One of the Best Loved Hymns

There are some hymns I’m convinced every church should sing. These hymns contain a depth of truth, soaring along a memorable melody, that transcends the age. Hymns that fall in this category would be anthems like “Amazing Grace,” “It is Well,” “There is a Fountain,” and “A Mighty Fortress.”

Another title, for me, that belongs in the discussion is Augustus Toplady’s magnificent “Rock of Ages,” which has been called “the best known, best loved, and most widely used hymn in the English language.” Does your church sing it?

The Story Behind the Song1

In 1756 Toplady was converted at the age of sixteen while listening to a man of God preach the word in a local barn. Six years later he was ordained as an Anglican priest.

One of the more interesting aspects of Toplady’s ministry is his animosity towards John Wesley. As a convinced Calvinist he believed Wesley’s doctrine fell far short of Scripture. He once wrote, “I believe [Wesley] to be the most rancorous hater of the gospel-system that ever appeared on this island.” “Wesley is guilty of satanic shamelessness,” he wrote on another occasion, “of acting the ignoble part of a lurking, shy assassin.”

In 1776 Toplady published an article on the subject of God’s forgiveness and one scholar says it was intended “as a slap at Wesley.” The article ended with an original poem containing the now famous words:

Rock of ages, cleft for me,
Let me hide myself in Thee.

The poem far outlived Toplady (who died at the tender age of thirty-eight) and in 1830 Thomas Hastings put it to a melodic line that echoed around the world for almost two centuries.

Take Your Pick

A hymn of gospel richness awaits your people in “Rock of Ages.” Thankfully, some recent arrangements of the hymn have come out and give Toplady’s work an artistic, yet congregational flourish. Check out the lyrics below and a few of the best arrangements available today.


Rock of Ages, cleft for me,
Let me hide myself in Thee;
Let the water and the blood,
From Thy wounded side which flowed,
Be of sin the double cure;
Save from wrath and make me pure.

Not the labor of my hands
Can fulfill Thy law’s demands;
Could my zeal no respite know,
Could my tears forever flow,
All for sin could not atone;
Thou must save, and Thou alone.

Nothing in my hand I bring,
Simply to the cross I cling;
Naked, come to Thee for dress;
Helpless look to Thee for grace;
Foul, I to the fountain fly;
Wash me, Savior, or I die.

While I draw this fleeting breath,
When mine eyes shall close in death,
[originally When my eye-strings break in death]
When I soar to worlds unknown,
See Thee on Thy judgment throne,
Rock of Ages, cleft for me,
Let me hide myself in Thee.

  1. Adapted from Then Sings My Soul by Robert Morgan.

A Hymn for All Seasons


Part of ordinary ministry is leading our churches to sing the best songs possible. We want songs full of biblical and theological truth that soar on congregational melodies. One such song is the classic, “How Firm a Foundation.”

Singing Scripture’s Powerful Promises

For sixty-three years Rippon pastored Carter’s Lane Baptist Church in London, starting in 1775. During his years at Carter’s Lane Rippon developed a vision for a congregational hymnal and with the help of Robert Keene (his minister of music) A Selection of Hymns from the Best Authors, Intended to Be an Appendix to Dr. Watts’ Psalms and Hymns was published in 1787. It was a runaway bestseller, especially among the Baptists, going through eleven different editions in Rippon’s lifetime.

It was here “How Firm a Foundation” made its debut. No one knows its author as the author’s line simply bore the letter “K.” Thus, our best guest is the song came from the pen of Keene. What’s undeniable is the songs lyrical power. Each of the original seven verses are based on explicit biblical promises, including:

  • “Fear thou not; for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness.” (Isa. 41:10)
  • When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee: when thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned; neither shall the flame kindle upon thee.” (Isa. 43:2)
  • And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” (2 Cor. 12:9)
  • “He hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.” (Heb. 13:5)

It is not surprising then to find out the song was originally titled, “Exceedingly Great and Precious Promises.”


