The other reason that I make music is to celebrate the
certainty of the Lord, since there is no other way I can
understand the contradictions and confusions that surround me.
— Anthony Trollope
I was raised on hymns. They were my mother’s milk, my first solids, my daily bread, my cup of tea. I can’t remember a time when I didn’t sing hymns, nor a time that I haven’t loved hymns. I sing hymns that sweep my soul up and bring me to the gates of heaven. I sing hymns that mourn, a haunting melody in a minor key that alone reaches the nooks and crannies of my grief. Hymns, well-done, show me how great my God is and how much that affects my life. They remind me of what is true, they teach me how to respond, they encourage me to change.
I’ve worshiped with Plymouth Brethren, Baptist, Evangelical Free, and Presbyterian churches. In other words, I come from a broad range of hymnody: English melodies, Fanny Crosby, revival hymns, plainsong, German chorales, psalms from the psalter, Welsh hymns, folksongs, Vaughn Williams, Luther, and one of my favorites: Claude Goudimel.
Just as in books, there are good ones and there are raspy ones. I when hear certain hymns I think: All Skate! Other have a sing-song rhyming scheme that sounds like a seventh grader wrote it. True, some tunes are dated and just bad. There are bouquets of flowery, sentimental sap that may not even be orthodox in their theology.
Hymn geeks know that each tune has a name. The name of the tune may come from the city where it was composed, the first words of the hymn—often in their original language—or some phrase that identifies it. Or in the case of one favorite, the tune is SINE NOMINE, meaning without a name. I included the tunes because two people out there will care to know to which tune I sing that particular hymn.
1. Doxology OLD HUNDRETH This should be the first praise song every toddler learns. And perhaps the last song with the last breath of life. Our church sings this, a capella, at the end of every service.
Praise God from Whom all blessings flow,
Praise Him all creatures here below.
Praise Him above, ye heavenly hosts.
Praise Father, Son and Holy Ghost.
2. Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing NETTLETON
Come, Thou Fount of every blessing,
Tune my heart to sing Thy grace;
Streams of mercy, never ceasing,
Call for songs of loudest praise.
3. My Soul, Now Bless Thy Maker (Psalm 103) NUN LOB, MEIN SEEL The truth is that many of my favorite hymns are based on Psalm 103. Unfortunately this one is obscure. How do I translate to you the joy and thrill it is to sing this? Almost every audio version I’ve found has a slow, dreary tempo when this is a vigorous and confident tune. So here’s the best combo I can find: Listen to this version (click on 519) after you’ve opened a window with the words.
My soul, now bless thy Maker! Let all within me bless His name
Who maketh the partaker of mercies more than thou dar’st claim.
4. Shout, for the Blessed Jesus Reigns TRURO I love TRURO like my friend Steph loves HYFRYDOL. We are kindred spirits in our hymn geekdom. Listen here.
Shout, for the blessed Jesus reigns; through distand lands his triumphs spread;
And sinners freed from endless pains, own him their Saviour and their Head.
5. Only Begotten, Word of God Eternal ISTE CONFESSOR There is gravitas in this ninth century hymn. Tune is here; words are here (pause the music that automatically starts).
Here in our sickness, healing grace aboundeth,
Light in our blindness, in our toil refreshment:
Sin is forgiven, hope o’er fear prevaileth,
Joy over sorrow.
6. Jesus Shall Reign DUKE STREET Besides loving ancient hymns in minor keys I love triumphal anthems. Tune here and words here. I love to modulate up a half key with each new verse.
People and realms of every tongue dwell on His love with sweetest song;
And infant voices shall proclaim their early blessings on His Name.
7. O Sing A New Song to the Lord (Psalm 98) LYNGHAM To hear a large group singing this four-part fugue is glorious.
O sing a new song to the Lord, for wonders He has done.
His right hand and His holy arm the victory have won.
8. O the Deep, Deep Love of Jesus EBENEZER The music matches the words in this piece better than any other hymn I can think of. I hear the ocean currents.
