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.
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?
- Abide with Me
- Amazing Grace
- Be Thou My Vision
- Because He Lives
- Beulah Land
- Christ the Lord is Risen Today
- Come Thou Fount
- Eagles Wings
- Glory Hallelujah
- Happy Day
- He Lifted Me
- Here I Am Lord
- His Eye is On the Sparrow
- Holy, Holy, Holy
- How Great Thou Art
- I Surrender All
- I’d Rather Have Jesus
- I’ll Fly Away
- In the Garden
- It Is Well With My Soul
- Leaning On the Everlasting Arms
- Mighty Fortress is Our God
- Must I Go, and Empty-Handed
- My Heavenly Father Watches Over Me
- Oh, How I Love Jesus
- Old Rugged Cross
- On the Wings of a Dove
- Rock of Ages
- Sweet Hour of Prayer
- The Church in the Wildwood
- The Vacant Chair
- This is My Father’s World
- Victory in Jesus
- What a Friend We Have in Jesus
- When the Roll is Called Up Yonder
- When We All Get to Heaven