From the Word
O sing to the Lord a new song; sing to the Lord, all the earth!
Sing to the Lord, bless His name; tell of His salvation from day to day.
What’s new about the new song? Does this necessarily mean a new message? Not necessarily, in fact, in the case of the new song to Yahweh, the message is rarely new. What is new in every generation is the musical setting, and the cultural nuances that need to be responded to in song.
Every generation thinks their problems are unique, causing many in those generations to assume Jesus’ return must take place in their generation. Their problems are generally different from the immediate succeeding generations, making them seem unique. In most cases one can show from history that similar problems existed in generations past.
Regardless, each generation has issues to address that pose challenges and opportunities, and this shows up in the content of our worship, and the singing that accompanies it. The substance of hymns and liturgy still include praise for salvation, the wonder of God’s works, and thanks for His daily blessing. But each generation will address the challenges they face, not just in sermons and printed articles, but in hymns and spiritual songs.
We worship our unchanging God. His relationship to us is the result of the salvation He has accomplished in Jesus. This is the timeless truth of who He is, and what he has done. This timeless message is the content of our worship and hymns. But in the hymns we see different emphases on these timeless teachings, having to do with the particular challenges faced by the generations who wrote them. Paul Gerhardt writes during a time of terrible loss due to disease, and a time when some were trying to force him to deny certain aspects of his faith. So he wrote “If God Himself be for me, I may a host defy; for when I pray, before me, my foes, confounded, fly. If Christ, my head and master, befriend me from above, what foe or what disaster can drive me from His love?’ John Newton, responding to his life as a slave trader and generally immoral seaman, and who was converted by the preaching of Law and Gospel, wrote the words, “Amazing grace – how sweet the sound – that saved a wretch like me! I once was lost but now am found, was blind, but now I see!”
The tunes and poetry style have changed, but the content of worship and hymnody must remain on the wondrous God who made us, and remade us in the new creation brought about by Jesus’ death and resurrection. It may be an old tune or lyrics. It may be something we have never heard, or an expression of our faith embedded in our souls. But, if the content is God’s grace and love, it is always a new song.