Posted by: rcottrill | February 20, 2011

The New Song

The new song of the saints is spoken of in the Bible nine times (Ps. 33:3; 40:3; 96:1; 98:1; 144:9; 149:1; Isa. 42;10; Rev. 5:9; 14:3). It’s logical that most of these occurances are found in Psalms, the hymn book of the Bible.

Some of the texts speak clearly of an individual singing (e.g. Ps. 40:3), others of a group (e.g. Ps. 96:1). It is possible, and often beneficial, to sing when we are alone. But there is a special delight and blessing in singing God’s praises in the assembly of His people. However, our corporate music-making must not be merely a mindless ritual (cf. Ps. 47:7; I Cor. 14:15). It ought to be a sincere expression of the heart (Ps. 28:7).

That’s what is implied by “a new song.” Sadly, some have used this phrase as an excuse to ignore the hymn book, to abandon the richness of two thousand years of Christian hymnody, replacing it with what are too often shallow contemporary ditties. (“Those songs in the hymnal are so old-fashioned! We want to keep up-to-date.”) But if that were the meaning, God would never have given us the book of Psalms, and His people would not have found blessing in singing the hymns and gospel songs written over the years.

Am I suggesting we should never use newer songs in the services of the church–songs written in the last decade, or the last year, or the last week? No, of course not. But we do the congregation a disservice if we abandon the hymn book. And I do think it’s possible for older hymns to be new in our experience of them. What do I mean?

The new song is fresh and refreshing. It is renewed and renewing. It may be old in the sense of having been written many years before, or of having been sung often before (as were the Psalms, when Israel used them over the years). But it arises out of a fresh experience with God. That is the key. It becomes new because the singers have a new motivation to share a new testimony. The song has new meaning for them. In the sharing of it they are renewed in faith and confidence, by the Spirit of God–and revitalized in a spirit of praise and thanksgiving.

So how often does your church sing the new song in that sense?

Picture a local church, after a series of evangelistic meetings in which a number put their faith in Christ. Or a congregation holding a service in a beautiful new facility after the completion of a building program. Imagine them singing, “To God be the glory, great things He hath done…” (written by Fanny Crosby and published in 1875). Or perhaps “Great is Thy faithfulness, O God my Father…” (written by Thomas Chisholm in 1923). Or “Praise God from whom all blessings flow…” written by Thomas Ken in 1674. If you were present at that assembly of the saints, you would likely experience what “new songs” these can be!


  1. When you said “… some have used this phrase as an excuse to ignore the hymn book, to abandon the richness of two thousand years of Christian hymnody, replacing it with what are too often shallow contemporary dittie …”

    I whole heatedly agree.

    Personally, I think some of this comes from the fact that we no longer sing hymns outside of church, and no longer teach the stories behind the creation of these hymns in any context other than a blog such as yours, or perhaps a site like mine (

    Sure, there are some worthy contemporary pieces, but I too am disheartened by how we’ve turned our back on such a great heritage of Christian songs, chants and hymns because we feel somehow they’re “old” – even though they are no older than the faith we practice.

    • You make some excellent points. As to not singing hymns outside of church… Setting aside my own family, which seems to be atypical, from what I observe, social interaction as a whole has deteriorated. When I was a boy, we often went to the homes of others for tea and conversation–or folks came to ours. It was a regular thing. And not unusual to gather round a piano or organ and have an impromptu sing-along. I doubt that happens much anymore–though I can’t of course, speak for all. Television, and other things, have intruded. Very sad.

      But we can do our best to re-introduce songs that have been forgotten. In our Sunday morning service, at the present time, we have a brief “Hymn Feature,” in which I talk about the background of a hymn before we sing it. Often someone will come up to me afterward, and say how much more meaning the song has for him or her now. I’ve also heard of churches who were at one time obsessed with contemporary choruses, then began to see how shallow and one-dimensional many are. They’re trying to go back to the hymn book again. So, there is hope, if we keep at it. God bless.


%d bloggers like this: