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How to Use Hymns to Teach Truth and Doctrine

How to Use Hymns to Teach Truth and Doctrine

As a music teacher, I’m often focused on ways to use music in other areas of life so that music isn’t isolated as its own thing. We know that God created music and encourages us, in His Word, to sing and make music with instruments. There is music in heaven and music all throughout creation. Music is important to Him, and it should also be important to us.

Today, I’d like to focus on a specific type of music: hymns. And, we’ll talk about how to use hymns to teach truth and doctrine to your kids.

How to Use Hymns to Teach Truth and Doctrine
Disclosure: I get commissions for purchases made through affiliate links in this post.

Vet the Hymn for Sound Doctrine

First of all, I want to make it clear that not all hymns actually teach sound doctrine. The place we are to get our firm foundation of orthodox Christianity is from the Bible itself. We need to study the Scriptures ourselves, and then when we listen to pastors or sing hymns, we can filter those words through the truth we already know from God’s Word, and use them to build on.

Once you have found a hymn that teaches truth, use it to emphasize what you are already teaching your children about doctrine.

Before we get into the specific hymns, let talk about what Christian doctrines and truths you should teach your kids.

What Christian Doctrines and Truths Should You Teach Your Kids?

(I got this list from here and from here if you’d like to read more about what each means.)

  • Jesus’ Sinless-ness while being fully human
  • Jesus’ Divinity. He is fully God.
  • Salvation through Christ alone, and not through works
  • The truth about heaven and hell
  • The Trinity. God is one God in 3 persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit
  • The Bible is the inspired Word of God
  • Humans are fallen and all have sinned
  • Sin separates us from God

And, of course, there are more!

A Couple of Tips to Use Hymns to Teach Truth and Doctrine

  1. Use the topic index in the front or back of the hymnal to find a hymn that speaks about the doctrine you’re teaching
  2. Do some literary analysis of the hymn’s “poem” to recognize symbolism, patterns, similes and metaphors, and other forms of artistry the poet included.
  3. Have the kids copy the hymn’s lyrics.
  4. Memorize the lyrics.
  5. Read them aloud dramatically, apart from the music (i.e. without singing)

There are hundreds, probably even thousands, of hymns I could talk about today. But, I’ve decided to focus on the 10 that are included in my Great Hymns of the Faith online course hymn study for all ages, which you can find at The course includes the stories behind the songs, sheet music, videos to learn to sing the hymns in four parts, devotionals and Bible studies, and copywork and coloring pages.

Great Hymns of the Faith online course: a hymn study for all ages from Gena Mayo of Music in Our Homeschool

Free Download

You can get a free download of the 23-page “Amazing Grace” hymn study here:


Amazing Grace

“Amazing Grace” is one of the most well-known hymns ever written. Even most non-believers have heard it. That makes it a great hymn to start with if this is new territory for you and/or your kids.

  1. Amazing grace! How sweet the sound
    That saved a wretch like me!
    I once was lost, but now am found;
    Was blind, but now I see.
  2. ’Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,
    And grace my fears relieved;
    How precious did that grace appear
    The hour I first believed.
  3. Through many dangers, toils and snares,
    I have already come;
    ’Tis grace hath brought me safe thus far,
    And grace will lead me home.
  4. The Lord has promised good to me,
    His Word my hope secures;
    He will my Shield and Portion be,
    As long as life endures.
  5. Yea, when this flesh and heart shall fail,
    And mortal life shall cease,
    I shall possess, within the veil,
    A life of joy and peace.
  6. The earth shall soon dissolve like snow,
    The sun forbear to shine;
    But God, who called me here below,
    Will be forever mine.
  7. When we’ve been there ten thousand years,
    Bright shining as the sun,
    We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise
    Than when we’d first begun.
  • Lyricist: John Newton
    Lyrics Date: 1779, last verse author unknown, before 1829.

“Amazing Grace” teaches so many great truths about God and basic tenets of Christianity, but let’s focus on just one. What is grace?

