Concerning the Hymn Question, A Short History of Hymnology

Concerning the Hymn Question

Dear Rev. Hoeksema: It seems that some of our people think the ice is too slippery, to go on about this subject. Now, I too love our Psalter, especially the familiar and easy to sing numbers, because I am not much of a singer; and don’t know music. But what can be wrong about versification of parts of the New Testament into hymns? The New Testament is also and just as much part of the Word as the Old. We know that departure from the truth and the singing of hymns in the churches has gone together in the last years, but that I believe was not always the case. Departure from the truth is much older than these hymns, and to claim that the singing of hymns is the cause of making our Doctrine unstable is folly.

There should be room for difference of opinion, and there are many who are more able than I am who without using harsh words could and should give their view.

—P. De Young

A Short History of Hymnology

In the country of Lectia, there lived a group of simple people in the far-off province of Creditia. The ruler of the country had situated these people here for his purpose and had seen to it that their basic needs would be supplied. The soil would yield grain regularly so the Creditians had bread sufficient. The streams were pure and clear, so they had good water to drink.

The Creditians lived here for centuries, subsisting on bread and water. They were rather isolated from the rest of the world until the king, who had always kept this province separate, decided to send other people there. This decision had both a good and a bad effect. It strengthened the province by providing a greater wealth of man-power and ability. The weakness, however, was twofold. The Creditians, who had lived such simple lives, now found their lives made more complex. Secondly, with the coming of new people and materials, new germs and viruses were brought into the province. The Creditians found that they were not immune to these new diseases.

They realized that they needed ways to combat these evils and to strengthen their bodies. Someone suggested that they begin to drink milk, in addition to water, since milk had more vitamins. The king, in his wisdom, had already sent them some cows, for he knew that since the isolation had been broken milk would be very important.

For quite some time the Creditians remained healthy. But the enemies of the king had a plan. Since milk had become important, they decided to use it as a means for their deviltry. (They did not introduce milk-drinking—contrary to what is often reported today.) They began to dilute the milk and adulterate it by adding water that did not come from the streams or other liquids. Few Creditians were fooled and drank this new milk unknowingly. Most saw right away that this new milk was different and not good. Some of these decided to try it anyway and discovered that it didn’t taste too bad.

None of the real Creditians, descendants of the original residents, were fooled, however. But they faced a real problem. There seemed to be two possible solutions. One would be to look carefully at the milk and analyze it to see if it was pure. The other solution was to stop drinking milk entirely lest they happen to drink impure milk. They were wise and knew that milk was important to their balanced diet (their king had given it to them) so they decided to keep drinking it but to watch carefully what they drank.

Years and years passed. The native Creditians drank their pure milk and their clear water. The pseudo-Creditians drank their adulterated milk and very little water. But then some of the native Creditians made a mistake. And it was a strange mistake for them, since they were known for being wise and logical. They looked around and saw multitudes of pseudo-Creditians, and noticed them drinking bad milk and almost no water. But the Creditians put these facts into a wrong causal order. Instead of remarking that these people liked bad milk because they were pseudo-Creditians, they concluded that drinking bad milk made them pseudo-Creditians. And then, noticing that these pseudos drank almost no water, they jumped to the idea that drinking any milk made people pseudo-Creditians. They had a council meeting and forbade milk-drinking, taking the solution that their wiser ancestors had avoided. Water was all they might now drink.

Things went well for a little while. But then the Creditians discovered it was very hard to live and be healthy without any milk. Yet they had to obey the council. Someone, however, saw the loophole in the council’s decision. The rule was that they might not drink milk at mealtime, when they ate their bread. But nothing was said about between-meal snacks or bedtime raids on the icebox. Soon all but a handful of the Creditians were drinking milk again, not at mealtime, but during other parts of the day.

After some years a new council was in session in the capital city. It began to consider the question of once again allowing milk-drinking with meals. Some other city councils had already decided to permit it. The capital council saw the two problems involved in maintaining the decision forbidding drinking. In the first place, the members realized that they were under a double standard. If milk-drinking was beneficial between meals, how could it be harmful with meals? The bread would not pollute the milk, nor could pure milk pollute the bread. Secondly, some of the council members saw what some of the Creditians did not seem to see, namely that the water they were now drinking was not always the best and that sometimes the milk was purer than the water. This was not because the streams had become polluted; they ran fresh and clear as ever. But with the new development of the province many people had settled some distance from the streams. Almost all the Creditians were dependent upon bottled water, transported from the streams to their communities. There lay the trouble.Sometimes the bottles were not too clean and sometimes the bottlers added impurities to the water to make it go farther. Sometimes, therefore, this water was as impure as the adulterated milk.

What was the council to do? They decided to consider the matter carefully, seek intelligent discussion of it, and make a decision later. They soon got discussion—much of it unintelligent. Some unobservant Creditians insisted that all the bottled water w& just as pure as the water flowing in the streams. Others, who unashamedly revealed their ignorance of history, shouted that their fathers had made a wise decision in forbidding milk, that the fathers’ decision should not be changed since it had stood the test of time, that milk was an innovation, and that the Creditians had always been against milk. These seemed not to realize that the fathers they referred to had made the big innovation and that milk had been an important food for centuries before this mistake. Some re-echoed the old cry that milk leads inevitably to adulterated milk or that milk leads to chocolate milk and chocolate milk leads to crème de cocoa and crème de cocoa leads to brandy and brandy leads to whiskey and boom! there we are all a bunch of alcoholics.

And one astounding enthusiast, besides making all these other statements, added that traitors (those who were in league with the king’s enemy) were in the council and announced that “those who are given to furthering progress and reformation in the city” should “keep themselves from the rest of the people” and that we should “declare to them that they have no part in the province of Creditia.”

Some still rush in where angels fear to tread.

—James Jonker