Book Reviews: The Gospel Hymn Book and Gospel Hymns

Singing hymns is important, for it reinforces truth that is presented by preaching. What we sing and how we sing is significant. Both convey a message.

Last year, two works, The Gospel Hymn Book and Gospel Hymns were released providing options for believers to consider when purchasing new hymn books. Both books should be evaluated on their own merits. They should be approached without partiality or bias. All who have worked to produce these hymn books desire that they will be used for the glory of God.

The Gospel Hymn Book

Originally published as the Pacific Gospel Hymn Book in 1913 by James Rae, it later became known as The Gospel Hymn Book when revised by Hector Alves in 1946. While it has undergone a number of reprintings during the past 54 years, it was only revised twice, in 1983 and most recently in 2000. Today, it is used extensively throughout North American assemblies. Used to a lesser extent are Redemption Songs and Choice Hymns of the Faith.

It contains 407 hymns and has been expanded from the previous edition of 256. While 182 additional hymns are included, 31 from the previous edition are omitted. In addition, 23 have an expanded number of verses and three were reduced.

The Gospel Hymn Book can best be described as being multi-functional. Besides 240 carefully selected gospel hymns (an increase of 55), the balance of 167 are divided into the following subject areas: Adoration and Praise (36), Christian Life (82), Baptism (13), and Missionary (36). Christians will appreciate the new format with believer’s hymns being placed into subject areas. It is a versatile, all-purpose hymn book suitable for various occasions.

Over time, word meanings, or at least their general use and our understanding of words, can change. Expressions or words such as, “the gay scenes of life”, from “As I bid adieu to the world’s fancied pleasures” are not really appropriate today. In our society, they convey a different meaning from what the author intended. The editors, recognizing this, have excluded such hymns.

A careful reading of all hymns is important. For the most part, wording in The Gospel Hymn Book is unchanged from the previous edition. However, some of the hymns have alternative wording, though not as commonly known. For instance, Joseph Hart’s hymn, “Come, ye sinners, poor and wretched” has various renderings. Wording in the most recent revision of The Gospel Hymn Book differs from the previous edition.

Charles Wesley’s hymn “And Can It Be” has a notable change in the first verse. The wording “That Thou, my God, shouldst die for me?” belongs to poetic license and not sound doctrine. It has been changed to “That Thou my Lord, shouldst die for me?” making a welcome amendment to the hymn.

Where available, both the name and life span of the author are noted. Suitable tunes are referenced at the top of all but 22 of the hymns. CD’s providing a tune for each hymn are also available from the publisher.

The book contains two indexes: a subject index with the first line of each of the hymns covered in each of the five categories, and an alphabetical index of the first line of all hymns included. Hymns can be located by either subject or alphabetical listing.

Attractively presented, The Gospel Hymn Book is bound in a green flexible vinyl cover with embossed gold printing. The larger dimensions of the book enabled the hymns to be printed in a larger font than previous editions. With our aging population this is a welcome feature.

The Gospel Hymn Book is an enlarged and enhanced version of former editions. Believers will appreciate changes in style, structure, and selectivity of the hymns. Its utility and versatility has increased by the expanded number of hymns suitable for different occasions.

The Gospel Hymn Book is published by and available from:

Western Gospel Publishing Foundation
P.O. Box 88017
Richmond, BC V6X 3T6

Gospel Hymns

Unlike The Gospel Hymn Book, which is a major revision of an existing work, Gospel Hymns, edited by Eugene Higgins and David Oliver, is a new work spanning over three years. It was published in 2000.

As suggested by the name, Gospel Hymns is devoted, almost exclusively, to communicating gospel truth. All but three of the 291 hymns are designed for this purpose. Recognizing the close association between salvation and baptism coupled with the gospel being preached at baptisms, three hymns suitable for these occasions were included.

Imparting gospel truth effectively, through song, in understandable language is the focus of Gospel Hymns. Two hundred and eighty-four gospel hymns, selected from 12 different works, were adapted with this goal in view. In addition, four hymns written for this work were included.

While believers enjoy singing the old familiar gospel hymns, Gospel Hymns has been approached from the viewpoint of the targeted audience. Effort has been made to communicate gospel truth in a manner that one unfamiliar with the gospel can understand.

Gospel Hymns, in adapting well-known hymns, recognizes words, their usage and meanings have changed over time. Obscure meanings or nuances have been removed. References to individuals reflect today’s language while reserving the old English when addressing divine persons. Hymns are worded in a manner in which one would directly address a person.

Hymns are not always consistent in their wording. “Why do you wait” by Geo. F. Root is rendered differently in various hymn books. In Hymns of Light and Love, it is “Why do you wait, O lost one?” Redemption Hymns renders it “Why do you wait, O brother?” In The Gospel Hymn Book it is worded “Why do you wait O sinner”, and in Gospel Hymns, it is “Why do you wait to trust Him?”

While recognizing that poetic license is part of hymnology, the editors, in adapting the hymns, have attempted to reduce or eliminate doctrinal error as much as possible.

Following 91 hymns, a brief note helps clarify, for one with little biblical knowledge, the background to the hymn. For example, following No. 111, “If I gained the world but lost the Savior,” a note provides the question the Lord Jesus posed. With the benefit of the question, the truth of the hymn is more meaningful.

The credit line following each hymn, recognizes the author whose work has been adapted, the title or first line of the original hymn as well as the source of the hymn.

Since the hymns are adapted, it is important that a suitable tune be readily available. For many, the credit line will provide the recollection of the tune. At the top of some hymns, alternate tunes are listed or other hymns in the book having the same tune are referenced.

The “Credit Index” is extremely important. Locating a hymn by the wording with which one is familiar is possible. For example, “Hark, sinner while God from on high doth entreat thee,” has been changed to “God graciously calling from heaven entreats you”. The credit index provides a cross-reference until one is familiar with the new wording.

Besides the Credit Index, an Index of First Lines and Titles is provided. A Subject Index, covering 10 subjects, facilitates selecting suitable hymns for gospel meetings. About 40% of the hymns are listed in more than one category.

Gospel Hymns, is an attractively hardbound volume with gold lettering on the burgundy cover. Although the wording style is “user friendly”, the gospel content has not been diluted or diminished. Believers who are active in bringing the unsaved to the meetings will appreciate the approach of Gospel Hymns.

Gospel Hymns is available from:

New England Bible Sales
RR#1, Box 297l Knowles Rd.,
Belgrade, ME, USA 04917

A word of caution is needed. It is important that the issue of hymn books does not become an area that polarizes the Lord’s servants, believers or assemblies. It has the potential to do so, if allowed. The selection or choice of a hymn book should be made by each assembly without any outside influence and be based on what best meets the need. Scriptural principles are not involved in the choice but rather personal preference.