Colossians 3:16 says, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God.”
Several months ago, I began using my old 1956 Baptist Hymnal as part of my devotions. I started at the very beginning and am gradually working my way through. I just read the text — singing along if I know the tune, which I most often do — and let God speak to me through the words.
This has been a wonderful experience. So many of these hymns have texts that are inspired and incredibly insightful. It’s a shame we don’t sing them more.
In the hymnal’s Preface, then SBC Sunday School Board Executive Secretary-Treasurer James L. Sullivan wrote, “In this music we find expressed every feeling and emotion, every truth and doctrine of our Christian faith. As we sing, we not only express what is in our hearts, but we grow in Christian character and are strengthened in our faith.”
That certainly has proved true for me as I have revisited hymns I first heard and sang as a child.
My experience prompted a new feature on my Facebook page which I decided to call “Hooray for the Hymnal!” On occasion (not every day), I highlight a hymn and call attention to part of the text. I might include a comment or two, but for the most part, I just let the hymns speak for themselves.
As many will remember, No. 1 in the Baptist Hymnal is “Holy, Holy, Holy.” It leads off the General Worship section and is specifically tagged as a hymn of adoration and praise. The words were written by Reginald Heber and the tune by John Dykes. I’ve always been partial to verse three:
Holy, holy, holy! Tho the darkness hide thee,
Tho the eye of sinful man thy glory may not see;
Only thou are holy; there is none beside thee,
Perfect in power, in love and purity.
As one who has more of earthly life behind me than ahead, I resonated with, and was encouraged by, the last verse of No. 29, “Day Is Dying in the West” (words by Mary A. Lathbury, tune by William F. Sherwin):
When forever from our sight
Pass the stars, the day, the night,
Lord of angels, on our eyes
Let eternal morning rise,
And shadows end
Verse two of No. 54, “God of Our Fathers, Whose Almighty Hand” (words by Daniel C. Roberts, tune by George W. Warren) has given me a new way to think about and pray for my country:
Thy love divine hath led us in the past,
In this free land by thee our lot is cast;
Be thou our ruler, guardian, guide and stay,
Thy word our law, thy paths our chosen way.
And I’ve always loved No. 59, “This Is My Father’s World” (words by Maltbie B. Babcock, tune by Franklin Sheppard). Verse three of this beautiful hymn reminds me that even when it seems the entire world has lost its way, God is still in control:
This is my Father’s world, O let me ne’er forget,
That though the wrong seems oft so strong,
God is the ruler yet.
This is my Father’s world,
The battle is not done;
Jesus who died shall be satisfied,
And earth and heaven be one.
With 553 entries (including the Amens!) I’ve got a long way to go, but the journey already has been rewarding and has brought new insights as well as good memories. And the response has been wonderful. I have received messages from folks who have dug out their own copies, found copies that belonged to parents and even purchased copies on eBay.
So hooray for the hymnal! I invite you to find a copy, join me in this adventure, and allow these great songs of faith to speak to you in the same way they are speaking to me — again.
David Garrard is a professional magician who lives in Louisville, Ky. He was the longtime minister to children at St. Matthews Baptist Church in Louisville until his recent retirement.
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