This Blog

Through 2010, Wordwise Hymns featured an Almanac of significant dates in hymn history. From 2011 and on, posts will provide further Reflections on our hymns from a biblical perspective, better equipping us to “sing praises with understanding” (Ps. 47:7).
There is an alphabetical index (see Hymn Index tab above), listing the titles of the songs. (Links in the index will be activated as these songs appear in the blog.) As well as being cross-linked to the 2010 Almanac, articles are linked to the original 1996 Cyber Hymnal. Unless otherwise specified, stanzas are numbered as they appear there, for example, CH-3, or CH-5.

 

This is a blog site about Christian hymns. Years ago, an edition of the Guinness Book of World Records estimated that close to a million hymns have been written in the last 2,000 years. That’s a lot of music! Obviously hymn singing is an important part of the services of the church, and of the lives of believers. Has been for centuries. Why? What’s it for? And are we getting the most out of it? (Or giving our best to it?)

My Purpose
The Bible says we’re to “Sing praises with understanding” (Psalm 47:7). In four words, that verse presents my basic goal: to share insights that can lead to more meaningful and effective hymn singing.

My purpose for these postings is to discuss the music we use in our churches–particularly our traditional hymns and gospel songs. To look at them in relation to what the Bible says. I write from a conservative evangelical point of view, with full confidence in the trustworthiness of the Word of God. I want the hymns that I sing to reflect that. I hope you do too!

First – A Hymn Almanac
The 2010 almanac was something different, a unique feature of the blog. To my knowledge it had never been done before. Each day’s posting described something that happened on that particular day relating to the history of our hymns and their creators.

Reflections
As of 2011 and on, Lord willing, my plan is to examine the hymns of the church from a biblical point of view, identifying themes, and discussing their meaning. Each blog will be linked to material that has gone before, so that you will miss nothing from the earlier posts.

Let’s Chat
I encourage you to make this a dialogue. Then we’ll all benefit. We won’t always agree, but let’s respect one another’s right to have a point of view. As the saying goes, it’s possible to disagree without being disagreeable! With that consideration, comments and questions are welcome!

Signature_(Robert)

Responses

  1. The church on earth has suffered greatly over the years from attempts, by individuals and groups, who wish to bring about change. Some of these changes include basic theological and scriptural changes. Others have been attempted to change styles of worship, to revised liturgy.

    Some of these changes have enriched and strengthened the church. Others have brought nothing but intensive pain, misunderstandings and ultimately divisions. There has been none greater than the current trend to get rid of the old hymns and songs of the church in favour of new choruses and new ways of expressing our worship. Don’t get me wrong I do enjoy singing some of the new choruses but like everything else…only in moderation. I have been in services where chorus singing has taken up half of the service including singing the same song over and over again leaving less time for the reading of scripture, prayer and the sermon. I have also been a part of a worshiping community where the older people in the church, who built and grew the church, were told to either get with the new choruses or find another place to worship. What a shame and disgrace to the body of Christ!

    It is a breath of fresh air to see my friend of over 40 years create a website that not only respects the hymns of the faith but has taken the time and energy to research the history and context in which the great old hymns were written by men and women of faith and devotion. Perhaps in doing so the church will gain a new appreciation for the place our old hymns have played in our personal and collective journey toward our personal faith and corporate worship. Perhaps it will also result in a greater balance in our styles of music so that both the young an the old will feel they belong in the worship of Christ on Sunday morning.

    • I not only agree. Couldn’t have said it better Don. I too have experienced the disenfranchising of older members of the congregation in favour of a youth movement. But we need both–the enthusiasm and energy of youth, and the wisdom and experience of age. And to ignore the heritage Christians have in their hymns is tragic.

    • I was saved almost fifty years ago, and I learned many if the grand old hymns of our faith back when they were more popular than they are today. When I would visit a church while on vacation and they would sing one of the old gospel favorites, I felt like I was among close friends. But the Maranantha movement brought in the contemporary courses that almost dominate the church music today. The guitars, drums, and overhead projectors have almost replaced the hymn book. Many churches have abandoned the pulpit and the preacher just walks back and forth in front of the congregation. I am now in my 70s and I just feel out of place when I go to church today. The church I attend hasn’t sung the Doxology in the five years I have attended. Oh, that the Lord would lead me to a church where I could feel “at home” again!

      • My heart goes out to you, brother, and I agree with your assessment. It’s not that everything new is junk, any more than everything old being golden. But 2,000 years of hymnody have left us a glorious heritage that must not be abandoned. The tiny Baptist church my wife and I currently attend uses mostly the old hymns and gospel songs, sung from the hymn book. And there is another church about 40 minutes from us that does the same. I’m not associated with the Independent Baptists, but I know their churches have kept the faith with regard to music too. So churches that use hymns do exist. The trick is to find them!

        As to using hymn books, again I agree. In our church, we do use the overhead for an occasional chorus, but most of our singing by far comes from the books. Members of the congregation should not only use hymn books at church, they should have a copy at home so they can read and study the hymns as a part of their devotions. And those who are able to sing a part will appreciate having the notes before them. (Perhaps you’d enjoy reading my article on the benefits of singing in harmony. See http://www.wordwise-bible-studies.com/singing-in-harmony.html ) Words on a wall are so fleeting. Here one moment, gone the next. Now many churches are putting Scripture passages on the wall too, which I believe discourages folks from bringing a Bible.

        God bless you. Thanks for sharing.

    • Hello Bob:

      This is my first look at your blog! During a search on “traditional sacred music,” your site came through. I am one of the very few radio managers left in America that uses the traditional hymns and songs on the air.

      As it goes with the churches, so it goes with popular Christian radio. I am all for excitement in serving the Lord and in witnessing unto Him, for energy and meaning in worship. At the same time, I cannot picture the Lord hip-hopping and snapping His fingers to the rhythm and emotion of most of today’s pop music in the church and on Christian radio. That picture does not make sense. I know the current pop Chrsitian musicians are sincere and love Jesus, too. I respect that. I know some of these brothers and sisters.

      So it is not an issue of sincerity, nor of blessing. I am sure there is some worship, scripture, and truth coming through for them in their music. Yet, for me, there is that tension that I cannot resolve. So I rest it there and program as I believe would be pleasing to God.

      I also do not agree that youth need their own music in the church. The same “youth-appropriate” music and dialogue was used in the mainline denominational church where I attended as a teenager in the 1960s. I did not relate with it. I preferred the sacred hymns and classical music. They occasionally had parties in the church youth group with loud rock music, and it grated on my nerves. I know of youth today who do not need it either. They are spiritually-minded, excited, and moved in the traditional services with the hymns, conservative gospel songs and fellowship with other youth and adults.

      It would be good to review your writings! I would like to learn more of the text of the old hymns as I continue to be a student of God’s Word, of music, and of how to program a truly Christian radio station. I am leaving the manager position now and am seeking the Lord about a new Christian communications ministry that will include music. Perhaps it will be radio. Pray with me. Thank you.

      • Delighted to hear from you, and read your perceptive comments. And I agree: gospel songs and hymns are not good simply because they’re older, nor are contemporary songs bad simply because their newer. There were some trite and mediocre songs written in former times, and there’ve been some excellent ones written in more recent years. (“God, and God Alone” dramatically sounds an important truth. And “How Deep the Father’s Love for Us” is both incredibly beautiful and heart-rending.) Nevertheless, speaking generally, there is a richness of doctrine and a depth of devotion in the great hymns of the faith that is unmatched in any contemporary songs. Church leaders do a great disservice to their congregation when they abandon the hymn book. People are being robbed of their Christian heritage.

        For some years, I taught a college class on the subject of a biblical philosophy of Christian music. I’ve heard all the arguments, but they are seriously flawed. One that’s come up often is the complaint that the language of our traditional hymnody is archaic, that we don’t talk that way any longer. So, must we abandon Shakespeare and Dickens for the same reason? Isn’t it possible to explain occasional unfamiliar words to a congregation? We insult their intelligence if we think they wouldn’t be able to grasp that “Lord Sabaoth” in Luther’s “A Mighty Fortress” simply means Lord of hosts–Lord of the angelic armies of heaven. In any event, is it wrong to have a devotional language that is somewhat distinct from our everyday language? Separated (holy) and utterly distinct is what God is. Calling Him “the man upstairs” does not show Him due reverence.

        And no, young people don’t need their own music. That is a clever ploy of the devil that has only been in evidence for the past 30 or 40 years. It has helped to create the “generation gap,” and fostered youthful rebellion. And instead of standing their ground, many churches have capitulated. (“After all, we need to rock the music on Sunday morning, or we might lose our young people.”) In effect, this means immature teens are determining the music policy of the church. Many seniors have been forced out the door, because their needs are not being addressed. I preached in a church one time where the seniors were all bunched in the back few pews, because they couldn’t handle the deafening thunder coming from an array of speakers at the front.

        This is so sad! Have you read T. David Gordon’s book Why Johnny Can’t Sing Hymns (P & R Publishing, 2010)? Dr. Gordon comes from a more liturgical tradition than I do, and I don’t agree with him on everything. But this is a thought-provoking and important book. And a scholarly book. Not light reading, in spite of the breezy title. Gordon is a media ecologist (a branch of cultural anthropology). He contends that the floodtide of contemporary music has made it virtually impossible for church congregations to understand and appreciate hymns. To my mind, he makes a convincing argument.

        Thank you again for contacting me. I hope you’ll find some interesting and helpful things on my blog. Drop by any time. :-)

  2. Hi Bob,

    Beth gave me your blog site and so I have been snooping around. I’d say you are most ambitious to be posting your writing everyday. However, you have quite a backlog of work to pull from for resource.

    Bless you as you do this – many will be so delightfully informed from all you share.

    With care,
    Lynn

    • Thanks Lynn. Snoop away! Yes, doing daily posts is a bit of a trick. Some of the information I have in my head, but I can’t really trust my memory. Need to check details to try to get them right. Getting something for every single day of the year took some doing. (Even have stuff for Feb. 29th, when we have one!) God bless.

  3. Thanks for commenting at Hiddenart and bringing to my attention your fine blog. I look forward to exploring it. I know I will appreciate it because I enjoy what I learn at Cyberhymnal. Blessings fm GA, Dana

    • Glad you keep tabs on the Cyber Hymnal. I’ve contributed bits and pieces to Dick Adams’s wonderful site practically since he began it about 12 years ago. Sadly, hymns have fallen into disuse in some churches, and folks are unaware of the great treasure there. We’re doing our bit to reverse the trend.

  4. Thank you, Robert, for your comment on my blog. It is a very humble spot on the net, particularly with regard to my knowledge of hymns. Your spot here is GREAT, and I will forward to my friends.
    Bless you,
    Janis Justus
    “Our Cross Stitching Home”

    • Thanks for your willingness to spread the word. Sadly, in some churches, the hymn book is gathering dust–or it’s been removed altogether. But it’s important not to lose sight of our Christian heritage, and of the spiritual insights and teaching these songs contain. Again, God bless.

  5. Robert,
    I am really impressed with what you have done here, and appreciate your response to my blog. (How I wish someone had come up with a more elegant word than blog!) I suspect it is true for most of us that when we don’t know quite what to do, or when we are fully present, the words of a hymn come to mind. Suddenly, we need a “closer walk with thee,” we ask Jesus to “come by here,” because “now is a needed time.” Well, good work! Thanks so much.

    • A more elegant word than blog? Yes, I agree. And Web log (weblog?), the antecedent, has only two more letters, but sounds better to me. It connotes both a connection with others and a concrete record of that connection. Ah well, seems it’s the trend of the times to boil everything down to an ugly minimum that only means something to the initiated. (Look at text messaging!) In any event, thanks for the encouraging words, and God bless.

  6. Hi!

    I recently lost my mother (my heart is broken) and am in the process of writing a tribute to her. One of her and her mother’s favorite hymns was Charles A. Tindley’s “Some Day/Beams of Heaven.” How do I find out who owns the publishing rights to this song so that I can reproduce it in a book?

    Thank you and thanks for the wonderful history you provided about Mr. Tindley.

    Kg

    • I have good news for you! Since Charles Tindley’s hymn Some Day was published in 1906, it appears now to be in the Public Domain, which means it can be copied without special permission. I’m sorry for your loss, and trust the Lord will bring comfort and encouragement through this time. God bless.

  7. I decided to re-post Keys’ hymn -Before You Lord We Bow- and read your comment-thank you.
    C-CS

    • You’re welcome! I had to check back and see where I commented on Keys’ hymn. (It was August 1st.) Great song for us Canadians as well as the United States.

  8. Thank you, Brother Cottrill, for all the effort you have put in to sharing about the Hymns of the Church. I started listing just the songs I knew, but before I really realized it, I added Hymns that I thought were important to English Hymnody even though I do not know them. (Of course, I could learn others with either a recording to listen to or music to pick out the melody.) I have copied/transcribed the words to over 750 Hymns for my personal research. And, I have begun accumulating data about certain of the Song Authors, Musicians, and History behind the Hymns. I was referred to your site by Christopher Tan of “HYMNPOD.org”. My favorite writer/musician would be Ira Stanphill. I also like Ira D Sankey because of the words to the many hymns he published in connection with his and D. L. Moody’s Evangelistic efforts in the late 1800′s.
    God bless you for your work!

    • Thank you for your delightful note. Years ago, when I started writing my weekly newspaper column, I set the goal of writing about the hymns commonly found in the non-denominational hymnals printed in the last 50 years. The songs they have in common run to about 750, and I’m currently past the 600 mark with the column.

      Wordwise Hymns is a bit different. Finding something that happened each day of the year (including February 29th) to discuss was sometimes a challenge. It forced me to delve into some hymns that were unknown to me. I suspect the finall total discussed specifically in the almanac will be 800 or more. It’s an ongoing adventure!

  9. I’m linking myself to your blog Robert, and look forward to sharing insights with you on Christian hymns and other songs we sing too as part of our faith.

    Dave

    • Glad to have you on board.

  10. In reading about copyrighted things I read that you’re not to trust what is on the internet as things being in public domain – trust what you have in your own hands. I’m using old hymnbooks printed before 1920, but I’m running out of hymnbooks I own. I’m trying to post 1 poem/hymn a day with a Bible verse and image I’ve done. If I see in a hymnbook that the hymn was copyrighted before 1920 – am I safe to use it with my blog?

    AND THANK YOU VERY MUCH FOR YOUR WONDERFUL BLOG PAGE!!!!!!!!!

    • Thanks for your question Martha. In answer, it gets a little more complicated than you suggest–unfortunately. It’s my understanding that usually a copyright runs for 75 years. That would mean that anything written before 1934 is in the public domain. By far the majority of songs written before then have no copyright restriction.

      However, there are times when the author/composer’s family (or a publisher) renews the copyright. For example, the gospel song Teach Me to Pray has a 1926 copyright date. But it was renewed in 1956. Great Is Thy Faithfulness has a 1923 copyright date, but it was renewed in 1951 by Hope Publishing Company.

      A helpful resource in this regard is the Cyber Hymnal. The creator, Dick Adams is very careful about these things. Almost all the songs he has posted are in the public domain. If they are not, he usually does not include them. (Teach Me to Pray is not there.) In a very few cases, he has obtained permission to post a hymn that is still under copyright. If you check out Great Is Thy Faithfulness, you will see it is one of these.

      You might be surprised at just how strict the present rules are. For example, if you wrote a personal letter to a friend and quoted a few lines of Great Is Thy Faithfulness, technically you would be violating the copyright. Taping a service at your church in which the congregation sang it would too. In practice, most people post the words of hymns on their personal blogs without worrying about all of this. They are not seeking to profit financially from the song, but only wish to share a blessing. I expect the rules will change, in time, to reflect the wide open exchange the Internet opens up.

      Hope all of that’s a help. God bless.

      Robert

  11. Hello, Robert!

    I appreciate your comment on my blog and thought you might be interested in checking out the first of three articles on the life and work of John Newton, published in my local newspaper. I am part of a group or writers who research and compose the weekly Soli Deo Gloria column. Two additional articles on Newton will be running Dec. 31 and January 6, and will be available online a few days after publication. This set of articles is written by a dear friend, a 90-year-old brother in the faith.
    http://www.nwtntoday.com/news.php?viewStory=35353

    • Thanks for sharing the article about John Newton. Amazing man! Always interesting to learn more details.

  12. Thank you for visiting my blog. I have just added another hymn. In my older posts I have included one of the composers. I plan to do more of this as time permits.

    I love your site. I will come often to visit it.

    Blessings to you.

    • Thanks for the encouragement. Drop by any time.

  13. This is so nice that you have this site. I was here before and forgot to bookmark it; now I will. I am thankful to be in a church where we still sing the hymns, Sunday by Sunday. We use the Trinity Hymnal, Baptist version; I don’t know if you’re familiar with it. Unfortunately, we have had members who have left because our worship is not contemporary enough, particularly for their teens, and I am sure it is also the reason that many visitors never come back. But so far we have prevailed, and those among us who have stayed, are lovers of the hymns. I agree that all of the new is not necessarily bad or that the old is necessarily good, but we love the rich doctrine and beauty of most of them. Whenever I hear the ones which are so familiar from my youth, I am so blessed.
    Thanks for having this site and thank you for coming to visit at my blog. I try to post the words of hymns periodically and sometimes I like to give some background on the author or the cirumstances of the writing.
    I sent a link to this blog to my pastor so that he would be able to enjoy it.

    • Many churches who try to preserve our heritage of hymns face some opposition from the “contemporary” folks. But take a look under the Topics tab on my home page and you’ll see an article giving 30 Ideas for Promoting Hymn Singing in your church. My hope is that with patience and grace we can turn the tide on this matter.

  14. Robert,

    I just wanted to thank you for your kind words and encouragement with hymns! I got such an outpouring of positive responses on my blog when I posted on hymns, that I tend to agree with you wholeheartedly- every family should attempt to incorporate them into family worship time! Nothing has been sweeter than hearing my children singing songs like, “Trust and Obey” in the backyard while they swing. Such a rewarding thing to teach them. Your blog is a great source of information. I heard a gentleman speak on a radio program not too long ago about a book he’d written on hymns- I wondered if that was you? I believe it was either Family Life Today or Focus on the Family.

