Christian Music

Psalms, Hymns, Spiritual Songs

The hymn Break Thou the Bread of Life was written by Mary Lathburywhile she attended the Chautauqua Summer School and religiousresort in New York. She had been asked to write two hymns forthe school and this was one of them. The Scriptural basis forher hymn was Matt. 14:19; John 8:32; John 6:35, and Matt. 5:6.

Several Bible doctrines are prominent in this hymn. First, thedoctrine of the Word of God and the spiritual bread of life isseen in the first verse. In verse 2, the Word of God is the AbsoluteTruth. In verse 3 is expressed the believer's love for the Word.

The hymn describes how a Christian experiences great peace whenpartaking of the Truth, and reveals a thirst for greater truthsand deep desires and emotions within the soul.


The Bible deals extensively with the subject of music. In boththe Old Testament and New Testament, music played an importantpart in spiritual worship and was widely used in teaching doctrinaltruth to believers.

There are three types of songs in the Bible; Psalms, Hymns, andSpiritual Songs.

The word "psalm" comes from the Greek word (psalmos),and refers to a Psalm from the Old Testament. Its meaning is derivedfrom the idea of twanging a string on a musical instrument sothat it vibrates, hence, it means "to play on a stringedinstrument." In the New Testament, the verb (psallo) it meansto sing a hymn, to celebrate the praises of God.

The word "hymn" is from `umnoV (humnos) meaning "asong of praise to God." Spiritual songs, pneumatikoV wdh(pneumatikos ode) are songs that praise, exhort, challenge warn,in the context of the ministry of the Holy Spirit along with thespirit of the Christian believer. The Greek word ode, from whichthe English word "ode" comes, refers to any type ofsong, a battle song, a harvest song, a festival song, etc. Sothe term "spiritual" is added in the Bible to limitthe type of song used in Christian worship.

1 Cor. 14:12-16, "So also you, since you are zealous of spiritual{gifts,} seek to abound for the edification of the church. Thereforelet one who speaks in a tongue pray that he may interpret. Forif I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays, but my mind is unfruitful.

"What is {the outcome} then? I shall pray with the spiritand I shall pray with the mind also; I shall sing (psallo) withthe spirit and I shall sing (psallo) with the mind also. Otherwiseif you bless in the spirit {only,} how will the one who fillsthe place of the ungifted say the "Amen" at your givingof thanks, since he does not know what you are saying?"

Note in these verses that the singing is a key ingredient in theministry of edification, and that it is just as unfruitful tosing without content as it is to speak in tongues to someone whodoes not understand, since "he does not know what you aresaying (singing)."


There are two major passages in the New Testament dealing withsinging: Eph. 5:14-21 and Col. 3:12-17.

The overall context of Ephesians establishes the following:

Chapter 1 - the truth about the union of a believer with the LordJesus Christ

Chapter 2 - Freedom from the Old Testament position of estrangementfrom Christ.

Chapter 3 - The believer in relation to his own advancement inthe Christian life.

Chapter 4 - The believer in relation to the Body of Christ asa whole.

Chapter 5 - The believer's relationship to the body in the localchurch.

In Eph. 5:1-17, the walk of the believer is dealt with, and thespiritual condition of the believer is made paramount (5:18).

Verse 5:19 refers to the spiritual expression of the believerwho is growing in Christ and filled with the Holy Spirit. Singingis the soul expression of the Christian, who sings in associationwith other like-minded people. He sings psalms, which are theOld Testament songs. He sing hymns, songs of praise to God. Hesings spiritual songs, songs directed to people that praise, exhort,challenge, warn.

In Colossians, the context of chapters 1 and 2 is that we arecomplete in Christ, and chapter 3 deals with the overt walk ofthe believer.

Col. 3:12-15 describes the relationship of believers with eachother. Verse 3:16 describes the believer with doctrine (3:16a)expressing that doctrine by teaching, admonishing, and singingwith grace (psalms, hymns, spiritual songs). Verse 3:17 showsthe overall motive and purpose for all activity.

In both of these passages singing is the expression of Christiansin a local church and has certain characteristics.

* The person singing is a mature believer, filled with the HolySpirit (Eph. 5:18).

* Singing is preceded by "the word of Christ dwelling inyou richly" (Col. 3), Bible truth in the soul

* In Eph. 5 singing is an expression of the soul toward God, andthe emphasis is on the proper attitude of the soul

* In Col. 3, the singing is an expression of doctrine in the soulexpressed toward other people who benefit from it.

* In Col. 3:16, we see the two things that singing accomplisheswith respect to other believers in the congregation.

