I purchased One Hundred & One famous hymns by Charles Johnson intending to gift it to my sister. (Don’t worry, Sis, I’ll pop it in the mail soon!) She still attends our childhood church where we sang traditional gospel hymns at every service.
In chronological order, Charles Johnson offers piano scores (I play a bit) and chock-full-of-facts biographies.
Martin Luther, author of “A Mighty Fortress is Our God” said, “That the singing of spiritual hymns is a goodly thing and pleasing to God . . .”
But who knew hymn singing was such a controversial issue in the 1600’s? Arguments over what to sing and who should sing lasted for over one hundred years!
A first edition of the Bay Psalm Book sold for $151,000 in 1947. Wow.
Isaac Watts wrote the hymn “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross”. He helped bridge the gap between Calvinist psalms and Lutheran hymns. He brought Christians in England and America together through song.
Men penned most of the lyrical and musical compilations. But there were many prolific women writers. Harriet Beecher Stowe, and others found inspiration through tragedies, chronic illness, or during the daily chores of life. One of the songs played on the sinking Titanic was Sarah Fuller Flower Adams’ “Nearer, My God to Thee”. On his deathbed, President McKinley quoted the first verse of this song.
Our favorite Christmas carols are hymns. If it weren’t for a broken organ in Austria, “Silent Night” would be silent.
We play and sing hymns for funerals, for holidays, for worship, and for weddings.
Modern church music—thumping bass guitars, drums, and worship teams—have altered the church-going experience. Although people still argue over what to sing and who should sing. (and at what volume) Now hymns are set to contemporary tempos and given updated lyrics. But they continue to live on.
Henry van Dyke, lyricist to Beethoven’s “Joyful, Joyful We Adore Thee” said it best. “Therefore these hymns are trust and joy and hope.”
What is your favorite hymn?