The Golden Age of Hymnody was roughly the period from 1700 to 1900. In calling these two centuries hymn writing’s Golden Age, I do not mean to imply that no worthwhile songs were written either before or after. Of course they were. Nor am I suggesting that all that was written during this period is of the highest quality. But, generally speaking, the quality and quantity of what was written in those two hundred years is unsurpassed and, in my view, never will be surpassed.
The Reformation laid the foundation by emphasizing the authority of the Word of God. And the Lord used the great spiritual awakenings that followed in the eighteenth century to infuse our hymnody with devotional fervour and spiritual power. Doctrinal depth and precision was thus wedded to spiritual warmth and insight.
A quick reminder of something I covered in an earlier blog: Colossians 3:16 says we are to sing to one another, and to the Lord. Though we often use the word “hymns” generically, there is a difference between hymns and gospel songs. Both have value and deserve a place in our congregational singing, but they are not the same–though some songs actually incorporate both elements.
- Hymns. These can be described as the “to the Lord” congregational songs, songs of praise and prayer.
- Gospel Songs. The nineteenth century brought an increase in the number of gospel songs. These can be described as “one another songs,” songs of teaching and testimony.
The Lord gave gifted hymn writers to the church in the years referred to, men and women who often wrote songs in the hundreds and even thousands. Some of the key individuals active in this period are: Isaac Watts, Charles Wesley, John Newton, James Montgomery, Fanny Crosby, and Philip Bliss. (These few people alone produced over 16,000 songs!) These, plus a host of others, have given us the major portion of our English hymnody.
There are other factors too. Practical changes in society amplified the impact of the hymns that were produced. For instance, developments in both the area of more rapid communications and in ease of travel provided for the wider dissemination of songs that were written.
Many of the songs we’ll look at in this blog are from hymnody’s Golden Age. I encourage you to keep on reading and singing these hymns. In my view, any local assembly that does not continue to use this wonderful heritage is robbing the congregation of a valuable means of glorifying God and its people of a means of edifying one another.