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Hymn Project Reaches 1000 Hymns.

What started about a year ago as a gift to my father, a retired Presbyterian pastor, who missed singing all of old hymns has now grown into a collection of over 1000 recordings. Many of these hymns are understandably in the dust bin of history. And I have found there have been many composers who seem to think that 3/4 and 6/8 are the only meters in the universe (a trend we still see today).

More importantly, I have found how our hymns reflect our cultures more than we may ever imagine. I have had conversations with people comparing texts and tunes where the texts were nearly identical in content but had such different cultural roots (one Baptist and the other Episcopalian) that despite their textual similarities, they would never be used by the other church.
This has given me a bit more tolerance for the CCM world of music and with it a better understanding how this musical genre reflects the strengths and weaknesses of contemporary culture. I don’t have an appreciation of CCM, just an understanding.

I have been struck by the enormous richness of our musical heritage. It is possible to find a hymn which either directly quotes, references, or swerves nearby to just about any scripture used in a service. (Hard to say that about CCM). The more I have explored our vast treasure, the more I have come to appreciate it in all of its glory and warts.

This is the 1000th hymn. A great example of late 19th century middle-American Baptist hymn. It may not appeal to you, but it is one of our’s nonetheless.

Sweet By and By

https://youtu.be/-uVT6DH3HCw

 

 


Praise the Lord, God’s Glories Show

Praise the Lord, God’s Glories Show

By: Henry Francis Lyte 1793-1847

Tune usually associated: Llanfair by Robert Williams 1817

Here is a link to my YouTube recording:

https://youtu.be/fy-JBN4NFVM

1 Praise the Lord, God’s glories show, Alleluia!
Saints within God’s courts below, Alleluia!
Angels round the throne above, Alleluia!
All that see and share God’s love, Alleluia!

2 Earth to Heaven and Heaven to earth, Alleluia!
Tell the wonders, sing God’s worth, Alleluia!
Age to age and shore to shore, Alleluia!
Praise God, praise forevermore! Alleluia!

3 Praise the Lord, great mercies trace, Alleluia!
Praise His providence and grace, Alleluia!
All that God for us has done, Alleluia!
All God sends us through the Son. Alleluia!

4 Strings and voices, hands and hearts, Alleluia!
In the concert bear your parts, Alleluia!
All that breathe, your Lord adore, Alleluia!
Praise Him, praise Him evermore!

The final two lines provide a complete summary of the hymn: All that breathe, you Lord adore, Praise Him, Praise Him evermore!  Each line of this hymn is embraced by every corner of Christendom. While Lyte captures the universal truths of our faith, from today’s perspective, he found within his own life and ministry much division and contradictions.

Early in his ministry he took a parish in Lower Brixham; a fishing village in the southwest corner of Great Britain. While there, he began the first Sunday school ever in the area. In addition to the children’s school he started a Sailor’s Sunday School. The enrollment usually ran into the hundreds. While religious education was ostensibly the purpose of this school, the school usually provided the only educational opportunity for the area residence, who were mostly illiterate. He would also organize an Annual Treat for area children which included a short worship service followed by food and field games.

Lyte was, in today’s parlance, a Conservative Evangelical Christian. He worked tirelessly for his ever growing congregation who were mostly illiterate fishermen and their families. He would often visit them in their homes and on their vessels, making sure that each ship had at least one Bible on board. Yet, this man who had a deep care for his own people opposed Catholic Emancipation. Catholic Emancipation was an effort to relieve the Catholics of Great Britain of the many regulations which were imposed upon them two centuries earlier with the ascension of Protestant rulers. Yet, he worked for the end of slavery and the emancipation of all slaves in Britain and was very active in the abolition movement in England.

As the Non-conformist, also known as the Dissenter churches, such as Plymouth Brethren gained influence in England, Lyte strongly promoted allegiance to the Church of England. At one time he lost a sizeable portion of his congregation (including most of his choir) because of his position.

However contradictory aspects of Henry Lyte’s life and work may appear to us living in the early 21st century, we should hold off making any judgements. We nede to understand the historical context of his life in same understanding we would hope historians of the 23rd century would use in looking at our own time. For most of human history prior to time of the American and French revolutions, the Church and State were deeply intertwined. Various factions would join forces and compete for power and resources as seen in the English monarchy switching between Catholic and Protestant affiliations. Unlike what we experience today, these political/religious power transitions were often very violent affairs with the common people bearing the brunt of the chaos and loss. For a person of political or religious influence to oppose other branches of the church was as much of an existential argument as anything else. Based upon historical precedent, if the Catholics were allowed to come to power, it could mean the loss of Protestant lives.  The same could be said when the power structure shifted from Catholic to Protestant, Catholic lives were at risk.

This is how Lyte could advocate the freeing of African slaves and not the relief of Catholic oppression. One group (slaves) posed no historical threat, but the other (Catholics) had a history of violent oppression of Protestants. (And the Catholics would have a similar opinion of the Protestants.)  The experiment of a politically powerless church had only just begun in the Americas. By the end of Lyte’s life the experiment would have been proven and the political power of Church was in rapid decline. But this was not the history he was born into. I often wonder what ideas we take for granted as truth today, will be seen 200 years from now as foolish if not outright evil.