It is one of the paradoxes of today that we are surrounded with opportunities to know and to live with the masterpieces in art, music, literature, and other creative fields, and yet many do not take advantage of these blessings. In the field of music alone there are a large number of recordings of the finest music ever created by man, and these may be purchased for a small amount of money. Never before has it been possible for anyone to listen to such a wealth of beautiful music at so low a cost. The same may be said for literature and other artistic creations.
Never before has the church had such an opportunity to sing the greatest hymns of the Protestant tradition as now. And yet many Christians are satisfied to sing trivial and unworthy songs of little permanent value.
The gospel message being carried to the world by Seventh-day Adventists is a thrilling full-salvation message that sums up the work of previous leaders, such as Luther, Calvin, Wesley, and others. Out of this Protestant tradition has come the emphasis upon congregational singing of songs that have proved their literary and musical worth. The church today inherits a vast number of powerful and spiritual songs that should accompany the proclamation of the gospel. Unfortunately many of these songs are unknown among numerous Seventh-day Adventists.
Here are twelve hymns worthy to be sung much more than they are by our church members. They are not necessarily the greatest of all hymns, but they surely are hymns of great spiritual depth and meaning. Their survival through the years indicates their vitality. For years they have been a great blessing to large numbers of Christians.
"Now thank we all our God," by Martin Rinkart (Church Hymnal, No. 90), comes from a troubled period in German history. It was written about 1636 and expresses thankfulness to God for protection through troubled times. The music for this hymn is famous as one of the greatest of all chorales. It has been the basis for numerous sacred compositions. It should be a familiar tune to everyone.
"O God, our help in ages past," by Isaac Watts (Church Hymnal, No. 81), is almost a national hymn in importance in England. The words read like a modern psalm, having great dignity and tremendous significance. The tune is remarkable in its simplicity and power. Every congregation should know and use this hymn.
"Come, ye thankful people, come," by Henry Alford (Church Hymnal, No. 496), expresses in an excellent way thankfulness to God at the harvesttime of the year. It points forward to the rejoicing when the harvest of the earth is finally reaped and all God's people are gathered home. This is a beautiful hymn that is too neglected by our churches.
"Jesus, still lead on," by Count Nicolaus L. von Zinzendorf (Church Hymnal, No. 676), is a hymn of great force, simplicity, and brevity. It should be sung with great breadth and dignity. It is a hymn entirely free from the sentimental, enticing, and sweet harmonies of much trivial sacred music.
"All things bright and beautiful," by Cecil F. Alexander (Church Hymnal, No. 421), represents the ideal type of nature hymn, or the kind best suited to children, for Sabbath school, or for young people. It also belongs to adults. The melody is a traditional folk song. The mood of the song is cheerful and happy.
"All glory, laud, and honor," by Theodulph of Orleans, translated from the Latin by John Mason Neale (Church Hymnal, No. 15), is an example of significant and meaningful words set to a most beautiful melody. This music is much used by composers as the basis for religious compositions.
"We gather together to ask the Lord's blessing," (Church Hymnal, No. 8), "Praise to the Lord, the Almighty, the King of creation," (Church Hymnal, No. 12), and "Rejoice, ye pure in heart," (Church Hymnal, No. 17), are three hymns of praise that are hard to surpass for their dignity, simplicity, spiritual power, and beauty of expression. They should be better known in our churches, and if better known, they are sure to be more frequently sung.
A unique evening hymn of great beauty is "All praise to Thee, my God, this night," by Thomas Ken (Church Hymnal, No. 53). The music is in the form of a canon, or a type of composition in which the melody is repeated at a later interval by another voice. The melody of the tenor is the same as the soprano beginning four notes later. Both the words and music of this great hymn should be known to all worshipers.
While the words "When I survey the wondrous cross," by Isaac Watts (Church Hymnal, No. 118), are well known to our congregations, the tune "Rockingham Old" is not so well known. It is a far superior tune to No. 120, and it would grow in popularity with congregations if they would take the time to learn it.
"Go to dark Gethsemane," by James Montgomery (Church Hymnal, No. 122), is one of the finest and most challenging hymns on the sufferings of Christ. The music is of extreme simplicity and the message of the words is one that every Christian should ponder often. It is good to find a hymn on this subject free from the weakness of emotionalism.
There are many other unfamiliar hymns of equal value to these twelve. Sometimes the familiar hymns that are sung so frequently, when carefully examined, prove to be trivial and unworthy of continual use, especially musically. The church needs music of strength and beauty to match the message.
It should be the privilege of the ministry to lead our congregations forward and upward in songs of praise, so that it may truly be said: "Heaven's communion begins on earth. We learn here the keynote of its praise."—Education, p. 168. There is no conference department for the promotion of the use of better hymns in our churches. To anyone who knows the Church Hymnal at all it is obvious that all the material in it is not of equal worth. Congregations that drift along without leadership in music will naturally tend toward the use of inferior materials. It takes effort and leadership in this as in all worthy projects to make advancement. Here as in other church affairs the responsibility rests with the minister. If progress is made, he will be the one to sponsor it. By his personal example, and with the aid of trained musicians in his congregation whom he will enlist, the minister can lead our congregations to much higher ground in the praise of God through hymns.