- June 8, 2017
As much as we love listening to contemporary Christian artists and the hit songs they’ve written, sometimes it’s nice to rewind the clock and enjoy traditional Christian hymns from decades and centuries ago. There is a long tradition of Christ-honoring music in America and across western Europe and many of these songs are still popular today. From Easter hymns to the more traditional Christian hymns we sing throughout the year, you can find wonderful music written by pastors, theologians, and everyday believers. Here are a few that have withstood the test of time.
There is a reason why this classic hymn is the one most often used by Christian and secular media alike. The pleasing melody is the audio equivalent of being rocked back in forth in a crib. On top of the soothing music, there is a collection of lyrics that encapsulate the message of God’s grace and the joy of being born anew in Christ. “Amazing Grace” was written by John Newton, a slaver-turned-preacher, in the 1770’s. Part of his story was captured in the 2006 film by the same title. Here’s a twist on the famous hymn sung by Chris Tomlin in conjunction with the film.
Wherever He Leads I’ll Go
Written in the 1930’s by BB McKinney, this hymn emphasizes the importance of trusting the Lord and resigning yourself to the idea that wherever God is is better than any place you envision yourself being. The more time we spend with God and the closer we draw near to Him, the better off we will be.
Faced with a life of never being able to see, blind hymn writer Fanny Crosby did not allow her impairment to stop her ministry. During Crosby’s long life, she wrote thousands of hymns, participated in missions, and taught many students. “Blessed Assurance” (1873) is a simple, but pleasant hymn that exudes the confidence of knowing that we will be face to face with Christ one day.
I’ll Fly Away
Another of the traditional Christian hymns pining for heavenly glory, “I’ll Fly Away” is a wonderful piece of music that takes on new life when you give it a little bluegrass spin. The song was written around 1930 by Albert E. Brumley. Viewing life on earth as a prison keeping us away from the ultimate existence with Jesus, the song gives death a sweet reversal that should not be overlooked.
In the Sweet By-and-By
Some traditional Christian hymns took months to write, day after day spent trying to piece together the next lyric or note. Other songs, like “In the Sweet By-and-By,” are written in a whirlwind of inspiration that lasts mere minutes. Joseph Webster and S. Fillmore Bennett put together this 19th century hymn that rejoices in the thought of believers gathering together after death and being called up to the Father.
How Great Thou Art
While most of the traditional Christian hymns on this list are written in American and the UK, some had a more indirect route to the American church. The lyrics were originally developed in Sweden by Carl Boberg before bouncing around Europe as a hymn and being translated into English by Stuart Hine. This hymn is about taking in the wonder of God and being amazed at how vast and deep His power and understanding are.
Holy, Holy, Holy - Traditional Christian Hymns
All of the songs on this list are under the classification of worship, but “Holy, Holy, Holy” is a hymn that praises God for being the only entity in the universe worthy of worship. Over and over it states that God has perfect love, power, and honor. Like the Hallelujah chorus from Handel’s Messiah, this 19th century hymn is an iconic anthem that lifts up the name of the Lord above all else.
Jesus Paid It All
This is one of those old Christian songs that still resonates with believers today. Christian music today is mostly created by professional musicians and songwriters, but there have been plenty of everyday people over the years who have contributed to traditional Christian hymns. Elvina Hall was sitting in church one day when she penned the words to this famous song. Through a series of divine appointments, the song has become one of the most popular Christian hymns of all time.
It is Well with My Soul
The story behind this famous hymn is both sorrowful and inspirational as its author Horatio Spafford overcame great tragedy to come to the place where he could write these words down. It can be easy for us to praise God when we’ve just experienced victory or when life is smooth sailing, but what about when we’re in the middle of a storm? This hymn has stood the test of time because the sorrows of this world are never enough to truly overcome the grace of God.
Be Thou My Vision
We’ve noted that some traditional Christian hymns come from outside the United States and this Irish classic is the perfect example. Although it’s only been a song in English for roughly 100 years, the origins of this one trace back over a millennium to an old Irish poem. The truth of this hymn is that with God as our compass, we will never truly be lost.
Just As I Am - Traditional Christian Hymns
One of the best things about the grace of God is that it is available for all. You don’t have to be born in the right place or to the right parents. You don’t have to reach a certain level of intellectualism or societal class. God will take any repentant soul just as he is. So says this famous hymn from 1835. If we are willing to follow Him, He will accept us.
Because He Lives
The youngest song on this list, “Because He Lives” was written by Bill Gaither in the early 1970’s. Christianity all comes down to the resurrection. If Jesus is not able to rise from the dead, then it throws the rest of our beliefs into immediate question. Because He lives, we know that there is hope. That’s why this song is one of the best traditional Christian hymns of the 20th century. It sums up the importance of the resurrection and reminds us that we serve a living God who is at work still today.
What a Friend We Have in Jesus
Penned by Joseph Scriven in the 1850’s, this popular hymn is comforting in that it tells us the key to removing doubt and pain in our lives. We have a holy, powerful God who is deeply invested in our lives. If there is something that is troubling you, pass it on to God. Not only does He care about our worries and struggles, He wants to shoulder the burden for you.
Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus
We can become so easily distracted in our daily lives that we often forget what is most important. When we focus on the tasks we have to complete or worry about the big thing that’s happening next week, Jesus can seem like a distant friend we haven’t seen in ages. By turning our eyes upon Him, though, we regain perspective and see that earthly things are no match for what God has in store. This hymn, written by Helen Howarth Lemmel in the 1920’s, has a lovely chorus that is instantly recognizable.
Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing
Robert Robinson was an 18th century scholar and hymnist who put together this classic song. Some of the greatest words ever written in traditional Christian hymns have come out of moments where the average man realizes the enormity of God’s grace. In this hymn, Robinson perfectly describes the sacrifice of Christ on the cross, the process by which we each find salvation, and the struggle of taking up our cross daily.
The Old Rugged Cross
One of the best-known traditional Christian hymns came from the evangelist George Bennard in the early 20th century. We often view the cross as the instrument of death it historically was, but this hymn turns that idea on its head by making it out to be a symbol of hope and God’s love. This idea is similar to the way in which several songs from this list take the sadness of death and turn it into an occasion for celebration. Bennard’s hymn reminds us that Christ’s sacrifice was terribly painful but ultimately a necessity.
I Surrender All - Traditional Christian Hymns
Written in the late 1800’s by Judson W. Van DeVenter, this hymn has long been considered a perfect song for any altar call. Whenever the gospel is presented to someone, it begs for a response. What will you do with this new information? Reject it or conduct a full surrender? The hymn isn’t just for new believers, though, because those who profess to be Christians often aren’t living their lives in full surrender of Christ.
Before the Throne of God Above
Charitie Lees Smith was the daughter of an Irish man of God who wrote hymns from a young age. Her most popular work is a song that conveys the message of our new status in Christ. Upon turning to Christ, we can boldly approach the throne of God with confidence. The devil can send us on a guilt trip, but God is our ultimate judge. When we draw near to Christ and abide in His word, we have found our highest calling.
His Eye is On the Sparrow
In Matthew 6:26 Jesus tells those listening to the Sermon on the Mount that we should not worry because God takes care of the birds in the air and therefore He will watch over you too. Civilla D. Martin’s well-known hymn shares a lot of that same sentiment. It doesn’t matter what life throws at us, God is in control. We might have some days that are harder than others, but we will experience the most peace when we recognize that the world does not sit squarely on our shoulders.
I Need Thee Ev’ry Hour
Annie Hawks’ 1872 hymn is a cry of desperation for a weary soul. Even when we are in the right frame of mind, we will have days when we feel completely lost. It’s easy to share a kind thought or pray a quick prayer, but we often don’t feel the swift deliverance we seek. When things take a turn for the worse, all we can do is acknowledge God’s omnipotence and seek His blessing.
Victory in Jesus
Sometimes we look back and think of traditional Christian hymns as being these joyless, curmudgeonous songs that we’ve outgrown, but some are full of joy and vigor. “Victory in Jesus” is a hymn that is upbeat and proclaims a joyous occasion. Written by Eugene Bartlett in the 1930’s, this hymn is one that sees conversion as the ultimate victory.
There is a Fountain
Having been written around the time of the American Revolution, “There is a Fountain” has been through a lot. Still popular today, the hymn has a Southern Gospel vibe to it despite having originated in England. Penned by the famous poet William Cowper, the song focuses on the power of Jesus’ blood and its necessity for our salvation.
Trust and Obey - Traditional Christian Hymns
The simple command at the heart of this hymn is some of the best advice you can get as a believer. We like to add our own ideas on what it means to be a Christian, but it really comes down to trusting Him and obeying His commands. The hymn was written by John Sammis in the late 1800’s, but its simple words of determination have kept up its popularity over the years.
Rock of Ages
You can sit at a desk trying to write something profound and never come up with anything worth committing to paper. Other times inspiration strikes you in the middle of nowhere. For Augustus Toplady, the inspiration for “Rock of Ages” came as he was seeking shelter during a storm. Upon finding a safe space between the rocks, Toplady was inspired by the mental picture of Christ providing us a place of safety and rest. God is our ultimate source of security and righteousness. Without his sacrifice, we are lost in the storm.
There is Power in the Blood
Just at the end of the 19th century, this hymn by Lewis E. Jones was penned to remind believers of just how powerful the blood of Jesus can be. Not only does the hymn highlight the atoning power it holds, the song proclaims that His blood can change our hearts over time. We can step out in boldness because the blood of Jesus gives us the strength that we need. Sanctification is a process over the course of a believer’s life, one that we can endure because of the blood of the Lamb.
There are so many wonderful traditional Christian hymns that could have been added to this list, but these are certainly among the greatest hymns of all time. It doesn’t matter if a song is written in the 1700’s or 2017. If it is theologically sound and inspires those who hear it, it’s worth checking out. At the K-LOVE Fan Awards, we bring the fans together with the artists who have encouraged them through both the good and bad times. With amazing performances and more, it is the ultimate fan experience. Click on the icon below to find out how you and your family can be a part of the next K-LOVE Fan Awards.