We can come and sing hymns in this church and only enjoy the dignity of the music as a relief from rock’n’roll. (Sermon, “Doctrine of the Remnant,” Chicago, 1957)
—Tozer on Worship and Entertainment
Just as the book of Psalms is a lyric commentary on the Old Testament, set to the music of warm personal devotion, so our great Christian hymns form a joyous commentary on the New Testament.
While no instructed Christian would claim for any hymn the same degree of inspiration that belongs to the Psalms, the worshiping singing soul is easily persuaded that many hymns possess an inward radiance that is a little more than human. If not inspired in the full and final sense, they are yet warm with the breath of the Spirit and sweet with the fragrance of myrrh and aloes and cassia out of the ivory palaces.
In the hymns all the basic doctrines of the Christian faith are celebrated. Were the Scriptures to be destroyed or made inaccessible to the Church, it would not be too difficult to extract from our hymns a complete body of Bible doctrine. This would, of course, lack the authority of the inspired Word, but it might well serve in a dark hour to keep alive the faith of our fathers. As long as the Church can sing her great hymns she cannot be defeated; for hymns are theology set to music.
Hymns do not create truth, nor even reveal it; they celebrate it. They are the response of the trusting heart to a truth revealed or a fact accomplished. God does it and man sings it. God speaks and a hymn is the musical echo of His voice.
—The Warfare of the Spirit
There fell into my hands some time ago a new hymnbook. It came from a far country and looked inviting. I opened it eagerly with the hope of finding some rare psalm or hymn or spiritual song that I had not known before, but my hope was short-lived. The book was published by a Christian group of the sand-counting school of doctrine and I soon discovered that each hymn was a prosaic lesson intended to indoctrinate the user in a narrow, one-eyed view of Christianity. The breath of sacred poesy was absent from the book. It did not mount up on wings as an eagle but walked solemnly and awkwardly along the ground. What original songs it contained were stuffy, joyless, unlovely and weighed down heavily with the half-dozen doctrines this particular group has chosen for constant and monotonous emphasis. Worst of all, many of the old favorite hymns were there but so mangled and emasculated as to be almost unrecognizable. The editors did not play on David’s harp; rather they used it as a sledge to hammer hard, angular doctrines into the heads of their followers. They did not intend that the hymns should give the singer joy, only that they should bring him into line and make him correct in his doctrinal position.
—God Tells the Man Who Cares
Religious productions which come into being during times of great spiritual blessing are to be valued above those which appear during times of spiritual decline. Especially is this true if the production is a fair reflection of the spiritual state which prevails at the time it is written.
Examples are not hard to find. Take for instance the hymnody that sprang up around the Methodist revival of the nineteenth century. One hymnal put out by the Methodists lies at hand as we write. It was published in the year 1849. It contains 1,148 hymns, 553 of them written by Charles Wesley, and the amazing thing about the book is that there is hardly an inferior hymn in it. One quality which marks the hymns is the large measure of sound doctrine that is found in them. Quite a complete course in theology could be gotten from the hymnal alone without recourse to any other textbook.
The Holy Spirit was upon the Methodists in fullness of grace, and they sang of God and Christ and the Scriptures and of the mysteries and joys of redemption personally experienced. The hymnal is lyric theology, a theology that had been strained through the pores of the men and women who wrote and sang their joyous songs. The hymns are warm with the breath of worshipers, a breath that may still be detected fragrant upon them after the passing of a century.
Lay this hymnal beside almost any of the productions of the last fifty years and compare them. The differences will be found to be pronounced, and to the devout soul more than a little depressing. The last half-century has been for the most part a period of religious decline, and the hymnody which it has produced has expressed its low spiritual state. With the coming of the great religious campaigns, with their popular evangelists and their mass appeal, religious singing started on a long trip down, a trip which from all appearances has not yet ended. Experience took the place of theology in popular singing. Writers became more concerned with joy bells than with the blood of sprinkling. Ballad tunes displaced the graver and more serious type of melody. The whole spiritual mood declined and the songs expressed the mood faithfully.
At the risk of being written off as hopelessly outmoded, we venture to give it as our studied opinion that about the only good thing in the average modern songbook is the section of great hymns which most of them carry in the back—hymns which for the most part were written when the Church was at her flood and which are included now as a gesture of respect to the past, and rarely sung.
—The Price of Neglect