If you grew up going to a Christian church of some kind, you're probably aware that there are more than a few Christian hymns with scary lyrics out there. This really isn't too surprising given the often-scary content of the Holy Bible, and the different cultural and historical contexts from which these hymns hail. You don't need to go to a theater to be horrified by Christian religious themes; you can simply go to church and let your mind run wild with the lyrics.
Or, you can turn off the lights in your room, fire up a few candles, and pretend to be in church while following along with this list of 18 scary traditional Christian hymns. They're all kind of terrifying, thanks to the violent, disturbing, or severely depressing themes hiding behind well-intentioned worship music, ranging from innocently weird to epically wreckful.
Battle Hymn of the Republic
Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord
He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored
He hath loosed the fateful lightning of His terrible swift sword
His truth is marching on
Julia Ward Howe penned the words to this madly patriotic Civil War battle anthem in 1861, and church has never been quite the same since. Catchy and inspiring, the tune actually comes from another war song called "John Brown's Body" that was popular among Union troops. The lyrics, though, are something right out of the apocalypse – literally. They come from Revelation – and kind of terrifying to think about if you're not on the Lord's side in the war.
Onward Christian Soldiers
Onward, Christian soldiers
Marching as to war
With the cross of Jesus
Going on before
Written by Sabine Baring-Gould in 1865 and set to music by Arthur Sullivan in 1871, this hymn has created a bit of controversy in recent years due to its overt militarism. Many hymnals have actually dropped it, including, for example, the Presbyterian Church hymnal.
"Onward" takes its cue from the "soldier of Christ" metaphor in 2 Timothy 2:3. Clearly, war is a major theme in the Bible, and clearly, Christians have had to fight for their faith throughout history. But those facts don't make this religious war song any less terrifying. Marching into battle behind the cross of Jesus? No thanks, hymnal.
Note: The first 2 1/2 minutes of the video above contain some pretty cool audio from William Booth, founder of the Salvation Army, which adopted "Onward" as its processional. The actual song begins afterward. FIRE A VOLLY!
There Is a Fountain Filled with Blood
There is a fountain filled with blood drawn from Immanuel's veins
And sinners plunged beneath that flood lose all their guilty stains
Another major biblical theme is that of atonement, in which Christ's blood symbolically cleanses his followers from sin. But singing about taking a dip in Blood Fountain seems a bit over the top, kind of like Mel Gibson's torture-porn flick The Passion of the Christ – which does pair nicely with the hymn in the video above.
"Fountain" was originally just a poem by the English author William Cowper. Depressed and suicidal, Cowper was committed to an insane asylum, which is where he started reading scripture. He later converted to Christianity and came up with the now-famous Blood Fountain hymn, which Lowell Mason put to music.
Alas! and Did My Savior Bleed
Thy body slain, sweet Jesus, thine
And bathed in its own blood
While all exposed to wrath divine
The glorious Suff'rer stood!
"Alas! and Did My Savior Bleed" is a 1707 hymn by Isaac Watts, a tremendously influential Christian songwriter who helped church worship move from boring metrical psalms to music that was emotional and alive. Except it was all music about a dead guy. The gruesome second stanza above was included in Watts's original version, but most modern hymnals have changed or scrapped it.
The stanza is also not featured in the performance by those handsome mullets and mustaches in the video above.