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1) The Almanac. Click on the month you want in the side-bar, then the specific date. The blog will tell you what happened in hymn history on that day.
2) Reflections. There is always a current article on a hymn. But you can find many others by clicking on the Index tab. (More being added all the time.)
3) Topical Articles are opinion pieces on many aspects sacred music.
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Also see 30+ Ideas for Promoting Hymn Singing in your church. As others have contributed ideas, this wonderful resource has grown to over 80 items now. And, for more than three dozen reasons why congregations should still use hymn books rather than merely projecting words on the wall, see The Value of Hymn Books.
Words: Isaac Watts (b. July 17, 1674; d. Nov. 25, 1748)
Music: Martyrdom, by Hugh Wilson (b. _____, 1766; d. Aug. 14, 1824)
Note: Watts was a noted scholar, with a knowledge of Hebrew, Greek, and Latin. He served as a pastor, and wrote theological books in the Puritan mold. But it is as a hymn writer he is best known today. Songs such as O God, Our help in Ages Past; Joy to the World; Am I a Soldier of the Cross; Alas, and Did My Saviour Bleed, and the superb When I Survey the Wondrous Cross, are still in use today, more than 250 years after his death.
Did you ever have a task or project that seemed so huge and complex you were discouraged from tackling it? Maybe it sat there for weeks, or even months, and only seemed to grow bigger and more daunting day by day.
It’s clear that others have had the same problem, because there are many proverbs and observations about it. Mark Twain wrote, “The secret of getting ahead is getting started.” And evangelist Vance Havner said, “It’s not enough to stare up the steps, we must step up the stairs.” Another evangelist, Dawson Trotman, gave us, “The greatest amount of wasted time is the time spent not getting started.”
Especially practical are the simple words of American president Calvin Coolidge: “We cannot do everything at once, but we can do something at once.” To begin somewhere, and do something, to get started, to launch out, to move forward, is the key to useful and enduring accomplishment in many fields of endeavour.
There’s a sense in which this can be applied to the hymns of the Christian church. In the first century, believers used the hymn book of Israel, the book of Psalms. But soon new songs were added. There are passages in the New Testament in a format suggesting they were written to be sung (e.g. I Tim. 3:16).
As to the beginning of hymns written in the English language, there are several possible candidates for that. Caedmon’s Hymn, from around AD 660, is believed to be the first, but it was written in Old English, which looks like a foreign language now. Thomas Ken published three beautiful hymns in 1674, but with the instruction that they were to be used only in private devotions, not in the public services of the church.
The beginning of a great flood of sacred songs came around 1700 with the work of Isaac Watts. In his day, the English church was singing only the Psalms. There was an idea, promoted by John Calvin and others, that to write new songs was like trying to add to the Bible, which was forbidden (Rev. 22:18). But young Isaac Watts said that by singing only Old Testament texts, Christians were not being instructed in New Testament truth.
A teen-aged Watts argued the point with his father, a deacon in their church, that new songs were needed. Finally, his father told him that, if he thought he could produce something suitable, to go ahead and try. Watts had a sound grounding in Bible knowledge and a gift for writing poetry and, with his father’s encouragement, he set to work.
The next Sunday morning, the congregation had a new hymn to sing, prophetic of many more to come.
CH-1) Behold the glories of the Lamb
Amidst His Father’s throne.
Prepare new honours for His Name,
And songs before unknown.
The sacrifice of a sheep or other animal in Old Testament times was meant to picture the innocent dying in place of the guilty sinner. These offerings pointed forward to the great fulfilment, the sacrifice of Christ on the cross of Calvary to pay our debt of sin. He was introduced by John the Baptist as “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (Jn. 1:29). And “worthy is the Lamb who was slain!” (Rev. 5:12) will be our song in heaven. Christ is given the title “the Lamb” some twenty-seven times in the book of Revelation.
Watts’s hymn continues, referencing Revelation 5:9-10, 12-13:
CH-6) Now to the Lamb that once was slain
Be endless blessings paid;
Salvation, glory, joy remain
Forever on Thy head.
CH-7) Thou hast redeemed our souls with blood,
Hast set the prisoner free;
Hast made us kings and priests to God,
And we shall reign with Thee.
“New honours for His name.” That was the beginning. Isaac Watts got us started, writing about six hundred hymns himself. He is rightly called the Father of English Hymnody, but a flood of thousands of songs has followed, flowing from the pens of many godly men and women over the years. It’s not claimed that these are divinely inspired and infallible truth as the Bible is. But the best of them make Bible truths memorable and serve the church well.
1) Of all the many names and titles for the Lord Jesus Christ, why do you think “the Lamb” is used so much in the book of Revelation?
2) What is your favourite hymn by Isaac Watts?