Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 16 September 2014

Thought for the weekend

Today, in the Christian calendar, the church celebrates the life and witness of the two Wesley brothers. John, the elder of the two, was, of course, the founder of the Methodist movement, though his desire was always to remain within the fold of the Church of England.

But my focus here is on Charles, better known for his numerous and often wonderful hymns. Why bother nowadays with an 18th-century hymn writer? Well, as Jaroslav Pelikan aptly said: "Tradition is the living faith of the dead. Traditionalism is the dead faith of the living." Just because someone belongs to the past doesn't render them redundant or irrelevant.

Quality counts and endures in such a way that the age of a song fades into insignificance compared to its intrinsic inspiration and compelling beauty. The life-giving stream of hymnody gathers its power from many varied sources, providing nourishment and refreshment along the course of its ceaseless flow.

So, whether your preference is for hymns that are traditional or contemporary, or some balanced harmony of ancient and new, few could deny the truth of Schleiermacher's assertion that 'what the word makes clear, music makes alive'. Indeed, hymns and songs may be one of the best means for conveying the gospel or sharing the faith.

There's something about a melody which aids the memory, when recalling phrases, far more readily than merely reading those same words in a book. Rehearsed repetition accounts for something but truth tarries long when carried by a tune.

By all means let the church's reservoir of music and repertoire of hymnody be as deep and wide and varied as possible with due allowance for personal preference.

Yet surely that includes an abiding place for the hymns of Charles Wesley such as – Hark! The Herald Angels Sing; O For A Thousand Tongues To Sing; Christ The Lord Is Risen Today; Come, Holy Ghost, Our Hearts Inspire; And Can It Be – and lots more besides.

Wesley remains a minstrel for the church's perennial ministry.

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