Underneath me, all around me, is the current of Thy love;
Leading onward, leading homeward, to thy glorious rest above.
9. Praise To the Lord, the Almighty LOBE DEN HERREN If you don’t know this hymn, please learn it. Every phrase is rich, solid, steady.
How oft in grief hath not he brought thee relief,
Spreading his wings to o’ershade thee!
10. For All the Saints SINE NOMINE Alleluia!
We feebly struggle, they in glory shine.
And hearts are brave again, and arms are strong
11. In Christ Alone Music and lyrics here. What is it about this modern day hymn that is so potent? The words speak to the core issues of life and death. The soaring intervals.
And as He stands in victory
Sin’s curse has lost its grip on me.
12. Great Is Thy Faithfulness FAITHFULNESS No other song evokes memories of mom like this one.
Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow,
Blessings all mine, with ten thousand beside!
13. Holy, Holy, Holy NICAEA
Though the darkness hide thee, though the eye of sinful man thy glory may not see,
Only thou art holy: there is none beside thee
Perfect in power, in love, and purity.
14. Jesus, Thy Blood and Righteousness GERMANY
Fully absolved through these I am
From sin and fear, from guilt and shame.
15. Come, Ye Disconsolate CONSOLATION
Here bring your wounded heart, here tell your anguish;
Earth has no sorrow that heaven cannot heal.
16. Leaning on the Everlasting Arms
What a fellowship, what a joy divine,
Leaning on the everlasting arms
17. Trust and Obey One of the first hymns I sang as a girl.
For there’s no other way to be happy in Jesus
18. O Come, All Ye Faithful ADESTE FIDELIS After I learned about Athanasius, I lift up thanks for him when I sing this carol. Why? Because much of the doctrine in it was defended by him.
Word of the Father now in flesh appearing
19. All Glory, Laud, and Honor ST. THEODULPH Bach wrote a great harmonization on this tune.
Thou didst accept their praises, accept the prayers we bring,
Who in all good delightest, Thou good and gracious king!
20. We Are God’s People This is one of our church’s favorite anthems.
He wills us be a family, diverse yet truly one,
O let us give our gifts to God, and so shall his work on earth be done.
21. Like a River Glorious WYE VALLEY
We may trust Him fully all for us to do,
They who trust Him wholly find Him wholly true.
22. Why Do the Heathen Nations Vainly Rage? POURQUOI FONT BRUIT
How blessed are those who trust without dissembling,
Who kiss the Son and bow in reverent fear.
23. O for a Thousand Tongues AZMON There are 19 (!) stanzas in the original lyrics. We have great fun singing it to this tune, like a fugue. Click on the link. Do it!
Assist me to proclaim to all the earth abroad
The honors of Thy name.
24. All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name DIADEM, CORONATION, MILES’ LANE Diadem is my favorite setting of this anthem.
And crown Him, crown Him, crown Him, crown Him,
And crown Him Lord of all!
25. The Lord Bless You and Keep You LUTKIN A fitting benediction.
The Lord bless you and keep you, the Lord life his countenance upong you,
And give you peace.
26. God Himself Is with Us ARNSBERG Simple, solemn beauty.
Like the holy angels who behold Thy glory,
May I ceaselessly adore Thee.
27. All Creatures of Our God and King LASST UNS ERFREUEN Mr. Bean almost ruined this for me.
Ye who long pain and sorrow bear,
Praise God and on Him cast your care.
28. Jesus, Lover of My Soul ABERYSTWYTH Another minor key masterpiece!
All my trust on Thee is stayed,
All my help from Thee I bring;
Cover my defenseless head
With the shadow of Thy wing.
29. Infant Holy, Infant Lowly This Polish Christmas carol is a simple lullaby packed with truth.
Thus rejoicing, free from sorrow,
Praises voicing, greet the morrow,
Christ the Babe was born for you!
