For many Christians, hymns older than about 30 years are relics belonging to a bygone era. Sure they have sentimental value suitable for Christmas and funerals, but apart from such occasions they are best confined to the annals of history. As a church we are not at all opposed to singing some of the more contemporary songs, but the older hymns will always be a mainstay. This is why:
* They glorify God: of course old doesn’t necessarily mean good; there are many unsound hymns from the past. But of those faithful to scripture they lift the heart and mind to God. The priority of singing is to ascribe to the Lord the greatness and honour due His name. The old hymns enable us to do this. The language is often of such poetic quality that it is hard to imagine it ever being surpassed.
* They are edifying: As we glorify God in song, so we also edify one another (Eph 5:19; Col 3:16). The older hymns are both doctrinally rich and experimentally broad – including not only expressions of joy but also sorrow, discouragement, and fear (like the psalms). In today’s spiritual climate if one is not always happy and on top of things then something is wrong. Yet to come to God “broken” is actually an aspect of our worship. Too many contemporary songs are void of theological substance and experiential reality.
* They are generally easy to sing: Older hymns were written with a view to congregational singing. The tunes on the most part are structured in a way that makes them easy to follow and join in. I have visited churches where the only people who seemed to know what was going on were the worship leaders and the band. The songs with their complex tunes and instrumental breaks were more suited to radio than congregational singing. I don’t care if a song was written last week provided it has substance and we can sing it.
* They connect us to our roots: when we sing songs written by the saints of old we sing with them. Their God is our God; their doctrine is our doctrine; their struggles are our struggles; their hope is our hope. We stand in a tradition which takes us back to the days of the earliest believers. Let us not be guilty of what C.S Lewis called “chronological snobbery” by ignoring the contributions of the past.
On one level perhaps we should not so much think of hymns in terms of “old” & “new” but rather “good” and “bad”. If a hymn is good then it is timeless and fit for the ages regardless of when it was written.