Christ Triumphant and Other Hymns

By van Dissel, Dirk | The Hymn, Summer 2007 | Go to article overview

Christ Triumphant and Other Hymns


van Dissel, Dirk, The Hymn


Christ Triumphant and Other Hymns by Michael Saward. Foreword by Michael Baughen. Torquay, Devon, UK: Jubilate Hymns, Ltd., 2006. 93 pp. ISBN: 0-95055-899-0. Free of charge + P&H (from the author: 6 Discovery Walk; London. E1W 2JG England).

This collection contains the texts of seventy- two hymns and psalm paraphrases written, and in many cases published, between 1962 and 2006. In addition, there are three jointly-produced hymns texts. The author has had a long ministry as a priest in the Church of England, and comes from the Evangelical tradition in that Church. He was Vicar of two large London parishes, and Canon Treasurer and Prebendary of St. Paul's Cathedral, London. He was words editor of three major hymns books, including Hymns for Today's Church (1982).

The collection opens with, and takes its name from the author's most popular hymn (but one which strangely enough does not appear in any American hymnal or An English Speaking Hymnal Guide, perhaps because of the masculine pronouns and male epithets referring to the Deity). The remainder of the hymns are set out in alphabetical order. Tunes are indicated, and in several cases are provided, including John Barnard's magnificent GUITING POWER, and the equally fine REDLAND by Malcolm Archer, as well as Saward's own SOMERSET. Each hymn is provided with a short explanatory note, some like the author's own brief biography, containing references to the great and famous with whom the author is acquainted.

On p. xi of his preface the author sets out his goals in writing hymns. This turns out to be only one goal which is "to express the truth as it is grounded in Holy Scripture and to do so in language which.... carries contemporary force and lifts the heart and mind of the singing congregation to God, as it touches them at the deepest level of their personalities." The author sets himself a high goal. Does he achieve it?

The strong point of these hymn texts is their objectivity. They focus on God and the Christian faith. In this respect they resemble the old Greek and Latin hymns, and indeed there are some new versions of ancient hymns (Nos. 4, 38, and 43). There are carols (some, reworkings of traditional carols), and hymns on Baptism (Nos. 5, 21, 35, and 64), Christian Stewardship, Holy Communion, the Holy Spirit, St. Dunstan, the place of music in worship, the B.V. Mary, and paraphrases of the Magnificat, Nunc Dimittis, Beatitudes, Joannine Prologue, as well as rewriting of certain older hymns. There are hymns of worship and adoration and hymns proclaiming the faith. One of the best is "In awe and wonder" (No. 25), which achieves real distinction in stanza 6, and whose stanza 4 is almost as good: "Your holiness inspires our fear/evokes, and heals, our shame;/your boundless wisdom, awesome power,/unchangeably the same." Adoration and worship are subjects rarely attempted by contemporary hymn writers, and this far excels the few modern texts on this theme. "King of the Universe" (No. 27) is nearly as good.

Scattered through the collection are (I think) 12 Psalm paraphrases. Nearly all of these are interesting and different from examples by other authors. One of the best is No. 34, "Lord, you've tested me" (Psalm 139). On the other hand, the hymns proclaiming the faith, such as Nos. 30, 58, and 61, are flat and prosaic. A series of creedal statements, however Biblically based and theologically correct, do not make an effective hymn. Saward would have benefited from studying the handling of this subject by Isaac Watts and Charles Wesley. "Silently at Christmas" (No. 50), tries to be fresh, but ends up being platitudinous. "The Son of Man" (No. 60), based on the Message to the Seven Churches of Asia (Rev. 2-3) hardly does justice to the message to the Church at Smyrna (Rev. 2:8-11)-no reference to being faithful unto death. Surely it is wrong to refer to Terry Wake's release from his captivity as a "mighty liberation" (No. 44)? Most Christians will want to confine those words to Christ's saving death.

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