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?!)

I Will Rest

V1
Are you not good? Do I not have your favor?
Is all my hope in vain that I have such a Savior:
A Lord who’s near, near to the brokenhearted
Who hears the righteous cry and saves the crushed in Spirit?
When all other ground gives way
Still my breaking voice will say

C
I will rest on who You are
For who You are is sure
Eternal and Unchanging One
Your promises endure
When all I have is this
On who You are, God, I will rest

V2
Should I have doubt? My faith is greatly shaken
My feet can scarcely stand on Christ, the sure foundation
In my own strength, I’d fall in but a moment
So hold fast to me now for, Jesus, I am broken
When all other ground gives way
Though this weary heart you slay

V3
Are you not love? Do you not have compassion
Are you not moved that I, your child, feel so abandoned?
I know you hear; I am not lost in silence
In my heart hides your Word, a well of deep assurance
When all other ground gives way
You remain my hope and stay

Follow Me

V1
Lord above all mere existence
Condescended King who crossed
That impassable sin-distance
To restore what man had lost
Christ departed Heaven’s glory
When my heart would ever roam
To fulfill redemption’s story
And to bring this wand’rer home

C
The Lamb and Lion of the tribe of Judah
Went to the cross and won the victory
I cannot keep from singing, “Hallelujah!”
His sacrifice and triumph set me free
So, I will heed His call: “Follow me”

V2
My companion on this journey
To the Sovereign’s holy throne:
My High Priest, has gone before me
Not a step I walk alone
When the passage leads through valleys
In this dark and weary land
This His promise: never shall these
Separate me from His hand

V3
All the days of my sojourning
He shall lead me t’ward the goal
Through my wavering and turning
For His praise, preserves my soul
Until death, that final portal
I traverse the trail He blazed
What assurance mine! Though mortal
Unto life I shall be raised

B
From the grave to glory
From the tomb to triumph
From the darkness to the dawn
I’ll follow Christ who bids me come

No Other Name Under Heaven

Listen to, learn, and download the lead sheet for my original praise song based on Acts 4:10-13.

No Other Name Under Heaven

V1
No other name under heaven 1
Lifts up the sin-cursed soul
As God raised Him, He raises us 2
With Christ, the Cornerstone 3

V2
No other name under heaven
Stands firm, a tower strong 4
With feet of faith, the righteous run
In Christ, the Cornerstone

C
“Alleluia, alleluia!”
All who thirst no more, sing forever
From the Solid Rock, salvation flows 5
O, there’s no other name under heaven

V3
No other name under heaven
Remains when all else folds 6
Though earth may fall, secure we stand
On Christ, the Cornerstone

V4
No other name under heaven 7
Above all names is known
Confess, all tongues! Bow, ev’ry knee
To Christ, the Cornerstone!

“as it is written, “Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense; and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.”

Romans‬ ‭9:33‬ ‭ESV

1 Acts 4:10-13
2 Romans 4:24-25 & 8:11; 2 Corinthians 4:14
3 Ephesians 2:20
4 Proverbs 18:10
5 Exodus 17:6, 1 Corinthians 10:4
6 Isaiah 28:16
7 Philippians 2:9-11

Praise the Lord All Nations (Psalm 117)

Listen to, learn, and download the sheet music for my original setting of Psalm 117 ESV verbatim.

Lyrics derived from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), Copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

What Church Music Should Look Like

Church music should exalt, edify, and educate.

Exalt God. Edify saints. Educate believers.

How that’s done differs, but the following aspects should be present:

1) Substance
Music teaches; it’s memorable; therefore, we should take care of what our songs teach. Are saints better served to remember the words,

“Breathe on us
Holy fire fall
Come and fill this place with
Your presence
Like a rushing wind
Send Your Spirit here
Breath of Heaven breathe on us
Breath of Heaven breathe on us”1

or better served to memorize,

“Finish, then, thy new creation
True and spotless let us be
Let us see thy great salvation
Perfectly restored in thee
Changed from glory into glory
Till in heav’n we take our place
Till we cast our crowns before thee
Lost in wonder, love and praise”?2

One of those examples teaches of regeneration, sanctification, glorification, reigning with Christ, and eternal fellowship with God. The other asks God to redo something done in the New Testament without stating why we should ask for it or why God might do as we ask.

