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Monday, November 21, 2005

Ineffably Sublime 

For starters, in our old hymnal it was titled "Praise Ye The Lord The Almighty" and now it's "Praise To The Lord..." I will grant that the original lyrics are in German and are seven verses strong, compared to our four in English. So even the Great Hymns of the Faith isn't entirely faithful in its rendering, and the translation is subjective. However, for centuries, the consensus on the final line of the closing verse was "Gladly for aye we adore Him." Yesterday we sang it "Gladly forever adore Him." OK, I hear you already. It's not a bad change. I'm just wondering is it an entirely necessary change?

Here's an example that really gets under my skin. The original lyrics of the second verse of "To God Be The Glory" as written by Fanny Crosby in the 19th century:
The vilest offender who truly believes,
That moment from Jesus a pardon receives.

Has been changed in some modern hymnals to read, "And every offender, who truly believes..." Why? Is it merely that we don't like to consider ourselves a vile offender? Is it the same reason that the last line in the opening verse of Isaac Watt's 18th century hymn "Alas! And Did My Savior Bleed?" was changed from "For such a worm as I?" to "For sinners such as I?" It seems to me that these two renderings strip the power from the cross.

I will agree that there are some changes that are helpful. There are times when the theology of a song is a bit muddled and needs help, or the poetry is painfully forced and we can improve. But if all we are doing is getting rid of big or scary words, I think we do a disservice. I don't even mind updating some of the archaisms, particularly if it makes it easier to sing. However, if a word is merely obscure, I'd rather see a footnote explaining it than dumbing down the lyrics.

It will be a sad day when we lose these wonderful and powerful words:

Crown Him the Lord of years, the Potentate of time,
Creator of the rolling spheres, ineffably(1) sublime(2).
All hail, Redeemer, hail! For Thou has died for me;
Thy praise and glory shall not fail throughout eternity.

- Crown Him With Many Crowns (Matthew Bridges, 1852)

(1) ineffable: defying expression or description, too sacred to be uttered
(2) sublime: worthy of adoration or reverence, the quality of transcendent greatness

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