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Sunday, April 17, 2011

Hymn choices

Did you ever analyze hymns that people choose to sing? There is really quite a bit of difference between a foxtrot ditty and a stately chorale. There are those who refuse to join the congregation singing anything other than a paraphrased Psalm. I love to sing the Psalms, but I have not yet been convinced that God is displeased when we sing the name of Jesus! But that is a different fight than the one I want to pick today.

I remember when the original Trinity Hymnal was published. My friend, Howard Porter, who was the organist at Calvary OPC, Glenside, PA (the church right across the street from Westminster Seminary, Philadelphia), told me that he had a friend who was organist at a Roman Catholic Church in the area. Both men being musicians, Howard loaned a copy of the Trinity Hymnal to his friend to see how he appreciated the classical tunes. When he returned the book, his comment went something like this: "The music is beautiful, but the hymnal contains a lot of grace doesn't it?" I wish all OPC church members would appreciate that--but as a note of commendation, not criticism.

What a great difference there is between "Little Brown Church in the Vale" and "When I Survey the Wondrous Cross" just for a quick example. One is full of sentimental schmaltz and the other confronts one with the awesome depth of Christ's love for poor lost sinners.

Contrast "Sunshine In My Soul Today" with "O Sacred Head Now Wounded" for another ludicrous example. One is celebrating how I feel now that I'm saved, while the other is uttering the most solemn devotion to Christ, crucified.

My point is simply that there is too much emphasis on how good I feel or how victorious my Christian life has become. I feel like a hypocrite when I sing the second verse of "Blessed Assurance". "Perfect submission perfect delight, visions of rapture now burst on my sight; angels descending, bring from above echoes of mercy, whispers of love." Those are beautiful words. That is the ideal Christian life. But I need to confess to you that I have never been able to say my submission to the Lord was "perfect". Maybe that's just me. I feel much more honest when I sing, "Jesus, what a strength in weakness! Let me hide myself in Him; tempted, tried and sometimes failing, He, my strength, my victory wins." (Jesus, What a Friend for Sinners).

These thoughts were triggered in my head because of one of the hymns sung last Sunday. "We Have Not Known Thee As We Ought". The fourth verse confesses, "We have not served thee as we ought; alas! the duties left undone, the work with little fervor wrought, the battles lost, or scarcely won! Lord, give the zeal, and give the might, for thee to toil, for thee to fight." That is what I need to sing more often than I care to admit.

My pastor, years ago, pointed out to me the most insidious hymnal editing I have ever heard of in my entire life. It is a great example of why there is an Orthodox Presbyterian Church. The original Presbyterian hymnal included the children's hymn, "Around the Throne of God in Heaven". It flows so simply and beautifully from a description of the blessedness of children around God's throne in heaven into the question, "What brought them to that world came those children there?" And the gospel answer is "Because the Saviour shed His blood to wash away their sin... The final verse celebrates their sanctification by telling us, "On earth they sought the Saviour's grace, On earth they loved his Name; so now they see his blessed face, and stand before the Lamb, Singing, 'Glory, glory, glory be to God on high.'" But when the hymnal was revised, after the church turned sour, they simply excluded the next to last verse. Then the answer to the question as to how those children got to heaven becomes, "On earth they sought the Saviour's grace... "  Suddenly the way of salvation is works, rather than grace. It is what those children did for Jesus, not what He did for them.

Do you see why it is so important to think about what words you are singing?

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