2) Sing-ability
Can the congregation sing this song? Is the range too great? It is too complicated? Is it too fast? Musical styles aren’t prescribed in scripture, but some genres tend to be better suited for the assembly. And Christians are gathered to sing, not to be a passive audience.

That’s why hymns are so useful in corporate worship: the meter rarely changes; in hymnals singers can “see” where the notes are going and how long to hold them; the structures and tunes are typically simple. Many can pick up a hymn and start participating after only one stanza and refrain (if the hymn even has one).

3) Simple beauty
Take away all the lights, sound equipment, and musical instruments. If those and all our polished performers were suddenly unavailable, then would the songs still stand on their own as lovely, memorable, and inspiring? Would they point us to God? Or would we simply miss the former things that moved us emotionally because those were what we sought?

Believers should certainly be moved emotionally by our worship through song, however it must be by the content of the element and not the manner of the form. Truth (the content; knowledge) in song (the element) is what should make us feel our faith. The manner (the talent) of the form (the genre) is important only insofar as it encourages and aids worship.

Once you seek to exalt God by singing of who He is in a way that edifies your congregation and educates yourself and fellow believers on the truths of God’s Word, you’ll find no greater feeling.

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.Colossians 3:16-17

1 “Breathe on Us” by Kari Jobe
2 “Love Divine, All Loves Excelling” by Charles Wesley

Original Hymn: Born That We Might Be Born Again

Feel free to sing this hymn in your church without changes, addition, or omission. Let me know all about it in the comments or via message here or on social media.

SHEET MUSIC

Born That We Might Be Born Again | Words & Music: Ryan Cornett

Not to kings nor to princes did heralds appear
Proclaiming God has come to dwell with us here
But that host, to the lowly declared Heaven’s grace
“Good news and greatest joy to all Adam’s race!”

Refrain
Born is a King, Son of God, and Son of Man
“Glory!” we sing, come to Earth is Heaven’s Lamb
God Himself has provided the off’ring for sin
His child is born that we might be born again

How the dark must have fled from the angelic light
O, but their tidings far exceeded the sight!
Never heard was a message so glori’ous and true:
“Christ, Lord and Savior, has this day come to you”

Lo, the shepherds departed with haste ever swift
Seeking the greater wonder of Heaven’s gift
So may we run to Jesus, then tell of His birth:
“God in the highest brought to us peace on earth!”

Original Hymn: Welcomed to the Table

Feel free to sing this hymn in your church without changes, addition, or omission. Let me know all about it in the comments or via message here or on social media.

SHEET MUSIC

Welcomed to the Table | Words & Music: Ryan Cornett

Welcomed to the table of the King 1
Though no worth unto this meal we bring 2
Come! Rememb’ring Him, we dine and sing 3

Like no bread the fathers ate and died 4
This His body, broken for His Bride 5
Eat! Proclaiming Christ the crucified 6

This the cleansing blood of our High Priest 7
From His cup the low, the last, the least 8
Drink! Awaiting Heaven’s wedding feast 9

1 (1 Corinthians 10:17, Ephesians 2:13)
2 (Job 35:7, John 6:53-57)
3 (1 Corinthians 11:24; Matthew 26:30)
4 (John 6:58)
5 (1 Corinthians 10:16, 1 Corinthians 11:24)
6 (1 Corinthians 11:26)
7 (Hebrews 7:27, 9:12; 1 John 1:7)
8 (Job 22:2, Mark 2:17, Luke 17:10)
9 (Matthew 26:29, Revelation 19:7-9)

Our church really only sings one hymn about the Lord’s Supper, so I studied scripture and wrote this. I wanted to be brief (your church can sing this in about one minute) and really make clear what God’s people are invited and expected to do.