It is a teaching tool, and it is an admonishing tool.

* Therefore, singing is used for praise to God, teaching of eachother, and warning, encouraging, or exhorting each other.

* In both passages, singing is done "unto the Lord";although it will benefit the congregation, the Lord will be glorified.

It is very important, as well, to point out what Christian singingis not.

* Singing is not the measure of the spirituality of vigor of alocal church. The filling of the Spirit is necessary for spiritualsinging; but singing is no proof of the filling of the Spirit.

* Singing in a local congregation is not designed to be used tocreate a mood for the soul. It is rather an expression of themental attitude of the soul created by applied Bible truth ina believer who is filled with the Spirit, occupied with Christ,living in the Word.

* Singing is not measured by the amount of zeal employed, butby the understanding that accompanies it. (See above 1 Cor. 14:15).

* Spiritual singing is not designed to give a Christian a goodfeeling. If it is praise, then it is directed to God. If it isteaching, it is designed for learning. If it is admonishment,it is designed for warning, comfort, challenge, motivation, etc.Pleasure, joy, satisfication are derived from the content of thesongs and hymns sung, not from the music itself.

* Singing is not the primary function in a worship service. Spiritualityand doctrine are the primary issues.


Hymns, or odes, have been known from the beginning of writtenhistory. A tablet dating 800 BC contains a Sumerian hymn aboutthe creation.

A large number of Christian hymns, some still used today, werewritten by such early Church Fathers as John of Damascus and Ambroseof Milan. Toward the end of the Middle Ages there again arosea demand for congregational singing, first expressed in spiritualsongs and carols. During the Renaissance (1501), the first recognizedmodern hymn was published at Prague for the Moravian Brethren.

Martin Luther and his followers created a large body of choraleswhich rank among the finest of congregational hymns today. UnderJohn Calvin at Geneva, the musical reformation developed hymnsbased on metrical paraphrases of the Psalms, prepared in Frenchand later translated into German for the Reformed Church in Germany.

In England, the hymns of the congregations were limited almostentirely to Psalms prepared by Thomas Steinhold and John Hopkinsfrom 1549 to 1562. These continued to be the most important bodyof English hymns until about 1696.

Evangelical hymnology began at the end of the 17th Century. Inthe Lutheran Church, the Pietist movement started a new wave ofhymn writing. In England, John and Charles Wesley began to writewhat later became the most popular hymns in the English language.

John Wesley's first Collection of Psalms and Hymns was publishedin 1737 in Charlestown, South Carolina. His brother Charles wrotemore than 6,500 hymns.

Isaac Watts, another English hymn writer of about the same period,wrote Hymns and Spiritual Songs (1707 to 1709) and has been calledthe creator of the modern English hymn.

Reformation hymns were written with no particular tune in mind.A musician would write music that would fit the meter of the wordsbeing sung, and the tunes given to the lyrics were themselvesgiven certain names and designations.

The common ingredient to all hymns of the Reformation churchesand the Christian churches that followed was that all hymns wereeither actual Bible passages or paraphrases of Bible passages.

Descriptions of Familiar Hymns

Are You Weary, Heavy Laden

Background: Written by Stephen the Sabaite, a nephew to John ofDamascus. John had been tutored by a slave who had later beenfreed, and both retired to a monastery in the wilderness of Judea.Stephen was taken with them to the monastery, and after the deathof his uncle and the slave, Stephen wrote this hymn. It was laterrecreated by Dr. Neale in 1862 combining the experience of Stephenand himself in the sons.

Doctrines portrayed:

* Eternal rest given by Christ

* Sufferings of Christ portrayed

* Kingship of Christ

* Acceptance of Christ

* Blessings of Christ

Applications: Comfort and fellowship because of the undeservedsuffering of Christ. It is a hymn of praise.

Scriptural Basis: Matt. 11:28; John 6:39; Mark 13:31.

Beneath the Cross of Jesus

Background: Written by Elizabeth Clephane near the end of herlife in 1869. She had a glimpse of her eternal future in a betterland and could imagine her footprints leading to that better goal(Dying Grace concept).


* Christ, the Rock of salvation in a weary land of sin

* The sufferings of Christ for sins

* Unworthiness of man (Grace)

* Blessings received from the death of Christ

* Eternal love of God

Scripture basis: Matt. 27:36

Blest Be The Tie That Binds

Background: This hymn was written by John Fawcett who was a pastorin a small Yorkshire village. He was planning to leave his smallchurch and take a larger and wealthier church in London. But heand his wife could not bear to leave the people who were so closeto them. So they stayed, and Fawcett wrote this hymn as an expressionof the love of the brethren.


