“Through music we may wander where we will in time, and find friends in every century.” Helen Thompson
It can be said that the great hymns of the Christian faith have helped shaped the face of Christianity as much as the Bible itself. As a pastor for more than thirty years, I’ve known without questioning, that many of the songs our worship leaders sing on any given Sunday morning will stick in the minds and hearts of my parishioners much longer than any of the words of my sermons. And you know what, as a musician myself, I say that’s absolutely OK!
But, just as it’s important for me as a pastor to make sure the words I’m speaking on a Sunday morning can be traced back to the Holy Scriptures, so it is with the lyrics of the songs we are singing. Sadly, there are many popular songs being sung in churches today that are, quite honestly, as un-scriptural just about as much as they are un-singable! But this blog is not to be used as a place for an old pastor to complain about the problems in today’s society, but to point out the truth that is there.
So my hope in blogging our way through thirty of the greatest hymns of all time is not to force anyone to stop singing newer contemporary songs in order to start singing these golden oldies. Heaven forbid! As the Psalms state clearly in numerous places, “Sing unto the Lord, a new song!” But my hope here is to help us journey our way through some of the richest hymns of all-time in order to gather up all the scattered pieces of joy that might be easily lost by ignoring the vast musical heritage we have as twenty-first century followers of Christ.
So how did I pick the thirty hymns we are planning to blog our way though?
A quick look on the search engines of the Internet reveals literally dozens and dozens of top 10, the top 50, or even the top 100 hymns of all time. The problem with many of these ‘lists’ is that very few qualify how the authors of these lists arrived at their findings.
Fortunately, I found one source that convinced me of its validity. In March 2011, author Robert T. Coote, senior contributing editor of the International Bulletin of Missionary Research, published an article in Christianity Today entitled, The Hymns That Keep on Going: The 27 Worship Songs That Have Made The Hymnal Cut Time And Again. Apparently Coote, a long-time lover of the hymns, was having a similar frustration as I was when trying to determine the most popular songs of all time, so he decided to take it upon himself to do the research, and his findings are quite revealing.
Using data ranging from 1878 to the present, and pulling from 28 different hymnals published by six of the largest Protestant denominations across America (see survey details below), Coote was able to determine that there were only 27 hymns out of 4,905 that appeared again and again in hymnal after hymnal over the last nine generations!
So, ready or not, in alphabetical order, here is Coote’s list of the 27 most-published hymns of the American church from the last 150+ years:
- A Mighty Fortress Is Our God (M. Luther, 1529; tr. F. H. Hedge)
- Abide With Me: Fast Falls The Eventide (H. Lyte, 1847)
- All Glory, Laud, And Honor (Theodulph, 820; tr. J. M. Neale)
- All Hail The Power Of Jesus’ Name (E. Perronet, 1779)
- Christ The Lord Is Risen Today! (C. Wesley, 1739)
- Come, Thou Almighty King (C. Wesley, 1757)
- Come, Ye Thankful People Come (H. Alford, 1844)
- Crown Him With Many Crowns (M. Bridges, 1851, alt. G. Thring)
- Glorious Things Of Thee Are Spoken (J. Newton, 1779)
- Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah (W. Williams, 1745)
- Holy, Holy, Holy! Lord God Almighty (R. Heber, 1826)
- How Firm A Foundation, Ye Saints (R. Keene, 1787)
- In The Cross Of Christ I Glory (J. Bowring, 1825)
- Jesus Shall Reign Where’er The Sun (I. Watts, 1719)
- Jesus, The Very Thought Of Thee (Bernard of Clairvaux, 12th; tr. E. Caswall)
- Just As I Am, Without One Plea (C. Elliott, 1836)
- Love Divine, All Loves Excelling (C. Wesley, 1747)
- Now Thank We All Our God (M. Rinkart, 1636; tr. C. Winkworth)
- O, For A Thousand Tongues To Sing (C. Wesley, 1739)
- O God, Our Help In Ages Past (I. Watts, 1719)
- O Sacred Head, Now Wounded (Bernard of Clairvaux, 12th; tr. Gerhardt & J. W. Alexander)
- O, Worship The King All Glorious Above (R. Grant, 1833)
- Savior, Like A Shepherd Lead Us (D. Thrupp, 1836)
- The Day Of Resurrection (John of Damascus, ca. 750; tr. J. M. Neale)
- The Church’s One Foundation Is Jesus Christ, Her Lord (S. Stone, 1866)
- There’s A Wideness In God’s Mercy (F. Faber, 1854)
- When I Survey The Wondrous Cross (I. Watts, 1707)
What’s that you say? Where’s Amazing Grace? And what about Great is Thy Faithfulness? Keep in mind that one of Coote’s major requirements included that the hymn had to be widely popular across all denominations from the late-1880’s on…and sadly, some of your favorite hymns (and mine) just didn’t make the cut! So to appease some of you who are already angry at the list, I plan to include three of my personal favorites at the end of our blog series, just to make the list round up to thirty!
So…stick around. Join us next time as we begin our trek through these hymn classics. Who knows, before it’s done, you and I just might have a better understanding why numerous generations who’ve gone before us have insisted that we sing this hymn or that one before we close up the songbooks for another day.
My prayer: Thank You, Jesus, for the hymns of old that have been recorded for me so that I might share in the songs that previous generations have sung. May I continue to always sing a new song to You, while always holding to the beautiful truths that have always been there in ages past. I lift my voice in adoration. For Your name’s sake. Amen.
My questions to ponder: So which of these 27 hymns bring back memories of past glories in my life? Are there times when one of these hymns has touched my soul deeply and I found my heart being strangely warmed?
So what is God speaking to you today as we ponder together 30 Great Hymns of Faith?
Our list of 27 hymns comes from Robert T. Coote, The Hymns That Keep on Going: The 27 Worship Songs That Have Made The Hymnal Cut Time And Again. Christianity Today, March 2011, vol. 55, no. 3, p 32.
Robert Coote surveyed 4,905 hymns that were included in 28 different hymnals (1878-2006) from the following mainline Protestant denominations: Anglican (4 editions, earliest 1892), Baptist (4 editions, earliest 1883), Congregational (5 editions, earliest 1897), Lutheran (5 editions, earliest 1899), Methodist (5 editions, earliest 1878), and Presbyterian (5 editions, earliest 1885). Hymns chosen for Coote’s list had to be written by 1878 and could not be Christmas carols, simple choruses, or ‘service’ music (i.e. the Doxology, etc).
Only 13 hymns (of 4,905) appeared in all 28 hymnals. (9 appeared in 27 out of 28, while 5 appeared in 26 of 28). Summary: Only a total of 27 hymns (out of 4,905 hymns published in 28 major hymnals from 1878 to the present) met Coote’s high standard for on-going popularity.
Between now and Easter 2016, we will be sharing with you this blog series we call Thirty Great Hymns of Faith. In order to keep all 34 blog sessions organized, we suggest you bookmark our Thirty Great Hymns of Faith home page for ease of use. ENJOY!
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