Hymns to Observe Lent

One way to remember Christ and his death and resurrection during the forty days of Lent and into the Easter feast is to remember and sing the great hymns of the church. In 2009 I took a survey and posted about the 100 favorite hymns of my readers. You’re welcome to use my list or just grab a hymnal and make up your own. Here are few miscellaneous quotations I jotted down back when I was reading about hymns and hymn writers.

“There is no getting away from the centrality of death as a theme in Victorian hymnody.” ~Abide With Me by Ian C. Bradley.

Horatius Bonar to the editors of Hymns, Ancient and Modern, a famous and influential Anglican hymnal of the late 1800’s: “You are welcome to the use of my hymns. As to the charge, it seems to me of little moment, and you can do with it as you please.”

” . . . hymns and other devotional writings are –or ought to be–an exception to the laws of copyright and property. They are, I think, written pro bono Eccclesiae and ought to be considered as public church property.” ~Francis Pott

“Let me write the hymns of the church, and I care not who writes the theology.” ~R. W. Dale.

“A good hymn is the most difficult thing in the world to write. In a good hymn, you have to be both commonplace and poetical.” ~Alfred, Lord Tennyson.

1840 letter to the British Critic: “There cannot be a more miserable bondage than to be compelled to join in the so-called hymns which, rising and spreading from the conventicles, now infest our churches. They are full of passionate and exaggerated descriptions of moods of mind and unqualified descriptions of spiritual experience.”

“Not allowed to sing that tune or this tune? Indeed! Secular music, do you say? Belongs to the devil, does it? Well, if it did I would plunder him of it. . . . Every note and every strain and every harmony is divine and belongs to us.” ~William Booth, founder of the Salvation Army.

“That settles it! Why should the devil have all the best tunes?” ~WIlliam Booth.

“The pronouns ‘I’ and ‘my’ are rarely found in any ancient hymns. But in modern hymns the individual often detaches himself from the body of the faithful and in a spirit of sentimental selfishness obtrudes his own feelings concerning himself.” ~Bishop Christopher Wordsworth

I’m praying that an excursion through the hymns of the church will turn your focus God-ward during this Lenten and Easter season. . .

Semicolon Top 100 Hymns Project, 2009.
Center for Church Music
Homeschool Hymn Studies
Hymn Time: The CyberHymnal
LifeSpring! Hymn Stories
Oremus Hymnal
Wordwise Hymns

What I Learned from Psalm 19

As we read this psalm together this morning, I thought, “Ah, I know this one. I’ve sung it and read it and written notes in my Bible about it. How comfortingly familiar!”

The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge.
There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard.
Their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world.
In the heavens he has pitched a tent for the sun,
which is like a bridegroom coming forth from his pavilion,
like a champion rejoicing to run his course.
It rises at one end of the heavens and makes its circuit to the other;
nothing is hidden from its heat.

The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul.
The statutes of the LORD are trustworthy, making wise the simple.
The precepts of the LORD are right, giving joy to the heart.
The commands of the LORD are radiant, giving light to the eyes.
The fear of the LORD is pure, enduring forever.
The ordinances of the LORD are sure and altogether righteous.
They are more precious than gold, than much pure gold;
they are sweeter than honey, than honey from the comb.
By them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward.

Who can discern his errors? Forgive my hidden faults.
Keep your servant also from willful sins; may they not rule over me.
Then will I be blameless, innocent of great transgression.
May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight,
O LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer.

And yet, there is always more to be gleaned from God’s Word. First of all, we are without excuse before the glory and righteousness of the Lord. The fool says in his heart: “There is no God.” “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.” (Romans 1:20)

Second, I should love God’s commandments, His standards, because they revive me, make me wise, give joy and light, give warning of danger, bring rewards to those who keep them. I need to remember and remind my children that keeping God’s law is meant to give us joy and to bring Him glory. His burden is light because His commands are altogether righteous.

Finally, I can try to please God, but always realizing that I can’t even see most of the ways in which I fail to meet His standard. I am poor and blind and full of self. God is my Rock and my Redeemer, and the only way I can begin to live a life of joy and obedience is for the Holy Spirit to be my Teacher and my Revealer of Truth.

