A pastor friend of mine contacted me this week and asked if I had written an article on my “top twenty” hymns. The reason he asked me for this is that he pastors a church that has not been using much in the way of traditional hymnody for a number of years, and they are now trying to introduce more hymns into their congregational singing. He wanted a good list of hymns for them to use as they try to reincorporate hymns into the diet of their Sunday worship services.
Well, as it turns out, I haven’t ever written an article on my “top twenty” hymns, even though I teach Worship at Reformed Theological Seminary, and I have a substantial section in that course on hymnology. In fact, I’ve never written down a list of my top 3 or 5 or 10 or 20 favorite hymns, but his question got me thinking: what hymns would I recommend to any and every pastor and church for regular usage. I jotted down some ideas and sent them off to him, and I’ve been reflecting on a “must know” list of hymns ever since.
Before I offer a preliminary list, let me make just a few qualifications.
First, the list of hymns I’m about to suggest is deliberately designed to be theologically compatible with Protestant churches in the Reformed tradition (Presbyterian, Baptist, Anglican, Congregational, etc). These hymns would find themselves at home in churches where the Westminster Confession of Faith, the Thirty Nine Articles, the London Baptist Confession (1689), New Hampshire Confession, or the Savoy Declaration are esteemed.
Second, most of these hymns are found in the Trinity Hymnal (Great Commission Publications). The so-called “Red Trinity Hymnal” is a widely used hymnal in the PCA and OPC (Great Commission Publications is a joint effort of these denominations). Attention has been given to make sure that the lyrics of the hymns are theologically compatible with historic creedal and confessional Christianity.
Third, friends in significantly multiethnic and cross cultural settings will have an extra layer of work to do in thinking through the diet of sung praise in their churches. For instance, Mike Campbell, founding pastor of Redeemer Church (PCA) in Jackson, MS, sat down with a Trinity Hymnal and an African American Heritage Hymnal, and chose to utilize the hymns they shared in common.
Fourth, I have not aimed here at producing a list of hymns that cover the whole scope of biblical doctrine. I have tried to think of hymn and tune combinations that will help “win over” a congregation to the treasures of the church’s hymnody. Once the congregation comes to know and love some of these great traditional texts and tunes, then the pastor and musicians can began to expand the hymn repertoire of the congregation in order to cover more important biblical themes.
Fifth, sing psalms too! I am going to list a few of the best metrical psalm texts and tunes here to encourage you to try them. In an ideal contemporary Protestant Lord’s Day service there ought to be at least one solid traditional hymn and one psalm, whatever other material is used for praise.
Sixth, I have not listed Christmas carols, in part, because this is the part of traditional hymnody that has best persisted as the rest of hymnody disappeared in American churches over the last half century. I may well add “the best of the best” Christmas carols to a future version of this list.
Seventh, this list is a work in progress. I welcome criticisms, input, suggestions, comments and more. I’m just trying to help pastors and congregations with the suggestions here.
Eighth, and finally, I have a pet theory (so don’t start a new denomination over this!) that the average congregant either can’t or doesn’t know more than about 200 hymns/songs/tunes. That is, even in churches that have used a wide range of traditional hymnody and “stretched” their members to sing, say, 200-400 songs over the matter of a relatively short duration, I don’t think that the average, non-musician, member really knows, or perhaps can know, more than 200 songs, and most, very likely, know substantially fewer. My guess is that this number has shrunk over the last fifty years, and may be closer to 50. So what, you ask? Well, there are many ramifications but what I want the pastor to realize is that if the average member only knows somewhere between 50-200 songs, and possibly can’t or won’t know more than that, we better be sure that they know the very best songs possible, lyrically and melodically.
