Five or six weeks before my 50th birthday this past May, my wife, Julie, asked how I’d like to celebrate the milestone. I didn’t hesitate.
“Let’s have everyone over for a hymn sing,” I replied. “I’ve always asked you to make sure we sing the great hymns of the faith at my funeral – but why should I wait till I’m dead? Might as well as enjoy singing with my friends while I’m alive.”
So, that’s what we did. On a lovely Saturday night, with a cool breeze blowing thru the house, 35 or so folks joined together to sing seventeen of my favorite hymns (all verses), accompanied by another friend who masterfully strummed his guitar, all the while sometimes simultaneously playing a harmonica.
It was great. It was glorious! I will never forget it. A foretaste of Heaven, I think, when we’ll be gathered as one body, lifting our voices to the Lord.
But beyond the musicality of it all, why do we love singing such songs – and hymns, in particular?
I think it’s because historic hymns connect us to our forefathers in the faith – and sometimes subtly, sometimes not, assure us that in the end, everything is going to be okay.
We especially need that assurance today, when almost everything seems to be coming undone.
The first song we sang that night was the Charles Wesley classic, “Rejoice, the Lord is King!”
His kingdom cannot fail, He rules o’er earth and Heav’n. The keys of death and hell are to our Jesus giv’n. Lift up your heart, lift up your voice; Rejoice, again I say, rejoice!
Wesley was echoing the apostle Paul’s exhortation (Phil 4:4) – which he wrote from prison. It’s a wonderful and timely word for today, too.
We then jumped into the old Welsh hymn, “Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah.”
When I tread the verge of Jordan, bid my anxious fears subside; death of death, and hell’s destruction, land me safe on Canaan’s side. Songs of praises, songs of praises, I will ever give to thee.
There’s a lot to be anxious about in 2022, but the Lord can take those fears away. Our final destination is secure.
Our oldest son’s favorite hymn is “And Can it Be” – another Wesley classic, which the clergyman wrote to commemorate his own conversion to Christianity.
Long my imprisoned spirit lay; fast bound in sin and nature’s night; Thine eye diffused a quick’ning ray, I woke, the dungeon flamed with light; My chains fell off, my heart was free; I rose, went forth and followed Thee.
As Christians, we don’t need to be burdened by the shackles of sin, so long as we confess ours and repent. But it’s the debased, runaway culture that is on a collision course with God’s judgment. We, on the other hand, can live with a supernatural freedom.
“The Church’s One Foundation” is a grand piece written in the 1860s in response to a major fight within the Christian church in South Africa. Though specific to that era, the conviction found within the spirit of the lyrics should embolden us when faced with the biblical drift and even apostasy within the Christian church today:
The Church shall never perish. Her dear Lord to defend, to guide, sustain and cherish, is with her to the end. Th’ there be those that hate her and strive to see her fail, against both foe and traitor, she ever shall prevail.
Tho’ with a scornful wonder, the world sees her oppressed, by schisms rent asunder, by heresies distressed; yet saints their watch are keeping, their cry goes up, “How long?” and soon the night of weeping shall be the morn of song.
Weary of squabbles and those who try to debase and destroy the Church, even from within? It’s a losing battle for them. There is no greater institution today than the Christian Church and its faithful armies of pastors and fellow believers. The Lord will sustain it. As Dr. Adrian Rogers used to say, “What’s the world coming to today? It’s coming to Jesus!”
Finally, we sang “It is Well With My Soul,” a moving hymn written by Horatio Spafford, a man who lost his children in the latter part of the 1800s. A son died in a fire, and four daughters drowned while crossing the Atlantic with their mother. His wife was the sole survivor.
Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come, let this blest assurance control; That Christ hath regarded my helpless estate, and hath shed His own blood for my soul. It is well with my soul.
As we sang the song this particular night, I was sitting next to a friend who has endured a brutal year of physical health challenges, punctuated by a stroke and other unexplained health events. Tears were streaming down her cheeks. And then a smile crossed her face. That’s the confidence of a believer.
Hymns may not be every Christian’s thing, but they can lift our spirits, put wind in our sails and remind us that for the believer, the very worst this world has to offer can be tolerated because the very best of Heaven is coming – and maybe even sooner than we think.