Hymnbooks

In my bookshelf are two hymnbooks that are precious to me. One is inscribed with my name and the words, "From Grandma, baptism 9/30/56." The other has my wife's name and "From the P. A. (Port Arthur, ON) Gospel Hall, Jan. 1961." In those days, it was not unusual for an assembly or an older person to give a hymnbook to a young person on some important day of their lives. Hymnbooks were used in the home as well as in assembly gatherings. But I'm afraid that hymnbooks have fallen on hard times.

We used to get together in homes to sing the old hymns with zest and learn some new ones. Assemblies had times when the saints gathered together just to sing. Why do we speak of these times almost always in the past tense? Camp songs are too often the only songs sung by young people. I'm not against camp songs -- at least not some of them -- but if we don't pass on the heritage of hymns we have received, we do our young people an injustice, and the Church will suffer a great loss.

There are three characteristics, I believe, of a good hymn -- the kind that should be passed on. The first is doctrine. This is fundamental. Hymns instruct us and we need to be sure they are teaching us proper doctrine. Paul reminds us in Colossians 3:16, "Teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs." Some of the hymns and songs I hear on occasion should be abolished from our assemblies and camps.

The second aspect of a good hymn is what I will call tone. What is the direction of the hymn? Many of the newer songs are egocentric, subjective in nature. The writer seems to be engaged almost entirely with his own feelings and emotions. Many times that does not describe my feelings or the feelings of many and therefore the song rightfully dies. A good hymn is Christocentric. It speaks of the glories of Christ and of God, of His Word and work. All of the Lord's people can join in and sing of Christ and His glories.

The third element of a good hymn is the music. The melody needs to be something that all of us can sing easily. The harmony and rhythm of the hymn should be pleasing and fitting to the mood of the song. When all three of these aspects come together in one hymn, it will last and be used by the Church for many years. You will note the ones we sing that have been written years ago meet these three criteria. These are the kind of hymns that should be passed along to our children. They teach proper doctrine, they glorify the Lord, and they are good to sing.

We have some good hymnbooks at our elbow. "Hymns of Truth and Praise," with its wide selection of worship as well as gospel hymns, is well known and lives up to its title. "Hymns of Worship and Remembrance" is an excellent collection of worshipful hymns. Its only problem is its brevity. Another 150 hymns could have been added to our benefit. "Believers Hymnbook" and "Hymns for the Little Flock" have lost favor with many of late, but are probably the finest collections of worship and praise hymns that have ever been compiled. You can learn each hymn from cover to cover and not be ashamed of the content. Can you say as much for the hymnbook you are presently using?

May this year be the year that a revival of hymn-singing is begun in your assembly and in your home. You will be enriched by it and God will enjoy it. "I will praise the name of God with a song . . . This also shall please the Lord better than an ox or bullock that hath horns and hoofs" ( Ps. 69:30-31).