"The good old hymns" defined

March 22, 2011

As a church musician, I've been known to program what I thought were familiar Charles Wesley hymns, only to find my non-Methodist song leaders tongue-tied by the ambitious melodies and all-doctrine-all-the-time words. When I have a week off and visit an Episcopal church, the Hymnal 1982's Arthur Sullivan tunes make my mind wander to operetta. The various denominational hymnals have their peculiarities.

But they also have a great deal in common. Christianity Today's special issue on worship includes an article detailing just how much. Robert T. Coote looks at 28 hymnals published since the late 1800s by the six largest mainline denominations (and their main predecessor bodies) and tallies up the most commonly occurring songs. These 13 hymns appear in all 28 books:

Abide with Me: Fast Falls the Eventide
All Hail the Power of Jesus' Name
Come, Ye Thankful People, Come
Crown Him with Many Crowns
Glorious Things of Thee Are Spoken
Guide Me, Oh Thou Great Jehovah
Holy, Holy, Holy! Lord God Almighty
How Firm a Foundation, Ye Saints
In the Cross of Christ I Glory
Jesus Shall Reign Wher'er the Sun
Love Divine, All Loves Excelling
O Sacred Head, Now Wounded
When I Survey the Wondrous Cross

Eight or nine of these would make my shortlist of staple hymns, but a couple surprised me--and I can't even come up with the tune for "How Firm a Foundation." (I thought I knew the 1978 Lutheran Book of Worship backwards and forwards.) Do any of them surprise you?

Coote's complete list--the top 27 hymns--is here. His accompanying article helpfully details the methodology behind the list. But read at your own risk, all ye who love the mainline, as it also includes little jabs like this:

In view of the stance of most mainline Protestants in the late 1800s, the spiritually warm and orthodox character of these hymns is not surprising. What is somewhat surprising, given the unsettledness in some denominational quarters today, is that these hymns continue to be valued.

I don't find this surprising, but then I don't associate spiritual warmth exclusively with conservatives. But ideological digs aside, Coote's hymnal research is a great idea for an article, and it produced a fascinating list for all of us who love hymns.


Never heard of those two

I grew up singing from the Episcopal hymnal, sang from the Baptist hymnal when I was a music major at a Southern Baptist University, the Presbyterian hymnal when I was at a Presby seminary, the Methodist Hymnal when I worked as a chaplain at a Methodist hospital, the Disciples hymnal when I served Disciples churches, the UCC hymnal when serving among them, the United Church (of Canada) hymnal when I worship now, and now lead five hymn sings a week from an inter-denominational hymnal at the long-term care facility where I work, and I have never, in my life, heard of either "Glorious Things of Thee Are Spoken" or "Jesus Shall Reign Wher'er the Sun". I am eager to get home and look in my myriad hymnals to find those two.


Wow, I thought How Firm a Foundation was common hymn. Surprised you don't know it. I'm not sure I know Come, Ye Thankful..., Glorious Things..., In the Cross.... or O Sacred Head....

Pat Pope

Isn't the hymn tune for How

Isn't the hymn tune for How Firm A Foundation just called "Foundation"? at least, that's what I call it in my head. :-)

I'm mildly surprised by "in the cross of Christ I glory," a hymn I don't think I've ever sung...all the others make sense. I loved the article and think it's such an interesting idea to see what has stood the test of american hymnal printing whims...partly so we can think about writing new things that may stand a similar test!

I've lived and worshiped in

I've lived and worshiped in the US since 1994, and I knew all the hymns listed, except "In the Cross of Christ I glory"

How Firm a Foundation

The tune used in THE HYMNAL of the Evangelical & Reformed Church, published in 1941 and still used by many UCC churches for HOW FIRM A FOUNDATION is ADESTES FIDELIS.

Thanks for sharing! The

Thanks for sharing! The Seminary that I go to, we just finished doing a "Hymn Bracket" and Be Thou My Vision was our 'ultimate hymn'.

I like the idea of a hymn

I like the idea of a hymn bracket. I should have included that in my recent post on non-basketball brackets this month.

I suspect that if you were to survey youngish Protestants on their favorite hymn--across mainline/evangelical lines as well as denominational traditions--"Be Thou My Vision" would win, with "Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing" close behind.

I know them all

Grew up in a Baptist Church that sang all of these hymns. I'm surprised that "In the Cross of Christ I Glory" is included in so many hymnals, as I haven't heard it sung in probably 40 years. When I was in elementary school, our pastor talked about the shooting of John F. Kennedy, and then we sang "O Sacred Head Now Wounded." That has been a family joke ever since.

good old hymns

I was surprised to recognize all 13 and recall their melodies -- most from my childhood. Sorry, son, to have left "How Firm a Foundation" out or your upbringing!

Lisa Thorngate

Not a fair fight...

Thanks for the post. It was fun. I have to admit that I know all of them, but I have also been running HymnSite.com since before I adopted the domain name. I put the site together simply by posting public domain hymns from The United Methodist Hymnal in the order that they appeared, but took requests to post hymns out of order. One of the more surprising things to me was that when I was building the site, the first midi file requested by a guest was the tune for Charles Wesley's hymn "And Can It Be that I Should Gain." When the task of adding texts began, the first text requested was once again "And Can It Be that I Should Gain." Adding to my surprise, the requests came from different people. The demand for that one took me off balance, but it makes it all the more special.

