The Importance of Song

Martin Luther knew the potential power of song.   On Thursday evenings he taught theology by singing hymns.  A.W. Tozer gave new converts a hymn book and encouraged them to learn the hymns of Watts and Wesley as a means of developing a strong theology (understanding of God).  Karl Barth attributes his early theological etraining to his childhood journeys to Bethleham and Golgatha through the words of the hymn writers.  Cecil Alexander, a teacher of children, wrote hymns to explain the meaning of The Apostles’ Creed.  Her hymn, “All Things Bright and Beautiful” was written to explain the first phrase of the creed: “I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth.”   To explain a more difficult to understand phrase, “suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead and buried” she wrote:

There was no other good enough to pay the price of sin;
He only could unlock the gate of heaven and let us in.

For the preceding phrase of the creed, “…was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary” she wrote “Once in Royal David’s City.”

As I was growing up our family sang together a lot.  A song that was a regular part of
our repertory was one that Dad and his three sons sang as a quartet:

All that I am or hope to be, O Son of God, I owe to Thee;
For Thou hast bought me I am Thine, and by Thy mercy Thou art mine.
Thy love has sought me, Thy love has bought me, Thy grace has taught me to believe;
And in believing, Thy peace receiving. Now in Thee, only, do I live.

Later in life I realized that these lines of poetry had become an integral part of my
statement of faith. The words that we sing as a child can take on new meaning as we grow older. As a child I sang “O Little Town of Bethlehem” which, at that time, was a song about a beautiful town under starlit sky. Later, these words by Philip Brooks became a favorite because of the hope and promise contained in this hymn. It’s such a delight to have the words of a song or scripture leap off the page as they become real to me.

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