30. Now Thank We All Our God NUN DANKET Not just for Thanksgiving, this one is always relevant.
Who, from our mothers’ arms has blessed us on our way
With countless gifts of love, and still is ours today.
31. O God Beyond All Praising THAXTED
And whether our tomorrows be filled with good and ill,
We’ll triumph through our sorrows and rise to bless you still.
32. O Love, How Deep, How Broad, How High! DEO GRACIAS THis one is dense and thick and chewy.
That God, the Son of God, should take
Our mortal form for mortals’ sake!
33. What Wondrous Love Is This?
And when from death I’m free,
I’ll sing and joyful be,
And through eternity I’ll sing on.
34. Amazing Grace NEW BRITAIN How did I forget about this before?
‘Tis grace has brought me safe thus far,
And grace will lead me home.
35. God Be in My Head
God be in my head, and in my understanding.
God be in mine eyes, and in my looking.
God be in my mouth, and in my speaking.
God be in my heart, and in my thinking.
God be at my end, and in my departing.
36. St. Patrick’s Breastplate ST. PATRICK
Christ be with me, Christ within me,
Christ behind me, Christ before me,
Christ beside me, Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort and restore me.
37. Awake, My Soul, in Joyful Lays LOVING KINDNESS
When trouble, like a gloomy cloud, has gathered thick and thundered loud,
He near my soul has always stood, His loving kindness, oh, how good!
38. The Church’s One Foundation AURELIA
Yet she on earth hath union with God the Three in One,
And mystic sweet communion with those whose rest is won.
39. Rejoice, the Lord Is King DARWALL
Lift up your heart, lift up your voice!
Rejoice, again I say, rejoice!
40. When All Thy Mercies ST. PETER Fernando Ortega sings this well.
When all Thy mercies, O my God,
My rising soul surveys,
Transported with the view, I’m lost
In wonder, love, and praise.
41. The God of Abraham Praise LEONI I love this Jewish melody.
I shall behold His face, I shall His power adore,
And sing the wonders of His grace forevermore.
42. Jesus! What a Friend for Sinners! HYFRYDOL
Jesus! what a strength in weakness! Let me hide myself in Him;
Tempted, tried, and sometimes failing, He, my strength, my victory wins.
43. How Sweet and Awful Is the Place ST. COLUMBA This lilting Irish melody is quietly powerful.
‘Twas the same love that spread the feast that sweetly drew us in;
Else we had still refused to taste, and perished in our sin.
44. O Lord, My God, Most Earnestly THIRD MODE MELODY If you’ve seen Master and Commander, you’ve heard this haunting tune.
Beneath the shadow of Your wings I sing my joy and praise.
Your right hand is my strong support through troubled nights and days.
45. Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence PICARDY This French Carol has very little ornamentation. It is solemn, simple, and powerful.
Let all mortal flesh keep silence, and with fear and trembling stand;
Ponder nothing earthly-minded, for with blessing in His hand
Christ our God to earth descendeth, our full homage to demand.
46. Alas, and Did My Savior Bleed? MARTYRDOM One of the foundations of my youth.
But drops of grief can ne’er repay the debt of love I owe;
Here, Lord, I give myself away, ‘Tis all that I can do.
47. And Can It Be SAGINA
How can it be that Thou, my Lord,
shouldst die for me?
48. Children of the Heavenly Father One of my brother’s signature songs.
Neither life nor death shall ever from the Lord His children sever;
Unto them His grace He showeth, and their sorrows all He knoweth.
49. Fairest Lord Jesus CRUSADER’S HYMN
Beautiful Savior! Lord of the nations!
Son of God and Son of Man!
Glory and honor, praise, adoration
Now and forevermore be Thine.
50. Gloria Patri
Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost;
As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be,
World without end. Amen, Amen.
51. Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee HYMN TO JOY
Teach us how to love each other,
Lift us to the joy divine.
