Who Are Those Old Hymn Writers? Fanny Crosby


Years ago I read a biography about Fanny Crosby an American lyricist, but I remembered really only two things: she was blind, and there was some controversy over her choruses.

Doing a little research about her, I learned a lot more. First, born a hundred years after Isaac Watts, in 1820, she was far more prolific than he. Her songs and hymns numbered nearly 9000! Because the hymnbook publishers didn’t want a book filled by only one writer, they had her write under a number of pseudonyms besides writing under her own name.

Second, Fanny Crosby was married, even had a daughter who died in infancy (either from typhoid or SIDS). She and her husband eventually lived apart, and he died in 1902. She lived until 1915, when she was a few months shy of 95.

In her early career, she taught at the New York Institute of the Blind (which is where she met her husband—he was also blind). Later she spoke in many places, published her autobiography, collaborated on a number of hymnals, and spent much of her life as a rescue mission worker.

Crosby has become known as the Queen of Gospel Song Writers and reached a level of popularity in her lifetime that sets her apart from other lyricists. Her songs were largely simple, not lofty or grandiose. She intended them to be evangelistic in nature. “Many times literary critics would challenge the quality of her work, to which she would remind them that she was writing to be understood by the common people, not the elite.” (Paperless Hymnal)

She did not let her blindness be a hindrance. After her father died and while her mother was caring for his children from another marriage and Fanny, her grandmother took over a great deal of responsibility teaching her about the world and about the Bible. Fanny began to memorize Scripture, and eventually learned “the first five books of the Old Testament, then the first four of the New Testament, then Proverbs and many of the psalms.” (Ibid)

As it happened, her blindness was a result of a doctor’s malpractice. When she was two months old, this man treated the infant for an illness by applying a mustard poultice to her eyes. She was never bitter or angry toward this man. She is reported to have said when she was 85 that if she could have asked for something at birth it would be that she would be blind so that the first face she would see would be her Lord and Savior.

Regarding the controversy. Largely the issues revolved around her meager pay for the songs and an appeal that went public for help with her financial needs. She did not believe herself in need at all. In fact her publisher provided a stipend for her long after she was no more giving them new lyrics.

What I had recalled was some question about the depth of what she wrote, much the same as Isaac Watts faced, but if that was the case, that fact did not surface in my research today. Instead, it appears her poems and lyrics were popular, particularly when D. L. Moody and Ira Sankey included them in their crusades.

Of course, beyond her influence in her own day, Fanny Crosby’s legacy continues. Many of her hymns are well loved and are still sung wherever hymns are still sung. A list of her most well-known songs include:

“All the Way My Savior Leads Me”–1875, music by Robert Lowry
“Blessed Assurance”–1873, music by Phoebe Knapp
“He Hideth My Soul”–1890, music by William J. Kirkpatrick
“I Am Thine, O Lord (Draw Me Nearer)”–1875, music by W. Howard Doane
“Tell Me the Story of Jesus”–1880, music by John R. Sweney
“To God Be the Glory”–1875, music by W. Howard Doane

And so many others.

Here’s an all time favorite.

And here’s another.

Published in: on November 8, 2019 at 5:58 pm  Comments (4)  
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Who Are Those Old Hymn Writers? Isaac Watts


I may have mentioned that I’ve been spending time with my parents’ old hymnal. I even bought a hymnal on line because I wanted more of the spiritual songs I have sung for most of my life. One thing I like about the hymn books is that you have time to see who wrote them—lyrics and music alike.

One name kept popping up in connection to hymns I knew well, that I’d sung in every church I attended: Issac Watts. A famous name, but who was he? I realized I didn’t actually know. So a little research and here’s what I learned.

An Englishman, Watts lived a long time ago, born and died before the birth of the United States. But he was a product of the Reformation. The Anglican church dominated the scene at the time, but the Watts family affiliated with the Nonconformists. His father even spent time in jail because his beliefs were illegal.

Watts had an aptitude for language and for poetry. He has come to be known as the father of English hymnody. The Germans had been writing hymns for a hundred years already, but Watts introduced something new in English. Many of his 600 some hymns were paraphrases of Scripture.

Still, his songs were controversial in some places, in large part because they were not Scripture.