What I learned: God is Creator, Law-Giver, and Heart-Changer.

Soundtrack for the Book of Esther

I’ve been reading and studying the book of Esther all month. Here are a few songs that go well with the themes of Esther: courage, trust, God’s sovereignty, our willing obedience.

God of Grace and God of Glory by Harry Emerson Fosdick. Grant us the wisdom of a Mordecai and the courage of an Esther.

God Moves in a Mysterious Way by William Cowper. God is always at work behind the scenes. “He fashions all his bright designs and works his sovereign will.”
Listen to song sample at Sovereign Grace Ministries.

Oh, God Our Help in Ages Past by Isaac Watts. Tune by Hannah Jackson. “Under the shadow of Thy throne, thy saints have dwelt secure; sufficient is Thine arm alone, and our defence is sure.”
Leaning on the Everlasting Arms by Elisha Hoffman. We’re safe and secure from all alarms, leaning on His everlasting arms.

Be Still, My Soul by Katharina von Schlegel. “Thy God doth undertake to guide the future as He has the past.”

What songs would you suggest to go along with the themes in the book of Esther?

Hymn #1: Be Thou My Vision

Lyrics: Attributed to Saint Dallon Fargaill (6th century)
Translated to English by Mary E. Byrne (1905)
Versified by Eleanor Hull (1912)

Music: Irish folk melody, SLANE.

After this, the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision: “Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your very great reward.” Genesis 15:1.

For the LORD gives wisdom, and from his mouth come knowledge and understanding. Proverbs 2:10

And there before me was the glory of the God of Israel, as in the vision I had seen in the plain. Ezekiel 8:4.

And afterward, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions. Joel 2:28.

I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. Ephesians 1:17.

David Nevue, piano arrangement:

Listen to this hymn in Gaelic:

Eleanor M. Hull, in her 1912 Poem Book of the Gael wrote this poetic translation of the old Irish hymn dating back to the eighth, perhaps the sixth, century:

Be Thou my Vision, O Lord of my heart;
Naught be all else to me, save that Thou art.
Thou my best Thought, by day or by night,
Waking or sleeping, Thy presence my light.

Be Thou my Wisdom, and Thou my true Word;
I ever with Thee and Thou with me, Lord;
Thou my great Father, I Thy true son;
Thou in me dwelling, and I with Thee one.

Be Thou my battle Shield, Sword for the fight;
Be Thou my Dignity, Thou my Delight;
Thou my soul’s Shelter, Thou my high Tower:
Raise Thou me heavenward, O Power of my power.

Riches I heed not, nor man’s empty praise,
Thou mine Inheritance, now and always:
Thou and Thou only, first in my heart,
High King of Heaven, my Treasure Thou art.

High King of Heaven, my victory won,
May I reach Heaven’s joys, O bright Heaven’s Sun!
Heart of my own heart, whatever befall,
Still be my Vision, O Ruler of all.

Patrick Joyce published the traditional Irish tune Slane, named for a hill near Tara where St. Patrick challenged the druid priests in lighting the paschal fire. Hull’s words and the traditional tune were paired in the Irish Church Hymnal in 1919, and lo, we have Be Thou My Vision, a reminder of the vision of Celtic Christianity and the baptized imagination of medieval Celtic Christians who saw God as the mighty High King of Heaven, ruling over all things and at the same time immanent and intimately present in our lives.

Popular Hymns.com: Desktop Backgrounds for Be Thou My Vision.

Christianity Today Library: Be Thou My Vision.

Hymn #2: Amazing Grace

Lyrics: John Newton

Music: Unknown


But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions – it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast. [Ephesians 2:4-9, NIV]

Everyone knows the story of John Newton, the slave trader who experienced God’s amazing grace, left his slaving and his own slavery to sin, and became a pastor and the author of this most amazing of hymns. However, this video featuring Wintley Phipps at Carnegie tells what is perhaps The Rest of the Story: (If not, it should be!)

Amazing grace! How sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost, but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see.
’Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,
And grace my fears relieved.
How precious did that grace appear
The hour I first believed.

