Category Archives: Hymns

Seeing the whole gospel story in Christ alone

Some of you know that at our church we’ve started a year-long project of memorising 10 hymns of the faith. I spent a few weeks getting the music and the hymn books together in preparation. We started our first one (In Christ Alone) at the beginning of March, and on Sunday (while I was worship leading), we sang the entire hymn without the projected words. At the back of my mind I wondered what proportion of the church had been actively trying to memorise each hymn, or if it would be of much benefit.

So I was really encouraged to get this feedback from someone at church (the person has asked to remain anonymous):

“I have to admit – I used to not like In Christ Alone that much. It had become monotonous for me. Well, I would like to let you know that memorising the whole song has brought about a remarkable change. For the first time, I no longer heard the tune, but visually saw the whole song. I can’t quite articulate what I mean, but it was as if I saw the song only in its various parts with the first and last verse being the most obvious. But by memorising the song, I finally saw the whole song and would visualise the song in my mind when singing it.

It made a big difference to the way I sang the song too, whereby I no longer heard the tune, but saw the whole gospel story.

Look forward to memorising the next song.”

That comment made my day – praise be to God!

“She must and shall go free!”

“All her debts were cast on me.
And she must and shall go free!”

A beautiful depiction of Christ pleading for His Bride, the Church. Found in #534 in Gadsby’s Hymnal:

        1    Mercy speaks by Jesus’ blood;
Hear and sing, ye sons of God;
Justice satisfied indeed;
Christ has full atonement made.

2    Jesus’ blood speaks loud and sweet;
Here all Deity can meet,
And, without a jarring voice,
Welcome Zion to rejoice.

3    Should the law against her roar,
Jesus’ blood still speaks with power,
“All her debts were cast on me,
            And she must and shall go free.”

4    Peace of conscience, peace with God,
We obtain through Jesus’ blood;
Jesus’ blood speaks solid rest;
We believe, and we are blest.

You can hear a Sandra McCracken retuned arrangement here (husband Derek Webb released this as the title track of his first post-Caedmon’s Call album, She Must And Shall Go Free)

“But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.” – Hebrews 12:22-24 (ESV)

A Lament to the Lord – Two Poems

Some might have heard of this poem that does the rounds, particularly among our senior brothers and sisters in Christ. It’s a call for singing the old hymns and laments the use of new songs, modernised words and the ongoing changes in our worship gatherings.

A LAMENT TO THE LORD
– Mavis Clark, “This England”, Spring 1990, Vol.23 No.1

They’ve brought you up to date Lord, down at Saint Cecilia’s.
They’ve pensioned off the organ, and they’re praising with guitars.
They’ve done it for the young ones; we want to draw them in,
But I do wish they could worship without making such a din.
For I’m growing rather deaf Lord, and when there’s all that noise,
It gets so very hard Lord, to hear your loving voice.

They’ve written brand new hymns Lord, with tunes that I don’t know,
So I hardly ever sing now, though I did love singing so.
They’re very go-ahead Lord, they’re doing ‘series three’,
But the words are not so beautiful as the others used to be

They’ve modernised the Bible and the Lord’s Prayer and the Creed
When the old ones were so perfect that they filled my every need.
My mind’s not quite so agile, as it was some years ago
And I miss the age-old beauty of the words I used to know.

It’s very clear to me Lord, I’ve overstayed my time;
I don’t take to change so kindly as I did when in my prime.
But it can’t be very long now before I’m called above,
And I know I’ll find you there Lord, and glory in your love.

So ’til then I’ll stick it out here, though it’s not the same for me,
But while others call you ‘You’, Lord, do you mind if I say ‘Thee’?

After some sleuthing on the Internet through historical archives (and a bit of cheeky wordsmithing), I think I’ve “discovered” the second poem in this series.

