Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Christmas: It’s more than a baby in a manger.

Back on November 5th (an eternity in blogdom), Ruth Hull Chatlien of Illinois invited readers of her blog to participate in a hymn meme. I intended to, I really did, but I promptly forgot all about it (and suddenly I remember that one of my mother’s sayings was, “The road to Hell is paved with good intentions.”) This week, however, when Tracie (a.k.a. Rosezilla) posted her response, it dawned on me that I had not completed the task, I had not held up my end of the bargain, I had dropped the ball. Hence, this post.

Ruth asked her readers to consider this question: If I could choose ten hymns that together have truly shaped me, that speak to me, that comprise my theology, what would they be?

Well, I have been a church pianist and organist for much of the last 55 years, so I have hundreds of “favorite hymns.” Choosing from among them would be very difficult. But Ruth didn’t ask me to name my “favorites”; she asked me to choose ones that have truly shaped me, that speak to me, that comprise my theology. This is a much more challenging task, but I’m willing to attempt it. Here are the ten I chose:

1. Love, Mercy And Grace

This hymn, written by C. Austin Miles and published by the Rodeheaver Co. in the early part of the twentieth century, is #153 in the Cokesbury Hymnal, which was used by the Methodist Church I attended as a child. I don’t recall that we ever sang it on Sunday morning, but it was a rousing favorite at Sunday evening services. (Cokesbury, by the way, is a combination of the names of the first two American bishops in the Methodist Church, Thomas Coke and Francis Asbury.)

’Twas love that gave at greatest cost
A Life, that mine should not be lost.
The Love that died in deep despair
My debt fully satisfied there.

It was Love that took my place
On the cross of Calvary;
It was grace, redeeming grace,
That paid my ransom full and free.
Over sin, without, within,
I have the victory,
Through grace, marvelous grace,
That lives in me.

The love that freely all forgives
In fullness now within me lives;
Through ev’ry trial this I see;
His grace is sufficient for me. (Chorus)

God’s love, His mercy and His grace,
Combine to raise a fallen race;
His hand is ready, ere we call,
Held out with forgiveness for all. (Chorus)

2. Beneath The Cross of Jesus

This one, #29 in the Cokesbury hymnal, was more of a Sunday morning hymn and always moved me:

Beneath the cross of Jesus I fain would take my stand,
The shadow of a mighty rock within a weary land;
A home within the wilderness, a rest upon the way.
From the burning of the noontide heat, and the burden of the day.

Upon that cross of Jesus mine eye at times can see
The very dying form of One Who suffered there for me;
And from my smitten heart with tears two wonders I confess, --
The wonders of His glorious love and my unworthiness.

I take, O cross, thy shadow for my abiding place;
I ask no other sunshine than the sunshine of His face;
Content to let the world go by, to know no gain or loss.
My sinful self my only shame, my glory all the cross.

3. All Your Anxiety

I didn't learn this one until I was an adult and no longer Methodist. When I heard it, these two passages of Scripture came to mind: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6-7) and “Casting all your care upon him, for he cares for you.” (I Peter 5:7).

Is there a heart o’er-bound by sorrow?
Is there a life weighed down by care?
Come to the cross, each burden bearing,
All your anxiety -- leave it there.

All your anxiety, all your care,
Bring to the Mercy-seat, leave it there;
Never a burden He cannot bear,
Never a friend like Jesus.

No other friend so keen to help you;
No other friend so quick to hear;
No other place to leave your burden;
No other one to hear your prayer. (Chorus)

Come then, at once, delay no longer;
Heed His entreaty, kind and sweet;
You need not fear a disappointment,
You shall find peace at the mercy-seat. (Chorus)

4. Christ the Lord Is Risen Today

This is Charles Wesley’s great Easter hymn, but it is good for every day of the year. I especially like the second verse with its words straight out of the fifteenth chapter of First Corinthians:

Christ the Lord is risen to day, Alleluia!
Sons of men and angels say: Alleluia!
Raise your joys and triumphs high, Alleluia!
Sing, ye heavens, and earth, reply, Alleluia!

Lives again our glorious King: Alleluia!
Where, O death, is now thy sting? Alleluia!
Dying once, He all doth save: Alleluia!
Where thy victory, O grave? Alleluia!

Love’s redeeming work is done, Alleluia!
Fought the fight, the battle won; Alleluia!
Death in vain forbids Him rise; Alleluia!
Christ has opened Paradise. Alleluia!

