Top 10, no Top 5 Favorite Hymns

I was a bit surprised when I started looking through the archives to see that I have never posted on my top 10 favorite hymns of all time. I have posted on praise bands and the world’s dumbest hymn, but never those which are my favorite. This list is composed of my favorite hymns. I’m not saying that these hymns should be your favorite hymns, but you might agree that there are some good ones. I don’t include praise songs since there are only a few of them that I like and I believe they should stand the test of time before we move them into the “favorite hymn” list. A good hymn should be at least older than I am.

Also, I don’t include Christmas hymns. That is a list unto it’s self, coming to a blog site near you, around Christmas time.

I started on this list more than a week ago and feel I need to break it in two. So here are my Top 5 favorite hymns:

1. Amazing Grace —  John Newton really hit this one out of the park when he penned it back in the 1700s. What most people don’t know is that we don’t sing the song to the original tune. It wasn’t until blacks in the south got ahold of the lyrics that we were given the current and most popular tune (according to biographer Jonathan Aitken who wrote, John Newton: From Disgrace to Amazing Grace. A book that all should read). In fact, this hymn wasn’t really sung in Newton’s day. It was one of about 200 hymns that he and William Cowper composed for Newton’s church. (Cowper wrote God Moves in a Mysterious Way).

Here are the Celtic Women doing a wonderful job with this beloved hymn.

 2. Be Thou My Vision — Written in the 8th Century, this song not only captures the love of believers for our LORD, but also helps us realize what a great hymn can be. It has united believers since the 8th century until this day singing the same song together. This is one of the reasons we are to use hymns: hymns unite us with those believers who have gone on before us and will come after us. There is a unity found in them. This doesn’t mean that we cannot have new hymns today, but a well written hymn that is singable, true in what it says about the believer and our LORD, is to be held dear by all.

Just a side note: going through these hymns helped me realize that Be Thou My Vision was not in our current hymn book. I was surprised at the editors for leaving this hymn out. That is like leaving out Amazing Grace. I set out to shift to a new hymn book. We can’t have this! Fortunately, the church has been around long enough to have different hymn books to choose from. While there is no perfect hymn book, there are those that are better than others, and the one that are better than others include Be Thou My Vision.

3. Rock of Ages — but not to the tune we all love and know. I do love the traditional tune by the writer of the hymn, Augustus M. Toplady. But my favorite tune is New City Fellowship. Here is a version of it so you can get the idea. Be forewarned, it takes some time to get use to this tune. I remember the first time I heard Rock of Ages with the New City Fellowship tune at Park Cities Presbyterian Church of Dallas back in the 1990s. Like most people, it made me angry. Why couldn’t they just sing the traditional version? But the more familiar I became with the newer tune, the more I liked it.

4. Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing — What a rich hymn full of truth. I love verse three: O to grace how great a debtor, daily I’m constrained to be! Let Thy goodness, like a fetter, bind my wandering heart to Thee: Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it, Prone to leave the God I love: Here’s my heart, O take and seal it, Seal it for Thy courts above. What true believer does not realize how much we need our Savior’s hand to keep us from wandering. We are all like sheep who go astray, yet in His love for us, He brings us back to Him.

I have to tell on myself. When I first became a Christian, I learned about this song from a Buddy Greene album I bought and for years, thought he wrote it. He does an excellent job. 

5. It Is Well with My Soul — Loved because it captures the sovereignty of God so well. Anyone who has been around the church for any amount of time knows of the heartache and loss that produced this song. Horatio G. Spafford lost his four daughters to shipwreck in the Atlantic and he received a telegram from his wife who survived with the words: “Saved alone.”

When he crossed to the Atlantic to join his wife, he composed the song at the spot where his four daughters died. He can say and sing “it is well” because He is trusting in the sovereign Father in all things.

This list took me a long time to compile. There are so many great hymns, it was hard to narrow it down. While I intended to give you 10, five will have to do for now. What are some of your favorite hymns?

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31 thoughts on “Top 10, no Top 5 Favorite Hymns

  1. As a fellow lover of hymns, you might enjoy my section on Hymnody. (That stuff was from a book I was thinking of writing on the subject. Too bad I’m not that good at writing, eh?)

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    1. Hi Stan,
      Hallelujah! What a Savior is right! Yes, that is a good bit on hymnody. I’ve bookmarked it and will try to work my way through it with my coffee over the next few weeks. Thanks for your work on the hymns.

