If Our Church Could Sing Only Ten Hymns

Thankfully, there is no such limit. English hymnody truly has no shortage of fantastic hymns! But if, for example, I were to have to narrow down choices for a custom hymnal to make it less expensive to print and easier to carry, I would choose these ten (today, anyway; ask me again tomorrow):

10. How Sweet and Awesome Is the Place

While all our hearts and all our songs
Join to admire the feast,
Each of us cry, with thankful tongues,
“Lord, why was I a guest?

Otherwise known by its original name, “How Sweet and Aweful Is the Place” (“Aweful” is sometimes written as “Awe-ful”), this hymn correctly describes the place of the assembled saints as one full of awe–awe for God’s grace and mercy to gather a people for his own possession.

The first stanzas focus on God’s gracious salvation of the elect, and the last beautifully state the proper results of a heart changed by the Spirit: grief for the lost who perish in their sin, and a desire to see the church grow.

9. Joy to the World

No more let sins and sorrows grow
Nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make his blessings flow
Far as the curse is found,
Far as the curse is found,
Far as, far as the curse is found

Through this hymn is typically reserved for the Christmas season, it’s really a hymn about the second coming of Jesus Christ. This uplifting piece deserves to be sung loudly by believers year-round, as it encourages us to go to work for the Kingdom.

8. Whate’er My God Ordains Is Right

Whate’er my God ordains is right,
Here shall my stand be taken;
Though sorrow, need, or death be mine,
Yet I am not forsaken.
My Father’s care is round me there;
He holds me that I shall not fall;
And so to Him I leave it all,
And so to Him I leave it all

This could be considered a lament, likely inspired by those dark passages in the Psalms that give us a language to express ourselves to God when trials and tragedies would seek to overwhelm us.

But like those songs of lament from David and others, this hymn gives us poetic words to express our hope and trust in God. The modern tune by Matt Merker is a lovely means for this expression.

7. The Solid Rock (My Hope Is Built on Nothing Less)

His oath, his covenant, his blood,
Support me in the whelming flood;
When all around my soul gives way,
He then is all my hope and stay

This is one of the most upbeat 3/4 hymns from which to choose, but it is the words and message that make “The Solid Rock” stand out. In it we sing of things that pass away–that upon which we cannot rely–and contrast those with Christ and what he has done for us. Christ and his righteousness are ground that will never be moved.

6. Come Thou Fount

O to grace how great a debtor
Daily I’m constrained to be!
Let Thy grace, Lord, like a fetter,
Bind my wand’ring heart to Thee:
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
Prone to leave the God I love;
Here’s my heart, Lord, take and seal it,
Seal it for Thy courts above

The hints of archaic language really link the present assembly to saints of a bygone era who sang this hymn when it was brand new. I love to reflect on that connection–the catholicity of the Church joined across not only space, but time. And there are no better words penned by a human to join together to sing such blessed truth.

5. Before the Throne of God Above

When Satan tempts me to despair
And tells me of the guilt within,
Upward I look and see him there
Who made an end of all my sin.
Because the sinless Savior died,
My sinful soul is counted free;
For God the just is satisfied
To look on him and pardon me

This hymn is among the best in its use of biblical language to express the lengths to which Christ went to express his love for us (“My name is graven on his hands” … “Behold him there, the risen Lamb/My perfect, spotless Righteousness”) and its modern tune fits perfectly.

4. Be Thou My Vision

High King of heaven, my victory won,
May I reach heaven’s joys, O bright heaven’s Sun!
Heart of my own heart, whatever befall,
Still be my vision, O Ruler of all

This is not only one of the most beautiful tunes ever composed, it also contains what are the oldest lyrics in this ten-song hymnal. Originally written in the 6th or 8th century, the words we have now were expertly translated and put to verse by Mary Elizabeth Byrne and Eleanor Hull, respectively. This is also one of three hymns in this selection I would consider a prayer.

3. His Mercy Is More

What riches of kindness He lavished on us
His blood was the payment, His life was the cost
We stood ‘neath a debt we could never afford
Our sins they are many, His mercy is more

This is by far the newest selection, and is absolutely worthy of inclusion. The title, stanza tag, and refrain were inspired by a sermon and letter written by John Newton. Poetically expressed here are the truths of our wretched state and wonderful Savior.

This song is a worthy expansion on other famous words by Newton: “Although my memory’s fading, I remember two things very clearly: I am a great sinner and Christ is a great Savior.”

2. How Firm a Foundation

“When through fiery trials your pathway shall lie
My grace, all-sufficient, shall be your supply
The flame shall not hurt you, I only design
Your dross to consume and the gold to refine”

This hymn stands out in encouraging our fellow believers with the powerful promises of God to preserve his own. He is the sure and steadfast Foundation on which we stand. He has given us his Word (the Bible) and his word (the promise that he will never leave nor forsake us). Sing this loudly to your soul and fellow saints!

1. And Can it Be

Long my imprisoned spirit lay
Fast bound in sin and nature’s night;
Thine eye diffused a quick’ning ray,
I woke, the dungeon flamed with light;
My chains fell off, my heart was free;
I rose, went forth and followed Thee

In my opinion, no other hymn combines such wondrous lyrics and soaring melodies. The themes of sinfulness, grace, sacrifice, salvation, and freedom in Christ paint a vivid picture of the story of redemption. How could one not belt it out?

Amazing love, how can it be
That Thou, my God, shouldst die for me?

Honorable Mention:

A Mighty Fortress
How Great Thou Art
Jesus Paid it All
Nothing but the Blood
There Is a Fountain
Crown Him with Many Crowns
Just As I Am
Tis So Sweet to Trust in Jesus
I Stand Amazed in the Presence
We Have Heard the Joyful Sound
Come Behold the Wondrous Mystery
He Will Hold Me Fast
In Christ Alone
Holy, Holy, Holy
(and everybody knows Amazing Grace, so why take up the space?!)

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