    Blessings,
    Sasha

    • H-m-m… No, the gentleman on the radio wasn’t me. Actually, the book advertised on my blog being a Christmas book, it probably won’t be advertised more until the fall. But it seems to be selling well, even now. And another book, Discovering the Songs of Comfort, will be out in the spring of 2011. Meanwhile, I’m working on yet another, Discovering the Songs of Calvary. I’m hoping the Lord spares me to write 5 or 6 in the series.

      Yes, it is wonderful to hear our children and grandchildren singing the great hymns of the faith. Years ago, I taught hymnology to the Grades 7 and 8 kids in a Christian school. Parents reported afterward that they were delighted to see their children participate more actively in the worship service, and point out hymn writers that they knew. God bless.

  15. I have an old book titled HYMNS. It appears to be leather bound and has a preface by J.R. of No. 10 Grange-Road, Southwalk. It is written on old-English. Can you shed any light on this book?

    • There are many hundreds of hymn books. (I have dozens, myself, old and new.) The only book I’ve seen just called “Hymns” is a little leather-bound Plymouth Brethren book. My copy is a revised edition published in 1928–which suggests there was an earlier version. Is there any date given for when your book was printed? Sounds as though it’s pretty old. What about a publisher? If they are still in operation, perhaps you could contact them for information.

      I enjoy searching through these old books. Sometimes you come upon treasures that are no longer included in modern hymnals. They make great reading during times of personal devotions.

    • Any chance the book in question looks like this? It is the hymn book of the Shakers, a Protestant religious sect similar in some ways to the Quakers. It’s the only book I could find on this site simply called Hymns. If you go to the site, you’ll see the contents listed, and can make a comparison.

  16. Hello Mr. Cottrill: I was made aware of your site by another blogger. I want to thank you for providing a link on your site to the program for which I’m responsible–Sound of Majesty (Moody Radio) I appreciate that!

    Just a minor note–the link is out of date, since we changed our address a few months ago. If you have the chance for an updated one, it is http://www.soundofmajesty.org Thanks again!

    • Done! And thank you for calling the change to my attention. The high quality of your program is greatly appreciated. God bless.

  17. Thank you for this unique and much needed forum. I would value your opinion and insight regarding an argument I have with myself —who is my favorite hymnist…PP Bliss or William Bradbury. In addition I often have to throw a third name into the mix.,. Robert Lowery. I was raised and currently attend Church of Christ. Though we seem to sing their hymns less often, the collective works of these three seem to cover every lesson and emotion of Christian teaching.
    Currently, I think Bradbury is my favorite, but that will probably change next week.
    i

    • Great to hear from you, Glenn! All the men you mention made an important contribution to 19th century hymnody. But as far as I know, William Bradbury wrote only tunes. That was certainly most of his focus. Philip Bliss and Robert Lowry have this in common, that they often wrote both words and music. (We sang Lowry’s “Shall We Gather at the River” at my mother’s funeral a few years back.) Of those two, Lowry lived to the age of 73, but Bliss was killed in a tragic train accident at the age of 38. For that reason, it’s difficult to compare the output of the two. However, I personally prefer the work of Bliss for its simplicity and devotional depth.

      Songs such as “Hallelujah! What a Saviour!” and “More Holiness Give Me” are fine examples. But my favourite is “Jesus Loves Even Me.” I’ve sung it as a solo many times. (The hymn tune Slane works well with the words.) Hymn books often put this in the Children’s Hymns section, but that is a mistake. It is a hymn that should be sung–often–by all of us.

      Here are a couple of quotations about the man.

      George Stebbins, a gospel musician who knew him, said years later of Bliss: “As to Mr. Bliss’s place among the writers of gospel hymns, it has long been admitted that he occupied a preeminence that still stands unrivalled….There has been no other writer of verse since his time who has shown such a grasp of the fundamental truths of the gospel, or such a gift for putting them into poetic and singable form.”

      Evangelist Dwight L. Moody said of him: “I believe he was raised up of God to write hymns for the church of Christ in this age, as Charles Wesley was for the church in his day….He was the most highly honoured of God of any man of his time, as a writer and singer of gospel songs and, with all his gifts, he was the most humble man I ever knew.”

      Well, there’s an opinion to chew on! The book P. P. Bliss, Songwriter by William Guest, was first published the year after his death. It has been reprinted (in 1997) by Ambassador Productions Limited, and is well worth reading.

  18. Mr. Cotrill,

    I have enjoyed reading your blogs. I have recently begun putting together Sunday school lesson material on the subject of the Bible in your Hymnal. The intent is to teach the history of the hymn focusing on the Biblical truths found within. I have numerous resources I am drawing from. I have most of Ken Osbeck’s books, a book entitled Music in the Balance by Frank Garlock and Kurt Woetzel and others. I actually stumbled on your blog while searching google for the differences between hymns and spiritual songs (Colossians 3:16). May I use your definitions of a hymn and gospel song along with you outline of Col 3:16?

    Thanks,
    Rob

    • Thanks for getting in touch. I hope my e-mail reaches you. I couldn’t think of a way to include a sample Bible study here. (I’m not very computer savvy :-) .) Bible studies analyzing hymns are a wonderful idea. If we are to “sing with understanding,” as God’s Word commands us to (Ps. 47:7), we need to do this. Not many would tackle it on their own. But with a bit of guidance, a group can do so with great profit.

      Love the title, The Bible in Your Hymnal. You can definitely make use of my material any way it would be a help. And God bless you as you do!

  19. I am so glad you told me about your blog. I do love hymns and gospel songs. I am looking forward to coming back and reading all of the information you have on the subject of hymns and their writers.

    • Well! Hi again! Heard from you in two ways today. Drop by any time. :-)

  20. Fabulous site!! i spend A LOT of time trying to find hymns and the songwriter’s story behind it! The trials they endured in their lifetime usually tell exactly why they can write such beautiful, Godly hymns…because they have experienced God’s grace and mercy through their trials and are praising God for His deliverance through them!! These are our heroes that never died, because their hymns and powerful words live on to speak to our hearts. God continues to use them in our lives so many years later, and for that, we are GREATLY blessed! God is so good and merciful! Thank you so much for your comment to me and for sharing your site with me! I can’t wait to read and learn more!!

    • Well said. “These are our heroes,” indeed! Would it not be a wonderful thing if, rather than idolizing some immoral starlet, or drugged out rocker, young people chose their heroes from the Bible and the hymn book?

      • Amen!!!! Exactly what I was thinking!!

      • Thanks Lynne. Maybe we can start a trend, or at least point the way. People such as Lydia Baxter, Annie Johnson Flint, Philip Bliss…I could go on at length, are true heroes in the best sense of the word.

  21. I like your blog. I bookmarked it, and when I pick songs for Sunday morning worship, I come to your site to research hymns. Sometimes I present the history of a hymn before leading the congregation in singing it.

    I was wondering what you could tell me about the hymn “By Grace I Will” (Eliza Hewitt, edited by John Sweney and others, music by William J. Kirkpatrick). I like the message of the hymn, though the tune is unimpressive. Also, do you have any hymns you would recommend to accompany sermons from Romans chapters 4 and 5?

    • Glad you enjoy the blog! As to By Grace I Will, it’s tough to find another tune, since the metre is so odd (9.7.9.7 in the stanzas, and 11.7.7.7.7 in the refrain!) I listened to the tune on the Cyber Hymnal, and actually found it quite singable. You might slow it down slightly, and smooth out the rhythm a bit, but otherwise it seems okay to me.

      As to hymns relating to Romans 4 and 5, the theme there is justification by faith. It’s tricky to suggest songs for you, since I don’t know the type of hymns you sing, or what you’re familiar with. Here are a few suggestions:

      And Can It Be?
      Arise, My Soul, Arise!
      Ask Ye What Great Thing I Know?
      Blessed Assurance
      Christ Receiveth Sinful Men
      I Know Whom I Have Believed
      It Is Well
      Jesus, Thy Blood and Righteousness

      And do you know Complete in Thee? I especially appreciate the version with the refrain added by James M. Gray. It clearly reflects the teaching of Romans:

      Yea, justified! O blessed thought!
      And sanctified! Salvation wrought!
      Thy blood hath pardon bought for me,
      And glorified, I too shall be!

  22. Thanks for the quick response. I lead music for a Southern Baptist church near the campus of a major midwestern university. I know most of the hymns you listed (It Is Well is one of my favorites), but I’m not at all familiar with Complete in Thee, nor could I find it on NetHymnal. A quick Google search gave me the words and the music, so I’ll see if I can introduce it. Thanks for that suggestion!

    I find that the church is sometimes not happy with “new” hymns (even if they are 200 years old), not because of the words or tune but because it is new to them. My approach has been to introduce a new hymn by singing it 3-4 weeks in a row so that it becomes familiar, but that approach is not uniformly successful. Do you have any additional suggestions for how I can go about introducing new hymns?

    • I know exactly what you mean about an antipathy toward the unfamiliar on the part of so many. We like the tried and true songs of the church. Nothing wrong with that, of course, as long as they can be sung with sincerity. But adding a “new” hymn once in awhile–even if it’s centuries old–will enrich our worship. I’ve also found a resistance to changing tunes sometimes. This has alerted me to the fact that many love the familiar hymns as much for the tune as for the words.