A hymn in the most general sense is a song of praise to God, but it is distinguished from a psalm, a lyrical expression of devotion drawn from the Book of Psalms in the Bible. Psalm singing, or psalmody, was the main form of congregational musical involvement in services when Watts came on the scene. Watts’s hymns were often based on psalms, but he put them into a moving new language of personal worship that anyone could understand. (“Isaac Watts,” Encyclopedia.com)

Quoting from a primary source, CT Magazine explains further:

“Christian congregations have shut out divinely inspired psalms and taken in Watts’s flights of fancy,” protested one detractor. Others dubbed the new songs “Watts’s whims.” (“Isaac Watts: Father of English Hymnody”)

I guess music has been an issue for a long time in the Church!

Watts never married. He lived and worked in London as a tutor for a number of years, then as a pastor, and finally primarily as a hymn writer.

He was know in his day for his work and teaching in the subject of logic. He wrote the textbook that was used for years known as Logic but fully entitled he Right Use of Reason in the Enquiry After Truth With a Variety of Rules to Guard Against Error in the Affairs of Religion and Human Life, as well as in the Sciences. Some of this work departed from the standard understanding of the discipline and some was innovative as he utilized the influence of contemporary thought, including that of John Locke.

Isaac Watts was a small, frail man, but brilliant and influential in his own day. What amazes me is how long his influence has lasted. Here are some of his best known hymns:

Alas! and Did My Savior Bleed? (music: Hugh Wilson)
Am I a Soldier of the Cross? (music: Thomas A. Arne)
At the Cross (music: Ralph E. Hudson)
Come, Holy Spirit, Heavenly Dove (music: John B. Dykes)
Come, We That Love the Lord (music: Aaron Williams)
I Sing the Mighty Power of God (from Gesangbuch der Herzogl, 1784)
Jesus Shall Reign (music: John Hatton)
Joy to the World! (music: George F. Handel)
O God, Our Help in Ages Past (music: attr. to William Croft)
We’re Marching to Zion (music: Robert Lowry)
When I Can Read My Title Clear (music: attr. to Joseph C. Lowry)
When I Survey the Wondrous Cross (music: arr. by Lowell Mason) [List compiled by Wholesome Words]

So who was Isaac Watts? A brilliant man, a pastor who loved God and His word and wanted to make the truth of Scripture accessible to the normal person. Even to children. He had a book of hymns written just for them.

And amazingly, his influence continues today. Especially at Christmas when people of all kinds of religious backgrounds may hear strains of “Joy to the World,” not a holiday song really. It is a “for all times” hymn, as are so many others of his.

Published in: on November 7, 2019 at 5:52 pm  Comments (3)  
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For What Do We Praise God?



Photo by Steve Johnson from Pexels

I’ve said from time to time that I think contemporary churches lose something if they don’t continue to sing hymns of old. I appreciate the fact that a number of songwriters have added to the selection of music which we can use in church. But there’s something about the old hymns that the new ones don’t seem to have.

This may be nothing more than my perspective, based on the songs in my church. We no longer have hymnals (I just bought one on Amazon because I miss them so much—part of the birthday present from my brother!) Instead we sing songs that are projected on screens. Not the music. Just the words.

That fact along is a clue to me that these songs are a little “light weight.” I mean, anyone can pick up the tune with little effort. What’s more, we sing in a sort of unisex way, in a key that is too low for me as a soprano. It’s sort of keyed as if we’re all altos. But that’s not really the point.

What bothers me is the simplicity of the lyrics. They are without meat.

There certainly are exceptions, most notably “Christ Alone” by the Gettys. But instead of singing any number of their others, we seem to take our choices from a very limited selection that has a number of songs that repeat and repeat and repeat. I have to wonder. There have been so many jokes about the repetition in contemporary praise music, you’d think writers and worship leaders would have figured out there’s a better way. But apparently not.

We do sing a smattering of hymns too, but those are ones that have a contemporary arrangement. So the selection is very, very small.

I found a hymn this morning that I’d like to learn, but I don’t read music, so I was hoping I could find it online. It’s old, and even the translation from the original language is old. But I think it says some incredible things about God. Sadly, I didn’t find it. I have a friend who plays the piano so maybe . . . but I don’t know how to get it home where I can actually learn it. But never mind. The real issue is the lyrics. Here they are:

Stanza 1
Lord, who can be with you compared?
Or who Thy greatness hath declared?
What ardent thought discerned aright?

Chorus #1
Further than our poor reck’ning stretches
Beyond the ken of mortal eye,
Or boundless depths of starry reaches,
There has Thou set They throne on high.

Stanza 2
Praise, honor, majesty receiving,
Thou Source and Life of all the living,
Thy dazzling vestment is the light!

Chorus #1

Stanza 3
Exalt, my soul, exalt the glory
Of my Creator, tell the story
That all the earth may understand!

