Battle #4: Amazed vs. I Stand Amazed in the Presence

The CCLI Praise Charts are a good indicator of what’s happening in the CCM scene today. The titles on the Songs With the Greatest Gain list indicate those songs that are increasing in popularity more rapidly than any others. Coming in at number eight on that list is Amazed sung by Jared Anderson from the album Where to Begin. This song is also sung by Lincoln Brewster on his album All to You as well as several other singers and groups. Most recently, I heard this song at the 34th Annual Creation Festival, the largest Christian Music gathering in the Northeast. Amazed is moving fast up the charts and is becoming a chief “thanksgiving and adoration” song in the repertoire of many Christians.

The hymn selected to match this fast rising CCM star is I Stand Amazed in the Presence by Charles H. Gabriel, 1856 – 1932.   Charles Gabriel was a very prolific lyrist and composer. Having authored and composed under his own names a various pseudonyms, the estimate of his works is uncertain thought thought to be approximately 7000 hymns and songs. Of those songs and hymns, I Stand Amazed in the Presence remains one of Gabriel’s most popular, along with other such as What a Savior and All Hail Immanuel.

On the left are the lyrics to Amazed as found on www.newreleasetuesday.com. On the right are the lyrics to I Stand Amazed In the Presence as found on www.hymnsite.com.

Amazed I Stand Amazed In the Presence
You dance over me while I am unaware
You sing all around
But I never hear the sound
Lord, I am amazed by You
Lord, I am amazed by You
Lord, I am amazed by You
How You love me

You paint the morning sky with miracles In mind
My hope will always stand
You hold me in Your hand
Lord, I am amazed by You
Lord, I am amazed by You
Lord, I am amazed by You
How You love me

How wide, how deep
How great is Your love for me
How wide, how deep
How great is Your love for me
And Lord, I am amazed by You
Lord, I am amazed by You
Lord, I am amazed by You
How You love me, Oooo

Oh, Lord, I am amazed by You
Lord, I am amazed by You
Lord, I am amazed by You
How You love me

1.                 I stand amazed in the presence

of Jesus the Nazarene,

and wonder how he could love me,

a sinner, condemned, unclean.

 

Refrain:

How marvelous! How wonderful!

And my song shall ever be:

How marvelous! How wonderful

is my Savior’s love for me!

 

2.                 For me it was in the garden

he prayed: “Not my will, but thine.”

He had no tears for his own griefs,

but sweat-drops of blood for mine.

(Refrain)

 

3.                 In pity angels beheld him,

and came from the world of light

to comfort him in the sorrows

he bore for my soul that night.

(Refrain)

 

4.                 He took my sins and my sorrows,

he made them his very own;

he bore the burden to Calvary,

and suffered and died alone.

(Refrain)

 

5.                 When with the ransomed in glory

his face I at last shall see,

’twill be my joy through the ages

to sing of his love for me.

(Refrain)

 

Honestly, I don’t even feel the need to elaborate. Just a brief glance side by side and the verdict is already clear. It is almost unnecessary to go through this song battle blow by blow. Just lining the phrases up next to each other is sufficient. But still, I will expound on these lyrics to address the Scriptural content (or lack thereof) to encourage your own further studies.

“You dance over me while I am unaware. You sing all around but I never hear the sound.” I’m not sure where in the Scriptures one can find the Lord dancing over us. Zephaniah 3:17 does say that the Lord rejoice over us with singing, which therefore, makes the second part of the above line somewhat accurate (you sing all around). However the first phrase “you dance over me” is a pretty string of words, but it is baseless.

The remainder of this song goes on to say how amazing God’s love for us is, how wide and how deep. However, one trick of the trade that I learned about writing, one phrase my teacher would always say that stuck in my memory is: Don’t tell me; show me. Whereas Amazed simply tells us that God’s love is amazing, Gabriel’s hymn shows us just what is so amazing about that love. Gabriel takes us back to the Garden of Gethsemane, then to Christ’s redemptive work on the Cross of Calvary, and finally on to our worship of Him in glory. In Gabriel’s hymn we are given a sweeping overview of the gospel. In Amazed there is not much to view at all.

