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Bringing Back the Lost Art of Hymn Writing: Part 1

Weekly Devotions

Weekly articles written to encourage, challenge, and inspire Christians.

Bringing Back the Lost Art of Hymn Writing: Part 1

Paul Ussher

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.
— Colossians 3:16

There are so many hymns that Christians have published over the years. Perhaps you have asked yourself, "Why would anyone want to write more?"  Well, as Christians, it is important to note that hymns are like prayers.  Since we are exhorted to continue a healthy prayer life, we should be doing the same with hymns as referenced in Ephesians and Colossians.  This would include the singing of hymns, but it also includes the writing of hymns as well.  I have been moved in recent days by some of the revival movements in modern day Christian testimony.  One interesting link to these revivals, apart from God leading regular people, was the amount of activity that followed in the field of hymn writing.  Almost every hymn in our 'Believers Hymn Book' came from one of these time periods which has sparked a desire in me to encourage all believers in our local assembly to spend some time with the Lord in the pursuit of developing more hymns that can teach and admonish one another, whether it be focussed on ministry or gospel work.  As part of this desire, some research has been done to provide some very helpful tips in developing meditations into hymns.  If you believe you need a fine arts degree to carry out such activity, then think again.  Hymn writing is actually more of a practical art, developed on life experiences and a keen study of the Word of God, than on an organized educational pursuit.  Unlike previous devotionals, this 'weekly reflection' is aimed to spark a new interest in a lost art form among many assembly believers in our current generation.  Over the next few weeks, some additional material will be provided to assist everyone in this assignment.  Though it is unclear whether a Samuel Trevor Francis or a Fanny Crosby is among us, this study by believers in the assembly can have many wonderful benefits, including the following:

  •  A greater appreciation for the hymns we sing today
  • A desire to spend more time in meditation on the things of Christ
  • A new insight into ways we can all worship on the Lord's day, applicable for sisters and brethren alike (new thoughts to share, even if silent, with our Lord Jesus)
  • A development of spiritual gift, in the art of hymn writing, among young and older believers
  • An opportunity to use new hymns in assembly meetings (ie. Sunday School, Ministry Meeting, etc.)

Practical Suggestions

Many practical suggestions to writing hymns has been developed over the years by Godly believers.  Below is a list of some of those very helpful pointers:

  • Hymns must be true to divine revelation in scripture
  • Hymns must be true to the generality of Christian experience
  • Hymns must spring from some 'artistic impression' - some inner vision                     
  • Hymns must be simple to understand
  • Hymns should use language that is near to normal speech
  • Hymns should have a memorable first line and chorus (if applicable)
  • Hymns should avoid archaic words and phrases, sentimental words, rare or technical words
  • Hymns should avoid making a mess of the author's thoughts for the sake of the rhyme
  • Hymn writers should be most critical of the choice of words and should be their most severe critic.    

Technical Merit

A hymn must have a standard of 'technical merit', that is, of execution and it must be able to distinguish itself from other hymns that have been written.  Below are a few points to consider:

  1.  Structure: a pattern of ordered thought
  2. A balance between subjective and objective
  3. A meter suited to its theme
  4. A need for a climax - something to end the hymn
  5. Good syntax - smoothness, complete thoughts within each line
  6. Good 'sound techniques' such as assonance, alliteration, and rhyme

Assignment (Part 1)  

Some of us have not had to do homework for a number of years but it is likely time that we all do so in developing this lost art form of hymn writing.  In this first assignment on this subject, two choices are available for those that are willing to take up the challenge:

  1. Choose a Psalm and paraphrase it into any poetic hymn form that you like (ie. use an existing hymn structure and tune that you enjoy), or
  2. Try writing an additional stanza to an existing hymn you love to sing.             

Over the next few weeks, some additional material, insight, and completed works will be shared in the form of 'weekly reflections' to stimulate greater interest in this subject.  Ultimately, the goal of this assignment is to build up the assembly in our worship and praise of our Lord Jesus Christ through the use of compiling our meditations into singable poetry.

Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord;
— Ephesians 5:19