* Christian Love, verse 1

* Prayer, verse 2

* Responsibilities within the Body, verse 3

* Doctrine of Goodbyes and Hellos, verse 4

Scripture: 1 John 1:7; John 13:34,35

Breathe On Me, Breath of God

Background: Written by Edwin Hatch in 1886. He wrote from hissoul what he imagined that the disciples in the Upper Room hadfelt when Jesus was speaking to them; he thought that Christ atthat time breathed the Holy Spirit on them.

Doctrine: The following doctrinal errors are apparent in thissong.

* We do not have to ask for the Holy Spirit. The Spirit indwellsus permanently from the moment of salvation. The Spirit fillsus upon condition of our confession of sin.

* The song refers to the filling of the Spirit, but the principleof confession is not mentioned.

* The concept of the cleansing of the Holy Spirit at confessionis confused with the process of edification (Verse 2)

* The issue of outward production in Christianity is confusedin verse 3 with the concept of fiery manifestations which showedup only on the Day of Pentecost.

* The song puts the sealing ministry of the Holy Spirit as somethingin the future (verse 4), so it lacks emphasis on the assuranceof the believer as having possession of eternal life (see Ephesians1:13,14)

Christ the Lord is Risen Today

Background: Written by Charles Wesley out of a desire to elevateman's thinking by the inspiration of poetry. The message is doctrinalapplication and reveals a sense of victory and assurance whichwe do not always see in Wesley's somewhat somber background.


* Christ's resurrection calls for men and angels to rejoice

* Death of Christ on the Cross is evidence of His love and thatHe has won the battle. His resurrection overcame death and providesa release for Old Testament saints. This is correct if it is understoodthat this release occurs just preceding the Millennial reign ofChrist.

* Christ as the King, alive, died once for salvation.

* Salvation is for all who believer (Although Wesley apparentlydid not believer in universal salvation.)

Scripture: 1 Cor. 15:55-57

Come, Thou Almighty King

Background: Authorship attributed to Charles Wesley, but realauthor is unknown. During Revolutionary War days, it was introducedin a Long Island, NY, church by a group of American patriots whena band of British soldiers demanded that the congregation sing"God Save the King." Instead, the church sang "Come,Thou Almighty King."


* Sovereignty of God the Father and the Kingship of Christ, verse1

* Incarnation of Christ, verse 2

* Holy Spirit, verse 3

* Doctrine of the Trinity, verse 4

Application: This is a true devotional hymn, well balanced torender worship, praise, and self exhortation. It is a prayer ofthe heart that the three persons of the Godhead may exercise controlon the one who is singing, that he may be able to praise God infullness.

Scripture: Psalm 51:15

Crown Him With Many Crowns

Background: Written by Matthew Bridges when he and a group ofothers left the Church of England and joined Roman Catholicism.The original title was The Song of the Seraphs, one of the poemsfound in a volume called The Passions of Jesus.


* Verse 1: kingship of Jesus Christ in eternity; the crowningof Christ, victorious and ruling; Jesus Christ as the Lamb ofGod

* Verse 2: Christ, the son of God in eternity past; Christ, theson of man in time; Christ the faithful high priest

* Verse 3: Christ, the resurrected one; Christ, the one who conquereddeath of us

* Verse 4: Christ, in a human body, yet glorified; Christ theeternal one worthy of praise for all eternity

Scripture: Rev. 19:12

Dear Lord and Father of Mankind

Background: Written by John Greanleaf Whittier in 1872, the settingof this song is actually another poem, The Brewing of Soma, referringto the brewing of a terrible storm. Whittier wrote this hymn incontrast to the great tumult and destruction of such a storm.It reveals the deep calm and peace which stills the souls of thosewho hear the message of the Gospel and respond to it in faith.

Doctrine: Bible doctrines are not clearly portrayed in this song...

* The doctrine of the Fatherhood of God is not clear in verse1.

* The doctrine of forgiveness is not correctly described. It isportrayed as being asked for rather than as a result of confessionof sin.

* Doctrines of Faith and Obedience are weakly alluded to in verse2.

* Doctrines of Peace, Stability, Depression are expressed in ageneral way in verse 3.

* Misuse of the concept of prayer in verse 4 asking God to manifestsome overt expression to teach spiritual lessons through naturalphenomena.

Scripture: Ostensibly 1 Kings 19:11,12; Isa. 30:15; Mark 1:17,18;Phil. 4:7

Fairest Lord Jesus

Background: This is a German hymn written in the 17th Century.Also called the Crusaders Hymn, but there's no proof crusadersever sang it. Published in America by Richard Willis in 1850.The "fairness" is associated with Jesus as a boy ofage 12 and with His growth in wisdom and stature.


