The hymns have remained with me

My dear grandfather was very fond of Dr. Watts’s hymns, and my grandmother, wishing to get me to learn them, promised me a penny for each one that I should say to her perfectly. I found it an easy and pleasant method of earning money, and learned them so fast that grandmother said she must reduce the price to a halfpenny each, and afterwards to a farthing, if she did not mean to be quite ruined by her extravagance. There is no telling how low the amount per hymn might have sunk, but grandfather said that he was getting overrun with rats, and offered me a shilling a dozen for all I could kill. I found, at the time, that the occupation of rat-catching paid me better than learning hymns, but I know which employment has been the more permanently profitable to me. No matter on what topic I am preaching, I can even now, in the middle of any sermon, quote some verse of a hymn in harmony with the subject; the hymns have remained with me, while those old rats for years have passed away, and the shillings I earned by killing them have been spent long ago.

C.H. Spurgeon, Autobiography

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There is an important insight into the ministry of Dr Lloyd-Jones which cannot be set down on paper. For those who were never present at Westminster Chapel in the time of his ministry, something valuable can now be learned about the congregational worship from the YouTube playlist which has recovered hymn singing from that period.

Iain H. Murray, Seven Leaders, p. xiii

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It’s clear that modern church music, as a rule, is vastly inferior to the classic hymns that were being written 200 years ago. This is not, for the most part, a complaint about the style in which the music is written. Rather, the lyrics are what most graphically reveal how low our standards have slipped. Hymns used to be wonderful didactic tools, filled with Scripture and sound doctrine, a medium for teaching and admonishing one another, as we are commanded to do in Colossians 3:16. More than a hundred years ago, church music took a different direction, and its focus became more subjective. Songs emphasized personal experience and the feelings of the worshiper. Modern musicians have pushed this trend even further and often see music as little more than a device to stimulate intense emotion. The biblically mandated didactic role of music is all but forgotten. The effect is predictable. What we have sown for several generations we are now reaping in frightening abundance. The modern church, fed on insipid lyrics, has little appetite for Scripture and sound doctrine. We are also in danger of losing a rich heritage of hymnody as some of the best hymns of our faith fall into neglect, being replaced with banal lyrics set to catchy tunes. It is a crisis, and the church is suffering spiritually. Both pastors and church musicians need to see the severity of the crisis and work diligently to reform.

John MacArthur, pastor of Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, CA

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In Revelation, chapters four and five, we read of how the Church of God now sings a new song, in which explicit and particular mention is made of the worth of Christ, the crucifixion, the shed blood, particular redemption, the priesthood of all believers, and the future reign of God’s people. We believe that New Testament churches must sing very specifically and plainly about such things. We cannot use the psalms in such a way as to limit our worship to the language of Old Testament types and shadows, never daring to mention the glorious truths which they prefigured. With Spurgeon, we think that Jewish expressions must often be changed to Christian language. (…) This is in the tradition of Isaac Watts and a host of other writers who produced Christianised, or ‘evangelical’, renderings of the psalms.

Peter Masters, pastor of Metropolitan Tabernacle in London

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If we were in the normal Sunday gathering of John Calvin in 16th century Geneva, or C.H. Spurgeon in 19th century London, there would have been no instruments accompanying the singing of the congregation. We don’t understand that the use of such accompaniment is wrong, but we do understand the power of unaccompanied human voices singing together. (…) Mere accompaniment often works best for facilitating congregational singing. By “mere,” I mean simple arrangements, modest volume, and limited instrumentation. The musical excellence we aim for should be more in the congregation than in the instrumentalists or vocalists who lead or accompany our singing.

Mark Dever, pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, D.C.

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