Music


There should be no confusion. The popular song from the early seventies tells us that “Jeremiah was a bullfrog” and he sang “joy to the world.” The time-worn Christmas hymn tells an entirely different story. Perhaps Three Dog Night and the society in which we live would find joy to the world in the disguise of a friendly bullfrog with a “mighty fine wine.” But true joy can be found in only one place.

This Christmas season, as we consider the words of a host of angels to shepherds on a remote hillside over 2000 years ago, it is appropriate to see the importance of joy. It is more than contentment, although contented people often have joy. It is more than family ties, although our families are often a source of joy for us. It is more than a newborn child, although whenever we hear the cooing of a brand new, infant our hearts leap for joy. Yes, Joy is more than mere happiness, it is a state of being that can only be found in Christ. The Christ of Christmas.

You cannot manufacture nor imitate true joy. It can only be encountered when you encounter Jesus. So, this season as you sing of Joy to the World, let the Joy of Jesus flood your heart and extend to all the people you meet.

  “The angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.’”  – Luke 2:10

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Words by Robert Grant (1779 -1838)

Also included in The Broadman Hymnal 1940 edition, Broadman Press, Nashville – #2; Voice of Praise, Broadman Press, Nashville (1947) – #122; The Baptist Hymnal, 1975 edition, Convention Press, Nashville – #30; 1991 edition, Convention Press, Nashville – #16; 2008 edition, LifeWay, Nashville – #24; Inspiring Hymns, Singspiration, Grand Rapids (1951/1968 edition) – #407; Favorite Hymns of Praise, Tabernacle, Chicago (1967/1969 edition) – #13; The Hymnal for Worship & Celebration, Word, Waco (1986) – #10; The Celebration Hymnal, Word, Waco (1997) – #104; New Songs of Inspiration Volume 12, Brentwood, Nashville (1983) – #215.

One note: The Celebration Hymnal includes a fifth verse penned by David Guthrie (included below in italics), all other hymnals hold to Grant’s original four stanzas.

The Hymn

  1. O worship the King, all glorious above,
    O gratefully sing His power and His love;
    Our Shield and Defender, the Ancient of Days,
    Pavilioned in splendor, and girded with praise.
  2. O tell of His might, O sing of His grace,
    Whose robe is the light, whose canopy space,
    His chariots of wrath the deep thunderclouds form,
    And dark is His path on the wings of the storm.
  3. The earth with its store of wonders untold,
    Almighty, Thy power hath founded of old;
    Established it fast by a changeless decree,
    And round it hath cast, like a mantle, the sea.
  4. Thy bountiful care, what tongue can recite?
    It breathes in the air, it shines in the light;
    It streams from the hills, it descends to the plain,
    And sweetly distills in the dew and the rain.
  5. Frail children of dust, and feeble as frail,
    In Thee do we trust, nor find Thee to fail;
    Thy mercies how tender, how firm to the end,
    Our Maker, Defender, Redeemer, and Friend.
  6. O measureless might! Ineffable love!
    While angels delight to worship Thee above,
    The humbler creation, though feeble their lays,
    With true adoration shall all sing Thy praise.
  7. All hail to the King! In splendor enthroned;

             Glad praises we bring, Thy wonders make known.

             Returning victorious, great conqueror of sin,

             King Jesus, all glorious, our vict’ry will win.

(Hymn words accessed at CyberHymnal) Stanzas in bold are those used in our sample hymnal. [Bracketed words are from the 1956 Baptist Hymnal]

Scriptural Connection

The scriptural connection for this hymn is from the Psalms – 104 to be exact. It is another worship song. The present version that we have from hymn-writer Grant is a re-working of an earlier treatment of Psalm 104 by William Kethe from 16th Century Genevan Psalter. Here (also from CyberHymnal) is a sample of Kethe’s original language:

  1. My foule praise the Lord, speake good of his Name,
    O Lord our great God how doeft thou appeare,
    So passing in glorie, that great is thy fame,
    Honour and maieftie, in thee fhine moft cleare.
  2. His chamber beames lie, in the clouds full fure,
    Which as his chariot, are made him to beare.
    And there with much fwitneff his courfe doth endure:
    Vpon the wings riding, of winds in the aire.

Notice the ancient spelling of the original wording.

What does it mean?

While we are in the section of the 1956 Baptist Hymnal dedicated to worship and calls to worship, it almost seems redundant to say it over again, but here we are – another call to worship. This one focuses on the “otherness” of God, pointing out how glorious He is. He is mighty, spectacular, beyond our understanding of just how great He is. The stanza traditionally placed last (#4 in all our hymnals, see #5 above) places those who are called into worship in stark contrast to the Mighty Maker.