I’ve heard a couple of good definitions of grace that help me understand it better. The first is the acronym God’s Riches at Christ’s Expense, and the second is this: Grace is getting something we don’t deserve. Contrast that with the definition of mercy, which is not getting something you do deserve.

So, what grace did God give us? He gave us eternal salvation in heaven when, because of our sin, we deserved hell. He gave us love, even though we continue to sin. As the hymn tells us, this grace allows us to see when we’re blind, and be found when we’re lost. His grace helps us to fear God and not to fear anything else. The amazing grace brings us through the toils and snares of this life and will lead us oneday home to heaven.

A Scripture to meditate on: Ephesians 2:8-9  For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.

Fairest Lord Jesus

  1. Fairest Lord Jesus, Ruler of all nature,
    Son of God and Son of Man,
    Thee will I cherish, Thee will I honor,
    Thou, my soul’s glory, joy, and crown.
  2. Fair are the meadows, fair are the woodlands,
    Robed in the blooming garb of spring;
    Jesus is fairer, Jesus is purer,
    Who makes the woeful heart to sing.
  3. Fair is the sunshine, fairer still the moonlight,
    And all the twinkling starry host;
    Jesus shines brighter, Jesus shines purer
    Than all the angels heav’n can boast.
  4. Beautiful Savior! Lord of all the nations!
    Son of God and Son of Man!
    Glory and honor, praise, adoration,
    Now and forevermore be Thine.
  • Lyricist: Anonymous
    Lyrics Date: 1677
    Translator: Joseph A. Seiss
    Translation Date: 1873

Let’s use “Fairest Lord Jesus” to focus on the doctrine of Jesus being fully God and fully man. It says in verse four “Son of God and Son of Man.” How is that possible? How can He be 100% divine and 100% human. We, with our finite minds, can’t fathom it. But, that is the truth of Christianity. If Jesus weren’t God, He couldn’t forgive us. If He weren’t human, He couldn’t die for us and be the ultimate sacrificial Lamb of God.

It is Well With My Soul

If you know the background story of “It is Well With My Soul,” you know that these words were penned by a grieving father who had just lost his children to a shipwreck.

  1. When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
    When sorrows like sea billows roll;
    Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,
    It is well, it is well with my soul.
    • Refrain:
      It is well with my soul,
      It is well, it is well with my soul.
  2. Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,
    Let this blest assurance control,
    That Christ hath regarded my helpless estate,
    And hath shed His own blood for my soul.
  3. My sin—oh, the bliss of this glorious thought!—
    My sin, not in part but the whole,
    Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more,
    Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!
  4. And Lord, haste the day when the faith shall be sight,
    The clouds be rolled back as a scroll;
    The trump shall resound, and the Lord shall descend,
    Even so, it is well with my soul.
  • Lyricist: Horatio G. Spafford
  • Lyrics Date: 1873

What truth do we learn in this hymn? There are many. We learn that God never promised that Christians will have it easy in this life. In fact, John 16:33 Jesus tells us, “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” And, He says in John 10:10 “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.”

Horatio Spafford lost his family, but his abundant life was through Christ. He said in the hymn, “Christ hath regarded my helpless estate and hath shed His own blood for my soul” and “Praise the Lord, praise the Lord!”

A Mighty Fortress Is Our God

  1. A mighty fortress is our God, a bulwark never failing;
    Our helper He, amid the flood of mortal ills prevailing:
    For still our ancient foe doth seek to work us woe;
    His craft and pow’r are great, and, armed with cruel hate,
    On earth is not his equal.
  2. Did we in our own strength confide, our striving would be losing,
    Were not the right Man on our side, the Man of God’s own choosing:
    Dost ask who that may be? Christ Jesus, it is He;
    Lord Sabaoth, His Name, from age to age the same,
    And He must win the battle.
  3. And though this world, with devils filled, should threaten to undo us,
    We will not fear, for God hath willed His truth to triumph through us;
    The Prince of Darkness grim, we tremble not for him;
    His rage we can endure, for lo, his doom is sure,
    One little word shall fell him.
  4. That word above all earthly pow’rs, no thanks to them, abideth;
    The Spirit and the gifts are ours through Him Who with us sideth;
    Let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also;
    The body they may kill: God’s truth abideth still,
    His kingdom is forever.
  • Lyricist: Martin Luther
    Lyrics Date: 1529
    Translator: Frederick H. Hedge (1853)

