Hymns in Christian Experience
Many have found the hymns which constitute our Christian heritage to be a rich reservoir of spiritual supply and enjoyment. The deep and lofty revelations Christians have received from God's Word, the joy experienced in the Lord's presence, the comfort given when they suffer for His sake, and the solace received in the midst of trials, are embodied and voiced in the hymns they write. Spiritual songs can convey the heart and flavor of one's thoughts, moods, emotions, and experiences in a way that mere prose cannot adequately communicate. The spiritual sentiments of past Christians and the lessons learned through their many experiences of the Lord are thus captured and preserved for the benefit of all who would come after them.
Hence, beyond their function as an outlet for the believers' thought and feeling, hymns serve as a venue of genuine fellowship where young Christians may benefit from the knowledge of those more experienced in Christ. It is sometimes the case that one confronted by weakness or indecision in a moment of crisis is strengthened and guided by a hymn writer once likewise tempted. And another who may have suffered grievous loss is often comforted and consoled through a hymn written by one who was similarly bereaved. Well-composed spiritual hymns are much more than literary works admired for their phrasing, rhyme and melody; their real value is that they are channels of spiritual nourishment and fellowship originating from within the Body of Christ to supply all of God's children.
Aside from all the personal benefit to be derived from hymns, the believers must not lose sight of the fact that the Lord Himself is, above all, the object of all spiritual singing. As Christians, we believe in the Lord, love Him, and desire to be filled with Him; therefore, we sing to the Lord (Eph. 5:19). The most profound spiritual significance of hymn-singing, therefore, is that through it, believers may enter into a deep communion with the Divine Trinity. This thought is addressed in Hebrews 2:12, where the Lord declares: "I will declare Your name to My brothers; in the midst of the church I will sing hymns of praise to You." According to this verse, Christ Himself sings hymns of praise to the Father in the meetings of the believers. Witness Lee comments on Hebrews 2:12:
This is the firstborn Son's praising of the Father within the Father's many sons in the church meetings. When we, the many sons of God, meet as the church and praise the Father, the firstborn Son praises the Father in our praising. It is not that He praises the Father apart from us and alone; rather, He praises within us and with us through our praising. In our singing He sings hymns of praise to the Father. If then we do not sing, how can He sing? The more we sing to the Father, the more we enjoy His presence, His moving, His anointing, and His life-imparting within us.Thus, in the church meetings the believers have the privilege of joining Christ the Firstborn Son in singing hymns of praise to the Father. This is possible because as believers, we all have been joined by faith to Christ the Lord to be one spirit with Him (1 Cor 6:17), and because Christ lives in us (Col. 1:27; 2 Cor. 13:5). Christ therefore sings within the believers as we sing in oneness with Him. Such mutual singing can be the highest and fullest expression of our adoration toward our loving God, of our earnest gratitude for His grace and favor, and of our infinite wonder for His marvelous plan of salvation. Our worship of the Lord—indeed, our entire Christian experience—is greatly enriched by our hearty appreciation and enjoyment of spiritual hymns.
Hymns in the Scriptures
The Bible testifies of the many usages of hymns throughout the spiritual history of the people of God. In the first such record, after the Israelites were miraculously rescued from slavery in Egypt, they sang their praise to Jehovah for their glorious deliverance and for God's triumph over Pharaoh's pursuing army (Exo. 15:1-21). David also worshipped the Lord with a song in 2 Samuel 22 for faithfully delivering him time after time from the persecution of King Saul. Later, as king, David appointed some to thank and praise the Lord with musical instruments and psalms before the tabernacle for His power and His covenant (1 Chron. 16). He also composed many of the hymns in the book of Psalms, which conveyed not only the psalmists' human sentiments and impressions, but also numerous prophetic divine revelations concerning Christ's coming incarnation, death, resurrection, and exaltation. In addition, Solomon's book entitled the Song of Songs expresses through marvelous typology God's romantic love toward man and the believers' transformation in life unto the image of Christ as His loving counterpart, through God's complete salvation.
The Lord Jesus introduced the New Testament practice of hymn-singing in the church meetings when He led His disciples in singing a hymn to the Father (Matt. 26:30). Paul subsequently exhorted the believers to sing in the meetings of the church (1 Cor. 14:26). According to Paul, the believers enjoy the Lord and are filled in spirit by singing spiritual hymns (Eph. 5:18-19). Furthermore, because many hymns contain portions from the Bible, singing spiritual songs is an excellent way to let the word of Christ dwell within us richly (Col. 3:16). The corporate singing in the meetings of the church is thus a component of the essential mutual teaching, encouragement and building up of the believers (1 Cor. 14:26, 31).
Unless otherwise noted, all lyrics of hymns used in “Hymn Stories” and all biographical information pertaining to their authors are taken from Kenneth W. Osbeck's Amazing Grace: 366 Inspiring Hymn Stories for Daily Devotions. Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications. 1990.
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