Through many dangers, toils and snares
I have already come;
’Tis grace hath brought me safe thus far
And grace will lead me home.

The Lord has promised good to me
His word my hope secures;
He will my shield and portion be,
As long as life endures.

Yea, when this flesh and heart shall fail,
and mortal life shall cease,
I shall possess within the veil,
A life of joy and peace.

The earth shall soon dissolve like snow,
The sun forbear to shine;
But God, who call’d me here below,
Will be forever mine.

Most versions include an additional verse, not written by John Newton:
When we’ve been there ten thousand years,
Bright shining as the sun,
We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise
Than when we’d first begun.

This verse probably became known with Harriet Beecher Stowe’s novel, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, in which Uncle Tom sings these lyrics.

This is the (Chris Tomlin) version we usually sing in my church these days:

And here’s ye olde bagpipe version:

AMAZING GRACE the song and the story of it…

John Newton’s Epitaph

The epitaph on John Newton’s gravestone says:

JOHN NEWTON, Clerk [preacher]
Once an infidel and libertine
A servant of slaves in Africa,
Was, by the rich mercy
of our Lord and Saviour
restored, pardoned and
appointed to preach
the Gospel which he had
long laboured to destroy.
He ministered,
Near sixteen years in Olney, in Bucks,
And twenty eight years in this Church.

By the way, I fully expected this hymn to be number one on the list, but the point spread between this one and the one that did win the most points was significant. Anyone want to guess what the most loved hymn in my survey was before I reveal it tomorrow?

Semicolon Review of Peace Like a River by Leif Enger

Reprint from May, 2005:

Peace Like a River tells the story of the Land family, father Jeremiah, two sons, Davy and Reuben, and a daughter, Swede. The children’s mother walked out on them long before the time of the novel. Reuben, eleven years old, tells the story. Davy is sixteen when the story starts, and Reuben looks up to his older brother even though the two of them are very different. The central salient fact of Reuben’s life is his asthma; Davy is the epitome of the strong older brother.

“Davy wanted life to be something you did on your own; the whole idea of a protective, fatherly God annoyed him. I would understand this better in years to come, but never subscribe to it, for I was weak and knew it. I hadn’t the strength or the instincts of my immigrant forbears. The weak must bank on mercy–without which, after all, I wouldn’t have lasted fifteen minutes.”

Of course, this statement of Reuben’s is reminiscent of Jesus’ saying to the Pharisees: “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Mark 2:17) Not that Davy is a Pharisee; he’s more like a lost sheep, an exile, by his own choice, from grace. Reuben, because of his asthma, knows that it is only by the grace of God, by a miracle, that he is able to breathe in and out. When crisis comes to the Land family, it is Reuben who survives and lives a healthy life, and Davy who is lost.

The language in this novel is beautiful. The author, Leif Enger, worked for many years as a reporter and a producer for Minnesota Public Radio, and the poetic, yet sparkling clear, language in this his first novel is obviously the work of a fine craftsman of words. Examples:

“No grudge ever had a better nurse.”

“Since that fearful night, Dad had responded with an almost impossible work of belief. . . . He had laid up prayer as with a trowel. You know this is true, and if you don’t it is I the witness who am to blame.”

“Listening to Dad’s guitar, halting yet lovely in the search for phrasing, I thought: Fair is whatever God wants to do.”

This last quote gives one of the central themes of the book. God is. He has compassion on the weak, on those who know their need of Him. But He doesn’t always work in the way we want, doesn’t make the story turn out the way we want it to end, doesn’t always give us the miracle. Toward the end of Peace Like a River there’s a wonderfully written chapter in which the narrator describes heaven. The chapter seems to owe something to C.S. Lewis, but it’s as good an imaginative description as Lewis ever wrote himself. Finally, at the very end of the novel, Rueben tells the reader:

“I breathe deeply, and certainty enters into me like light, like a piece of science, and curious music seems to hum inside my fingers.
Is there a single person on whom I can press belief?
No sir.
All I can do is say, Here’s how it went. Here’s what I saw.
I’ve been there and am going back.
Make of it what you will.”

