Law, Gospel, and a Good Hymn

What makes a good hymn?

We’d like it to be skilfully crafted. And it must be set to a fitting tune – preferably one we can sing.

But I suggest that the primary requirement of a good hymn is that it should clearly articulate biblical truth.

We remember what we sing.

A poor hymn can confuse us, lead us astray. A good hymn strengthens our knowledge of the Christian Faith.

What is that faith?

Christians are not those who have confidence in our own good works. We have failed to honour our parents, we have murdered, we have committed adultery, we have stolen, we have told lies, we have coveted. If not in deed, then certainly in the thoughts of our hearts.

God has commanded that we love Him with all our heart, all our mind, all our soul and all our strength. That we love our neighbours as ourselves. This we have failed to do. This we fail to do.

And so Christians recognize that we have nothing to offer God except our sin. We deserve not His favour, but His wrath.

Unless someone takes the punishment we deserve, unless someone reconciles us with God, unless someone gives us a righteousness that is not our own, we shall receive God’s everlasting punishment.

That Someone is Jesus Christ. God’s only begotten Son, made flesh and sent into the world to seek and to save we who were lost.

Jesus led a sinless life. He died on the cross, bearing in full the punishment for our sins. And, by His resurrection from the dead, His perfect obedience is now counted as ours.

If, that is, we are those who are trusting Him.

This, then, is the Christian Faith: to trust not in what we do, but in what Christ has done for us.

A good hymn speaks of this Faith. This hymn ranks among the best.

Thy works, not mine, O Christ,
speak gladness to this heart;
they tell me all is done,
they bid my fear depart.
To whom save Thee, who canst alone
for sin atone, Lord, shall I flee?

Thy wounds, not mine, O Christ,
can heal my bruisèd soul;
Thy stripes, not mine, contain
the balm that makes me whole.
To whom save Thee, who canst alone
for sin atone, Lord, shall I flee?

Thy cross, not mine, O Christ,
has borne the awful load
of sins that none could bear
but the incarnate God.
To whom save Thee, who canst alone
for sin atone, Lord, shall I flee?

Thy death, not mine, O Christ,
has paid the ransom due;
ten thousand deaths like mine
would have been all too few.
To whom save Thee, who canst alone
for sin atone, Lord, shall I flee?

Thy righteousness, O Christ,
alone can cover me;
no righteousness avails
save that which is of Thee.
To whom save Thee, who canst alone
for sin atone, Lord, shall I flee?

Horatius Bonar, 1808-89

6 thoughts on “Law, Gospel, and a Good Hymn

  1. You should examine the Olney Hymnal by John Newton. It is packed with doctrinal meat, because his goal with William Cowper was to use the hymns to teach the congregation truth. We have used it at our church.

  2. Hi Daniel,
    Thanks for this teaching. Hymns and Christian music are important. Are they not supposed to be edifying and a form of prayer? (Eph 5:19, Col 3:16). I also like listening to the music of Barry and Batya Segal. They are Messianic Jews and live in Jerusalem. Their songs are often traditional and based on the Psalms or Biblical text. Sadly, on a number of occasions I have found myself standing in church during worship and wondering at the lyrics of a song (often Hillsong). I even stopped singing because the words of the songs made me feel uncomfortable because they misrepresented God and the Bible, and yet these songs are spiritual. I think the music makes us like these songs, and the atmosphere. The worship often includes repetition of choruses or phrases, and alteration in volume, and it raises emotion. People love it. But it becomes the worship of worship! When the lyrics include heresy or vagueness, then no true lesson is being taught about the work of God or our faith, and no glory is brought to God. It’s just to make us feel good, and Jesus’ name is used for that purpose. But I suppose it lures people through the doors, and that might be the motives of some churches for selecting particular worship songs or styles. I wish churches would be more careful about the songs or hymns they select and pay careful attention to the words, remembering that we are to honour God. The right hymn keeps Christ in the centre and not the worshipper.
    God Bless you.
    Gabi.

    • Gabriele, thank you for visiting and amen to what you say. There is of course much more that could be said about hymns – my post here is the content of a 2 minute talk that I gave during an evangelistic service, so I was rather constrained in what I had time to say, especially if I wanted to include Law and Gospel :-)

      I have one of the Segals’ albums and enjoyed it very much. In a not dissimilar vein, you might find you like Marty Goetz, if you are not already aware of him:

      Grace and peace to you in our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ.

  3. Thank you Daniel. I had not heard of Marty Goetz. The music and lyrics are beautiful. I will definitely get one of his albums :-)

    God bless you. Gabriele.

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