Published 5-5-2009

Paul's Epistle...
"Sing Them Over..."

What is it about the old hymns that make them so special, so cherished for many generations of Christians? I was thinking about that again as I put together our first all-hymns edition of The Gospel Greats that aired last weekend. Some of the artists on the program shared some ideas about this.

Rodney Griffin of Greater Vision, for example, noted that the hymns, spiritually, "were a little deeper [than many of today's songs]. Maybe it was because the audience back then [when the hymns were written] was deeper spiritually... The writers could cater to that deeper walk with the Lord."

Shelly Brown of the Browns noted, "Those old hymn writers, they were immersed in God's Word. They were bathed in God's Word. They knew God's Word forward and backwards and lived out His Word. And they knew the principles of God's Word. And that's what they used, their experience and the Word of God, to write those great old hymns of the faith. And that's why they do stand the test of time."

As Bill Gaither has often said in so many words, "We don't sing the old hymns because they're old. We sing them because they're great."

If you grew up with the old hymns, you, as do I, probably find the words to one of those old hymns running through your mind from time to time, especially when you need to be reminded of that song's message. That's a God thing. He's the one Who brings it to your mind, just as He does with relevant verses of Scripture. As Arthur Rice of the Kingdom Heirs put it, "The anointing was on those songs, because you can be in any circumstance and you can recall those songs from growing up and it encourages you. That is what those songs were about, they encourage you to go through the day."

How can we improve on such magnificent songs as these:

Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face,
And the things of life will grow strangely dim
In the light of His glory and grace.

I'm getting "holy goosebumps" just typing those words. Or how about,

Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine!
O what a foretaste of glory divine!
Heir of salvation, purchase of God,
Born of His Spirit, washed in His blood.

And one that frequently goes through my mind,

What a day that will be when my Jesus I shall see,
And I look upon His face, the One who saved me by His grace!
When He takes me by the hand, and leads me through the Promised Land,
What a day, glorious day that will be!

Wow! I'm not a "shouter." But excuse me for a moment while I shout....

Lovers of good Southern Gospel music seem to be especially fond of the old hymns. (In fact, I've heard some argue that the hymns ARE Southern Gospel music.) And surely this is why so many Southern Gospel groups are doing entire recordings of hymns, or, at least, are including hymns on some of their regular recordings. In my e-mail just this morning, I found a note from Elliott McCoy of Three Bridge telling me that they close their program every night with the old hymn "Great Is Thy Faithfulness" – and they "always receive a standing ovation."

Having quoted last week in this column from the song "In Times Like These," a staple in many hymnals, I was surprised to receive an e-mail from the daughter of the woman who wrote that song. Carol Jones Saint told me, "I was so thrilled to read this because the song was written (words and music) by my mother, Mrs. Ruth Caye Jones. She wrote the song during the very troublesome times of World War II, but actually the song is truer today than when Mother wrote it. And the various items you mention in your article definitely verify that fact. My wonderful Christian mother would be thrilled that the song continues to touch so many lives, even through she was called home in 1972."

I regret the fact that so many of today's younger generation are being denied the spiritual nourishment the old hymns can provide. Pick up a hymnal and read through several of the great old hymns. It's like reading the psalms. It's almost like reading Scripture. But far too many churches no longer even have hymnals in the pews. Everything is "sung off the wall." And many of these are "7-11" songs -- seven words or lines repeated eleven times. And, of course, for those of us who love harmony singing, there's no printed music there, so trying to sing harmony is a guess, at best. And many of the "off the wall" songs are specifically intended to be sung in unison – perhaps because harmony singing is too much of a bother. (There will be singing in heaven, we're told, but I can't imagine that it wouldn't be harmony singing.) What an inestimable loss -- for today, and for future generations!

Yes, I know – for many, today's music is serving a worthwhile purpose. But I refuse to accept the argument that the classic hymns no longer do. They'll be around long after many of today's songs go the way of disco. Many of them remain cherished after hundreds of years already.

In John 6:67-68, Christ asks His followers if they want to leave Him. Peter replies, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life." Those words inspired songwriter Phillip P. Bliss (1838-1876) to write his classic hymn, "Wonderful Words of Life." And I wholeheartedly agree with what the song says:

Sing them over again to me,
Wonderful words of life;
Let me more of their beauty see,
Wonderful words of life.
Words of life and beauty,
Teach me faith and duty:
Beautiful words, wonderful words,
Wonderful words of life.

- Paul

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