Or, why Lutherans DON'T sing what we DON'T sing…
Two decades before anyone had ever heard of "Worship Wars", Charles Merrill Smith wrote what is arguably the best book on practical pastoral practice. (I would have said pastoral theology, but his book is more a look at the theology your people hold dear, than what God's Word actually says.)
In his chapter on Worship (the title of which is also the title of this post) he explains how to pick "good" hymns. The philosophy espoused in his book is the driving force behind the so-called "contemporary worship movement." I offer a snippet here, his take on "In the Garden" (After the jump). The whole book is available for free download HERE.
The Greatest Hymn Ever Written
Perhaps the greatest hymn ever written, judged not by the limited and unreal- istic standards of professional church musicians, but by the tests of usefulness, popularity and effectiveness in our battle to promote and encourage the Christian life at the level of the parish ministry, is C. Austin Miles' masterpiece "In the Garden."
Since it is almost a perfect model of what you are looking for in the hymns you select for public worship, we quote the entire text.
Stanza 1 — I come to the garden alone, While the dew is still on the roses, And the Voice I hear Falling on my ear The Son of God discloses.
Refrain — And He walks with me, And He talks with me, And He tells me I am His own; And the joy we share As we tarry there, None other has ever known.
Stanza 2 — He speaks, and the sound of His Voice Is so sweet the birds Hush their singing, And the melody That He gives to me Within my heart is ringing.
Stanza 3 — I'd stay in the garden with Him, Though the night around me be falling, But He bids me go; Through the voice of woe His voice to me is calling.
You will notice that the personal pro-nouns are italicized. When the hymn is sung through with refrain after each stanza, the personal pronoun is used twenty-seven times. This is a measure of the surpassing-skill of the writer and tells us that he was a man not only of extraordinary spiritual sensitivity and insight, but knowledgeable in the tastes and religious needs of the kind of good Christian people you will be serving.
For one thing, he never lets their attention stray from themselves, which is the subject, he knows, in which they are most-vitally interested. In the second place, he throws the switch activating the nostalgia mechanism in the first five words, "I come to the Garden. . . . . . . ." Everybody has had a garden, or has been in a garden. "Garden" is a word associated with beauty, pleasure, peace, retreat from the world, man's original innocence before it was spoiled by sin, etc. Then the hymn writer nails down this idyllic memory picture with the line: "While the dew is still on the roses. . :' A lovely rose dampened by pure atmospheric moisture (who thinks of atomic fallout or belching chimneys befouling God's good clean air at a time like this?) is a symbol to the average man scratching out a living five days a week at a job he despises, surrounded and saturated with the ugly, the dirty, the unlovely things of life of created perfection, of complete separation from this sordid, wicked world, of bliss beyond any happiness his earth-bound human imaginings are capable of encompassing. Indubitably, these few words alone are enough to do the job we want done. Limitations of space do not permit us to analyze it further, but use the hymn often, about every other Sunday or so.