Monday, October 19, 2015

6 Manly Hymns For Manly Men

1. Come Thou Almighty King


Sacred songs that don't wander like Meander through the Büyük Menderes are getting harder and harder to find. People who write "Jesus is my boyfriend" songs seem to think that our God is hard of hearing, or that perhaps he is in the bathroom on Sunday mornings and we have to keep repeating ourselves until he comes out and notices us.

Here is a hymn that is tightly structured, almost as if it were a work of art made as elegant and strong and beautiful as our poor hands were able to make it. Crazy to imagine, I know. Much more honest to just make a sublime song out of airy feeling. But this is Father, Son, Holy Spirit, praise to all three, done.

The most fun part of this hymn is in the second line, where everybody, including the women, starts high, then end up down low. "Help us to praise!" Each verse is introduced gently in two lyrical lines, but then punches its way through five strong and rhythm-driven lines.

Usually there are only four verses, but when there are five, Jesus gets two verses. All the verses have militant lyrics, including words like defence, sword, and power. But the most militant verses are those belonging to the Son, who of course is the conqueror who comes on a white horse.

Jesus our Lord, arise, Scatter our enemies,
And make them fall!
Let thine Almighty aid, Our sure defence be made,
Our souls on thee be stay'd;
Lord hear our call!

Come, thou incarnate word, Gird on thy mighty sword -
Our pray'r attend!
Come! and thy people bless, And give thy word success,
Spirit of holiness
On us descend!





If you are a bass, this song finishes low and strong. Dig it.

2. The Son of God Goes Forth To War

This and the last song are the most warlike on the list. Warlike as in we're the army of the Lord of Hosts and we go to kick ass in his name. For that reason, it's got a lot of martyr action. That is, after all, how we win: we die unto new life. There's the drinking of cups of woe, there are tyrants' brandished steel and lions' gory manes. There's the bearing of crosses. There's dying to self while forgiving one's enemies. There's giving one's self up as Jesus did.

That martyr first, whose eagle eye
Could pierce beyond the grave;
Who saw his Master in the sky,
And called on Him to save.
Like Him, with pardon on His tongue,
In midst of mortal pain,
He prayed for them that did the wrong:
Who follows in His train?



This is pretty awesomely war-like, but it ain't even the most war-like song on this list. Just wait until we get to the end.

3. For All The Saints

This song has eleven verses if you want 'em all, and I know you do.

And when the strife is fierce, the warfare long,
Steals on the ear the distant triumph song,
And hearts are brave, again, and arms are strong.
Alleluia, Alleluia!

The golden evening brightens in the west;
Soon, soon to faithful warriors comes their rest;
Sweet is the calm of paradise the blessed.
Alleluia, Alleluia!

You've got to have a healthy ecclesiology to dig on this song to the fullest. It is addressed to Jesus, but also to ourselves as we sing. It reminds us that in the middle of this life's hard fighting, we can take comfort from the victories of the saints who came before us. Jesus was their Captain in their well-fought fight, and he will be ours as well. Just as we do now, future generations will hear our triumph songs and take heart.


4. A Mighty Fortress Is Our God

I mean, come on. Of course this one's on the list, not least for it's very Lutheran trash-talking of the devil. It also reminds not to in our own strength confide. Gustavus Adolphus would have his soldiers sing this as they went into battle during the Thirty Years' War.

But you don't have to go to war against all of papist Europe to dig on this song. You could have a gentle poet's soul and enjoy it acoustic cafe style.


5. Ah, Holy Jesus


Men do well to mourn, and here is a lament. It's the sort of sad thing that is so full of joy it makes us ask incredulously, "Will all sad things come untrue?"



6. Rise Again, Ye Lion-Hearted

This is the song I wanted to teach to my rugby team. Well, maybe just the last verse. It never happened, but it sure was a sweet sweet fantasy baby.

This is that song I promised, the one yet more war-like than The Son of God Goes Forth To War. It excels in all that germanic poetry doth excel in, especially alliteration, which with that driving rhythm makes me think that Beowulf himself would have been pleased to have chanted it before going out to meet the dragon. Lo, love’s light is on them, or facing danger dauntlessly, and the roar and rattle, and perhaps best of all, With the helping hand of Heaven, steadfast stand in battle bold!

Lo, love's light is on them, y'all. Be pleased to be part of the most heroic army that ever swept over the earth. We're dying all over the world now. Just 2,000 years ago we were only dying in Jerusalem, Judea, and Samaria. This is a fighting song, a standing song, a dying song. Rock on.

1 comment: