Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Hymns No Longer Sung

D.L. Moody preaching -- notice Ira Sankey at the organ to the left of Moody
   Those of us who are older Christians still have fond memories of the old gospel songs and hymns of our youth. Back in the days before blaring guitars and pounding drums, back when there was still such a thing as melody, harmony and rhythm, we would sing old favorites in church such as "At Calvary" and "Redeemed." Looking through an old hymnbook from those days some of those songs strike us as probably not worthy of preservation. If the truth be told some of them weren't really suitable for public worship even when they were being sung. The hymnody of the late Victorian period could be overly sentimental and the message buried in florid poetry. We were astonished recently to learn that the well known hymn "In the Garden" was meant to portrait Mary Magdalene's reaction at seeing the risen Jesus in the garden, something not at all obvious in the text itself!

    But there was one class of traditional hymns that has been lost, much to our own detriment. They are not often sung today, even in churches that still use traditional hymnals. They are songs that are often grouped together in a section of the hymnbook entitled "consecration" or "commitment," and they speak to a very important but often neglected part of the Christian life.
    One such hymn is entitled "Living for Jesus." The first stanza goes like this:
        "Living for Jesus a life that is true,
            Striving to please Him in all that I do,
         Yielding allegiance, glad-hearted and free,
            This is the pathway of blessing for me."
The chorus then goes on to say,
        "O Jesus, Lord and Savior,
            I give myself to Thee,
         For Thou, in Thy atonement,
            Didst give Thyself for me;
         I own no other Master,
            My heart shall be Thy throne,
         My life I give, henceforth to live,
            O Christ, for Thee alone."
Subsequent stanzas elaborate on the theme, talking about the need to make personal sacrifice ("Willing to suffer affliction and loss, / Deeming each trial a part of my cross") and commitment to reaching the lost.
    Why is this song rarely heard today? Probably because most hymns sung in church services are selected by the pastor, often to tie in with the subject of the sermon. And pastors today are intent on extolling the benefits of Christianity, not the sacrifices. Hence they rarely pick hymns like "I Surrender All" or "Take My Life, and Let It Be." These songs have become relics of a bygone era.
    But they shouldn't be. And the fact that they are points to a serious weakness in modern Christianity. Modern preachers are eager to tell people what Christ can do for them; they are much less eager to say what Christ wants us to do for Him.

    But the idea of personal consecration is very much a part of the Christian life, and is clearly taught in Scripture. Jesus plainly stated that "If anyone desires to come after Me*, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me" (Matt. 16:24. NKJV). And the apostle Paul could say, "Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ . . ." (Phil. 3:8). None of this is to say that we are saved by works or by human merit of any kind. But it is to say that we are saved from our former sinful lifestyles, and that the aim of salvation is to bring us into conformity with the will of God. We are saved for good works, not by them (Eph. 2:10).
    All of which is to say that a true Christian is fundamentally a servant (lit., "slave") of Jesus Christ and that Christ is his Lord and Master. We no longer live for ourselves, but for Him. Thus every Christian should be able to sing "O Jesus, Lord and Savior, / I give myself to Thee," and mean it, genuinely and sincerely.


*The phrase in the German is "mir . . . nachfolgen," which gave rise to the expression "die Nachfolge Christi," the following after of Christ, a term used among the early Anabaptists for discipleship.

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