The other day, after practicing the hymns I needed to play for BSF, I turned around to find my husband sitting in the study listening. Just listening. That was cool. So I opened the hymnal again -- my good old Baptist Hymnal from my childhood church -- and just starting playing through it. It had been a long time since we'd heard some of these hymns.
Hubby and I like the traditional hymns. We were hoping to find a church here that would sing them instead of -- or in a good combination with -- the contemporary "praise songs". Problem is, such churches only attract old people, and they don't have good youth groups for our girls. And a good youth group is important right now.
But as I said, we really like the traditional old hymns. "The Church's One Foundation." "At Calvary." "Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing." "Immortal, Invisible." "How Great Thou Art."
We noted, though, that "How Great Thou Art" isn't that old. It was written sometime in the 50s. So, to my parents, it was like "Pass It On" or something (that's an old 70s hymn classic, for those who didn't grow up all churchy like me). (By the way, we have a family story about the song "I'd Rather Have Jesus", which was a new song during WW2 that my father learned in the navy in the Pacific . . . but that's a story for another day.)
That means that when Elvis sang "How Great Thou Art" on his album in the late 60s, it was not an old hymn; it was a relatively new one. That would kind of be like Mariah Carey putting out an album titled "Shout to the Lord" and getting a Grammy for the title track. Weird.
Back to our hymn-fest in our study . . . we wondered aloud why the old hymns are so good and so much better than most current praise songs. However, the fact that I was skipping half or more of the songs in the hymnal kind of answered our question: they weren't all good. Some of them we never sang. Some we sang and still enjoy just for sentimental reasons, but they're actually pretty mediocre. But the true classics that we sing over and over again and have sung for decades -- even centuries -- are classics because they've been vetted.
Probably, at the time "Amazing Grace" was written, it was one of a slew of brand new hymns being sung in the church -- some good, some mediocre, some pretty awful probably, but a couple shining brightly as truly Spirit-inspired. And the mediocre faded away. The inspired lived on to be sung today.
One of the things I think makes the classic hymns live on is that they appeal not only to the soul but to the mind; they have good theology. There's a lot of fluff in the praise songs we belt out each Sunday these days. But the old hymns are meaty. Sometimes, I'll get a verse in my head and just end up mulling over it all day long. Here's a common culprit:
Oh, to grace how great a debtor daily I'm constrained to be.
Let thy goodness, like a fetter, bind my wandering heart to thee.
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it; prone to leave the God I love.
Here's my heart, Lord; take and seal it -- seal it for thy courts above.
Prone to wander . . . bind my heart to you . . . I'm so indebted to grace . . . amen to all that . . .
I wish there was a "hymn" channel in the music section of my cable listings. I'd be there every day.