It was the year 1998. It was yet another Sunday spent in the pews of St Mary's Church in Bromley by Bow at the age of 8, clutching the hand of my mother as she listened attentively to the sermon being given by the priest.
Of course, being such a young age, my main concern was to have fun with friends and have the first pickings of the delicious biscuits which were so faithfully provided at the end of each service. The contents of the sermon were a mystery and I failed to grasp the need to sing those boring, monotonous and dreary hymns which were often accompanied with the organ.
Such ignorance consumed me for a long time, causing where I attended to revolve around whether the worship was "on point", consisting of a band with a beat that made you want to dance.
By God's amazing grace and providence, things have drastically changed. Following my conversion and a greater understanding of God's word, I began desiring to attend a church which preached biblical truth rather than satisfy my preference - content became the focus rather than being entertained.
In light of this shift, it was only a matter of time until the hymn would grip my heart and would become a love of mine in congregational worship, and over time, my affections towards the content of hymns has grown tremendously.
It would appear that the apostle Paul had similar feelings concerning the beauty of singing hymns as this was something that he encouraged believers to partake in and I believe that this timeless message is still applicable to the follower of Christ today.
Colossians 3:16 says: "Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord."
The above scripture, for me, encompasses the main reasons why the singing of hymns is now something that I love to do and it begins with this: the word of God is proclaimed in the content, in truth and clarity.
Now to be clear, I have no qualms with Christian music that is not a hymn! That is not my point! But one thing which is to be commended and noted concerning the content of hymns is the richness of the theology. The believer, throughout scripture, is implored to meditate on the word of God, knowing that it is our sustenance, guide and final authority. How beautiful is it then, to sing of these glorious truths that, by the power of the Holy Spirit, we have been enabled to understand and somewhat comprehend?
Another reason hymns are beautiful is that in the words, we are continually pointed back to the risen Christ. In the same way that the hymn echoes the message of scripture, I feel the content of the hymn also structures itself in the same way scripture does. As we move from the Old Testament into the New Testament, we are consistently pointed to Christ, His sinlessness, His death on the Cross of Calvary and His Resurrection. Hymns, in a similar way do just that. Whilst addressing the trials of this life and various seasons we as believers will face, we are continually implored and urged to look to our compassionate and faithful High Priest, Jesus Christ. The below gives an insight into this very trait which most hymns display:
More purity give me; more strength to o'ercome;
More freedom from earth-stains;
More longings for home;
More fit for the kingdom, more used would I be;
More blessed and Holy, more Saviour, like Thee
Philip Bliss 1838-76
In heavenly love abiding,
No change my heart shall fear;
And safe is such confiding,
For nothing changes here;
The storm may roar without me,
My heart may low be laid,
But God is round about me,
And can I be dismayed?
Anna Letitia Waring 1820-1910
God is so richly embedded into the content of a hymn and we are continually pointed back to Christ and his sacrifice. But another reason why I love them is what the singing of the hymn does to the heart.
As we, as believers, meditate on the truths that the hymn conveys - the truth of Scripture - and are continually pointed back the risen Christ, it would only make sense that the result would be that we are made to grow more in love and have a greater understanding of the work that Christ did in His life and on the cross.
I have often found that as I look to the words that the saints of old wrote concerning the wondrous works of our Lord, I am challenged by the state of my own heart and being made to analyse the following. Is this truly my cry along with this brother/sister in Christ? Do I comprehend the gospel in this way? Do I know the Lord that way?
I also find that my affections towards the work of Christ continue to grow as I am reminded of everything that He is - compassionate, just, loving, righteous, holy and merciful! As I declare them in worship, all of the trials and afflictions of this life, which may be many, seem so trivial and insignificant in comparison to the glory revealed through the truth of God. Is this not how each believer is to live each day, with the gospel at the foundation and centre of all that we are and do? Are our affections not to be continually pointed to Christ in worship, in meditation and conduct?
To close, I bet most of you are wondering what I hoped to achieve with this piece. Well starting this piece, I hoped to share with you a love of mine, insight into why as a young Christian I love hymns. But as I come to the end, I would like for you to truly understand the way in which God is revealed in Christ centred worship. My hope is that you would approach the hymn hoping to be pointed to the Lord Jesus Christ and His Magnificence rather than be entertained or hyped up; hoping to engage with and sing God's word as it seeps forth. Lastly, my hope is that you would alter your perception of the hymn, and in engaging with its substance, you would be encouraged, uplifted, challenged, convicted and fall deeper in love with the Saviour who bought you with His precious blood.
See the suffering Son of God,
Sighing, groaning, sweating blood!
Boundless depths of love divine!
Jesus, what a love was Thine!
Though the wonders thou hast done,
Are as yet so little known,
Here we rest – and comfort take –
Jesus died for sinners' sake.
Joseph Hart 1712-1768