2. Hymns Admonish Us
Throughout the week, other things call for our praise, attention and affection. Singing hymns of God’s character reminds us of his greatness. Singing hymns of our sin reminds us of the role of confession. By singing hymns of the atonement, we remind one another of the efficacy of the work of Jesus. Hymns of consecration remind us of the dependence of the Christian upon the steadfast grace of God.
We sing to admonish the weak and weary that their salvation is in God. We sing to admonish the doubting to believe and be renewed. We sing to admonish the suffering that they have a hope that is unwavering.
Be gone unbelief, my Savior is near,
And for my relief will surely appear:
By prayer let me wrestle, and He wilt perform,
With Christ in the vessel, I smile at the storm.
—John Newton, 1779
3. Hymns Inspire Worship
We should choose historic hymns that provoke thankful hearts. The aim of singing hymns is engaging both the head and the heart. Just as we read and meditate on the Scriptures to see and worship God, so we choose songs that teach robust theological truth that causes our hearts to erupt with praise. The chief end of theology is doxology.
In choosing historic hymns for corporate worship, we should choose those that make our hearts sing. From the content of the lyric to the movement of the melody, we want beauty and transcendence to come together and serve the people of God. In our pursuit of theological precision, we must not neglect the pursuit of heartfelt response.
A church’s hymn-singing—whether old or new—is not simply an opening act for the sermon. It is not obligatory filler-time to warm up a congregation. Singing is a holy practice. We sing because God has commanded us, and our songs should fill our hearts with thankfulness and delight in God.
That word above all earthly powers, no thanks to them, abideth;
The Spirit and the gifts are ours through Him Who with us sideth:
Let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also;
The body they may kill: God’s truth abideth still,
His kingdom is forever.
—Martin Luther, 1529
4. The New in the Old
Surely the hymns recorded for us in Scripture are meant for our singing today. In these songs of praise and prayer, contrition and confession, we see the breadth and inclusiveness of the hymns the church has sung for ages.
Regardless of the median age or church experience of a congregation, when I lead in worship by singing these historic hymns together, a sense of identity and reverence seems to rest upon the people. These songs unite the body of Christ as they have for generations, joining the youngest and oldest of our congregation and everyone in between, as they consider and hope in the same truths of God and his grace.
Our God, our help in ages past,
Our hope for years to come,
Our shelter from the stormy blast,
And our eternal home.
—Isaac Watts, 1719