Growing up as a Christian in a Scottish Gospel Hall I was richly nourished and constantly encouraged in my faith. Systematic Bible teaching from my own father, the main preacher in the assembly, encouraged me to read the Bible with understanding for myself in later years. What brought me deep understanding of many of its more difficult parts, was the fact that unconsciously we sung our theology week on week.
This repetition and reinforcement of the great truths of scripture had the effect of embedding them into the very depths of my heart and soul. Unlike most of our contemporary praise and worship songs, the hymns and songs in the old books such as ‘Redemption Songs’ and ‘The believers Hymn Book’ were theology set to music.
The hymn writers of previous centuries were first and foremost people who knew their Bible and their theology. Inspired and empowered by the Holy Spirit these individuals wrote lyrics which brought great understanding, soul penetrating depth and reality to the key themes of scripture such as repentance, redemption, faith, heaven; the cross, conversion and the blood of Jesus.
The Apostle Paul in his letter to the Colossians spells out the role and nature of Christian music: ‘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’.
Writing in the Christian Research Journal, contemporary American Bible teacher John MacArthur rightly points to the need to re-evaluate the role and nature of much of contemporary Christian music, urging a return to the Biblical standard:
“If music’s proper function includes ‘teaching and admonishing,’ then music in the church ought to be much more than an emotional stimulant. In fact, this means music and preaching should have the same aim. Both properly pertain to the proclamation of God’s Word. The songwriter ought therefore to be as skilled in Scripture and as concerned for theological precision as the preacher; even more so, because the songs he writes are likely to be sung again and again (unlike a sermon that is preached only once)……………………………..
The leading Old Testament musicians, Heman, Asaph, and Ethan (1 Chron. 15:19), were first of all Levitical priests, men who had devoted their lives to the Lord’s service (cf. v. 17), men trained in the Scriptures and skilled in handling the Word of God. Their names are listed as authors of some of the inspired psalms (cf. Ps. 73–83; 88:1; 89:1).
Like it or not, songwriters are teachers as well. Many of the lyrics they write will be far more deeply and permanently ingrained in the minds of Christians than anything pastors teach from the pulpit. How many songwriters are skilled enough in theology and Scripture to qualify for such a vital role in the catechesis of our people?”
For me, Eliza Edmunds Hewitt (1851-1920) fits the bill perfectly. In a life dedicated to Christian ministry, this remarkable lady penned great but accessible songs, some of which remain ingrained in my mind and soul to this day.
My favourite Eliza Hewitt song, ‘Sing the wondrous Love of Jesus’ has sadly dropped off the playlist in most of Scotland’s evangelical churches. It is a song of admonition which meets all of the Apostle Paul’s criteria. Surely our worship together is diminished when songs like this are consigned to the ‘dustbin of history’.
Sing the wondrous love of Jesus,
Sing His mercy and His grace;
In the mansions bright and blessed
He'll prepare for us a place.
When we all (When we all) get to heaven,
What a day of rejoicing that will be!
(What a day of rejoicing that will be!)
When we all (When we all) see Jesus,
We'll sing and shout the victory.
(shout, and shout the victory)
While we walk the pilgrim pathway
Clouds will overspread the sky;
But when trav'ling days are over,
Not a shadow, not a sigh. [Chorus]
Let us then be true and faithful,
Trusting, serving ev'ry day;
Just one glimpse of Him in glory
Will the toils of life repay. [Chorus]
Onward to the prize before us!
Soon His beauty we'll behold;
Soon the pearly gates will open;
We shall tread the streets of gold. [Chorus]