‘BORN IN SONG!’ by Brian Hoare
This hymn, composed during a train journey from London to Chesterfield, was written for the bi-centenary celebrations in 1979 of John Wesley’s visit to Paradise Square in Sheffield. The opening line echoes the first sentence of the Preface to the Methodist Hymn Book (1933): ‘Methodism was born in song’. The founder of Methodism, John Wesley, saw hymn singing as an important means both of teaching people their faith and of inspiring them in their worship, and his brother Charles became perhaps the greatest hymn writer of all time. No-one knows precisely how many hymns he wrote, although estimates vary from 5,500 to 6,500.
Singing is by no means a characteristic of Methodism only. The people of God in every tradition have sung their faith from the earliest of times, both in Judaism and in Christianity. Read or sing verse 1 together, and then:
1. Invite the group to suggest as many references to music and singing in both Old and New Testaments as they can.
2. Look up the following passages together and discuss how music would have helped people to express what they were feeling on these different occasions:
Exodus 15:1ff and 20ff; 2 Chronicles 5:12ff; Nehemiah 12:27ff;
Luke 2:13-14; Matthew 26:30; Acts 16:25
3. What purpose do you think singing serves in the life of the contemporary church?
Note the trinitarian structure of this hymn: verse 2 focuses on God, verse 3 on Christ and verse 4 on the Holy Spirit. This second verse refers to the work of God in creation, and echoes what the Psalmist asserts in Psalm 100:3 and Psalm 139:13-16. Look at those passages together. Line 4 of this verse of the hymn claims that we bear the image of God. Read Genesis 1:26-27 and then discuss:
4. How, in a scientific age, can we still assert that we are God’s creation? What does it mean to say that we are made ‘in the image of God’?
The hymn goes on to speak of God’s glory being seen everywhere and his praise being sung by all creation. Read Psalm 8:1-5, Psalm 19:1-4a and Psalm 148:1-4 and 7-12.
5. In what sense can we claim that God is praised by the whole of creation, rather than simply in the worship offered by his people?
6. Read or sing verse 2 together.
This verse has us singing about the work of Christ, and in a few compressed lines reminds us of his incarnation, humiliation, crucifixion, resurrection, exaltation and coming again. It is based on Philippians 2:5-9 which the group might look at together, tracing the various statements in the hymn to the verses of this well known scripture passage. For the reference to Christ’s coming again we have to look elsewhere, however—see Acts 1:11, James 5:8 and 2 Peter 3:8-9.
7. In what sense can we rightly assert that Jesus Christ is ‘soon to come again’?
8. This verse describes Christ as ‘King’. Brainstorm about different occasions on which his kingship is asserted (they might include Matthew 2:2 and 21:5; John 18:33-37 and 19:3; Revelation 19:16). What does it mean for us today to say that ‘Christ is King’?
9. Read or sing verse 3 of the hymn together.
This verse is on the work of the Holy Spirit. Read Acts 2:1-4 and 17-18, verses which describe what happened on the Day of Pentecost. The Spirit had already been at work in Old Testament times (in creation—Genesis 1:2; in empowering people—1 Samuel 16:13; and in inspiring the prophets—Nehemiah 9:30 and 2 Peter 1:20-21), but was not ‘poured out’ in a general way upon ‘all people’ until Pentecost. Now the gift of the Spirit is for everyone! Note how the hymn goes on to speak of three aspects of the work of the Spirit: he makes us new people (2 Corinthians 5:17), incorporates us into the Body of Christ, the church (1 Corinthians 12:12-27) and gives us the power we need to do the will of God. (Acts 1:8 and 2 Peter 1:3).
10. Invite members of the group to share their own experiences of being ‘made new’ or of knowing God’s power at work in their lives.
11. Read or sing verse 4 together.
From the work of God we turn now to our human responsibility to spread the message of the gospel. Most of this verse is based on ‘the Great Commission’ (Matthew 28:18-20). Read this passage and trace what phrases from it are reflected in the hymn. Then turn to John 1:11-12 and Philippians 2:10-11 for the basis of the final couplet of this verse.
12. What do you think are the most effective ways to ‘tell the world’ in the 21st century?
13. What is the difference, if any, between ‘receiving’ and ‘believing’ as described in John 1:12?
14. Read or sing verse 15 together.
The final verse takes us to the end of time and the consummation of all God’s work. Read what Matthew 24:14 and 1 Corinthians 15:24-26 have to say about that. It is not easy to imagine what ‘the end of all earthly days’ will be like; get a member of the group to read out the description of the ‘new heaven and new earth’ found in Revelation 21:1-4.
15. Discuss the pros and cons of talking more about heaven in the contemporary church.
This hymn began by asserting that God’s people are ‘born in song’, but we see now that music and singing also characterise the end of time. Look together at one or more of the ‘songs’ being sung in heaven as the voices of the redeemed are joined with the song of the angels: Revelation 5:9-14; 7:11-12; 15:2-4; and 19:1-9.
16. What hymns and songs can you think of which have been inspired by these scripture passages?
17. Read or sing verse 6 together, or sing the whole hymn to close this study.
There is probably more material here than will be needed for a single study. The group leader should either select as appropriate to the group, or spread the study over two or more sessions.
© 2000 Brian Hoare. Copying facilities provided are limited to local use by owners of HymnQuest. Wider or commercial use needs negotiation with the copyright holder.
The copyright in this bible study vests in the author. Permission is given for them to be reproduced by HymnQuest purchasers for local use. Wider or commercial use requires their consent.