- The purpose of singing hymns in the meeting is to express our corporate feeling.
- We need to know hymns according to their categories, and according to the measure of Christ enjoyed by the writer.
- Each saint has the responsibility to choose hymns according to the leading of the Spirit.
The Purpose of Hymns
In order to select hymns, we must first know the purpose of hymns. Why do we need to sing hymns in a meeting? The hymns that the brothers and sisters typically select show that we do not know the purpose of selecting hymns, and we do not know that a hymn is a poem. A poem is for the expression of feelings. A poem is different from an essay. Whereas an essay may be written according to a train of thought, a poem requires inspiration. To be inspired is to be aroused with a feeling. We must be touched before we can write a poem. Without any feeling there will be no poem. A poem, a hymn, is the expression of our feeling.
Songs are the expression of man’s finest feelings. The sentiments of man’s prayer before God cannot match the sentiments of his songs before God; the former are never as fine and tender as the latter. God wants us to have fine and tender feelings. This is why He gives us many kinds of songs in the Bible. In addition to the Psalms, the Song of Songs, and Lamentations, there are also songs in the history and the commandments (Exo. 15:1-18; Deut. 32:1-43). Even in Paul’s Epistles, we find hymns interspersed in his teachings (Rom. 11:33-36; 1 Tim. 3:16; etc.). All these examples show us that God wants His people to have fine and tender feelings.
When we come together and choose hymns, we must hold firmly to this secret. There is always an atmosphere when the saints gather together. We need to learn to sense the atmosphere, the feeling. When we touch the atmosphere, the feeling, we can select an appropriate hymn from our memory that matches the feeling we sense. At the end of a meeting, if we sense that the feeling of the brothers and sisters is that the Lord Jesus is exalted, we should sing “All in all forever, / Only Christ I’ll sing” (Hymns, #513, chorus). This hymn can express the feeling of the brothers’ and sisters’ exaltation of Christ.
Since a hymn is for the expression of feelings, we must touch the feeling of the ones who are singing when we select a hymn. If a hymn matches the feeling of those who are singing, they will be released and will express their inner feeling through the hymn. Hence, we must be familiar with the hymns.
Concerning the selection of hymns, we need a twofold knowledge. First, we need to know the hymns in their categories; second, we need to know the progression of singing in a meeting. According to categories, there are hymns on preaching the gospel, prayer, spiritual pursuit, spiritual edification, spiritual warfare, praise, bread breaking, and worship. We must be familiar with all the categories. Otherwise, we may touch the Lord’s presence and sense His glory yet select a hymn on rising up to preach the gospel. This would not be fitting, and it would not be proper. For this reason we must spend time to study our hymns.
We must also know the progression of singing in a meeting. In a table meeting the first hymn is a beginning hymn, which should be longer in order to calm the saints’ hearts and bring the saints to the Lord. Because a meeting has a beginning section, there are beginning hymns.
The experience of Christ among God’s people is not the same. In God’s ordination the good land is allotted to His people in different degrees. The New Testament clearly tells us that, “God has apportioned to each a measure of faith” (Rom. 12:3). We are also told that, “all the members do not have the same function” (v. 4). Therefore, God gives grace to each member according to its function in the Body (Eph. 4:7). This is God’s ordination and the divine allotment.
Our hymnal, which was compiled in 1963 and 1964, illustrates this allotment. I would ask you to compare John Nelson Darby’s hymn on the exaltation of Christ (Hymns, #127) with Charles Wesley’s hymn on the incarnation of Christ (#84). As we compare these two hymns, we see that Darby’s hymn is higher than Wesley’s. This indicates that Darby’s experience of Christ as expressed in his hymn was higher than Wesley’s as expressed in his hymn. Although both Darby and Wesley experienced Christ as a bullock, Darby’s bullock was larger than Wesley’s.
Hymns are poetry, and every poem is an expression of the writer’s sentiment. The word sentiment means more than just a feeling. This word implies feeling, realization, understanding, and appreciation. The more we consider our sentiment, the more we will have the burden to write poetry. The kind of sentiment expressed in a particular hymn is a measure of that writer’s enjoyment of Christ; it indicates the “size” of the Christ experienced and enjoyed by that writer. Thus, Wesley wrote his hymn on the incarnation of Christ according to his sentiment, and Darby wrote his hymn on the exaltation of Christ according to his sentiment. Both hymns were written according to the measure of the Christ enjoyed by the writers.
Leading the meetings is not the responsibility of the elders and deacons only; it is the responsibility of all the saints. Hence, we have an obligation to learn to select hymns. If we are unable to select appropriate hymns, how can we have good meetings? The responsible brothers in all the localities should avoid replacing the saints in selecting hymns at the beginning of a meeting. Any saint can select a hymn according to the moving of the Spirit. In this matter the sisters are not excluded; they can also pray and sing according to the moving of the Spirit. The responsible brothers should never be the only ones to take care of the beginning and ending of a meeting. The responsible brothers are responsible for the administration of the church, that is, to take the lead in administrating the church. However, at the table meeting all the saints come together before the Lord. Moreover, blessing the bread and the cup should not be done exclusively by the responsible brothers. Rather, the responsible brothers should perfect the newly saved ones to bless the bread and the cup. For example, we can begin to perfect a brother who was saved and baptized yesterday to bless the bread and the cup and to pass them to the saints at the table meeting.