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  2. phoebehb

    You’ve given five of my top ten. Here might be the other five:

    *Great Is Thy Faithfulness (pure Bible, virtually every word)
    *Crown Him With Many Crowns (even as a child my heart soared every time my little Baptist congregation hit the words “Awake, my soul & sing/Of Him Who died for thee…”)
    *At Calvary (the last vs. being perhaps the single greatest hymn vs. ever penned:
    “O the love that drew salvation’s plan!
    O the grace that brought it down to man!
    O, the mighty gulf that God did span
    At Calvary.”
    *Abide With Me (unjustly pigeonholed as a funeral hymn, another childhood hymn that kept me from straying too far from God in my wilderness years: “Change & decay in all around I see/O Thou Who changest not, abide with me.”)
    *My Shepherd Will Supply My Need” (Isaac Watts’ achingly beautiful 17th century paraphrase of the 23rd Psalm. When I get to heaven the first person (after the Apostle Paul) I’m going to find and embrace in gratitude is Isaac Watts.

    If you don’t know it, stop whatever you’re doing, look & listen.

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    1. Phoebe,
      Yes, your next 2 will definitely be in the Top 10. I’m not as familiar with the other ones. I knew this post would generate more ideas. There are so many great hymns out there, it’s a shame that so many churches have shifted to “popular” music in order to be… popular, instead of being biblical.

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  3. phoebehb

    I must overrule your video version of Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing. Here is the incomparable Mack Wilberg’s arrangement, he conducting the BYU combined choirs.

    He makes four vss. of the original three by repeating the heart of the hymn: “Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it/Prone to leave the God I love….”.

    You should really sit down for this.

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    1. Yes, that is a much better rendition and I started to listen to it in my search, but saw the BYU connection and decided against it. It is the better production, but I’m quite certain that you, me and Buddy will all be heaven together to sing it, while those in the BYU crowd, probably not. Also, I met Buddy Greene when I first became a Christian and I really like him as a person. He is very genuine… and… PCA! 🙂

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      1. phoebehb

        Yes, it’s a pity, isn’t it. The comments to that video are a revelation. That lovely old hymn was written by an 18th century Methodist, has never been missing from the Southern Baptist hymnal I grew up with nor the one my ABC church uses now, was never incl. in the LDS hymnal until (LDS) Wilberg arranged and recorded it a few years ago; yet almost every LDSer’s comment calls it as a “Mormon” hymn. (Haven’t seen a single Methodist laying claim to it. Go figure.)

        I concluded years ago that the easiest way to ID a Christian cult is how their members describe their religious affiliation: when they say “Mormon” or “Catholic” or “Jehovah’s Witness” or “Christian Science” or “Quaker” or “Unitarian” , etc., rather than “Christian”, I always wonder that they wonder why some call them cults.

        But looking at those beautiful young faces, some with tears, all with so-obvious love of the truth in the words they’re singing, I can only trust God to bring every one of His sheep safely home and let myself be blessed by the magnificent music.

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    2. Re you comment below about “cults” (since that comment doesn’t have a reply button):

      I try to avoid using the word “cult” since it doesn’t have a very firm definition, and since so often I’ve been on the receiving end of it (first as a Charismatic and then as a Catholic). So often it comes to mean “people we disagree with.” But if you mean to apply it to “people who aren’t really Christian”: yes, many Mormons will tell you flat-out that they are not Christians. But I must disagree with you about Catholics. Most Catholics I’ve met identify themselves first as Christians, then as Catholics, much the same way folks identify themselves first as Christians, then as Baptists. If anybody identifies themselves first as a Catholic, it’s probably out of embarrassment and fear of precisely the reaction you’re having — the argument that they are not really Christian.

      If you’re going to call Catholics a “cult,” anyway, you should have a precise understanding of how you’re using that word. What about the Catholic Church do you suppose makes it a “cult”? I do hope you have something more in mind than “people we disagree with.”

