Hymns

A Christian hymn is a song, normally metrical and strophic, used in worship. Augustine's requirement that it be “with praise of God” would outlaw hymns of meditation, description, exhortation, or teaching. An ideal hymn has something definite to communicate, is scriptural, poetic yet simple and singable, theistic, preferably christocentric, orthodox, and truly ecumenical. Although a good tune is important, this should carry the words, and not vice versa. This article treats mostly hymns popular in Britain and America.

The NT shows that the apostlic church sang hymns. The Psalter was soon supplemented by the canticles (Magnificat,* etc.) of Luke 1, 2, and the doxologies, e.g., Luke 2:14. The younger Pliny* (c.a.d. 115) reported in a letter to Trajan that Christians sang “a song to Christ as a god.” This might, however, have been a liturgical recitation. The earliest hymn whose full text has survived is one used at a lamplighting ceremony (c.a.d. 200 or earlier) and translated from the Greek by John Keble*: “Hail, gladdening Light.” Another Greek hymn (fourth century or earlier) is known to us, via Latin, as the Gloria in excelsis. Most other Greek hymns in our collections were translated by J.M. Neale.* Latin hymnody can be traced back to the fourth century. The Te Deum,* possibly by Niceta, bishop of Remesiana (d.c. 414), used to be ascribed to Ambrose (d.397), the anti-Arian bishop of Milan, to whom the Western Church owes the recognition of hymns as an integral part of public worship and indirectly the invention of “Long Meter.” From the fourth to the eleventh centuries there were many Latin hymns, mostly translated by Neale. The authorship is not known of the originals of “Jesu, the very thought of Thee” (Caswall) and “Come, Holy Ghost, our souls inspire” (J. Cosin). There are over 150 versions of Dies Irae (Thomas of Celana, thirteenth century), the greatest of the medievel Sequences (hymns sung before the Gospel at Mass).

During the two centuries after the Reformation there was, largely owing to Calvin,* no book of hymns for use in the Church of England. Their place was largely taken by the metrical Psalms, notably the Whole Booke of Psalmes Collected into English Metre (1562), by Thomas Sternhold* (d.1549) and John Hopkins (d.1570), and printed by John Daye. Only one hymn associated with this is now used, the “Old Hundredth”: “All people that on earth do dwell” (ascribed to William Kethe, d.1594?). This “Old Version” of the Psalms held sway until 1696 when A New Version by Nahum Tate* and Nicolas Brady* was published. To this we owe “As pants the heart” and “Through all the changing scenes.” The books co-existed until c.1870. The Scottish Psalter, still used by Scottish Presbyterians, dates from 1650.

In 1623 there appeared George Wither's Hymnes and Songs of the Church, the first attempt at a comprehensive English hymnbook; it had little success. Hymns have been taken or adapted from Herbert* (“Let all the world”), Milton* (“Let us with a gladsome mind”), Baxter* (“Ye holy angels bright”), Bunyan* (“Who would true valour see”), and Addison* (“When all Thy mercies”). Samuel Crossman (1623-84) gave us “My song is love unknown,” and Thomas Ken,* “Awake my soul” and “Glory to Thee, my God, this night.” Late in the seventeenth century hymns began to be freely written, and Dissenters began to use them in congregational worship. In 1671 hymns were sung at Broadmead Baptist Church, Bristol, and in 1673 Benjamin Keach published a collection of Communion hymns.

The Independent, Isaac Watts,* threw open the door by publishing in 1707 his Hymns and Spiritual Songs and in 1719 The Psalms of David. He made David speak “like a Christian” (cf. Ps. 72 with his paraphrase, “Jesus shall reign”). In over 600 hymns, many still in use (e.g., “O[ur] God, our help in ages past” and “When I survey the wondrous cross”), he expressed wonder, praise, and adoration at all aspects of Christian experience. His co-religionist, Philip Doddridge,* composed about 370 hymns, notably “Hark, the glad sound,” “My God, and is Thy table spread?” and “O God of Bethel.” The Collection of Psalms and Hymns, compiled by John Wesley* (1737), was for use in the Church of England. John edited many subsequent collections, mostly consisting of some of the 6,000 or so compositions by his brother Charles Wesley* and his own thirty- three paraphrases from, e.g., Gerhardt,* Scheffler,* Tersteegen,* and Zinzendorf.* The definitive Collection of Hymns, for the Use of the People called Methodists (1780, with supplements 1831 and 1876) contain such hymns as Charles's “And can it be,” “Hark! the herald angels sing,” “Jesu, Lover of my soul,” “Love divine,” and “O for a thousand tongues.” Whereas Watts and Doddridge freely paraphrased Scripture, Charles Wesley also paraphrased the Prayer Book and versified Christian doctrine and experience.