Sing this hymn with the regal tune attributed to Johann Haydn (1737-1806) and you will be transported into the throne room of heaven and be in the very presence of the One to whom we are called to worship.

*Hymn numbers for this series’ titles are from the Baptist Hymnal, 1956 edition, Nashville, Convention Press.

[For those who are keeping score, I did miss last Monday–it was Labor Day (one of our holidays here in the  USA) so I took a breather. Now we’re back with the latest hymn-sing post.]

Words by George W. Frazier (1830-1896) [stanza 3, Alfred S. Loizeaux (1877-1962)]

(Also included in Baptist Hymnal – 1975 ed. #3; 1991 ed. #248; 2008 ed. #337; The Celebration Hymnal, Word/Integrity, Waco, 1997 – #93; The Hymnal for Worship and Celebration, Word, Waco, 1986 – #268)

This old hymn has been included in numerous volumes of hymnals. As you can see from the list of my personal collection (I don’t think Heber’s hymn was excluded from any hymnal I own), this is a favorite song of praise. It remains a favorite for many Christians today.

The Hymn

  1. God, our Father, we adore Thee!
    We, Thy children, bless Thy name!
    Chosen in the Christ before Thee,
    We are “holy without blame.”
    We adore Thee! we adore Thee!
    Abba’s praises we proclaim!
    We adore Thee! we adore Thee!
    Abba’s praises we proclaim!
  2. Son Eternal, we adore Thee!
    Lamb upon the throne on high!
    Lamb of God, we bow before Thee,
    Thou hast bro’t Thy people nigh!
    We adore Thee! we adore Thee!
    Son of God, who came to die!
    We adore Thee! we adore Thee!
    Son of God who came to die!
  3. Holy Spirit, we adore Thee!
    Paraclete and heavenly guest!
    Sent from God and from the Savior,
    Thou hast led us into rest.
    We adore Thee! we adore Thee!
    By Thy grace forever blest;
    We adore Thee! we adore Thee!
    By Thy grace forever blest!
  4. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,
    Three in One! we give Thee praise!
    For the riches we inherit,
    Heart and voice to Thee we raise!
    We adore Thee! we adore Thee!
    Thee we bless thro’ endless days!
    We adore Thee! we adore Thee!
    Thee we bless through endless days!

Scriptural Connection

To find a Scriptural connection, hymnal editors over the years have focused either on the worship/adoration theme of the music or on the address of the Father by His children (looking for references to children of God as their basis). In the latter case, one could turn to Romans 8:16 for the assertion that we (as Christians) are children of God.

Personally, I believe that when looking for a Scriptural connection of a hymn one is better served to look for passages that speak to the message of the song rather than the details. So I would more likely choose a worship passage such as John 4:23, where the evangelist teaches us that we are to worship in spirit and in truth.

What does it mean?

This hymn is a hymn of praise to God. Each stanza focuses on a separate person of the Trinity to be the recipient of the praise of God’s people. Taking each verse individually we see some excellent teaching about God, Salvation, and the Holy Spirit.

In stanza one, we address God the Father. We see how and why we can be known as His children—it is through Christ, and in Him that we can be seen as blameless. Frazer also takes advantage of the Father-child relationship by including the affectionate term “Abba” as a reference to God. What is so spectacular about this part of the hymn is that instead of the more formal title “Father,” Christians, because of Christ, can have that intimate relationship in which (as in the Aramaic “Abba”) we can refer to God as Papa or Daddy . . . even as we sing His praises.

Stanza two focuses on the Son. We see His attributes—He is “Eternal”—as well as His responsibilities—He came to earth to die. In so doing He is the Lamb (bringing to mind the picture of a sacrificial lamb) who was offered in sacrifice for the sins of all mankind.

Verse three was a later addition to this hymn which was originally included in a hymnal of the Plymouth Brethren who were opposed strongly to ascribing praise to the Holy Spirit. Their idea was that while He is a person of the Godhead, there is no Scriptural foundation for addressing praise to the Spirit. The author of the third verse was part of the publishing family who printed the original hymnal but he had no conviction about not praising the Spirit. So when another hymn editor asked about a verse addressed to the Spirit, Loizeaux, wrote several options one of which was chosen to include in the new hymnal. Loizeaux also suggested that he felt that adding in this verse made the thought more complete—after all it was also a hymn confirming the Trinity. One difficult word in this verse is the archaic word “Paraclete” which is a transliteration of a Greek term for the Holy Spirit—the Comforter which will be sent after Jesus’ death and subsequent resurrection. He is the person of the Trinity who lives (or dwells) within the heart of the believer as an honored guest and guide.

