Mr. Pipes and the British Hymn Makers

Mr. Pipes and the British Hymn Makers, Douglas Bond
(Christian Liberty Press, 1999), pb., 242 pp.

This was a delightful read! We are officially Douglas Bond fans now! This book is significantly different from the Crown & Covenant books, however. In fact, as we began this book, my boys thought it was a bit slow coming out of a run of books which included battles, etc. However, they were soon caught up in this story as was I.

The story follows is centered around a summer spent in England by two fairly typical American children, Annie & Drew. At the beginning they expect to be miserably bored spending a summer in an old town named Olney. However, once they meet Mr. Pipes, the organist of the local Anglican church, everything changes. Pipes, an older Englishman, enthralls them with stories about hymn writers, their faith and their adventure amidst taking them fishing, exploring and sailing on the river Ouse. Along the way they learn many things about British culture and cuisine as well. The great truths found in the hymns they learn come to life as they hear them and see their reality in Mr. Pipes. In the end both children, who previously had attended church just on occasion, express their faith in Christ.

There is so much to admire in this book. What drew my boys in was the description of a great holiday- sailing, fishing, visiting key historical places, etc. I found myself longing for just such a holiday, myself! There were great places for laughter and excitement in the reading. Then, the deliberate straightforward advocacy of the great hymns was thrilling to me. We already sing hymns with our children, at home and in church, but it was great to have a fun book which reinforced this and in many ways explained why this is a key value in our family. It was also fun to learn some new hymns.

Furthermore, the description of the spiritual awakening of the children, particularly Drew, was very well done. It was not the standard cookie-cutter evangelical portrayal. Rather, Drew begins to note the real joy expressed in the hymns, how they cut across his sinful nature, how they look to eternity in contrast to his lack of preparedness for eternity. The fictional Mr. Pipes is a good evangelist. He is not merely interested in getting these children to repeat some words. He is looking for conversion, a change of heart. As things develop, and they are contemplating the hymn, “The Church’s One Foundation,” Pipes says to them:

There exists no greater privilege in all the world than membership in Christ’s true church….
I want you both to be lovers of Christ’s church- yes, with all her warts- for she ever shall prevail, and those in her true communion on high will dwell with our blessed Redeemer Who bought His bride, the church, with His precious blood. (191)

After this there is a pause, a thoughtful silence, after which Drew responded, “I want to serve in Christ’s army.” Mr. Pipes responded, “Ah, yes. But it is a most demanding army filled with grand champions from ages past…. But, my dear lad, it is the most noble service under the greatest of Captains” (191). This is exactly what I want my children to hear, and they really helped to get the wheels turning in my boys’ minds, leading to some good conversations about the need for a new heart.

There is more that needs to be said about this book, but it will have to wait for another post. We strongly recommend this book. It will aid you in encouraging the use of good hymns, raise the gospel for your children and might even make them want to try hot tea- my boys just today decided Earl Grey tea didn’t taste as good as it sounded in the book. 🙂

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