Mr. Pipes and the British Hymn Makers is the first book in a three part series by author Douglas Bond. I asked my oldest daughter if she wanted to read the book because she truly loves music, especially hymns. This book has been a special blessing for her as she learns more about the sacredness of hymns. Here is what she had to say about Mr. Pipes and the British Hymn Makers:
Mr. Pipes seems at first to be a children’s book. But I think we can all learn from its message!
The story starts as two children are staying with their mother in a little-bitty English town. The two children, Annie and Drew, are rather unpleased at the prospect of spending the whole summer there. Drew, his headphones blaring music in his ears, and Annie, sketchbook in her knapsack, come across an old chapel while exploring. They meet an elderly gentlemen affectionately nicknamed “Mr. Pipes”, because he plays the pipe organ for the church. During their stay in England, they become good friends with Mr. Pipes, who tells them many stories of great hymn writers, all the while showing them who Jesus really is, and why He is worthy to be praised.
On the surface, it is a great book for teaching all about different hymn writers and their lives. But there’s a deeper message about all of this and it has to do with the controversy between hymns vs. contemporary music.
One of the quotes in the book is “A good hymn should be like a good prayer — simple, real, earnest, reverent, and theological”. Simple, not as in short, or as shallow, but simple as in straight praise and straightforward. Real, genuine. Earnest, having a longing desire, intent, fixed. Reverent, submissive, humble, recognizing Him as who He really is, and worshiping in true adoration. Theological, doctrinally sound.
I’m a pianist, and enjoy hymns very much. But I haven’t always loved hymns, nor even known about them. I’ve played the piano for about eleven years, and my roots were in classical music. But along the line, I’ve had teachers that have taught me to play jazz, blues, and pop. I used to also really like country music, and played contemporary Christian music. A couple of years ago, we moved, and went to a church that sang only hymns. At first, I remember telling my mom that it was hard to learn the hymns. With contemporary music, you can easily guess what comes next, because they all sound the same. But each hymn was different and new. I wanted to play the piano at church because they needed a pianist, but I had no idea how to play hymns.
One day, by God’s providence, I got a piano teacher. She truly was the best pianist I had ever heard, and taught me more than I think I had ever learned about the piano in a few short months. She taught me how to treasure hymns, because they express how great our God really is. One of the most important things she taught me was that music has the power to move people. She told me to close my eyes, and envision scenes to go with the song I was playing, and then play what I saw. I realize now that hymns aren’t “just songs”, they’re ways to express the depths of our soul to the Lord.
Reading Mr. Pipes, I remembered many things that my piano teacher taught me, and these things were reinforced in my mind. It’s not that I doubt the sincerity of anyone while singing contemporary songs. But who is our God? Is it just “Our God is an Awesome God”? Or is He “Holy, Holy, Holy”?
Another really important thing that I learned from my piano teacher, and Mr. Pipes reminded me of, is that music is for the words. The music is meant to compliment the song, and if you’re more concentrated on the music than the words, if you’re more concentrated on the music than how Holy our God really is, then something is not right. This doesn’t mean that I don’t think we should have nice music to go along with it, or that I just want to sing a cappella (come on, I am a pianist after all!). It means that the music should highlight the words. I had a huge lesson to learn in this area. I used to play monotone. But a hymn should be simple, the music emphasizing the words, and beautiful.
The words should be simple as well–not trying to fit as many words in as you can, and not trying to impress people with a large vocabulary, but consisting of one thing, and that is worshipping God. I believe God does like beautiful music and words. However, they shouldn’t take away, but add to worship.
In worshipping God, it really does help to know who He is, and what He has done. In praising someone, or thanking them, you don’t just say “you’re good” or “thanks”. As in “Awesome God”, the only words we find to describe Him and what He has done, and praising Him for that, are “He’s awesome”, “He reigns”, “He’s wise”, and “He’s powerful”. One of my favorite hymns, “One Day”, tells of His death, burial, and resurrection. Not all hymns have so much about Him. But in one verse of “Tell me the story of Jesus”, we find that He was nailed to a cross, died, and liveth again; that He loves us, and that was the reason that He paid the ransom for our sins. The best hymns are the ones that express what the Bible says. Ones that remind us what a great God we serve, and praise Him for that.
Simple, earnest, reverent, and theological–we now have a pretty good foundation for a hymn. But none of this really matters if it’s not real. I think this can apply to the hymn itself, because we want it to be real in the sense of not imaginary, but true. But that kind of fits with the theological perspective. I think real applies more to the singers of the hymn. You could have the most simple, earnest, reverent, and theological hymn/song out there, and yet if you don’t really mean it, it doesn’t do a thing.
Is God only glorified by hymns?
I know some godly Christians who exclusively sing contemporary music. The song may not be the best, but they sing it earnestly and real. I don’t think that God is only glorified by hymns, but I do believe that He wants our very best. He wants us to worship Him the very best we know how. We should always be seeking to glorify Him more and more in all we do. There’s never an “arrived” place, only a journey closer to Him in all we do.
What if others don’t agree?
As a final note, I believe that this may be some of what Paul was talking about to the Romans. He was talking about eating, and herbs vs. meat. He was making the point that while one eats meat, and another herbs, it’s even better not to offend the brethren, or cause them to stumble. I think that this applies to music too. In my personal worship, I exclusively sing hymns. But at some churches, they may sing contemporary music. Do I refuse to sing? No! I sing knowing that I’m worshipping God with my brothers and sisters in Christ, and so as not to cause strife within the church. I prefer to sing hymns, because I believe they praise God to the fullest that I can praise Him. But it’s even more praise when we don’t cause strife within the church.
In summary, this is all what the book “Mr. Pipes and the British Hymn Makers” has taught me. I choose hymns because I believe God is most glorified when I sing them. Just because a song is called a “hymn” does not mean that it worships God the best, because “hymn” is becoming a broader term with each year that passes. But we do need to search ourselves, and honestly ask ourselves, what glorifies God most?
Search me, O God,
And know my heart today;
Try me, O Savior,
Know my thoughts, I pray.
See if there be
Some wicked way in me;
Cleanse me from every sin
And set me free.
I praise Thee, Lord,
For cleansing me from sin;
Fulfill Thy Word,
And make me pure within.
Fill me with fire
Where once I burned with shame;
Grant my desire
To magnify Thy Name.
Lord, take my life,
And make it wholly Thine;
Fill my poor heart
With Thy great love divine.
Take all my will,
My passion, self and pride;
I now surrender, Lord
In me abide.
O Holy Ghost,
Revival comes from Thee;
Send a revival,
Start the work in me.
Thy Word declares
Thou wilt supply our need;
For blessings now,
O Lord, I humbly plead.
What Ages is This Book For?
The publisher recommends this book for grades 7-10. However, my daughter is nearly 18 and she enjoyed it immensely and is looking forward to reading the next book in the series.