How firm a foundation, ye saints of the Lord,
Is laid for your faith in His excellent Word!
What more can He say than to you He hath said,
You, who unto Jesus for refuge have fled?

In every condition, in sickness, in health;
In poverty’s vale, or abounding in wealth;
At home and abroad, on the land, on the sea,
As thy days may demand, shall thy strength ever be.

Fear not, I am with thee, O be not dismayed,
For I am thy God and will still give thee aid;
I’ll strengthen and help thee, and cause thee to stand
Upheld by My righteous, omnipotent hand.

When through the deep waters I call thee to go,
The rivers of woe shall not thee overflow;
For I will be with thee, thy troubles to bless,
And sanctify to thee thy deepest distress.

When through fiery trials thy pathways shall lie,
My grace, all sufficient, shall be thy supply;
The flame shall not hurt thee; I only design
Thy dross to consume, and thy gold to refine.

Even down to old age all My people shall prove
My sovereign, eternal, unchangeable love;
And when hoary hairs shall their temples adorn,
Like lambs they shall still in My bosom be borne.

The soul that on Jesus has leaned for repose,
I will not, I will not desert to its foes;
That soul, though all hell should endeavor to shake,
I’ll never, no never, no never forsake.

Various Arrangements

Here are four different arrangements of the hymn. The first three retain the traditional melody and the fourth channels all the production of modern CCM music.

Songs to Sing

If you aren’t familiar with the work of Indelible Grace Music, then you, my friend, are missing out. Indelible Grace grew out of Reformed University Fellowship (RUF)—the PCA’s ministry to college students. As these students began to taste more of the depth of the gospel and the richness of the hymn tradition, many began to join the music of their culture with the words of our forefathers (and mothers!), and a movement was born.

Ever since Indelible Grace has churned out reworked hymns year after year. I confess that I’m not always keen on their musical arrangements, but the melodies offer a wonderful template on which to build. Case in point: “Go to Dark Gethsemane” and “For all the Saints.” The melodies are congregational and the words are wonderful. If you don’t like the musical accompaniment, have no fear, just put your creative skills to work as each song is quite malleable.

Listen below and see if you don’t agree.

Lyrics to “Go to Dark Gethsemane”

1. Go to dark Gethsemane,
ye that feel the tempter’s power;
your Redeemer’s conflict see,
watch with him one bitter hour.
Turn not from his griefs away;
learn of Jesus Christ to pray.

2. See him at the judgment hall,
beaten, bound, reviled, arraigned;
O the wormwood and the gall!
O the pangs his soul sustained!
Shun not suffering, shame, or loss;
learn of Christ to bear the cross.

3. Calvary’s mournful mountain climb;
there, adoring at his feet,
mark that miracle of time,
God’s own sacrifice complete.
“It is finished!” hear him cry;
learn of Jesus Christ to die.

4. Early hasten to the tomb
where they laid his breathless clay;
all is solitude and gloom.
Who has taken him away?
Christ is risen! He meets our eyes;
Savior, teach us so to rise.

Lyrics to “For All the Saints”

1. For all the saints who from their labors rest,
Who Thee by faith before the world confess,
Thy name, O Jesus, be forever blest,
Alleluia! Alleluia!

2. Thou wast their Rock, their Fortress, and their Might;
Thou, Lord, their Captain in the well-fought fight;
Thou, in the darkness drear, their one true Light.
Alleluia! Alleluia!

3. Oh, may Thy soldiers, faithful, true and bold,
Fight as the saints who nobly fought of old
And win with them the victor’s crown of gold.
Alleluia! Alleluia!

4. O blest communion, fellowship divine,
We feebly struggle, they in glory shine;
Yet all are one in Thee, for all are Thine.
Alleluia! Alleluia!

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

6. But, lo, there breaks a yet more glorious day;
The saints triumphant rise in bright array;
The King of Glory passes on His way.
Alleluia! Alleluia!

Check out all the Indelible Grace music here on Bandcamp.