      Unfortunately, the trend in too many churches today is to worship at the altar of the New. The hymnal is discarded, and the congregation is given a steady–and ever-changing–diet of contemporary choruses. That’s the opposite extreme, and it’s one factor that motivated the creation of this blog.

      Now, some ideas. Things you might try in introducing a new hymn. You could have the tune included in the instrumental preludes of several services. Or, if you have a recording, or a video of the hymn being presented, this could be played before the service a week or two before you plan to introduce the song. You could also have it used as an offertory. The week before it’s introduced to the congregation, what about having a soloist or group sing it as their ministry in music? And if there’s anything interesting about the writing of the hymn, or the author, a bulletin insert would be helpful.

      Another thing to try, if the words are meaningful, is using it for a congregational reading. This could be a unison reading. Or, if the song suits (as Bickersteth’s Peace, Perfect Peace does, with its alternating question-and-answer) you might try a responsive reading. And if you’ve done a few of these things, the song might actually seem like an old friend, instead of something new and alien! :-)

      Another quick idea that just occured to me. If the song you want to introduce has the same metre as a well-known and beloved song of the congregation, what about singing it to the old tune? Then, it will have a familiar feel, but the new words will be learned and appreciated in the singing.

  23. I was just reading some of the most recent r
    responses on this page, and have enjoyed them.

    I, too think Bible studies analyzing hymns are a wonderful idea. I would just love it if they had one of those in my town or even on line.

    I was thinking about the conversation about how to help congregations embrace new hymns even if they are 200 years old. I like some of the modern songs, but the hymns are still my favorites. I have noticed that when my husband and I would be in a new church we would sing a special, and people who never heard that particular song would often ask us to sing it again. I think that is a great way to introduce a hymn that is unfamiliar to a congregation.

    • Thanks for your comments. Introducing a “new” old hymn by singing it as a special number is a great idea. And you also gave me another idea that I’m going to ponder. Starting in the new year, I want to deal with hymns on this blog in a slightly different way. I’ve been working on a plan for this for some time. And the thought came to me: Why not include a few discussion questions with each hymn that would help folks get into the meat of the song? So…! We shall see. Stay tuned.

  24. That sounds really neat. I will stay tuned!

  25. Thankyou for being a wonderful and inspiring resource.

    • You’re very welcome. Drop by any time!

  26. I have a question about a song. I put the words to it and a video of it being sung in my last blog entry. The title of the song is “The Love of God”. I read about it at cyber hymnal, but I thought you might know even more.

    • Ah, The Love of God! Great gospel song, and it certainly has an unusual story! You can see my brief posting on it from August 7th here. And it sounds as though you’ve seen the Cyber Hymnal article here. Let me run through a few more of the details for you as I understand them.

      The first two stanzas and the refrain of the song were written in 1917 by Frederick Martin Lehman (1868-1953). He also wrote the melody, and his daughter, Claudia Lehman Mays (1892-1973) added the harmony.

      Frederick Lehman emigrated from Germany to the United States with his family, when he was four years old. They settled in Iowa, where he lived through his childhood years. In adulthood, Lehman served with the Church of the Nazarene denomination, sometimes as a pastor, but he was also instrumental in starting the Nazarene Publishing House. And all through his life he wrote many poems and songs.

      In 1917, the writer was living in California, and he says that “[financial] circumstances forced us to hard manual labour.” He worked for a citrus fruit packer that moved up to thirty tons of lemons and oranges a day, packing them in wooden boxes for shipment. At a campmeeting some time before, he had heard a soul-stirring message about God’s love, and the theme filled his thoughts one day at work. During a break, he sat down on an empty lemon box, pushed against the wall, and with the stub of a pencil and a scrap of paper, he wrote the lines that are now familiar to us.

      When he reached home, he hurried to their old upright piano and created a melody to fit. But the song seemed incomplete. Only two stanzas. He tried to produce another, but somehow the words simply wouldn’t come. It was then he remembered some lines of verse that had been quoted in that sermon he’d heard about God’s love. At the time, little cards had been distributed with the poem printed on them. “Now, if I can just find that card!” Frederick Lehman said. And he did–he’d been using it as a bookmark.

      Amazingly, in the providence of God, the words on the card perfectly fit the metre of the poem he had already written. But there is a further unusual story connected with those lines. We have learned that the little poem was found pencilled on the wall of a mental hospital, after the patient had died. At first, it was assumed that the man had written the poem himself, but that was not quite so.

      The third stanza of the song, beginning “Could we with ink the ocean fill…” was actually paraphrased from a much longer poem, written by Rabbi Mayer, son of Isaac Nehorai, in the year 1096. Rabbi Mayer was a Jewish cantor in the city of Worms, Germany. (His long poem, called Hadamut, is still read in synagogues at the beginning of the Feast of Weeks, at harvest time.) Whether the unnamed hospital patient had translated the words himself from the original Aramaic, we do not know. But their profound imagery helps us to understand the infinite vastness of God’s love for us.

  27. Thank you so much. I love that song, and the story of how it came to be written.

  28. Do you have a way to search your blog for hymns related to specific passages of Scripture?

    • No I don’t, but it’s a wonderful idea. I am planning to do more with the blog in discussing the themes of hymns, starting in January. It might be interesting to build a Scripture index as I go. I’ll definitely give it some thought.

      Meanwhile, the Cyber Hymnal has a section called Scripture Allusions that may be of some help. And I have a little book (likely long out of print) called Hymn and Scripture Selection Guide (by Donald A. Spencer, published by Judson Press in 1977). It cross-references 12,000 verses of Scripture with 380 hymns and gospel songs.

      The Hymnal for Worship & Celebration (not The Celebration Hymnal, put out by the same publisher) has an Index of Scripture Texts and Adaptations in Hymns. The Hymnal for Worship & Celebration, predates the other book. It was published by Word Music in 1986.

      There are a few ideas, anyway. Thanks for the question. It’s got me thinking. :-)

    • A further note. You can get used copies of Spencer’s Hymn and Scripture Selection Guide quite reasonably here.

      • Thanks for the quick response. I’ll look into getting Spencer’s book soon. I use the 1991 [Southern] Baptist Hymnal, and its scripture reference index is pretty poor. I’ve used CyberHymnal’s Scripture Allusions, but having multiple sources is much better, IMO, than using a single source.

        Again, thanks.

        Robert

  29. Hi! I found your blog through a comment you made on my blog about a year ago! Never noticed your comment until today and I had to check out your blog. I love hymn history!
    Thanks for stopping by (so long ago)!
    Emily
    http://strobelshappenings.blogspot.com/

    • Great to hear from you. Drop by any time! :-)

  30. I found your blog through a comment you made on mine quite awhile back. I love old hymns and the meanings behind them.

    • Thanks for your encouragement. Drop by any time. :-)

  31. Thank you so much for your excellent work, Brother Cottrill. I have just discovered your blog today, in searching the net to see if two of our hymns/gospel songs in English exist in French. My husband and I are missionaries in France, and recently a missionary friend here wrote and asked us if we knew if “The Unveiled Christ” by Noah Herrell had been translated. Also Don Wyrtzen’s song “Worthy is the Lamb.” I have not been able to find a French version for either one of them, and wondered if you would have a way of knowing since you have worked for so many years with hymns? I love Christ-honoring hymns, and was an organ major many years ago at Bible College (Tennessee Temple University in Chattanooga, Tennessee, USA). God bless you richly.
    Sincerely in Christ,
    Glenda Stetson

    • Thank you for your delightful post. I wish I could be of help, but I can’t. I know both songs, of course–have even sung the former as a solo. But have no idea where (or whether) French versions are available. Since I’ve received comments on my blog from (so far) 183 countries, this isn’t the only time I’ve been asked–for Polish words, or Czech words, etc. The funny thing is, I usually urge inquirers to contact people like you–missionaries who work in that particular language! :-) I’d say, “Why not translate them yourself?” but as you know, that’s not an easy task–choosing words that make sense, and fit the metre.

      That you were an organ major in college is wonderful. It got me reminiscing. My father was a church organist for many years (self taught). He also played the violin and cello in a church orchestra, and led a superb gospel quartet. I recall one time in the 1950′s when we were in New York City. He and a friend went to hear a concert by Virgil Fox at Riverside Church. For a time, we had a couple of Baldwin organs in our living room (long story!). Dad would get on one, and I on the other. (I doodle around, but have never worked at it enough to handle the pedals). For me, the majestic power of a pipe organ for hymns is incomparable. (In electronic organs, I guess an Allen organ can come close.)

      Again, your encouragement is appreciated. Drop by any time.

  32. Thank you so much for your kind words, Brother Cottrill. How wonderful that your father was a church organist and also played other instruments. I would love to have even one organ in my living room! =) Yes, Allen organs are excellent. I’ve had the privilege of playing a few pipe organs during our time in France–quite a thrill. As for the songs we’re trying to find in French, I’ll let you know if we find them. We have done some translation work, but yes, it is more of a job than some people realize, especially if you want it to fit the music well. God bless you and your famliy. If you ever make it to France, we would love to host you and your wife.
    Sincerely in Christ,
    Glenda and Paul Stetson
    Metz, France

  33. Thanks for your recent visit to my blog in which I referenced one of the great hymns you expounded on this week. I’ve spent some time reading a few of your posts also and have been impressed with your depth of thought on the old hymns and also your discipline in working through so many hymns on a regular basis.