* Jesus as Ruler of universe and nature

* Jesus, the perfect Son of God and Perfect Son of Man

* Jesus, greater than the angels

* Doctrine of Salvation which brings joy and gladness to the sinner.

Scripture: Song 5:16; Isa. 60:2,3

Faith of Our Fathers

Background: Written by Frederick Faber in 1849, probably as aresult of being acquainted with many who had died for their faithin Christ. This song has long been a hymn of Christian loyaltyand was closely connected with the early faith of the Fatherswho found America.


* Faith as a quality that never dies; faith lives on in the heartsof men regardless of the circumstances

* Undeserved Suffering

* Dying Grace

* Evangelization, "winning the nations"

* Liberty, only through the Word

Scripture: Heb. 11:1,13,16; 1 Tim. 6:12

Glory Be to the Father

Background: Part of this hymn dates back to the time of the apostlesand post-apostolic fathers. It is called the Lesser Doxology.The second part was written in 529 AD and is called the GreaterDoxology. Sung in many churches after sermons and prayers andat the dedication of churches.


* Trinity: Father, Son, Holy Spirit

* Praise

* Immutability

* Eternity

Scripture: Jude 25

Glorious Things of Thee Are Spoken

Background: Written by John Newton when he was a slave ship captain.He had been taught the Word of God as a child but he forsook thoseteachings and became a rough sailor. After a vicious storm atsea, he turned to study the Word again and eventually enteredthe ministry. This hymn was written in 1779 from this background.


* Verse 1: the Church pictured as a prepared city; the Word ofGod; the Rock; Salvation and Victory

* Verse 2: Family relationship; Grace

* Verse 3: Leadership; Eternal purpose of God

Scripture: Psalm 87:3; 46:4; Rev. 21:2

God of Our Fathers

Background: Written by Rev. Daniel Roberts as a U. S. Centennialhymn to be sung on the 4th of July in 1876. This was an expressionof praise to God for victory received for our nation and as amemorial to it.


* God the omnipotent Creator

* Divine Institutions; God related to our forefathers

* Verse 2: God related to the leadership of the nation; the basisfor law in a nation

* Verse 3: God as national preserver; God's grace and provision

* Verse 4: The Christian Way of Life in trouble, labor, toil

Scripture: Psalm 44:1-3,8

Hark the Herald Angels Sing

Background: Written by Charles Wesley in 1739. The hymn was revised,and some obsolete words were put into better style, by a Mr. Kelly,Wesley's book steward.


* Verse 1: Christ as King; Peace; Mercy; Reconciliation

* Verse 2: Christ in eternity past; Fullness of time; virgin birthof Christ, Incarnation; Hypostatic Union

* Verse 3: Christ as Prince of Peace; Christ our Righteousness;resurrection; the New Birth

Scripture: Isa. 9:6; Luke 2:13,14

He Leadeth Me

Background: Written by Joseph Gilmore during the darkest hoursof the Civil War (1862). He was attending Brown University andNewton Theological Institution and was asked to occupy the pulpitfor a couple of weeks at the First Baptist Church in Philadelphia.He wrote this hymn from Psalm 23, which he had given as an expositionat a mid-week service.


* Verse 1: Divine guidance, from the standpoint of comfort

* Verse 2: doctrine of National Disaster and pressure with divineguidance

* Verse 3: One Day at a Time; Status Quo

* Verse 4: Dying Grace; Eternity

Scripture: Psalm 23:1-3; Rev. 7:17

Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty

Background: Written by Reginald Heber in 1827. He attended OxfordUniversity and received honors for his Latin verse. He was thevicar at Hadnet for 16 years and wrote many hymns for specialSundays of the church year.


* Verse 1: Holiness of the Godhead; Worship; Mercy of God; Trinity

* Verse 2: Worship in Eternity; Angelic Worship of Christ; Immutabilityof God

* Verse 3: Sin and Darkness; sinfulness of Man; attributes ofGod

* Verse 4: Sovereignty of God; Omnipotence; Creation

How Firm a Foundation

Background: Not much known about the origins of this song. Possiblywritten by Robert Keene in 1787


* Verse 1: Completed Canon; Christ as Refuge of the soul

* Verse 2: Fear and its remedy; provision for the believer intime; Omnipotence of God

* Verse 3: Undeserved Suffering and Sorrow; Testing

* Verse 4: Testing; sufficiency of Grace; refinement of faiththrough testing

* Verse 5: Eternal Security

Scripture: Isa. 43:1,2; Heb. 13:5

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