In his book, Christian Leaders of the 18th Century, J.C. Ryle (1816-1900) spends a chapter on who is perhaps my most admired hymnwriter, August Toplady, the gifted but often contentious hymn-writer/pastor who is most well-known for penning “Rock of Ages.” (His portrait occupies some wall space in my office if there’s any doubt!)
I appreciated Ryle’s comments on the effect of writing good songs for the church to sing. It makes me more aware of the importance of leading and writing songs for congregational worship.
Good hymns are an immense blessing to the Church of Christ. I believe the last day alone will show the world the real amount of good they have done. They suit all, both rich and poor. There is an elevating, stirring, soothing, spiritualizing, effect about a thoroughly good hymn, which nothing else can produce. It sticks in men’s memories when texts are forgotten. It trains men for heaven, where praise is one of the principal occupations. Preaching and praying shall one day cease for ever; but praise shall never die. The makers of good ballads are said to sway national opinion. The writers of good hymns, in like manner, are those who leave the deepest marks on the face of the Church. (382)
In the next paragraph, Ryle criticizes many of the hymns that were being sung in his time. His comments are truly just as relevant today,
But really good hymns are exceedingly rare. There are only a few men in any age who can write them. You may name hundreds of first-rate preachers for one first-rate writer of hymns. Hundreds of so-called hymns fill up our collections of congregational psalmody, which are really not hymns at all. They are very sound, very scriptural, very proper, very correct, very tolerably rhymed; but they are not real, live, genuine hymns. There is no life about them. At best they are tame, pointless, weak, and milk-and-watery. (382)
At Fellowship Church-Lubbock, our aim is never not to settle for a “milk-and-watery” product, and not to feed our people songs that “have no life” in them. We want to choose the greatest songs – lyrically, melodically, and musically – for our church to sing.
As we begin studying Peter’s epistle during the weekly preaching, we’re confronted with the reality Peter faced in addressing first-century Christians: How can we persevere through suffering, trials, and persecution? No stranger to suffering himself, Peter likely penned these letters while in a Roman prison shortly before his own martyrdom. What the epistle achieves is lifting our eyes from present suffering to our eternal inheritance in Christ, finding strength to stand firm, endure trials, and rejoice in Him.
In the Augustus Toplady’s hymn Immovable Our Hope Remains, we find much of what we wish to elevate in church hymnody. But in the more immediate context, we also find themes that stretch across the landscape of 1 Peter and the greater testimony of Scripture at large. Consider the following lines,
- “The Son has surely set us free, His Word forever stands, And all our joy is knowing we are graven on His wounded hands” (Isaiah 49:15-16)
- “This is eternal life: to know the living God and Christ, the Son” (John 17:3)
- “The Lord acquits, who can condemn? Thou Satan’s accusations fly, his pow’r can never reach our names to blot them from the book of Life” (Romans 8:31-39)
- “Built into Christ, secure we stand, for with His Spirit we’ve been sealed; by grace we’ll see the promised land, where every sorrow shall be healed” (Isaiah 25:8-9; 2 Corinthians 1:20-22)
These are truly immovable statements about our God, “a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul” (Heb. 6:19) that I’m eager to sing with you this month and beyond!