Some of the best hymns and songs in our Christian tradition are taken straight out of scripture. Sometimes it’s fairly obvious, but other times it’s a hymn we have sung for years, decades even, and suddenly discover that it’s actually a near-exact paraphrase of an entire passage of scripture. One of the most encouraging signs for the band-led worship style has been the increase over the past decade of scripturally-based texts. Pairing easy-to-sing melodies with the theology of God’s Word will enrich the tradition of band-led worship and encourage spiritual growth and maturity in the church– while teaching that it matters what we sing in worship!– in the same way that traditional hymns have done for years.
We’re reading The New Worship by Barry Liesch for my “Music in Christian Worship” class, and he speaks to this in an historic context, relaying how Martin Luther taught his followers basic theology in times set aside for congregational hymn singing. This practice is essential to the health of any church, regardless of the musical style of worship, because congregational singing unifies the church, and because music is such a fantastic teaching tool.
The hymn for today, as you may have guessed, is How Firm A Foundation. I did not realize the extent to which it paraphrased scripture until Liesch pointed it out in his book, and I wanted to share with you, because it gives a new context to the hymn when I sing it in church in the future.
|Stanza 2||Fear not, I am with thee,
O be not dismayed,
for I am thy God
and will still give thee aid;
I’ll strengthen thee,
and cause thee to stand,
upheld by my righteous,
|Fear thou not; for I am with thee:
be not dismayed;
for I am thy God:
I will strengthen thee;
yea, I will help thee;
yea, I will uphold thee
with the right hand of my righteousness.
(Isaiah 41:10 KJV)
|Stanza 3||When through the deep waters
I call thee to go,
the rivers of sorrow shall not overflow;
for I will be near thee,
thy troubles to bless,
and sanctify to thee
thy deepest distress.
|When thou passest through the waters,
I will be with thee;
and through the rivers,
they shall not overflow thee.
(Isaiah 43:2a KJV)
|Stanza 4||When through fiery trials
thy pathway shall lie,
my grace, all sufficient, shall be thy supply;
the flame shall not hurt thee; I only design
thy dross to consume,
and thy gold to refine.
|When thou walkest through the fire,
thou shalt not be burned;
neither shall the flame kindle upon thee.
(Isaiah 43:2b KJV)
In the United Methodist Hymnal, at the bottom of the page underneath each hymn is information noting who authored the text and the music. You can learn a lot about the hymn just by reading that– the dates are indicative of the period of the church’s history (and the world’s history) in which the hymn was born and can illustrate the theological and cultural context of the author’s original intent, and sometimes can speak to the inspiration for the hymn, or to how churches may have received it when it was first published. In addition, if a specific scripture was cited in the text, it will be noted after the author’s name.
I’d like to challenge you: next time you sing a hymn in worship that cites a scripture, look it up in your Bible to see how the hymn uses the text. You may be surprised by just how close to scripture some of the texts in our hymnody are– I know I have been.