Soar we now, where Christ has led, Alleluia!
Following our exalted Head; Alleluia!
Made like Him, like Him we rise; Alleluia!
Ours the cross, the grave, the skies. Alleluia!

5. Like a River Glorious

I have loved these words of Frances Ridley Havergal ever since I first heard them many years ago. The chorus reminds me of Isaiah 26:3, “Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on Thee, because he trusteth in Thee.”:

Like a river, glorious is God’s perfect peace.
Over all victorious in its bright increase;
Perfect, yet it floweth fuller every day,
Perfect, yet it groweth deeper all the way.

Stayed upon Jehovah, hearts are fully blest;
Finding, as He promised, perfect peace and rest.

Hidden in the hollow of His blessed hand,
Never foe can follow, never traitor stand;
Not a surge of worry, not a shade of care,
Not a blast of hurry touch the Spirit there. (Chorus)

Every joy or trial falleth from above,
Traced upon our dial by the Sun of Love.
We may trust him fully all for us to do;
They who trust Him wholly find Him wholly true. (Chorus)

6. Jesus, I Come

This is another hymn I have known since childhood days. I have always preferred it to the more familiar invitation hymn, Just As I Am, for its rich message:

Out of my bondage, sorrow and night,
Jesus, I come, Jesus, I come;
Into Thy freedom, gladness and light,
Jesus, I come to Thee.
Out of my sickness into Thy health,
Out of my want and into Thy wealth,
Out of my sin and into Thyself,
Jesus, I come to Thee.

Out of my shameful failure and loss,
Jesus, I come, Jesus, I come;
Into the glorious gain of Thy cross,
Jesus, I come to Thee.
Out of earth’s sorrows into Thy balm,
Out of life's storms and into Thy calm,
Out of distress to jubilant psalm,
Jesus, I come to Thee.

Out of unrest and arrogant pride,
Jesus, I come, Jesus, I come;
Into thy blessed will to abide,
Jesus, I come to Thee.
Out of myself to dwell in Thy love,
Out of despair into raptures above,
Upward for aye on wings like a dove,
Jesus, I come to Thee.

Out of the fear and dread of the tomb,
Jesus, I come, Jesus, I come;
Into the joy and light of Thy home,
Jesus, I come to Thee.
Out of the depths of ruin untold,
Into the peace of Thy sheltering fold,
Ever Thy glorious face to behold, Jesus I come to Thee.

7. I Sing the Mighty Power of God

Several hymns are set to the tune called ELLACOMBE, but the one I like best uses these words written by Isaac Watts. It brings to mind the words of a psalm written by David: “The heavens tell of the glory of God. The skies display his marvelous craftsmanship. Day after day they continue to speak; night after night they make him known. They speak without a sound or a word; their voice is silent in the skies; yet their message has gone out to all the earth, and their words to all the world.” (Psalm 19:1-4) as well as the creation story in the first chapter of Genesis:

I sing the mighty power of God,
That made the mountains rise;
That spread the flowing seas abroad,
And built the lofty skies.
I sing the wisdom that ordained
The sun to rule the day;
The moon shines full at His command,
And all the stars obey.

I sing the goodness of the Lord,
That filled the earth with food;
He formed the creatures with His word,
And then pronounced them good.
Lord, how Thy wonders are displayed
Where’er I turn my eye:
If I survey the ground I tread
Or gaze upon the sky!

There’s not a plant or flower below,
But makes Thy glories known;
And clouds arise, and tempests blow,
By order from Thy throne;
While all that borrows life from Thee
Is ever in Thy care,
And ev’rywhere that man can be,
Thou, God, are present there.

8. The Sands Of Time

This hymn was written in the nineteenth century and has many more verses than the four that usually appear in old hymnals. I especially like the last verse. Since one metaphor for the Church is the Bride of Christ, the song applies to every Christian regardless of gender:

The sands of time are sinking, the dawn of heaven breaks;
The summer morn I’ve sighed for; the fair, sweet morn awakes:
Dark, dark hath been the midnight, but dayspring is at hand,
And glory, glory dwelleth in Immanuel’s land.

O Christ! He is the fountain, the deep, sweet well of love!
The streams on earth I’ve tasted, more deep I’ll drink above:
There, to an ocean fullness, His mercy doth expand,
And glory, glory dwelleth in Immanuel’s land.

Oh, I am my Beloved’s, and my Beloved’s mine!
He brings a poor vile sinner into his “house of wine.”
I stand upon His merit, I know no other stand,
Not e’en where glory dwelleth in Immanuel’s land.

