When I tell a hymn story, I often write out what I am going to say. This I do for several reasons:
- I want to choose my words carefully.
- I want to make sure I say specific details correctly—names, dates, places, etc.
- I don’t want to include a bunch of interesting things about the hymn that don’t serve the purpose of this specific telling.
- Plus it allows me to time my comments exactly. That way I am sure not to take too much of the preacher’s time!
But especially when I’m telling a story in multiple parts, I want to be sure to shape the information so that it has maximum effect on the listener.
Below is the hymn story that I told during the morning service. In between installments of the story, we sang the hymn “Sing Praise to God.” I’ve copied the stanzas into the story below.
Sometimes people say to me, “Hymns? You guys actually still sing hymns?” I tell them that Pastor Mike often reminds us that we sing heritage hymns because they tie us to our history. Some of our heritage hymns have been sung for centuries by people across the entire world! I’d like to show you today how one “old hymn” is a pretty accurate song describing our church today.
Sing praise to God who reigns above,
the God of all creation,
the God of power, the God of love,
the God of our salvation;
with healing balm my soul he fills,
and every faithless murmur stills:
to God all praise and glory.
The man who wrote this hymn, Johann Schütz, was a lawyer. But he was also a Christian. And he was so faithful in his church that he influenced his pastor greatly. As a matter of fact, some say that an idea that made his pastor famous throughout church history came from this lawyer. He suggested that all the church families meet in small groups during the week to pray and praise together. And that they talk about their pastor’s sermon from Sunday and how they can apply it to their lives. So his pastor started these small groups that he called Collegium Pietatis in Latin, which means “Holy Gatherings.” So what we do as Small Groups every week in our church actually started in Germany in 1670!
What God’s almighty pow’r hath made
His gracious mercy keepeth,
By morning glow or evening shade
His watchful eye ne’er sleepeth;
Within the kingdom of His might,
Lo! all is just and all is right:
To God all praise and glory.
Schütz was the lawyer who wrote this hymn. His pastor’s name was Jakob Spener. He is called the father of Pietism. It is interesting to note that all of the original tenants of what became known as Pietism are found in our church! Pastor Spener wanted:
- (1) to more thoroughly acquaint believers with scripture by means of private readings and study groups in addition to preaching—collegium pietatis (small groups)
- (2) to increase the involvement of laity in all functions of the church (“ministers, every member”)
- (3) to emphasize that believers put into practice their faith and knowledge of God (invitations)
- (4) to approach religious discussions with humility and love, avoiding controversy whenever possible (“You don’t have to be obnoxious.”)
- (5) to ensure that pastors are both well-educated and pious (IBCS!)
- (6) to focus preaching on developing faith in ordinary believers (“the plowboy in the pew”).
The Lord is never far away,
But, through all grief distressing,
An ever-present help and stay,
Our peace and joy and blessing;
As with a mother’s tender hand
He leads His own, His chosen band:
To God all praise and glory!
Pastor Spener was the godfather of Count Nicholaus von Zinzendorf. It was Zinzendorf who organized and mobilized the great missionary force known as the Moravians or the Bohemian Brethren. If you notice in your hymnal where the tune came from, it first appeared in a Moravian hymnal in 1566, called one of the great hymn tunes of the reformation. It was the Moravians who influenced John and Charles Wesley, who were known as Methodists.
Notice that the last stanza of this hymn gets very personal. The first three stanzas use very few personal pronouns like “I,” “me,” “our,” or “my.” But the final stanza is full of them! This is in order to emphasize the importance of making our doctrine personal. My teacher’s definition of pietism is “applying Biblical truth to our everyday lives.” Or as an old-time Methodist evangelist put it, “It takes evangelistic unction to make orthodoxy function.”
Thus, all my toilsome way along
I sing aloud His praises,
That all may hear the grateful song
My voice unwearied raises.
Be joyful in the Lord, my heart!
Both soul and body bear your part:
To God all praise and glory.