Interesting--"And Can it

Interesting--"And Can it Be..." is the Wesley hymn I had in mind in the first sentence of my post.

No "Amazing Grace?"

I'm stunned that "Amazing Grace" didn't show up - even on the longer list. I thought it was the national anthem of hymns.

Great Old Hymns

I have sung all 27, although I must admit I cannot remember the words to one of them, "The Day of Resurrection." I might miss a note in that melody as well. I had to read the article to know why there was nothing from the 20th century - although I was kind of happy not to see any Fanny Crosby.

Know them all

I guess when yo've been a Presbyterian, Methodist, Episcopalian, Lutheran, Baptist, Mennonite, Willow-Creek-Wanna-Be, Hip-Dude-Wanna-Be, and generic Non-denominational church leader, you've sung them all. Yup. All. Could probably even pick them out on the organ if needed.

Re 'Guide Me, Oh Thou Great Jehovah'

I try to think of a tune, and I keep coming back to "Glorious Things of Thee Are Spoken" above! ("Austria", which is to say "Deutschland Uber Alles" ;-/)

Otherwise, they all seem pretty familiar to me (lifelong Episcopalian, w/ ecumenical experience via UTS, and my Baptist former spouse).

"I can't even come up with the tune for "How Firm a Foundation.""

Really? I know two: the sprightly Episcopal version, and the dirgelike Prot one! [At UTS, the late Professor James Washington loved to PREACH this one: "I'll never, no never, no NEVER forsake!"]


Never heard of: In the Cross

Never heard of:

In the Cross of Christ I Glory
Jesus Shall Reign Wher'er the Sun

And rather surprised Amazing Grace isn't on the list.

13 Hymns

I grew up in the Episcopal Church, first with the 1940 Hymnal, and then with Hymnal 1982 and all 13 of these hymns are part of my spiritual DNA (sang Love Divine, All Loves Excelling at our wedding and Glorious Things of Thee are Spoken at my ordination). All of the others in the list of 27 are also what I think of as very standard, core hymns for the Episcopal Church. The one exception would be Just As I Am. I didn't learn that until I went to a Methodist-related seminary.

But then I have always been blessed to be in congregations that sang heartily and well, and had music directors who valued congregational singing enough to coach and nurture the congregation through hymns that called for an investment of heart, mind and voice. Thanks be to God!

Vicki McGrath

Hymns --

How Firm a Foundation in Chalice Hymnal (Disciples) is Foundation -- a traditional American melody -- only version I know of.

There are a couple hymns I don't exactly recognize, but most are familiar.

Interesting that Be Thou My Vision isn't in all 28 books. Might say the same for Fairest Lord Jesus.

On All Hail the Power of Jesus Name there are 2 versions (that I know of) -- Coronation (Oliver Holden) and Diadem (James Ellor). I like Diadem, but most seem to prefer Coronation.

Bob Cornwall

If Wikipedia is to be

If Wikipedia is to be trusted, "Be Thou My Vision" (in English) it too recent to be in many of these hymnals, which go back to the late 19th century. As for "Fairest Lord Jesus," I wonder if its vote got split by the "Fairest Lord Jesus"/"Beautiful Savior" divide. Though I'd like to believe the methodology here was a bit more sophisticated than THAT.

Sorry Bob, I'm a Coronation guy, too. What I grew up with and all that.

How Firm a Foundation

This hymn is also sung to the tune ADESTE FIDELIS, and is so listed in the New Century Hymnal (UCC).

I attribute knowing all of these hymns to my high school church choir director. She made sure we were well educated in hymnody. I learned at least as much from her about worship as I did in seminary classes.

The old hymns

As an Aussie who grew up in the Methodist Church there using the Methodist Hymnal, ordained in the Uniting Church in Australia using the Australian Hymn Book, attending Presbyterian and the occasional Anglican Churches, and now living and working in the USA with the United Methodist, Presbyterian, and United Church of Christ (with various hymnals) I also knew them all, but the tunes I know are not necessarily the ones mentioned by others.
I am glad we don't try to sing them very often as they are somewhat ponderous.
But the "Old Favorite Hymns" in my experience here are the 1850 - 1930 set of "I, my, me, and mine" hymns. The ones from the evangelical period. Fanny Crosby features in most churches repertoire from my experience here.
Oh, Well!
Give me a good modern hymn written by Iona, Robin Mann, Brian Wren, Troeger, Haas, Haugen, Foley, etc. I understand their language and metaphors.

Ah yes I remember growing up

Ah yes I remember growing up and singing many of those, but the one that sticks out the most is "In the Cross of Christ I Glory" - there was something about the particular hymn that I enjoyed as a child, all dressed up in my sunday clothes (pointed collars, hair straightened, etc..) singing my little heart out :)

Christianity Today's Hymn List

Greetings from Wordwise Hymns. No, none of the hymns on the list surprises me. I know them all, and have written articles on them, each a fine example of traditional hymnody. The two common tunes for "How Firm a Foundation" are Foundation, and Portuguese Hymn (the latter is also used with the carol "O Come, All Ye Faithful."