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Ira Sankey, good friend of hymn author Fanny Crosby, once related this story about the comfort “Blessed Assurance” provides:
Psalm 72 is a well-known prophecy of the coming Messiah – foretelling the reign of the King and what the Kingdom of that Messiah will be like. But perhaps more than a prophecy, Psalm 72 is a prayer. In these verses the psalmist calls upon God to give justice and righteousness to the King, perhaps the newly crowned earthly king of Israel, but also the heavenly king. It is a cry for the deliverance of a broken people, for the realization of peace and light. James Montgomery’s hymn text from 1821 beautifully captures the essence of that prayer.
This hymn is a declaration of praise, but it’s also much more than that. The words both declare the majesty of Christ and task us with making that majesty known to all. Like many hymns describing the glory of God and the hope that one day all people will see that glory, this hymn alludes to Philippians 2:9-11: “at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” We long for this day, and declare our hope in its arrival in the text of this hymn.
In the Bible, the mountain often represents the holy presence of God. Moses has to go up the mountain to receive the Ten Commandments and to see the Promised Land. In the Gospel, Jesus is transfigured on a mountain, an event signifying the full embodiment of the divine nature and holiness of Christ. In the Old Testament especially, the mountain is also a place that is set apart – not just everyone can go up the mountain to be in God’s presence. Psalm 24:3 asks, “Who may ascend the mountain of the LORD?
Most of us have, at some point, made or seen the paper cut-outs of a long chain of people, connected by hands and feet. Or we’ve seen images of a globe with a circle of people from around the world surrounding it, hands grasped in equality and love. This image is evoked once more in the words of Isaac Watts’ hymn, "From All That Dwell Below the Skies". It is a beautiful thing to imagine a whole world of people, stretching across deserts, over mountains, deep in a forest, sitting on ships in the ocean, and lining the streets of a city.
It is human nature to seek power and accomplishment through conflict, hence the popularity of athletic contests. Defeat in a championship game is humiliating, and giving up is even more so. Nevertheless, Christ calls His followers to totally surrender themselves to Him. He described it this way: “Or what king, going out to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and deliberate whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace.
In 1757, after living a life he described as “carnal and spiritual wickedness, irreligious and profane,” Joseph Hart turned to Christ (Psalter Hymnal Handbook). Two years later, he wrote this famous hymn. Now, having undergone numerous text and tune changes, it still remains a classic hymn of invitation to turn from our sinful ways by the grace of God into the waiting arms of our Savior. The added refrain hearkens back to the story of the prodigal son, who, like Hart, turned from a life of waywardness and folly back to his father’s waiting arms.
“How Firm a Foundation” is a hymn that for over two centuries has assured believers of the faithfulness of Christ and the certainty of hope. The first verse acts almost as an introduction to the rest of the text, giving us cause to stop and ponder the Word of assurance that God has given us, described in greater detail in the next four verses. Those four verses are in fact paraphrases of Scripture passages: Isaiah 41:10, 43:2, Romans 8:3-39, Hebrews 13:5, and Deuteronomy 31:6. In the words of this hymn then, we carry with us the Word from God, and the call to trust in that Word.
This hymn text was written by St. Theodulph of Orleans in 820 while he was imprisoned in Angers, France, for conspiring against the King, with whom he had fallen out of favor. The text acts as a retelling of the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. The medieval church actually re-enacted this story on Palm Sunday using a standard liturgy that featured this hymn. The priests and inhabitants of a city would process from the fields to the gate of the city, following a living representation of Jesus seated on a donkey.