A Book of Treasures

06_Schantz_JNBy Daniel Schantz

My heart is racing and I can’t sleep, so at midnight I rise and go to my study. I sit at my desk and reach for an old, brown volume titled, Favorite Hymns. Slowly I leaf through the pages, reading the titles and lyrics of hymns like, “Be Still, My Soul,” and “God Will Take Care of You,” and “It Is Well with My Soul.” My breathing slows, and soon I trudge back to bed, where I drift into deep slumber.

Tranquility is just one of the many virtues buried in the old hymnbooks. Much of what I know and love came from this treasure chest of tunes.


I Learned to Read

My public school readers were so bland and vapid that I hungered for richer words. I found them in the hymnal, during church, and I constantly bothered my mother for definitions.

“Mom, what does languid mean?”

Languid? Oh, well, it means to be sorta droopy, like you are when you first wake up.”

The rest of the day I went around using the word in conversation. “You know, this weather is kinda languid.” And, “This celery is old, it’s getting really languid.”


I Learned to Write

Early in life I noticed there’s more than one way to say something, and I liked the way songwriters said things. I used to copy down some of my favorite hymn phrases during worship.

“Breathe through the heats of our desires . . . ”

“In work, that keeps faith sweet and strong . . . ”

“Touched by a loving heart, wakened by kindness, cords that were broken will vibrate once more.”

Over the years I have noticed how many famous writers have used lines from the hymns in their stories or even for the titles of their books, such as John Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath and Elizabeth Strout’s Abide With Me.


I Learned to Tell Stories

Many of the hymns tell a story in just a few words, a real trick. Like the hymn “We Saw Thee Not” which covers the whole life of Christ in just four stanzas!

Or Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day,” which tells the story of how he lost his faith during the Civil War, only to find it in the end. “Then pealed the bells more loud and deep; God is not dead, nor doth he sleep.” It was all there, in just 134 words, the problem, the plot, the denouement.


I Learned to Sing

Even though I could not read music, I could see that the notes went up in places and down in others, so I winged it. Turns out I had a good ear, and soon I was able even to sing parts. I would sing melody on the first stanza, alto on the second, and bass on the last stanza.

I am a very physical person who likes to use his hands, and the hymnbook gave me something to engage my hands while I sang. When my girlfriend sat next to me, I held the book so she could see it. My hands trembled from this daring, romantic gesture, but afterwards she rewarded me with a smile, and I could hear the sound of violins.


I Learned to Laugh

Song titles were often amusing to me.

“O, for a Faith that Will Not Shrink,” sounded like an ad for permanent press clothing.

“Must I Go, and Empty-handed?” reminded me of the church restroom that was always out of paper.

“How Tedious and Tasteless the Hours,” reminded me of public school.

Some hymns were hilarious to sing, like “The Church in the Wildwood,” whose counterpart consisted of one word, over and over: “Come, come, come, come, come, come . . . ” which I belted out like a sergeant. The rest of the day I went around the house singing, “Come, come, come, come,” until my mother grabbed a broom and chased me outdoors. “Go! Go! Go! Go!”

If song titles were funny, the names of the authors were just as amusing.

“Louis Gottschalk” must be a teacher, since he has the chalk.

“Gottfried Fink” must have gotten too close to the fire.

“Wendell Loveless” is ugly, I’ll bet, and “Catherine Winkworth” is a cutie.

“Fanny Crosby’s” name was everywhere in the book, and I was scandalized because “fanny” was one of the words I was not supposed to say.


I Learned About God

Above all else, the hymns taught me what God is like.

“Fairest Lord Jesus” compared Jesus to a garden in spring. I have been a gardener since childhood and I could appreciate Jesus as “The Rose of Sharon.”

The majestic song, “God of Our Fathers,” portrayed God as our commander-in-chief, leading us into battle, and it gave me chills to sing it.

“Holy, Holy, Holy” made me think of my sins, and how sorry I was about them.


Hymnbooks Today

Hymnbooks are alive and well, popular all over the world, in spite of changes in worship styles. New hymns are being written, and new hymnals being published as part of the renaissance of hymns in the modern “Hymn Movement.” Here are two examples:

African American Heritage Hymnal, released by GIA Publications in 2001, includes traditional hymns, plus Negro spirituals, plantation songs, litanies, and African-American observances (1,100 pages).

