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No, Not One! (What I Like About Hymns)

By Michael Dalton
 
There’s not a friend like the lowly Jesus, No, not one! No, not one! Initially, this hymn had no appeal to me. The phrase “the lowly Jesus” bothered me, and the words and melody were sung like a Sunday school rhyme. I later realized that this was one of a number of hymns the author wrote for children. Somehow I had forgotten that Jesus described himself as being “lowly in heart” (Matthew 11:29 KJV).  I just thought of this as one of those hymns that conveyed a somewhat misleading perspective.
 
Yet, as we sang that hymn on Sunday mornings, its simple rhyme and truths worked their way into my heart and stayed with me. Now years later I still remember some of the phrases, and as I do, I can recall with fondness the pastor of that church leading us in this song. Here was a godly man using voice and hands to conduct us through what at first seemed so dated, but it was filled with simple childlike lessons vital to anyone. 
 
We never get to the place in our maturity where we can afford to cast aside the plain things. As someone has rightly observed, the plain things are the main things. At the end of his life, Charles Spurgeon, one of the greatest preachers who ever lived, summarized what he believed in the words of another simple Sunday School song: Jesus loves me! This I know … The Bible tells me so.
 
To this day I find comfort in the plain but sublime truths of “No, Not One!” No night so dark but His love can cheer us, No, not one! No, not one! Jesus knows all about our struggles, He will guide till the day is done; There’s not a friend like the lowly Jesus, No, not one! No, not one!
 
For me, it’s not about hymns versus choruses or past versus future. I enjoy the best of what the past has to offer, and also appreciate contemporary expressions of praise and worship. In this article, I am just focusing on what I like about hymns, and hopefully, we might see what they have to offer to a culture that places greater value on what is new and contemporary, and gives considerable less thought to the past. This is true even in the Church. 
 
One thing I appreciate about hymns is their focus. They often condense some of the grandest and deepest truths of Scripture into just a few lines of verse.  They turn our attention from ourselves to God’s greatness. Many of them tell the story of what God did for us in sending His son to die for our sins. They bring us back to the cross.  
 
Sometimes they are like the Psalms in that they state who God is to His people.  

A mighty fortress is our God,
A bulwark never failing;
Our helper He amid the flood of mortal ills prevailing. 
As in the preceding verse, many hymns are rich in descriptive poetry. In a world with such an abundance of beauty, both in nature and in what we create, I think it’s safe to say that God delights in beauty. I think we make a mistake when we only look at things in terms of their usefulness, and dismiss the value of art and beauty. 
 
Do you remember when the disciples complained when a woman anointed Jesus with expensive perfume? They thought it was a waste. Yet, Jesus saw it as an act of worship­something that she had done for Him that would be remembered for all of time. Isn’t that what worship is all about, giving what we have, and even being extravagant in our expression towards God?  
 
Let me provide you with a few more examples of the beauty and rich meaning that I find in hymns. I am thankful to Joanne Hogg, the lead singer of Iona, for introducing me to “My Song is Love Unknown”:  
My song is love unknown,
My Savior’s love to me,
Love to the loveless shown,
That they might lovely be. 
It’s a remarkable poetic summary of what God has done for people through Jesus Christ.
  
After going through a time of severe mental suffering, Dr. George Matheson wrote “O Love that Wilt Not Let Me Go.” These eloquent words are an encouragement to us in our own suffering:  
O Joy that seekest me thru pain,
I cannot close my heart to thee;
I trace the rainbow thru the rain,
And feel the promise is not vain
That morn shall tearless be. 
Rich Mullins, in his own unique way, used the vivid imagery of Frederick Faber to remind us of how great the love is that God has for us: 
There’s a wideness in God’s mercy,
Like the wideness of the sea;
There’s a kindness in His justice,
Which is more than liberty. 
And I do not want to leave out these words from “Spacious Firmament,” which remind me of Psalm 19: 
The unwearied sun, from day to day,
Does his Creator’s power display;
And publishes to every land
The work of an almighty hand. 
I did not like “No, Not One!” the first few times I sang it, but years later, one early morning, I found myself walking down the street singing, There’s not a friend like the lowly Jesus. No, not one! No, not one! As I sang those words, I didn’t feel so alone. It almost felt like I was being accompanied by an unseen presence. 
 
In this difficult time, it’s not hard to recognize that: There’s not a friend like the lowly Jesus. No, not one! I also need to remember­especially when I’m down­that there’s: No night so dark but His love can cheer us, No, not one! No, not one!   
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 

 
 
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