The Bride eyes not her garment, but her dear Bridegroom’s face;
I will not gaze at glory, but on my King of grace.
Not at the crown He giveth, but on His piercéd hand,
The Lamb is all the glory of Immanuel’s land.

9. Holy, Holy, Holy

I could sing this hymn every single day and it would never get old:

Holy, holy, holy! Lord God Almighty!
Early in the morning our song shall rise to Thee;
Holy, holy, holy, merciful and mighty!
God in three Persons, blessed Trinity!

Holy, holy, holy! All the saints adore Thee,
Casting down their golden crowns around the glassy sea;
Cherubim and seraphim falling down before The,
Who wert and art and evermore shall be.

Holy, holy, holy! Though the darkness hide Thee,
Though the eye of sinful man Thy glory may not see;
Only Thou art holy; there is none beside Thee,
Perfect in pow’r, in love, and purity.

Holy, holy, holy! Lord God Almighty!
All Thy works shall praise Thy Name, in earth and sky and sea;
Holy, holy, holy, merciful and mighty!
God in three Persons, blessed Trinity!

10. Abide With Me, ’Tis Eventide

This beautiful evening hymn was inspired by the passage in Luke 24:13-32, an account of two disciples who encountered Jesus on the road to Emmaus on the very day of His resurrection. Click on the link above to hear the Mormon Tabernacle Choir sing this hymn.

Abide with me, ’tis eventide.
The day is past and gone;
The shadows of the evening fall;
The night is coming on.
Within my heart a welcome guest,
Within my home abide.
O Savior, stay this night with me;
Behold, ’tis eventide.
O Savior, stay this night with me;
Behold, ’tis eventide.

Abide with me; ’tis eventide,
And lone will be the night
If I cannot commune with thee,
Nor find in thee my light.
The darkness of the world, I fear,
Would in my home abide.
O Savior, stay this night with me;
Behold, ’tis eventide.
O Savior, stay this night with me;
Behold, ’tis eventide.

Abide with me; ’tis eventide.
Thy walk today with me
Has made my heart within me burn,
As I communed with thee.
Thy earnest words have filled my soul
And kept me near thy side.
O Savior, stay this night with me;
Behold, ’tis eventide.
O Savior, stay this night with me;
Behold, ’tis eventide.

But wait, you may be saying, what about “Crown Him With Many Crowns” and “He The Pearly Gates Will Open” and “Immortal, Invisible, God Only Wise” and “Calvary Covers It All” and “How Great Thou Art” and “Great Is Thy Faithfulness” and “Blessed Assurance” and a hundred others? I know, I know. There are so many great hymns and so little room in this meme.

Nearly forty years ago, when our family attended a large non-denominational church in south Florida, one of the first national music conferences ever held in the evangelical world was held right there at our church. Don Hustad, organist for many of Billy Graham’s crusades, gave the keynote address at the first session. I have never forgotten what he said: We should worship the Triune God -- Father, Son, and Holy Spirit - with a trinity of music, he said, speaking to ourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, always singing and making melody in our hearts to the Lord (Ephesians 5:19).


  1. It may surprise you that as an ardent atheist, I still find echoes of Christian songs in the darkest caverns of my psyche. Perhaps this goes back to when I was a choirboy in the early nineteen sixties.... I think of "There Is a Green Hill Far Away" and "Ye Holy Angels Bright", "Fight The Good Fight" ad of course that famous psalm "The Lord's My Shepherd". My wife was born just a stone's throw from John Wesley's home in Epworth, Lincolnshire. The songs of Christianity have never been far away even though the premise on which they were built is but a hideous fallacy.

  2. Beautiful, Bob! And you got me - I only knew 2, 4, 6, and 9 (and love them all). The others I read almost as poems, and loved them too. (You even followed the directions correctly, I slipped up a little on that too, but luckily Ruth is forgiving). I can't help commenting that I am glad Yorkshire Pudding has some Christian songs to light up the darkest caverns of his psyche. Even if he doesn't believe in God, God believes in him.

  3. Whew.....am relieved to be batting 60 percent. I recognize 2, 4, 6, 8, 9, and 10.

    This post looks like alot of work. Thank you for including all the wonderful lyrics.

    I like what the previous commenter said, that "God still believes in him". Good to remember.

  4. Merry Christmas to you and your dear wife, Bob.

    "Just as I am..."

  5. MERRY CHRISTMAS, rhymsie and Ellie and family!!

  6. 2, 4, 5, and 9 were the only ones I knew, but I love each and every one of them. I love your notes about why you chose each of the ten songs. Thank you for playing.

    And belated merry Christmas.