Meet Hymns for Worship

A Musical Tour Through the Church's History

"You are holding an unusual hymnal! The texts here are not grouped by theme, season of the year, or order of worship. Rather, they are presented in chronological order by text, beginning with a sampling of Old Testament psalms and continuing right up to songs written in the past few years. Paging through this book, then, is like taking a 3,000-year journey through the songs of God’s people.”

Thus begins the preface to Hymns for Worship, a new anthology of English-language hymns in the Western tradition of Christianity. Its ecumenical contents are designed for personal, small group, or church use, and its chronological order makes it suitable as a textbook for hymnology, church history, or theological studies.

Like Contemporary Songs for Worship and Global Songs for Worship, Hymns for Worship is one of a series of hymnals being jointly published by the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship and Faith Alive Christian Resources to foster dialogue about hymnody that will shape the forthcoming hymnal Lift Up Your Hearts: Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual Songs, a bidenominational hymnal for the Reformed Church in America and the Christian Reformed Church.

Like most hymnals, Hymns for Worship recognizes authors, composers, and/or sources of texts and music in the credit lines in addition to the customary hymnal indices in the back of the book. But among the delightful features of this anthology are footnotes providing commentary on historical, theological, musical, or pastoral details for each song in the book.

Based on statistical studies of hymn popularity, tempered by Reformed theological judgments and musical wisdom, this anthology is a treasure chest of the great hymns of the church, including:

“Tell Out, My Soul, the Greatness of the Lord”

“Blessed Be the God of Israel”

“Lord, Bid Your Servant Go in Peace”

“All Glory Be to God on High”

“Holy God, We Praise Your Name”

“Christ Is Made the Sure Foundation”

“The God of Abraham Praise”

The collection also includes a rich mix of great hymn tunes:



OLD HUNDREDTH (psalm tune)

HYFRYDOL (from an amateur!)

WORD OF LIFE (White gospel)

BEACH SPRING (shape-note tradition)

GOD DOWN, MOSES (African American)

Not surprisingly, the collection includes some twenty texts by Isaac Watts, Charles Wesley, John Newton, and William Cowper—the great English hymn authors of the eighteenth century. But other “gems” from the British Isles include the following:

“I Bind unto Myself Today”

“Be Thou My Vision”

“The Head That Once Was Crowned with Thorns”

“For All the Saints Who From Their Labors Rest”

“Lift High the Cross”

“When in Our Music God Is Glorified”

“In Christ Alone My Hope Is Found”

The ethnic diversity of the body of Christ is evident in Hymns for Worship in such songs as these (though a more diverse selection of worldwide worship songs can be found in the partner volume Global Songs for Worship):

“Good Christian Friends, Rejoice” (German)

“We Gather Together to Ask the Lord’s Blessing” (Dutch)

“Guide Me, O My Great Redeemer” (Welsh)

“Let Us Break Bread Together” (African American)

“Here, O Lord, Your Servants Gather” (Japanese)

“You Have Come Down to the Lakeshore” (Hispanic)

“We Are Marching in the Light of God” (South African)

Hymns for Worship also embraces hymns from older and more recent Roman Catholic origins:

“A Hymn of Glory Let Us Sing!”

“All Creatures of Our God and King”

“The Strife Is O’er, the Battle Done”

“O Come, All Ye Faithful”

“Alleluia, Alleluia! Give Thanks to the Risen Lord”

“You Satisfy the Hungry Heart”

“Blest Are They, the Poor in Spirit”

But there are also Marian hymn texts here that have received a revision following the Protestant Reformation:

“I Greet My Sure Redeemer”

“Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming”

Speaking of the Protestant Reformation, Hymns for Worship contains a number of hymns from the Lutheran heritage, both old and new:

“A Mighty Fortress Is Our God”

“Wake, Awake, for Night Is Flying”

“Ah, Holy Jesus, How Have You Offended”

“Now Thank We All Our God”

“Praise to the Lord, the Almighty”

“Earth and All Stars”

“Go, My Children, with My Blessing”

There are selections from famous psalters:

“Comfort, Comfort Now My People (Genevan psalter tune)

“The Lord’s My Shepherd, I’ll Not Want” (Scottish psalter text)

“While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks (“New Version” psalter text)

“Sing a New Song to the Lord” (Psalm Praise, 1973)

Finally, the volume includes some of the finest modern evangelical hymn texts:

“Spirit of the Living God”

“Precious Lord, Take My Hand”

“We Come, O Christ, to You”

“Lord, You Give the Great Commission”

“Baptized in Water, Sealed by the Spirit”

“You, Lord, Are Both Lamb and Shepherd”

“View the Present Through the Promise”

Because Hymns for Worship is a historical anthology, it contains some examples of hymns on which critical opinions vary. “The First Noel,” for example, is a popular Christmas hymn, but many biblical scholars object to its fusing of the shepherds, the star, and the Magi into one Bethlehem scene. Equally popular is “The Old Rugged Cross,” which theologians may identify as a sentimental crucifix among gospel-singing evangelicals who otherwise profess a more robust theology of the cross.

In addition, the union of specific texts with specific tunes can produce a heated discussion in some cases, popularity notwithstanding. The notes in Hymns for Worship suggest that strong texts such as “My God, How Wonderful You Are” and “Breathe on Me, Breath of God” are set to weak tunes, ST ETHELDREDA AND TRENTHAM, respectively. But these same notes also point out that the editors of Hymns Ancient and Modern (1861) and the English Hymnal (1906) seemed to have had a great gift in wedding texts and tunes together—matches which, in many cases, still work well in modern hymn singing.

Hymns for Worship is a book for singing the great hymns of faith, professing the sung theology that has become dear to God’s people, testifying to God’s grace in times of great joy or great sorrow when our own words of praise or petition fail us, and studying the texts and tunes that embody the Christian faith through countless generations of a “great cloud of witnesses” on earth and in heaven. It is a joy to commend Hymns for Worship to you and to thank you for your willingness to meet this new anthology of hymns!


Hymn Trivia Quiz

Note: The number in brackets refers to the corresponding song number in Hymns for Worship.

  1. Who composed the tune AUS TIEFER NOT? [10]
  2. Which historian of early Christianity in Britain wrote a hymn text? [31]
  3. Who wrote both text and tune for “If You but Trust in God to Guide You”? [60]
  4. Which Tallis tune is commonly used for “All Praise to You, My God, This Night”? [70]
  5. Which tune originally associated with “Lo, He Comes with Clouds Descending” is sometimes still used? [89]
  6. The tune for “Amazing Grace” shows up in which voice part in Southern Harmony? [94]
  7. Which text is inseparably wed to the tune nicea? [122]
  8. Who is “Lina” Sandell? [136, 145]
  9. Which Easter hymns word-paint “arisen” or “arose”? [163, 187]
  10. Which hymn has become the “anthem” of many African Americans? [197]
  11. Which hymn tune derives from Gustav Holst’s The Planets? [240]

Bert Polman was a hymnologist, professor and chair of the music department at Calvin College, Grand Rapids, Michigan. He passed away in July 2013. 

Reformed Worship 96 © June 2010, Calvin Institute of Christian Worship. Used by permission.