The Hymnbook

At that time men were appointed to be in charge of the storerooms for the contributions, firstfruits and tithes. From the fields around the towns they were to bring into the storerooms the portions required by the Law for the priests and the Levites, for Judah was pleased with the ministering priests and Levites.  They performed the service of their God and the service of purification, as did also the musicians and gatekeepers, according to the commands of David and his son Solomon.  For long ago, in the days of David and Asaph, there had been directors for the musicians and for the songs of praise and thanksgiving to God.  So in the days of Zerubbabel and of Nehemiah, all Israel contributed the daily portions for the musicians and the gatekeepers. They also set aside the portion for the other Levites, and the Levites set aside the portion for the descendants of Aaron.

  • Nehemiah 12:44-47

“My heart aches as I see [the Christian hymnal] being neglected by our congregations.  The Christian hymnal is one of the great depositories of the Christian life and experience.  The men and women behind these hymns were writing out of deep spiritual experiences.  The poetry of some hymns may not be perfect.  In fact, some may be very difficult to sing.  Pushing the hymnal aside, however, is to forfeit one of the great spiritual treasures of the Christian Church.  The hymnal connects us with our Christian heritage, a legacy that should not be denied to this generation of Christians. …

“Show me the condition of your Bible and your hymnal and I will accurately predict the condition of your soul.  Our souls need to be nurtured and cultivated and nothing does that better than a Christian hymnal.  I cannot imagine a Christian not spending quality time in the hymnal.  Hardly a morning passes when I don’t kneel down with an open Bible and a hymnal and comfortably sing off-key the great hymns of the Church.”

  • A. W. Tozer, The Crucified Life

In Tozer’s first chapter, he established the meaning of the Crucified Life, at least as a dictionary style of meaning.  The depth came in the following chapters.  He then expounded upon the translations of the day, the 50s and 60s, and how he thought the King James Version was so beautiful, thus used throughout the book.  He then wrote about the hymnal.  To his credit, each chapter of the book ended with the words of an old hymn.

When I was first starting this blog site, and reading the blogs of others, I read an article by a church music director who had only used contemporary music until he discovered an old hymn.  It was written differently.  Contemporary Christian music gets the mood of worship across.  It gets a basic theme across, but the old hymns told stories – stories of the struggles in the Christian life and how God conquers our fears.  The author of the post said that his music direction changed.  The church mostly did contemporary music, but they sprinkled in an old hymn here and there.  The old stories were stories that we could relate to.  Those old stories provided depth, and a really hard tug on the heart, on occasion.

I agreed with the young music director.  I have heard Gospel singers say that they may have difficulty thinking of the proper Bible verse to use, but they know how to sing it, whatever the ‘it’ is.  I agree with them too.  I wake up to an earworm most of the time, and most of the time it is a hymn that I heard over the weekend – television show or church service.  These hymns give me wings to fly and energize me through the day.

The odd thing about Tozer’s first chapter is that he died forty years before the book was published, long before contemporary worship services projected the words onto a screen and the pews contained no hymnal.  Yes, reading from a screen above eye level puts you in better posture to sing the words rather than having your chin firmly glued to your chest as you try to remember which verse the congregation is singing.

But Tozer is not talking about the ‘hymnal’ book as much as the words of the songs within the hymnal.  The photo shows an old hymnal from the 60s-80s, first printed in 1955.  Three branches of the Presbyterian Church adopted the hymnal (The Hymnbook), and it was the hymnal that I grew up with.  The book in the photo was smoke damaged when the education wing of our church (at the time) burned to the ground.  I took a few home rather than having them thrown away.  The smoke smell has faded in the 39 years since then.  As I grew up, the old folks, my parents included, voiced their hatred of this hymnal.  In their opinion, the music was not as rich as in the old Broadman hymnal, only published 15 years prior, but the source of hymns during World War II.  Really, the hymnal the old-timers missed was published in the 19th Century.  I will admit, we had the prayer meetings on Wednesday night rocking when they brought out the few old 19th Century hymnals and folks shared.  There were a lot of echo refrains, something that I have always loved – probably remembering those old prayer meetings.

The hymnal in our church today is, at best, horrible.  Many of the great hymns are missing.  It has a couple of Gaither hymns added and a few songs that we sang around the campfire, but what is so bad about it is the changing of the words (almost every hymn) to be politically correct.  Much of the old hymns used “man” and “he.”  To change the words to not be gender specific and have the meter correct and the lines to rhyme…  Everything got changed.  I used to put the hymnal down when an oldie was sung and sing it from memory.  I cannot do that anymore.  Forget singing anything other than the tune.  I can’t read the notes and words without messing up.  I will find out that I am singing the ‘wrong’ words.  But I am singing the right words and the hymnal people screwed up in what they printed.

Tozer goes on, beyond the part quoted, to tell people to get an ‘old hymnal’ and keep it at home, reading a song or singing it as part of the devotional period of the day.  Tozer mentions Isaac Watts as being someone who had written enough to receive a better theological education singing his hymns than you might get at some four-year Bible colleges of his day.  But as an evil presence invades our churches and tries to change an unchangeable God, we need the old hymnal to learn what the great composers and poetry writers of the faith really said, rather than the modern interpretation thereof.

There is even a newer hymnal prepared for the denomination where I attend.  We have not bought it and may never.  They wanted In Christ Alone to be in the hymnal.  They just had one line that needed changing.  Keith and Kristyn Getty, who wrote the words, refused to have their song in the hymnal, if a word was changed.  The song will not be in the hymnal.  What would Fannie Crosby or Isaac Watts do if they were still alive to defend their music?  Would they even recognize the words in the hymns these days?

Soli Deo Gloria.  Only to God be the Glory.

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