Sightings in Christian Music

by Glen V. Wiberg

When I asked Carleton R. Young, editor of the Methodist hymnal, whether the use of overheads in worship might not make singing from hymnals obsolete, he said: "We have all the technology to do so. But when the light of the overhead goes off, I have nothing in my hands. But when I take up my hymnal in song and prayer, I hold 2000 years of church history in my hands."

The following list of authors, composers, and translators might seem wasted time and effort. But, to some, it celebrates a rich legacy of history and a communion of saints that anticipates the heavenly song of high praise to God and the Lamb which will continue beyond the millennia. It is a treasure that is worth caring about and passing on to coming generations.

Moving from the second to the third millennium in the Christian era provides an occasion to take note of hymnic anniversaries with a focus on the years ending with "25," "50," "75," and "00." With the help of a Lutheran Cantor and hymnologist, Mark Filbert, I offer a partial list of anniversaries from our own Covenant hymnal. The date of the Christian or Common Era (in bold) is followed by a number in parentheses that indicates the anniversary in the year 2000.

375 (1625th): Synesius of Cyrene was born. He was the author of "Lord Jesus, Think on Me." 700 (1300th): The Venerable Bede may have written "A Hymn of Glory Let Us Sing." 750 (1250th): Theodulph of Orleans, probable author of "All Glory Laud and Honor," was born.

1150 (850th): Bernard of Clairvaux may have written the poem from which three hymns have been drawn, including "Jesus, O Joy of Loving Hearts." 1225 (775): Francis of Assisi wrote: "All Creatures of Our God and King." 1550 (450th): Nikolaus Decius was born. He authored "All Glory Be to God on High" and "O Lamb of God, Most Holy." 1625 (375th): Johan Rudolph Ahle who wrote "Blessed Jesus, at Your Word" was born. 1650 (350th): Joachim Neander, author of "Praise to the Lord, the Almighty" and "Open Now Your Gates of Beauty," was born.

1700 (300th): Nicolaus Ludwig von Zinzendorf, patron and bishop of the Moravian Church and author of "Jesus, Your Blood and Righteousness," was born. Timothy Dwight was born. He wrote "I Love Your Kingdom, Lord." John Newton, author of Amazing Grace," "One There Is Above All Others," "How Sweet the Name of Jesus Sounds," "Glorious Things of You Are Spoken," and "May the Grace of Christ, Our Savior," was born. 1750 (250th): Johann Sebastian Bach died. He composed and arranged existing tunes, such as "O Morning Star, How Fair and Bright," "O Sacred Head, Now Wounded," and several others.

1800 (200th): John Goss was born. He was musical editor of hymns and author of "Praise My Soul, the King of Heaven," (Melody also used for "Thanks to God Whose Word Was Spoken" and "May God’s Love Be Fixed Above You") and "See, Amid the Winter Snow." Matthew Bridges who authored the original version of "Crown Him With Many Crowns" was born. William Billings, who composed "When Jesus Wept," died. William Cowper died. He authored "God Moves in a Mysterious Way" and "Sometimes a Light Surprises." Dimitri S. Borniansky, composer of the Vesper Hymn whose melody is used with a hymn by Bryan Jeffery Leech, "We Are Part of God’s Creation," died.

1850 (150th): Andliga Sånger was published by Oscar Ahnfelt and underwritten by the famous singer Jenny Lind. The volume contained 12 songs with piano or guitar accompaniment and included Ahnfelt’s tune, "With God as Our Friend. Bessie Porter Head was born. She wrote "O Breath of Life." Frank Mason North, author of "Where Cross the Crowded Ways of Life," was born. Daniel Brink Towner was born. He authored "Trust and Obey." 1875 (125th): Philip P. Bliss wrote "Man of Sorrows, ‘What a Name’" and its accompanying tune, "Hallelujah! What a Savior!" Martin Edward Shaw was born. He was a Hymnal editor who prepared numerous harmonizations that continue in common use, such as "All Things Bright and Beautiful," and "God is Working His Purpose Out." John Samuel Monsell died. He authored many hymns including "Sing to the Lord of Harvest" and "On Our Way Rejoicing." Joseph P. Webster, author of "There’s a Land That Is Fairer Than Day," died.

1900 (100th): James Weldon Johnson wrote "Lift Every Voice and Sing" which has become the national anthem of African-Americans. David Elton Trueblood, author of "God, Whose Purpose Is To Kindle," was born. Samuel John Stone, author of "The Church’s One Foundation," died. Henry Twells, author of "At Evening When the Sun Was Set," died.

1925 (75th): The Hymnal and Order of Service was published by the Augustana Synod in Rock Island, Illinois. Of significance to Covenanters is the fact that, of the 663 hymns, 73 were English translations of Swedish originals. Among the translations were "Holy Majesty, Before You" and "Children of the Heavenly Father." Thomas Stevenson Colvin was born. He compiled four collections of African hymns and composed "Jesu, Jesu, Fill Us with Your Love." Alice Parker was born. She arranged, often with Robert Shaw, hundreds of hymns, including "My Lord of Light" and "Forgive Our Sins as We Forgive." Zenos Hawkinson, who translated "Now Comes the Time for Flowers," was born. Glen Vernon Wiberg was born. He translated "Jesus of Nazareth Passes By," "How Great the Joy," "O How Blest To Be a Pilgrim," and others. Samuel Trevor Francis died. He wrote "O the Deep, Deep Love of Jesus." John Wesley Work, Jr., arranger of "When Israel Was in Egypt’s Land" and "Go Tell It on the Mountain," died.

1950 (50th): Marty Haugen was born. He wrote many contemporary hymns such as "Halle, Halle, Hallelujah," "You Are the Salt of the Earth, O People," "Healer of Our Every Ill," "Gather Us In," and others. Hugh Thomson Kerr, author of "God of Our Life, through All the Circling Years," died. Graham Kendrick, author of "Shine, Jesus, Shine," was born.

With hymnal in hand and its songs assembled from a long, rich history in our hearts, we are ready for the new millennium.

Glen Wiberg, veteran Covenant pastor and writer, lives in New Brighton, Minnesota. He was Chairperson of the Covenant Hymnal Commission.

See all articles by Glen V. Wiberg