I love old hymns. God uses them over and over to bless my life and remind me of His goodness. I want to share with you three (of many!) reasons I feel this way.
First, the best of old hymns are theologically rich. Often they resound with themes and ideas that are not as popular today as they once were. (Of course, we think on themes today that many of our forebears neglected. We are finite, and no one generation ever fully comprehends and does justice to the totality of what God has revealed. Maranatha.) Therefore, hymns often stretch my mind and make me consider elements of what it means to know God that I had not considered.
Second, hymns remind me of the immutability of God. What was true for Luther, for Watts, for Wesley, for Crosby, was also true for Paul, and is true today. The Lord does not change, and the church has celebrated the Gospel of Christ for generation after generation after generation. There is something reassuring in singing a hymn which the Lord’s people have sung for centuries.
Third, hymns are beautiful. They are beautifully designed for congregational singing. It is a unique art form which is designed to be sung corporately. They are beautifully worded in ways that have in many ways been lost to modernity. They are rich and lush with vocabulary and truth. They are tested by time which does nothing but enhance their beauty.
As a fine example of all three of these great aspects of hymns, I leave you with this beauty written by John Rippon. It was sung at the funerals of Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, Robert E. Lee, and was requested to be sung to Andrew Jackson on his deathbed. More importantly, it has been sung and cherished by the Lord’s church since the 18th century. May the Lord grant this hymn many more decades in service to His church.
“How Firm a Foundation”
How firm a foundation, ye saints of the Lord,
Is laid for your faith in His excellent Word!
What more can He say than to you He hath said,
You, who unto Jesus for refuge have fled?
In every condition, in sickness, in health;
In poverty’s vale, or abounding in wealth;
At home and abroad, on the land, on the sea,
As thy days may demand, shall thy strength ever be.
Fear not, I am with thee, O be not dismayed,
For I am thy God and will still give thee aid;
I’ll strengthen and help thee, and cause thee to stand
Upheld by My righteous, omnipotent hand.
When through the deep waters I call thee to go,
The rivers of woe shall not thee overflow;
For I will be with thee, thy troubles to bless,
and sanctify to thee thy deepest distress.
When through fiery trials thy pathways shall lie,
My grace, all sufficient, shall be thy supply;
The flame shall not hurt thee; I only design
Thy dross to consume, and thy gold to refine.
Even down to old age all My people shall prove
My sovereign, eternal, unchangeable love;
and when hoary hairs shall their temples adorn,
Like lambs they shall still in My bosom be borne.
The soul that on Jesus has leaned for repose,
I will not, I will not desert to its foes;
That soul, though all hell should endeavor to shake,
I’ll never, no never, no never forsake.