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Monday, October 09, 2006

Great Hymns Redux

Since I wrote a previous article last month on the Great Hymns of the Faith, I thought I’d bring you up to date on the hymns I’ve covered since then. Several responded to the original article requesting I write about all of the hymns.

Of the eight hymns I selected for this preaching series, I have preached five and am working on the last three. The reason I enjoy these hymns so much is that there is an inspirational story behind each one which adds real-life dimensions to the song. I cannot help but think of the story when I sing these hymns. The first three were “It is Well With My Soul,” “Amazing Grace,” and the “Battle Hymn of the Republic.”

Since the end of September I have preached on “All the Way My Savior Leads Me,” and “How Great Thou Art.”

Frances Jane Crosby, known as Fanny Crosby, wrote more than nine thousand hymns. You read that correctly: 9000 hymns. That is in itself an amazing accomplishment, but you have to take into consideration that she was blind as well. She was born in 1820 and at six weeks of age lost her eyesight at the hands of an inept doctor. She lived for 95 years and there is not one mention in any biography I could find where she ever complained about her handicap. In fact, she felt that if she had been given her sight she might have never learned to praise God for who he is.

One time a preacher sympathetically remarked, “I think it is a great pity that the Master did not give you sight when he showered so many gifts upon you.” She replied quickly, “Do you know that if at birth I had been able to make one petition, it would have been that I should be born blind?” “Why?” asked the surprised clergyman. “Because when I get to heaven, the first face that shall ever gladden my sight will be that of my Savior.”

For one who lived her life shut out of the light in this world, she, of any, could truly write the inspiring words to a hymn, “All the Way My Savior Leads Me.” She understood that the Christian life is a walk of faith, not sight. It is trusting in the Lord, and not in your own abilities. She started as a student in the New York Institution for the Blind, later becoming a teacher. She worked all of her life helping the poor and displaced.

The first verse of this great hymn is more a testimony of God’s promise to lead and protect. “All the way my Savior leads me – what have I to ask beside? Can I doubt His tender mercy, Who through life has been my guide? Heavenly peace, divinest comfort, here by faith in Him to dwell! For I know, whate’er befall me, Jesus doeth all things well.”

This past Sunday I was preaching on “How Great Thou Art,” a hymn written in 1885 by Carl Gustaf Boberg, a Swedish pastor. After a church service, he was walking the two miles back to his home when a violent storm rolled in, creating a torrential downpour. From where he sought shelter he could look out on the waters of the Baltic Sea as it churned and foamed. But as quickly as the storm had blown in, it became calm. He was awed by the power of the storm; but was just as awed by the quietness that followed, once again hearing the birds singing sweetly in the trees, and noticing the calm, glass-like appearance of the waters. His heart was overwhelmed by the awesomeness of God. He quickly put pen to paper with the result being the song which would become the signature song for the Billy Graham Crusades throughout the 1950s. It is ranked as the number two hymn of all time: Number one being “Amazing Grace.”

The last three hymns in this series are, “Majesty,” “Take My Life and Let It Be,” and “A Mighty Fortress.” Pastor Jack Hayford, a prolific hymn writer, wrote the hymn, “Majesty,” while he and his wife were on vacation in England in 1977. It was the same year for the 25th anniversary of the coronation of Queen Elizabeth. There were lots of decorations with symbols of royalty everywhere. Pastor Hayford said, “I began to sense the influence one might feel if raised as a child in such regal settings. One day as Anna and I drove along together, all at once the opening lyrics and melody of ‘Majesty’ simply came to my heart.”

Francis Ridley Havergal was in poor health from birth. However, a more dedicated Christian you could hardly find. Though she died at age 44 in 1879, she had served the Lord wonderfully all those years. She learned that the Lord could use her even through her weakened body. Many of the hymns that she wrote came out of a life of prayer where she simply asked the Lord to use her. Thus, the first verse of the hymn: “Take my life, and let it be consecrated, Lord, to Thee. Take my moments and my days; let them flow in ceaseless praise. Take my hands, and let them move at the impulse of Thy love. Take my feet, and let them be swift and beautiful for Thee.” That, friends, is right praying!

The Reformer, Martin Luther, wrote the hymn, “A Mighty Fortress is Our God,” around 1527. Europe in those days was made up of city-states. Instead of countries with boundaries, cities were the center of life and activity. Each city had a ruler, or king with a standing army prepared to protect their territory. Martin Luther had incurred the wrath of the Catholic Church, so relied on the protection of city-state rulers who supported his protests against the church in Rome. He eventually realized his protection was not behind man-made walls, but in the hands of God. Thus, he used the analogy of God as a “mighty fortress.”

The testimony of these hymn writers speaks of a relationship with God that any one of us would welcome. So, let me ask you: How do you see God? Is he awesome and powerful? Or is he merely an occasional interest once a week? Ask him to reveal himself to you. Prepare to be amazed!

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