Tag Archives: hymn

an often remarkable and haunting beauty


I like this definition of a hymn:

Hymnologist Erik Routley once defined hymns as “songs for unmusical people to sing together . . . [and] such poetry as unliterary people can utter together.” At first, this might seem to exult in the lack of artistry. But Routley was actually writing to appreciate the remarkable skill of poets and musicians who accept the challenge to be both profound and accessible at the same time, which is a lot more difficult than simply being one or the other. While there is a kind of beauty in a carefully-honed studio recording, there is another kind of beauty -– an often remarkable and haunting beauty -– in the sound of a congregation of mostly unmusical people singing together.”

– John Witvliet, For the Beauty of the Church


Would we not give earth’s fairest toys away?

Follow the white path

Some words to pause amid life’s fleeting pursuits,and reflect beyond the grave.

Sometimes amid the hurry, toil and strife,
The claims, the urgencies, the whirl of life;
The soul, perhaps in silence of the night —
Has flashes — transient intervals of light.

When things to come, without a shade of doubt.
In terrible reality stand out;
These lucid moments suddenly present
A glance of truth, as tho’ the heavens were rent;

And thro’ the chasm of pure celestial light,
The future breaks upon the startled sight:
Life’s vain pursuits, and Time’s advancing pace,
Appear with death-bed clearness face to face;

And immortality’s expanse sublime,
In just proportion to the speck of time:
While Death, uprising from the silent shades,
Shows his dark outline ere the vision fades;
In strong relief against the blazing sky,
Appears the shadow as it passes by;

And though o’erwhelming to the dazzled brain,
These are the moments when the mind is sane:
For then a hope of heaven, a Saviour’s Cross,
Seem what they are, and all things else but loss.

Oh! to be ready — ready for that day.
Would we not give earth’s fairest toys away?
Alas! how soon its interests cloud the view.
Rush in, and plunge us in the world anew.

– Jane Taylor, The Invalid’s Hymn Book (ed. Harriet Kierman, 1854), xxxvi.

Rock of Ages (Ruth Buchanan version)

A couple of reasons why I appreciate this arrangement:

  • It’s very singable. Cheryl and I first heard this at YLC conference, and picked it up reasonably quickly.
  • It matches the words better. In my opinion, Thomas Hasting’s original “Toplady” tune and Richard Redhead’s Petra variation both sound a bit too bright and chirpy, compared with the helplessness and pathos that Augustus Toplady’s words evoke. Ruth Buchanan’s melody gets more urgent (diminutes) and lifts in pitch right at the emotional climax of the verse.
  • It suits a contemporary band better. Ruth’s melody I feel gives more space for each line of the hymn, which allows the church to think more on the words. Guitar and bass players might also appreciate the chords changing around less often.
  • It’s helped many younger Christians sing historical-redemptive theology. Toplady has packed this hymn with rich imagery, the most obvious one being that Jesus Christ is our Rock of refuge (Numbers 20:11, 1 Corinthians 10:4) and the only source of salvation. Verse 1’s line about the “double cure” helps to image both the justifying and sanctifying work of Christ on behalf of His children, and the third verse alludes to Genesis with “naked come to Thee for dress”. Ruth Buchanan’s melody continues to give wings to this hymn of the faith.

If you’d like to sing this song at your church, look up the following details on CCLI:

Rock of Ages Words by Rev A.M. Toplady, Music by Ruth Buchanan © 1998 Australian Fellowship of Evangelical Students CCLI Song No #3923887.