Archives For Hymns

“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.”

– Colossians 3:16

church cemetaryAugustine told us that the “law of prayer is the law of belief.”  In other words, what touches the heart is what tends to be remembered and treasured. In our day we could easily say that the law of song is the law of belief. I have many volumes of systematic theology on my shelves. Few of those will ever be read by the average believer, and not one line in any of those books will be remembered more than the lyrics of beloved hymns.  If music is a vital means of imparting spiritual truth to the hearts of God’s people, then it’s important we present as full a spectrum of theology as possible. That includes the reality of death.

“…it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment” – Hebrews 9:27

We all face the inevitability of it. Sometimes we’re reminded by the sudden and shocking departure of a loved one, or their slow descent into the shadows of death through disease. Sometimes the descent is our own. What about our young men and women in the military, or our police and rescue squads that place themselves in harms way? What about their families who face the threat with them?  How do we prepare our people to view death through the prism of hope and not despair? In part, we sing about it.

Songs about death don’t fall into the category of “happy-clappy,” and so they are often avoided. But the Scriptures don’t avoid it and neither should we. We must be preparing people to die, not simply react to death when it comes. We sing songs about facing trials and difficulties with faith. Why? Simply as a reaction? No! We sing those worship songs because they prepare the heart and fortify faith for the trials we surely will face. I’m grateful for two “re-tuned” hymns I have found genuinely full of faith in the face of death. These hymns I have used for funerals but, I have also used them in our worship service.They are not maudlin or cheesy, but instead rich in metaphor and truth. They also bring the hope we have in the face of death straight to our hearts and minds. Songs of hope help us live in the power of faith in future grace.

I’m going to share the lyrics to both songs here along with the links to where the sheet music can be obtained. Are there other songs about death you could suggest that might provide the same hope and truth?

It is Not Death to Die – Bob Kauflin

Original Words by Henri Malan (1787-1864), Translated by George Bethune (1847), Music, Chorus, and Alternate Words by Bob Kauflin. Sovereign Grace Music

It is not death to die
To leave this weary road
And join the saints who dwell on high
Who’ve found their home with God
It is not death to close
The eyes long dimmed by tears
And wake in joy before Your throne
Delivered from our fears

O Jesus, conquering the grave
Your precious blood has power to save
Those who trust in You
Will in Your mercy find
That it is not death to die

It is not death to fling
Aside this earthly dust
And rise with strong and noble wing
To live among the just
It is not death to hear
The key unlock the door
That sets us free from mortal years
To praise You evermore

© 2008 Integrity’s Praise! Music/Sovereign Grace Praise (BMI)

Lyrics, chord charts, piano and string scores.

Good Night by Matthew Smith

I journey forth rejoicing
From this dark vale of tears
To heavenly joy and freedom
From earthly bonds and fears
Where Christ our Lord shall gather
All His redeemed again,
His kingdom to inherit–
Goodnight, goodnight till then

Why thus so sadly weeping
Beloved ones of my heart?
The Lord is good and gracious
Though now He bids us part
Oft have we met in gladness
And we shall meet again
All sorrow left behind us–
Goodnight, goodnight till then

I go to see His glory
Whom we have loved below
I go, the blessed angels
The holy saints to know.
Our lovely ones departed
I go to find again
And wait for you to join us–
Goodnight, goodnight till then

I hear the Savior calling–
The joyful hour has come
The angel-guards are ready
To guide me to our home
Where Christ our Lord shall gather
All His redeemed again,
His kingdom to inherit–
Goodnight, goodnight till then

from Watch The Rising Day, released 17 August 2010

©2010 Detuned Radio Music
Written by Matthew S. Smith
Based in part on a hymn text by an unknown German writer, translated by Jane Borthwick

Find sheet music for Matthew Smith’s songs here.

Isaac Watts: A Biographical Sketch, Part 2

"First built in 1431, destroyed by the Great Fire in 1666, rebuilt in 1681, and again destroyed by enemy action in 1940." - From London Rememebrs

Girler’s Hall – “First built in 1431, destroyed by the Great Fire in 1666, rebuilt in 1681, and again destroyed by enemy action in 1940.” – From London Rememebrs

The Student

To say that Watts possessed a superior intellect is no stretch. It is reported that when he was a child and was given any money he would exclaim “A book, a book, buy a book!” When he was just four years of age he began learning Latin and soon after, Greek. At six years of age (1680), he began attending a free grammar school in Southampton where he was tutored by Rev. John Pinhorne, a gentleman whose influence on Watts would extend for ten years.

