Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Elisabeth Elliot: "Whatever Happened to Hymns"

Elisabeth Elliot (born 1926), famed as a great Christian writer, missionary and the widow of Martyred missionary Jim Elliot (1927-1956), wrote this little article in her newsletter back in 1999.  I think it says a lot about our contemporary style of worship and what we may have lost in some respects.  I hope you find it a blessing as I did.  Albie


Many of the churches my husband Lars and I visit on our travels seem to know nothing of the great old hymns that have instructed, comforted, and enriched the church for centuries. Hymns constitute a crucial part of worship, but not by any means the whole. In churches which use almost exclusively what are called "praise songs," that part of the service is usually referred to as "Worship," as though prayer, preaching, offering, and listening were something else. May I lodge a plea to those who use overhead projectors to make sure that some great hymns are displayed in addition to the praise songs? Hymns will get you through the night.
In January of 1956, when five women were waiting with bated breath to find out whether our husbands were dead or alive, I lay in bed in Nate Saint's home, my little daughter Valerie sick in a crib beside me. The hymn "How Firm a Foundation," with those magnificent words taken from Isaiah 43:1-2, sustained me, especially stanzas 2, 3, and 6, memorized when I was a child in our daily family prayer time:

"Fear not, I am with thee; O be not dismayed,
For I am thy God and will still give thee aid;
I'll strengthen thee, help thee, and cause thee to stand,
Upheld by my righteous, omnipotent hand.
"When through the deep waters I call thee to go,
The rivers of sorrow shall not overflow;
For I will be with thee thy trials to bless,
And sanctify to thee thy deepest distress.
"The soul that on Jesus hath leaned for repose,
I will not, I will not desert to his foes;
That soul, though all hell should endeavor to shake,
I'll never, no, never, no, never forsake!"

Everywhere I go I try to point out what a tragic loss is the disappearance of these powerful aids to spiritual stamina. A true hymn has rhyme and meter, a logical progression from the first verse to the last, and I feel like jumping up and down and "hollering" to get my message across, but I try to keep it to merely begging and imploring folks to get their hands on a good hymnbook. Where to find them? they ask. Perhaps they are moldering in the church basement. More than likely they've long since been dumped - "Young folks don't like hymns," we're told. But of course they don't like them - they don't know them. Alas!

May I suggest that you keep a good hymnal with your Bible wherever you've arranged your quiet time?

Elisabeth Elliot

"Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord." Eph. 5:19