[Today’s post is by John H.Parker, co-author of the newly released book, Abide With Me, published by New Leaf Press. This account is from the travels of John and his co-author/photographer, Paul Seawright.]

Earlier I mentioned an article by the American and Canadian Hymn Society journal, Hymns, that reported which hymns were the most published in 40 hymn books 1986-1996. I though some of you might be interested in how some well-known hymns ranked or where you favorites ranked.

Related to this matter is what makes a good hymn. In my view, among the most important factors are theme, poetry quality, and music quality.

Herman Melville, author of Moby Dick, said, “To write a mighty book, you must choose a mighty theme.” The same is true for hymns. “Amazing Grace” and “Rock of Ages” are great in part because they deal with mighty themes: the grace of God and the sacrificial death of Jesus. A song is not great only because of theme: a song with a great theme, but poor quality in poetic lyrics will not be great. But the theme must be there.

Great poetry involves many factors, but among them are word choice, syntax, metrical consistency, quality of rhyming, and fit of words to music, as well as many others. Only hymns that have these qualities survive.

I am not qualified to discuss music, but knowledgeable music scholars and teacher in music positions near you can comment on these.

Of the hundreds of hymns published in 40 hymnals during these years, none was published in all 40. That may be good, as it reflects good discrimination on the part of the publishers. Two hymns were published in 39 out of 40. We’ll give them a 39 point score. Those were “O God our Help in Ages Past” and “Silent Night.” We comment on the quality of these that led to their publication in our next blog.

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