Most people in my generation (born post-1980) are not very familiar with Christian hymns. Even having grown up in a church that regularly sang hymns, my own familiarity with them is somewhat lacking compared to my wife, who attended a church with exclusive hymnody. My current church doesn’t sing hymns at all, with the exception of the Christmas Eve service and occasional modernized versions of the old hymns set to new music. The teenagers and many of the adults would not recognize “Rock of Ages,” a long-time favorite of many in my church growing up.
I was never a big fan of hymns, especially when I compared them to the more exciting, more upbeat songs that popular bands were putting out. The band Delirious? had us singing “I Could Sing of Your Love Forever” and Chris Tomlin got us to move with “Forever.” Now that I’m a little older and less inclined to reject things older people enjoyed, I’ve developed a longing for some of the old hymns. Some, for sure, had terribly melancholy tunes that didn’t fit with the lyrics, and for the hundreds or thousands of songs penned by Watts, Wesley, and others, only a few of them were “hits.” But the words of some hymns were so poetic, so worshipful, that it is a shame that our modern churches don’t use them, even as devotional readings during our weekly gatherings.
Consider the powerful first verse of “Immortal, Invisible”:
Immortal, invisible, God only wise,
in light inaccessible hid from our eyes,
most blessed, most glorious, the Ancient of Days,
almighty, victorious, thy great Name we praise.
Instead of saying “We praise you, our great God,” this song describes God in poetic verse using the words of Scripture. God is immortal, invisible (1 Tim. 1:17), the only wise God (Rom. 16:27). He is hid in inaccessible light (1 Tim. 6:16). He is most blessed, most glorious (1 Tim. 1:11), the Ancient of Days (Dan. 7:9). He is almighty, victorious (Rev. 19:15), and has a great name (1 Sam. 12:22).
If you find yourself regularly singing modern songs, many of which are great and timeless in their own right, you would do well to listen to some hymns and reflect on their words. Perhaps suggest to your worship leader or pastor that some of the old hymns be read aloud to introduce a modern song or the sermon passage. You may just find that you are encouraged and the church edified by such readings.