On the singing of old hymns


HymnsAt the risk of sounding like a curmudgeon, I have to say that sometimes I miss the old hymns in our worship. I do not miss how the hymns were executed, but I do miss the lyrics.

Let me explain.

Often, the singing in the churches of my youth made funeral dirges seem celebratory by comparison. It is no wonder that the 3rd stanza was often skipped. Because of the slow pace and the lack of vitality, shortening the process was an act of mercy.

That is not what I miss.

What I miss is the well-thought-out lyrics that often speak to me in a time of need.

Recently, I was working through a difficulty and a stanza from How Firm a Foundation came to mind:

When through fiery trials your pathway shall lie
my grace all sufficient shall be thy supply
the flame shall not hurt thee I only design
thy dross to consume and thy gold to refine

OK, I could do without the King James English and it would be beneficial to freshen up the pronouns to make it more contemporary. But whatever form of English we use, the spiritual meat-and-potatoes nature of the lyric shines through. I was encouraged by the words of the song.

I have heard some of my favorite hymns recorded by artists such as Chris Rice and Fernando Ortega. You can listen to Fernando’s rendition of How Firm a Foundation on YouTube. So more contemporary settings for these lyrics can be worked out.

I would encourage any worship leaders who read this blog to examine the lyrics of the old hymns and see if they do not greatly encourage you. Find new melodies or new instrumental arrangements for those precious lyrics and share them with your congregations.

The old hymns have stood the test of time because they continue to offer something of value to those who sing them or listen to them.

It might take a little effort to find that value, but it is worth it.