In 1524, Martin Luther and Paul Speratus published the first Lutheran hymnal. It was only twelve pages long and contained a total of eight songs—four by Luther, three by Speratus, and one attributed to Justus Jonas.
The success of the first printing frustrated Luther’s opponents. Since the hymns were scripturally based and used to teach theological truths, his antagonists grumbled, “the whole people are singing themselves into his doctrines.” Nevertheless, demand was so great that a second volume was published the same year—the new edition containing twenty-five hymns.
With these two hymnals, Martin Luther became the father of Protestant hymnody. Their publication led to an instant boom in hymnal production.
Today the Lutheran Service Book, published by Concordia Publishing House, has become a beloved worship resource in English-speaking Lutheran churches around the world. It’s a hymnal-plus, full of services, psalms, hymns, and prayers to edify the church. We’ve compiled a list of the 10 most popular hymns from the LSB.
1. Amazing Grace—John Newton
Category: Hope and Comfort
Written: London, England
Date: 1772, published 1779
If there’s a more beloved hymn in existence, I don’t know what it could be. Even people with little to no Christian background can sing the first stanza:
How sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me
I once was lost, but now I’m found
Was blind, but now I see
Newton’s Christian mother died before his seventh birthday, and by 11 he was sailing the high seas with his father. He grew into a true wretch serving in the British navy as a slave trader. Looking back on this time in his life he wrote, “I sinned with a high hand, and I made it my study to tempt and seduce others.”
He suffered terribly under the consequences of his choices. Everything came to a head when his slave ship almost sank off the coast of Ireland. When it didn’t, Newton took this as a sign of God’s mercy and converted to Christianity.
This decision didn’t lead to a change of heart over night. Of his conversion he wrote, “I cannot consider myself to have been a believer in the full sense of the word, until a considerable time afterwards.” But as he gradually submitted himself to Jesus, he became a staunch opponent to the English slave trade, eventually helping to secure its abolishment.
After becoming ordained as an Anglican priest, Newton wrote 280 hymns to accompany his services. One of those hymns was the dearly loved “Amazing Grace.”
2. Lift High the Cross—George Kitchin
Category: Mission and Witness
Written: Winchester, England
Lift high the cross,
the love of Christ proclaim
till all the world adore
his sacred Name.
The original 11 stanzas of this hymn were written for an Anglican festival service being held for a mission organization called the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel. The more common version of this hymn was altered by Anglican priest Michael Robert Newbolt for the 1916 publication Supplements to Hymns Ancient and Modern.
As a processional hymn, “Lift High the Cross” points to the cross-bearer (or crucifer) who leads the procession carrying an elevated cross on a long staff. This symbolizes the victory of the resurrection and points to Jesus’s words in John 12:32, “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.”
3. Savior of the Nations, Come—Martin Luther
Written: Eisleben, Germany Date: 1523
Savior of the nations, come;
Virgin’s Song, here make thy home!
Marvel now, O heaven and earth,
That the Lord chose such a birth.
The original words come from St. Ambrose in the late 4th century. Legend has it that Ambrose was contending with Arians who denied the divinity of Christ. When Roman Empress Justina, the wife of Emperor Valentinian I, attempted to occupy one of Ambrose’s churches, he refused to give it over to someone with such questionable theology.
Under threat of a military response, Ambrose gathered his congregation together to pray and worship God. When the soldiers arrived, it’s said that they were so moved by the singing that they put down their weapons and joined the worshipers.
Luther adapted Ambrose’s Latin text to German put it to a plainsong melody and included it his hymnal.
4. O Lord, We Praise Thee—Martin Luther
Category: The Lord’s Supper
Written: Eisleben, Germany
O Lord, we praise Thee, bless Thee, and adore Thee,
In thanksgiving bow before Thee.
Thou with Thy body and Thy blood didst nourish
Our weak souls that they may flourish:
O Lord, have mercy!
May Thy body, Lord, born of Mary,
That our sins and sorrows did carry,
And Thy blood for us plead
In all trial, fear, and need:
O Lord, have mercy!
Lutheran suggested “O Lord, We Praise Thee” as a post-communion hymn. This entire song speaks to the truth of Jesus as Savior and how believers benefit from this important sacrament. As congregations sing this beloved hymn, they’re reminded of ways this sacrament expounds on our debt-free relationship with God, and how communion works in Christians to restore and redeem us.
5. Let Us Ever Walk with Jesus—Sigmund von Birken
Written: Nuremberg, Germany
Let us ever walk with Jesus,
Follow His example pure,
Flee the world, which would deceive us
And to sin our souls allure.
