Perhaps the most under-appreciated and overlooked hymn lyrics of all are the ones that come directly from scripture. Some of those lyrics are overlooked because they are often part of a song that is classified as a devotional song for young people. The sad reality is that when those songs are dismissed and underutilized because of their “newness,” an opportunity for teaching
and scripture memorization is missed. Additionally, other scripture song lyrics go unnoticed simply because some people aren’t aware that they are actually directly taken from the scriptures. It is likely that we recognize scriptures in songs such as “Seek Ye First” (Matt. 6:33) and “I Am Crucified With Christ” (Gal. 2:20), but consider these songs with direct quotes of scripture that may fly under the radar:
“I Know Whom I Have Believed” The refrain of this song is taken directly from 2 Timothy 1:12. The song writer contrasts these words with some thoughts of his own about things that he can’t comprehend. His intent is to remind us that, while there are a variety of things that we may not be able to comprehend or fully grasp in this life, we can be assured and confident in Who we put our trust in. Paul’s emphasis to Timothy is similar as he writes to encourage him to “not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord” (2 Tim. 1:8). Paul reminds Timothy that the suffering that a Christian endures is nothing to be ashamed of – rather, it is to be embraced because we can confidently know that God will fulfill his promises to us.
“Magnificat” – The title of this song is Latin for the word “magnifies” and the majority of the lyrics are taken directly from Mary’s song of praise in Luke 1:46-56. Upon learning of the great blessing of carrying the Messiah in her womb, Mary glorifies God and magnifies, or praises, His name. She expresses her appreciation to God for Him having “regarded [her] lowly state,” and yet allowing her this great honor. Though none of us will ever be blessed with this same exact honor, all Christians can sing these words in recognition of the fact that, despite our own lowly, sinful states, God has considered us and given us opportunity to bear the honor of wearing His name.
“Faith is the Victory” – Because Jesus has overcome the world (Jn. 16:33), through faith, Christians can likewise overcome the world. These are the words of the Apostle John in 1 John 5:4. Each time we sing “Faith is the victory that overcomes the world,” we should be reminded of this great scripture that encourages us and spurns us on to faithfulness. It is only through faith that we can overcome the difficulties and trials of this life. It is only with the eyes of faith that we can have the vision to see the hope of eternity.
“Out of the Ivory Palaces” – What may seem to simply be poetic words original with a modern day songwriter, upon investigation one actually learns that the lyrics of this song are likely descriptions of the Lord’s dwelling place as used by the Psalmist in Psalm 45:8. Whether Jesus’ palaces are actually ivory (or this is just poetic license) is yet to be seen until that Day. Regardless, the sentiments of the Psalmist and the songwriter are well worth our consideration in regard to what Jesus gave up and sacrificed to come to this earth.
“Have Thine Own Way, Lord“ – The phrase, “thou art the potter, I am the clay” is likely a direct reference to Isaiah 64:8. The prophet calls upon God in recognition of the fact that “we are the work of [His] hand.” As we sing these lyrics, not only should we appreciate their connection to scripture, but we should also be asking ourselves, “am I truly allowing God to ‘mold me and make me’ after His will?”
This is just a small sampling of some of the hymns that we sing with direct scripture references. Consider opening your song book sometime and searching for other nods to scripture. The more often we do this, the more likely we are to prevent these lyrics from being overlooked and under-appreciated.