Battle Four goes to the Hymns. At 4 to 0, it’s looking like the Hymns have the Hers on the ropes. The emotion driven, content-lacking “Hers” are not making much of a stand for CCM. But if you are looking for Christian contemporary music that can measure up against the old hymns, round for round, matching Scripture for Scripture, check out the lyrics on DoubleEdgeMusic.com.

Battle Three: Come Now Is the Time to Worship versus O, Worship The King

After preaching and teaching, worship, in my opinion, is the second most significant part of a congregational gathering. Therefore, it seemed fitting to pick a “call to worship” song for the third battle in this series. One can hardly attend a modern church worship service without hearing the song Come, Now Is the Time to Worship by Brian Doerkson.  Commonly sung at the start of church service, Doerkson’s song is used by many to usher in a “spirit of worship” and praise.   According to Eric Durso from A Watchman for the Morning (ericdurso.com) Come, Now is the Time to Worship is #15 on the list of The Top 25 Songs Sung in Churches today.  This song also ranks at #18 on The Top 100 CCLI Songs This Period. For a song written several years ago (originally released in 1998), this song has endured through rapidly changing world of CCM today.

As a contender against this contemporary Christian music song, I’ve picked O Worship the King by Sir Robert Grant.  Sir Robert Grant, 1779 -1838, wrote only twelve hymns which were collected and released posthumously by his brother Charles Grant. Of those twelve songs, only O, Worship the King is still currently sung. According to Dr. C Michael Hawn, professor of Sacred Music at Perkins School of theology, Erik Routely, the British hymnologist, considers Grant’s hymn to be a “good example of the impact on hymnody of the new search for poetic standards which Herber so strongly promoted”.  O Worship the King also has recently been modified and revised by Chris Tomlin. Tomlin’s version of O Worship the King, which includes a new chorus, has brought the old hymn back into popular use. For this battle however, I will be using the original lyrics as penned by Sir Robert Grant.

On the left we have the lyrics to Come, Now is the Time to Worship. It is important to note that the lyrics of this song vary according to the singer. Other singers/groups have done covers for this song, tweaking the lyrics here and there.  Alternate lyrics are found on other sites than the source that I have used; however, I have picked this source because these are the main lyrics most often sung. On the right are the lyrics to O, Worship the King.

Come, Now Is the Time to Worship O, Worship the King
Come, now is the time to worship.
Come, now is the time to give your heart.
Come, just as you are, to worship.
Come, just as you are, before your God.
Come.

One day every tongue will confess You are God.
One day every knee will bow.
Still the greatest treasure remains for those
Who gladly choose you now.

Come, now is the time to worship.
Come, now is the time to give your heart.
Oh, come. Just as you are to worship.
Come just as you are before your God.
Come.

One day every tongue will confess You are God.
One day every knee will bow.
Still the greatest treasure remains for those
who gladly choose you now.

[Repeat]

Come, now is the time to worship.
Come, now is the time to give your heart.
Come, just as you are to worship.
Come, just as you are before your God.
Come.

Oh, come. Oh, come. Oh, come.
Worship the Lord. Oh, come.

Come, come, come…

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

 

In the lyrics “Come Now Is the Time to Worship, now is the time to give your heart” the use of the word “now” gives a sense of urgency and immediacy. “Now” clearly encourages Christians to make worship a priority and a central focus. The lyrics following that line – “Come, just as you are to worship”—I think are not as clear and can be misconstrued. It is true that there is nothing that we can do in and of ourselves to make ourselves more fit for worship. As His children we should not concern ourselves with trivial superficial matters, looks or appearance, station or position in life, etc. to come before our God.  James (in James 2:1-4) rebukes those who are partial to finely dressed, rich churchgoers. Clearly, we should not be partial about outward features when we come into God’s house. However, while man looks at the outward appearance, God looks at the heart. In regard to our heart condition, we should not come to God “just as we are” to worship. We must come to Christ just as we are—sinners, poor and wretched—to be cleansed. And only then, cleansed by and covered in the blood of Jesus, can we approach the Father in worship. God makes it clear that the worship/sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to Him (Proverbs 15:8). Therefore, as we bring our sacrifice of praise/worship to the Lord, we must do so through Christ (Hebrews 13:15). Matthew 5:23-24 cautions us that “…. if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee; Leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift.” While I believe the intention of these lyrics is good—to call us to worship now, with immediacy with urgency without care for outward appearance—we should be careful with the words “just as you are to worship/just as you are before your God”.