The Wesleys were not the only hymnwriters of the Evangelical Revival. John Byrom* is remembered for “Christians, awake,” A.M. Toplady* for “Rock of ages.” In 1779 John Newton* and William Cowper* produced the Olney Hymns, including “Glorious things of Thee are spoken” and “There is a fountain fill'd with blood.”

Thomas Cotterill's Selection of Psalms and Hymns (8th ed., 1819), which led to the quasi-legalization of hymn-singing in the Church of England, contained many hymns by James Montgomery.* In 1820 Heber* failed to get his MS collection authorized for use in the Church of England. When published (1827), his Hymns [etc.], which introduced us to H.H. Milman* (“Ride on! ride on in majesty!”), led a movement toward a literary type of hymn. H.F. Lyte* is remembered for “Abide with me.”

The Oxford Movement (1833 onward) revived an interest in Latin and Greek hymns, which Neale,* Caswall,* and John Chandler (1806-76) sought to satisfy. Many Tractarians wrote original hymns: notably, Keble, whose Christian Year appeared in 1827; J.H. Newman,* whose “Lead, kindly Light” and “Praise to the Holiest” are well known; F.W. Faber,* whose compositions tended toward sentimentality; and Mrs. C.F. Alexander,* who expounded the Creed to children in “All things bright and beautiful,” “Once in royal David's city,” and “There is a green hill.”

The 600 or so hymns of the Presbyterian Horatius Bonar* included “Fill Thou my life,” “Here, O my Lord,” “I hear the words of love,” and “I heard the voice of Jesus say.” Thomas Kelly,* the Church of Ireland minister whose evangelical preaching cost him his living, wrote some 760 hymns, such as “Look, ye saints, the sight is glorious,” “The Head that once was crowned with thorns,” and “We sing the praise of Him who died.” Brethren writers should be better known: E.F. Bevan*; J.G. Deck (1802-84), “O Lamb of God, still keep me”; Sir Edward Denny (1796- 1889), “Light of the lonely pilgrim's heart”; and Alexander Stewart (1843-1923), “Lord Jesus Christ, we seek Thy face.”

Among many other nineteenth-century British hymnwriters were Henry Alford,* “Come, ye thankful people”; Thomas Binney*; John Ernest Bode (1816-74), “O Jesus, I have promised”; Matthew Bridges (1800-94) and Godfrey Thring (1823-1903), “Crown Him with many crowns”; W.C. Dix (1837-98), “As with gladness”; James Edmeston (1791-1867), “Lead us, Heavenly Father”; Charlotte Elliott (1789-1871), “Just as I am”; Richard Mant (1776-1848), “Bright the vision”; George Matheson*; J.S.B. Monsell (1811-75), “Fight the good fight”; E.H. Plumptre (1821-91), “Thy hand, O God, has guided”; C.G. Rossetti*; W.C. Smith, “Immortal, invisible, God only wise”; S.J. Stone (1839-1900), “The Church's one foundation”; H.K. White (1783-1806), “Oft in danger”; William Whiting (1825-78), “Eternal Father, strong to save”; and C. Wordsworth.*

Some compilers of Anglican hymnals contributed hymns. E.H. Bickersteth,* whose Hymnal Companion to the Book of Common Prayer (1870) is still used by some Evangelicals, wrote “Peace, perfect peace” and “Till He come.” The 1871 edition of Church Hymns was edited by John Ellerton* and W. W. How*; the 1903 edition is still used. An extreme product of the Oxford Movement was The Hymnal Noted (1852- 4) by J.M. Neale.

A more moderate product was Hymns Ancient and Modern (1861). The comprehensive quality of the book eventually won it favor with most Anglicans. Although not an official collection, the total sales of all editions were by 1960 about 150 million.

In the 20th century excellent hymns have been written by G.W. Briggs (1874-1960), “God, my Father, loving me”; Cyril Alington (1872-1955), “Good Christian men, rejoice and sing”; Timothy Rees (1874-1939), “O crucified Redeemer”; Frank Houghton (1894-1972), “Thou who wast rich beyond all splendour”; and Timothy Dudley- Smith (1926- ), “Tell out, my soul, the greatness of the Lord.”

More typical of the times has been the study of hymns (see bibliography) and compiling of hymnals (by, e.g., Bridges and Percy Dearmer* and most denominations). Recent interdenominational collections are The B.b.c. Hymn Book (1951); Christian Praise (1957); The Cambridge Hymnal (1968); Hymns for Church and School (1964) and Youth Praise (1966-69).

The earliest American Psalter was The Bay Psalm Book (1640). The earliest American hymns were Wesleyan or Calvinist, notably “Great God of wonders” (Samuel Davies*) and “I love Thy kingdom, Lord” (Timothy Dwight*). The Kentucky revival (1797-1805) inspired “negro spirituals” full of longing for release from slavery, e.g., “Swing low, sweet chariot.”