Sing of His Love

As David selected a few choice stones for battle, so pastors select a few choice songs each week he and his congregation can hurl against the kingdom of darkness. He needs songs sharp in truth and strong in melody. One valuable weapon-like melody is Samuel Trevor Francis’ “O the Deep, Deep Love of Jesus.” In three short verses Francis manages to visualize the immense love of Christ for His church—a love which bought His people and beat the Devil.

When Crossing the Thames

Francis was born on November 19, 1834, in a village north of London. Having a artist for a father meant Francis developed early on a love and gift in poetry. In time he came to love music and joined the church choir at the age of nine. Yet, just like so many throughout the ages, Francis proceeded to spiritually wander through his teenage years.

One day, as he later wrote, “I was on my way home from work and had to cross Hungerford Bridge to the south of the Thames. During the winter’s night of wind and rain and in the loneliness of that walk, I cried to God to have mercy on me. I stayed for a moment to look at the dark waters flowing under the bridge, and the temptation was whispered to me: ‘Make an end of all this misery.’ I drew back from the evil thought, and suddenly a message was borne into my very soul: ‘You do believe in the Lord Jesus Christ?’ I at once answered, ‘I do believe,’ and I put my whole trust in Him as my Savior.”

Samuel Francis cultivated a deep, deep love for the Savior, joining a local body of believers, preaching the gospel at revivals, and leading worship. He later went on to write this powerful hymn, and he continued to fight the good fight, finishing well the race set before him—after ninety-two years.

A Moving Melody

“O the Deep, Deep Love of Jesus,” Francis’ most famous hymn, is set to an appropriately rolling melody called “Ton-Y-Botel” (“Tune in a Bottle”) because of a legend that it was found in a bottle along the Welsh coast. It was actually composed by Thomas J. Williams and first appeared in a 1890 Welsh hymnal entitled Llawlyfn Moliant.

Here are three different recordings of the great hymn—one with the traditional melody, the other with a more contemplative arrangement by Bob Kauflin.


Oh the deep, deep love of Jesus
Vast, unmeasured, boundless, free
Rolling as a mighty ocean
In its fullness over me
Underneath me, all around me
Is the current of Your love
Leading onward, leading homeward
To Your glorious rest above

CHORUS (Kauflin arrangement)
Oh the deep, deep love
All I need and trust
Is the deep, deep love of Jesus

Oh the deep, deep love of Jesus
Spread His praise from shore to shore
How He came to pay our ransom
Through the saving cross He bore
How He watches o’er His loved ones
Those He died to make His own
How for them He’s interceding
Pleading now before the throne

Oh the deep, deep love of Jesus
Far surpassing all the rest
It’s an ocean full of blessing
In the midst of every test
Oh the deep, deep love of Jesus
Mighty Savior, precious Friend
You will bring us home to glory
Where Your love will never end

Messenger Hymns

For almost seven years now it’s been a great privilege to call Matt Boswell a friend and partner in the gospel. We served on staff together at Providence Church before we planted IDC in 2013.

I’d say about seventy percent of the songs we sing at IDC are hymns of old. The remaining thirty percent include many songs Bos has written for the church. It’s thus a wonderful day when we can celebrate a new Boswell release. Just this week Bos gave Christ’s church another rich EP entitled Messenger Hymns Vol. 2.

“God Omniscient, God All Knowing” has long been a personal favorite and is a quintessential “call to worship” song. “Come Behold the Wondrous Mystery,” “O Church of Christ, Invincible,” and “God the Spirit” are some of our congregation’s favorites.

You can stream the seven songs below and then go buy the album on iTunes.

The Song of the Season

Out of all the special days in the Christian calendar the one I love the most is Easter. Actually, I love the whole week leading up to the climax of Easter Sunday. Significant gospel truth and grace saturate each day. I also love Easter because it gives us an excuse to sing one of Charles Wesley’s greatest hymns: “Christ the Lord is Risen Today.”

