Category Archives: A Reflection on Hymns

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?

There are not many hymns that provide a first-hand account of the passion of the cross like this one. This hymn puts us at the foot of the cross; affording us a small, bitter taste of the powerful emotion of the crucifixion. And every emotion was present at the cross: sorrow, joy, hope, despair, contempt, relief, anguish, pride, humility, anger, love. It was a defining moment for mankind. Yet only Jesus recognized the significance of the event. He paid a great debt, a debt that was not his own, but his children’s – the same children who mocked, scorned and killed him.

Jesus knew he would rise again. He knew he did not have to die. Why bother? Why not use miraculous powers to stop the crucifixion. Why go through all of this human pain?

Jesus was born among us. He lived among us. And he died among us. He paid a price for us because he loved us. He wanted us to know that he understood and cared. Jesus’ pain was very real just as our pain is very real. Jesus’ death was very real just as our death is very real. But most importantly, Jesus’ resurrection was very real and his promise of eternal life with him is also very real.

Were the whole realm of nature mine,
That were an offering far too small;

A number of hymns have posed the question “How can I say thanks?” The point is: we can’t say thanks. If we had everything, all the possessions the world has to offer, and we gave it all to God as a sign of our thanks, it would still fall short of the gratitude we feel.

Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all.

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In the Garden

This song is one of my personal favorites:

And He walks with me, and He talks with me,
And He tells me I am His own
And the joy we share as we tarry there
None other has ever known

Those lyrics have always hit home for me. While growing up in a church where I hold more bad than good ones, this song always hit home for me. I spent the majority of my afternoons walking through our family’s garden and orchard.

I often found myself asking the question…how could one see all of this and not believe that Someone greater created it? How? Then, I could hear God’s still small voice whispering within and all around me…He still captivates me this way.

Charles Austin Miles, a pharmacologist and photographer who made his greatest mark as a hymnist and writer of gospel songs, including this one. In March of 1912, he was in his darkroom waiting for some film to develop and while waiting, he read through the story of Jesus’ resurrection in John 20. He imagined himself in that garden with the empty tomb and visualized the wonder of seeing his risen Lord. It was out of that experience that this amazing hymn was written:

I come to the garden alone
While the dew is still on the roses
And the voice I hear falling on my ear
The Son of God discloses.
Refrain

And He walks with me, and He talks with me,
And He tells me I am His own;
And the joy we share as we tarry there,
None other has ever known.

He speaks, and the sound of His voice,
Is so sweet the birds hush their singing,
And the melody that He gave to me
Within my heart is ringing.

I’d stay in the garden with Him
Though the night around me be falling,
But He bids me go; through the voice of woe
His voice to me is calling.

I’ve included the version sung by Christy Nockels, a woman who has been blessed with the voice of angels. Enjoy!

Then the disciples were glad were glad when they saw the Lord. John 20:20

 

Of the Father’s Love Begotten

This is My commandment, that you love one another, as I have loved you. John 15:12

Epiphanycomes from a Greek word meaning “manifestation,” and it’s an important date on the Christian calendar. It speaks of God’s manifestation of Christ to the world, either at His presentation to Magi or at His baptism.

As early as the third century, January 6 was celebrated in the Easter church to commemorate Christ’s baptism. In the fourth century, the Western church began celebrating Epiphany to commemorate the day of the Magi’s visit. In the fifth century, Aurelius Prudentius gave the world this Latin hymn, “Of the Father’s Love Begotten,” which is often used on Epiphany. Sun to the medieval tun “Divinum Mysterium,” it’s one of Christianity’s most hauntingly beautiful hymns of wonder.

Of the Father’s love begotten, ere the worlds began to be,
He is Alpha and Omega, He is source, the ending He,
Of the things that are, that have been ,and that future years shall see,
Evermore and evermore!

O ye heights of heaven adore Him; angel hosts, His praises sing;
Power , Dominions, bow before Him, and extol our God and King;
Let no tongue on earth be silent, every voice in concert ring,
Evermore and evermore!

Christ, to Thee with God the Father, and, O Holy Ghost, to Thee,
Hymn and chant and high thanksgiving, and unwearied praises be:
Honor, glory ,and dominion, and eternal victory,
Evermore and evermore!

Amazing Grace

Call it “therapeutic theology.”