When we come into a meeting, we should be prepared in spirit, our entire being should be open to the Lord and to the meeting, and we should exercise our spirit to touch the atmosphere of the meeting. Then we will be a channel for the Holy Spirit, and He will be able to use us as a channel to bear responsibility for the meeting.
if we do not know how to meet when we come together, when the Holy Spirit touches a brother, he may not move. Then the Holy Spirit will find another brother, who also would ignore Him. The Holy Spirit will then come to yet another brother, who also may not think that the meeting is his responsibility. In this case, the Holy Spirit will not be able to find a channel, and the meeting will be poor. However, if the Holy Spirit can find the proper channels in the meeting, the brothers and sisters will enjoy coming to the meetings, because they will be inwardly touched by God and will testify that God is indeed among us in our meetings.
It is difficult when a Christian goes to a meeting but does not know how to sing hymns. Prayer is often neglected in the meeting, but hymn singing is neglected even more. We must learn to sing hymns. We are not trying to be musicians, but we should be familiar with the hymns. This is an important matter. We must first familiarize ourselves with the table of contents of the hymnal. We must remember clearly how the hymns are classified. If you understand the principle of classification, memorize the nature and use of every category, and know the location of each hymn, you readily will find the desired hymn when you have a need.
Find a hymn which is most applicable to you and learn it. Understand the words and the punctuation, and find how the writer’s thoughts unfold from beginning to end. Your heart has to be open. You have to have sensitive feelings, a pliable will, and a clear mind.
After all this, you still need to learn to sing. You can learn two to three hymns a week. At the beginning, if you cannot sing, you can hum a few tunes every morning, or you can make up simple tunes to hum to the hymn. Through this you will touch the spirit of the hymn and increase your spiritual senses.
Hymns cultivate fine and tender spiritual feelings in a Christian. I hope that we can all learn something before God. If we can come to God in a fine and tender way, we will develop a more intimate fellowship with God. Thank the Lord that in eternity all our feelings will be fine and tender. We know that the praises in the heavens are more than the prayers on earth. Prayers will go away, but praises will fill the universe in eternity.
- What is the “secret” of choosing hymns?
- What is a hymn that has helped you express your feelings to the Lord?
- Who should choose hymns in the meetings?
- Consider a hymn that you have learned in the past. Based on the principles in this reading, what are some further things that you could learn about that hymn (i.e. sentiment, wording, punctuation, author, etc)?
Excerpts taken from Guidelines for the Lord’s Table Meeting and the Pursuit in Life, Chapters 4-5; Life-study of Joshua, Message 11; Messages for Building Up New Believers (1), Chapter 15
SUPPLEMENT: RECOMMENDED HYMNS
The “secret” to calling hymns is to select hymns that match the atmosphere of the meeting. However, to be able to call these from memory requires knowledge of the hymns, and the hymns vary in substance based off the experience of the hymn’s writer. Below is a representative sampling of treasured, recommended hymns for different sections of the meeting that reflects fine and tender feelings, and substantial experiences of Christ on the part of the writers. This list is simply representative and not intended to be exhaustive or official in any way.
1. Opening hymns that calm the saints’ hearts and bring the saints to the Lord.
- 162, With praise and thanksgiving
- 171, Lord Jesus Christ, our heart feels sweet
- 523, I have come to the Fountain of Life
- 1125, Down at the cross where my Savior died
- 1170, The Lord is my Shepherd forever
2. Hymns that praise and remember the Lord focusing on the Lord Himself, and particular lines appreciating His Person, and His work
- 86, Though Thou art God, most glorious, high
- 124, Praise Him, Praise Him, Christ is Victor
- 152, O how deep, and how far-reaching
- 169, Thou, Lord, to God art precious
- 170, Lord, Thou art our lovely Bridegroom
- 189, Thou art the Son Beloved
- 190, O Lord, as we consider Thee
- 199, Thou art the Rock everlasting
- 223, On the table of Thy love
- 233, O what a miracle, my Lord
- 295, God’s Christ, who is my righteousness
- 1104, Lord, Thou art our peace offering
- 1174, What a victory! What a triumph!
3. Hymns that worship the Father as the Firstborn leads our praise in the midst of the church
- 1, Glory be to God the Father
- 12, O God, Thou art the source of life
- 13, Thou art love and Thou art light, Lord
- 16, Our Father as the evergreen
- 30, What love Thou hast bestowed on us
- 32, We bow and worship, Father, here
- 50, Father, Thy Son beloved leads our praise
- 608, What mystery, the Father, Son, and Spirit
4. Hymns that express special sentiments at times there are particular tender, sentiments that our appreciation of His supper may release, related to the Lord’s coming and His presence
- 491, Lord, Thou didst know when in the flesh
- 549, Enter the veil and go without the camp
- 959, Since Thy departure from Olivet’s mountain
- 1159, Jesus Lord, I’m captured by Thy beauty