    I share your love for the great songs of the church, but also have developed a fondness for some of the contemporary writing being done; A difficult line to walk, since there is so much emotion on both sides of the issue. I’m grateful for a place to worship which values both the Word of God and people enough to work carefully through the issues.

    I appreciate your kind words regarding the blog post of mine which you visited and hope that you will feel free to visit again anytime.

    Held Firmly in His Grip,
    Paul

    http://www.hestakenleave.blogspot.com

  34. I came across your blog after reading your comment on mine. I am a Singaporean, but have served in a number of countries – Hong Kong, Taiwan, Philippines and UK. I love the old hymns and sing them every day in my devotions. I use the Salvation Army Song Book. I am not against the contemporary songs, some of these are beautiful, e.g, Majesty, worship His majesty, He is my everything etc.but we must not ignore the old hymns written by godly men and women.

    Thank your for sharing. I enjoy reading your blog. God bless you and your ministry.

    • Thanks for your kind words. And I agree: churches that have abandoned the hymn book are impoverished as a result. Drop by any time! :-)

  35. I can’t tell you how good it felt to find your blog. For so long it felt like the leadership of the church had abandoned its older members. I listened and watched trusted preachers and Bible teachers to see if anyone else had an objection to the way older church members were being shoved aside…and for so long I heard nothing. I would sit down with the Lord at night and just weep. Church didn’t feel like church anymore. I loved hymns that were so familiar I could close my eyes and sang with meaning to Jesus. Slowly every hymn was taken from us and replaced with unfamiliar words. Some were like a mantra, repeating one or two lines over and over. Then there was the loudness! So loud that some wore ear plugs to save their hearing. Leadership was told it hurt the ears of the old…but nothing changed, people who had certain heart devices implanted said it messed them up, no one seemed to care. Finally, I happened upon something Chuck Swindoll wrote about how some churches have treated their older members with such disregard they don’t even seem to want us in their churches anymore, and how unbiblical that attitude is. He told of an older couple visiting his church wept as they left, telling him they were so hungry for the Word of God and finally they got fed that morning. So I think, in some instances, getting rid of the hymnals, which are full of sound doctrine, has just been another way of bringing in new teaching to replace the old, old story. I finally left that church and found one that treats the elderly with respect, is faithful to the Word, and loves the old hymns. So it’s been a long, and painful journey for me, and at times I felt like I was all alone. There must be many, many others who are hurting too and they need to know they are not alone. I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart for airing this subject.

    • Thank you for your gracious and encouraging note. Believe me, I know where you’re coming from!

      The church my wife and I attend at the present time still uses the hymn book, and we sing mostly hymns, with an occasional good chorus included. But you’re absolutely right about how many churches are so skewed to featuring the young, and appealing to the young, that they’ve forgotten to feed and encourage the “pillars” of the church.

      I was the guest speaker in a church one time, and I knew as soon as I walked into the sanctuary that something was up. All the seniors were crowded into the very back rows, as far from the platform as they could get. As soon as the singing started, I realized why. Powerful speakers at the front started thundering out a deafening bedlam of sound. The older folks were trying to keep as far from it as possible. I was in another church recently that has a beautiful grand piano. But once the singing started, I couldn’t hear it–and I was only about fifteen feet away! The amplification of the “worship team” on the platform was so loud it drowned everything else out. I couldn’t even hear those next to me singing!

      When I’m the speaker at a service, I’m kind of stuck there. But there’ve been times when I was not speaking that I’ve actually walked out of services. Just couldn’t stand the noise! This isn’t music, and it isn’t honouring to the Lord. The Bible says, “Do not love the world or the things in the world” (I Jn. 2:15). But this blatant attempt to copy the musical styles of the secular world is an example of that very thing. Do they not understand why the music of the world is the way it is? Three things–that can easily be proven by many comments of the secular musicians of our day:

      1) The pounding rhythms are an expression of anger and rebellion against authority. This is contrary to the Bible’s message–that we are to submit to those in authority over us (unless to do so would go against the will of God).

      2) The constant syncopation is meant to represent sensual and sexual activity. The dress and actions of the performers demonstrate that this is what is being represented, immoral and perverse behaviour that God condemns.

      3) The loudness of the music is intended to turn the sound into an emotional experience that is felt through the entire body. The world is void of answers to man’s deepest needs. They must substitute an outwardly generated experience instead.

      Now, will somebody tell me what part of that belongs in the house of God. We want to exalt the Lord and express our desire to obey and serve Him, not shake an angry fist in His face. And we want to promote sexually purity before marriage, and fidelity within marriage, not immorality. Further, we have the transforming grace of God to offer. We don’t need mechanically generated thrills. Our thrills should come from our meditation on the Word of God, and our fellowship with Him.

      Some make the claim that music is neutral, it all depends what words are put with it. But this is nonsense. Music is a language all on its own, and it needs to be sending the same message as the words, or the result is confusion. I taught a philosophy of Christian music course at a Christian college for years, and heard all the arguments many times. But I ended up more convinced than ever that the “contemporary” drift of many churches today is both spiritually harmful and biblically indefensible.

      I encourage you to keep the faith. Glad you have found a church where you can worship. Drop by my blog any time, and see what’s new. The tens of thousands who have communicated with me across the world assure me that many feel is we do. God bless.

  36. I am looking for words and music to an old song. Can anyone help me? I would be very grateful. The chorus goes like this:

    “Oh, glory Halleluiah; I am going home to God,
    Where I shall wear a golden crown, and robes of purest white.
    Walk upon those golden streets, and sing forevermore,
    Oh tell me now my brother, will you meet me there.”

    • Thanks for the query. I checked a few resources, but it’s really tough when you don’t know the title, first line, or author. Songs aren’t usually catalogued by refrains. If you find out, or remember a bit more, please let me know, and I’ll widen my search.

  37. Thank you for this blog! I found your blog by searching Google. I’m so glad that people still cherish traditional hymns in worship. I found all the posts and comments very interesting and I enjoyed reading them. I operate a web site selling hymns on CD piano accompaniment for churches. I hope it’s okay to include the link there…

    I hear from many small churches from all over the country who are leading worship services without any accompaniment because it seems that they have difficulty in finding an accompanist, although they do have a piano or an organ at their church. I think this is sad, because it does seem to indicate a decline of the old church tradition in our culture. I don’t personally think the new music today is wrong as indicated by several comments above… it’s just that much of it seems to lack in substance, and much of the new music seems to miss the mark in terms of being conducive for everyone to be able to express worsihp to our Lord.

    Music speaks different languages to different areas of ages culture. What works for you doesn’t work for others. What works for others doesn’t work for you. You can’t assume that piano and organ is what is sacred and everything else is not. At one time in history both the piano and organ were new instruments and were frowned upon in the church. The melody to Amazing Grace was actually a tune sung in pubs!

    And I don’t think we can pretend to know what God likes and doesn’t like. Our ways are not His. To Him, our best of anything is like filthy rags. What matters when we worship is our heart and our intentions. I just think we need to be careful when we say things like, “I can’t picture the Lord snapping His fingers”… Really, you know what the Lord looks like and what he does and doesn’t do? Wow. Besides that, I think in modern chuches, people don’t snap their fingers as part of singing contemporary worship songs anyway, so to borrow certain things from secular culture to put down a particular style of music in worship is in my opinion, a stretch.

    But having interaction with people who love the Lord from all over, I know that there are people with the best of intentions when they give their hearts in worship,regardless of the style of the music.

    • Thanks for your thoughtful comments.

      It’s sad when churches abandon our heritage of Christian hymnody. I would agree that not all contemporary music is bad (nor are all hymns and gospel songs of high quality). But speaking generally, there’s a richness of doctrine and depth of devotion in many hymns that is unmatched by contemporary songs, which tend to be more me-centred and touchy-feelie.

      Not all churches have left our traditional hymnody behind. Ours hasn’t. And I’ve preached in other churches where hymns are the main staple, with occasional newer choruses.

      I wouldn’t be too worried about not having someone to play the piano or organ–though I think both or either can be used effectively. Singing without accompaniment can be a joy too. When you have hymn books in front of you (with music notation), and even a few folks who can carry a part, the result can be worshipful and inspiring.

      I’m interested to know how you know that the tune for Amazing Grace was sung in bars. Actually, almost nothing is known of its origin for sure–even what country it came from. There have been some guesses, but nothing provable. It sounds like a variation on the old “Martin Luther used barroom tunes” notion–which he didn’t.

      I’ve studied this subject for many years. Actually taught a college course on it. And I’ve heard all the arguments before, arguments that seek to justify bringing the world’s music into the church. And none of them really holds water. “Culture” should not be our guide. Scripture should, and sound biblical principles.

      God bless. And have a great Christmas!

  38. I can’t seem to find an email or contact address anywhere on your blog, but I was hoping for permission to quote one of your posts. Can you email me at kjvroberts@gmail.com?