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  4. Timothy, “All is Well” is my all time favorite Hymn. Check out 4 Him’s version on youtube. I would add, “The Love of God” to your list One verse in particular I love:
    “Could we with ink the ocean fill,
    And were the skies of parchment made,
    Were every stalk on earth a quill,
    And every man a scribe by trade;
    To write the love of God above
    Would drain the ocean dry;
    Nor could the scroll contain the whole,
    Though stretched from sky to sky”

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  5. phoebehb

    I hope this is not too long, but because it’s my own work I don’t know how to link it. It is one of the “Hymn Talks” I have for years occas. given before a notable hymn on Sunday morning. As you say in your comment on Be Thou My Vision, without the ageless, singable, universally-familiar, denomination-crossing hymns, Christians of different church backgrounds will never be able to sing together as they’ve done so many times in history–Abide With Me at Wembley, the many stories out of prisoner-of-war camps, as the Titanic was sinking….

    This happened in the giant auditorium at UCal/Berkeley in the early 70s when the Beatles and New Agers were introducing “Eastern” religions and occult mysticism to America.

    Some student body group organized a “Comparative Religions” seminar and invited representatives of the world’s major religions to speak: Islam/Judaism/Hinduism/ Buddhism/Christianity.

    The auditorium was packed to its ~6000 person capacity. One by one the speakers presented the basic precepts of their faith. The Buddhist talked of love, compassion & tolerance; that good & evil are meaningless words, that there is no deity higher than the self, that the highest state of being is “emptiness” of mind–no conflict, peace… Enthusiastic applause.

    The Muslim explained that the basic concept is Islam is “peace”: that it was the original religion given by God to Abraham but that Jews & Christians have distorted it. [Big round of applause.]

    The Rabbi said Judaism was for tolerance above all; that it didn’t seek converts from other religions, sought only to live in peace and do good. Polite applause.

    The Hindu emphasized the many roads to God, the importance of not eating meat or killing animals–even rats–for fear of killing or eating your grandmother in her present reincarnation, that out of a million or so deities there is one to please everyone…Huge sustained applause.

    The Christian minister had obviously been selected for the tentative nature of his belief in the Bible, and he started off with the “God is Love” passage. There were catcalls from the audience: “LOVE??? How about that flood your God sent to wipe out every innocent creature on earth?”

    The minister hemmed & hawed about modern science having proved that there was no universal flood–just local floods, that it was probably just a local legend…

    “What about HELL???”

    He explained that modern Christianity didn’t hold with a literal hell…

    One of the men sitting on the stage leaped to his feet and yelled, “Jesus claims He is the ONLY road to God? ‘No one comes to the Father but by me’…??” Where is the LOVE????”

    The crowd applauded until the moderator had to step to the microphone and ask that they let the speaker be heard. As the minister (who didn’t seem to know the Bible as well as his hecklers did) stammered & stuttered trying to formulate some non-exclusivist rationale for those passages , a strong male voice from the balcony began singing.

    After the first line of his song, neighboring voices picked it up, stood and joined him. The singing spread like ripples on a pond around the balcony and down to the main floor. By the end of the first verse thousands were on their feet thundering against the rafters of that auditorium:

    “All hail the power of Jesus’ name!
    Let angels prostrate fall;
    bring forth the royal diadem,
    and crown Him Lord of all.

    Ye chosen seed of Israel’s race,
    ye ransomed from the fall,
    hail Him who saves you by His grace,
    and crown Him Lord of all.

    Let every kindred, every tribe
    on this terrestrial ball,
    to Him all majesty ascribe,
    and crown Him Lord of all.

    O that with yonder sacred throng
    we at His feet may fall!
    We’ll join the everlasting song,
    and crown Him Lord of all.

    We’ll join the everlasting song,
    and crown Him Lord of all.”
    (Edward Perronet, 1780)

    The moderator hammered for silence, but the volume of the singing only increased. He finally gave up and gaveled the meeting to a close.

    *******
    This has long been called “The National Anthem of Christianity”, and when I was a child my own church and every church of every denomination I ever visited sang it at every morning service – usually as the opening hymn. So most every Christian, young & old, knew at least the first verse and had heard the rest of it often enough to follow along with most of the words. By the time I was 8 years old I certainly could have added my voice that night with every word of all four verses, and wouldn’t that have been the experience of a lifetime?

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      1. phoebehb

        Definitely Coronation. Simple & stately. The other two settings I’ve heard are nice for choirs but Coronation is more singable for congregations.