The battle hymn of the Reformation “A Mighty Fortress is Our God” by Martin Luther is a perfect hymn to use to study the truth of our enemy. Luther says, “For still our ancient foe doth seek to work us woe;
His craft and pow’r are great, and, armed with cruel hate, On earth is not his equal.” 1 Peter 5:8 says, “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.”

If we are to truly understand the truth of Christianity, we need to believe that Satan is real. He is active in the world today, seeking to destroy God’s world and His people. But, Jesus will be the ultimate victor. Satan’s “doom is sure. One little word shall fell him.”

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Blessed Assurance

  1. Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine!
    Oh, what a foretaste of glory divine!
    Heir of salvation, purchase of God,
    Born of His Spirit, washed in His blood.
    • Refrain:
      This is my story, this is my song,
      Praising my Savior all the day long;
      This is my story, this is my song,
      Praising my Savior all the day long.
  2. Perfect submission, perfect delight,
    Visions of rapture now burst on my sight;
    Angels, descending, bring from above
    Echoes of mercy, whispers of love.
  3. Perfect submission, all is at rest,
    I in my Savior am happy and blest,
    Watching and waiting, looking above,
    Filled with His goodness, lost in His love.
  • Lyricist: Fanny Crosby
    Lyrics Date: 1873

As with many of the hymns, there are different doctrines to look at in the hymn “Blessed Assurance.” But, let’s just start with the first–assurance of salvation! “Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine! Oh, what a foretaste of glory divine! Heir of salvation, purchase of God, Born of His Spirit, washed in His blood.”

Romans 10:9 says, “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” 

We don’t have to wonder and wait until we die to know if we’re saved. 1 John 5:13 is another Scripture that makes it clear that we can know now: “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life.”

Be Thou My Vision

This beautiful hymn was sung at our wedding, so it always has a special place in my heart.

  1. Be Thou my Vision, O Lord of my heart;
    Naught be all else to me, save that Thou art;
    Thou my best Thought, by day or by night,
    Waking or sleeping, Thy presence my light.
  2. Be Thou my Wisdom, and Thou my true Word;
    I ever with Thee and Thou with me, Lord;
    Thou my great Father, I Thy true son;
    Thou in me dwelling, and I with Thee one.
  3. Be Thou my battle Shield, Sword for the fight;
    Be Thou my Dignity, Thou my Delight;
    Thou my soul’s Shelter, Thou my high Tow’r:
    Raise Thou me heav’nward, O Pow’r of my pow’r.
  4. Riches I heed not, nor man’s empty praise,
    Thou mine Inheritance, now and always:
    Thou and Thou only, first in my heart,
    High King of Heaven, my Treasure Thou art.
  5. High King of Heaven, my victory won,
    May I reach Heaven’s joys, O bright Heav’n’s Sun!
    Heart of my own heart, whatever befall,
    Still be my Vision, O Ruler of all.
  • Lyrics: Ancient Irish Poem
    Lyrics Date: 8th Century
    Translator: Mary E. Bryne
    Translation Date: 1905
    Versified by: Eleanor H. Hull
    Versified Date: 1905

For “Be Thou My Vision,” I’d like to focus on the line “Thou in me dwelling, and I with Thee one.” Do you understand what it means to have the Holy Spirit dwelling in you? No, well, this is another mystery of the faith. And, yet, the Scripture says it is so.

