In the tumultuous times in which we live, I find great comfort in the old paths, the old hymns, old Truth. As the old hymn asks, “Does your anchor hold?” We certainly need an anchor now, more than ever.
I find myself frequently lost in the old spiritual songs and hymns that I grew up with. It isn’t sentimentality for the past that drives me back to them. It is the Savior who is sung about with such tenderness in this music that draws me. When listening, “…the things of earth go strangely dim, in the light of His glory and grace.”
Most younger generations will never know these simple melodies. The simplicity of the tunes, the sheer singability of them, combined with equally simple–but rich in truth lyrics–drive them deep into your mind and soul.
Our little daughter listens to these songs and hymns on her CD player at night. Recently, she came into the kitchen and asked if I knew the song, “Bring back the Springtime.” I told her I could sing it all. “That’s my favorite song,” she said. “I love George Beverly Shea.” I doubt many eight-year-olds have that dear saint now in heaven on their list of favorite singers, but the kindliness and love in his voice transcends time. Best of all, these recordings are introducing her to the beautiful songs and hymns that she will hopefully draw from all her life, both in grief and joy.
Here are a couple of the songs I listened to today that blessed my heart. The first is the song, “Then Jesus Came…” Like the blind beggar touched by the Savior, our darkness of our souls is filled with light when “Jesus comes to stay.” That song is followed by “Beautiful Savior” by the choir. The Savior, who deserves all of our praise and worship, is lifted up in this music.
Fair are the meadows, Fair are the woodlands, Robed in flowers of blooming spring; Jesus is fairer, Jesus is purer; He makes our sorrowing spirit sing.
Beautiful Savior, Lord of the nations, Son of God and Son of Man! Glory and honor, Praise, adoration, Now and forevermore be Thine!
The second video is a precious song to me for several reasons. George Beverly Shea is 103 in this recording with Guy Penrod. I first heard this song at age 22 at a time when the burdens in life seemed unbearable. I found an old tape of Paul and Bob, a blind singer who sang duets with another man on a radio program. The tape would have been laughed at by many young adults even then, but this simple song reminded me that Jesus DID care about all that was going on in my life. Someone may see this today and also need that reminder. If so, this is for you!
An Armenian- Russian painter captured waves on his canvases like none other. These depictions of powerful, translucent waves are beautiful and terrifying at the same time, and the ships in distress add poignancy to the paintings of Ivan Konstantinovich Aivazovsky . See some of them here at MyModernMet.com
The ships caught in the terrible storms the artist depicted reminded me of the Navy hymn, Eternal Father Strong to Save. What a metaphor these scenes are for our country right now, and how appropriate the hymn. We are in deep peril. America, a country that has been a rich recipient of grace and favor from Divine hands, has mocked God for too long. The results all around us, as we can see, are catastrophic. Those who put their trust in God alone will find refuge from the storm. There is no other safe place.
God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore will not we fear, though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea; Though the waters thereof roar and be troubled, though the mountains shake with the swelling thereof. Selah. There is a river, the streams whereof shall make glad the city of God, the holy place of the tabernacles of the most High.
God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved: God shall help her, and that right early.The heathen raged, the kingdoms were moved: he uttered his voice, the earth melted. The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge. Selah. Come, behold the works of the Lord, what desolations he hath made in the earth.9 He maketh wars to cease unto the end of the earth; he breaketh the bow, and cutteth the spear in sunder; he burneth the chariot in the fire.
Be still, and know that I am God: I will be exalted among the heathen, I will be exalted in the earth. The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge
Music has always been a big part of my life. Thanks to inexpensive LP records at Treasure Island (a discount store in our area back in the 70’s), we had more than just gospel music at home. Mom bought everything from John Phillip Sousa, Beethoven’s Sixth Symphony (I wore that one out), Johnny Mann’s choral music, E. Power Biggs organ albums, and many others. I played these on the stereo at home a lot. We took piano lessons at the Wisconsin Conservatory as children, and my sister and I sang with a Christian singing group that traveled around the country each Easter break for years. In addition, our Lutheran day school taught music reading as part of our curriculum along with sacred music in choir. We learned American folk songs and lots of wonderful hymns that we sang in chapel and in class devotions.
Also, I heard gospel music long before it was so commercialized with slick pop stars, back when it really was about the great old songs, not so much the performers. As kids, my siblings and I fell asleep late at night many times on our coats at the Christian radio station where our parents worked in Milwaukee’s central city, the Haven of Rest radio program on the speakers in the ceiling. This recording here of their theme song with the bells takes me straight back to those times years ago.
