Evangelical Hymnody — past and present

It is easy to look to the great era of English Evangelical hymnody — the 18th and 19th centuries — and extol the sublimity and reverence of the classic hymns, in contradistinction to contemporary worship, but we forget that these hymns are “classic” because they survived the long process of natural selection, ecclesially-speaking, wherein the bad are weeded-out simply because the people, eventually recognizing their inferiority, stop wanting to sing them. So, we now have the great hymns remaining to consult, such as Isaac Watts’ “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross,” Charitie Bancroft’s “Before the Throne of God Above,”  Charles Wesley’s “O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing,” and the lesser-known Dora Greenwell’s “I Am Not Skilled to Understand.” I think the situation is much the same today. While I don’t know of any single Watts or Wesley current, there are some promising artists appropriating to the great tradition of gospel-witness in song, such as David Crowder, Charlie Hall, Leeland Mooring, Vicky Beeching, and Chris Tomlin. These songwriters should give heart to those who recognize the value and importance of faithful hymnody (or “praise and worship” as it is now called). For one example, here is Jeremy Riddle’s “Sweetly Broken”:

From Full Attention (Vineyard Music/Varietal Records 2007)

To the cross I look, to the cross I cling
Of its suffering I do drink
Of its work I do sing
For on it my Savior both bruised and crushed
Showed that God is love
And God is just

At the cross You beckon me
You draw me gently to my knees, and I am
Lost for words, so lost in love,
I’m sweetly broken, wholly surrendered

What a priceless gift, undeserved life
Have I been given
Through Christ crucified
You’ve called me out of death
You’ve called me into life
And I was under Your wrath
Now through the cross I’m reconciled


In awe of the cross I must confess
How wondrous Your redeeming love and
How great is Your faithfulness


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