Thursday, July 13, 2017

7 reasons I love Hymns of Grace

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I’ve been using the new Hymns of Grace (HoG) ever since receiving it at the T4G conference last year. I’ve used in my family’s devotional time, and I’ve used it in our church’s evening worship service. The more I’ve used it, the more I’ve learned about it, and the more I see what an exceptional hymnal it is.

I’m writing this post to persuade pastors that this should be your church’s hymnal. Here are seven reasons why: HoG has a unique collection of new songs, pastor-poet songs, old songs you haven’t sung before, tweaked songs, American songs, popular songs, and Getty Songs.

New SongsHoG is such a strong hymnal because of its diverse collection of music, and this is particularly seen in many of the relatively new songs it contains. It has “All Glory be to Christ,” a Scottish sounding song written by Dustin Kensrue (a former worship leader at Mars Hill in Seattle, back in the Mark Driscoll Days). Kensrue has written some incredibly edifying music for churches, and this is certainly my favorite of his (watch this video and see if you don’t want to sing it in church this Sunday).

There are other newer songs too. Jordan Kauflin’s “All I have is Christ,” and the Getty’s “Joy has Dawned” are songs your church may already sing. They are joined with three new songs from the partnership between Matt Boswell and Matt Papa (my favorite is “Christ the Sure and Steady Anchor”), as well as some new songs by Matt Merker from Capitol Hill Baptist (eg. “He Will Hold Me Fast”). A whole slew of songs by Pastor Chris Anderson are in there, including “His Robes for Mine,” which is a song that powerfully and memorably teaches the doctrine of the imputation. There is even a song by Michael W. Smith snuck in. Basically, this is not your father’s hymnal.

Pastor-Poet Songs—John MacArthur’s official title is “Pastor-teacher,” but in this book he is “Pastor-poet.” There are two songs by him, two by R.C. Sproul, one by D.A. Carson, and one by Tom Pennington (with music by Joshua Spacht). There is a song by Spurgeon paired with music from the Geneva Psalter, four songs by Horatius Bonar, two by Martin Luther, and seven by John Newton. Add this to the song by the “The Village Church” (Matt Chandler’s church), and I think you have an unmatched group of pastors writing music for their churches to sing.

Old Songs you Haven’t Sung before—One of the selling points of HoG is that they have compiled old songs by well-known poets that for varying reasons haven’t been passed down to the current generation. For example, John Newton’s “I Asked the Lord that I Might Grow,” is a seven(!)-stanza description of how God answers prayer. Seven stanzas sounds insane, but when you sing the song for the first time, you get caught up in the plot of it, and want to finish it just to know how it ends.

There are eighteen songs by Isaac Watts, so there are some that are relatively unknown (eg. “How Sweet and Aweful is the Place”). “Jesus I my Cross have Taken,” an old hymn resurrected by RUF, Derek Webb, and Saandra McCracken is here too, and unlike the version that is in many hymnals, HoG includes all the stanzas. “God Moves in Mysterious Ways,” by William Cooper, is a song known more by how often John Piper quotes it than by how often it is sung in churches. Here it gets new music. Augustus Toplady’s “Rock of Ages” is here of course, but is joined by his lesser known “A Debtor to Mercy,” which is paired with music from Bob Kauflin.

Meanwhile, “Crown Him with Many Crowns” is here (in both arrangements), but it gets a new stanza that is omitted from every other hymnal I’ve ever encountered. “I Will Sing of My Redeemer” is arranged in the version many people know from Fernando Ortega. And one of my favorite old songs that I’d never heard of until Hymns of Grace—“His Forever.” Written in 1863, here it gets new music by Sovereign Grace and an arrangement by Mark Rice.