Now, a quick note on resources: there are some outstanding online sources that should be well-known to pastors and others involved in choosing the hymnody and psalmody for Lord’s Day Worship Services. I list a few here. These sites have material on both traditional and contemporary hymnody
Cyber Hymnal http://www.hymntime.com/tch/
Doxology & Theology http://www.doxologyandtheology.com/
Indelible Grace Music http://www.igracemusic.com/
Matt Merker Music https://www.mattmerkermusic.com/
Music for the Church of God http://www.cgmusic.org/
Psalter.org (RPCNA, Crown & Covenant) http://psalter.org/
Sovereign Grace Music https://sovereigngracemusic.org/
Trinity Hymnal Resources (OPC) http://www.opc.org/hymnal.html (This site features the “Old” or “Blue” Trinity Hymnal, predecessor to the “New” or “Red” Trinity Hymnal cited below), but there is a lot of overlap.
Part of the reason that I’ve chosen these hymns below is that they still “work” in contemporary English-speaking American Protestant congregations, with their traditional tunes (though some of them also have very good contemporary tunes now associated with them, and I recommend a number of these). I have been in multiple church and conference settings, in every part of the country (and all over the English-speaking world), in places where most of the material given to the congregation to sing is drawn from current popular Christian music, and whenever a hymn of the quality of the ones I am going to suggest below is sung, those congregations/conferences have invariably sung the hymn better than whatever else they had been singing. Which fascinates me. At multiple levels.
So, again, the hymns below are not just or even a “favorite hymns list,” (I have left out many personal favorites, and have included others that are not among my personal favorites), nor is this a “best ever hymns list” (many of the hymns here wouldn’t rank highly on a best all time hymn list), but all of these hymns are sturdy, and in combination with their tunes will resonate with a congregation. These are hymns and tunes that not only still “work” in our time and culture, but often prove more singable than other materials that our congregations use.
There are just under a hundred hymns and psalms recommended here (and about that many unique tunes). In the left hand column is the hymn number in the Trinity Hymnal, then comes the hymn name, followed by the hymn tune name. You will note that there are almost no duplicated hymn tunes (those used more than once are marked with an * asterisk).
Hymns of Praise to God
92 A Mighty Fortress is Our God – Ein’ Feste Burg
115 All Creatures of our God and King – Lasst Uns Erfreuen
642 Be Thou My Vision – Slane
101 Come, Thou Almighty King – Trinity
32 Great is Thy Faithfulness – Faithfulness
100 Holy! Holy! Holy! – Nicea
44 How Great Thou Art – O Store Gud
38 Immortal, Invisible, God Only Wise – Joanna (St. Denio)*
2 O Worship the King – Lyons*
53 Praise to the Lord, the Almighty – Lobe Den Herren
76/7 Praise, My Soul, the King of Heaven – Lauda Anima, or Andrews
55 To God Be the Glory – To God Be the Glory
Jesus Christ the Savior
296/7 All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name – Coronation, Diadem, or Miles’ Lane
