We who preach the gospel must not think of ourselves as public relations agents sent to establish good will between Christ and the world. We must not imagine ourselves commissioned to make Christ acceptable to big business, the press, the world of sports or modern education. We are not diplomats but prophets, and our message is not a compromise but an ultimatum. A.W. Tozer
Therefore let God-inspired Scripture decide between us; and on whichever side be found doctrines in harmony with the word of God, in favor of that side will be cast the vote of truth. --Basil of Caesarea
Once you learn to discern, there's no going back. You will begin to spot the lie everywhere it appears.

I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me, because He considered me faithful, putting me into service. 1 Timothy 1:12

Monday, July 17, 2017

A Treasury of Excellent Hymns

We have a treasury of excellent hymns, lying in a chest in an attic.  Bring them down.  This is not a matter of prescribing one style for everyone.  There are two reasons why.  The first is that those hymns we no longer sing represent a wonderful variety of styles already.  There are the straightforward American revival hymns (“Jesus, Keep Me Near the Cross”).  There are haunting Irish folk melodies (the tune “Slane” for “Be Thou My Vision”).  There are the poignant Negro spirituals (“There Is a Balm in Gilead”).  We have medieval plainsong, featuring some of the oldest extant melodies (“Creator of the Stars of Night”); harmonization or Renaissance melodies by Johann Sebastian Bach (“Jesus, Priceless Treasure”); melodies specifically written for fine religious lyrics (“Lux Benigna” for Cardinal Newman’s “Lead, Kindly Light”); lilting melodies from the Scottish tradition (“Saint Columba,” “Crimond,” and “Evan” for “The King of Love My Shepherd Is”); the powerful shape-note hymns from Appalachia; French carols; English anthems for the Church militant; texts whose authors range from the Church Fathers to the pious blind poet Fanny Crosby; melodies from the time of Ambrose to the beginning of the twentieth century, from every single nation in Europe.  If someone rejects all of that, it is not because he does not appreciate “the” style.  It is because he has a lust for destructiveness or because he does in fact want one style to prevail, the style of the jingling show tune, a style that has no place in the liturgy.

Some church choirs with a chokehold on the music protest that it takes them many long hours to learn a new hymn.  That would be true only if they were singing in harmony, and most do not.  It should take only a few minutes for anybody, in the choir or not, to learn to sing a new melody.  The old hymns were written precisely for congregational singing.  You do not have to be Beverly Sills or Mario Lanza to sing them.  They are waiting; just as if there were a great wing of a castle that no one every entered anymore, filled with works of art by the masters.  No doubt a painting of the Prodigal Son by Murillo or Rembrandt reveals its secrets only gradually, so that you can look at it for the fiftieth time and notice something that you had seen but taken for granted, such as why Rembrandt’s prodigal has a shaved head, or why there is a little white dog in mid-leap after Murillo’s prodigal, wagging his tail for joy.  But those great works also appeal to us immediately, impressing us with their beauty and suggesting that there always will be more, and more, to see and to learn and to delight in.  The great hymns are like the paintings in that way.  They give us riches at the outset and yet have more and more to give, in abundance.

Anthony Esolen, Out of the Ashes: Rebuilding American Culture, pg.39-40


John Brun said...

There are some good old hymns, but you have to admit some of those hymns put in the attic belong there and should stay there.

Musical style has been a signature of each time period of mankind. Here's a thought. If you don't like the style of the song, update it. Some of those pieces can easily have their tunes altered. The rights to most of the really old, rarely used songs, can either be purchased/rented for very little money (I got the rights to alter the music of a tune for $20) or the hymn is out in the public domain.

Using old hymns is a great way to re-establish the base of one's faith. Having the congregation participate in a song that stinks does no good.

Glenn E. Chatfield said...

I often note problems with old hymns that should be discarded.

When people go "updating" the music of old hymns, they do it to make money off of someone else's talent. I've noted many of the in my article. I say leave them alone; the music needs to be congruent with the message. If you don't like it, write your own song.

Sir Mins said...

I agree with you, sir, the old hymns are so much better. We must remember that the tunes we know them best with may not have been the original tunes that they were sung to. When John Newton wrote the Olney Hymns hymn book with William Cowper, there were no lyrics -- just the words and what meter the song was. Amazing Grace, with six verses in the original ("When we've been there ten thousand years..." was not in the original) can be sung to "Alas and Did My Saviour Bleed" or "O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing" or "Am I a Soldier of the Cross" or "O God Our Help" and many many others. Try singing it to one of those tunes, it makes you think more about words.
I have a playlist of old hymns on youtube that I am slowly building.

Glenn E. Chatfield said...

Sir Mins,

I know many hymns have different tunes than that which they originally had, and there are many which even now have different tunes to go with them. However, in all these cases the tunes are congruent with the message. The current fad of writing new tunes ends up with tunes that don't really reflect the message, rather they are written for more emotionalism. Some get rich of of changing the original just a wee bit but adding choruses -- too lazy to come up with their own ideas and they rob off of past authors. Least ways, that's how I see it. Like Chris Tomlin (My Chains Are Gone), Todd Agnew (Grace Like Rain), etc.