This poem is a call for singing the old metric psalms and laments the use of new hymns, modernised words and the ongoing changes in our worship gatherings (there’s nothing new under the sun…)

A LAMENT TO THE LORD ABOUT THE HYMNS OF DR WATTS
– circa 18th century, in the spirit of William Romaine1

They’ve brought you up to date, Lord, in the Chapel at Mark Lane2,
They’ve done it for the young ones; we want to draw them in
They’ve put aside the Psalms and now they worship God with hymns,
But I do wish they could sing without resorting to “Watts’ whims”.

They say he’s modernised the psalms to point to Jesus Christ3
But why change what was perfect? The Psalter has sufficed!
These hymns aren’t as divinely blessed as metric psalms, you see
If psalms were good enough for Christ, they’re good enough for me!4

These hymns are new and needless, they’re Quakerish and Popish,5
I’m scared that next they’ll start to bring in instrumental music
These hymns are just a money-making scheme for Watts to gain from,
Why use them? All our fathers got to heaven fine without them!

I miss the age-old beauty of the words I used to know
My mind’s not quite so agile as it was some years ago
And with these brand new hymns, Lord, they use tunes I do not know
So I hardly ever sing now, though I did love singing so

It’s very clear to me, Lord – I’ve overstayed my time
I don’t take to change so kindly I did when in my prime
But it won’t be very long before I’m called above
And once I’m there I’ll sing the Psalms and glory in your love

Till then I’ll stick it out here, though it’s not the same for me
Though others think these hymns are great, I firmly disagree!

Note: I wrote this light-hearted parody to try and illustrate that what’s old was once new, and that by God’s grace Christians young and old can delight in the best old hymns of the faith, while also embracing the best songs that the coming generations have to offer, all so that Jesus might be more beautiful and believable to us.

 


  1. Who once said: “Christian congregations have shut out divinely inspired psalms and taken in Watts’s flights of fancy…” and “Why should Dr Watts, or any other hymn maker, not only take precedence over the Holy Ghost, but also thrust him utterly out of the church?” 
  2. Mark Lane Independent Chapel, Stoke Newington, where Isaac Watts began as assistant pastor 
  3. “But since I believe that any Divine Sentence or Christian Verse agreeable to Scripture may be sung, though it be composed by Men uninspired, I have not been so curious and exact in striving every where to express the ancient Sense and Meaning of David, but have rather exprest myself as I may suppose David would have done, had he lived in the Days of Christianity. And by this means perhaps I have sometimes hit upon the true Intent of the Spirit of God in those Verses, farther and clearer than David himself could ever discover, as St. Peter encourages me to hope. (1 Peter 1:11-12)” – Isaac Watts, Preface to The Psalms of David Imitated in the Language of the New Testament, And Applied To The Christian State and Worship  
  4. Nahum Tate recounts the story of a servant-maid who disapproved of singing a revised version of the Psalms: “If you must needs know the plain truth of the matter, as long as you sung Jesus Christ’s Psalms, I sung along with ye; but now you sing Psalms of your own invention, you may sing by yourselves.” 
  5. Said Thomas Symmes in a newspaper editorial in 1723, about Isaac Watt’s hymns:
    1. It is a new way, an unknown tongue.
    2. It is not so melodious as the usual way.
    3. There are so many new tunes, we shall never have done learning them.
    4. The practice creates disturbances and causes people to behave indecently and disorderly. 5. It is Quakerish and Popish and introductive of instrumental music.
    6. The names given to the notes are bawdy, even blasphemous.
    7. It is a needless way, since our fathers got to heaven without it.
    8. It is a contrivance to get money.
    9. People spend too much time learning it, they tarry out nights’ disorderly.
    10. They are a company of young upstarts that fall in with this way, and some of them are lewd and loose persons. 

Three kinds of songs to sing together in 2014

Bob Kauflin shares three categories to help you work out what to sing in your local churches this year.