Chorus #2
Rejoice in Him, ye hosts of heaven,
To Him alone your voices raise;
Worthy is He to whom be given
Honor and worship, thanks and praise

Stanza 4
Sing thy triumphant songs before Him,
Repeat them, all His saints adore Him
Who holds us by His mighty hand.

Chorus #2

The original is some 250 years old and even the translation is over a hundred years old. But I love the connection between those believers long ago who sang to the same God and Father I know. I love the connection with the Church universal, down through the ages, understanding who God is and how He interacts with us.

I also like that these lyrics make me think. They aren’t cookie cutter. They don’t repeat one phrase—even a good phrase—over and over so that it’s easy to sing without thinking about what your singing (not that I would ever do that! 😉 )

I also like, and this may be the most important thing, that the focus is primarily on God, not how I feel about God.

My internet search for the lyrics of this hymn uncovered another song with the word “compare” in the title. Here’s the first verse:

Where would I be
If it wasn’t for Your kindness toward me
You’ve been closer than a friend could ever be
There is nothing on the Earth that could take Your place

These are good things to sing about God, but it seems to me there’s a shift so that the spotlight is as much on my relationship with God as it is on God. I do think a believer’s relationship with God should be celebrated, so I’m definitely not knocking this song.

But I think we lose something if our focus most of the time is about how we feel about God rather than about God Himself. It’s almost as if we have to understand God in terms of how He affects us instead of Who He is apart from us.

There’s one song we sing in my church that highlights God’s goodness. One line says “He’s so good to me.” I always want to shout right there, NO, He’s good whether I perceive Him as good or not, whether I benefit immediately from His goodness or not. Because the truth is, I don’t always see God’s goodness. I believe in His goodness because He’s revealed His end game, so I know not to make an evaluation of Him based on me and my life right now.

I mean, there’s a woman in front of me who lost her husband to cancer. How does she perceive a line like, He’s so good to me?

But the lines of the old humn? Those tell the truth about God, and I love to be reminded—I need to be reminded—who He is in a deeper way than so many of contemporary songs say.

Published in: on October 23, 2019 at 5:41 pm  Comments (2)  
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Congregational Singing


Photo shared on FB by Susan Gentry DeMaggioOnce upon a time, when churches had bulletins in which the order of service was printed, occasional lines read, “Congregational Singing,” followed by a number in a hymnal.

Times have changed, bringing changes to church services. Certainly some of those are fine and appropriate and not in the least contrary to Scripture since the Bible doesn’t mention bulletins or orders of service or hymnals.

In fact, how we conduct “church” is more a reflection of our culture than any Biblical mandate. There’s simply not much laid out concerning what our “assembling ourselves together” is supposed to look like.

I was raised in a church that didn’t use instruments to accompany our congregational singing, and I don’t remember a choir. Instead the congregation sang hymns in four-part harmony at the direction of a music minister or song leader—I’m not sure what his title was.

But in my teen years someone introduced contemporary Christian music, and before long praise songs made their way into church.

Since then, there seems to be a running controversy about how we are to “do worship” because with more and more frequency, congregational singing has come to be known as “worship.” Prayer, offering, sermons, even communion are something else, apparently, and corporate singing alone is worship.

Along with these changes, much of this “worship” has taken on the trappings of secular concerts. Again, there’s nothing wrong with this ostensibly since the Bible doesn’t lay down any direction about our singing except to say that we are to teach and admonish one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in our hearts to God (see Colossians 3:16).

So in some churches, the tech people flash words on a screen, lower the house lights, turn on spotlights to illumine the worship band, and crank up the mics. The leader will sometimes verbally cue people to the next line of a song—though it’s in front of them—or riff some line that’s not there. Sometimes, with no warning, all but one member of the “worship team” will stop singing and the rest of us are left to wonder if we are also to be silent or to be led by the single singer.

In short, there’s more of a concert feel to these times of singing than there is of congregational singing. Good? Or bad? Young people should feel right at home with the concert atmosphere, and tradition isn’t supposed to become Law.

But maybe there are a couple bigger issues. I wonder if we’ve lost the purpose of our singing.

When we meet together we can make a joyful noise to the Lord as the people of Israel did and we can sing to instruct one another as Paul said in Colossians 3. However, I think we might be losing both those purposes in our concert environment.

