The practice of singing among Christians has deep roots in the church. God’s people have used songs for thousands of years to unite believers, stir emotions, help the heart learn and concentrate on weighty rich truths, and find encouragement in a times of struggles. Due to the profound effect that select hymns have had on the church’s history, an argument can be made that there are some songs every Christian should know.
Although familiarity has seemed to scale back in the past 30 or so years, (due to the advent of a more contemporized worship styles) hymns in worship have started to make a big comeback. Many song writers have tapped into their value and begun reviving many old hymns, giving them a more modern appeal.
Regardless of your musical preference, there are great hymns that contain rich truths expressed so wonderfully they are as fresh with relevance as the day they were written.
Here are 9 great hymns every Christian should know:
Written in 1758 by Robert Robinson this song tops our list of great hymns. The words were penned just a few years after Robert was converted at a George Whitefield sermon. The melody is simple, memorable, and beautiful. This hymn also contains one of the most beloved stanzas in all of hymnary:
“Oh, to grace how great a debtor
daily I’m constrained to be!
Let thy goodness, like a fetter,
bind my wandering heart to thee:
prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
prone to leave the God I love;
here’s my heart, O take and seal it;
seal it for thy courts above.”
Originally a very old Irish poem by a monk named Dallan Forgaill, it was translated into the version we know today by Mary Elizabeth Byrne in 1912. This hymn echoes a message that could be sung at any time of our lives; that God would be our vision and focus above all else.
This hymn, penned by the great reformer Martin Luther, and is widely known as “the battle hymn” for the reformation. Unlike many other hymns on this list, this one has a more rugged and strength-driven feel. It has been a source of inspiration for Protestants and Lutherans for 500 years. The first line, “A mighty fortress is our God, a bulwark never failing” is engraved on Luther’s monument is Wittenberg, Germany to this very day.
This hymn witnessed a resurgence in popularity when Christian Contemporary duo Shane & Shane and Vikki Cook of Sovereign Grace released an updated version a few years ago. The song was originally written by Charitie Lees Bancroft in the 1860s.
The hymn highlights awe inspiring realities that we have an advocate, Jesus Christ, before the throne God. One of my favorite lines reads, “Because the sinless Savoir died, my sinful soul is counted free, For God, the Just, is satisfied.”
This hymn was written by the acclaimed Augustus Toplady in 1775 and provides a wonderful picture of how Christ is our ancient Rock of protection from judgement and doom. It also contains the famous line, “Nothing in my hand I bring, simply to the cross I cling.”
Even though this hymn was written by Charles Wesley (a Methodist) in 1738, it has come to be a beloved hymn by the reformed community due to Christ exalting lyrics and the election imagery in the 4th stanza:
“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 recent years the hymn has seen a makeover, most notably by Indelible Grace.
Any “best-of” or great hymns list that excludes this classic should be disregarded almost immediately. This well-known hymn was written by John Newton in the late 1700’s and the lyrics find their roots in Newton’s conversation from slave-ship captain to abolitionist. Newton never got over the sin and pending judgment that Jesus saved Him from and this song is an expression of that gratitude.
There are countless renditions of the song; From Elvis to Gospel choirs, there is sure to be a version for your liking.
“I can see no reason why the Lord singled me out for mercy…. unless it was to show, by astonishing instance, that with Him ‘nothing is impossible’” – John Newton
Written by Robert Lowry in 1876, this great hymn echoes powerful truths about the saving power of Jesus blood and imputed righteousness we receive by faith as Christians. Many have suggested the scriptural foundation for this song to be from Hebrews 9:22, which reads, “without the shedding of blood there is no remission of sin.”
9) It Is Well
Despite the odd history and theology of Horatio Spafford, the story behind the final entry on our list of great hymns is an inspiration for anyone going through trials. The lyrics were written when Mr. Spafford took a boat and passed over the spot where a previous boat had sunk killing his 4 daughters. In that moment, he penned the famous words, “When peace like a river attendeth my way, when sorrows like sea billows roll.”
My personal favorite presentation of this song comes from Shane & Shane.