  39. Robert, I am SO thrilled to have found this site. Thank you so much for mentioning it to me on my blog. I will definitely be spending some time here and mentioning it to my readers. It’s a wonderful resource. My favorite hymn writer and one of my heroes is Fanny Crosby. I am the pianist for our church, and my husband the pastor. We stick to the old time hymns for our worship service. I actually started playing when I was 4 years old, I’d come home from church, sit down and play the hymns I’d heard. There is so much history in the old hymns, I love to explore their stories, and what brought them to write the words they did.

    Thank you for all that you share here, and thanks again for bringing this site to my attention. ~ Abby

    • You’re quite welcome. I’ve been studying the subject for about 50 years now, and have shared what I’ve learned on a couple of radio programs I hosted, in weekly newspaper columns, and books I’ve written, as well as the blog. And, of course, the material makes wonderful sermon illustrations. :-)

      Drop by any time. And if you’re looking for information on a particular hymn, maybe I can help. I’m always learning new things. Found a wonderful story about the hymn “My Faith Looks Up to Thee,” just the other day. Lord willing, I’ll be sharing it in a blog in the coming weeks.

  40. I heard the hymn Abide With Me Tis Eventide on YouTube by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. Through diligent searching it was almost impossible to find any other source for this music even though according to Cyberhymnal info the writers of the lyrics and the music were not apparently Mormon. I finally found it on a recording by the Oasis Chorale which is a Mennonite group and very good. However, I don’t know why this hymn seems to be considered LDS property and is so hard to find anywhere else. Do you have any information about that. I can’t even find sheet music that is not “owned” by the LDS. Thanks for anything you can tell me.

    • Some interesting observations! And I begin my response by reminding readers that I’m not a Mormon. I enjoy listening to their Tabernacle Choir, because I love good choral work, and they’re an excellent example of it. Their classical and oratorio production is excellent.

      They also sing a lot of hymns and gospel songs–though at times changing the wording to better suit the beliefs of their group. E.g. Some of them say Jesus was created as a spirit child by the Father and Mother in heaven. His body was created through the sexual union of Elohim (God) and Mary. And His cross does not provide full atonement for sin. (Though I hasten to add that there are a number of sects within Mormonism, and their beliefs vary widely and sometimes contradict each other.)

      Regarding our traditional hymnody, it is not unusual to see these songs discussed in print as “Mormon hymns,” even when their Christian origin is quite clear. (E.g. such claims are made of Sunshine In My Soul Today, and God Be with You Till We Meet Again, neither of which is Mormon). I even had material sent to me “proving” that the gospel song Master, the Tempest Is Raging was written by a Mormon. That claim was so startling to me that I did quite a bit of research on it. I’m satisfied that it’s a total falsehood.

      I believe the Mormons are striving mightily to be recognized as a legitimate Christian denomination, and that’s one reason for all of this. But any careful examination of their doctrines raises serious questions about their orthodoxy.

      As to Abide With Me, ‘Tis Eventide, neither the author nor the composer of the tune were Mormons. It’s a wonderful hymn, and I do wish more of our hymnals included it. Even the Petersons’ grandiously titled The Complete Book of Hymns (Tyndale, 2006) makes no mention of it. It is found in One Hundred Sacred Favorites, compiled by Norman Johnson (Zondervan, 1973). It is also found in The Covenant Hymnal of the same year.

      Hope that’s a bit of help.

  41. Fantastic – thanks so much both for the information about the Mormons and the hymn itself. I thought I was crazy there for a while. I am aware of the Mormon effort to legitimize itself as a Christian denomination – check out the political scene of the Republican party this year! And don’t overlook Glenn Beck’s agenda. Anyway, thank you. I just wonder if these hymnbooks can be obtained anywhere. Another research project for me. Love in Christ.

    • Here you are. The old 100 Sacred Favorites can be purchased (used) quite reasonably here.

  42. The Tempest Is Raging reminds me of my favorite hymn theme, the sea. I think my most favorites in that area are by P.P. Bliss. I remember singing his “Pull For The Shore” at my mother’s burial (or, rather, ashes-scattering service) at sea off the Chesapeake Bay. Some time ago I did a study of maritime images and symbolism in mostly 19th Century hymnody, still available here http://www.astrococktail.com/hymnody.html , and still have a recently rather neglected collection of about 75 hymn books from that period. NetHymnal has a good maritime collection page at http://nethymnal.org/top/nautical.htm .
    - John Townley, Sea Cliff, NY

  43. I have enjoyed your hymn stories very much! I am looking for, want to know about the story behind Noah Herrell’s song “Sweeter Than All.” It starts out I have made my choice forever twixt the world and God’s own Son. The course goes sweeter, sweeter than them all, sweeter, sweeter than them all, give me Christ my blessed Savior, He is sweeter than them all.

    This song sounds like it probably has a story behind the choice of Christ.

    Any info would be greatly appreciated!
    Cynthia

    • Thanks so much for your question. It’s a beautiful song. However, in checking many resources I have, I couldn’t find anything specific on it. But, I believe I have some across a few things that may interest you.

      Noah Benjamin Herrell (1877-1953) was a pastor in Virginia until a heart condition forced his retirement. I’m more familiar with another song he wrote entitled “The Unveiled Christ” (“Once our blessed Christ of beauty / Was veiled off from human view; / But through suff’ring death and sorrow / He has rent the veil in two”), referring, of course, to the dramatic event that took place when Christ died, Matt. 27:51).

      The story about that song is known. And though you didn’t ask about it, I’ll share a little, because it’s indicative of the spiritual depth of the man. “The Unveiled Christ” was written in 1916, when the Herrell family was dealing with the heartbreak of the death of their five-year-old son. Pastor Herrell says:

      “I began to realize more fully what our heavenly Father had gone through in giving His Son to die on the cross. It was a fearful and fateful day when the creature crucified his Creator. Even nature trembled and refused to look upon that dread scene enacted on Golgotha. I heard the cry, ‘It is finished!’ and in my mind’s eye I saw Him bow His head and die. But it was not in vain, for within the sacred sanctuary of the temple, an unseen hand tore in two the veil which has separated the Holy of Holies from the Holy Place. Before that moment, no one could enter the Holy of Holies except the high priest, and he could only do it once a year, and that ‘not without blood.’ But now the blood of the Paschal Lamb had been shed, once for all, opening the way to all who would enter through the merits of that blood. Now God’s children could come boldly before the throne of grace to make their requests known and find help in time of need, because the veil of separation had been rent in two. The truth so took hold of me, that had I been an artist, I would have painted a picture. But I used the talent God had given me and wrote ‘The Unveiled Christ.’” (Al Smith’s Treasury of Hymn Stories, p. 175)

      If you haven’t heard it, there’s a wonderfully touching rendition of “Sweeter Than Them All” on YouTube, sung by a pastor shortly before his death. He combines the song with the refrain of Lelia Morris’s “The Stranger of Galilee,” and it fits perfectly. I encourage you to give it a listen by clicking here:

      God bless you, and thanks again for the question.

      Robert

  44. I am looking for a song that my husband remembers. It is “Never Alone” by Eric Heidelberg. We thought it was in one of the Favorites books by Singspiration but we don’t know which one and can’t find an index of the songs in the books. We would sure appreciate information if you have any.

    Barbara

    • Thanks for the question Barbara. Yes, you’re correct. “Never Alone,” by Heidelberg, is found in Favorites #7 (selection 26). As soon as I saw your question it brought back memories. When my wife and I were in Bible college, eons ago, :-) she was in the college trio. They sang (and recorded) that number, and I believe my wife had a solo part in it. So there you are! Hope you have access to the book. God bless.

  45. Sorry to pester you with another request, but I’m looking for the words to “A Friend Like You” by Luther Presley, but can only find a line or two here and there anywhere on the Web. Have you the whole set? Thanks…

    • H-m-m… Well, first of all, you’re not being a pest. But I don’t seem to be able to help you. I checked the sources that I have, and don’t have a copy of the song. You can learn a bit about Mr. Presley and his songs at Hymnary.org here: http://www.hymnary.org/text/this_life_is_filled_with_sorrow_and_trou They list only one hymn book that contains the song (and their records are very extensive). Wish I could be more help.

  46. Thank you for your comments on the raucus memorial service. Pastor GW Bill Warren

    • Your welcome. I have a feeling that even the deceased gentleman might have objected to the send-off his children and grandchildren gave him! Regarding the blundering duet, he apparently said to the same two women on another occasion, “You should have practised at home!” :-)

  47. Not a computer expert by any means and I don’t know how I actually got connected – just followed steps. But I am really glad to be reading all this wonderful stuff about the hymns I love and to be able to see that there are others out there with the same concerns I have about the music we are hearing in the churches. I have been in churches and had many friends in churches that play and sing music like this and was actually guilty of it myself at one time in order to “belong”. But it wasn’t long until I felt the Holy Spirit saying “what are you singing?” And I didn’t like the answer to that question. I don’t find many Christians who understand why some of that music is so wrong. I think some of them just like the music and I think warm and fuzzy sentiments also have a lot to do with it. I have to admit when I had to start thinking about what I was really singing, I felt sadness and regret not to be able to sing some of the songs anymore because they were so pretty! I am 76 years old and it has taken me that long to get where you folks are at a much younger age. I was held back in the music category by being with people I loved who loved that music. They were such happy people – but not a Bible scholar amonst them! And they never seemed to progress beyond a certain level spiritually and that was where the stayed – because of the music they were so addicted to.

