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Singing and Making Melody in your Heart to the Lord
Amazing Grace, 366 Inspiring Hymn Stories for Daily Devotions, published by Kregel Publications, 1990, is one of many books written about hymns and hymn writers by author-musician Kenneth W. Osbeck. Olive Tree Bible Software now offers this excellent work in eBook format, ready to download to your Palm or Pocket PC. In this article, we will share our thoughts about this valuable resource after looking briefly at how songs and singing permeate both the Bible and church history.
The History of a Singing People
The Bible chronicles the history of a singing people: the children of Israel in the Old Testament, the church in the New. Remember Miriam, Moses’ musically gifted sister, echoing the song of triumphant victory and praise on the far shore of the Red Sea, where Jehovah drowned Pharaoh’s charioteers (Exo.15:21). Remember David, the sweet singer of Israel, who preserved the story of his intimacy with God in psalms of sorrow and praise, of strong prayer and mighty deliverance. Recall how he appointed Levitical singers and musicians to worship day and night in the temple, offering praise and thanksgiving to God (1 Chron.15:16-29). Consider how Jehoshaphat, facing an overwhelming foe, sent out the singers in front of the army at the command of the Lord, whereby the enemy was routed and fell to destroying itself (2 Chron.20:21-22). Notice too how Ezra and Nehemiah revived the musical priesthood when the temple was rebuilt after the Babylonian captivity (Neh.7:1). Surely the Lord’s Old Testament faithful ones learned how to draw water from the wells of salvation by praising Him in song (Is.12:3,5).
In the New Testament, think of our Lord Jesus singing a hymn with his disciples on the eve of His crucifixion, having instituted the new covenant in His blood (Matt.26:30). Consider Paul and Silas in jail in Philippi, their hands and feet in stocks, singing hymns of praise to God; and recall how the earth quaked, the prisoners were set free, and the jailor believed in the Lord Jesus Christ (Acts 16:25-33). Ponder and practice the apostle’s exhortation to redeem the time by being filled in spirit, speaking to one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord (Eph.5:16-19). And don’t forget the last book of the Bible, Revelation, where one hundred forty-four thousand firstfruits to God and the Lamb sing a new song known only to them (Rev.14:3); and where those who have come out of great tribulation sing the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying, “Great and marvelous are thy works, O Lord God, the Almighty” (Rev.15:3). From the beginning to the end of the Bible, God’s people simply cannot hold back their songs of praise, worship, and thanksgiving to Him.
Hymns of Praise in the Midst of the Church
The history of the Christian church, like a stunning tapestry, is beautifully embroidered with songs and the experiences of those who wrote them. Though Satan has done everything he can to silence the song of faith, that song keeps coming back to strengthen believers and terrify the enemy. It is the Lord Himself who sings, for He said prophetically when He endured the cross, “In the midst of the [worshiping] congregation I will sing hymns of praise to You [the Father]” (compare Ps.22:22 with Heb.2:12—Amplified Bible). Thus, through all the valleys of sorrow and purifying fire, as well as on the mountaintops of revelation and praise, He keeps singing in His saints, individually and corporately, the songs of Zion.
In the middle ages, He sang sweetly through men like Bernard of Clairvaux, whose intimate love life with the Lord reverberates in hymns like “Jesus, the very Thought of Thee.” In the Reformation, where through Martin Luther’s influence congregational singing emerged, He sang mightily in hymns like Luther’s own “A Mighty Fortress is our God.” He lifted His glorious song of faith through the great eighteenth-century English hymn writers, like Isaac Watts, John Newton, and Charles Wesley. In the nineteen hundreds, dear saints like Francis R. Havergal in England and Fanny Crosby in America, both wondrously gifted, both physically afflicted, gave their hearts and pens to Jesus that He might sing through His redeemed thousands more hymns of blessed assurance and glorious praise.
Meanwhile, Ira Sankey, Philip P. Bliss, D. W. Whittle and others were making their own musical contributions to the great gospel campaigns of their time. The impact of hymns on the church did not stop there, however, but continues today in the musical expressions of Bill and Gloria Gaither, John W. Peterson, George Beverly Shea, and many others, whose names we may never have heard. These are just a few representatives of the happy individuals who, in Jesus’ great train of vanquished foes, have given voice to His eternal song of praise to the Father.
More Than a Devotional
It is in view of this glorious history of song that we recommend to you Kenneth Osbeck’s fine eBook Amazing Grace, for it will enhance your appreciation of the role and importance of hymns in the Bible and church history while at the same time providing daily nourishment for your spirit. This work is more than a devotional. Though not arranged in historical sequence, the book presents an encapsulated history of the Christian church in song and experience. Delightful anecdotes, fascinating facts, and inspiring personal testimonies fill the pages, along with the songs themselves, always pointing our hearts to the Lord, who is the constant focus. For those of us who enjoy mingling devotional reading with songs and the word, this eBook combines all three.
Daily Portions throughout the Year
Every portion of the Amazing Grace eBook features a carefully selected hymn, a related Scripture quotation, a devotional commentary, biographical facts about the hymn writer, related Bible verse references, several stanzas along with the chorus of each hymn, and a brief word of exhortation or encouragement. Helpful indices make it easy to locate hymns, Scripture references, and songwriters. The hymns are skillfully arranged according to themes selected for each month. The themes for February, for example, are God’s Love to Us, Our Love to God, and Love for Our Fellow-man. Under the first of these themes, we find such enduring hymns as Charles Wesley’s “Jesus, Lover of My Soul,” S. Trevor Francis’s “O the Deep, Deep Love of Jesus,” and Charles H. Gabriel’s “My Savior’s Love.” Proceeding through the year, one also finds hymns that relate to special times and seasons, such as Henry Alford’s “Come, Ye Thankful People, Come” on November 22, during the Thanksgiving season. All of these features make Mr. Osbeck’s book both a sweet and meaningful devotional and a useful reference for finding music for all occasions.
Hymns and Christian Experience
As we have pointed out, hymns and hymn singing are an integral part of our experience of Christ and His church. The language of hymns, often the language of the Bible itself in paraphrase, expresses the testimony of what God’s people comprehend of the revelation of Christ, His Person and work, and His indwelling presence through the Holy Spirit. Hymns have always been an important means of building up the Body of Christ. As believers, our personal spiritual progress, as well as the progress of the whole church, depends on our enjoyment of Christ Himself, touching Him in prayer, in praise, in the word, and in song. By this we are enlightened and supplied with the indwelling life of Christ, and He is expressed through us.
Let’s look at a few short examples drawn from the pages of Amazing Grace.