Battle Two: We Fall Down (We Cry Holy, Holy, Holy) by Chris Tomlin versus Holy, Holy, Holy by Reginald Heber

Chris Tomlin is considered is one of the top CCM writers and artists of our day. One cannot browse through a Top 100 CCM Song List in any given year without coming across the name Chris Tomlin at the very least a handful of times. His song Made to Worship, from the CD See the Morning, topped the charts at number one for fourteen weeks when it was released in 2006.  Chris Tomlin was awarded Male Vocalist of the Year three years in a row (06 thru 08) at the GMA Dove Awards. Additionally, he was named Artist of the Year in 2007.  Most recently, he was awarded a Grammy for Best Contemporary Christian Music Album in 2012.  With such an impressive musical legacy as his, it seemed fitting to pick one of Tomlin’s songs, We Fall Down (We Cry Holy, Holy, Holy), for the second match in the Battle of the Songs series.

The contender against this titan of today is Reginald Heber’s Holy, Holy, Holy (Lord God Almighty). Reginald Herber may be little known today. However, in the early nineteenth century, he was also recognized as one of the great writers and poets of his day. Herber also won many prizes for both Latin and English poetry. Though perhaps foreign to us today, his 1803 Carmen Seculare (Oxford’s Latin prize) and The Sense of Honor (the best English essay, 1805) would be considered as prestigious as any Grammy or Dove Award of today. Herber’s poetry was admired by historical greats such as Sir Walter Scott and Lord Alfred Tennyson. Heber’s hymn Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty was reportedly considered by Tennyson to be one of the finest hymns ever written.

On the left are the lyrics to Tomlin’s We Fall Down as found on www.sing365.com. On the right are the lyrics to Herber’s Holy, Holy, Holy as found on www.hymnsite.com.

We Fall Down by Chris Tomlin Holy, Holy, Holy by Reginald Herber
We fall down
and lay our crowns
At the feet of Jesus
The greatness of
Your mercy and love
At the feet of Jesus
And we cry holy, holy, holy
And we cry holy, holy, holy
And we cry holy, holy, holy
Is the lamb
We fall down
and lay our crowns
At the feet of Jesus
The greatness of
Mercy and love
At the feet of Jesus
Chorus (2x): And we cry holy, holy, holy
And we cry holy, holy, holy
And we cry holy, holy, holy
Is the lamb
 

Verse 1

Holy, holy, holy!  Lord God Almighty!

Early in the morning our song shall rise to thee.

Holy, holy, holy!  Merciful and mighty,

God in three persons, blessed Trinity!

 

Verse 2

Holy, holy, holy!  All the saints adore thee,

casting down their golden crowns around the glassy sea;

cherubim and seraphim falling down before thee,

which wert, and art, and evermore shalt be.

 

Verse 3

Holy, holy, holy!  Though the darkness hide thee,

though the eye of sinful man thy glory may not see,

only thou art holy; there is none beside thee,

perfect in power, in love and purity.

 

Verse 4

Holy, holy, holy!  Lord God Almighty!

All thy works shall praise thy name, in earth and sky and sea.

Holy, holy, holy!  Merciful and mighty,

God in three persons, blessed Trinity.

 

 

Both We Fall Down and Holy, Holy, Holy echo the refrain of the four seraphim which are found in Revelation 4:8. Both songs compel us to join that heavenly chorus and say “Holy, Holy, Holy!” unto our Lord. Chris Tomlin’s song reminds us of our posture before a holy and awesome God through the lyrics “We fall down” and “we cry”.  Tomlin’s lyrics impress upon us that we are to be so awestruck by our Lord that we can do nothing but fall down and cry out. No one listening to this song can doubt the heartfelt earnest desire to praise and exalt the Lord that can be aroused by Tomlin’s song. So, please as I offer the following critique, do not misunderstand me. I do not question the sincerity of the song, but rather, the substance, not the desire of the song, but rather, the depth.

Indeed, we are to cry holy, holy, holy, but why? What about God so amazes us that we cannot help but to join the angel’s refrain? Tomlin’s lyrics mention “the greatness of Your [Jesus’] mercy and love”. Yes! Our Lord is full of mercy and love. However, let’s compare that to Herber’s lines: “merciful and mighty”,   “there is none beside Thee, perfect in power, love and purity”. Herber matches Tomlin is his mention of God’s mercy and love, but Herber furthermore directs our attention towards God’s unparalleled perfection, power and might. Moreover, Herber’s lyrics instruct us in God’s eternality (“Thee, which wert and art and evermore shall be”), and His triunity (“God in three persons, blessed Trinity”).

Another aspect of Tomlin’s We Fall Down is the prevalence of the word “we”. I believe it is necessary for us to be reminded of our posture before God. However, when I looked at it side by side with Holy, Holy, Holy, I was struck by the lack of the word ‘we’ in Herber’s hymn. The word doesn’t occur once at all. The only mention of mankind  by Herber is in the two lines “though the eye of sinful man thy glory may not see” and “all Thy works [of which we are one of those works] shall praise Thy name in earth and sky and sea”. Interesting, no? This complete lack of man-centeredness of Herber’s song struck me as remarkable.

Finally, let’s look at the context of the refrain holy, holy, holy in Scripture. Revelation 4:6, 8: And before the throne there was a sea of glass like unto crystal: and in the midst of the throne, and round about the throne, were four beasts full of eyes before and behind. And the four beasts had each of them six wings about him; and they were full of eyes within: and they rest not day and night, saying, Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, which was, and is, and is to come.

Herber’s lyrics “casting down their golden crowns around the glassy sea” point us not only to the refrain “holy, holy, holy”, but also its context. Compare this adept Scriptural allusion to Tomlin’s “we lay our crowns at the feet of Jesus” and Herber’s depth of Scriptural content is easily seen. To be technically accurate to the context of Scripture, I must note that we cannot presently fall down and cast our crowns at Jesus’ feet. We have no earthly crowns worthy to be cast before such perfect feet. Rather, we will in heaven receive our crowns which we shall then cast before our Lord. Again, Herber’s allusion to the glassy sea point us to the fact that this is a future reality; whereas Tomlin’s “we lay our crowns” lacks the future tense verb (‘will’) which would then make his lyric scripturally accurate.

I think by this point the verdict can be called.  Battle of the Songs, match 2: the hymns take it again!

Though Tomlin’s We Fall Down certainly put forth a valiant effort and succeeds with heartfelt emotion, Herber’s Holy, Holy, Holy ultimately superpasses Tomlin’s lyrics with depth of Scriptural and doctrinal content.

If you are looking for modern songs with a wealth of Scriptural content and sound doctrine, be sure to visit www.doubleedgemusic.com.

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