The last stanza brings everything together, and I must agree with Loizeaux that without the third verse addressing the Holy Spirit, this final stanza would seem a little out of place. Instead we have a full and complete thought. Like the Godhead is complete in the Trinity, our praise is complete only as we praise Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in His entirety for an eternity.

For those who would like to sing along, the tune normally used for this hymn is BEECHER by John Zundel (1815-1882) which is you might remember from singing “Love Divine, All Loves Excelling.”

*Hymn numbers for this series’ titles are from the Baptist Hymnal, 1956 edition, Nashville, Convention Press.

Music and Faith have long been refuges for me. One of my favorite Hymns combines the two.  The point: Jesus provides for us a melody that corrects all of the discord in our lives caused by our attempts to make our own arrangements. So, let’s sing,

  1. There’s within my heart a melody
    Jesus whispers sweet and low,
    Fear not, I am with thee, peace, be still,
    In all of life’s ebb and flow.

    • Refrain:
      Jesus, Jesus, Jesus,
      Sweetest Name I know,
      Fills my every longing,
      Keeps me singing as I go.
  2. All my life was wrecked by sin and strife,
    Discord filled my heart with pain,
    Jesus swept across the broken strings,
    Stirred the slumb’ring chords again.
  3. Feasting on the riches of His grace,
    Resting ’neath His shelt’ring wing,
    Always looking on His smiling face,
    That is why I shout and sing.
  4. Though sometimes He leads through waters deep,
    Trials fall across the way,
    Though sometimes the path seems rough and steep,
    See His footprints all the way.
  5. Soon He’s coming back to welcome me,
    Far beyond the starry sky;
    I shall wing my flight to worlds unknown,
    I shall reign with Him on high.

These words by Luther Bridgers speak to me on two levels–first, just the whisper of the voice of Jesus catapults my heart to singing. And then, that second verse–“Jesus swept across the broken strings/Stirred the slumb’ring chords again”

Blessings.

            When we begin to look for the place to get our theology there are several places to turn: the Bible, church/church history, tradition, society, or music to name a few.

            The scripture is a great place to look for the theology we want to espouse because as believers in Christ we can look to the source of how to think about God (God himself). The difficulty with this approach is that it requires us to read the Bible, to think about the Bible, and even to meet with the Master to see how we ought to think.

            Therefore, we ease our spirits (and our minds) by turning to the church. Let the church determine what I believe, after all that’s what they’re there for, right? It is much easier to have someone tell me what to believe because they have done the work in looking into the Bible and interpreting the passages for me. Even better, I would love to have a pattern set for me in the history and traditions of the church that will give me insight into what I should believe. And so we have people who claim Christianity who are more involved in churchaholism than they are in the study of God and how He works. I do not say this to discount the importance of church but to cause us to think about which is more important—what the church says about God or what the Bible reveals about Him.

            Occasionally, in order not to be bogged down by the restraints of the church, we will turn to society to develop our views on theology. Sadly, this approach causes us to buy into the idea that “whatever someone believes is all right, as long as they’re not hurting anyone.” We are led into a universalism (belief in the idea that all roads lead to salvation) with a total disregard for what God has revealed in the scripture. We are not bound by limits and narrow-minded views that study of the Bible would lead us to. We also are able to adjust and re-adjust our thoughts to fit with the crowd in which we find ourselves. While this approach will allow me to be politically correct in all that I do, I quickly become weak and compromising in what I believe about God. I also discover that ultimately I believe nothing, stand for nothing and care about nothing.

            And so, believers—who don’t want to go to the trouble of seeking their theology in the right place, or even restraining themselves to being told what to believe, and are concerned about believing nothing—have found the perfect place to find their faith and theology: music. I do not write all music off as shallow and unthinking—realizing that many singers and song writers are genuine in trying to express their beliefs in a creative form. Instead I find that Christians are quick to latch onto the songs that have an easy rhythm, palatable lyrics, and popular thought. From these songs believers build their theology. The result is often a self-centered, whining that instead of making our requests known to God, brings our excuses and complaints to Him. Note the oft-sung favorite whinefest that’s been around for years (and is loved by Christians all over America):

One Day at a Time
 
(Kris Kristofferson, Marijohn Wilkin)
 
I'm only human, I'm just a man
Help me believe and all I can be and all that I am
Show me the stairway I have to climb
Lord, for my sake please teach me to take one day at a time.
 
