From Miriam’s songs of praise at the Red Sea, to David’s soulful Psalms, to Mary’s Magnificat, to Paul and Silas’ hymn sing in jail, the Bible is filled with accounts of people expressing their thoughts, feelings, worship, and praise through music. Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance has nearly two columns listing Biblical references to songs, singing, and singers.
Historians have stated that Martin Luther won more converts to Christ through his encouragement of congregational singing than through his strong preaching and teaching. Of John and Charles Wesley it was said that, for every person they won with their preaching, ten were won through their music. D.L. Moody stated, “Singing does at least as much as preaching to impress the Word of God upon people’s minds.”
In recent times, we have such a wonderful variety of songs, hymns, and spiritual songs by which to lift our praises to the Father. So many songs have rich meaning for me as they remind me about times and places of spiritual renewal. Songs from church camp or songs that led me to renewed commitment or songs which encouraged me regarding God’s love and faithfulness or songs which gave me hope or songs of sheer joy and worship.
A few Christmas’ ago I was given a book – Then Sings My Soul with stories of 150 of the “World’s Greatest Hymns.” It is so practical to use as a copy of the hymn is printed alongside a concise story about the hymn’s history. I put it with my quiet time materials and read a story every few days.
What enjoyment I found in learning “the back story” to familiar as well as unfamiliar hymns. How awesome to understand the variety of ways used by God to inspire the music and musicians which have encouraged the church throughout the ages. Two other books in our home library which add to my knowledge are 101 Hymn Stories and 101 More Hymn Stories.
I have chosen a favorite, Fairest Lord Jesus, to expand on below.
Fairest Lord Jesus is commonly referred to as the Crusader’s Hymn and that fact is written on our sheet music. This is because some think it was sung by twelfth century Crusaders and their children as they made the long trek to the Holy Land. Another account, which is given more credence by many historians, is that it was one of the songs used by followers of John Hus, one of the reformers. After being driven out of Bohemia, these believers settled in Silesia, now a part of Poland, and it is believed Fairest Lord Jesus is a folk song derived from those Silesian peasants.
Fairest Lord Jesus’ first appearance in a hymn book was in 1677, written in German, and published as part of selected “new” hymns for Jesuits. At this point, the accounts vary as to the hymn’s translation into English. However, all agree it most appropriate that no human author draws attention away from the great theme of the song ~ our beautiful Savior, the Son given to us as described in Isaiah 9:6-7 - And He will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace . . . He will rule forever with fairness and justice from that time on forever . . . (taken from the NIV and New Living Translations.)
While the hymn emphasizes the beauty and wonder of Christ, it also conveys such a clear proclamation about both His human and divine nature ~ Oh, though of God and man the Son . . . Son of God and Son of Man . . . and the praise that will be eternally His.
John Chrysostom, of the fourth century, often called “the Golden-mouthed preacher of Antioch,” made this great observation about Jesus Christ:
I do not think of Christ as God alone, or man alone, but both together. For I know He was hungry, and I know that with five loaves He fed five thousand. I know He was thirsty, and I know that He turned the water into wine. I know He was carried in a ship, and I know He walked on the sea. I know that He died, and I know that He raised the dead. I know that He was set before Pilate, and I know that He sits with the Father on His throne. I know that He was worshiped by angels, and I know that He was stoned by the Jews. And truly some of these I ascribe to the human, and others to the divine nature. For by reason of this He is said to have been both God and man.” (End quote)
Our music can be an awesome vehicle for our praise and worship as well as a means by which we convey to others our strongest beliefs, our deepest longings, and our incredible hope for the future. Knowing about a song’s origins can bring a broader sense of clarity and understanding as we sing.
God created man with the ability to communicate and one of the most enjoyable means by which we communicate is through music. He hears our heart of worship, never condemning if the notes are not sung just right. What a marvelous privilege it is to be able to sing praises to our God. Today, and every day, is the time to be singing praises unto our God.