We had about 50 people gather for an evening of singing hymns of the faith. We sang all 10 hymns from our hymn memorisation project.
In between songs, Joe Fleener and William Chong shared some background of the hymns and the hymn writers, and important gospel truths they touched upon.
List of Hymns
1. Doxology (Praise God From Whom All Blessings Flow)
The author of this hymn, Thomas Ken, had written a morning and evening hymn for his students at Winchester College with strict instructions that they use them only in their rooms, for private devotions. Each hymn ended with the words of the doxology.
2. A Mighty Fortress
The word “bulwark” in the first line is an old word for a structure of protection and support – the “refuge and strength” described in the Psalm. When studying the first line in its original German — ein feste Burg ist unser Gott, ein gute Wehr und Waffen — the second phrase is actually better translated as “a good defense and weapon”. God is a defence not just as a static shield for us to hide behind; rather, He fights for us.
Luther modulates the hymn into a New Testament setting and describes the true battle we’re fighting. The powers of evil and the devil are at work against us, but the name of Christ is power enough to defeat them authoritatively and finally.
3. Hark the Herald Angels Sing
Charles Wesley originally wrote this text in ten four-line stanzas and published it in Hymns and Sacred Poems (1739). Originally entitled “Hymn for Christmas Day”, this most popular of Wesley’s Christmas hymns began with the following words:
“Hark, how all the welkin [heavens] rings
Glory to the King of Kings.”
George Whitefield changed the first line to “Hark! The herald angels sing” and published the text with additional alterations in his Collection (1753). The text’s strength may not lie so much in any orderly sequence of thought but in its use of Scripture to teach its theology – every line can be traced to a passage of Scripture!
We also sang the 4th verse tonight, which has these fantastic words:
“Rise the woman’s conquering Seed,
bruise in us the serpent’s head [referring to Genesis 3:15 and the first hint of the gospel]
“Adam’s likeness now erase,
Stamp Thine image in its place
Second Adam from above, reinstate us in Thy love” [referring to Romans 5:12-21, death in Adam, life in Christ]
4. Rock of Ages
This hymn was originally titled: “A living and dying Prayer for the Holiest Believer in the World.”
This makes sense when you think about what Toplady is trying to say in the hymn. For example in verse 2, even if he worked zealously, with no respite/rest, even if his repentance made his tears forever flow, no amount of confession and effort can atone for sin. Our cry to God is likewise: “You must save and You alone”.
This hymn text has been paired with several different tunes over the years. A more recent melody penned by Ruth Buchanan is used in our project. Ruth’s melody helps convey a greater sense of the helplessness and need for grace that Toplady’s original title and words suggest.
(Note: The reference to Christ as a Rock is found in the account of Exodus 33 (where God hides Moses in the ‘cleft of a rock’ in order to see His glory) and also in 1 Corinthians 10:4 which clearly states that the spiritual Rock that the Israelites drank from was a type of Christ.)
5. Before the Throne of God Above
One of my favourite hymns, can’t think of another that captures the heart of the gospel – that God substituted God in Christ to take the punishment for our sins against Him:
“Because the Sinless Saviour died
My sinful soul is counted free
For God the Just is satisfied
To look on Him and pardon me”
6. And Can It Be?
Charles Wesley penned this well-known hymn text in the days soon after his conversion to faith in Christ. It describes the wonder and gratefulness that fills our hearts when we consider the free and infinite grace that God showed to take on flesh and die in our place.
“And Can It Be” was subtitled “Free Grace” in Charles and his brother John’s Hymns and Sacred Poems (1739). The hymn text is full of Scripture quotations and references (e.g. Philippians 2:7, Acts 12:6-8, Romans 8:1, and Hebrews 4:16).
It’s also worth pointing out how deftly Wesley in his text contrasts light and darkness, life and death, slavery and freedom, Christ’s righteousness and our unrighteousness.
Ken Boer explains the hymn’s structure:
- Verse 1 highlights our culpability, as we were the ones who actually pursued him to death.
- Verse 2 tells of Christ’s incarnation and death.
- Verse 3 describes the creation of a Christian, as God brings him from death to life.
- Verse 4 boldly claims that we can approach God’s throne because we have been united with Christ and are eternally clothed in his righteousness.
7. Hallelujah! What A Saviour
William played a David Potter arrangement of this hymn.
8. It Is Well With My Soul
9. How Firm A Foundation
The uniqueness of this hymn is that each verse recalls a promise from God directly from Scripture – “in His excellent Word”:
- Verse 1 sets the stage with the main theme that believers can find a sufficient foundation for our faith in the Bible;
- Verse 2 comes from Isaiah 41:10 with God’s promise to give His people aid;
- Verse 3 comes from Isaiah 43:2 with the assurance that He will be with us when we pass through deep waters;
- Verse 4 comes from 2 Corinthians 12:9, referencing God’s promise to use weakness to refine our impurities (i.e. dross);
- Verse 5 points us to Hebrews 13:5 and God’s promise that “never will I leave you; never will I forsake you”.
10. In Christ Alone
Refer to reflections on this hymn here.
11. Amazing Grace
John Newton’s famous hymn that we know as “Amazing Grace” was originally titled, “Faith’s Review And Expectation.” It was written to go along with a New Years Day sermon that he preached at his country church in England in 1773, based on the text of 1 Chronicles 17:16-17.
This hymn calls the believer to wonder at the amazing grace of God, who has been faithful in the past and will continue to be faithful in the future.
“Who am I, O Lord God, and what is my house, that you have brought me thus far? And this was a small thing in your eyes, O God. You have also spoken of your servant’s house for a great while to come, and have shown me future generations, O Lord God!” – 1 Chron. 17:16–17
If you’re a child of God by faith in Christ, then He has brought you thus far, and will bring you safely home – not because of anything we’ve done, but because of His amazing grace in keeping the covenant promises He’s made with His people.
12. Doxology (by memory)