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  6. Those are all great ones. 🙂 “Be Thou My Vision” is definitely one of my top ones, too. Hmm, let me think:

    1. “My Jesus, I Love Thee” (Featherston, 1864)
    2. “Fairest Lord Jesus”
    3. “Be Thou My Vision”
    4. “As the Deer” (Marty Nystrom, 1981) [Is that too newfangled to be considered a “hymn”?]
    5. “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” [I do sometimes get Christmassy]
    6. “Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence” [quickly moving up the ranks]
    7. “Nothing but the Blood” [These last few let my Southern Gospel roots show a little]
    8. “Victory in Jesus”
    9. “Power in the Blood”
    10. “All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name” (to the tune of “Coronation” by Holden; I’ve never gotten into it with any other one)

    (This order is actually kind of random, since I listed them in the order I thought of them.)

    A Catholic worship song (can it be called a hymn? I think so) that I’ve really come to love:
    “In the Breaking of the Bread” (Michael Philip Ward, 1986)

    An ancient Latin hymn that I love, set to music that I love
    “Ubi Caritas” (arranged by Bob Hurd)

    An ancient Greek hymn, whose English translation was set to music by David Crowder Band and is pretty awesome:
    “Phos Hilaron”

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    1. I had to look up Coronation by Holden to figure out which tune that was. I do enjoy that one, but also enjoy when it is sung to Diadem as well. Our hymn book, the one I just shifted to, has a third tune: Miles Lane. But I’m unfamiliar with that one.

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  7. My favorite is “O Come My Soul, Bless Thou the Lord” based on Psalm 103, especially verses 2-5. In my youth the CRC PsalterHymnal combined verses 2&3 and 4&5 to the tune of what is commonly known as Danny Boy. Whenever I heard Danny Boy sung I was always reminded of this song.

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    1. Hi Marvin,
      I checked it out on Youtube and I really like that hymn and remember singing it. Alas, it’s not in our current hymn book, or the one I’m hoping to discard. But it is a great hymn and I will see if I can get the sheet music for it so we can sing it in the future.

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  8. Tim is a musician and has several hymnals. We both agree that the old hymns have more theological meat to them. Some of my favorites are:
    In the Garden
    The Lily of the Valley
    Surely Goodness and Mercy
    As the Deer
    Battle Hymn of the Republic
    Crown Him with Many Crowns
    To God Be the Glory
    Joyful Joyful We Adore Thee
    O Worship the King
    I Will Sing of My Redeemer
    …and there are many more that I love to sing to my precious King! Growing up in the Nazarene Church, we only sang the old hymns…so I know many.
    Blessings, Julie

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    1. Aww, Lily of the Valley. That was one of my little childhood church’s favorites. I loved (still do) singing the line, “A wall of fire about me, I’ve nothing now to fear”.

      And Joseph, bit of hymn trivia: Nothing But the Blood of Jesus has the shortest range of notes of any hymn: five, incl. vss. & chorus.
      Verse: CCCDEGE/CCCDEEDC
      Chorus:GEDEGE/DDCDDEG…….

      And Fairest Lord Jesus should have been in my top ten, maybe at the top. I close my pre-service prelude with it every Sunday.

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    2. No, not Battle Hymn of the Republic! It’s not saying what you think it is saying!!! Do some research on it. I don’t believe it was written by a Christian even though hit has allusions to it.

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      1. It was written by Julia Ward Howe, an abolitionist and a Unitarian, which, you’re right, was not orthodox Christian (they denied the Trinity and the Atonement and a lot of mother important stuff). It uses imagery of divine judgment and biblical allusions to present the Civil War as a war of retribution for the sins of slavery. The words are very powerful and belligerent, and if God wants to use them, I don’t see why He can’t, but yeah, we should remember what it’s about.

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  9. We allow it and love it. We sing only the four vss. that have not a single word that doesn’t glorify God. My favorite:
    “He has sounded forth the trumpet that shall never call retreat;
    He is sifting out the hearts of men before the judgment seat;
    O be swift, my soul, to answer Him, be jubilant, my feet! [I want “jubilant feet”!!]
    Our God is marching on.”

    To the pure all things are pure. If we started vetting the private lives of all the people who wrote our hymns, we might have to jettison a lot of them, including Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing” (seems the writer converted to Unitarianism late in life).

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    1. I agree Phoebe. My husband loves the Battle Hymn of the Republic, loves playing it on the piano, and loves belting it out amongst other believers in the congregation!