By 1687, at the age of thirteen, his language skills would include French and Hebrew. The young student was taken notice of by learned men of the day. He was noted, said a Dr. Jennings”

“…for his sprightliness and vivacity: talents which too often prove fatal snares to young persons but, through the power of Divine grace, he was not only preserved from criminal follies, but had a deep sense of religion upon his heart…”
(Memoirs of the Rev. Isaac Watts, D.D., 1780, by Thomas Gibbons pg. 5)

 

Rev. Thomas Rowe's listing in the Dictionary of National Biography of England

Rev. Thomas Rowe’s listing in the Dictionary of National Biography of England

At sixteen (1690) he was ready to leave home for further education. A physician, Dr. John Speed, and others who could see his mental powers urged him to forsake the ranks of the dissenters so that he could attend a prestigious university. He refused, even though full tuition was offered to him. As Watts himself declared, he was determined to “take his lot among the dissenters.” He moved to Stoke Newington and took up his studies for the ministry at a school under the leadership of the Rev. Thomas Rowe, the pastor of the Independent Church that assembled at Girdlers’ Hall in the city, a church he would formally join in 1693. (Rowe was the son of the Rev. John Rowe who was ejected from Westminster Abbey due to the Act of Uniformity.) Watts was a diligent and hardworking student whose essays (in both Latin and English) and dissertations written while still a very young man reveal a spiritual and intellectual depth. He enjoyed a deep bond and friendship with Rev. Rowe during his time there.  Rowe was particularly impressed with Watts devotion and intellect and quickly came to relate to him as an academic peer.

 

In his piece “To the Much Honored Mr. Thomas Rowe, the Director of my Youthful Studies,” Watts writes:

“I hate these shackles of the mind
Forg’d by the haughty wise;
Souls were not born to be confin’d,
And led like Samson blind and bound,
But when his native strength he found
He well aveng’d his eyes.”

I love thy gentle influence, Rowe ;
Thy gentle influence, like the sun,
Only dissolves the frozen snow,
Then bids our thoughts like rivers flow,
And chose the channels where they run.”

In 1705, Rev. Rowe passed away. He lived just long enough to see Watts established in his pastoral ministry.

After concluding his studies, Watt’s returned home to Southampton and resumed attending his father’s church. According to his biographer, Thomas Gibbons, he spent the time in reading, “to possess himself of ampler knowledge,” meditation, “to take a full survey of useful and sacred subjects and make what he had acquired by reading his own,” and prayer, “to engage the divine influences to prepare him for that work to which he was determined to devote his life.” (Gibbons pg.92)

Isaac Watts: A Biographical Sketch, Part 1

Isaac Watts

I am writing a biography of Isaac Watts for a seminary class. I’m going to blog it here before compiling it. Comments, questions, even corrections are welcome! I greatly admire the man and I hope you find him as inspiring as I do. – Jeff

Isaac Watts, the father of English hymnody, whose hymns are loved and sung by Christians around the world was born in a time when the church desperately needed a “new song” to sing unto the Lord.

In the days before Isaac Watts, the church in England was lagging behind in the development of sacred hymns. If you were Anglican, you sang, or rather chanted, the Psalms. Initially it was viewed as a novel means of praise but after some time the monotony of call and response wrapped up in unimaginative melody became a tedious and uninspiring exercise. Watts, it would seem, was born for just “such a time as this.”

Watts Birthplace

Watts Birthplace

Isaac Watts was a child of persecution. The oldest of nine children, he was born in his parent’s home at 21, French Street on July 17, 1674 in Southampton, England. His mother, Sarah Taunton, was of French descent. Her family belonged to the French Huguenots and had fled France for England in the wake of the Saint Bartholomew’s Day Massacre. Beyond that we know little of her. His Father, Isaac Watts Sr. was part of the “Dissenting” or “Non-Conformist” church.

The Non-Conformists arose in opposition to the Act of Uniformity passed by parliament under the leadership of Charles II. During the civil wars that preceded Charles’ reign, the Puritans had jettisoned many of the practices of the Anglican Church which they viewed as having not separated itself enough from Roman Catholicism. The Act of Uniformity was passed to restore much of what had been rejected and to unify the church of England under one prayer book, ordaining body and polity. The effect of the act was anything but unifying. The day it was passed a time known as the Great Ejection commenced resulting in close to 2,000 clergy leaving the Church of England to form their own churches.

The Jail

The jail Watt’s father was confined to.

The persecution that followed included the prohibition of Non-Conformists from holding public office or military rank and being denied degrees from Cambridge or Oxford. Those ministers who conducted worship outside the Church of England were sometimes thrown into prison in an effort to squash their efforts and frighten their congregations. It was in these days that Watts Sr. was a deacon in the Above Bar Congregationalist Church. At least twice he was imprisoned for his refusal to leave the church and most biographical sketches make mention of his wife Sara nursing a little Isaac while visiting him in the “gaol.”

