Here in the second part in a mini-series, I’ll list, and comment briefly on, a few songs and hymns that perpetually lure me. Some music seems to have such friendly-octopus “tentacles”—pulling us toward it, time after time, without letting up over the years. These installments are being arranged by category:
- contemporary worship songs
- songs from hymnals
- other contemporary spiritual songs
- secular compositions
Here is my list from category # 2 — with the caveat that most of these songs are not all that widely known:
A dynamic blend of the best of “Faith of our Fathers” and the worship scenes of Revelation, this hymn’s intensity works its way into the soul. These are some gloriously powerful words. One stanza’s attention on the Paradise-rest of “faithful warriors” has made me cathartically choke up” on multiple occasions. Several of the 11 original stanzas contain military imagery (“well-fought fight,” “soldiers, faithful, true and bold,” “faithful warriors,” “saints triumphant”), and it is clear throughout that there is but one “Captain.” Although at least 7 of the stanzas are worthy, the editors of Great Songs of the Church No. 2 chose well in terms of the 5 they included.
I prefer the chant tune (Troyte’s Chant No. 2) — above that of master composer Ralph Vaughan Williams — for its inherent capacity to support these dramatically poignant words. I admit that this may be a simple case of the familiar ending up as a preference; nearly everyone else who knows this song would know the Vaughan Williams tune. The fact that the Howard hymnal Songs of Faith and Praise does not contain this song in any form merely indicates a lack of usage. In other words, like a dictionary, a marketable hymnal reflects current usage more than standards or quality. This lack of use is lamentable!
Please go here for commentary on this hymn. The author of its words, Harriet Beecher Stowe, wrote several books, including the well known Uncle Tom’s Cabin.
Aided by a simple, well-constructed melody and a well-conceived harmony, this hymn masterfully, concisely joins thoughts of God’s goodness and one another. Having drawn attention to the light of God and the beaming of His glory through all His works, the worshipper attributes perfect purity to the Lord, and concludes with recognition of His protection over all His children: “They cannot be where Thou art not.” This is singable worship at its best.
Having begun to write about “Jesus, the Very Thought of Thee,” I switched to this hymn instead. (Both appear on the same page in the hymnal I grew up on.) “Jesus, Thou Joy” contains some of the most exalted text about the Christ in all hymnody. The tune matched with these words strikes me as rather ordinary, but it is suitable enough. It’s the words, written nearly a millennium ago by a French monk (to whom the words for “O Sacred Head” are also attributed), that draw me in:
. . .
From all the bliss that earth imparts,
We turn unfilled to Thee again.
. . .
To them that seek Thee, Thou art good,
To them that find Thee, all in all.
Our restless spirits yearn for Thee,
Wherever our changeful lot is cast;
. . .
First adoring and full of worship, the song then culminates in prayerful request:
O Jesus, ever with us stay,
Make all our moments calm and bright;
Chase the dark night of sin away,
Shed over the world Thy holy light.
Given our knowledge of this earthly life, those final words may appear irrational; yet, with such a reverent focus on the Lord, perhaps all our moments can really be calm, if not apparently bright and sinless.
Jesus, Wonderful Thou Art
A relative newcomer to the church, first published in 1974, this hymnic prayer deserves a secure berth among the top true hymns. Because it will be unknown to most readers here, and because it is so beautifully brief, I will simply share all its words, 97% from memory:
Jesus, wonderful Thou Art. Wholly God in ev’ry part,
Yet Thou rulest ev’ry heart! Dwell in us today.
Lord of angel hosts above, moving force of all that moves,
First-born King, Thy name is love. Dwell in us today.
Though we cannot see Thy face, Jesus, Lord of far-flung space.
While Thou rulest ev’ry place, dwell in us today.
Those are five “tentacle” songs that keep reaching out from the pages of hymnals to grab me. There are certainly others, but this is a strong, representative group. The next list will be “other contemporary spiritual songs.”
[This is an installment in the Monday Worship Music series. Find other, related posts through this link.]