[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.]

Most of the classic hymns were written by men, usually Anglican or Dissenter preachers. Of the relatively few women, some leaned toward the independent side.

Frances Havergal, composer of “I Gave My Life for Thee” and “Take My Life and Let it Be,” was consistently devout, and she just as consistently dismissed anything that would interfere with her Bible study, evangelism, and hymn writing. An attractive woman from a well-to-do family, she received several offers of marriage, but she declined them all in order to keep herself undistracted from her church work. Evidently she excluded domestic distractions, as well. An anonymous booklet about her found in the public library of her home town of Stourport, possibly written by her sister, reads “She probably never did a household chore in her life, and took no apparent interest in anything that was going on in the world apart from saving souls for Christ.”

Sarah Flower Adams, writer of “Nearer, My God, to Thee” was the daughter of a liberal newspaper editor, a romantic poet, a beautiful woman, an actress, and a very independent lady. She was involved in political and social issues and belonged to William Johnson Fox’s Unitarian South Place Chapel in Finsbury Circus, London. She was married to William Bridges Adams, but their agreement was that she would not do housework.

How this mindset of these two ladies affected the content of their hymns might be worthy of study.

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[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.

[Abide With Me will be released by New Leaf Press in April 2009.] 

In the past 300 years, no other collection of poetry and music has been voiced or loved as consistently as have British hymns. Every week during those centuries, worshippers in churches throughout Britian, Europe, and America have read and sung such verses as “Rock of Ages” and “Abide With Me.” Whether celebrations of joy or in times of sadness, these hymns have become staples of our culture, and this book will become a classic family favorite as well.

Combining internationally acclaimed Paul Seawright‘s breathtaking photographs and John Parker‘s descriptive text, Abide With Me is a gorgeous collection of images from the sites, sounds, and history that gave birth to some of Christianity’s most poignant and revered hymns. You are familiar with these songs, but do you know about:
  • The hymn specially written for a sister’s wedding in 30 minutes
  • The privileged poet and hymnist who would die ministering in India
  • The first British hymn ever written and its original language
  • The song of comfort written by the daughter of a newspaper editor; a song associated with the funerals of three American presidents

Now readers can view the homes, churches, communities and universities of 24 beloved hymnists, share the stories of faith behind over 25 beloved hymns- John Newton, Isaac Watts, Charles Wesley, and more.

Abide With Me features over 230 photographs from throughout Wales and England. This casebound book is ideal as a gift or treasured in libraries and personal collections.

[Note: The release date on this book is April 2009. Order now for 20% off the cover price at New Leaf Publishing Group.]