The senior Watts is recorded as being at one time a shoemaker and a clothier. He was a man of modest means. When it became apparent that staying in his home in Southampton would only result in further imprisonment, he went into exile in 1683 for a period of at least two years. This created a domestic hardship for the family but calmer winds began to prevail and he returned to Southampton  where he founded a boarding school that became quite well known, receiving children from America and the West Indies. He died at the age of 85 when Isaac, the son, would have been 63. He was a man of deep spiritual conviction whose influence on his Son was profound. Shortly before his father’s death, Isaac wrote him a letter that revealed the great depth of both of their hope in Christ. It concluded with the following:

Isaac Watt's Father

Watt’s Father

 

“Blessed be God for our immortal hopes, through the blood of Jesus, who has taken away the sting of death ! What could such dying creatures do without the comforts of the Gospel ? I hope you feel those satisfactions of soul on the borders of life which nothing can give but this Gospel, which you taught us all in our younger years… May you maintain a constant serenity at heart, and sacred calmness of mind, as one who has long passed midnight, and is in view of the dawning day ! ‘ The night is far spent, the day is at hand ! ‘ Let the garments of light be found upon us, and let us lift up our heads, for our redemption draws nigh. Amen.

I am, dear Sir,  Your most affectionate obedient Son, Isaac Watts.

“For the history of holy hymns is really the history of the Church.”

Edwin Paxton Hood: “Isaac Watts; His Life and Writings, His Homes and Friends”

Isaac WattsAs a child, it was clear that Isaac Watts was a young man of advanced intelligence. His mother was amazed to discover that he had begun composing verse before he was even 10 years old. Cautious that he had perhaps copied someone else’s material, she confronted him with that suspicion whereupon he sat down in front of her and composed the following:

I am a vile polluted lump of earth;
So I’ve continued ever since my birth;
Although Jehovah grace does daily give me,
As sure as this monster Satan will deceive me.
Come therefore, Lord, from Satan’s claws relieve me.

Wash me in thy blood, O Christ,
And grace divine impart;
Then search and try the corners of my heart,
That I in all things may be fit to do
Service to Thee, and sing thy praises too.

How prophetic those last two lines were! Little did the young man know that he would come to be known as the Father of English Hymnody whose songs would be sung around the world.

watts photo1Love the titles people use to give to essays and books. This is one from Issac Watts:

“A Short Essay Toward the Improvement of Psalmody: Or, An Inquiry how the Psalms of David ought to be translated into Christian Songs, and how lawful and necessary it is to compose other Hymns according to the clearer Revelations of the Gospel, for the Use of the Christian Church.”

It’s free as an ebook at Amazon.

By the way, Sojourn Music out of KY has produced two solid collections of contemporary treatments of Isaac Watts hymns that I highly recommend :

From the Sojourn site:

“In the midst of the Reformation in England, Isaac Watts recognized that people needed to see the gospel in the psalms and hymns of the church, and they needed to sing them in language and metaphors that they understood. In this, he became not only the father of the modern hymn, but the pace-setter for contextualizing the gospel for the people of God.

As musicians, pastors and songwriters, our desire was to explore the hundreds of hymns that Watts wrote during his lifetime, to learn from the incredible range and depth of his lyrics, and to re-envision those songs with modern language and melodies.


The songs are re-imaginings and adaptations of the hymns of Isaac Watts, the ‘Father Of English Hymnody.’ Watts was an extraordinary pastor and poet. These songs, these snapshots of the gospel, can profoundly help us to see Jesus as more beautiful and more believable.”

Click either album cover to hear samples or purchase.

 

 

 

 

A wonderful treatment of this hymn by William Cowper (1731-1800)

To see the Law by Christ fulfilled,
To hear His pardoning voice,
Changes a slave into a child
And duty into choice.

No strength of nature can suffice
To serve the Lord aright
And what she has, she misapplies,
For want of clearer light.

How long beneath the Law I lay
In bondage and distress
I toiled the precept to obey,
But toiled without success.

Then to abstain from outward sin
Was more than I could do
Now if I feel its power within
I feel I hate it too.

Then all my servile works were done,
A righteousness to raise
Now, freely chosen in the Son,
I freely choose His ways.

