Page 3 - Light on the way
P. 3

From first to last the Bible is full of singing. We read in the book of Job how the morning stars sang together when God laid the foundations of the earth, and in the book of Revelation of ‘the voice of a great multitude like the sound of many waters’, breaking into that Hallelujah Chorus: ‘for the Lord our God the Almighty reigns.’ In between we have Miriam singing among the prophets and Deborah among the judges, Moses teaching his song to the people of Israel, while the book of Ezra counted a hundred and twenty-eight singers. It is said of King Solomon that besides his three thousand proverbs, ‘his songs were a thousand and five’; David the psalmist is known as ‘the sweet singer of Israel’; and the prophets – notably Isaiah –remind us that music and singing are woven into God’s creation: ‘Sing for joy, O heavens, and exult, O earth; break forth, O mountains, into singing!’
In the New Testament we read how Jesus and his friends sang together after that Last Supper, how Paul and Silas were singing hymns to God at midnight in prison at Philippi, and how in both the Ephesian and Colossian letters the fellowship are not only expected but instructed to sing. Indeed, as Erik Routley used to say, ‘Singing goes with what means most to people.’
The texts in this collection, written at different times over some five decades, can each be described as ‘based on’ some particular Scripture, as listed on the Contents page. They are, of course, only a selection from a much greater number which could be called ‘scriptural’. They are not, for the most part, strict metrical versions and certainly not translations. Often they borrow the structure and vocabulary of the sacred text, but sometimes it affords little more than a theme or starting point. There are fewer psalms than might be expected because the RSCM also publish a companion collection, A Mirror to the Soul (2013); and for the same reason there are almost no hymns on the Nativity since 45 of them feature in a similar publication, Beneath a Travelling Star (RSCM, 2016). William Llewellyn is music editor of both these collections also. We have worked closely and happily together over the last dozen years or more and I am constantly grateful for his skill, professionalism, hospitality and friendship.
Prediction is always risky. In 1839 J.M. Neale, many of whose hymns we still sing today, declared himself ‘more and more convinced that the age of hymns has passed’. Tennnyson, fifty years later, wondered, ‘What will people come to in a hundred years? do you think they will . . . sit in silence in the Church listening to the organ?’ Nearer our own day, the major hymnal Congregational Praise was published in 1951, followed two years later by a substantial Companion, in which the General Introduction affirmed ‘the divorce of the union which wedded the hymn-book to the Bible’, adding: ‘Cut adrift from its ancient mooring, hymnody was carried away by other currents.’ I am glad to think that in my lifetime (I was ordained in 1950) what is loosely called ‘the hymn explosion’ has played a part in the most welcome and perhaps decisive reversal of such a separation, to which this present collection seeks to make its own small contribution.
Timothy Dudley-Smith 2019 Ford, Salisbury

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