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  • Writer's pictureW.S. BARNETT

HYMNS: Timeless, treasured truths touching the heart and soul

"Speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord." Ephesians 5:19

The words of the Apostle Paul in Ephesians 5:19 have always inspired me and filled me with inexpressible joy. One of the most profound hymns in my life is What A Friend We Have In Jesus. I was nine years old when my father abandoned my five siblings and me leaving our mom to raise us alone. As a child, I experienced great sadness. I remember hearing the hymn one Sunday morning at church as all six of us sat at our usual pew and worshiped. As the tears began to fall down my face, I breathed a sigh of relief that everything would be OK – that I had a Friend who understood me and the challenges I faced.

Hymns are abiding in our lives. These timeless and treasured songs that we have sung for centuries take us back to our childhood years at church. They take us back to our parents, grandparents, and the people who nurtured us with God’s word, His truth, with songs.

“We can mention only one point (which experience confirms), namely, that next to the Word of God, music deserves the highest praise. No greater commendation than this can be found — at least not by us. After all, the gift of language combined with the gift of song was only given to man to let him know that he should praise God with both word and music, namely, by proclaiming [the Word of God] through music.” Martin Luther

When we sing the hymns, we remember.

We remember our Sunday school teachers and the joy we experienced in worship and singing in the congregation and at home with family. Hymns bring us into the experiences, trials, triumphs, joys, and testimonies of great men and women who penned many powerful songs inspired by God that continue to touch and transform us and bring us near to the Cross. We are singing the same songs of Martin Luther, John Wesley, Ludwig van Beethoven, J.S. Bach, George Frideric Handel, Fannie Crosby, Daniel Iverson, Thomas Dorsey, Billy Sunday, Billy Graham, Andre Crouch, Mahalia Jackson, and others which connect us to centuries past, even as far back as the Psalmist David, Jesus, and His disciples, or the ancient Odes of Solomon sung regularly in the worship of the First Century Church.

“What a way to learn great theology! That’s what comes to mind whenever I sing one of those old hymns. “And Can It Be” is like putting the doctrine of salvation to music. “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing” is a melodic lesson in grace. No wonder good hymns make for strong faith!” Joni Eareckson Tada

When we sing hymns, we sing the words of theology

We encourage each other with the words we are singing from the depths of our hearts. But, it is not just words; we open our hearts, lift our hands, and we weep. When we arrive at this powerful, intimate moment in worship, heaven comes down, and glory fills our souls with hope, joy, and blessed assurance. When we sing, our feet are planted firmly on higher ground. Our hearts burn like the disciples on the Emmaus Road when Jesus opened the Scriptures to them. We are not yet in heaven, so not every person is singing at the same level or with the same emotion.

“It is not enough to have a song on your lips. You must also have a song in your heart.” Fannie J. Crosby

We can learn a lot about the heart and souls of people when we watch them sing, play music, or engage in corporate worship. Our hearts are united. Our emotions are united, and when they are not, we feel it. Hymns open our souls, and they enable us to taste and see the goodness of God and to hear His still, quiet voice. The Spirit works in the music, redeeming and restoring us as we remember the love, sacrifice, and blessed hope of redemption.

“Jesus! it is the name which moves the harps of heaven to melody. Jesus! the life of all our joys. If there be one name more charming, more precious than another, it is this name. It is woven into the very warp and woof of our psalmody. Many of our hymns begin with it, and scarcely any, that are good for anything, end without it. It is the sum total of all delights. It is the music with which the bells of heaven ring; a song in a word; an ocean for comprehension, although a drop for brevity; a matchless oratorio in two syllables; a gathering up of the hallelujahs of eternity in five letters.” Charles H. Spurgeon

Hymns are living testaments to the faithfulness of God.

Hymns are both cathartic and nostalgic, connecting us to our past, inspiring us with hope today, and they usher us into a promised future in Glory. When we sing a hymn like John Newton’s Amazing Grace, all the memories attached with it instantly come back to us, and we are right there at the graveside of a parent or child, alone in prayer, imprisoned, or engulfed with fear and doubt. We remember and sing praises and thanksgiving to the Lord for His grace and mercies that have endured forever in our lives. Amazing Grace speaks to the African American experience of slavery, racism, emotional and spiritual captivity and brings hope and freedom in Christ.

“Precious Lord, take my hand, lead me on, let me stand, I am tired, I am weak, I am worn. Through the storm, through the night, lead me on to the light, take my hand, precious Lord, lead me home.” Thomas A. Dorsey

Today the world is blessed with new songs written by some of the most prolific composers like Bill and Gloria Gaither, Richard Smallwood, Matt Redman, Michael W. Smith, Margaret Douroux, Keith and Kristyn Getty, Chris Tomlin, Lauren Daigle, Moses Hogan, Kevin Twit and many others.

We cannot always live in nostalgia, living off of the lives of our forefathers and the great hymn-writers that gave us a foundation. However, we must continue singing and writing new songs that flow out of our own stories, life experiences, struggles with sin, pain and suffering, joy, celebration, victory, and encounters with God that inspires and teach theology to our children and generations to come. New songs, hymns, and spiritual songs are a response to God. They are prayers, petitions, and total praise.

Lord I will lift my eyes to the help is

Knowing my help is coming from You

Your peace You give me in time of the storm You are the source of my strength You are the strength of my life I lift my hands in total praise to You You are the source of my strength

You are the strength of my life I lift my hands in total praise to You Amen, Amen, Amen, Amen Amen, Amen, Amen, Amen

(Richard Smallwood based on the 121st Psalm of David)

Copyright 2021, Dr. William S. Barnett

No portion of this content can be copied, electronically stored, or reproduced without the express written permission of the author.

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