HYMNS THROUGHOUT HISTORY

 

"Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost but now am found 'twas blind but now I see!"… The words of this famous hymn echo across time—spreading the light of Salvation unto a world lost in sinful darkness. John Newton was just one of many hymn writers who made a mark in history, helping to form what we know of today as the "traditional-style Christian hymn." These "hymns," often sung in four-part harmony, are spiritual songs characterized by their reverent melodies and in-depth lyrics revealing Biblical truth and worship. This particular style of spiritual song has developed over thousands of years, as voices have been lifted to God in praise since the beginning of time.

 

Hymns In The Bible…

We love to hear of the songs in the Old Testament such as the powerful chorus of victory sung by Moses and the Israelites after they crossed the Red Sea:

"I will sing unto the Lord, for He hath triumphed gloriously:

the horse and his rider hath He thrown into the sea.

The Lord is my strength and song, and He is become my salvation:

He is my God, and I will prepare Him an habitation;

my father's God, and I will exalt him. . . "(Exodus 15:1,2)

and the beautiful psalms of praise sung by David such as,

"Make a joyful noise unto the Lord, all ye lands.

Serve the Lord with gladness:

come before His presence with singing." (Psalm 100: 1,2).

His psalms were prayers of supplication:

"Search me, O my God, and know my heart: try me,

and know my thoughts: and see if there be any wicked way in me,

and lead me in the way everlasting." (Psalm 139).

His songs were full of reverence and sobriety:

"It is a good thing to give thanks unto the Lord,

and to sing praises unto Thy name, O most High…

Upon an instrument of ten strings, and upon the psaltery;

upon the harp with a solemn sound." (Psalm 92:1,3)

David’s reign as King marked the historical advancement of music in Israel as he composed the Psalms and made stringed instruments for praise. [1] "And David spake to the chief of the Levites to appoint their brethren to be singers with instruments, psalteries and harps and cymbals, sounding, by lifting up the voice with joy." (I Chron. 15:16) As David made plans for God's temple, he chose four thousand Levites to carry out this worship in song as spoken of in I Chron. 23:5. This mighty assembly of stringed instruments, trumpeters and singers must have made a glorious sound! Years later, after King Solomon completed the building of the temple, the magnificent dedication takes place: "And it came even to pass, as the trumpeters and singers were as one, to make one sound to be heard in praising and thanking the Lord: and when they lifted up their voice with the trumpets and cymbals and instruments of music, and praised the Lord, saying, 'for He is good; for His mercy endureth for ever': that then the house was filled with a cloud, even the house of the Lord; so that the priests could not stand to minister by reason of the cloud: for the glory of the Lord had filled the house of God." (II Chron. 5:13-14)

 

The New Testament reveals the dispensation of the "Law of Grace" and how it differs from the times of the "Law of Moses" in the Old Testament. The magnificence of Solomon's temple, lined with gold and riches, displays huge contrast to the new temple: the heart of the inner man. The stately reign of Israel’s kings contrasts the humble birth of Jesus Christ the King of Kings born in a manger with no wealth or high rank of social status. Priests, arrayed in beautiful garments and performing elaborate rituals, differ greatly from Jesus and His disciples walking the dusty streets and traveling the countryside preaching the Word of God. While the priests dwelt in the beautiful gold-lined temple, Christ had no place to lay His head. Prophecy revealed that He would be of a quiet spirit and not "strive, nor cry" and no man would "hear His voice in the streets." (Isaiah 42:1, 2/ Matt. 12:18,19) Matthew 12:29 reveals that He was "meek and lowly in heart." Worship in music and song seems to take on a more quiet, humble form as well at this time. Interestingly enough, instruments are never mentioned among Jesus and His disciples. The first mention of the word "hymn" in the Bible appears in the New Testament, as Jesus is shown gathering with His disciples at the Last Supper (Matt. 26:30/ Mark 14:26), "And when they had sung an hymn, they went out into the mount of Olives." In Eph. 5:18, 19, it is exhorted: "…be filled with the Spirit; speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord; Giving thanks always for all things unto God and the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ…" Colossians, chapter 3 verses 16 and 17, speaks of the importance of hymns not only for the glory of God, but for the welfare of the body of Christ (the church), as the Word of God is spoken in song…"Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord. And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by Him."

 

Hymns Of The Early Christians…

Soon after Christ's crucifixion and resurrection, the persecution that He had prophesied began to be fulfilled. Stephen, the first martyr, was followed by many for the next 300 years. Ancient historians such as Pliny in the first century wrote of these early Christians and how "they used to meet on a stated day before light, and to sing among themselves, in turn, a hymn to Christ" [2] The great Christian apologist, Justin Martyr of the 2nd century, described public worship as a "simple meeting of believers on the Lord's Day to hear the Scriptures read and explained along with the singing of hymns, the offering of prayers, the celebrating of the Lord's Supper, and the receiving of gifts." [3] During these times, there are endless accounts of Christians lifting up their voice in songs of praise to God as they are thrown to wild beasts and burned at the stake, etc… These songs of faith stand as a testimony of God's mighty power to bring comfort in the midst of pain and peace in the midst of torture. One such example is described in Martyr Of The Catacombs, depicting the brutal scene of the Coliseum in Rome where a group of young women were thrown to wild beasts...."[They] joined hands, and raising their eyes to Heaven, sang out a solemn chant which rose clear and wondrously sweet upward to Heaven:

Unto Him that loved us,

To Him that washed us from our sins In His own blood;

To Him that made us kings and priests,

To our God and Father;

To Him be glory and dominion

Forever and ever.

Hallelujah. Amen!"

As their voices were hushed in death, these faithful believers “had carried their song to join it with the psalm of the redeemed on high.“ [4] In the 4th and 5th centuries, the church was relieved of persecution for a brief 200 years beginning with the reign of Galerius and Constantine. However, as the church became joined to the state, it began to depart from the true teachings of the gospel as was later exposed by Reformation forerunners such as John Huss, William of Ockham and John Wycliffe. As the state church became more powerful and oppressive, persecution again continued intermittently into the Middle Ages for the next 1,000 years—many of these accounts are recorded in The Martyr's Mirror, a testimony of those whose blood became known as the "seed of the church." [5] The Middle Ages are often called the Dark Ages because of the violence, persecution, sickness and lack of artistic and scientific advancement that reigned due to the vast oppression during that time. However, as we see the nearing of the 1500's, the power of the state church is broken and the church of Christ begins to rise from the ashes and bloom as the Word of God is translated and made available to the common people.

 

Reformation Hymns…

The Northern Renaissance and Protestant Reformation marked this time of incredible advancement in all areas of life, including music. The Holy Scriptures were beginning to be translated from Hebrew, Greek and Latin into the common languages of the people, providing greater accessibility to the Word of God, which in turn sparked great transformation and revival throughout the Church—Historian J.H. Merle d' Aubignè observed: Those heavenly powers which had lain dormant in the church since the first ages of Christianity, awoke from their slumber in the sixteenth century…The church was created anew, and from that regeneration flowed great developments of literature and science, or morality, liberty, and industry. None of these things would have existed without the Reformation. This reformation was to be the result of two distinct forces—the revival of learning and the resurrection of the Word of God. The latter was the principal cause, but the former was necessary as a means. [6] Desiderius Erasmus, one of great translating contributors once wrote: [I] Would that the farmer might sing snatches of his Scripture at his plough, that the weaver might hum phrases of Scripture to the tune of his shuttle, that the traveller might lighten with stories from Scripture the weariness of his journey.[7] Martin Luther, leader of the Protestant Reformation, also realized the power of music on the human heart and its forefront in worship and praise to God. "Music is a gift of God, not a gift of men.“ “After theology", he said, " I accord to music the highest place and greatest honor." [8] Luther realized the importance of church congregations being able to take part in worshipping God in song—not merely hearing a choir's praise; so in addition to his German translation of the Bible, he began writing hymns in the people's common language that could be easily sung and understood by church congregations. His purpose stated: "[That] God might speak directly to them in His Word, and that they might speak directly to Him in their songs." [9] Luther published the first Protestant hymnbook, and wrote many beloved hymns such as A Mighty Fortress Is Our God and Away In A Manger. He focused on deep lyric content and beautiful melodies, in contrast to some of the ancient chant styles that used much repetition. He also encouraged others to develop a skill for poetry in order to write hymns to glorify God and implant God's Word in the heart. Many rose to this challenge and by 1564, a hymnal contained a preface stating that in the Protestant part of Germany "there is scarcely a pastor or shoemaker who lacks the skill to make a little song or tune to sing at church with his neighbors." [10]

 

Post-Reformation Hymns…

The Post-Reformation Era continued this renewed fervor of melodic praise throughout the 1700's as composers such as the great theologian, Isaac Watts, contributed some 750 hymns—including Joy to the World, When I survey the Wondrous Cross, Come Holy Spirit, Heavenly Dove, Alas, and Did My Savior Bleed, and O God Our Help in Ages Past. This "Father of the English Hymn", criticized the old Psalters for their lack of depth and beauty and determined to give the English people hymns that they could easily sing and understand—He ascribed that David, author of the Psalms, who lived in Old Testament times could not have fully comprehended the personage of Christ, and therefore hymns should be written with the "language of the New Testament" to aid in better understanding of the Gospel.[11] The famous hymn writer Charles Wesley composed over 6,000 hymns including And Can It Be, Jesus Lover of My Soul, O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing, and Hark the Herald Angels Sing. [12] Great musicians followed this surge of praise as well, including Johann Sebastian Bach who was quoted as saying that everything should be done "to the glory of God." He said that the purpose of music was to "produce a well-sounding harmony to the glory of God and the permissible delight of the spirit." Among his great works include the St. Matthew Passion which depicts the crucifixion of Christ. George Frederick Handel composed oratorios, which were sacred choral pieces often using Biblical text. Later in his career he composed the famous Messiah, which covers the life of Christ—starting with Old Testament prophecies of Christ and their fulfillment in Christ's birth, death, resurrection and His second coming—the Hallelujah Chorus is perhaps the best-known choral piece in the world. It produced a standing ovation from England's King George II who stood in deep reverence for the "King of Kings and Lord of Lords." This beginning sparked a tradition that is still followed today.

 

The waves of persecution that continued to flood Europe during the Reformation and Post-Reformation Eras had sparked flight to the new America! Those who had sought refuge and religious freedom brought the newly-translated word of God to a new corner of the earth! American-born musicians became great contributors to Christian hymns. William Billings published six volumes of his own music, the first being The New England Psalm Singer in 1770. He traveled throughout New England conducting "singing schools" for the common people that they might have the ability to read music and lift their voices in songs of praise. [13] Many Christian Hymns were written following the Civil War. "Negro Spirituals" made a great contribution to America's musical heritage with hymns like Go Tell It On The Mountain, Rise up Shepherd And Follow, Were You There? and Deep River. Hymns were an important part of large revival meetings during that time, as their melody and verse made scriptural truth and doctrine easy to memorize. Ira Sankey, D.L. Moody's song leader, took the forefront of hymn composition as he traveled with the famous evangelist, exhorting with the Word in song. These included There'll Be No Dark Valley, Under His Wings, There Were Ninety and Nine, and Faith Is The Victory. P.P. Bliss, Sankey's assistant, composed hymns such as Almost Persuaded and Let the Lower Lights Be Burning. William G. Fischer's Whiter Than Snow and I Love to Tell the Story; and William Bradbury's melodies of Just As I Am and He Leadeth Me are also named among favorites of the era. However, Fanny Crosby is said to be the most prolific and most beloved song writer, publishing over 8,000 hymns—more than any other hymnist in history. Among these are Tell Me the Story of Jesus, To God Be the Glory, Near the Cross, and He Hideth My Soul. [14]

 

Contemporary Hymns & Our Mission Today…

Some of the great contemporaries of the 1900's include Albert Brumley (I'll Fly Away, I'll Meet You In the Morning), Dottie Rambo (In The Valley He Restoreth My Soul, If That Isn't Love), John W. Peterson (Heaven Came Down and Glory Filled My Soul, He Lovingly Guards Every Footstep), the Gaither's (The Longer I Serve Him, Joy Comes In The Morning, I Believe In A Hill Called Calvary ) and Ira Stamphill (Supper Time and I Know Who Holds Tomorrow). In addition to these great modern contributions to the Christian Hymn, came many liberal movements of entertainment and worldliness—embracing less-reverent forms of praise. The cultural ideas and trends that had exploded during the 60's and 70's began permeating into church worship, merging secular styles of music with spiritual praise. Today we are facing a world of Christian worship that has decreased in lyric content, giving way to intensified music (such as hard rock, heavy metal and rap) which mimic pagan and secular styles. Many song artists are taking on the appearance and styles of secular performers, making it very difficult to distinguish the one from the other. This is very contrary to the pattern of Christian worship seen throughout history. Christ exhorted us to worship God in "spirit and in truth" (John 4:24), not as those being conformed to the world. As quoted in II Cor. 6:14-18, "…what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness? And what concord (agreement) hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel (an unbeliever)? And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? for ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing' and I will receive you, and will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty." Many churches turn to these styles in order to please a larger crowd, especially the youth. Though these movements are large, they are not encompassing, however. Many Christians are calling for reform and change across the world: to turn from worldliness and return to the Bible-based worship of times past of the humble doctrine of Christ. Though it is our desire to reach the world with the Gospel, we understand the necessity to keep the message of Christ pure and unspotted from the world and not become as the world. We at "For His Glory" have felt great conviction to aid in this movement and pray that our hymns will help in this revival. As we see prophecy unfold, we feel the urgency to reach out with the Gospel of Christ, for His return is near! We want to help spread the good news of His Love and Redemption For All Mankind! We pray that this ministry of song can be a blessing to all who hear, and that our voices can raise together as one "For His Glory"!

