Amazing Grace at the Old Rugged Cross: A Celebration of Traditional Gospel Hymns



In preparation for this article, I do what many writers do: I turned to Facebook for opinions. I have never gotten so much feedback to a question as I did to “What is your favorite old Gospel hymn and why?” It warmed my heart tremendously, and I loved reading the “Why’s” behind so many beautiful classics. The response completely changed the original plans for this article, and it’s wonderful to learn the old favorites haven’t been forgotten. While there’s nothing wrong with contemporary worship—for me, I still love traditional Gospel hymns. Apparently, I’m not alone. With that said, let’s celebrate some traditional favorites.

Why Traditional Gospel?

When we speak of traditions, and things that are passed down to us, nothing we receive has the potential to become as personal in our lives as the faith we learn from our family. Gospel hymns conjure memories of parents and grandparents; and of learning the stories of Jesus in Sunday School classrooms of yesteryear. Just as certain songs take us back to specific memories, traditional Gospel music offers us similar comfort at a richer, more personal level, and the knowledge that God’s love endures throughout the years.

The Stories behind the Songs

So many of our traditional Gospel songs have backstories of inspiration that are as relatable today as when they were written. It’s the beauty of those deeply personal stories that make the lyrics so enduring. Consider the stories behind three of the most popular:

  • Amazing Grace” was written in 1772 by John Newton. The song is autobiographical and was inspired by Newton’s own conversion. After years of denying God, and mocking anyone who expressed faith in Christ, Newton found himself calling out to Him during the middle of a storm. Years later, Newton wrote “Amazing Grace” for a New Year’s Day prayer meeting. Over 200 years later, it is arguably the most popular song. Biography.com states that the song has been included on over 11,000 recorded albums and is performed over 10 million times per year.
  • In 1873, Horatio G. Spafford lost his four daughters after they drowned in a shipwreck. During his season of mourning, he wrote “It Is Well with My Soul.” Though devastated, he clung to his faith, penning the words that have touched countless lives. When we don’t understand the “Why’s” behind tragic events, we can remember—Jesus died for us so our souls can be well and whole.
  • We can thank Swedish poet, Carl Boberg, for the lyrics to “How Great Thou Art,” which he wrote in 1885. Boberg was inspired to write the hymn during the calm following a storm. Local church bells helped fuel his inspiration. It’s a great reminder of the overwhelming greatness of our Lord God.

Various Recordings

For some artists, the recording of Gospel music is a part of their own personal heritage. As previously mentioned, “Amazing Grace” has been recorded on over 11,000 albums. Just a few of the notable names who have recorded it include Aretha Franklin, Rod Stewart, Meryl Streep, Alan Jackson, Willie Nelson, and Whitney Houston, U2, and Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler.

Thoughts on Gospel Hymns

I would be remiss if I didn’t share some of the beautiful feedback to my Facebook question.

“‘What a Friend We Have in Jesus,’ is my favorite, because it reminds me that I never have to carry my burden alone, but I can carry it all to Him in prayer!” ~ Terra C.

“‘Amazing Grace’ is my favorite, because it talks of the true meaning of salvation. [It] blesses my heart every time I sing or hear it!!” ~ Dawn M.

“I can’t pick one because they all have such meaning, because of my relationship with Jesus and also my memories of church with my grandma and parents singing.” ~ Jennifer S.

“Singing hymns connects generations. There’s something to be said for singing the old hymns our parents, grandparents and those who came before sang…it has to do with passing down our faith.” ~ Ava L.

•••

The following is the list of favorite Gospel hymns I collected through my informal Facebook poll. Which are yours? What would you add?

  1. Abide with Me
  2. Amazing Grace
  3. Be Thou My Vision
  4. Because He Lives
  5. Beulah Land
  6. Christ the Lord is Risen Today
  7. Come Thou Fount
  8. Eagles Wings
  9. Glory Hallelujah
  10. Happy Day
  11. He Lifted Me
  12. Here I Am Lord
  13. His Eye is On the Sparrow
  14. Holy, Holy, Holy
  15. How Great Thou Art
  16. I Surrender All
  17. I’d Rather Have Jesus
  18. I’ll Fly Away
  19. In the Garden
  20. It Is Well With My Soul
  21. Leaning On the Everlasting Arms
  22. Mighty Fortress is Our God
  23. Must I Go, and Empty-Handed
  24. My Heavenly Father Watches Over Me
  25. Oh, How I Love Jesus
  26. Old Rugged Cross
  27. On the Wings of a Dove
  28. Rock of Ages
  29. Sweet Hour of Prayer
  30. The Church in the Wildwood
  31. The Vacant Chair
  32. This is My Father’s World
  33. Victory in Jesus
  34. What a Friend We Have in Jesus
  35. When the Roll is Called Up Yonder
  36. When We All Get to Heaven

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