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Home > Online Magazine > Online Magazine: Edition 30 - August/September 2009 > Hymns (by Mary Turbet and Noni McTackett)


by Mary Turbet and Noni McTackett

Well loved hymns and their stories

Today I am going to talk to you about hymns.  What is a hymn?  I like to use the word hymns.  I feel they are very special, both words and music, so why just call them "songs"  The dictionary states that a hymn is a "song of praise in honour of God"  - it expresses praise of God.  That hells me that a hymn is a very special type of song.  To me, it is not a hymn unless it has some form of sacred message.

Now how often do we sing hymns and how often do we think about the words that we are singing?  If we love the words of the hymn and if it gives us that "joy of living" feeling, and has good music to go with it, we can all join in and when  everyone else is enjoying it and singing their hearts out people like me feel they can sing too as they won't be heard anyway.  But how many of us think about what we are singing?  Do  we really mean what we are singing?  Do the words really count - are they  of any consideration?  If not, why don't we just sing "La, La, La"?  I remember going to a meeting when I was in my early twenties and at this meeting we sang the hymn "When I survey the Wondrous Cross''.  Then we were asked to sing it again and this time to changethe words of the last line of the last verse which read, "demands my soul, my life, my all"  to "Shall have my soul, my life, my all".  This has made a lasting impression on me.

Now I am going to ask Noni to tell us about her favourites:


"Blessed Assurance. Jesus is mine - I in my Saviour am happy and blest."

Fanny Crosby wrote those words.

Fanny was born in Putnam County, New York state and lived 95 years. When she was six weeks old, a trainee doctor put drops in her eyes that resulted in her being permanently blind. When she was ten months old, her father died. Her mother took Fanny and went to live with her sister. In this Puritan family, she had a very strong religious upbringing.

Fanny had a great passion to be educated. She went to school but the teachers had no idea how to teach a blind child. At 14 she finally attended a school for the blind. She excelled in all subjects, particularly poetry. However, she loathed maths. One of her first pieces of poetry tells it all:

I hate it and abhor it.
It makes me sick
To hear the word arithmetic.

Fanny stayed at school, first as a pupil and then as a teacher for twenty-three years.

In 1854 Fanny married a man much younger than herself. They had a baby but it died of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. Although Fanny was very upset, her faith in God never wavered.

Fanny spoke at churches, evangelistic meetings and missions. As well she wrote eight thousand hymns and poetry.

In 1873 Fanny had a friend to stay. She asked Fanny to listen to a tune she had composed. On hearing it, Fanny immediately said, "Blessed Assurance, Jesus is mine." This became a celebration of a personal relationship with God and one of the most loved hymns ever written.

Let me finish with Fanny's words which are an inspiration for us:

Watching and waiting
Looking above.
Filled with His goodness.
Lost in His love.


I doubt that anyone here today has not heard of Charles Wesley and his brother John, but how many have heard of Catherine Winkworth (1827-1878)?   She did not actually compose hymns but she translated many German hymns into English, and in fact, our Hymnal contains eight of them.  As a translator of hymns she would also have needed to be somewhat of a composer as the literal translation would not always fit in with the music.  Some of the hymns which are best known to us are the following:-

Praise to the Lord, the Almighty, the King of creation
Now thank we all our God
Lift up your heads, ye mighty gates
Blessed Jesus at Thy word

The following information comes from a book written by Edward E. White called "Singing with Understanding".  Here we are told that Catherine Winkworth "was born at Ely Place, Holborn, London on September 13th and lived first at Manchester and then later at Bristol.  She was very gifted intellectually without being proud or aoof - rather she showed genuine culture and refinement."

She apparently understood the German language very well and also the way the Germans felt about their religion so was able to translate these hymns and bring the sentiment of the German songs into the English rendition.

When we look at the words of these hymns, we find that they cover so much of what we believe.  "Now Thank we all Our God" is a work of thanksgiving and praise and all of us here have much to thank our Heavenly Father for.  No, we are not free from problems and worry but when you consider the affluence of our country and contrast it with the poverty of the third world countries, we are not just well off, we are really rich.  We are rich in that we have a very comfortable church to worship in.

Occasionally we get a little drop of rain coming inside, but this can be fixed and usually is, quite soon.  We can come here and worship with freedom in the knowledge that no one will suddenly appear at the front door with a gun and threaten us.  We can discuss our faith with others without fear.   We could stand on a street corner or in the Domain and start to preach, safe in the knowledge that no one would arrest us.  I guess the worst that could happen is for a rotten egg or bad tomato to be thrown at us.  But we don't need to fear for our lives.  We don't need to fear that someone will arrest us if they find we are going to a church service.

When we look at the words of "Praise to the Lord" we see how God is praised as "the King of creation" and he "shields us under His wings and sustains us".  A God of goodness and mercy who looks after us each day.  With "Now Thank we all our God", we thank God with our "Hearts, hand and voices" and we acknowledge the wonderful things he has done for us; "His countless gifts of love" and we ask him to be with us throughout our lives.  "Blessed Jesus at Thy word" tells us we have gathered together to hear about Jesus, and we are asking that our hearts and souls be stirred up so that we will "seek, love and fear" Him.

When you go home today I hope you will remember at least one of the hymns we have sung and that the words have been meaningful to you.

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