As a young adult, I became familiar with a broader range of hymnody on CD, Psalm singing of various kinds (metrical Psalms from Scotland, Anglican chant, etc.), and the grand festival hymns of the English choral tradition. I interviewed John Rutter once about his wonderful compositions and I have the CD’s of his hymns that are unequaled, as far as I am concerned, in excellence. I also bought St. Olaf’s choir CD’s, the choir of Gustavas Adolphus (I love their Scandinavian hymn CD), and so forth.
For a time, I drifted away from the gospel songs I grew up with, but as I have grown older, I find myself coming back again to the songs I used to hear in congregational singing and from recording artists like George Beverly Shea. In the last few years, these sweet old songs have been a tremendous comfort to me.
Scripture talks about Psalms, hymns and spiritual songs—three separate categories, That’s because each category serves a purpose of its own. It’s not that you can’t sing a hymn of worship on your bed on a sleepless or pain-filled night, but often that is when the gospel songs mean the most. They speak of God’s immanence, his closeness to us through Christ–our Savior who knows what it is to suffer and to walk on this earth as a human. Hymns of worship emphasize God’s transcendence, his sovereignty and greatness, his holiness, something we also acknowledge. But when hurting, the closeness of God is what we tend to need most.
I once stood next to my grandma, Mary, in a church service where they were singing the Fanny Crosby song, “Pass Me Not, O Gentle Savior.” I heard her sweet quavering voice next to me. Do you know, I never forgot it, and every time I hear that song, I remember her and her faith. The words of that song, penned by the blind Crosby, reflect Luther’s deathbed words, “We are beggars all.” No matter how strong we think we are, in the end, we are dependent completely on the Savior passing by our place of need. (See the story of Bartemaeus)
Pass me not, O gentle Savior,
Hear my humble cry;
While on others Thou art calling,
Do not pass me by.
Hear my humble cry,
While on others Thou art calling,
Do not pass me by.
Let me at Thy throne of mercy
Find a sweet relief;
Kneeling there in deep contrition,
Help my unbelief.
Trusting only in Thy merit,
Would I seek Thy face;
Heal my wounded, broken spirit,
Save me by Thy grace.
Thou the spring of all my comfort,
More than life to me,
Whom have I on earth beside Thee,
Whom in Heav’n but Thee.
~ Fanny J. Crosby
I recently discovered a YouTube channel of congregational singing including many of these old gospel songs. I am a big fan! When I can’t get to church, I watch these videos and sing aloud. I know many of these hymns by heart and don’t have to reference the words. Here is one such song that I love, and another beneath it. The channel is called “Faith for the Family” from Temple Baptist Church in Powell, Tennessee. If you’re blessed by these dear old songs, check it out and sing along. One of the things I notice are the young faces in the congregation, and many of them are really singing these. How wonderful that another generation will know these treasures.
Here are the words of this song, “He Hideth my Soul.” Another of Fanny Crosby’s compositions, the text is based on Exodus 33:22
A wonderful Savior is Jesus my Lord,
A wonderful Savior to me;
He hideth my soul in the cleft of the rock,
Where rivers of pleasure I see.
He hideth my soul in the cleft of the rock
That shadows a dry, thirsty land;
He hideth my life with the depths of His love,
And covers me there with His hand,
And covers me there with His hand.
A wonderful Savior is Jesus my Lord,
He taketh my burden away;
He holdeth me up, and I shall not be moved,
He giveth me strength as my day.
With numberless blessings each moment He crowns,
And filled with His fullness divine,
I sing in my rapture, oh, glory to God
For such a Redeemer as mine!
When clothed in His brightness, transported I rise
To meet Him in clouds of the sky,
His perfect salvation, His wonderful love
I’ll shout with the millions on high.
Isn’t it wonderful to know that despite the world’s foundations being rocked by turmoil and fear these days, our souls, as Christians, are hid with God, in Christ. He hides our souls and covers them with his hand.
This one is the earliest song I remember singing in church, back at First Christian and Missionary Alliance on 60th street in Milwaukee. It’s hard not to join in joyfully with that refrain. “Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, let the earth hear his voice, Praise the Lord, Praise the Lord, let the people rejoice. O come to the Father, through Jesus the Son, and give Him the glory, great things he has done!”
The Apostle Paul and Silas, imprisoned at Phillipi for sharing the Gospel, are recorded in Scripture as singing in their chains (just before the earthquake that set them free. See Acts, Chapter 16) We cannot change circumstances in our lives so often, but we can sing anyway. Our song comes from the knowledge that our God “plants his footsteps in the seas, and rides upon the storm.” He is with us, come what may in this life. And soon, we will see Him in a place where no tear will ever dim our eyesight. What a day that will be.
I hope these are as much of a blessing to you as they are to me!
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