The Kids Hymnal, with accompanying CD, is available from Hendrickson Worship.


Other Uses for Hymnbooks

Homeschoolers use hymnals to teach music, vocabulary, history, biography, and church doctrines. What better way to learn about the doctrines of Calvinism and grace than by studying hymns like “Pass Me Not O Gentle Savior,” and “Grace Greater Than Our Sin”?

Care groups use hymns to trigger memories for discussion and application of Scripture. “Find a hymn that reminds you of a happy time in your life, and tell why it was happy.” Or, “Find a prayer hymn that says what you are feeling right now in your life, and read it aloud.”

A small hymnbook tucked into your purse or briefcase can make a good devotional book to read at lunchtime. Or keep one by your bedside, for comfort at night.


Dan Schantz is professor emeritus at Central Christian College of the Bible in Moberly, Missouri.

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  1. Lester LeMay
    June 26, 2013 at 1:23 pm

    Dan, Thanks for a great reminder of the heritage of hymns. I am presently creating a file called Music Loved in my computer and include all kinds of music that had influenced me, including very many hymns. I remember that I came forward on “All to Jesus” to be baptized. I used “Once to every man and nation” to audition for choir at Cincinnati Bible Seminary. I learned Cantique de Noel in French Class and got to sing it. Many other hymns and gospel songs have blessed me. Your article brought back many fond memories.
    Thank you.
    Les LeMay

  2. Pam (White) Messer
    June 26, 2013 at 4:09 pm

    Dan, thank you SO MUCH for your article! I have been putting together one in my head similar to yours, but you have said it best! I somewhat enjoy the new praise music, but so miss singing the hymns of old and their messages. I was recently blessed to visit the “traditional” service at Broadway Christian Church in Lexington, KY and I was THRILLED with the service, to say the least. It’s the first time in a very long time, that I actually felt like I was worshiping and not being “entertained”. The Church’s one foundation is Jesus Christ her Lord, and I love singing about that! Thanks again for sharing your wonderful insights.

  3. July 15, 2013 at 5:49 pm

    I miss the old hymns of my younger days. I have been in the “bad” habit of not singing much anymore in today’s contemporary worship services. Same songs with the same repeating message over and over and none with a very deep-full meaning. They just don’t seem to resonate with my spirit when I worship. A few weeks ago, they actually sang a few hymns, of course with a modern beat, but the words took me back to when I was a student at Central Christian College and attended what was then Westside Christian Church. While my friends and I made fun of some of the titles and changed rhyming words from time to time, they also taught a lot of the doctrines I still hold to today. Thanks Mr. Schantz for reminding us of something that remains powerful in our hearts today.

  4. July 27, 2013 at 1:09 pm

    It’s good to realize that I’m not alone in loving hymns about Jesus and us who love Him. I’m blessed, except at Ozark Christian College Convention now, to not have to attend services where “modern” songs have replaced hymns, and to get to lead an a-cappella hymn sing (using hymnals) at Spring River Christian Village in Joplin twice a week. Dan Schantz writes well. It’s always a joy to read what he has written.

  5. Fran Means
    July 28, 2013 at 7:13 pm

    Really love some of the so-called “modern hymns.” Most of them come right out of the Scriptures and some sing about what is “today” and use proper English. Too bad, as we age, the song books become somewhat unhandy, because by the time the number is given; if you heard it correctly, and then find it, the song has already begun. We are no longer “ancient.”

  6. Becky Smith
    August 1, 2013 at 3:45 pm

    I love all of the old hymns except TWO of them One of them says mercy drops round us are falling.
    Around where I live blessings are not drops, there is a river of them flowing.
    And And Angry Words. The words of the hymn are okay but the music is whiney, groany music.

    And, I love most of the new hymns. Especially Days of Elijah.
    Thank you for letting me comment.

    Dan, thanks to you, I got back in touch with Stephan Bilak. I knew him at Lipscomb when he
    was a student and I was a librarian there. You sent an email to Sondra and to Stephan. Sondra
    forwarded it to me. So, I found Stephan’s email address. We enjoyed corresponding before his
    death. I love the hymn he wrote.

    I’ll Fly Away. It is on You Tube. David’s words in a Psalm. I am 85 so will fly away before very long.

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