Great hymns come out of great experiences. David said, “He has put a new song in my mouth, even praise unto our God” (Ps. 40:1). Through the centuries, God’s people have expressed their deepest spiritual experiences and insights in song. The most profound expressions of Christian truth seem to come only when the believer has been driven to the wall. The ring of reality is heard in the testimony of one who has discovered that God still keeps his promises to his children, regardless of circumstance. Whether the author is David or a songwriter of today, we draw spiritual sustenance from vicariously experiencing God’s work in the lives of others.
Since a growing Christian does not live in the past but in the ever-changing present, we constantly need new hymns that relate to our experience in the contemporary world in which we must live and grow spiritually. The Psalms frequently command us to “sing unto the Lord a new-made song.”
We often have a dual attitude toward new hymnody, however. On one hand, we crave fresh musical expressions of our faith, and desire variety in our diet of hymns and gospel songs. But at the same time, we seem to want to sing songs we already know, for what we know best, we love best. We resist change while simultaneously seeking it. Particularly in an age in which we often feel our traditional values are threatened on every hand, we may perceive “change and decay” as synonymous terms. We may seek reassurance and security in well-known hymns that express unchanging truth.
A substantial portion of our hymns are applicable to society without reference to time or geography. Yet, there have been tremendous changes in our society, and our standard hymnody often does not include hymns to reflect such changes.1
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