Call it a “hymn.”

Whatever name you give it, it’s the richest truth of God, versified, emotionalized, set to music, and released in the mind and from the mouth.

Have you ever taken a moment to consider the words you sung growing up in what I like to call “old-school church”? I didn’t when I was a child. I just knew that I like to sing them…even though I’m now a firm believer that the writers often chose keys that most human beings can’t sing without squealing/squeaking. My own voice has cracked more often than not when I take a moment to get back to my roots.

Let’s take a moment to be thankful for ability to transpose.

Hymns go back to the time of Moses in the book of Exodus. They’re bursts of devotional richness with rhyme and rhythm. They clear our minds, soothe our nerves, verbalize our worship, summarize our faith, and sing our great Redeemer’s praise.

Now that I’ve grown, many of these songs haunt me still…their lyrics and the tune reaching into the deepest parts of my being. Perhaps they’ve had a similar effect on you. Then again, maybe not.

I encourage you as I step forward with these ponderings, thoughts, insights (whatever you want to call them) to think about them. Look them up. Listen to them. Draw your own conclusion while sifting them through God’s truth.

Many of my favorites and some not so favorite, have been re-written to fit our generation. I just pray that we never lose the old hymn.

Rediscovering the old hymnal can be soul-bolstering. It’s a spiritual journey into biblical truth, Christian history, and timeless worship. Even I can envision us singing these songs long into eternity.

I received a devotional on 366 timeless hymns as a birthday gift one year. I won’t be touching on all 366 hymns…just a few; starting with Amazing Grace (heard here).

Popular at funerals, sung during worship services (thanks to Chris Tomlin’s My Chains Are Gone version), and even used in film (here), this song has crossed eras and generations dating back to 1779 (written by John Newton). With a message that forgiveness and redemption are possible regardless of the sins people commit and that the soul can be delivered from despair through the mercy of God, it has become one of the most popular and most beloved hymns in the modern world.

Perhaps you’ll be surprised to learn thatAmazing Grace is a New Year’s hymn. I was:

On Friday morning, January 1, 1773, John Newton (former slave trader and infidel) preached a New Year’s message from 1 Chronicles 17:16-17 in his church at Olney, England. Newton opened his sermon, saying, “The Lord bestows many blessings upon His people, but unless He likewise gives them a thankful heart, they lose much of the comfort they might have.”

He told his church to look back at God’s goodness, look around at His promises, and look forward to future usefulness. In concluding, Newton introduced a poem he’d written for occasion:

Amazing grace, how sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found
Was blind, but now I see.

Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,
And grace my fears relieved;
How precious did that grace appear,
The hour I first believed!

Through many danger, toils and snares,
I have already come;
Tis grace has brought me safe thus far,
And grace will lead me home.

The earth shall soon dissolve like snow,
The sun forbear to shine;
But God, who called me here below;
Will be forever mine.

That last verse was removed once, replaced with the following:

The Lord has promised good to me
His word my hope secures.
He will my shield and portion be
as long as life endures.

When we’ve been here ten thousand years
bright shining as the sun.
We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise
then when we’ve first begun.

In 2006, Chris Tomlin added that verse back in (story here), along with the following chorus (heard here):

My chains are gone
I’ve been set free
My God, my Savior has ransomed me
And like a flood His mercy rains
Unending love, Amazing grace

Grace is the unmerited favor of God. As one writer puts it, “The very heart of the gospel is the supreme truth that God accepts us with no conditions whatever when we put our trust in the atoning sacrifice of His incarnate Son.” That’s why it has long been said that the best way to describe grace is by using the very letters that make up the word: G-R-A-C-E, God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense.

So our faith teaches us that grace can only come from God. But did you know that grace has a unique purpose of its own? The Bible says that grace “teaches us to say ‘No’ to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age.” (Titus 2:11)

John Newton was no different from the rest of us which is why his song means so much to so many of us. It reminds us there is only one thing that distinguishes one sinner from another: Grace. And when you think about that, it really is amazing!

Up Next: Hymns

Happy Easter to all of my virtual friends (both local and far away)! I just wanted to take a moment to update on the installment of this blog. I’ll be writing about favorite and common hymns sporadically going forward.

I hope and pray that you all are all doing well! Blessings!

In Christ,
AJB