Posted by: njs44 | March 14, 2010

Changing Lyrics

I have been encouraged, by one or two people who claim to have seen my blog, to carry on. This doesn’t make the task of finding something to write about any easier. It does, however, make the effort more worthwhile. So, to those of you who are reading this, please carry on reading. It is great to get comments, too, and even though the software that works behind the scenes manages to trap a lot of spam comments, there are still a few ‘real’ comments that brighten my day.

Today I am writing about the words of hymns, and the way these are sometimes found to be, for one reason or another, in need of amendment. I love the old hymns, the ones that bring back happy memories of childhood, the ones that fill me with nostalgia for some of the countless times I have sung them before. Today we sang Love divine all loves excelling and I was transported back to my childhood when I used to sing in an Anglican Church choir. This hymn was regularly on the agenda for weddings, and we never got tired of it as there was more than one tune to use, to create variety.

There is nothing wrong with nostalgia, but sometimes I get a feeling that times have moved on, and that some of those old-fashioned lyrics are inappropriate in today’s liturgy. I know that some of my readers will disagree, but I think there comes a time when we need to move on in our sentiments and our worship. An example of this is another hymn which we sang this morning. It caused a small amount of consternation to find that the new hymn-books we are using had a different version of the words from those with which we were all familiar.

God of mercy and compassion,
Look with pity upon me,
Father, let me call Thee Father,
‘Tis Thy child returns to Thee.

Jesus, Lord, I ask for mercy;
Let me not implore in vain;
All my sins, I now detest them,
Never will I sin again.

2. By my sins I have deserved
Death and endless misery,
Hell with all its pains and torments,
And for all eternity.

3. By my sins I have abandoned
Right and claim to heav’n above.
Where the saints rejoice forever
In a boundless sea of love.

4. See our Savior, bleeding, dying,
On the cross of Calvary;
To that cross my sins have nail’d Him,
Yet He bleeds and dies for me.

The above is the traditional version. As I read through the words, and considered them closely, I can see why that hymn is so fitting for today when we heard the story of the Prodigal son. It fits beautifully with the mood of the son as he returns to his father. It also gives us a glimpse ahead to Holy Week, which is fast approaching. (Isn’t it odd how Lent seems to gather momentum and the weeks go by faster and faster? I am sure Ash Wednesday was only a couple of weeks ago, and yet here we are on the 4th Sunday of Lent!)

But, returning to the hymn, I have difficulty singing those words and meaning them. ‘Never will I sin again’ is plainly not going to happen. I know I will sin again. I know I am not perfect. In spite of this, I am not sure about deserving Hell with all its pains and torments, either. Even if I do deserve eternal punishment, when I think about the ladies around me in the choir, those who have led such exemplary lives of faith, I cannot believe they deserve pains and torments for all eternity. Nobody’s perfect, but nobody’s that bad either. It all seems a bit OTT.

So now we turn to the ‘new’ words. The final verse has been cut completely, leaving just three verses and chorus.

God of mercy and compassion,
Lord of life and blinding light,
truth whom creatures would refashion,
place on us the gift of sight.

Truth insistent and demanding
Love resented and ignored,
Life beyond all understanding,
give us peace and pardon, Lord.

God most holy and forgiving,
penetrate our pride and sloth;
on a people partly living,
place the gift of life and growth.


Lord, who out of love consented
to the worst that we could do;
Lord, abandoned and tormented,
let us love and suffer too.


I think most people will agree that this is a totally different hymn, sung to the same tune as the original one. They share only the first line, and the theme of ‘sin’. I am not sure why the compilers of the hymn book decided to commission a new version, and I am not sure they will have many enthusiastic supporters in this. I don’t like the new version any more than the old. The new version has wrapped up the ‘sackcloth and ashes’ in different words. The new version has given me pause for thought, and that’s not a bad thing. But there is no joy in this hymn. It is gloomy and full of foreboding. Where is the joy of the father when the prodigal returns? Where is the fatted calf? Where is the robe and the ring? ‘Let us love and suffer too’ is how the new version ends. Well, I suppose it is Lent.



  1. It’s great you are continuing the blog!

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