52. My Jesus, I Love Thee GORDON
I’ll love Thee in life, I will love Thee in death,
And praise Thee as long as Thou lendest me breath.
53. I Will Sing of My Redeemer
How the victory He giveth
Over sin, and death, and hell.
54. Stricken, Smitten and Afflicted O MEIN JESU, ICH MUSS STERBEN Wow. This hymn. Oh, my.
Ye who think of sin but lightly nor suppose the evil great
Here may view its nature rightly, here its guilt may estimate.
Mark the Sacrifice appointed, see who bears the awful load;
‘Tis the Word, the Lord’s Anointed, Son of Man and Son of God.
55. Christ, the Lord, Is Risen Today EASTER HYMN Belt this one out at the top of your lungs!
Lives again our glorious King; Alleluia!
Where, O death, is now thy sting? Alleluia!
Once he died, our souls to save; Alleluia!
Where thy victory, O grave? Alleluia!
What are a few of your favorites?
Okay, I’ve already realized a few glaring omissions. Humor me?
♥ To God Be the Glory (we sang this at our wedding)
♥ Blessed Assurance
♥ Before Thee Let My Cry Come Near (Psalm 119 X)
So, Carol, many of these are favorites of mine as well, but that’s not why I’m commenting. I was on my way home from town today and was thinking about the Biblical injunction to sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs and I began to wonder. Could it be that one of the reasons the church in America is so powerless today is because musically we’re trying to balance on a one-legged stool? And the one leg, the spiritual songs that we tend to sing so consistently in most churches, was really only intended to encourage, while hymns were possibly intended to teach, and the psalms intended to prepare the Church to do battle. Different types of music, each for a different purpose, but forming a three-legged stool or a three-corded strand when used together? What do you think?
@Jen4short – There has been much discussion about what those words mean and if they necessary fit the categories we think of. One friend advocates singing psalms because that is the easiest one to identify. And singing psalms is “controversial” because so many aren’t “nice” words that make us comfortable. We sing the verses we like, don’t we?Yes, I think we need to widen the scope of our singing: both chronologically and stylistically. There are many praise songs I love, but I didn’t include them here because I was focusing on hymns. Many hymns are being restored to the church with new tunes. I’m going to keep thinking about this. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!
Oh, how I love hymns! We love many of the same ones. One that I really love that is not on your list is “The Love of God,” especially the last verse:Could we with ink the ocean fillAnd were the skies of parchment madeWere every stalk on earth a quillAnd every man a scribe by trade;To write the love of God aboveWould drain the oceans dry;Nor could the scroll contain the wholeThough stretched from sky to sky.Growing up at Sakeji, we learned and memorized hymns as part of our curriculum. I know so many by heart and sing them often. In a big group I love to sing “My Anchor Holds” and “Wonderful Grace of Jesus.” I also love “Satisfied,” “Man of Sorrows,” and “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross,” especially when sung to a particular Welsh tune. Speaking of Welsh, there is “Guide Me O Thou Great Jehovah.” Then there is “Immortal Invisible” and “Unto the Hills,” and “When Morning Gilds the Skies,” and “I Love to Tell the Story,” and “Nearer, Still Nearer,” which I have sung as a lullaby to all seven of my children. I am barely scratching the surface here!
@MamaMentor – Yes, yes, YES! I love the Welsh hymns. Particularly “Guide Me” (have you ever noticed that in England—like at televised weddings and funerals—they sing “Oh my Great Redeemer” instead of Jehovah?Funny story: when I was at Bible camp, which was every summer of my youth, I remember very sincerely singing “All the vain things that charm me most” and thinking of certain boys while I sang it!
Your love of hymns – another reason why I think you are wonderful.
@magistramater – I told my daughter your story about “all the vain things” and it took her a couple of minutes to get it, but when she did she couldn’t stop laughing!
so much to say, but for now only this: I grew up singing ‘Redeemer’, not ‘Jehovah’, too. Must be a denominational thing. 🙂