Rueben is a witness as all Christians are. May I be as strong a witness in my weakness to God’s grace and mercy.

Hymn #3: It Is Well With My Soul

Lyrics: Horatio Spafford, 1873.

Music: VILLE DU HAVRE by Philip Bliss, 1876.

Theme: And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we[b] also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. Romans 5:2b-4.

Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory. I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. Romans 8:17-18.

I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead. Philippians 3:10-11.

Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. I Peter 4:12-13.

When peace like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.
It is well, with my soul,
It is well, with my soul,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.

Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,
Let this blest assurance control,
That Christ has regarded my helpless estate,
And hath shed His own blood for my soul.

My sin, oh, the bliss of this glorious thought!
My sin, not in part but the whole,
Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more,
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!

For me, be it Christ, be it Christ hence to live:
If Jordan above me shall roll,
No pang shall be mine, for in death as in life,
Thou wilt whisper Thy peace to my soul.

But Lord, ’tis for Thee, for Thy coming we wait,
The sky, not the grave, is our goal;
Oh, trump of the angel! Oh, voice of the Lord!
Blessed hope, blessed rest of my soul.

And Lord, haste the day when my faith shall be sight,
The clouds be rolled back as a scroll;
The trump shall resound, and the Lord shall descend,
Even so, it is well with my soul.

Almost everyone knows the general outline of the story behind this well-loved hymn: In 1871, Horatio Spafford’s only son died. Also in October of that year The Great Chicago Fire ruined Spafford financially. In 1873, he sent his family, wife Anna and four daughters, on a ship to Europe; Spafford was to follow as soon as he had wound up some business affairs. The ship carrying Spafford’s family collided with another ship and sank. All four of the Spafford daughters drowned; only Anna survived. She sent a telegram to her husband with only two words: “Saved alone.” As Mr. Spafford passed over the Atlantic near the place where his daughters died, he was inspired to write the words of this hymn.

In 1881, the Spaffords, including two new baby girls, moved to Palestine and helped start a communal mission called The American Colony with the mission of serving the poor. The colony later became the subject of the Nobel prize winning Jerusalem, by Swedish novelist Selma Lagerlöf. Leif Enger also named his novel Peace Like a River from the lyrics to this hymn.

Wednesday’s Whatever: I Like Lists

Especially book lists:
Time’s Top 10 Literary Hoaxes. This list is interesting, but it’s really the Top Ten Mostly Recent Literary Hoaxes. I’ve written about a couple of others that were perpetrated in the past:
Leonainie: The Poet Poe in Kokomo
Chatterton, the Wonderful Whelp.

C. Michael Patton’s Top Fifteen Must Have Books on Apologetics.

In light of today’s hymn (tba), Randy Alcorn’s bibliography of books about suffering and the Christian.

Also related to hymns, here’s a list of some of the hymnbooks that I have in my collection:

The Cokesbury Hymnal, For General Use in Religious Meetings, Printed in Round and Shaped Notes With Orchestration. Music Editor: Harold Hart Todd. Nashville, Tennessee: Cokesbury Press, 1923.

The Cokesbury Worship Hymnal. General Editor: C.A. Bowen. New York/Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1938.

All-American Church Hymnal. An inspiring Book of Hymns and contemporary Songs, practical and resourceful for use in all phases of religious services for Churches, Tabernacles, Sunday Schools, and Homes. Compiled by Earl Smith and John T. Benson. Nashville, Tennessee: John T. Benson Publishing, n.d.

Triumphant Service Songs. No publisher, no date. This one seems to have been published by the Homer Rodeheaver Company.

The Broadman Hymnal, Great Standard Hymns and Choice Gospel Songs New and Old, for Use in all Religious Services, such as the Worship Hour, Sunday School, Young People’s Meetings, Assemblies, and Evangelistic Services. Music Editor: B.B. McKinney. Nashville, Tennessee: Broadman Press, 1940. These were the “old hymnals” that we used at our church when I was growing up, banished to the Sunday School rooms upstairs, but not good (new) enough for the main worship auditorium.