First, people go to concerts to be entertained. I think too many people are going to church for the same reason. Was the pastor funny? Did he repeat the stories he’s already told? Was he boring? That mindset is replicated during the singing. Rather than thinking about the instruction of the psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, or singing with thankfulness in our hearts to God, or making a joyful noise to the Lord, we’re thinking about whether or not we liked the music. Is it too old fashioned, too shallow, too repetitive, too loud, too archaic, too jazzy, too uni-voice, too whatever I don’t like as much as I like something else?

People who love hymns and people who love contemporary music can error in the exact same way—judging the music based on how entertained they are by it.

In addition, in a recent Facebook discussion about worship, several people mentioned euphoria as part of the experience in the “concert mode” style. I have to wonder how many people are gauging “worship” based on how euphoric it makes them feel.

I do think when we enter into a closeness with God, we can experience a “spiritual high,” but if we go about trying to recapture that surprising joy, as C. S. Lewis referred to it, we’re worshiping for the wrong reason. We ought not think about what we can get from the experience. Instead, we ought to be focused on other believers or on God as we sing truths or praise. And yes, when we sing truths for others, we will hear them too. When we sing praise to God, we may enter into a closer experience with Him.

But those are gifts God gives us as effects of our singing. Our purpose ought not to be to receive an emotional boost, and it ought not to be to be entertained.

Secondly, singing is only one aspect of worship, but our concert mode and our “worship team,” “worship band,” “worship leader” phraseology encourages us to think of music as worship and the rest of our service as something else.

I suppose these two are tied together because we don’t often get a euphoric bump when we put an offering into the plate or even when we listen to a sermon (unless our preacher is one who milks the crowd and has everyone weeping by the time he’s finished). Nevertheless, the teaching of the word of God, giving to His work in our church, community, and the world, petitioning Him to change our hearts and draw us closer to Him, are all parts of worship, whether we feel it to be so or not.

Worship ought not to be about how we feel. Worship is about us giving. We ought to worship God, not because we to get something from it, but because He deserves it.

Hymns


Rose-on-hymnal-on-pianoI suspect fewer and fewer churches sing hymns any more. My church did away with hymnals when we remodeled the sanctuary last year. We now have one service with “classic worship,” but the music of late seems to be one hymn to every three contemporary praise songs.

What stands out to me when the songs are put side by side is the quality of the hymns and, well, the weaker craftsmanship of the contemporary songs. Often times the latter doesn’t have a very complex vocal arrangement. I’m not a musician, but I don’t think you have to be one to hear the difference when they’re played one after the other.

But of late, it’s the lyrics I’ve been noticing. The last two Sundays I’ve been thinking, I grew up singing the kinds of hymns like “To God Be The Glory,” and it’s no wonder I have a strong sense of who God is and what He’s done.

At least for me, music gets inside me and makes the lyrics live. If contemporary music focuses more on the worshiper (“I give You my heart/I give You my soul/Lord, have Your way with me”) rather than on the object of our worship (“To God be the glory, great things He has done”), then it seems we’ll have fewer and fewer doctrines of the faith reinforced through our music.

I understand hymns are hard. There are too many thee‘s and thou‘s and hath‘s and would’st. But it dawned on me a number of weeks ago, those hymns were hard for me when I was growing up, too. I didn’t understand phrases like “schisms rent asunder” or “Mid toil and tribulation, / and tumult of her war, / she waits the consummation / of peace forevermore,” at least not in those early years when I first sang those lines.

But like learning another language or learning to read poetry, the meaning of those hymns became clear one by one. When I was younger I loved “Trust and Obey.” Now I’m pretty sure I thought of that song as my favorite, not because I was so trusting or obedient or even because I valued those qualities greatly, but because I understood what the words were saying. “Trust and obey for there’s no other way / to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.”

I’m tempted to say “Trust and Obey” has a lot in common with contemporary music because it does seem to put the focus on the worshiper, but there’s still doctrine woven into the fabric of each line. The point here is, “Trust and Obey” is an example of my “entry” hymns. I understood it and came to love it and that led me to other hymns I understood and loved.

Ultimately, singing hymns was no longer a chore but a rich pleasure. I miss four part harmony, I miss the great truths of the faith put to music. And I’m concerned for the next generation, growing up with parents who have been raised without hymns and with a postmodern outlook on life which has given them a relativistic perspective and a lack of an authoritative anchor.

Of course there are a handful of musicians who saw this situation before I did and who are doing something about it. They’re writing modern hymns. The ones I know are Keith and Kristyn Getty who have written songs like “All Around The World”:

All around the world the Kingdom cry resounds
From mountain town to desert plain,
From city to the shore.
Truth will not be bound by walls upon the earth.
From every nation, tribe and tongue
God calls His people forth

Now if we could just sing those hymns more often.

