This may come as a surprise to some of our readers, but the hymnal in the Lord’s recovery was compiled not only for singing. Because it is a storehouse of biblical truth, the hymnal is intended also to be studied closely and learned thoroughly. As Brother Lee observed, “The study of this hymnal alone is the study of the highest theology in the Lord’s recovery.”
The hymnal that the Lord has given to us has enriched our meeting life immeasurably by providing us with the most profound biblical truths in singable form. It would be hard to imagine our meetings without the invigorating corporate singing that we all enjoy. Nevertheless, if we use the hymnal only for singing in the meetings, then we are missing the opportunity to enjoy its many riches in full. To be sure, the hymns are meant for singing, but they are also meant for careful study.
The Bible itself contains many musical compositions that are intended as much for study as they are for singing. The Psalms, of course, are songs that were sung by the children of Israel for various occasions, but even the New Testament contains hymns. When we study, for example, Romans 11:33-36 and 1 Timothy 3:16, we are studying what some have understood to be hymns sung by the early church. The apostle Paul surely included these compositions with the intention that they would be studied for the revelation that they contain. To study hymns, therefore, is to follow a biblical precedent.
Brother Lee had a strong burden that we would study our hymnal to learn the highest theology. He also strongly encouraged the saints to learn the hymnal’s table of contents thoroughly to know all the categories and subcategories of the truth according to which the hymns are arranged. The following excerpts from his ministry give a sense of how seriously he viewed the study of the hymnal for the saints’ ongoing apprehension of and constitution with the truth.
Our hymns were written not according to our own ideas but according to the truths in the Bible. To explain the biblical truths is not an easy matter. To express the truths in poems and lyrics requires even the more that we have a thorough understanding of the truths. If we desire to study and pursue the profound truths in the Bible, we must do it by using our hymnal along with the Bible and by being assisted by the Life-studies and spiritual books. Sometimes even one line of a hymn is full of the riches of the truth…The study of this hymnal alone is the study of the highest theology in the Lord’s recovery. To study the table of contents of our hymnal until we thoroughly understand it and find the basis of the biblical truth of each hymn would require at least four years. Our spiritual books and Life-studies are the expressions of the truths in written words, and hymns are the conversion of the words into poems and lyrics. To compose hymns is to reach the peak, to arrive at the ultimate point, of the study of the truth. (The Collected Works of Witness Lee, 1984, vol. 1, “The Four Crucial Elements of the Bible—Christ, the Spirit, Life, and the Church,” p. 223)
A person who spends several years to study this hymnal will attain a certain level of theological knowledge even if he does not study theology. Even the table of contents, with the different kinds of hymns and their categories, shows that the theological knowledge contained in the hymnal is quite rich. (CWWL, 1984, vol. 4, “Crucial Words of Leading in the Lord’s Recovery, Book 3: The Future of the Lord’s Recovery and the Building Up of the Organic Service,” p. 114)
In our hymnal we have 1,080 hymns. We collected all the best hymns from the Christian writings. From more than ten thousand hymns, we selected only about eight hundred. After the selection, I did my best to classify them into a table of contents for the hymnal. I would ask the young people to study it. This table occupies four and a half pages with thirty categories of hymns. In these thirty categories there are more than four hundred items. Within the category of Experience of Christ there are thirty-two items. These items are the riches of Christ. (CWWL, 1985, vol. 3, “The Divine Speaking,” pp. 284-285)
One reason why the hymnal was published in English was “to show the Christians in America that we understand the truth, that our theology is comprehensive and balanced, and that we have included the best hymns from various groups” (CWWL, 1984, vol. 4, “Speaking Christ for the Building Up of the Body of Christ,” p. 114). In fact, some of the hymns were included more for study than they were for singing, as Brother Lee helped us to realize:
We composed our main hymnal with so many hymns to show others that we in the Lord’s recovery have the knowledge of the truth. We put many hymns into the hymnal mainly for our knowledge of the truth and not for our singing. (CWWL, 1988, vol. 1, “Speaking Christ for the Building Up of the Body of Christ,” p. 186)
As just one example of the breadth and depth of the truth embodied in any topic in the hymnal, Brother Lee points out how much there is on the matter of the church that requires our careful study:
In the table of contents of our hymnal there is a category called “The Church.” It covers the church as the mystery of Christ, the increase of Christ, the fullness of Christ, the vessel of Christ, and the lampstand of Christ. It also covers the church’s general definition, course, faith, unity, foundation, building, attraction, coordination, and fellowship. Hymns, #824 is on the general definition of the church, whereas #852 is on the attraction of the church. Perhaps many of us have been in the church life for a number of years, yet we are still not clear about the definition of the church, nor do we know what kind of price we need to pay when we are attracted by the church. These two hymns reveal to us these two aspects of the truth. I hope that we all can earnestly study the truths contained in our hymns. (CWWL, 1984, vol. 1, “The Four Crucial Elements of the Bible—Christ, the Spirit, Life, and the Church,” pp. 223-224)
As we continue to use our hymnal for the enjoyment of Christ in song, may the Lord grant us a renewed appreciation for the hymnal as a necessary tool for our study of the truth. Thank You, Lord Jesus, for providing us with another resource through which we can know the truth and be brought deeply into the enjoyment of Your unsearchable riches!