When I first began the Gospel Favorites Series, I became curious about the word “gospel” itself. I’d always heard that it roughly meant “good news,” and had always wondered about the play title “Godspell” and what connection might exist.

Godspell is the Middle English form of the Old English Godspel (godspel, orig., good story, good news, Webster’s NW, 1980). I began to think of the implied equivalence of “good “ and “god” as suggesting that for practical purposes it would be “good spell” or “godly magic.”

Whatever the etymological “truth,” the great songs exist as artifacts of the Gospel generally, maybe “just” part of God’s implementation plan. We know they have beneficial effects, at the least giving a boost to your general frame of mind.

We may discover one day that there’s a specific biochemical reaction triggered by the particular combination of words and music, maybe even depending on the exact set of musicians and singers for best effect.

There may well be truth in the punny common sounds “praise” and “prays;” can you sing a gospel song and not do both?

During the last 2000 years, religious music became politicized, used to promote certain doctrinal point of view. Some songs were “in” and some songs were “out” depending on whichever denomination’s power structure. One example that crept up on me was “Holy, Holy, Holy” (Gospel Favorites Volume 1), which is sung to the tune “Nicaea” (Reginald Heber, 1826); turns out that Nicea was the site (in Asia Minor, 325 AD) where the doctrine of the Trinity was set out and adopted formally as part of the Nicene Creed, still used liturgically in may denominations.

The song I knew has the words “God over all and blest eternally” at the end of the first verse. I discovered that other versions of the song rendered that line “…God in Three Persons, Blessed Trinity.” I am still not sure who was trying to say what, or for what reason, but at any rate the word change is an example of how different denominational power groups push their agenda.

Personally, I am transported back to a childhood summer ritual, going to Camp Meeting (the Pecos River Encampment, near Sheffield, Texas, where most of the cousins, including Charles and David, would come to play and pray) when at the sunrise service we often sang “Holy, Holy, Holy” with nature echoing the phrase “early in the morning, our song shall rise to thee.” Sometimes just joining in, singing this great song brings a surge of emotion (or something, who knows, maybe the Holy Spirit?) that can bring tears to the eyes.

In researching the old songs, I discovered that our common body of hymns is only somewhat common to all faiths, probably more so in the Protestant world, as contrasted with those originating in the Catholic tradition. Protestants don’t sing “Ave Maria,” and Catholics don’t really sing much at all. I think we’re all poorer for it. I wish we all would sing more since I believe that the music is ultimately intertwined with spiritual renewal and growth, and it works best when sung.

Whatever less than worthy motives may have caused these various additions, changes or deletions form the greater body of hymns, to produce the localized approved version, the ultimate power of the songs themselves will do their gospel job. Of that I have no doubt.

Again, we hope this effort is seen as respectful and reverent of the great gospel music tradition it represents, and perhaps it will help some person find the Lord. These songs have helped me, and I thank God for the opportunity to share them with you.

-Ernie Wylie Harkins, June 5, 1999
Copyright Copyright © 1999 Adama Music. All rights reserved.

This list was compiled by Ernie Wylie Harkins (we provide the traditional title and the familiar or first line )

”Leaning On the Everlasting Arms” (What A Fellowshop), by Elisha A. Hoffman (words) and tune Showalter by A.J. Shoalter, 1887

“’Tis Midnight, And On Olive’s Brow” by William B. Tappan, 1882 (words) and William B. Bradbury, 1853 (music)

”Home of the Soul” by James Rowe, 1912 (words) and Samuel W. Beazley, 1912 (music

“I Come To The Garden Alone” by C. Austin mile, 1912 (words and music)

“Just A Closer Walk With Thee” American folk song arranged by Mosie Lister

“Just As I Am” by Charlotte Elliot, 1834 (words) and William Bradbury 1849 (music)

“Ye That Labor” (Hark The Gentle Voice) by Mary B.C. Slade, 1873 (words) and Asa B. Everett, 1873 (music)

“I Surrender All” (All To Jesus I Surrender) by Judson W. Van De Venter, 1896 (words) and Winfield S. Weeden, 1896 (music

“Love Lifted Me” by James Rowe, 1912 (words) and Howard E. Smith, 1912 (music)

“All Hail The Power Of Jesus’ Name” by Edward Perronet, 1780 (words) and Oliver Holden 1793 (music)

“Higher Ground” by johnson Oatman, 1898 (words) and Charles Gabriel, 1898 (music)

“When We All Get To Heaven” (Sing The Wondrous Song) by Eliza E. Hewitt, 1898 (words) and Emily D. Wilson 1898 (music

“God Of Grace And Glory” by Harry Emerson Fosdick, 1930 (words) and John Hughes, 1907 (music)

“In Heavenly Love Abiding” by Anna L. Waring, 1850 (words) and music from Felix Mendelssohn, Opus 59, 1844

“Christ Arose” (Low In The Grave He Lay”) by Robert Lowry, 1874

Song Data from: Songs of Faith and Praise, Howard Publishing, 1994; Great Songs of the Church, ACU Press, 1986, Songs of the Church, Howard Publishing, 1977, Family Songbook of Faith and Joy, Reader’s Digest Association, 1975, Presbyterian ”The Hymnbook” 1955

Copyright © 1999 Adama Music. All rights reserved

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