If you go (or used to go) to church you probably know what I mean when I say that there are some hymns that stay with you. It might be because they have a special meaning for you, or perhaps a particular turn of phrase strikes you. Sometimes we find a well-crafted piece of poetry; and sometimes the way the lines run they can appear slightly absurd. One old chestnut: “My God I love thee not because I hope for heaven thereby”. Get the punctuation wrong and it says we don’t love God. Get the punctuation right, and we are saying that we love God and that going to heaven is not the main reason for doing so.

Anyway, to get to the point. There were two hymns which I learnt as a child at school and could not find in any of the hymn books we use at church. The words are reasonably “doctrinally sound”, I suppose, but did not explicitly state the gospel so I guess that that is the reason why they have not made it into modern collections of hymns (traditional or otherwise). In the end, I discovered that they were in a hymn book called “Songs of Praise”. Do you know how many hymn books are called “Songs of Praise”? I could think of at least three and two of them were on my music shelf. Eventually I tracked down “Songs of Praise” originally published in 1922 (I think) with a revised edition in 1931. Bang up to date, then. I found the ones I was looking for and then started browsing.

It did not take me long to discover why we don’t use that particular hymn book in any churches that I know of. Alongside hymns that have become old favourites, and some classics, there is also a whole swathe of hymns that seem to be the choice of a Victorian governess or an Edwardian sergeant major. For example, one hymn begins: “Come, labour on! Who dares stand idle on the harvest plain?” Each verse begins “Come, labour on!” I’m sure it’s meant to be encouraging but I read it as “get off your backsides you lazy so-and-sos” from an over zealous foreman.

Meanwhile, the previous hymn seems to be saying that we should be glad that so many people have died; because that means that there will be someone to meet us when we get to heaven. The last but one verse begins “Trudge on” which seems to sum up the spirit of the whole hymn. Perseverance is a good virtue but there is a weariness that besets this hymn.

Fortunately, that is not the whole of the hymn book. It now naturally falls open at the page of the hymn I was looking for. The last verse goes:

“All that we need to do, be we low or high

Is to see that we grow nearer the sky.”

And the first line is: “Glad that I live am I”

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