Most American nineteenth-century hymnody reflected a highly literary, but liberal or Unitarian outlook: J.W. Chadwick (1840- 1904), “Eternal Ruler”; Oliver Wendell Holmes (1809-94), “Lord of all being”; F.L. Hosmer,* “Thy kingdom come!”; Julia Ward Howe,* “Mine eyes have seen the glory”; Samuel Johnson (1822-82), “City of God,” the friend of the hymnodist, Samuel Longfellow (1819- 92); W.P. Merrill (1867-1954), “Rise up, O men of God”; E.H. Sears (1810-76), “It came upon the midnight clear”; and J.G. Whittier,* “Immortal love” and “Dear Lord and Father.”

There were exceptions: G.W. Doane (1799-1859), “Thou art the Way”; George Duffield (1818-88), “Stand up, stand up for Jesus”; Phillips Brooks,* “O little town of Bethlehem”; and, especially, Ray Palmer (1808-87), “Jesus, these eyes have never seen,” “Jesu, Thou joy of loving hearts,” and “My faith looks up to Thee.”

From 1870 onward D.L. Moody* and Ira D. Sankey* inspired many new compositions. Although their Sacred Songs and Solos grew from a sixpenny pamphlet (1873) to a book of 1,200 pieces (1903), its restricted range (ideal for the original revival meetings) disqualifies it from general congregational use. Some of the better hymns have been taken into standard collections. Even the Anglo-Catholic English Hymnal contains five examples, including “There were ninety and nine” by E.C. Clephane (1830-69). The most extensive contributors to what Americans know as the Moody and Sankey Hymn Book or Gospel Songs are Fanny Crosby*; P.P. Bliss*; F.R. Havergal*; and D.W. Whittle (1840-1901).

Among more recent American hymnals are those for the Congregational (2nd ed., 1958), Methodist (1935), Episcopal (1940), Presbyterian, etc. (1955), Lutheran (2nd ed., 1958), and the Evangelical and Reformed (1941) churches.

Although German hymns had been translated at the Reformation (Miles Coverdale's Goostly Psalmes and Spirituale Songes, c.1536) and later by the Moravians and J. Wesley, the nineteenth century produced the most translators: J.W. Alexander (1804-59) (of Gerhardt); E.F. Bevan; J.L. Borthwick* (and Sarah Findlater); S.A. Brooke (1832- 1916) (of Joseph Mohr*); Miss J.M. Campbell (1817-78) (of Claudius); Carlyle and F.H. Hedge (1805-90) (of Luther's Ein' feste Burg); F.E. Cox*; Richard Massie (1800- 87) (of Luther* and K.J.P. Spitta*); William Mercer (1811-73) (Church Psalter and Hymn Book, 1854); and Catherine Winkworth.*

Other modern languages represented in hymnals are (translators only given): Danish (“Through the night of doubt and sorrow,” Sabine Baring-Gould*); French (“Thine be the glory,” R.B. Hoyle, 1875-1939); Indian (Marathi) (“One who is all unfit to count,” Nicol Macnicol, 1870-1952); Irish (“I bind unto myself,” C.F. Alexander); Italian (Caswall); Russian (“O Lord my God!” chorus: “How great Thou art!” Stuart K. Hine, 1899- ); and Welsh (“Guide me, O Thou great Jehovah,” Peter Williams, 1722- 96).

Missionary hymnals include Hymns of Universal Praise (Shanghai, 1948); London Missionary Society, Dihela tsa Tihelo ea Modimo (Bechuanaland, 16th ed., 1951); the East Asia Christian Conference Hymnal (Tokyo, 1964); and the Treasury of Praise (Taiwan, 2nd ed., 1967), for Chinese-speaking Brethren assemblies in the Far East. Cantate Domino (World Student Christian Federation) contains (Geneva, 3rd ed., 1951) 120 multilingual hymns.

See also Music, Christian; Carol; and entries under individual composers and hymnwriters.

See bibliographies in A. Pollard, English Hymns (1960), and E.R. Routley, “Hymn,” Encyclopaedia Brittanica (1973). Other works: H.W. Foote, Three Centuries of American Hymnody (1940 new ed., 1968); G. Sampson, “Century of Divine Songs,” Proceedings of the British Academy, 29 (1946), pp. 37-64; A.E. Bailey, Gospel in Hymns (1950); W.J. Reynolds, Survey of Christian Hymnody (1963); C. Northcott, Hymns in Christian Worship (1964); E.R. Routley, Hymns Today and Tomorrow (1964); T.B. McDormand and F.S. Crossman, Judson Concordance to Hymns (1965); C.S. Phillips and L.H. Bunn, “Hymn,” Chambers' Encyclopaedia (1966); C.J. Allen, Hymns and the Christian Faith (1966).