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  10. phoebehb

    Ignore this post and go to:
    https://timothyjhammons.com/2013/04/12/for-phoebe-joseph-rcc-cult-or-not/

    Joseph, I just noticed your comment:
    >If you’re going to call Catholics a “cult,” anyway, you should have a precise understanding of how you’re using that word. What about the Catholic Church do you suppose makes it a “cult”? I do hope you have something more in mind than “people we disagree with.<
    _________________________________
    I always try to have a reason for any opinion, Joseph.

    In recent years there's been an explosion of new–usually highly-attenuated–definitions of what constitutes "a cult of Christianity", most of them clearly tailored by one group or another to exclude itself 😀 . But in my day–I am 77–there was just one venerable, consensual (among non-Catholics) five-point definition; any one of the five points being a red flag, all five inarguably defining the accursed "another Gospel" of Galatians 1:6-9.

    I'll leave it to you to decide if the RCC fits the classic definition.

    1) Extra-Biblical Revelation accorded authority equal to or greater than the Bible's';

    ["Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture make up a single sacred deposit of the Word of God . . ." (Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 97)
    "The apostles left bishops as their successors. They gave them their own position of teaching authority.'" (Par. 77).
    "This living transmission, accomplished through the Holy Spirit, is called tradition…" (Par. 78).
    "Both Scripture and Tradition must be accepted and honored with equal sentiments of devotion and reverence." (Par. 82).]

    2) Leader[s] claiming supernatural powers, knowledge, authority via a special or unique relationship with God;

    [Re: Papal infallibility. Here's what catholic.com has to say about it (I won't give the link lest I run into the "too many links" problem):

    "As Christians began to more clearly understand the teaching authority of the Church and of the primacy of the pope, they developed a clearer understanding of the pope’s infallibility. This development of the faithful’s understanding has its clear beginnings in the early Church. For example, Cyprian of Carthage, writing about 256, put the question this way, 'Would the heretics dare to come to the very seat of Peter whence apostolic faith is derived and whither no errors can come?' (Letters 59 [55], 14). In the fifth century, Augustine succinctly captured the ancient attitude when he remarked, 'Rome has spoken; the case is concluded" (Sermons 131, 10).

    So the 1870 dogma of papal infallibility was simply rubber-stamping what "Christians" had long accepted? Not according to this fascinating account of Vatican 1:
    [http://orthodoxinfo.com/inquirers/papaldogma.aspx]

    3) Subtracts from the Bible: Denial of one or more central doctrines of NT/apostolic Christian faith;
    [http://excatholic.baptist.org/faith-alone/]

    4) Adds to the Bible: dogma foreign to or in contradiction to the NT.

    [Too much to list: infant baptism, purgatory, indulgences, Mariology ("co-Mediatrix", etc.), confession, celibacy of priests & nuns, sole authority to correctly interpret Bible, calling priests "father…..

    "In the 1490’s an Oxford professor, the personal physician to King Henry the 7th and 8th, Thomas Linacre, decided to learn Greek. After reading the Gospels in Greek, and comparing it to the Latin Vulgate, he wrote in his diary, “Either this (the original Greek) is not the Gospel… or we are not Christians.”]

    5) Claims to be the one true, essential-for-salvation church.

    [According Pope Benedict in 2007, "Protestant and other Christian denominations [are] not true churches but merely ecclesial communities and therefore [do] not have the “means of salvation.”
    http://www.nbcnews.com/id/19692094/ns/world_news-europe/t/pope-other-denominations-not-true-churches/ ]
    …………………………

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  11. phoebehb

    I just replied to Joseph’s objection to my listing the RCC as a cult. I included only two links, wishing to avoid it being held for approval.

    Pastor T., please find it, read it, and–unless you find it objectionable–post it or inform me of your reasons for not posting it.

    If it doesn’t appear today I will not post on this blog again. It is frustrating to compose a thoughtful & civil comment on a serious matter only to have it disappear unread into the Blue Nowhere.

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  12. phoebehb

    Great. Now back to hymns. Several years ago I found in an old hymnal a song I was so smitten with–both the perfectly lovely words & the lyrical melody–I used it as the theme song for that year’s Vacation Bible School. Everyone loved so much that it is now a fixture at every summer’s VBS.

    The Ships Glide in at the Harbor’s Mouth
    http://www.hymntime.com/tch/htm/s/h/i/shiglide.htm

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