The beauty of hymns
First Presbyterian Church hosted Matthew Smith and Indelible Grace in concert last week. I’ve appreciated their music for quite a while finding in it a healthy reformed spirituality that makes my heart sing.
Over the length of my sojourn with Christ, I have found that the lyrics of many contemporary expressions of Christian devotion leave me feeling unmoved since their view of God seems to be both shallow and rooted in the first person experience of the writer/singer. In other words, we sing about how we are feeling about God in the moment. The problem for me comes when (every week) the words being used to describe my experience of God in the moment actually fail to capture my experience of God in the moment. Perhaps it’s an inadequate analogy, but I it seems to me that the healthiest expressions of my love for my wife come not in my finding words for the experience of my in-love-ness, but in describing those attributes and characteristics of her that cause me to love her and to have committed myself to her for life. The focus ought to be the object of affection rather than the experience of affection itself.
To be sure, not all contemporary songs fall into this trap. Many, however, do. I have found that the words of the hymn writers of yesteryear often capture more of God’s character and His attributes, the very things that cause me to love Him. These works often also focus on the saving works of God both in the life of individuals and in the life of the invisible church.
Consider the first two stanzas of Charitie Lees Smith’s 1863 hymn (as rendered in C. H. Spurgeon’s Our Own Hymn Book):
Before the throne of God above
I have a strong and perfect plea;
a great high priest whose name is Love,
Who ever lives and pleads for me.
My name is graven on His hands,
My name is written on His heart;
I know that, while in heaven He stands,
No tongue can bid me thence depart.
My point isn’t to create a battle between contemporary expressions of devotion to God and older expressions. I simply want to point out that in my own experience there is something deeply comforting about finding a connection with the saints who have gone before, who have experienced God’s covenant faithfulness in a world where their lived experience was significantly more difficult than my own. For this reason, I’m grateful for artists like Matthew Smith and Brian Moss who have given new expression to timeless truth!