I’m a hymn nerd. I’ll admit it; give me “Mighty God, While Angels Bless Thee” or “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms” over “Everlasting God” and others like it any day. While I didn’t grow up primarily with hymns, I did have some exposure to them throughout my childhood, and for that I am grateful. College deepened my love of these songs (more on that later), and now, a year after graduation, I’m an all-out nerd. :)
If this was a college paper, I’d be defining my terms right about now, but since it’s not, I’m going to assume that “hymn” is a fairly well-known term to anyone reading this. In general, I mean older songs with several verses, not a lot of repetition, etc. Also, I don’t think that all contemporary praise and worship songs are horrible—there are a few I like (albeit very few), such as “In Christ Alone” and “How Deep the Father’s Love For Us” (which some would consider modern hymns).
What I appreciate the most about hymns is their depth—you won’t find anything like it in most modern praise and worship songs. They focus on a variety of topics, from confession (“O Thou That Hearst When Sinners Cry”) to praise (“Great is Thy Faithfulness”) to celebrating what God has done in the past (“For All the Saints”). I could go on and on citing favorite lines and hymns, but I won’t. ;) Additionally, hymns have an eternal perspective—take for example these last verses of a few hymns…
When He comes, our glorious King,
All His ransomed home to bring,
Then a new this song we’ll sing,
Hallelujah! what a Savior! – Man of Sorrows
When clothed in His brightness,
transported I rise
To meet Him in clouds of the sky,
His perfect salvation,
His wonderful love
I’ll shout with the millions on high. – He Hideth My Soul
And when, redeemed from sin and hell,
With all the ransomed throng I dwell,
My raptured song shall ever be,
God has been merciful to me. – With Broken Heart and Contrite Sigh
It’s something I’ve noticed over and over again, especially in the last verses of hymns—they focus on the eternal. This world is not the forever home of Christians, and it does us good to think in way.
Another thing I appreciate about hymns is that you won’t see a lot of lines starting with “I” or “me,” especially when compared with most modern praise and worship songs. Here are some more examples…
Mighty God! while angels bless thee,
May a mortal sing thy name?
Lord of men, as well as angels!
Thou art every creature’s theme:
Ancient of eternal days!
Sounded through the wide creation,
Be thy just and endless praise. – Mighty God, While Angels Bless Thee
Come, Christians, join to sing
Loud praise to Christ our King
Let all, with heart and voice,
Before His throne rejoice;
Praise is His gracious choice:
Alleluia! Amen! – Come, Christians Join to Sing
All praise to God who reigns above,
The God of all creation,
The God of wonder, power and love,
The God of our salvation;
With healing balm my soul he fills,
The God who every sorrow stills:
To God all praise and Glory – All Praise to God Who Reigns Above
I used to think I was pretty well versed in hymns. They certainly weren’t rare in the churches we attended growing up, and our college chapel sung them frequently. Then I started attending a church that sings primarily (though not exclusively) hymns where my repertoire expanded astronomically and I’m so glad it has. From the more common hymns I either sung growing up (such as “Be Thou My Vision” or “My Jesus, I Love Thee”) to ones I didn’t know but probably should have (“He Hideth My Soul,” “Pass Me Not, O Gentle Savior”) to others I’d never heard before (“O Thou That Hear'st When Sinners Cry,” “All Praise to Thee, Eternal Lord”), I love the depth and tradition to the songs we sing. I love knowing that I sing songs Christians have for hundreds of years…seriously, how many of the popular church songs that were around 10 years ago are still being sung now? Songs such as “Shout to the Lord,” and “Lord I Lift Your Name on High” weren’t necessarily bad, but I can’t remember the last time I heard them sung in church. In Morning and Evening by Charles Spurgeon, he occasionally quotes hymns, and I love it when I recognize them—how cool is it that my church sings some of the same songs as Charles Spurgeon, Martin Luther, etc.?
I’m even convinced that hymns are more intellectually stimulating. Let me explain—as a part of my interpreting classes, we interpreted our school’s thrice weekly chapel, including the songs. While songs are (usually) more fun than speaking, they are often really boring or really hard. As I would go through my songs and prepare my interpretation, I began to realize just how repetitive modern praise songs are. They either say the same thing over and over, only using different words, or simply repeat the same phrases over and over. Hymns, while much more challenging to interpret (what, exactly, is the “potentate of time*”?) they were much more interesting and thought-provoking. 1 Corinthians 14:15 says “What am I to do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will pray with my mind also; I will sing praise with my spirit, but I will sing with my mind also.” As someone who grew up in the church, I (along with several others I know) find the richness and depth of hymns more challenging and intellectually stimulating.
Flipping through hymnbooks is fun, but for those who don’t have one, go online. Thanks to public domain, most hymns are old enough that they can be shared without worrying about copyright issues. The best online resource is CyberHymnal. I use this site primarily for the lyrics as their MIDI files aren’t the highest quality (and I tend to know different melodies for the hymns). Another good resource is Indelible Grace’s Online Hymnal. Meant to be used in churches/group gatherings, it has samples of songs, overheads, chord charts and sheet music all free of charge. You can also order cds of the songs, done by various and sundry artists such as Derek Webb, Sandra McCracken, Andrew Osenga, Matthew Perryman Jones and others.
*po•ten•tate \ˈpō-tən-ˌtāt\ n
15c : ruler, sovereign broadly : one who wields great power or sway