Give to our God immortal praise;
Mercy and Truth are all His ways;
Wonders of Grace to God belong,
Repeat His mercies in your song.
I have never been a musician in any technical sense of the word. I can play C, G & F on a guitar and sometimes D, A & G if my voice can stand it. Consequently, novices like me are not acceptable critics of today’s high-tech and high-energy music. I have seen the eyes gloss over when the evaluations are merely offered, much less encouraged. These few paragraphs are an offering of a different sort. They are a few words of praise for great hymns of the church spanning the last four or five centuries. For some time now I have played audio tapes of famous choirs singing these songs and I listen while reading the words on the cover or from a book. This can make 450 miles of Kansas freeway go a lot faster! The experience has been both enlightening and encouraging. I am not advocating returning to these songs exclusively nor excluding newer songs. I am simply praising some very great musical history of our not too distant past.
1. This is music produced by the church, not the world. Over the years it has retained its unique sound of being church music. Who could mistake the 17th century Welsh melody, Immortal, Invisible, or the 16th century Italian hymn, Come Thou Almighty King, as being the music of the church!
2. The language and style of these songs brings you to its level, and seldom the reverse. Consider the second verse of Charles Wesley’s Behold The Servant Of The Lord:
Me if thy grace vouchsafe to use,
Meanest of all thy creatures, me.
The deed, the time, the manner choose,
Yet all my fruit be found in thee.
3. The songs are full of biblical analogies that the unread may likely miss. In John Newton’s How Sweet The Name Of Jesus Sounds, hear:
Jesus! My Shepherd, Brother, Friend.
My Prophet, Priest and King.
My Lord, my Life, my Way, my End.
Accept the praise I bring.
4. To use these songs on a regular basis for worship today would require a long process of indoctrination for which our people would probably not have the patience. It is interesting, for example, that almost all of these songs, especially before the 19th century, did not have choruses and the verses must be taken in order, not leaving any out. It demands a lot more concentration than other types of songs.
5. Most of these songs are doctrinal in nature. If you know and understand the doctrine, you love them! But if the doctrine means nothing to you, neither will the song. Consider Isaac Watt’s Come Let Us Join where we are invited to join the angels’ song around the throne:
‘Worthy the Lamb that died,’ they cried,
‘To be exalted thus!’
‘Worthy the Lamb,’ our lips reply,
‘For He was slain for us!’
We, not angels, are subjects of Christ’s propitiation.
6. Satan and his devils are respected but given no place of power or authority over believers. In Earth, Rejoice, Our Lord is King, Wesley writes:
Though the sons of night blaspheme,
More there are with us than them;
God with us, we cannot fear,
Fear, ye fiends, for Christ is here!
7. The songs do not look for an escape from trials and troubles of the Christian life. Rather, grace is sought to give the believer endurance through the trial. William Cowper, in Sometimes A Light Surprises, writes:
It can bring with it nothing,
But He will bear us through;
Who gives the lilies clothing
Will clothe His people too.
8. These songs are full of observations and lessons about nature. Their’s was an age that obviously lived in awe of God’s creation. Perhaps best known is Francis of Assisi’s All Creatures Of Our God And King (and also Babcock’s This Is My Father’s World) in which he writes five long verses about love and respect for God’s creation. The second verse is continuing a string of praises:
Thou rushing wind thou art so strong,
Ye clouds that sail in heav’n along,
Thou rising morn in praise rejoice,
Ye lights of evening find a voice.
O Praise Him, O Praise Him,
9. Seldom, if ever, are self-styled evangelistic stories put to song. Rather we hear prayers to God for His enablement to evangelize. Listen to Wesley writing:
I would the precious time redeem,
And longer live for this alone;
To spend, and to be spent, for them
Who have not yet my Saviour known;
Fully on Thee my mission prove,
And only breathe, to breathe thy love.
10. In sharp contrast to more contemporary songs, is the almost complete silence of concern about self, and total emphasis on worshiping and praising God alone. Here you can just about turn to any page and listen: Oliver’s The God Of Abram Praise; Whiting’s Eternal Father Strong To Save; Neander’s Praise Ye The Lord, The Almighty. From Joachim Neander (17th century) comes a fitting admonition, in the last verse of his song, with which to conclude:
Praise ye the Lord,
O let all that is in me adore Him!
All that hath life and breath
Come now with praises before Him!
Let the A-men
Sound from His people again:
Gladly for aye
We adore Him!
Note: Two tape series’ which I enjoyed are: The Hymn Makers (St. Michael’s Singers from the Coventry Cathedral in London). Hymns Triumphant (the London Philharmonic Choir and orchestra)