What Makes a Good Hymn?

12So then, just as sin entered the world through one man and death through sin, so also death spread to all people because all sinned.

 18So then, just as one trespass led to a verdict of condemnation for all people, so also one righteous verdict led to life-giving justification for all people. 19For just as through the disobedience of one man the many became sinners, so also through the obedience of one man the many will become righteous. (Romans 5:12, 18-19– EHV)

1  All mankind fell in Adam’s fall; 
   One common sin infects us all.
   From one to all the curse descends, 
   And over all God’s wrath impends.

4  But Christ, the second Adam, came 
   To bear our sin and woe and shame,
   To be our life, our light, our way, 
   Our only hope, our only stay.

5  As by one man all mankind fell
   And, born in sin, was doomed to hell,
   So by one Man, who took our place, 
   We all were justified by grace.

“All Mankind Fell in Adam’s Fall” --CW 378 (Stanzas 1, 4-5)

What makes a good hymn? I’m sure you have some opinions on this question! And certainly favorite hymns are subjective—each person has different tastes and that taste extends to hymns. And yet there is a way to objectively answer this question: what makes a good hymn?

For many people the melody/tune makes or breaks a hymn. And that most certainly is important. There are many hymns with great lyrics, but we rarely sing them because they are set to a tune that is hard to sing. Perhaps Luther’s, “Christ Jesus lay in Death’s strong bands” is the perfect example of this. It is found in both Christian Worship and in the Christian Worship Supplement, but despite its great words, it hasn’t really caught in our congregations because the tune is not the easiest for us 21st century Christians to sing. So the melody/tune does play a part—but should it be the most important part? Most definitely not. There are many secular tunes that are beautiful, but the words are anything but! And there are many spiritual songs that may have a great melody, but their words are essentially empty. And when it comes down to it, we don’t sing a hymn because of the melody, but because of the words—unlike some secular songs (how often have you tried to sing along with a song while stumbling over the actual lyrics).

So good words are most certainly important. And as far as the Lutheran Church is concerned, we aren’t primarily concerned with touching feelings and emotions. Sure, that certainly plays a part in the hymns that we sing—Lenten hymns are typically slow and somber as we remember our sins and the suffering and death of Jesus. But Easter hymns are faster and are filled with joy and excitement as Jesus burst from the tomb to win for us the ultimate victory. But again, that’s not the primary concern—the words are! A good hymn teaches the truth; a good hymn confesses what God’s Word says and is set to a tune that makes it easy to remember/memorize.

Take our first hymn from Sunday—three of the stanzas are printed above and compare it to our sermon text this past Sunday. Notice how this hymn portrays the words of Scripture. It clearly teaches law and gospel just as Romans 5 does: we are sinners from Adam who deserve God’s wrath; but Christ came took our sin upon himself, suffered our eternal shame, and through him we are justified! What comfort and assurance we receive when we sing this hymn because of the great law and gospel content found therein!

You’ll notice that sometimes recognizing a good hymn takes work—or at least a good hymn requires us to work a little. Do you know what justification is, as is mentioned in the last line of stanza five? I recently heard a hymn (not in our current hymnal), that uses the word, propitiation. Do you know what that word is? If we didn’t sing this hymn this week connected to our sermon text, would you have made the connection between this hymn and Romans 5, or any other portion of Scripture? Sometimes a good hymn leads us to study God’s Word and to pay attention to the lyrics and not let our minds wander—and that’s a good thing! Hymns aren’t to be mindless, pointless words, but hymns are to teach the truth of Scripture.

Far too often, when it comes to hymns, we focus too much on the melody/tune and the feelings and emotions it conjures up. Not that those things are unimportant, but they are not what makes a good hymn in and of themselves. I’m not saying that “All Mankind Fell in Adam’s Fall” is one of the best hymns or should be one of your favorites, but it is a good example of a good hymn—a solidly Lutheran hymn, because it clearly teaches the truth and assures us of our salvation (So by one Man, who took our place, We all were justified by grace.)—and that is what makes a good hymn.

Pastor Andrew Frey


Church News

Bible Information Class

We are looking to start a new Bible Information Class (BIC), otherwise known as an Adult Instruction Class. We highly encourage our members to attend as a simple review of the Christian faith—or better yet, invite someone new and come with them! If you are interested in attending or know someone who may be, please speak to Pastor Frey.

Bible Classes

On Sunday mornings, Pastor Frey will be leading a study on the books of Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther—three books, written at an interesting point in the history of God’s people—and yet three books we probably don’t know much about.

On Monday mornings and Tuesday evenings Pastor Gartner will be leading a study on the distinction between law and gospel. Knowing the difference between these two main teachings of the Bible is of the up-most importance. And yet, knowing when and how to apply these two teachings is something that no one can completely master this side of heaven. This study will more assuredly be a great benefit for all who attend.

NOTE: We do have audio recordings and the Lesson Sheets of these Bible Classes. If you have been unable to attend and would like these sent to you, please email Pastor Frey or Pastor Gartner.

Lent 2020

We will once again be having our midweek Lenten service at 10:30am and 6:30pm. Light refreshments will be served before and after our morning service, while Lenten meals will be served starting at 5:30 before our evening service. Please sign-up on the sheets in the entryway if you are interested in attended the meal each week. Please also note that confirmation class during the Lenten season will be held from 5:00-6:00.

This year our theme is: “The Son of God Goes Forth to War.” When many people picture Jesus they see him as a Gentle Shepherd, a patient teacher, or on his heavenly throne in his full glory. This Lenten season we will be taking a look at Jesus’ role as a warrior. He is the one who was greatly opposed but ultimately won the victory over our greatest enemies.

Roller Skating at Skate City

Plan to join fellow members of St. John and their guests for an evening of roller skating/blading on Sunday, March 15th from 4:30-6:30 pm at Skate City in Kimberly. The cost is $6.00 per person including skates. To reserve the rink, a minimum of 60 people need to attend. Sign up today; a sheet is on the counter in the entryway.

EHV News

Now that we have Evangelical Heritage Versions of the Bible in our pews and in our bulletins, we thought it would be a good idea to give you some updates on the EHV. It is now available for free on biblegateway.com or on the biblegateway app. If you use the Logos Bible software it is also available for purchase. The EHV also has an electronic study bible available for 20 dollars—it is for Windows 10 users only and can be found at the Microsoft app store. Finally, a reminder that we do have a number of hard copies of the EHV bible available for purchase. If you would like one or have any questions, please speak to Pastor Frey or Pastor Gartner.

Daylight Saving Time

Daylight Saving time begins this Sunday morning. Don’t forget to “Spring Forward,” setting your clocks ahead an hour and prepare to miss an hour of sleep! If you forget you may be late for our worship services on Sunday.

Ladies’ Canvass Painting

Save the date! We will be having a ladies’ canvas painting on March 29th in the church basement from 3pm-5pm. More information and a sign-up sheet is on the counter in the narthex.