Published July 12, 2011

Paul's Epistle...
"Hymns - Your Responses"

Last weekend's all-hymns edition of The Gospel Greats broadcast and my column here last week about hymns have prompted quite an outpouring of comments from many of you – overwhelmingly expressing your love for the traditional hymns of the church.

So many of you provided accounts of how hymns have touched you personally – or have touched loved ones in special ways. I wanted to share with you a small sampling of the letters I've received:

"All my adult life, wherever my paths lead, the hymns have been lights in my life. In low points a song comes forth and the words spill out. ‘At Calvary,' ‘Love Lifted Me,' ‘It Is Well With My Soul,' ‘Rock of Ages'... my goodness, the list would never end for me. I treasure the words of these grand old songs as much as I treasure the Word of God. Thank you for the article..." – Mimi F.

"When I was lost, my wife, who was a Christian, would go around the house, singing those hymns. Of course, being a lost man I would say to her, ‘Do you have to sing those songs?' At the time I didn't have what she had in my heart. But a short time after the Lord blessed and saved me back in 1962, I could sing right out of my heart ... and truly know for myself what my wife was singing about..." – Danny M.

"You are so right about the great hymns of faith. Last year during a six-month illness during which I almost died and spent over four months in the hospital, the words of the hymns kept me going. Although most of the time I couldn't sing them, the words were in my mind and came to me over and over to encourage me to keep trying. Hymns were the first real songs I learned to play on the piano. Our church still includes them in worship, although not as much as I would like them to do. When we do sing them, the music is much better and more people participate in singing than when we use the praise songs...." – Bobbie W.

"Paul, I love the old hymns and the messages in them. Most of the newer songs and choruses we sing in church now are a couple sentences repeated over and over to the point of annoyance rather than worship. That's not the way I want to come away from a service. When I hear those old songs I find myself singing them for several days or waking up with them on my mind. Just yesterday the song ‘Til The Storm Passes By' came to my mind and I found myself singing it all day. It was like a balm of peace in a time of stress..." – Gloria R.

"This is exactly the way I feel about the old hymns of the church and that is why at our little country church here in Pennsylvania we sing them – because I play the keyboard and I pick out the music. It stems from my childhood and my blessed mother who had a strong soprano voice and would sing those hymns at church where I would just watch her sing with her whole heart. Those songs taught me everything I needed to know about Jesus and I couldn't wait to give my heart to Him. My mother died when she was 93. She had dementia, but for two years in the nursing home she sang those old hymns as her witness to the Lord and never missed a word! Those old hymns are a powerful witness not only to those who hear them, but also to those who sing them! Thank God for those men and women of God who wrote them! We need so much to keep them alive in our churches today!" – Judy B., Punxsutawney, PA

"... I have programmed my mind with Scripture and hymns. First thing upon arising in the morning, there is a hymn. Working in the garden, there's a hymn. Will never forget the times I found my father spending time in his rocker singing with a hymn book in his lap. This is one of the reasons he so fondly looks forward to going to heaven." – Chuck M.

"Our church has a mixture of old hymns and ‘praise' songs. I find little in the latter. I sing in the choir and watch people's reaction to them. I have found that more people respond to the really great old hymns every time while they sort of go through the motions on the others... [and] it seems to be more of an emotional response rather than a spiritual one." – Mike M.

"Paul, I totally agree with your comments regarding the old church hymns. Our church does not sing very many of them these days. Our worship leaders do not even know them. When our pastor asks them to lead an old hymn they just look at each other like...what's that?" – Ellis M.

"I, too, am a member of a hymn-singing church. I love the old songs. Quite often, when something is troubling me, a hymn will come to mind and I will sing it over and over. What comfort it brings. I have a book that has stories of how and why some hymns were written and love to read the stories. They help so much because when you know the story behind the song, it means that much more to you. Keep playing those old songs, Paul." – Patty H., Phoenix, AZ

Fifty years from now (should the Lord tarry), will today's crop of church sing-along choruses mean as much to today's young people (who will, of course, be much older then) as the old hymns mean to so many of us today? With perhaps a few notable exceptions, I really doubt it.

This doesn't bode well for the future, and it's not just a matter of musical taste or styles. The writer of Hebrews, in chapter five, says that someone who lives "on milk, being still an infant, is unskilled in the word of righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, for those whose faculties have been trained by practice to distinguish good from evil" (Heb 5:13-14, NRSV). Many of today's repetitive choruses, I'm afraid, are spiritual baby food. By comparison, the hymns are the meat – the solid food – that nourishes the soul and can be used of the Holy Spirit – hand-in-hand with Scripture and sound Bible teaching – to "grow" our spiritual maturity.

"Praise" is certainly important. "Worship" is obviously important. But so are the heartfelt testimonies and the compelling Scripture-based instruction presented so cogently in the classic hymns of the church. We can't afford to lose them.

- Paul

Missed last week's "Hymns" Epistle? Find it here.
A related item about the hymns vs. today's songs can be found here.

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