Friday, 13 March 2009

The stupidest hymn ever written

In the previous post, I mentioned that hymn-writing has not declined: hymns have always been mainly bad; the selection of a very small number of highlights for our modern hymnbooks simply creates the misleading impression that earlier generations were better, more profound songwriters.

If you need any proof, Steve Holmes posts these amazing verses from the 18th century – this hymn probably deserves the title of the stupidest thing ever written (seriously, you could never find a contemporary hymn even remotely as stupid as this). It’s a stirring anti-Muslim tirade, written for the worship and edification of the saints:

The smoke of the infernal cave,
Which half the Christian world o’erspread,
Disperse, Thou heavenly Light, and save
The souls by that Impostor led,
That Arab-chief, as Satan bold,
Who quite destroy’d Thy Asian fold.

O might the blood of sprinkling cry
For those who spurn the sprinkled blood!
Assert Thy glorious Deity,
Stretch out Thine arm, Thou Triune God
The Unitarian fiend expel,
And chase his doctrine back to hell.

Try singing it to the tune of “When I Survey Thy Wondrous Cross.” It’s very moving: I always get goosebumps when I sing the line about the “Unitarian fiend.” So who do you think wrote this liturgical gem? Why, it was Charles Wesley himself – the greatest hymn-writer who ever lived! As Steve observes, Charles Wesley published about 6,000 hymns – today, we still sing perhaps 20 of them. What happened to the other 5980? They were sung for a while (like our own contemporary ditties), then mercifully forgotten.

Steve also posts this little beauty, penned by a Baptist hymn-writer in 1696 – come on, lift your hands to the Lord and sing it with me now (to the tune of “Crown Him with Many Crowns”):

All mixtures, Lord, in Doctrine
And Practice thou dost hate;
Ourselves therefore with wicked men
Let’s not associate!

And John Stackhouse wants to complain about Chris Tomlin? Seriously? To accuse Tomlin of writing lyrics “considerably stupider than [those of] our much less educated Christian forebears”? Crikey, the man might as well be Shakespeare compared to these creative efforts of our esteemed “forebears”.

The moral of the story? That (for reasons difficult to fathom) the church of Jesus Christ can survive and preserve its witness even in spite of all the hymns and hymn-writers and hymnals – perhaps even in spite of all the worship CDs and worship leaders and worship committees. “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”

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