Over the past few weeks, I have been talking more about my love for Charles Wesley and his hymns. The poems he writes are beautiful, and I always enjoy singing them.
I am also in favour of trying to get them sung more often by those who may only want to sing more contemporary music. “And Can It Be” has more theology in it than most of what plays on Christian radio in a day. So, I was cautious yet intrigued when I saw a new album that claims to bring Charles Wesley into the radar of ‘today’s generation’. Sometimes it feels like watching the Harry Potter or Narnia films and being scared that they are going to do a horrendous job on the original stories (like they did with Prince Caspian and Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince).
So, I was very pleased to hear that I enjoyed nearly every song on the album! At first sight, I only knew four of the names (Tim Hughes, Mac Powell of Third Day, Leigh Nash of Sixpence None the Richer, and Brenton Brown). These news songs will likely never replace my favourite original tunes, but I have enjoyed them. I especially liked the ones that either I don’t know very well or find the usual hymn tunes something of a slight drag.
Among my favourites are ‘Rejoice the Lord is King’ and ‘Oh for a Heart to Praise My God’. The former has a rejoicing, upbeat tempo that I think fits in with a Christ the King Sunday theme. The latter takes on the prayerful mood of the song. ‘Come Thou Long-Expected Jesus’ is a fun, fast song that I enjoy listening to, but don’t think it quite matches the slower, more sombre theme of Advent. This is the only song where something is added – it doesn’t take away from the song, but find it odd he felt he needed to add something to it.
Surprisingly, I found ‘Christ the Lord is Risen Today’ to be a total change, but one I liked. It was slower and more hushed than the normal, triumphant hymn we sing on Easter morning. While I can’t say I like the newer version better, as I listen to this version, it reminds me of something I think Joel Marcus (NT prof, Duke Divinity) wrote. He wrote a lectionary commentary on Mark 16 and said that in the face of the devastation, our cries of ‘He is risen!’ need to be more of the hopeful whisper than an all out victory shout. Somehow, I think this song seems to capture some of that.
The only two songs I can’t seem to really connect with are ‘Love Divine’ and ‘Jesus Lover of My Soul’ (it took me a while to connect with that hymn). I can’t say why, though. I did enjoy ‘And Can It Be’ (Mac Powell), even though it will never replace Sagina.
I do not know if these songs will reach today’s generation, but I enjoy them. Still, I would challenge singer/songwriters to look at the great number of less well-known Charles Wesley hymns (those that aren’t tied firmly in the head to other tunes) and bring those to all generations. We have lost a lot because, frankly, some of the old hymn tunes are hard to sing or have a strange meter, but the words are beautiful. We need to be able to sing those more.