Voices of Praise, A Collection of Standard Hymns and Gospel Songs Published for Use in the Worship Hour, Sunday Schools, Young People’s Meetings, Evangelistic Services, and all Christian Work and Worship. Editor and Compiler: BB. McKinney. Nashville, Tennessee: Broadman Press, 1947.

Worldwide Church Songs. Compiled by The Stamps Quartets. Dallas, Texas: Stamps Quartet Music Company, Inc., 1947.

Church Service Hymns, a superior collection of Hymns and Gospel Songs for every department of church work. Compiled by Homer Rodeheaver and George W. Sanville. Music Editor: B.D. Ackley. Winona Lake, Indiana: The Rodeheaver Hall-Mack Co., 1948.

Baptist Hymnal. Edited by Walter Hines Sims. Nashville, Tennessee: Convention Press, 1956. I was born in 1957 and grew up singing from this particular edition of the Baptist Hymnal.

Worship and Service Hymnal, For Church, School, and Home. Chicago: Hope Publishing Company, 1957.

Baptist Hymnal. Nashville, Tennessee: Convention Press, 1975. I remember when this Baptist Hymnal replaced the old 1956 edition. We thought we were really up to date, contemporary.

The Hymnal 1982, according to the use of the Episcopal Church. New York: Church Hymnal Corporation, 1982.

The Hymnal for Worship and Celebration. Senior Editor: Tom Fettke. Waco, Texas: Word Music, 1986.

The Baptist Hymnal. Nashville, Tennessee: Convention Press, 1991. I wonder if my old home church in West Texas uses this hymnal now or if they simply project the lyrics on a screen as we do in my current (not Baptist) church?

I really like hymnbooks.

Hymn #4: A Mighty Fortress Is Our God

Lyrics: Martin Luther, translated to English by Frederick H. Hedge.

Music: EIN FESTE BURG by Martin Luther.

Theme: God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.
Therefore will not we fear, though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea;
Though the waters thereof roar and be troubled, though the mountains shake with the swelling thereof.
Psalm 46:1-3

Martin Luther: ‘If any man despises music, as all fanatics do, for him I have no liking; for music is a gift and grace of God, not an invention of men. Thus it drives out the devil and makes people cheerful. Then, one forgets all wrath, impurity, and other devices.”

This video features Mahalia Jackson singing this hymn as it should be sung: slow, stately, full-toned, and powerful.

Fun facts and links related to A MIghty Fortress is Our God:

Luther played the lute and paid his school fees through the money he earned singing in the streets of Eisenach. He later said, “The one who sings, prays double.”

When discouraged, Luther is said to have turned to his friend and co-worker Philip Melancthon and said, “Let us sing the 46th Psalm.” A Mighty Fortress is, of course, a paraphrase of Psalm 46.

Go here to read an alternate English translation of this hymn: A Safe Stronghold Our God Is Still by Thomas Carlyle.

And here’s yet another translation: God Is a Stronghold and a Tower by Elizabeth Wordsworth, 1891.

A Mighty Fortress was sung at the funeral of President Dwight D. Eisenhower at the National Cathedral in Washington DC, March, 1969. And it was also included in the National Service of Prayer and Remembrance, held shortly after the September 11, 2001 attacks against America.

A mighty fortress is our God, a bulwark never failing;
Our helper He, amid the flood of mortal ills prevailing:
For still our ancient foe doth seek to work us woe;
His craft and power are great, and, armed with cruel hate,
On earth is not his equal.

Did we in our own strength confide, our striving would be losing;
Were not the right Man on our side, the Man of God’s own choosing:
Dost ask who that may be? Christ Jesus, it is He;
Lord Sabaoth, His Name, from age to age the same,
And He must win the battle.

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:
The Prince of Darkness grim, we tremble not for him;
His rage we can endure, for lo, his doom is sure,
One little word shall fell him.

That word above all earthly powers, no thanks to them, abideth;
The Spirit and the gifts are ours through Him Who with us sideth:
Let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also;
The body they may kill: God’s truth abideth still,
His kingdom is forever.

Center for Church Music.
A Mighty Fortress Is Our God: Hymns as Poetry.