    • Thanks for the encouraging note. I can recall hearing similar comments when I taught a college course on a Christian philosophy of music. One student said to me after one lecture, “I agree with what you’re saying, but all of my friends like that kind of music. Peer pressure, especially in young people, can be very strong. Some can become so defensive that they refuse to even consider other types of music than their own. Another student in the same group said, “Unless it’s got drums and guitars, I ain’t interested.” (They’re missing an awful lot!)

  48. Dear Robert,

    Some time back your blog proved instrumental in tracking down one of my father’s favourite hymns. At the time we were only able to find the chorus. Now I have the name of the hymn writer, and the whole hymn.

    As I couldn’t have done so without you, I thought it important to: (1) says thanks again (2) to share: A Name I Highly Treasure (Oscar Eliason)

    1) I’ve learned to know a name I highly treasure,
    O how it thrills my spirit through and through!
    O precious name, beyond degree or measure,
    My heart is stirred whene’er I think of You!

    My heart is stirred when e’er I think of Jesus-
    That blessed name which sets the captive free-
    The only name through which I find salvation,
    No name on earth has meant so much to me.

    2) That name brings gladness to a soul in sorrow;
    It makes life’s shadows and its clouds depart;
    Brings strength in weakness for today, tomorrow;
    That names brings healing to an aching heart.

    3) That name still lives and will live on forever,
    While kings and kingdoms will forgotten be;
    Through mist and rain, ’twill be beclouded never,
    That name shall shine and shine eternally.

    Blessings in His highly treasured Name.

    -V

    • Thanks for the encouragement. I do what I can. God bless.

  49. My wife and I are looking for a church that still sing hymns only–we have not found one yet. We got a visit from a couple of members of a church we’ve visited and a comment was made that to sing hymns only would kill the church. I was saddened of course for it puts the wish for change, if not for emotional appeal via what affects the individual over the goal of worship: to exalt and glorify God, even proclaim who Jesus is. Fear of empty pews for using hymns shows a wrong priority, if not a lack of understanding of true worship and the power of God.

    • Sad indeed. Many of these congregations have drifted away from the great hymns of the faith because they’ve been sold some questionable arguments. (E.g. People don’t understand the old hymns; we need to attract the youth, we need to be “contemporary,” etc.) Because of faulty arguments, God’s people are being deprived of the richness of their heritage.

      I can recall helping to plan a Remembrance Day (Memorial or Veteran’s Day) service that was to involve several churches. We met in a church that did use a hymn book, and one of the pastors picked up a copy and said, scornfully, “Is there anything in here that isn’t four hundred years old?!” Well, of course there is. But maybe he needs to revisit some of Watts’ and Wesley’s work, and see what his people are missing.

      This pastor’s church uses a lot of noisy rock music, and simple choruses sung ten or twelve times, “to work people into a state of worship” (his words). And they have a Coke machine in the sanctuary, so anyone who wants to can wander over and grab a Coke during the service. I know for a fact that his sermons are pretty shallow, because we’ve talked about it. He believes “doctrine” is a dirty word, and we should just get together and “love Jesus.”

      I mention these things because it seems the avoidance of hymns many times is just one symptom of a deeper problem. There’s a kind of entertainment mindset that confuses having a good time with spiritual blessing, and stirred up emotion with true worship. “Success” for the local church is defined in terms of how many are attracted to the services. And the pastor mentioned has a full church, but at what cost? I talked with a couple visiting in the area who have relatives that attend there, so they decided to try it out. Their succinct comment, “We couldn’t stand the noise!”

      Actually, I think we can trace the departure from hymns to what many of our Bible colleges are doing. (I taught in two of them, and have seen what happens.) There is a concern to fill desks, because otherwise the bills won’t get paid. So, in order to do that (the thinking goes) we need to be “contemporary.” We need music that the young people know and understand. So, in come the drums, the amplified guitars, and the shallow choruses. And as if that weren’t bad enough, these schools offer no training in Hymnology. Students aren’t learning about the treasury of Christian hymnody even in courses. What a tragedy!

      I do differ with you slightly on one point. If my wife and I were looking for a new church, it wouldn’t have to be one that uses “hymns only.” Our traditional hymns and gospel songs are not all of equal worth, nor are all contemporary choruses equally bad. If some good choruses are used occasionally, they can be very effective. Sometimes, I’ve had the folks sing a hymn, and then we’ve moved into a related chorus at the end.

      Also, at the beginning of our Prayer and Praise Time, I sometimes use a chorus to highlight a theme I want to emphasize. For example, there’s some good spiritual meat in Kittie Suffield’s:

      God is still on the throne,
      And He will remember His own,
      Though trials may press us
      And burdens distress us
      He never will leave us alone.
      God is still on the throne,
      He never forsaketh His own.
      His promise is true;
      He will not forget you.
      God is still on the throne.

      Or at the beginning of the Lord’s Supper we might sing:

      Far above all, far above all,
      Jesus the crucified far above all;
      Here at His footstool adoring we fall,
      God has exalted Him far above all.

      We do lots of singing in our services. Usually four hymns, occasionally more, with one or two choruses (at most) strategically placed. Keeping the emphasis on songs that have a strong message is what’s important to me, not so much whether they are technically hymns.

      Thanks so much for writing. Your concern is shared by many people around the world that I hear from. God bless you, and I hope He leads you to a church that meets your need.

  50. [...] wordwisehymns.com [...]

  51. A delight to find your column this morning, sir.

    I have written hymn lyrics for only thirty or so years, never having thought of doing so until our organist and choirmaster, used to my messing about with secular limerick-level nonsense, said he’d noticed how few hymns there were on the subject of The Fruits of the Spirit. Would I like to have a go? I wrote, ‘May we, O Holy Spirit, bear your fruit’ ; it was set to an existing but unused tune by Paul Edwards, typically sensitive. From that time onwards, I’ve been asked to write words for hymns and choral music.

    For children, I write as though I were speaking to them, telling them a story. For adults, I write as though I were one of them and also as though I were speaking to them.

    And style? Horses for courses. The Leader – vicar, minister – who wants to develop, first, the appreciation and then the use of sensible material, has to work hard at introducing one hymn, gently. And then, weeks later, another. And so on. If he/she has no such intention then that group of worshippers can never break their current likings.

    The composers I go to are those who I know will adopt my own approach. But I get the occasional surprise, as happened recently when I was asked by an alarmingly outstanding young sub-organist and composer for some words he could set; I wrote a simple little Christmas carol. musing on the baby who, even at his mother’s breast, knew who he was, why he was and what would happen to him. He set a major choral piece for two choirs, solo tenor, organ and piano – an absolute cracker of a work that, at the first performance during a Christmas concert this year, stirred the listeners into high acclaim. Watch out for him!

    The piece:

    There was a boy

    There was a boy
    Who at his mother’s breast
    Heard shepherds’ voices in the night.
    Soft voices,
    Asking,
    One night in Bethlehem.

    There was a boy
    Who at his mother’s breast
    Heard Magis’ voices in the night,
    Wise voices,
    Knowing,
    One night in Bethlehem.

    There was a boy
    Who at his mother’s breast
    Heard angry voices in the night,
    Cruel voices,
    Hating,
    One night in Bethlehem.

    There was a boy
    Who at his mother’s breast
    Heard angel voices in the night,
    Bright voices,
    Singing,
    One night in Bethlehem.

    Dissonance, sweet assonance, mysterious angelic flights – a far, far cry from the gloriously sober one set by Paul Edwards, ‘No small wonder’, or John Barnard’s light, rhythmic setting of my ‘O come, all you children’.

    Horses for courses. One style will attract children – if it’s carefully introduced. Another, the truly musical sort, will attract those adults used to happy-clappy – if it’s sensitively introduced.

    It all pivots on the ‘Leader’. Any other views?

    • Thanks for letting me know about your efforts. Speaking as a retired pastor who’s preached and taught the Scriptures literally thousands of times, I know the frustration of trying to find a hymn on a particular topic, only to discover that there’s nothing usable on it. In fact, that is the motivation behind quite a few of our traditional hymns–songs written to accompany a sermon. You would think that, with approximately a million hymns written during the Christian era, there’d be something for every occasion, but it isn’t so. God bless, and thanks again for getting in touch.

  52. I’ve only been to this website a couple of times, but often refer to Cyber Hymnal; and appreciate both! Having been part of numerous evangelical churches through the 40 years we’ve known Jesus Christ as our Lord and Saviour, nearly 6 years ago we found our “home” at last in a conservative Mennonite church. Besides the emphasis on simple Bible preaching, and living Biblically and simply, another thing that confirmed our place was the emphasis on singing hymns. We sing hymns from the Ausbund (the ancient hymnal of the early Anabaptists), some of the first hymns recorded in Christian history, through hymns written in the 20th century (some by Mennonites, some not). Ours is acapella, 4 part harmony; and as you mentioned in one spot (recalling camp for you and your wife as young people) is a little taste of heaven! Our youth delight in it as much as we middle-aged, and older too. In fact, they will spend time together as young people having “singings” … and we like to listen in when we can, because it is such a blessed thing to hear those young voices lifted up in reverent praise!
    Thank you for your efforts here. I hope to return soon and read more!

