ROGER PAYNTER, a preacher friend of mine that I helped raise—Roger did his practice preaching at our little renegade Baptist Church—has gone on to the big time but has kept us on the mailing list of church publications wherever he goes. What interested me about the latest one was a list of the “Top 10” Baptist hymns.
It is not going to surprise anyone that Baptists think that “Amazing Grace” is No. 1 with them and with the Lord, followed, in order, by “How Great Thou Art,” “Because He Lives,” “The Old Rugged Cross,” “Victory In Jesus,” “Holy, Holy, Holy,” “Great Is Thy Faithfulness,” “Blessed Assurance,” “To God Be The Glory,” and, at No. 10, “It is Well With My Soul.” I would have put that last one as No. 2.
The late Lewis Grizzard oft expressed preference for “Precious Memories,” and requested it be sung at his send off, and I believe that it was.
I like all these hymns, of course, but two of them are precious indeed to my ear:
I’m almost petulant that “Amazing Grace” has achieved pop status in the culture; that lessens it some for me, as selfish as that sounds, because all other wretches may find just as much solace in being “found.” Do most of them know that the writer, the trusty self-identified wretch John Newton, was celebrating a grace so broad and deep as to extend even to a transporter of slaves from Africa?
“It Is Well With My Soul,” is less well known, but a knowledge of its origin is also compelling. The writer of those words, Horatio Spafford, composed them at sea while sailing past the site on the Atlantic Ocean where his four daughters had perished during an earlier voyage. Its message is contained in these lyrics: “Whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say, it is well, it is well, with my soul.”
THESE HYMNS hold poignancy for me. When we helped to start that little renegade church, I suppose I was the most wretched of the bunch and so identified with the message of “Amazing Grace” that I requested that it be sung almost every week. In time, that little Baptist Church in the hollow became almost as well known as the “Amazing Grace Church” as by its actual name.
And the other hymn? In times of stress in our lives, “It Is Well With My Soul” seems to pop up on the order of worship just at the right time to remind us that no matter how the things that worry us turn out, we have staked our lives in a higher authority than ourselves.
For the wretches of this world, that is powerful medicine.
Archie P. McDonald was a professor of history and Community Liaison at Stephen F. Austin State University. His commentaries were also featured each Friday morning on Red River Radio.