Humility in Hymn-Singing

Ian Murray on the hymns of John Newton (1725-1807):

“A consideration of this penitential note in Newton’s hymnody must lead one to reflect on what is too commonly absent from numbers of the songs substituted for hymns in worship today. It is not simply that certain words are omitted; the whole ethos is different. Too often the emphasis is on the worshipper’s devotion: ‘I will praise’; ‘I will exalt’; ‘I will love’, etc. While the language is good, the old saying needs to be remembered, ‘He loves little who tells how much he loves.’ And when the language is used in the absence of expressions of poverty of spirit, mourning, hungering and thirsting for what is not yet attained, it may be akin to the ignorance that led Simon Peter to assert, ‘I will lay down my life for thy sake.’ Professing Christian worship that omits humility and self-abasement would have been incomprehensible to Newton. His best hymns are always striking a note that is the opposite of self-confidence or self-satisfaction; rather it is: Weak is the effort of my heart, And cold my warmest thought. “Newton points us to the need for a reversal of features that have entered into Christian worship today.”

Ian Murray Banner of Truth (August/September 2007), 23-24

(HT: Charlie Wingard)

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