277 Christ the Lord is Risen Today – Llanfair
302 Come, Christians, Join to Sing – Madrid
295 Crown Him with Many Crowns – Diademata
170/1 Fairest Lord Jesus – Crusader’s Hymn
647 How Sweet the Name of Jesus Sounds – St. Peter
168 I Greet Thee, Who My Sure Redeemer Art – Toulon
498 Jesus! What a Friend for Sinners! – Hyfrydol
172 Let Us Love and Sing and Wonder – All Saints Old
246 Man of Sorrows! What a Name – Hallelujah! What a Savior!
465 Marvelous Grace of Our Loving Lord – Moody
307 Nothing but the Blood – Plainfield
164 O For a Thousand Tongues – Azmon
247 O Sacred Head, Now Wounded – Passion Chorale
167 When Morning Gilds the Skies – Laudes Domini
463 A Debtor to Mercy Alone – Trewen
254 Alas! and Did My Savior Bleed – Martyrdom
460 Amazing Grace – Amazing Grace
455 And Can It Be – Sagina
466 I Sought the Lord, and Afterward I Knew – Peace
182 My Song is Love Unknown – Love Unknown
535 O the Deep, Deep Love of Jesus! – Ebenezer (or Ton-Y Botel)
499 Rock of Ages, Cleft for Me – Toplady
253 There Is a Fountain Filled with Blood – Fountain
261 What Wondrous Love is This – Wondrous Love
252 When I Survey the Wondrous Cross – Hamburg
The Christian Life
540 A Few More Years Shall Roll – Leominster
401 All Praise to Thee, My God, This Night – Tallis’ Canon
402 Abide with Me: Fast Falls the Eventide – Eventide (Monk)
305 Arise, My Soul, Arise – Lenox
689 Be Still, My Soul – Finlandia
251 Beneath the Cross of Jesus – St. Christopher
457 Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing – Nettleton
128 God Moves in a Mysterious Way – Dundee
598 Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah – Cwm Rhondda
600 He Leadeth Me: O Blessed Thought – He Leadeth Me
94 How Firm a Foundation – Foundation
469 How Sweet and Awesome is the Place – St. Columbia
705 I Know Whom I Have Believed – El Nathan
691 It is Well with My Soul – Ville Du Havre
644 May the Mind of Christ My Savior – St. Leonard’s
521/2 My Hope is Built on Nothing Less – Solid Rock
707 Jesus, I My Cross Have Taken – Ellesdie
706 Jesus Lives, and So Shall I – Jesus, Meine Zuversicht
616 Leaning on the Everlasting Arms – Showalter
708 O Love That Wilt Not Let Me Go – St. Margaret
546 The Sands of Time Are Sinking – Rutherford
111 This is My Father’s World – Terra Beata
95 Though Troubles Assail Us – Joanna (St. Denio)*
624 Through All the Changing Scenes of Life – Downs
672 Trust and Obey – Trust and Obey
629 What a Friend We Have in Jesus – What a Friend
108 What’er My God Ordains is Right – Was Gott Tut
Church and Sacraments
358 For All the Saints – Sine Nomine
345 Glorious Things of Thee are Spoken – Austrian Hymn
378 Here, O My Lord, I See Thee Face to Face – Morecambe
353 I Love Thy Kingdom, Lord – St. Thomas
347 The Church’s One Foundation – Aurelia
441 Jesus Shall Reign Where’er the Sun – Duke Street*
448 We Have Heard the Joyful Sound – Jesus Saves
587/8 Who is on the Lord’s Side? – Armageddon
165 Ye Servants of God, Your Master Proclaim – Lyons*
715 Come, Ye Thankful People, Come – St. George’s Windsor
116 For the Beauty of the Earth – Dix
98 Now Thank We All Our God – Nun Danket
363 We Gather Together – Kremser
A Christian’s Daily Prayer – Merker, Fournier, Kauflin
305 Arise, My Soul, Arise – Kevin Twit (RUF)
Before the Throne of God Above – Vikki Cook (SGM)
Come Behold the Wondrous Mystery – Boswell, Papa, Bleecker
Dear Refuge of My Weary Soul – Matt Merker
554 From Depths of Woe – Christopher Miner (RUF)
He will Hold Me Fast – Matt Merker
In Christ Alone – Getty/Townend
707 Jesus, I My Cross Have Taken – Bill Moore (RUF)
392 O Day of Rest and Gladness – Christopher Miner (RUF)
708 O Love That Wilt Not Let Me Go – Christopher Miner (RUF)
The Power of the Cross – Getty/Townend
1 All People That on Earth Do Dwell (Psalm 100) – Old Hundredth
7 From All that Dwell below the Skies (Psalm 117) – Duke Street*
486 God, Be Merciful to Me (Psalm 51) – Redhead
57 Hallelujah, Praise Jehovah (Psalm 146) – Ripley
30 Our God, Our Help in Ages Past (Psalm 90) – St. Anne
85/6/7 The Lord’s My Shepherd (Psalm 23) – Crimond
731/2/3 Doxology – Old Hundredth, mod., or Tallis’ Canon
734/5 Gloria Patri – Greatorex, or Meineke