 

Hymns In Eternity Future…

We know, according to Scripture, that worship in song will be a glorious part of the grandeur of Heaven through all eternity as we rejoice with the throngs of angels— praising the King of Kings and Lord of Lords! As we think of the hymns that have echoed throughout the ages of time on earth, we look forward to the day where we will join in that “New Song” in Heaven with the blood-bought throng of the redeemed spoken of in Revelation 5. Though earthly minds can’t grasp the splendor of that song, we love to turn our minds heavenward and think of that joyful day. . .

 

 

THE "NEW SONG"

By: Taunia L. Henry

 

Oh, I love to hear the hymns of old-time chorus sung in rev'rance, soft and low.

And I love to hear the children's voices singing, "Jesus loves me this I know."

But no song can match the singing up in Heaven: Hallelujahs sung in choruses unknown.

And I can't wait until I reach the gates of splendor and hear them singing the New Song!

 

(CHORUS)

"Bow down ye beasts. Bow down ye elders. Bow down ye angels now and sing!

Bow down ye heavens. Bow down ye earth. Bow down ye all within the sea!" Singing:

"Worthy is the Lamb! Worthy is the Lamb! Worthy is the Lamb that was slain for us!…"

 

Oh, I love to hear the symphonies with power playing loudly hymns of praise.

And I love to hear the great majestic choirs as their voices upward raise.

But they say, the new song sung up there in Heaven is a song that no human ear has known.

Can you imagine how it'd be as you near Heaven and hear them singing the New Song?

 

(CHORUS)

"Bow down ye beasts. Bow down ye elders. Bow down ye angels now and sing!

Bow down ye heavens. Bow down ye earth. Bow down ye all within the sea!" Singing:

"Worthy is the Lamb! Worthy is the Lamb! Worthy is the Lamb that was slain for us!…"

 

Oh, I'd love to see the gates of pearl swing open as I enter Heaven's throng!

And I'd love to walk on gold as clear as crystal as with rapture I soar along!

And I'd love to see the tree of life that's blooming, and the fountain that is flowing from the throne!

But I think it would be hard to match the splendor of Heaven singing the New Song!

 

(CHORUS)

"Bow down ye beasts. Bow down ye elders. Bow down ye angels now and sing!

Bow down ye heavens. Bow down ye earth. Bow down ye all within the sea!" Singing:

"Worthy is the Lamb! Worthy is the Lamb! Worthy is the Lamb that was slain for us!

Worthy is the Lamb! Worthy is the Lamb! Worthy is the Lamb that was slain for us!

He is worthy to take the book and to open the seals thereof.

He redeemed us with His own blood out of all tongues and nations.

Power and riches, wisdom and strength, honor and glory unto God!

Blessings and honor, glory and pow'r unto Him upon the throne!

Worthy is the Lamb! Worthy is the Lamb! Worthy is the Lamb that was slain

Worthy is the Lamb! Worthy is the Lamb! Worthy is the Lamb that was slain for us!

AMEN!"

 

 

 

 

 

 

References

 

[1] Merrill C. Tenney , The Zondervan Pictorial Bible Dictionary, (Grand Rapids, MI: The Zondervan Publishing House, 1967), 565.

 

[2] Cited Pliny, World History and Cultures In Christian Perspective, (Pensacola, FL: A Beka Book, 1985),143.

 

[3] Cited Justin Martyr, World History and Cultures In Christian Perspective, (Pensacola, FL: A Beka Book, 1985), 150.

 

[4] Cited Martyr of the Catacombs, (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Kregal Publications.

 

[5] Cited The Martyr's Mirror, Thieleman J. van Braught, (Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 1660.)

 

[6] Cited J.H. Merle d' Aubigné, History of the Reformation of the Sixteenth Century, (London: Religious Tract Society, 1863.)

 

[7] Cited Desiderius Erasmus, World History and Cultures In Christian Perspective, (Pensacola, FL: A Beka Book, 1985), 245.

 

[8] Cited Martin Luther, World History and Cultures In Christian Perspective, (Pensacola, FL: A Beka Book, 1985), 289.

 

[9] Ibid, 252.

 

[10] World History and Cultures In Christian Perspective, (Pensacola, FL: A Beka Book, 1985), 289.

 

[11] Isaac Watts: Watts and Hymnody (Wikopedia.)

 

[12] Christian History Time Line, (Torrance, CA: Rose Publishing, 2004.)

 

[13] United States History In Christian Perspective, Heritage of Freedom, (Pensacola, FL: A Beka Book, 1985), 60.

 

[14] Christian Biography Resources, (www.wholesomewords.org: Wholesome Words.)

 

* (Note: All Scriptural quotes and references are taken from the King James Version of the Bible)