). Sir Robert Grant was a member of English Parliament and the eventual governor of Bombay. Sir Grant poetically describes God's gracious provision, "Thy bountiful care what tongue can recite? It breathes in the air, it shines in the light, It streams form the hills, it descends to the plain, and sweetly distills in the dew and the rain." Wonderful poetry, is it not?

Finally, I love Charles Wesley's "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing." Charles was the brother of the famous John Wesley, and Charles lived from (1707-1788). He even had a little help on the hymn from the great George Whitefield. Now I know that technically the angels are not said to sing, but don't let that deter you from loving one of the greatest hymns ever written in the history of the world. The entire hymn is magnificent from start to finish. The second verse is probably the greatest poetic expression of the incarnation of Jesus Christ that I know of anywhere. I promise you, it just does not get much better than this:

Christ, by highest heav'n adored, Christ the everlasting Lord:
Late in time, behold Him come, offspring of a virgin's womb.
Veiled in flesh the Godhead see, Hail th'incarnate deity!
Pleased as man with men to dwell, Jesus our Immanuel.
Hark! The herald angels sing, "Glory to the newborn King."

If you'll notice, none of these contributors to the Baptist Hymnal are Baptists. Neander was a German Calvinist Reform, Robert Grant and Charles Wesley were from the Church of England, and Martin Luther was, well, he was Luther. These hymns in particular transcend denominational confessions to teach core, orthodox Christianity. Indeed, they make doctrine devotional, and for that, we are immensely in their debt.

This underscores one of the facets of the beauty of hymnody. The reason that we have these great ancient hymns is because they have spoken truth in a way that has resonated with Christians for hundreds, or perhaps even closer to a thousand years. "All Creatures of Our God and King" is included in the hymnal and was penned by Francis of Assisi who lived from 1182-1226. If the Lord should tarry, I seriously doubt any modern praise and worship song will survive the test of time as these hymns have.

Think of the richness in singing a hymn that is 300 years old. That means that when you confess this truth as you lift your voice, you are singing a song that has encouraged believers just like yourself for centuries. You are confessing the same confession, and you are worshipping the same God. The same truth about God that moves your heart in the song moved theirs as well. In every way, such hymns transcend time, culture, and language to stir the hearts of that peculiar group of people known as Christians.

Next, we will look and see why overhead projection is limited and why hymnals are in some ways superior to them. Also, we will see that the poets of the hymnbook were master wordsmiths and not necessarily musicians. Finally, I'll talk about choir and why we should encourage the younger generation to join one for the glory of God.


Anonymous said...

Bro. Brad...I thoroughly enjoyed this today - looking forward to the next installment....Thank you..


Keith Horton said...

This is one of my favorites by William Cowper..."God moves in a mysterious way" -

Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take;
The clouds ye so much dread
Are big with mercy and shall break
In blessings on your head.

Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,
But trust Him for His grace;
Behind a frowning providence
He hides a smiling face.

mmmmmmhmmm...that is good stuff.

Norma said...

About 20 years ago I read a book on music that said there was a core of about 250 hymns familiar to most Christians. The book had a little age on it then, and has since been withdrawn from the library, but I remember looking through the list and I was familiar with most.

What I don't like about reading words from a screen is that I'm losing my ability to read music--for many of us, it is our only opportunity to do that.

Congratulations on your new baby daughter. I guess now you'll have to change your "about me" story.