Ever in His footsteps treading,
Body here, yet soul above,
Full of faith and hope and love,
Let us do the Father’s bidding.
Faithful Lord, abide with me; Savior, lead, I follow Thee.
When Sigismund von Birken was a child, he was forced to flee from his home in Bohemia with his father and other evangelical clergy. The Bohemian Revolt had strengthened Catholic resistance to Protestantism, and it was no longer safe.
He studied law and theology, and eventually became a well-known poet. He was 27 when he wrote “Let Us Ever Walk with Jesus.” And it beautifully encapsulates what it means to live a Christian life of faith and obedience.
6. Thy Strong Word—Martin Franzmann
Category: The Word of God
Written: St. Louis, Missouri
Date: 1957–69 (Copyright 1969)
Thy strong word did cleave the darkness;
At Thy speaking it was done.
For created light we thank Thee,
While Thine ordered seasons run.
Praise to Thee who light dost send!
Alleluia, alleluia! Alleluia without end!
The motto of Concordia Seminary—where Martin Franzmann was the chairman of the department of exegetical theology—is “Anothen to phos” (light from above). “Thy Strong Word” perfectly captures that motto as Franzmann walks us from the light of creation through a glorious finale praising God: light creator, Jesus: Light of Light begotten, and the Holy Spirit: Light revealer.
7. I Come, O Savior, to Thy Table—Friedrich C. Heyder
Category: The Lord’s Supper
Written: Zörbig, Germany
I come, O Savior, to Thy Table,
For weak and weary is my soul;
Thou, Bread of Life, alone art able
To satisfy and make me whole:
Lord, may Thy body and Thy blood
Be for my soul the highest good!
“I Come, O Savior, to Thy Table” is another powerful communion hymn written by 18th-century German pastor, Friedrich Christian Heyder. Within its 15 stanzas, Heyder doesn’t simply inform the hymn singer, he stirs their emotions with evocative images.
It is nearly impossible for the redeemed who has eaten at the Lord’s table to sing this song without being powerfully moved.
8. Children of the Heavenly Father—Karolina Sandell
Written: Stockholm, Sweden
Children of the heavenly Father
safely in His bosom gather;
nestling bird nor star in heaven
such a refuge e’er was given.
Neither life nor death shall ever
from the Lord His children sever;
unto them His grace He showeth,
and their sorrows all He knoweth.
Though He giveth or He taketh,
God His children ne’er forsaketh;
His the loving purpose solely
to preserve them pure and holy.
Karolina grew up as the daughter of a Lutheran pastor in Småland, Sweden. On a boat trip with her father across Lake Vättern, he fell overboard. She was unable to save him and he drowned—she was 26.
This catastrophe had a profound impact on her, and it’s influence can be seen in many of her hymns. In “Children of the Heavenly Father,” she draws upon this experience to create a sense of peace and confidence in worshipers who are walking through their own times of loss.
9. Lamb of God—Twila Paris
Written: Fort Worth, Texas
Your only Son
No sin to hide
But You have sent Him,
From Your side
To walk upon this guilty sod
And to become the Lamb of God
Twila Paris is a beloved contemporary Christian artist, and “Lamb of God” is the most modern song in this top ten (but only by a couple of years). She wrote it, in her early twenties, sitting at the piano in her parents home. When she thinks back on it now, she remembers that “it was almost like taking dictation.” Even then she felt like God intended to communicate something to his people.
“Lamb of God” is a beautiful portrayal of the life and passion of Christ. It’s graceful melody and simple lyrics personalize his sacrifice, teaching us that the Lamb of God came that we could all be lambs of God.
10. Go, My Children, with My Blessing—Jaroslav Vajda
Category: Close of Service
Written: East Chicago, Indiana
Go, my children, with my blessing, Never alone.
Waking, sleeping, I am with you; You are my own.
In my love’s baptismal river I have made you mine forever.
Go, my children, with my blessing—You are my own.
Dr. Jaroslav Vajda was known as “the dean of hymn writers in North America,” and rightly so. He authored more than 225 hymns and appeared in some 60 hymnals. “Go, My Children, with My Blessing” is a well-loved benediction hymn that is used widely.
As Vajda explains it, “To set it apart from other versions of the benediction, I placed the words of the hymn into the mouth of the blessing triune God dismissing the congregation after worship while drawing together a review of the events that transpired during the worship service.”
In the hymn, these events include:
- The forgiveness of sins
- The sharing of the gospel story
- The reception of spiritual nourishment
- The blessing of spiritual comfort
What are your favorite hymns?
Leave us a comment and tell us about your church’s favorite or most frequently sung hymns!