The Story Behind the Song

charles-wesley_1For almost 300 years Wesley’s anthem of triumph has rung out in Christ’s church. Tim Challies writes, “The earliest forms of the hymn can be traced back to a Latin text from the 14th century. In 1708 the four Latin stanzas were translated into English and published by J. Walsh in Lyra Davidica under the title “Jesus Christ Is Risen Today.” A few decades later, in 1739, a modified version was published by John and Charles Wesley (Charles is pictured to the right) in Hymns and Sacred Poems under the title “Hymn for Easter Day.” It is this version, later shortened and supplemented with the “Alleluia” refrain, that has become the hymn that remains so popular today.”

Stuffed With Stanzas

Many of the famous Wesley songs are full of stanzas churches rarely sing. Most famously, “O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing” has 19 different verses! “Christ the Lord is Risen Today” has eleven and each one shouts forth the glory of Christ’s victory. A great devotional practice for this week would be to meditate on a few stanzas of the hymn each day. Here are all 11:

  1. Christ, the Lord, is risen today, Alleluia!
    Sons of men and angels say, Alleluia!
    Raise your joys and triumphs high, Alleluia!
    Sing, ye heavens, and earth, reply, Alleluia!
  2. Love’s redeeming work is done, Alleluia!
    Fought the fight, the battle won, Alleluia!
    Lo! the Sun’s eclipse is over, Alleluia!
    Lo! He sets in blood no more, Alleluia!
  3. Vain the stone, the watch, the seal, Alleluia!
    Christ hath burst the gates of hell, Alleluia!
    Death in vain forbids His rise, Alleluia!
    Christ hath opened paradise, Alleluia!
  4. Lives again our glorious King, Alleluia!
    Where, O death, is now thy sting? Alleluia!
    Once He died our souls to save, Alleluia!
    Where thy victory, O grave? Alleluia!
  5. Soar we now where Christ hath led, Alleluia!
    Following our exalted Head, Alleluia!
    Made like Him, like Him we rise, Alleluia!
    Ours the cross, the grave, the skies, Alleluia!
  6. Hail, the Lord of earth and Heaven, Alleluia!
    Praise to Thee by both be given, Alleluia!
    Thee we greet triumphant now, Alleluia!
    Hail, the resurrection, thou, Alleluia!
  7. King of glory, Soul of bliss, Alleluia!
    Everlasting life is this, Alleluia!
    Thee to know, Thy power to prove, Alleluia!
    Thus to sing and thus to love, Alleluia!
  8. Hymns of praise then let us sing, Alleluia!
    Unto Christ, our heavenly King, Alleluia!
    Who endured the cross and grave, Alleluia!
    Sinners to redeem and save. Alleluia!
  9. But the pains that He endured, Alleluia!
    Our salvation have procured, Alleluia!
    Now above the sky He’s King, Alleluia!
    Where the angels ever sing. Alleluia!
  10. Jesus Christ is risen today, Alleluia!
    Our triumphant holy day, Alleluia!
    Who did once upon the cross, Alleluia!
    Suffer to redeem our loss. Alleluia!

A Solid Rendition

If you’re a bit shy of pulling the trigger on having your church sing some Wesley this weekend you might consider this arrangement from NCC:

“Come Ye Sinners”

Joseph Hart’s old hymn “Come Ye Sinners” is one I’d love to see make its way into every congregation’s song library. It’s a simple, yet earnest call to come to the Lord Jesus. One of the better modern arrangements you can find is one I doubt you’ve come across.

When I was a student pastor back in 2007 one of my former student leaders have me an album named “Grace Comes Home” by a band named Cambridge. Surrounded by decent covers of the time’s popular praise songs is a bright and full rendition of Hart’s singing gospel call. Check it out below and then consider singing one of the lesser known verses.


Come, ye sinners, poor and needy,
Weak and wounded, sick and sore;
Jesus ready stands to save you,
Full of pity, love and power.


I will arise and go to Jesus,
He will embrace me in His arms;
In the arms of my dear Savior,
O there are ten thousand charms.

Come, ye thirsty, come, and welcome,
God’s free bounty glorify;
True belief and true repentance,
Every grace that brings you nigh.

Come, ye weary, heavy laden,
Lost and ruined by the fall;
If you tarry till you’re better,
You will never come at all.

