Learning the gospel by singing hymns

Published 12:00 am Saturday, September 21, 2019

Singing one of my favorite hymns can take me back to my childhood and my memories of growing up in church.  Hymns transcend time because their messages speak to universal needs like suffering, tragedy, and just living the Christian life.

“A good hymn should be like a good prayer – simple, real, earnest, and reverent,” one hymn writer has said.  Hymns inspire hope, trust, and faith by reminding us of God’s love and care each day, and of eternal life in heaven.  Many hymns were penned in the face of adversity and sorrow.

Eugene Bartlett, a noted music teacher, wrote several hundred hymns, each of them typically in a few minutes.  Then, near the end of his life he suffered a stroke that left him confined to his bed, unable to speak.  Bartlett demonstrated his faith in spite of his condition and spent almost one month writing the words and music to “Victory in Jesus.”

One of the most prolific hymn writers of all time was Fanny Crosby, estimated to have written 8,000 to 9,000 hymn texts.  Open the pages of any hymnal and you’ll find her songs such as “Pass Me Not, O Gentle Savior,” and “Have Thine Own Way, Lord.”  My favorite Crosby hymn is “Blessed Assurance.”  I especially like the words of the chorus, “This is my story, this is my song, praising my Savior all the day long.”

Fanny Crosby was known for her poetry before she began writing Gospel songs.  What makes her remarkable is that she was blind from six weeks of age, due to improper medical treatment.

Louisa Stead, her husband, and four-year-old daughter went to Long Island Beach one afternoon.  Her husband heard the cries of a boy drowning and tried to rescue him, only to perish with the boy who pulled him under the water.  The year was 1880 and Louisa was left with no means of support.

The mother and daughter experienced dire poverty.  One morning, she opened her front door to find someone left food and money on her doorstep. That day she wrote, “Tis so sweet to trust in Jesus, just to take him at his word; just to rest upon his promise, just to know ‘Thus saith the Lord.  Jesus, Jesus, how I trust him! How I’ve proved him o’er and o’er! Jesus, Jesus, precious Jesus!  O for grace to trust him more!”

When Bill and Gloria Gaither brought their third child home from the hospital, they were discouraged about many things going on around them. But God inspired them to write the song, “Because He Lives I can face tomorrow.”

Knowing these hymn histories makes the songs even more meaningful to sing. The Bible instructs us to speak to “one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord” (Ephesians 5:19).  When I’m singing hymns with my voice, my soul sings too.

A great theologian once held up a Bible before a sermon and said, “This is the Gospel.”  And then in the other hand, he held up a hymnal and continued, “And this is how we remember it.”

Jan White is a national award-winning religion columnist. She can be reached at jan@janwhitewriter.com