A Brief Book Notice from Books At a Glance
By Fred Zaspel
Some of my favorite devotional reading over the years has been from the hymnal. Back when I was in high school, as I was becoming theologically “aware,” I began to notice in our otherwise rather generic kind of hymnal that there are some hymns that just stand out for their depth of theological insight and richness of devotional piety. I studied those hymns carefully and eventually committed yards and yards of them to memory. A theologically-informed poet can compress a given biblical doctrine and convey it with wonderfully pungent effect.
Reading through all the hymns in Gadsby’s Hymns (1814, 1838; see the 99¢ Kindle version here) was especially rewarding. These old, small-size hymn books – words only, no music; just the poem – were once standard issue in the churches and in regular use among Christians. Biblical substance was of first concern for hymn-writers in those days.
Leland Ryken wants to revive the devotional use and profit of hymns, and he has done us a great service to that end in his new Forty Favorite Hymns on the Christian Life: A Closer Look at their Spiritual and Poetic Meaning. The hymns are well chosen, and his brief remarks helpfully illuminate their intended meaning.
Every entry in this anthology consists of three elements—a hymnic poem, an explication of the poem, and a passage from the Bible that ties into the hymn and its explication. The Bible passages are intended to enhance the reading of this book for devotional purposes.
This is not your typical “Stories of Great Hymns” kind of book. It is an aid to understanding our great hymns so that we may sing them to more spiritual profit.
I think it was Jonathan Edwards who made the observation that music is such a great gift from God in that it so effectively attaches truth to the emotion or the affections. Rich biblical truth rendered in compressed poetic lines and then sung drives us to feel the truth we profess. Ryken’s brief chapters are a wonderful help to that end. Get a copy for yourself, one for your pastor, and one for each person involved in your church’s music team!
Very highly recommended!
Buy the books
40 Favorite Hymns on the Christian Life: A Closer Look at their Spiritual and Poetic Meaning