Posted by: rcottrill | June 4, 2009

The Value of the Hymn Book

A number have been commenting on my purpose for writing (see This Blog). In that regard, I came across the following statement of John Wesley’s dated 1779. About the hymn book, he wrote:

In what other publication have you so distinct and full account of scriptural Christianity; such a declaration of the heights and depths of religion, speculative and practical; so strong cautions against the most plausible errors, particularly those now most prevalent; and so clear directions for making your calling and election sure; for perfecting holiness in the fear of God? [The latter phrases being taken from II Pet. 10:1 and II Cor. 7:1.]

Not all of our traditional hymns and gospel songs quite live up to Wesley’s lofty description, and we must be careful to base our theology on the Word of God, not on our hymns. Still, this statement beautifully reflects the Bible’s exhortation to be “teaching and admonishing one another” with our congregational singing (Col. 3:16).

About a century after Wesley, Bishop J. C. Ryle commented:

Good hymns are an immense blessing to the church of Christ. I believe the last day alone will show the world the real amount of good they have done. They suit all, both rich and poor. There is an elevating, stirring, soothing, spiritualizing, effect about a thoroughly good hymn, which nothing else can produce. It sticks in men’s memories when texts are forgotten. It trains men for heaven, where praise is one of the principal occupations. Preaching and praying shall one day cease for ever; but praise shall never die. 

Twentieth century pastor and influential author A. W. Tozer said this:

I say without qualification, after the Sacred Scriptures, the next best companion for the soul is a good hymnal….To read or sing a true hymn is to worship with a great and gifted soul [meaning the author] in his moments of intimate devotion….Every Christian should have laying beside his Bible a copy of some standard hymn book.

Men such as Wesley, Ryle and Tozer were convinced that sacred music should be used not only for praise and worship, but for instruction and testimony, to the edifying of the body of Christ. And that the hymns and gospel songs of the church have a place in personal and family devotions as well. I enthusiastically agree! And the hymn book gives us a shared vocabulary with which to do that.


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