Posted by: chuckbumgardner | January 19, 2008

Margaret Clarkson and Hymn-Writing

Margaret Clarkson wrote such well-known hymns as “So Send I You” (I, like Clarkson, prefer her revision, “So Send I You — by Grace Made Strong”) and “We Come, O Christ, to You.”  As a girl, she was converted and discipled in a Presbyterian church during — of all things — a series of children’s meetings based on Pilgrim’s Progress (not a bad idea!).  It was in this church that she was consistently exposed to the great hymnody of the church.
She has suggested that successful hymns must possess six characteristics:
1) Good hymns are God-centered, not man-centered.
2) Good hymns are doctrinal in content and theologically sound, rooted securely in scripture.
3) Good hymns present words of beauty, dignity and simplicity.
4) Good hymns are adult in word and tone.
5) Good hymns display a precision of poetic technique and expression.
6) Good hymns turn the heart heavenward.
Writing good hymns, she notes, is “a matter of looking on the face of God, of worshipping in his presence, of embracing his will, of accepting his cross and living daily under its obedience; then, having learned the disciplines of good writing, of singing his grace.”

You can learn more about Clarkson here.



  1. the list of tenets entailing good hymnody seem never-ending.
    i’m continually struck at the irony and objective force they seem
    to be intending to carry, while remainly highly subjective in their interpretation.

  2. Hi, Scott,

    I’m not sure what you mean by displaying irony…do you mean that this seems ironic?

    And would you disagree with any of the above?

  3. it’s not so much that i would disagree (necessarily), but that (often) those who make a point of praising the hymn genre seem to insinuate (in lists of desirable components) that these things are only found in hymns.
    “ironic,” because: (1) it seems a most futile exercise (to me), because there are so many other genres that facilitate these components; (2) because such lists are – albeit, understandibly – highly presumptuous, and subjective.

  4. I believe the topic was about what an accomplished hymnwriter has suggested as some characteristics of good hymns, not a debate about hymns vs other genre.

    I would argue that the practice of Margaret Clarkson, or anyone, in writing God-centered, doctrinal hymns rooted in Scripture, is certainly not a “futile” exercise.

  5. I found this page looking specifically for Margaret Clarkson’s twin-versions of “So Send I You”.

    I don’t expect Scott will read these words, but others who see them and doubt should know this:

    a true hymn to God causes you to sing with the heart and with the understanding also (quoting an anonymous Welsh account of a conversation). We find this in several places in Scripture in exhortations to understanding and wisdom, and in doing things ‘heartily to the Lord’.

    Margaret’s rules are simple guidelines for those who are not sure about what understanding they should have. I would suggest as a cross-reference that they study the words of “My Goal Is God Himself”, available at the very least on (formerly Cyberhymnal). This was an active link at this date, a database of some 4000 non-copyright hymns (and generally from an age of greater understanding and less compromise).

    And perhaps, to ask themselves what their relationship with God consists of… feelings, or understanding?

    May He bless your search for Him, because He’s searching for you.

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