Published July 5, 2011
Regular readers of this column are no doubt aware that I love the old hymns of the church. That's one reason why I always enjoying doing an all-hymns program, which is what this coming weekend's broadcast will be.
I no sooner finished recording the program than Daniel Mount, on his SouthernGospelBlog.com, published a compiled list of what he called "Southern Gospel's Most Enduring Songs." He developed his list by studying 207 recordings by Southern Gospel artists "consisting predominately or entirely of hymns and classics, recorded in or since 2000."
Amazingly, five of the top nine songs he found in terms of the number of times they were recorded on these CDs were hymns that I had already included on this upcoming broadcast. And who could argue with such hymns as Amazing Grace, It Is Well With My Soul, In The Garden, What A Friend We Have In Jesus and I Surrender All? (The program includes a lot of other favorites, too, all sung by some of today's top Southern Gospel artists.)
Mount concludes, "Clearly, our genre still pulls deeply from the rich reservoir of English-language hymnody, as hymns clearly dominate this list" of "Southern Gospel's most enduring songs."
Need proof? If you ever attend a Southern Gospel concert and the artists ask the audience to sing along on an old hymn, the vast majority of the audience, without reluctance and without need of a hymnal for either words or music, will sing along. Often you even hear parts. Hymns are a large part of Southern Gospel's "roots."
One reason why so many hymns touch Christians so deeply is that the songs themselves are testimonies very personal testimonies by the writer, but also, by extension, applicable for all Christians. Such as...
What a wonderful change in my life has been wrought
Since Jesus came into my heart!
I have light in my soul for which long I had sought,
Since Jesus came into my heart! 1
And this one....
What a Friend we have in Jesus, all our sins and griefs to bear!
What a privilege to carry everything to God in prayer!
O what peace we often forfeit, O what needless pain we bear,
All because we do not carry everything to God in prayer. 2
There are songs of the Christian's desire to experience God and His truths more fully....
Tell me the story of Jesus,
Write on my heart every word.
Tell me the story most precious,
Sweetest that ever was heard. 3
And that story celebrates God's grace....
Wonderful the matchless grace of Jesus,
Deeper than the mighty rolling sea; ...
Broader than the scope of my transgressions,
Greater far than all my sin and shame,
O magnify the precious Name of Jesus.
Praise His Name! 4
Hymns, just as is the case with Southern Gospel songs, have a lot to say about the Christian's joyous expectation of heaven....
When we all get to Heaven,
What a day of rejoicing that will be!
When we all see Jesus,
We'll sing and shout the victory! 5
...and the assurance of salvation....
When the trumpet of the Lord shall sound and time shall be no more,
And the morning breaks, eternal, bright and fair;
When the saved of earth shall gather over on the other shore,
And the roll is called up yonder, I'll be there. 6
The writers of these grand old hymns (all of which will be on this weekend's broadcast) were clearly steeped in Scripture because so much of the wording is so obviously Scripture-inspired. Biblical truths permeate the very fiber of these songs. That surely is a key to why they remain so loved, even now, more than (in some cases) hundreds of years after their composition.
I would encourage you to read the words of the great hymns of the church. Witness the testimonies, the joy, the Christian hope that the writers put to paper, often born out of devastating personal experiences.
But I would also strongly urge you to sing these hymns, even, if necessary, all by yourself when no one's around. There's something about actually singing these words that is amazingly powerful a blessing that those who don't (or won't) sing are clearly being denied. I believe God speaks through hymns, just as He does through Scripture (upon which the great hymns are based). That's why, in a moment of personal crisis, a verse of Scripture may come to mind that touches your soul's need of the moment. But an old hymn may come to you as well and singing it, even to yourself, just gives life to its truths and addresses your most personal need. I know it's happened to me many times.
But to benefit, of course, you need to know both Scripture and the hymns. That's why the Apostle Paul says both Scripture and Scripture-based hymns are beneficial: "Let the word of Christ 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" (Col. 3:16).
I feel so blessed to be part of a church fellowship where the old hymns are still sung. They continue to touch me in ways that no other form of music can.
1. "Since Jesus Came Into My Heart," Rufus McDaniel & Charles Gabriel (1914).
2. "What a Friend We Have In Jesus," Joseph Scriven (1855) and Charles Converse (1868).
3. "Tell Me The Story of Jesus," Fanny Crosby (1880).
4. "Wonderful Grace of Jesus," Haldor Lillenas (1918).
5. "When We All Get To Heaven," Eliza E. Hewitt (1898).
6. "When The Roll Is Called Up Yonder," James Black (1893).
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