Published in: on May 26, 2014 at 6:48 pm  Comments (14)  
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Trust And Obey


TrustandObey
God didn’t make it complicated for us. We make it complicated for ourselves. I love the old hymn that spells out the basics:

1. When we walk with the Lord
in the light of his word,
what a glory he sheds on our way!
While we do his good will,
he abides with us still,
and with all who will trust and obey.
Refrain:
Trust and obey, for there’s no other way
to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.

2. Not a burden we bear,
not a sorrow we share,
but our toil he doth richly repay;
not a grief or a loss,
not a frown or a cross,
but is blest if we trust and obey.
(Refrain)

3. But we never can prove
the delights of his love
until all on the altar we lay;
for the favor he shows,
for the joy he bestows,
are for them who will trust and obey.
(Refrain)

4. Then in fellowship sweet
we will sit at his feet,
or we’ll walk by his side in the way;
what he says we will do,
where he sends we will go;
never fear, only trust and obey.
(Refrain)

Published in: on January 10, 2014 at 8:04 pm  Comments (2)  
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My Turn To Tell


As promised, here are my picks from yesterday’s post, “You Tell Me Yours, I’ll Tell You Mine,” marked in boldface font and followed by brief commentary.

a Mac or PC — no contest. Whenever I have to use a PC, I realize anew how much I like Macs.

Narnia or Lord of the Rings — but that’s no slight on Narnia because I love it too.

science fiction or fantasy — and that one’s not even close.

classical or country — same here!

books or ereaders — but I’m just getting started with my very first ereader, so this could change in the near future.

Facebook or Twitter — I’m getting more comfortable with Twitter, but I don’t see it moving ahead of Facebook.

LinkedIn or Pinterest — Pin-what? Seriously, I haven’t been to the site yet, but from what I’ve heard … it’s not for me.

YA books or adult — nothing against YA. I read it with some frequency, but I gravitate toward the adult stuff.

mystery or suspense — I love figuring stuff out and hate being scared!

Dancing with the Stars or So You Think You Can Dance — Stars are soooooo overrated!

The Voice or American Idol — neither, really, but the few times I watched some of The Voice, I thought it looked like a better show.

Survivor or Amazing Race — I’m a die-hard fan! 😀

Mitt Romney or Rick Santorum — I like the fact that the only bad thing the media says about him is that he’s spending too much time on “social issues.”

Old Testament or New Testament — this is where I start cheating: both, absolutely.

Apostle Paul or Apostle Peter — ditto

Elijah or Daniel — tough call. I actually like Elisha more than Elijah, but I may have learned the most from Elijah because of a wonderful series of sermons Pastor Swindoll did years ago.

Tom Sawyer or Lord of the Flies — when I wrote this, I intended to say Lord of the Flies. I think it’s a great study in human nature. But it’s also pretty depressing. So I’ll go with humor, adventure, suspense, and a little peak at human nature on the side.

Denver Broncos or Oakland Raiders — need I say more? 😉

Tim Tebow or Jeremy Linn — I’ve heard Tim speak about Jesus. So far I’ve only heard others say Jeremy Linn has faith like Tim Tebow. Besides, Tim plays for the right team, and Jeremy doesn’t. 😉

Corrie ten Boom or Elizabeth Elliot — Elizabeth Elliot is a remarkable woman. I actually had the privilege of hearing both of them speak, though, and Corrie exuded the love of Christ. Her life has had a big impact on me.

iPad or Kindle Fire — I own neither so don’t know what the advantages of each are, but because I favor Apple products, I’d be inclined to go with the iPad if it were possible.

grace or mercy — yeah, no way to choose on this one. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ who, according to His great mercy, has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Peter 1:3), but “By grace you have been saved, through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Eph. 2:8-9).

Christian fiction or general market fiction — I’ve been reading more Christian fiction of late, but I like the general market fiction that’s been recommended to me.

New York Times or Wall Street Journal — I don’t read either regularly, but when I find links to articles, I usually find the treatment in the WSJ to be thorough and less “media party line.”

hymns or choruses — Both have their place. Paul said in Colossians, “Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God” (Col. 3:16). Was he just being redundant, or was he making a point that different kinds of musical renditions have their place? I favor the latter view.

Well, there you have it. Again, special thanks to those who took the time to give their picks. This was fun.

Published in: on March 1, 2012 at 5:17 pm  Comments (2)  
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