Tweaked SongsHoG has tweaked some lyrics to some well-known songs. These aren’t noted anywhere, but the one’s I’ve seen so far include:

  • “Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee.” “Brother love binds man to man” becomes “draws us through the Son of man”
  • “Oh the Deep, Deep Love of Jesus.” It has both arrangements (the traditional and Sovereign Grace/Bob Kauflin), but both change “How he loveth, ever loveth, changeth never, nevermore/ How he watches o’er his loved ones, died to call them all his own” to “How he came to pay our ransom through the saving cross he bore/ How he watches o’er his loved ones, those he died to make his own.”
  • “And Can it Be.” “Emptied himself of all but love,” becomes “Emptied himself to show his love.”
  • “Come Thou Fount” is a mixed bag. Thankfully they keep the traditional “Praise the Mount,” but unfortunately they do drop the “Ebeneezer” line, and they change “interposed his precious blood” to “bought me with his precious blood.” HoG makes up for it though by including the fourth stanza.
  • Note—I’ve been at Grace Community Church when they have sang “Ancient Words,” and they always dropped the phrase “helps us cope,” but that phrase remains in the hymnal version.

American Songs-By American, I mean songs that were sung often by slaves or in Black churches and given what hymnals euphemistically call “traditional” music. These songs can be difficult to put in hymnals because of their often irregular arrangements. But HoG includes many of them arranged by Mark Rice, including “Give me Jesus,” “I Wonder as I Wander,” and “What Wondrous Love is This?” HoG also has “Were you There?” although they did follow Johny Cash’s lead and change the fourth stanza from “Sometimes I feel like shouting, glory, glory, glory,” to make it the same as the first three stanzas, which as far as I’m concerned ruins the song (but that’s ok, we will sing it the right way in heaven).

Popular Songs—HoG is not only a collection of traditional hymns, but includes many of the best of the popular songs from the last 15 years or so. These are songs that some pastors think of when they say “I would use a hymnal in church, but my congregation loves singing x, y, and z, and they aren’t in hymnals.” Well, HoG tries to change that.

It includes “In Christ Alone,” “The Power of the Cross,” “Before the Throne of God Above,” “I Will Glory in my Redeemer,” “Beautiful Savior,” and “Behold Our God.” The Casting Crowns version of “Glorious Day” is arranged by Rice, who earned his money molding this popular worship song into a hymn format (3 pages long, but still). “My Soul Finds Rest” (often titled Psalm 63) is included as well.

This leads to one of the best decisions made by the editors—they included three versions of Watts’ “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross”—two traditional arrangements and then the Chris Tomlin version (“The Wonderful Cross”). Typically adding a bridge or chorus to a traditional hymn wrecks it, but this is probably the most notable exception to that rule, and the Tomlin version is what many churches sing.

Getty Songs—I saved the best for last: HoG features 41 songs written by Keith and Kristyn Getty. Many of these were written specifically for hymnals, in order to shore up areas of hymnody where there was a dearth of songs. Their mission’s hymn (“Facing a Task Unfinished”), a “Communion Hymn,” “Oh Church Arise,” and “Speak O Lord” (which HoG follows with a Scripture reading from Psalm 119).

The Gettys have frequently partnered with Stuart Townend, and Townend has 34 songs in HoG.

That’s not to say this hymnal is perfect. It has a lot of Scripture readings, and so a significant part of its design is that churches would use it for their scripture readings, which is something I don’t think I’ve ever seen done in my life. I would have preferred less Scripture readings and a few more songs. In my mind the most conspicuous absence is “Victory in Jesus,” and the most surprising absence is “Anchored,” which ironically was written by members of Grace Church. I also would have preferred a different arrangement of “O Love that Will not let me Go” (this one if you are wondering). And since I’m asking, I was also hunting for the Sovereign Grace version of Toplady’s “Now Why this Fear and Unbelief,” but I suppose the line has to be drawn somewhere.

To make the hymnal user friendly, there are several indexes—a list of Scripture readings, a topical index, an index of authors/arrangers, and then an index of suggested medleys. Many of the songs have alternative choral endings, or variant last stanza settings included in the hymnal. Those ones are listed in an index as well.

Also, the title index has not only the hymn number, but also notes the key of the song, as well as if orchestration is available through Lifeway (it seems like a little over half of them are). I’d love it if they could add on the HoG site their own hotlinks to either the Lifeway orchestrations, or to another place where individual orchestrations could be purchased, especially for songs that Lifeway doesn’t have. That would make it even easier to select music for Sundays.

If you want to purchase Hymns of Grace, go here.

What about you—do you use this hymnal? What do you like about it?

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