Believers are invited to come, eat, and drink. In partaking of the Lord’s Supper, we do so in remembrance of Him, we proclaim His death until He comes, and we await His coming and the marriage supper of the Lamb!

Thoughts on Song Writing: Time

I used to come up with a catchy melody and one good line, sit down for 20 minutes, write down the first rhymes that came to me, and call a song finished. Those songs have since disappeared.

These days, writing a song takes months or years. Much of that time is spent with the song put away, focused on other things. This time away from a song allows me to be more objective when I need to be critical of it and make revisions. Sure, it’s possible to write a great song in a matter of minutes–but that is simply not the norm. Time is an ingredient songwriters mustn’t neglect.

It’s so encouraging to read successful songwriters tell of struggling with a song for months and years. Sure, it’s great to know they’re human like me, but the greatest encouragement comes from knowing I’m on the right track and haven’t been wasting my time. I’m on the older side of 40 years of age now. I don’t have nearly the time I had when I started writing songs as a young lad–time as in both availability AND longevity. As a husband, dad, assistant pastor, and instructor it’s hard to carve out time to focus on writing; as a 40+ man, I have to make the time if I’m ever going to get it done.

I want to leave behind songs that bless the church long after I’m gone. In order for my writing to be timeless, I have to give it time. You too, young songwriter, should learn to give songs time–a lot of time. Those professional songwriters I mentioned earlier who say it takes months and months to write? Unfortunately, I didn’t learn it from them; I figured it out for myself through trial and error. I wish I HAD read them years ago because there’s so much I had to figure out on my own, learning and maturing over years …. Don’t reinvent the wheel: learn from me and my mistakes.

Save time now that you can give to your songs later.

There are melodies, verses, choruses, bridges, and lyrics on which I’ve been ruminating for years. Finding their fit has proven difficult, even intimidating, and possibly impossible! But I’ll keep at it and won’t let myself settle. I’ll only present to the church songs I think are worthy of her precious time.

Original Hymn: All Who Have Loved His Appearing

Feel free to sing this hymn in your church without changes, addition, or omission. Let me know all about it in the comments or via message here or on social media.

All Who Have Loved His Appearing | Words & Music: Ryan Cornett

V1
Like saints before, let us repeat
“The good fight we have fought”
No works did we ourselves achieve
The fruit, the Spirit wrought

C
Laid up for us is a crown: his righteousness, our award
‘Tis not of efforts that we have made; the price was paid by the Lord
That great coronation is nearing
For all who have loved his appearing

V2
When all is done, then let us say
“Praise God, we’ve run the race”
For Christ we stood, by strength not ours
Yes, it was all of grace

V3
As breath departs, may we proclaim
“Through him, we kept the faith”
Our boast is only in the Lord
He, who alone can save

THE STORY

“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.”
2 Timothy 4:7-8

When reading God’s Word, I look for phrases that are especially poetic to modern tastes and could possibly inspire an entire song. I have a list of dozens of such phrases from the Bible. One that particularly stood out and stuck with me for months was “all who have loved his appearing.” I kept coming back to it and the passage it’s in. The three things Paul lists: “fought the good fight, … finished the race, … kept the faith” seemed like a good place to start, with each victory having its own verse.

The chorus, or refrain, is inspired by my study of the doctrine of imputation. At the cross, our sins were imputed onto Christ and he bore the entirety of the punishment earned by our sin. Consequently, Christ’s righteousness can now be justly imputed, or credited to those who believe. And how glorious the thought that the Lord Jesus Christ’s righteousness is so richly, so deeply applied to us, that we are awarded for it–and with eternal life, no less! Our crown of righteousness was earned and laid up for us by our Savior Jesus. What a glorious day the Redeemed have to look forward to!

INSPIRATION

1 Corinthians 1:31
1 Corinthians 5:10
Ephesians 2:8-9
Ephesians 4:30
Philippians 4:13
2 Timothy 4:7-8