Hymn Singing as Part of Our Worship

We recently heard from an old friend who is steeped in hymnology, Pastor J. Harker.

General Field Secretary, General Conference

WE RECENTLY heard from an old friend who is steeped in hymnology. You find his name (J. Harker) as the composer of the tune "Paraclete," No. 679 in The Church Hymnal: "Breathe on Me, Breath of God." He also wrote the music to a children's hymn in the same book: "Simonside," No. 420, "Jesus, Friend of Little Children."

He has more hymns (over thirty, music or words, and sometimes both) in the ex­cellent The New Advent Hymnal, pub­lished in Britain, on which he did the ma­jor work of compilation. Now in retire­ment, Pastor Harker takes a prayerful in­terest in everything to do with hymns and worship, and incidentally, is an avid reader of this journal.

Among the many hymn tunes credited to Pastor Harker in The New Advent Hymnal are some very stirring ones that are well known in British countries. His melody to the following words is beautiful.

To see His face— oh, joy divine!

What richer treasure could be mine

Than when these earthly trials o'er,

I see His face for evermore.

—Mrs. A. E. Barnes

A stirring Second Advent tune of his composition gives life to these words: O Prince of Peace, who once didst rise In splendid triumph to the skies, Before the rapt disciples' eyes, O come, Lord Jesus, quickly come! For Thy appearance all things pray, All Nature sighs at Thy delay, Thy people cry, "No longer stay," O come, Lord Jesus, quickly come!

Another good Second Advent hymn to Pastor Harker's music and words is "Advent Glory," No. 733 in the British hymnal:

The day is fast approaching when the Saviour shall appear,

And every eye His glory shall behold;

The tokens of His coming fill the loyal heart with cheer

Though strife abounds and love is waxing cold.

We'll see Him as He is,

And the brightness of His glory we shall share;

We'll see Him as He is,

And the likeness of His image we shall bear.

We had occasion to write to Elder Har­ker concerning some questions on hymnology recently. In his reply he says:

"The subject of hymns is always of in­terest to me. Of late I have had the feeling that as a denomination we are too mechani­cal in our devotion. Is it not a fact that as preachers, the only thing that matters is the sermon we are about to preach, forgetting that the congregation has a vital part to play in the worship hour? This can only be done as we use The Church Hymnal or other books as a Heaven-ordained imple­ment for such worship. We must know the book and use it intelligently. We had the ordinances last Sabbath, and closed the service with the hymn 'O Love Divine, What Hast Thou Done!' The Church Hymnal, No. 151. It simply gripped my heart. Could I beg of you to read it through? What appeal there is in each line of the hymn! The people sang well. I be­lieve an invitation from the platform to think well while singing might enrich this closing act of worship. 'O Love Divine, How Sweet Thou Art!' another of Wesley's is also a good one. Oliver Wendell Holmes strikes the same theme: 'O Love Divine, That Stooped to Share' (No. 144). The O's in John Julian's index, Dictionary of Hymnology, are almost without count."The hymns that we have in our standard Christian hymnals are the real gems of poesy and song. They are the surviving small percentage from the myriads of poems and tunes that have disappeared be­cause time has cast them aside. These sur­vivors are in general the best that man can do in praise to God through rhyme and song. We should value them and read them for their sheer beauty of thought.

We are told we "should sing with the Spirit and with the understanding also."— Testimonies, vol. 1, p. 146. A person who cannot sing—and there are some who suffer from this affliction—can nevertheless read these devotion-packed verses, meditating as others sing, and thus contribute to the value of the corporate act of worship.

When we sing in the sanctuary we are not singing for man's entertainment. We sing, first, to express our devotion to God, and, second, to glorify Him in the assembly of the saints. Heavenly music has perfect, enrapturing order. Earthly music can never be perfect, but that is no reason for being careless about our singing. Some people, however, who greatly enjoy their own sing­ing, do it a little too heartily. A strident voice can always be detected when the hymns are sung! That is another affliction, and it is hard to cure, for no one's feelings should be injured in a matter like this. The only suggestion we can offer is that we watch ourselves and remember that har­mony is not a matter of loud singing, and worship is something for all to enjoy.

Charles Wesley knew the exquisite art of pouring out the human soul to God in the singing of hymns, and with him we close this short meditation:

O Love Divine how sweet Thou art!

When shall I find my willing heart,

All taken up by Thee?

I thirst, I faint, I die to prove

The greatness of redeeming love,

The love of Christ to me.

Stronger His love than death or hell; Its riches are unsearchable:

The first-born sons of light Desire in vain its depths to see; They cannot reach the mystery,

The length, the breadth, and height.

God only knows the love of God;

O that it now were shed abroad

In this poor stony heart! For love I sigh, for love I pine; This only portion, Lord, be mine—

Be mine this better part!

O that I could forever sit

Like Mary at the Master's feet!

Be this my happy choice;

My only care, delight, and bliss,

My joy, my heaven on earth, be this,

To hear the Bridegroom's voice.

 


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General Field Secretary, General Conference

May 1962

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