Horatius Bonar - I Hear the Words of Love

Horatius Bonar (1808-1889), a Scottish Presbyterian minister and influential leader in the Free Church of Scotland, was an outstanding writer of both devotional works and poetic hymns. The hymn “I Hear the Words of Love” is a powerful example of his grace soaked works. You can hear a traditional version of it on the Together for the Gospel II project here:

Feel free to use the banner above on your Facebook page. It’s set to the banner size.

I hear the words of love,
I gaze upon the blood,
I see the mighty sacrifice,
And I have peace with God.

‘Tis everlasting peace!
Sure as Jehovah’s Name;
‘Tis stable as His steadfast throne,
Forevermore the same.

The clouds may come and go
And storms may sweep my sky;
This blood-sealed friendship changes not;
The cross is ever nigh.

My love is oft-times low,
My joy still ebbs and flows;
But peace with Him remains the same;
No change Jehovah knows.

I change, He changes not,
The Christ can never die;
His love, not mine, the resting place,
His truth, not mine, the tie.

Credits:
Words by Horatius Bonar (1861), music by Henry Gauntlett (1858)
Public Domain

 

 

martin-rinkartIn 1617, at the age of 31, Martin Rinkart must have thought his professional dreams were coming true. He was appointed Archdeacon and pastor in the town of Eilenburg, Germany. No sooner did the appointment come then tragedy struck in the advent of the Thirty Years War. The ordinary people of his town were ignorant of the reasons for the conflict. All they knew that was army after army laid waste to their lands and homes.Famine and disease were rampant, destroying farms, livestock and crops with relentless fury. People weakened by hunger were no match for disease. Before it was over, the war would have ended the lives of almost half the male population of the country. Nearly a third of the total population of the German states succumbed to death, primarily due to hunger and disease.

In 1636 there was only one pastor left in Eilenburg, Martin Rinkart. When Martin began his ministry he was one of four pastors. As the war went on, one would flee and Martin would bury the other two. Because the city was walled, it became a refuge and the strain nearly decimated it.. 8000 people would die in Eilenburg and death showed no mercy to any age, position or gender. During the war, Martin would bury 4000 people including his own wife. At one point he was conducting 50 funerals a day but the death so overwhlmed the city that corpses had to be buried in trenches with no service.

How in the world would a man in Martin’s position find it possible to give thanks?

Martin found inspiration in the book of  Ecclesiastics 50:22-24:

And now bless the God of all, who everywhere works great wonders,
who fosters our growth from birth, and deals with us according to his mercy.
May he give us gladness of heart, and may there be peace in our days in Israel,
as in the days of old.

May he entrust to us his mercy,and may he deliver us in our days!

The inspiration would lead Martin to pen the hymn Nun danket alle Gott.  We know the hymn as Now Thank We All Our God. It is stunning to think that this man, having endured the horrors he did, could be able to say that God has blessed us, ‘With countless gifts of love, and still is ours today’, No mention of their immense suffering appears in the hymn, only a request that God will, ‘keep us in His grace, and guide us when perplexed; And free us from all ills, in this world and the next’.

In 1637, the Swedish army controlling the town demanded a payment of 30,000 florins from the people – an astronomical amount to the sick and impoverished people. Martin led a group of citizens who went to plead for mercy from the Swedish general. He refused. Martin turned to his companions and said,  “Come, my children, we can find no hearing, no mercy with men, let us take refuge with God.”  They fell on their knees and prayed with such heartfelt earnestness that the general relented and lowered the tribute amount to 2,000 florins.

Peace finally came to Martin’s town in 1648 but he would not enjoy it for long. He died in the town on December 8, 1649 at the age of 63. His entire ministry had been spent in a cradle of suffering faithfully loving and serving his flock. His gift of Now Thank We All Our God is a lovely call to all of us who enjoy lives of such relative ease to turn from our murmuring ways and cultivate grateful and generous hearts.

 

Now thank we all our God, with heart and hands and voices,
Who wondrous things has done, in Whom this world rejoices;
Who from our mothers’ arms has blessed us on our way
With countless gifts of love, and still is ours today.

O may this bounteous God through all our life be near us,
With ever joyful hearts and blessèd peace to cheer us;
And keep us in His grace, and guide us when perplexed;
And free us from all ills, in this world and the next!

All praise and thanks to God the Father now be given;
The Son and Him Who reigns with Them in highest Heaven;
The one eternal God, whom earth and Heaven adore;
For thus it was, is now, and shall be evermore.

– Martin Rinkart


 

Just download these and upload to your Facebook profile. They fit perfectly. Requests? Let me know.

Now Thank We All Our God - Martin Rinkart

William Gadsby - Mercy Speaks by Jesus Blood

William Cowper

Agustus Toplady

Charles Wesley

Isaac Watts