1. Choose songs people can sing.

In the church (and even at a conference), we shouldn’t assume people have the same songs on their iTunes. Or that everyone even uses iTunes. That’s due both to our individualized musical culture and the multi-generational nature of the church. In the church, we haven’t gathered to use the key that makes the leader sound best, because the entire congregation is singing!

So here are some suggestions for how to know whether a songs are “singable.”

– They can usually be picked up after the first or second hearing, usually due to melodic or rhythmic repetition.
– They typically fall within a range of a low A to a high D. You can get by with higher or lower if the song doesn’t stay there long.
– They don’t have melodies with a lot of unexpected twists or ones that are so bland no one can remember them.
– The leader sings the melody consistently and doesn’t add stylistic variations every other bar.

The third point can be a bit subjective between generations – for example, our church sings Blessed Be Your Name well even though it has a reasonably complex rhythm (though I think its simple 4-chord pattern helps balance things out).

2. Choose songs people want to sing.

…the primary reason [a song is] pleasant is because we’re meditating on and proclaiming the works, word, and worthiness of our great God and Savior. But it can be musically pleasant as well. A great lyric can go unheard for decades, if not centuries, because it’s wedded to a poor melody.

Here are a few thoughts on determining whether people want to sing a song:

– People comment on how much they enjoyed singing it.
– The majority of the congregation are actually singing the song with enthusiasm.
– The melody grows on you rather than sounding old or tired by the end of the song, or after the second week.
– The melody emotionally affects you and the people you lead.
– The rise and fall of the melody correspond with the emotional rise and fall of the lyric. In other words, when you want to belt out some truth about God you’re in the higher range of your voice.

Last year we learned re-tuned hymns like Jesus, I My Cross Have Taken, Psalm 130 (From the Depths of Woe) and Rock of Ages where these great hymn texts have been married with fresh, inspiring tunes that our church enjoy singing.

3. Choose songs people should sing.

Here are some thoughts on how to know which songs we should sing:

People know better who Jesus is, what he did, and why he did it through singing our songs.
– They help people deepen their theology and connect with history.
– There’s a good chance we’ll be singing these songs a year from now, maybe even five, maybe even 100.
– People walk away with truth that affects them, and not just tunes.
– There is enough content in our songs to stand on its own without any music.
– A particular song brings a variety of feel, depth, and/or length to the songs we’re singing. i.e., psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs.

Bob also points out that the psalms (the songbook for God’s people) cover a wide range of emotions and themes, and there’s lots to learn from the psalms regarding what songs we should sing.

ALSO: If you’re interested, this e-book compiles his most helpful blog posts on anything from worship, the gospel, running rehearsals, music, arrangements, and so on. Practical and helpful.

A bedtime song about love and kisses

“E, it’s time for bed!”

(She climbs into bed with help of her small chair. There’s two teddy bears on her bed)

“How about a goodnight kiss?”

(She clambers over and takes the bear #1, and kisses bear #2)

“That’s right, bear loves bear. Dada loves E. E loves mama. Mama loves dada. And God loves us best through Jesus. Would you like to hear a song about love?”

(She nods)

“OK, let’s sing about love.”

Here is love, vast as the ocean,
Lovingkindness as the flood,
When the Prince of Life, our Ransom,
Shed for us His precious blood.
Who His love will not remember?
Who can cease to sing His praise?
He can never be forgotten,
Throughout Heav’n’s eternal days.

On the mount of crucifixion,
Fountains opened deep and wide;
Through the floodgates of God’s mercy
Flowed a vast and gracious tide.
Grace and love, like mighty rivers,
Poured incessant from above,
And Heav’n’s peace and perfect justice
Kissed a guilty world in love.

Let me all Your love accepting,
Love You, ever all my days;
Let me seek Your kingdom only
And my life be to Your praise;
You alone shall be my glory,
Nothing in the world I see.
You have cleansed and sanctified me,
You Yourself have set me free.

– “Here is Love“, William Rees, William Williams

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