View Him prostrate in the garden;
On the ground your Maker lies.
On the bloody tree behold Him;
Sinner, will this not suffice?

Lo! th’incarnate God ascended,
Pleads the merit of His blood:
Venture on Him, venture wholly,
Let no other trust intrude.

Let not conscience make you linger,
Not of fitness fondly dream;
All the fitness He requireth
Is to feel your need of Him.

Old Hymns Made New

I’m surely biased since he’s a good friend, but few modern hymn writers are as good as Matt Boswell. In addition to his many originals Bos has rearranged some old hymns well worth your attention. Here are two you should know about.

The first is “God the Spirit,” a new melodic arrangement of Samuel Stone’s lyrics from 1866. Songs have instructive power and Stone’s hymn is a crash course in pneumatology. The second redone hymn is Henry Allon’s “In the Name of God the Father,” an eloquent tune on the Lord’s Supper. The language on this one is earnest, poetic, and rich. It would be a great preparatory song for the church’s gathering at Jesus’ Table.

How many songs does your church have that explicitly and melodically extol the doctrines of the Holy Spirit and the Lord’s Supper? However many you have, I’m sure you’d love to have more! So check out these two old hymns made new.

God the Spirit

Holy fount of inspiration
By whose gift the great of old
Spoke the word of revelation
Marvelous and manifold

God the Spirit we adore Thee,
In the Triune Godhead One
One in love and power and glory
With the Father and the Son

Author of the new creation,
Giver of the second birth
May thy ceaseless renovation
Cleanse our souls from stains of earth

When we wander Lord direct us,
Keep us in the Master’s way
Let they strong swift sword protect us
Warring in the evil day
Shall the church now faint or fear
When the Comforter is near

In the Name of God the Father

In the Name of God the Father,
In the Name of God the Son,
In the Name of God the Spirit,
One in Three, and Three in One;

In the Name which highest Angels
Speak not ere they veil their face,
Crying, Holy, Holy, Holy,”
Come we to this sacred place.

Lo, in wondrous condescension,
Jesus seeks His altar-throne;
Though in lowly symbols hidden,
Faith and love His Presence own.

When the Lord His temple visits,
Let the listening earth be still;
May the Spirit’s sweet indwelling
Each believing heart fulfill.

Here, in Figure represented,
See the Passion once again;
Here behold the Lamb most Holy,
As for our redemption slain;

Here the Saviour’s Body broken,
Here the Blood which Jesus shed,
Now the offer of communion,
Into lasting joy be led.

Here shall highest praise be offered,
Here shall meekest prayer be poured,
Here, with body, soul, and spirit,
God Incarnate be adored.

Holy Jesus, for Thy coming
May Thy love our hearts prepare;
Thine we pray would have them wholly,
Enter, Lord, and tarry there.

The Hymn of The Season

There are few things in this world that stir my soul like the nostalgic power of Christmas hymns and carols. In my estimation, the king of all carols is Charles Wesley’s “Come Thou Long Expected Jesus.”

It was first published in 1744 in Charles Wesley’s Hymns for the Nativity of Our Lord, a little collection so popular that it was reprinted 20 times during Wesley’s lifetime. Some people think it may have been the first hymn Wesley wrote. If so, his first at-bat was an out-of-the-park grand slam. “Come Thou Long Expected Jesus” is a perfect portrayal of how to rightly communicate truth in a song. Every line is dripping with profound and searching theology. The phrases are carefully order to exalt Christ.

In short, our churches need this hymn. Let’s give it to ’em with delight each year. Here are three different arrangements for you to consider, from the traditional to the creative.


Come thou long expected Jesus
Born to set thy people free
From our fears and sins release us
Let us find our rest in thee

Israel’s strength and consolation
Hope of all the earth thou art
Dear desire of every nation
Joy of every longing heart

Born thy people to deliver
Born a child and yet a king
Born to reign forever
Now thy gracious kingdom bring

By thine own eternal spirit
Rule in all our hearts alone
By thine all sufficient merit
Raise us to thy glorious throne