Let me list a few for you: Romans 8:9 says, “You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him.” Ephesians 2:22 says, “In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.” And 1 Corinthians 3:16 says, “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?”

The Old Rugged Cross

  1. On a hill far away stood an old rugged cross,
    The emblem of suff’ring and shame;
    And I love that old cross where the Dearest and Best
    For a world of lost sinners was slain.
    • Refrain:
      So I’ll cherish the old rugged cross,
      Till my trophies at last I lay down;
      I will cling to the old rugged cross,
      And exchange it someday for a crown.
  2. Oh, that old rugged cross, so despised by the world,
    Has a wondrous attraction for me;
    For the dear Lamb of God left His glory above
    To bear it to dark Calvary.
  3. In that old rugged cross, stained with blood so divine,
    A wondrous beauty I see,
    For ’twas on that old cross Jesus suffered and died,
    To pardon and sanctify me.
  4. To the old rugged cross I will ever be true;
    Its shame and reproach gladly bear;
    Then He’ll call me someday to my home far away,
    Where His glory forever I’ll share.
  • Lyricist: George Bennard
    Lyrics Date: 1913

Obviously, in “The Old Rugged Cross,” we need to look at the doctrine of the cross. It was the place where Jesus died? Why did Jesus die? Did He really have to die?

The Old Testament Scriptures explain God’s method of forgiveness. There must be shedding of blood. So, every year the Jews would sacrifice an animal, but the next year it must be done again.

Jesus came to be the ultimate sacrifice. The final sacrifice that would cover all sins of every person in the world, past, present, and future. Yes, he had to die. That is the only way our sins could be paid for. Colossians 2:14 says, “by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.”

“For ’twas on that old cross Jesus suffered and died, To pardon and sanctify me.”

Holy Holy Holy

  1. Holy, holy, holy! Lord God Almighty!
    Early in the morning our song shall rise to Thee;
    Holy, holy, holy, merciful and mighty!
    God in three Persons, blessed Trinity!
  2. Holy, holy, holy! All the saints adore Thee,
    Casting down their golden crowns around the glassy sea;
    Cherubim and seraphim falling down before Thee,
    Who was, and is, and evermore shall be.
  3. Holy, holy, holy! Though the darkness hide Thee,
    Though the eye of sinful man Thy glory may not see;
    Only Thou art holy; there is none beside Thee,
    Perfect in pow’r, in love, and purity.
  4. Holy, holy, holy! Lord God Almighty!
    All Thy works shall praise Thy Name, in earth, and sky, and sea;
    Holy, holy, holy; merciful and mighty!
    God in three Persons, blessed Trinity!
  • Lyrics: Reginald Heber
    Lyrics Date: 1826

Let’s use the hymn “Holy, Holy, Holy” to talk about the doctrine of the Trinity. What is the Trinity? It’s the truth that our God is one God, but He is in three persons: the Father, the Son Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. Even though the Bible doesn’t use the word “Trinity,” many Scriptures help us understand who God is.

In Genesis 1:26 it says, “Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.” This shows that Jesus was present from the beginning.

In Isaiah 9:6 we learn that Jesus is in fact God: “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”

John 1:14 tells us that “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.”

Colossians 2:9 says “For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily,” again showing the truth that Jesus is God, as does Hebrews 1:3: “He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high.”

A final set of verses we’ll look at for the doctrine of the Trinity is 1 John 5:6-12:

This is he who came by water and blood—Jesus Christ; not by the water only but by the water and the blood. And the Spirit is the one who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth. For there are three that testify: the Spirit and the water and the blood; and these three agree. If we receive the testimony of men, the testimony of God is greater, for this is the testimony of God that he has borne concerning his Son. 10 Whoever believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself. Whoever does not believe God has made him a liar, because he has not believed in the testimony that God has borne concerning his Son. 11 And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. 12 Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.

Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing

  1. Come, Thou Fount of every blessing,
    Tune my heart to sing Thy grace;
    Streams of mercy, never ceasing,
    Call for songs of loudest praise.
    Teach me some melodious sonnet,
    Sung by flaming tongues above;
    Praise the mount! I’m fixed upon it,
    Mount of God’s unchanging love.
  2. Here I raise my Ebenezer;
    Hither by Thy help I’m come;
    And I hope, by Thy good pleasure,
    Safely to arrive at home.
    Jesus sought me when a stranger,
    Wand’ring from the fold of God;
    He, to rescue me from danger,
    Interposed His precious blood.
  3. Oh, to grace how great a debtor
    Daily I’m constrained to be!
    Let that goodness, like a fetter,
    Bind my wand’ring heart to Thee.
    Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
    Prone to leave the God I love;
    Here’s my heart, O take and seal it,
    Seal it for thy courts above.
  • Lyricist: Robert Robinson
    Lyrics Date: 1758

One truth I am most drawn to in the hymn “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing” is the truth of God’s unfailing and unchanging love. “Praise the mount! I’m fixed upon it, Mount of God’s unchanging love.”

The entire Bible is full of evidence of God’s incredible love for us, His creation. But, let’s focus on a few from the Psalms:

Psalm 143:8 Let me hear in the morning of your steadfast love, for in you I trust. Make me know the way I should go, for to you I lift up my soul.

Psalm 146:1 Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever.

Psalm 13:5 But I have trusted in your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation.

And, here is my favorite from the New Testament: 1 John 4:7-8 says, “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.”

What a Friend We Have in Jesus

  1. What a friend we have in Jesus,
    All our sins and griefs to bear!
    What a privilege to carry
    Everything to God in prayer!
    Oh, what peace we often forfeit,
    Oh, what needless pain we bear,
    All because we do not carry
    Everything to God in prayer!
  2. Have we trials and temptations?
    Is there trouble anywhere?
    We should never be discouraged—
    Take it to the Lord in prayer.
    Can we find a friend so faithful,
    Who will all our sorrows share?
    Jesus knows our every weakness;
    Take it to the Lord in prayer.
  3. Are we weak and heavy-laden,
    Cumbered with a load of care?
    Precious Savior, still our refuge—
    Take it to the Lord in prayer.
    Do thy friends despise, forsake thee?
    Take it to the Lord in prayer!
    In His arms He’ll take and shield thee,
    Thou wilt find a solace there.
  4. Blessed Savior, Thou hast promised
    Thou wilt all our burdens bear;
    May we ever, Lord, be bringing
    All to Thee in earnest prayer.
    Soon in glory bright, unclouded,
    There will be no need for prayer—
    Rapture, praise, and endless worship
    Will be our sweet portion there.
  • Lyricist: Joseph M. Scriven
    Lyrics Date: 1855

Our final hymn tells us the truth is that we should bring “Everything to God in prayer!” What is prayer? Why should we pray? How do we pray? Here are a few Scriptures to use to teach this to your kids.

Prayer is talking to and listening to God. James 1:6 encourages us to pray with faith: “But let him ask in faith, with no doubting.” John 16:23 tells us to ask anything in Jesus’ name: “Truly, truly, I say to you, whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he will give it to you.” Now, of course, what we ask for has to be in God’s will.

Jesus taught his disciples and us to pray using what we now call the Lord’s prayer which can be found in Matthew 6:9-13 and Luke 11:2-4.

The Bible has a lot to say about prayer, so you’ll want to go way beyond what I’m mentioning here. But, I’d like to close today with two of my favorite Scriptures about prayer:

Philippians 4:6-7 says, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” And 1 Thessalonians 5:17 tells us to “pray without ceasing.”


I pray that this session was helpful for you today. Please feel free to talk to me, either with comments in the Teachable course or on the blog post at Or, you can email me at [email protected].

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  1. An excellent intro study into truly potent church hymns. In a time full of rather shallow praise choruses a return to foundational, doctrine-rich hymns is necessary, especially when rearing the next generation of the Body of Christ.

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