    • Thank you for your kind words. And for a personal testimony to what I’ve been trying to say for years. Those confined to a steady diet of contemporary choruses, accompanied by an over-amplified worship team, simply don’t know what they’re missing.

      I can recall being in a gathering of about 1200 believers from many different denominations. The one leading the meeting (who did not have a particularly good singing voice) simply started us off with the first few words of a hymn, and we Sang! Oh, how we sang! No accompaniment at all. Those who could sing a part did so, and it was glorious. I’ve had similar experiences other times, but that one stands out.

      I wonder, though. That was forty years ago. Now that so many churches have abandoned the hymn book, with its music notation, now that many of the songs seem to lend themselves less to four-part harmony, now that the trend in so many churches is to have the guitars and drums and amplified voices from the platform so loud that we can’t hear one another sing… I wonder if so many have lost the ability to sing in harmony that the experience I spoke of would be quite different. I don’t know. I just wonder.

      Given your comments, I wonder if you’ve read my article on Singing in Harmony. It actually grew out of my musings on that experience of forty years ago. Thanks again for getting in touch. God bless, and Y’all com back! :-)

  53. This is more an observation on my own hymns than a reply: trying to see myself from the outside I find that mine is a curious approach to hymn-writing. Before, during and after writing I get myself into an imaginary but familiar congregational setting. I remember the feelings I’ve experienced while singing a hymn – someone else’s hymn. And if they are the feelings that make me thankful for words that are saying precisely what I wanted to say myself, whether prayer, confirmation of faith or exclamation of thanks, I know I’m on the right path. I sometimes hear them using clichés, and, furious with myself, ditch them.

    Re-reading that, it doesn’t make sense. But its the closest I can get. Seeing the work being accepted and employed by churches and the recording and broadcast people, it does tell me that I’m close to being on the right track.

    • Interesting. Thanks for sharing.

      And I’m sure there are others who do something similar–though it seems a little round-about to me. From the personal comments I’ve read, from other hymn writers, the communication with the Lord seems more direct and personal. Before it becomes a hymn for corporate use (and even if it never does), it’s an individual expression of praise or testimony to the Lord. What you describe sounds more like an appreciation of the hymn than an appreciation of the Lord Himself–but I may be reading you wrong.

      Where I see the particular value of viewing the song from a congregational perspective is with the tune. It first of all has to suit the text. But it also should be singable, and memorable, so that folks can carry the message home with them. If I could hear a congregation singing the hymn in my mind, I might get a better idea of how it would sound, and whether or not it would work.

  54. A fairly wide gap between your approach and mine, I feel! http://www.jubilate.co.uk/ will demonstrate my own. Select ‘Music and Lyrics, then ‘Lyrics’, and then ‘Paul Wigmore’. Log on, and you can hear the music as well.

  55. Yes, Robert, I just read & appreciated your Singing in Harmony. It’s been noted by educators that children can learn music or another language (or any number of other things) that are harder for adult minds to learn. Not having been raised in church, and listening mostly to the anti-melodious sounds of rock and roll & country music as I grew up meant that I (T.) had to “learn” to sing as a young woman. My very musical husband (D.) helped me as we sang hymns and Christian songs together before and after our marriage. Singing with our children during family worship (and on long car rides!) helped refine my voice some, and certainly deepen my love of singing to the Lord. For our children, it developed early in them a love of singing, the ability to harmonize, and a deep appreciation for hymns.
    And though I am not a hymn writer, per se, I do write poetry. Often I am stirred by a Scripture verse, or by observing part of God’s beautiful creation. I begin to praise the Lord for it, and poetry follows as an expression of worship to the Lord. It doesn’t just “come upon me” — though the first few words may flow like that. It is often “work” — but I’ve been blessed when the poems encourage others in the Lord.
    Ephesians 5 and Colossians 3 come to mind as to how our mutual edification should be: Let the Word of Christ (the Scriptures!) dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord–And, being filled with God’s Spirit, speak to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord. As we do this, we personally are built up, and we have something worthwhile to encourage and strengthen each other.
    One final thought, hoping I am not too long-winded here. A young man in his 20′s (who with his mother and siblings attends a church that uses emotionally-driven music) visited our church a little while back. He was awe-struck by the beauty and depth of the lyrics of the hymns; as well as the 4 part harmony. In fact, the words probably touched him more deeply than the harmony,because he kept referring back to them! The fruit of the CCM and P&W music movement shows that it cannot bear a depth of Biblical understanding that solid hymns do. To study and sing Biblical, historic hymns deepens one’s understanding of God and His Word and what it means to worship Him “in Spirit and truth.” May the Lord continue to work in His people to worship Him Biblically, deeply and reverently, is our prayer.

    • “Long-winded”? Not necessarily, since you have something worthwhile to say. Since I’m a bit short-winded at the moment :-), I’ll only add my “Amen!” God bless.

  56. You are doing a very good job, espesially by bringing to readers, not only the situation behind each hymn but the explanatory notes. You can agree with me that hymn singing is fast declining in churches with the coming on-board of the so-called 21st century pastors. This is also affecting the old generation churches. The blessing of God will continue to be upon your ministry.

    Rev Canon Bola O Ilori

  57. I just found your site…by “accident.” I enjoyed reading your comments about hymn writer N. B. Vandall. He was my great grandfather’s brother. I never met him (though I heard about him from my mother who lived with her grandparents). I did meet his son, Bob at my great grandmother’s funeral in 1983. I also enjoyed and appreciated your column about the total message of music. I am a pastor in New York and we have resisted the incursion of “rock” music, but my people rightly deserve good reasons to keep worship music worshipful. Thanks for your help.

    • Thanks for the historical note regarding Mr. Vandall. I’ve used both “After,” and “My Home, Sweet Home” as solos from time to time. Also, a few years back, the Bible college where I taught had a 50th Anniversary Homecoming, and I led a large alumni choir in singing the latter song. Beautiful. It was also a number we sang when I was in a male chorus back in the 60′s.

      As to the whole rock music issue, thank you for your encouragement. It’s more difficult these days to find evangelical churches that are more “conservative” in music. (I paused to think of a word there. I was thinking “godly”–but…well, you know how it is.) My reason for studying and writing about hymns and their history for many years is not necessarily to denigrate all newer songs. But I want to encourage folks to have spiritual discernment, and not to carelessly cast aside our heritage of many centuries of sacred music.

      It’s amazing to me how intrusive and insensitive some folks can be about their music. A couple of times when I’ve visited a church where the music has been simply deafening, I’ve walked out. A little more difficult when I’m the preacher! :-) Currently, our little church is without a pastor, so I’m “filling in” for awhile. That means I get to choose the hymns for the worship service, so I can’t complain about our music. But we’re a pretty conservative lot in any event.

      Your remark about your congregation deserving reasons for the music you use reminded me that four or five years ago I was contacted by a pastor in a city near us who said the same thing. I actually went over and conducted a six hour seminar examining sacred music, and biblical principles relating to it. It seemed to be appreciated.

      Thanks again for your comments. God bless you in your ministry for the Lord.

  58. i think you published some information years ago (maybe 2009) about My Goal is God Himself a hymn by Frederick Brook or Frances Brook. I haven’t been able to locate this on your blog. Can you give me the link or any info about the author of this GREAT poem which was featured several times in Oswald Chambers writings. The saying “My goal is God Himself, not joy nor peace,nor even blessing, but Himself, my God” is one that I have repeatedly done in calligraphy lettering for customers and I am fascinated to know more about the author. Many people think Oswald Chambers wrote the saying but he didn’t. Thank you for any assistance you can give me.

  59. Hi Robert, thank you for stopping by and viewing my post on Veni Veni Emmanuel —my knowledge of hymns and choir is limited as my background is in visual arts education– having taught high school art for 31 years before retiring last year. I was raised in the Episcopal church–the Cathedral of St Philip in Atlanta–so high church was the start of my roots. I have since wandered from the Episcopal church as my Christian beliefs are as yours–more conservative with the belief in the Word of God rooted in Holy Scripture as truth.
    I look forward to viewing your blog at more length as I love the historical component of our more vocal worship.
    Grace and Peace—Julie

    • Thanks for your kind words Julie. Us hymn-lovers gotta stick together! :-) Just finished doing two things–one wonderful, the other painful.

      1) Watched the first 40 minutes of Handel’s Messiah, on YouTube. It’s an excellent version by the London Philharmonic, conducted by Sir Colin Davis. You can get it here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZuGSOkYWfDQ
      2) Went out to shovel snow in -30 C temperatures. (I think that’s about -22 F.) Wow! Had to come in every few minutes, as my hands, feet and nose where painfully frozen.

      I’d take activity #1 any day! God bless.

  60. Is “Home Sweet Home Where I’ll Never Roam” in Public Domain, or is it under a copyright?

    • The song, by N. B. Vandall–which is actually called My Home, Sweet Home–was written in 1926. That should mean it’s now in the public domain. I’ve seen no evidence to the contrary.


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