One day at a time sweet Jesus
That's all I'm asking of you
Just give me the strength to do everyday
What I have to do.
 
Yesterday's gone, sweet Jesus
And tomorrow may never be mine
Lord, help me today, show me the way
One day at a time.
 
Do you remember
When You walked among men
Well Jesus, you know if you're looking below
It's worse now than then.
 
There's pushing and shoving
And crowding my mind
So, for my sake teach me to take
One day at a time.
 
One day at a time, sweet Jesus
That's all I'm asking of you
Just give me the strength
To do everyday what I have to do.
 
Yesterday's gone, sweet Jesus
And tomorrow may never be mine
Lord, help me today, show me the way
One day at a time.
 
Lord, help me today show me the way
One day at a time...

            With the advent of country music, the nasally singer can really whine about not really being what God wants them to be—after all, “I’m only human.”

            Or consider the new anthem of the church (as performed by Christ Tomin):

 I can only imagine
What it would be like
When I walk, by Your side
I can only imagine
What my eyes would see
When Your face, is before me
Surrounded by Your glory
What will my heart feel
Will I dance for You, Jesus?
Or in awe of You be still
Will I stand in Your presence
Or To my knees will I fall
Will I sing Hallelujah
Will I be able to speak at all
I can only imagine
I can only imagine

I can only imagine
When that day comes
And I find myself
Standing in the son
I can only imagine
When all I will do
Is forever, forever worship You
I can only imagine 

            Again, I’m not saying that songs are bad in and of themselves, but are we to spend our time imagining what life will one day be like, or are we going to focus on the task God has at hand for us to do—now, today. In a sense we have become self-centered in our theology which ought to by definition focus on God. Where do we find our basis for studying God? What do we study when we study God—our own self-interest or the will of the Almighty?

            When we think about integrating into the prevailing thought, idea, or group, we turn to music. I am a big fan of Christian music—have been for years. I was listening to Contemporary Christian Music before it became CCM. I understand the argument given by many in the industry that we are trying to reach a group of people with the gospel message in a manner which they will listen to. In other words, for those who like country music, we encase the message in a country music format; for metal-heads we see groups that scream and shout to loud guitars; and for the rap-lovers in the audience, we write Christian rap.

            What I’ve observed is that, over the years, Christian musicians who have opted for the concert-stage setting have also opted for the fame and fortune route. I got that impression as I read through the devotion-style book This Is My Story in which David Liverett collected biographical stories of Southern Gospel stars to accompany his portraits of them. The artwork is good, most of the writing is worthwhile, but many of the stories focus more on the music arena than the Lordship of Christ.

            Does the emphasis on putting on a show that is comparable to those you see from “mainstream” groups take away from the message that Christian artists are supposed to be singing about? Does the desire to infuse the style of music with a message of hope in Jesus overwhelm the message itself? Or, like the guy from my high school class (years and years ago) claimed, is there something satanic in the beat of the music itself? What do you think?

While it is not a good idea to develop our whole theology from songs, it has long been the practice of Christians to express their beliefs and ideals in music. The difficulty with this is that when people latch onto the tunes and the words, they build their belief systems on the songs instead of the foundational scripture behind the songs. Often songs have to use a less than ideal wording to fit into a pattern that can be set to music.  Because of this, theology that is based on music tends to be watered-down and shallow.

 

On the other hand, when musicians really want to develop a deep, meaningful song that truly expresses the ideas and ideals desired, the music becomes cumbersome and awkward. Still, we should give the song-writer credit for even attempting to express in a small way the faith that has grown so deep within them.

 

Having said this, one of the great hymn writers of Baptist life was B. B. McKinney. Here’s an example of one of his songs that addresses faith:

 

Have Faith in God

By B. B. McKinney

 

Have faith in God when your pathway is lonely.
He sees and knows all the way you have trod;
Never alone are the least of His children;
Have faith in God, have faith in God.

 

Have faith in God when your prayers are unanswered,
Your earnest plea He will never forget;
Wait on the lord, trust His word and be patient,
Have faith in God.  He’ll answer yet.

 

Have faith in God in your pain and your sorrow,
His heart is touched with your grief and despair;
Cast all your cares and your burdens upon Him,
And leave them there, oh, leave them there.

 

Have faith in God though all else fall about you;
Have faith in God, He provides for His own:
He cannot fail though all kingdoms shall perish.
He rules.  He reigns upon His throne.

 

Refrain: 

Have faith in God, He’s on His throne,
Have faith in God, He watches over His own;
He cannot fail, He must prevail,
Have faith in God, Have faith in God.