I think it was about 6 weeks ago that I received a copy of the CD, “Love Divine:The Songs of Charles Wesley for Today’s Generation,” which came out April 19. It’s a collection of Charles Wesley (1707-1788) hymns that have been set to music by John Hartley and Chris Eaton.
There are a lot of hymns albums being made these days. In fact, I’m working on a post now that highlights some of the ministries and individuals who are participating in rearranging, rewriting, or composing hymns. Very exciting to see more people realizing that the songs we use for praising God can’t be restricted to ones that are driven more by melody and beat than lyrical impact and depth.
But not all hymns albums are the same. Some are simply reworkings of well-known hymns that may or may not be worth recording one more time. Love Divine is not one of those albums.
A couple weeks later after I received it I was listening to the album in my car. This is what I was pleased to discover then and through repeated listenings:
- Almost all the melodies (all of them new) seemed fresh, well crafted, and designed for congregational singing.
- The songs seemed to be chosen for lyrical content rather than simply familiarity, which is not always the norm for hymns albums.
- The production is centered in the modern rock genre, but has enough variety to make things interesting. In other words, it wasn’t dominated by wall-to-wall guitars.
- For the most part the new melodies, additional choruses, and musical settings complemented the original lyrics.
- While the vocalists are artists in their own right (Tim Hughes, Jason Roy, Leigh Nash, Aaron Keyes, Brenton Brown, and others), they keep the creative vocal licks to a minimum making it easier to adapt these hymns for congregations.
- The gospel is all over this album, but the songs cover a wide variety of topics including the resurrection, Christ’s reign, Christ’s love for his people, prayer for sanctification, the return of Christ, Christ’s presence as we gather, God’s sovereignty, passion for Christ, and more.
If you know anything about Wesley, you know he was prolific, writing between 6000 and 8500 hymns, depending on your source. As you might guess, every one wasn’t a classic. But more than a few were. And John Hartley and Chris Eaton have done a masterful job introducing some of them to a new generation through new melodies, some new choruses, fresh arrangements and tasteful production.
A few of my favorites:
And Can it Be – I’ve never liked the common tune of this hymn, although it’s grown on me since we taught it at my home church. But it’s always sounded like a vocal exercise to me. I rewrote a version for GLAD years ago, but this version on Love Divine is simply stellar – singable, memorable melody that could be adapted to a number of musical styles.
Come,Thou Long Expected Jesus – Joyful, uptempo setting of a great hymn, with a new chorus.
Praise the Lord, Who Reigns Above – Another eminently singable melody in 6/8 with a fresh chorus.
Jesus, the Name High Over All – Oh, that we had more songs like this one, that extol the priceless worth of the name of Jesus. One of my favorite melodies on the album.
Love Divine - Hard to rewrite a classic, but Chris and John have given this hymn a more reflective, plaintive setting that accents our awareness of how far we fall short of God’s desire for our holiness.
Oh For a Heart to Praise My God – A simple song of consecration, asking God to do the work in our hearts only he can do.
Here’s a complete track listing:
• I Know That My Redeemer Lives – Tim Hughes
• Rejoice! The Lord Is King – John Ellis
• And Can It Be – Jason Roy
• Jesus, We Look to Thee – Kim Walker-Smith
• Jesus, Lover of My Soul – Chris Eaton
• Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus – Brian Johnson
• Praise the Lord Who Reigns Above – Leigh Nash
• Jesus, the Name High over All – Chris Quilala
• O for a Thousand Tongues To Sing – Chris McClarney
• Love Divine – Jenn Johnson
• Christ the Lord Is Risen Today – Aaron Keyes
• Christ, Whose Glory Fills the Skies – Mark Roach
• Oh, For A Heart to Praise My God – Brenton Brown
Free Stuff and Ordering Info
You can get a free download of the MP3 and charts for I Know That My Redeemer Lives at this link. You’ll also be able to see some videos on the project, listen to some samples, and download the album.
Oh, and Kingsway has generously given me 5 copies of Love Divine to give away. All you have to do is leave a comment on my blog by midnight, Thursday night. Tell me who one of your favorite hymn writers is. I’ll pick 5 winners at random and announce them on Friday morning.
And may God give us many more albums like this in the days to come filled with lyrically rich, biblically faithful hymns set to contemporary with melodies written to last beyond our lifetime.