Day 117: HYMNS – The Controversial Topic

Hymns often conjure up some serious reactions. For some, there is a lingering and comforting sense of the past – nostalgic throw backs to a previous time when hymns were the norm at church and school life…and how things used to be way back when. For others, rather less positive thoughts are awoken and words such as ‘dated’, ‘old-fashioned’ and ‘boring’ are flung around. I have to be honest with you. Traditionally, I’ve set up a firm stronghold in the latter camp – awful memories of poorly miming ‘All Things Bright And Beautiful’ during primary school have tainted my views a little. And as a general rule, I have to confess that I still think hymns are generally ‘done’ particularly badly.

Disclaimer: I’m not talking about the composition of most hymns – I have no qualms with that whatsoever…in fact, the lyrics are almost always astounding and the melodies, whilst unusual in a modern context, will no doubt remain timeless and staggeringly beautiful. Rather, my issue is with the modern musical arrangements of hymns in general. Apologies to hymnal purists, but this, after all, is just opinion!

(Feel free to skip to the point if you’d like)

Firstly, church organs are not the most, err, dynamically sensitive of accompanying instruments. I’ve yet to hear even the most proficient of organist accompany the lyrics in a way that doesn’t contend with them. I simply don’t understand how they are preferable to a plethora of vastly more sensitive instruments. If you champion the cause of the organ and profusely disagree, don’t hesitate to get in touch – I’d love for someone to explain why organs are so popular and will gladly take that statement back!

Secondly, whilst technically superb, harmony has moved on from Bach-styled chorales and beat by beat chord changes. Notice I said ‘moved on’ and not ‘moved up’ – as far as composition goes, I feel we’ve taken a step back in terms of complexity, but that’s just popular music today…culture has dictated it and frankly I can’t see it changing for a while yet – in fact, I’d be much more inclined to suggest that popular music will become simpler before it becomes more complex (just look at Maroon 5’s ‘Move Like Jagger’ and Gotye’s ‘Somebody That I Used To Know’…two chords populate the majority of both songs). Naturally, that has translated to contemporary worship music – the nearer the style to what unchurched people would listen to, the less of a barrier to worship a song’s style becomes. Of course, we know that God can break in regardless should He choose to but it’s still worth noting. So what am I saying? I feel that bashing out old arrangements of hymns with new-style bands or old-style harmony at worst doesn’t work at all and at best needs some serious consideration to do the hymn justice. Again, just my opinion – hopefully, not too much of a controversial one…

Thirdly, I feel that hymns are often treated like a musical exercise rather than as a means to elevate the incredible lyrics it contains. Come on people! With lyrics at the calibre of some of these hymns, it should be an honour to try and create a sensitive musical backdrop that can highlight each word and subsequently, our glorious Creator.

THE POINT

So I said I would never complain in my blog posts. I know I did. But this isn’t simply a rant about how bad hymns are today. This post is intended to champion hymns in the 21st century…if done well. To me, having been pulled (somewhat kicking and screaming) into the world of hymns, I now fully believe there is very little that can surpass are well arranged hymn in ushering in the presence of God.

Recently, I’ve heard some of the most powerful arrangements of old hymns that have radically impacted our congregational worship times at Kerith. I’ve attached some YouTube clips below of hymns that I think have been arranged particularly well for a contemporary congregation along with the lyrics for you to marvel over. I encourage you to pour over them. Look past the old language and focus on the truths that are being exquisitely conveyed. I think they are some of the most incredible adaptations of some simply breathtaking hymns.

What do you think?

Astounding or sacrilege?

Come Thou Fount (Particular Verses)

Come, Thou Fount of every blessing,
Tune my heart to sing Thy grace;
Streams of mercy, never ceasing,
Call for songs of loudest praise.
Teach me some melodious sonnet,
Sung by flaming tongues above.
Praise the mount, I’m fixed upon it,
Mount of Thy redeeming love.

Jesus sought me when a stranger,
Wandering from the fold of God;
He, to rescue me from danger,
Interposed His precious blood;
How His kindness yet pursues me
Mortal tongue can never tell,
Clothed in flesh, till death shall loose me
I cannot proclaim it well.

O to grace how great a debtor
Daily I’m constrained to be!
Let Thy goodness, like a fetter,
Bind my wandering heart to Thee.
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
Prone to leave the God I love;
Here’s my heart, O take and seal it,
Seal it for Thy courts above.

O that day when freed from sinning,
I shall see Thy lovely face;
Clothèd then in blood washed linen
How I’ll sing Thy sovereign grace;
Come, my Lord, no longer tarry,
Take my ransomed soul away;
Send thine angels now to carry
Me to realms of endless day.

When I Survey

When I survey the wondrous cross
on which the Prince of Glory died;
my richest gain I count but loss,
and pour contempt on all my pride.

Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast,
save in the death of Christ, my God;
all the vain things that charm me most,
I sacrifice them to his blood.

See, from his head, his hands, his feet,
sorrow and love flow mingled down.
Did e’er such love and sorrow meet,
or thorns compose so rich a crown.

Were the whole realm of nature mine,
that were an offering far too small;
love so amazing, so divine,
demands my soul, my life, my all.

Before The Throne

 Before the throne of God above
I have a strong and perfect plea,
A great high Priest whose Name is Love,
Who ever lives and pleads for me.
My name is graven on His hands,
My name is written on His heart.
I know that while in heaven He stands
No tongue can bid me thence depart,
No tongue can bid me thence depart.

When Satan tempts me to despair
And tells me of the guilt within,
Upward I look and see Him there
Who made an end to all my sin.
Because the sinless Savior died
My sinful soul is counted free,
For God, the Just, is satisfied
To look on Him and pardon me,
To look on Him and pardon me.

Behold Him there, the risen Lamb,
My perfect, spotless righteousness,
The great unchangeable I AM,
The King of glory and of grace.
One with Himself, I cannot die,
My soul is purchased by His blood.
My life is hid with Christ on high,
With Christ, my Savior and my God!

One with Himself, I cannot die,
My soul is purchased by His blood.
My life is hid with Christ on high,
With Christ, my Savior and my God!

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