What Is A Hymn? Do You Know?

WHAT IS A HYMN? DO YOU KNOW?

 

What is a hymn? If you ask that to a room full of Christians, no matter what age, you will get a room full of various answers. I’m not sure that most people really know. Everyone seems to have an opinion about what a hymn is, but I’m just not convinced that most people could give a satisfying definition if asked. St. Augustine defines a hymn as “praise to God with song” and most of us would probably agree with his definition, but doesn’t it seem like there is a little bit more to it than that? If a hymn is simply a song of praise to God then isn’t every song that praises God a hymn?

Earlier this year I published a book on the Psalms called Out of the Depths: A Songwriter’s Journey Through The Psalms. I feel like the Psalms are relevant to any conversation about what a hymn is because the book of Psalms is one of the oldest songbooks that we have. In fact, similar to Augustine’s definition of a hymn, the Hebrew title for the Psalms is the word ‘tehillim’, which means, ‘Songs of Praise’. Form Criticism pioneers like Hermann Gunkel have helped us to see that the Psalms are much more related to the corporate worship of Israel and Judah than to the individual meditations of a pious person. Form criticism has also shown us that the best way to understand how a psalm was used in corporate worship is by identifying its literary form.

There are certain Psalms that are categorized as hymns and lucky for us they are the simplest form of Psalm to identify. The hymns in the book of Psalms all follow the same general structure:

  • An initial call to praise God
  • Reasons for giving praise to God
  • A renewed call to praise (conclusion)

While the hymns in our pew racks may not precisely follow that threefold pattern to a tee, we can observe two indisputable facts about hymns from the book of Psalms. Hymns are intended to be sung by the community of believers, and hymns give praise to God. Hymns aren’t truly hymns unless they are sung by the people, for the praise of God. Hymns take the focus away from us and they help the body of believers to understand that they are not the focus of God’s story, rather God is the focus of His story, and He is calling his people to journey with Him, with praise as their banner.

With this in mind, I have started a new endeavor which has to do with hymn, a hymn project if you will. I am a musician, songwriter, independent recording artist, and worship leader by trade and calling. Over the last 15 years I feel like God has been expanding my understanding of worship and I have seen that hymns are essential to the life of authentic worship in the community of believers.

Because of this, I am making hymns the focus of my next album. Every song on this album will conform to the above definition of a hymn. Each song will be focused on the praise of God, and each song is intended to be sung by the people of God together in worship. Each song is written, co-written, or re-written by me and other songwriters (Eddie Kirkland, Andrew Greer, Ted Rastatter, etc.) who are passionate about helping the church recapture its hymnody. Because of the communal focus of this project, I’m also hoping to create a companion documentary film and songbook to be used by local churches across the globe. God has already opened many doors for me to get this project in motion, not the least of which is sending five time Dove Award winning producer Craig Adams my way with an offering to produce this record. However, we still believe that there are more doors to be opened.

This is, without a doubt, the biggest endeavor I have ever taken upon myself. Appropriately enough, like a hymn, it cannot be accomplished by me alone. I simply lack the resources on my own and I need the help of the community. Thankfully God has provided a community called the church. If you are reading this article and are feeling led to help, we are simply asking for $5.00 donations. If God’s people can help us spread the word through social media about the this hymn project, we believe that we can get 6000 people to donate $5.00 each. If this happens then we can create what we believe will be an great resource to help churches sing together and focus on God, through hymns both ancient and modern. We are calling it the $5.00 Hymn Challenge, and we hope that you will accept.

We are also offering some great rewards for donors who go over and above this $5.00 challenge. To find out more simply visit www.GoFundMe.com/Hymns. You can also find many video links to share on social media at www.RickLeeJames.com/Hymns. Thank you for praying about this endeavor and for partnering with us on this hymn project. Together, with God’s help, I believe we can do this.

 

Hymn concert Fund Raiser_Facebook

This post originally appeared as a guest post on Worship Links Blog

<

p style=”text-align:center;”>Rick Lee James Hymn Playlist

And Can It Be – A Hymn Story

Take the $5.00 Challenge at http://www.GoFundMe.com/Hymns

Take the $5.00 Challenge at http://www.GoFundMe.com/Hymns

And Can It Be – a Hymn Story

There’s just no doubt about it, Charles Wesley was a Hymn writing machine. Most scholars believe there are around 5000 songs attributed to him. In the last few weeks I’ve been asking people, what is your favorite hymn? The most repeated answer by far is And Can It Be by Charles Wesley.

Now, You might think a song this popular among Christians of every denomination would have come from a seasoned hymn writer who had been a believer for years, but the fact is that ‘And Can It Be’ was one of the first hymns that Wesley ever wrote, and he wrote it two day safter his conversion.

Both Charles and his brother John were ordained ministers in the Anglican Church who founded a holy club which would ultimately become the Methodist church. In October of 1735 Charles and John took journey across the ocean as missionaries to the colony of Georgia. This trip did not turn out well. Both of them were largely rejected by the settlers in Savannah. In August of 1736 the Wesley brothers returned to England, broken, tired, and ill, never to return to America again. Both brothers came home asking questions about their faith. John is famously quoted as saying, “I went to convert the Indians, but oh, who shall convert me?”

After they returned home they met a Moravian named Peter Bohler. Bohler spent a great deal of time with the Wesleys discussing the Christian faith and he became a spiritual mentor to them, speaking with them often of the necessity of prayer and faith. He urged them to focus less on what they wanted to achieve for God, and more on what God could do for and through them. Charles in particular, like most creative types, viewed himself as being worthless and beyond Gods grace. Bohler said of him, “(Charles) is very much distressed in mind and does not know how he shall begin to be aquainted with the Saviour.”

In May of 1738 Charles had taken ill again and Bohler prayer at his bedside for his healing and recovery, then taking Charles hand he said, “You will not die now”. Bohler asked Charles whether he hoped to be one of the saved. Charles responded that he had used his best endeavours to serve God, believing that salvation needed to be earned. Charles fear of dying was a confirmation for him that even though he was a minister, he was not a reborn Christian.

Charles had many struggles with illness and it drove him to seek to know Christ more. On May 17, 1938, Charles was given a copy Martin Luther’s book on Galatians. In reading this Charles was shocked to find that that Bohler’s views, which he had resisted, were not new, but were also the views of Luther. That night Charles had a true experience of conversion. In a journal he wrote, “At midnight I gave myself to Christ, assured that I was safe, whether sleeping or waking. I had the continual experience of His power to overcome all temptation, and I confessed with joy and surprise that He was able to do exceedingly abundantly for me above what I can ask or think.”

He also journaled, “I now found myself at peace with God, and rejoiced in hope of loving Christ. I saw that by faith I stood.” Two days after this experience he began writing a hymn that we now know as And Can It Be. The hymn was first published in John Wesley’s Psalms and Hymns in 1738, then in Hymns and Sacred Poems in 1739 with the subtitle, Free Grace. In a poetic manner, this hymn proclaims the mystery of God’s grace extended to sinners who turn in faith to the risen Christ. Wesley’s use of methor contrasting light and darkness, slavery and freedom, life and death, and Christ’s righteousness and our unworthiness is a beautiful example not only of a life transformed by Christ, but of a masterful lyricist.

 

 

 

Lyrics:

And can it be that I should gain

An interest in the Savior’s blood?

Died He for me, who caused His pain—

For me, who Him to death pursued?

Amazing love! How can it be,

That Thou, my God, shouldst die for me?

Amazing love! How can it be,

That Thou, my God, shouldst die for me?

’Tis mystery all: th’Immortal dies:

Who can explore His strange design?

In vain the firstborn seraph tries

To sound the depths of love divine.

’Tis mercy all! Let earth adore,

Let angel minds inquire no more.

’Tis mercy all! Let earth adore;

Let angel minds inquire no more.

He left His Father’s throne above

So free, so infinite His grace—

Emptied Himself of all but love,

And bled for Adam’s helpless race:

’Tis mercy all, immense and free,

For O my God, it found out me!

’Tis mercy all, immense and free,

For O my God, it found out me!

Long my imprisoned spirit lay,

Fast bound in sin and nature’s night;

Thine eye diffused a quickening ray—

I woke, the dungeon flamed with light;

My chains fell off, my heart was free,

I rose, went forth, and followed Thee.

My chains fell off, my heart was free,

I rose, went forth, and followed Thee.

Still the small inward voice I hear,

That whispers all my sins forgiven;

Still the atoning blood is near,

That quenched the wrath of hostile Heaven.

I feel the life His wounds impart;

I feel the Savior in my heart.

I feel the life His wounds impart;

I feel the Savior in my heart.

No condemnation now I dread;

Jesus, and all in Him, is mine;

Alive in Him, my living Head,

And clothed in righteousness divine,

Bold I approach th’eternal throne,

And claim the crown, through Christ my own.

Bold I approach th’eternal throne,

And claim the crown, through Christ my own.

Help Me Create My Next Record

My next record will be a hymns album, with songs birthed in my local church at First Church of the Nazarene in Springfield Ohio. Watch This Short Video To Find Out More…then SHARE it like crazy!

 

All of the songs in this playlist are potential hymns for my next Album. Pre-order the record and help us create it at GoFundMe.com/Hymns