On the other hand, let’s compare “just as you are” (Doerkson) with “the humbler creation” and “frail children of dust” (Grant). Whereas “just as you are” can misconstrue the correct heart-posture before God, the lyrics “the humbler creation” and “frail children of dust” clearly reveals our station in relationship before the exalted and high station of our God in worship. According to Grant’s last stanza our effort to worship the Lord cannot even compare to the worship of the angels (“though feeble their lays”, i.e. though our singing may be weak in comparison that of the angels).   “Frail children of dust and feeble as frail” leaves no question as to who we are in relationship to God. Not only is Grant clearer about our humble feeble station as mankind, he furthermore illustrates our posture in approaching God in worship. The lines “with true adoration shall all sing your praise” and “O, gratefully sing” gives us far more detail than “just as you are to worship”. Whereas Doerkson’s “just as you are” can mean anything, Grant’s lyrics unmistakably mean we must come with gratitude, thankfulness, awe and adoration.

Not only do Grant’s lyrics give us a clearer picture of our heart posture, they give us a better illustration of God’s nature and character. After the first stanza, Doerkson’s lyrics continue onto say: “One day every tongue will confess You are God; one day every knee will bow”. These lines echo those of Scripture which says in Romans 14:11 “For it is written, As I live, saith the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God.” Indeed, one day, the whole earth will confess and recognize the deity of Christ. Doerkson’s lyrics point us to that reality. Grant’s lyrics however give us a grander fuller picture of our Lord than simply “You are God”.  Contrast the simplicity of “You are God” with the depth and breathdth of “The King”, “Shield and Defender”, (Psalm 3:3 and 7:10)  the Ancient of Days” (Daniel 7:9), “Almighty”, “Our Maker, Defender, Redeemer, and Friend” (Psalm 18:2).

By the time Grant has finished describing this God “girded in splendor”, “whose robe is the light, whose canopy space”, who by His power “established [the world] by a changeless decree”, who can help but sing?!  Doerkson’s lyrics “Still the greatest treasure remains for those who gladly choose you now” may entice us to praise the Lord now and not wait. As we look to our treasure stored up in heaven, perhaps we are stirred to worship. However, contrast this with Grant’s provocation to worship. Instead of the “treasure for those who choose [God] now” as an impetus to worship, Grant draws on the imagery of Psalm 104, depicting the majesty, greatness, condescension and care of the King.  After Grant has led us through six profound verses describing to us God’s character, His marvelous creation (“the earth with its store of wonders untold”) and His care for us (“Thy bountiful care”), we can’t help but “all sing His praise”! Furthermore, Grant’s words direct us not simply to confess “You are God” but moreover to sing of God’s power, love, might, grace and His care for us!

Grant’s lyrics far outpace Doerkson’s in descriptiveness of God’s nature (“You are God” vs. “Our Maker, Defender, Redeemer and Friend” etc.) and clarity as to our posture in approaching Him in worship (“Just as you are” vs. “humbler creation” “gratefully sing” “with true adoration”). Doerkson’s lyrics put forth a valiant effort, urging immediacy and echoing Romans 14:11. Yet, Grant’s lyrics ultimately triumphed with greater imagery, depth and Scripture, taking us on a trip through the Psalms and pointing us to the majesty and wonder of our King.

Battle three is over– It’s another knockout for the Hymns! But, if you are looking for Contemporary Christian Music that can stand up against the old hymns, with a wealth for Scriptural content, and lyrics that will point you to the glory of God, check out Doubleedgemusic.com.

Battle of the Songs: A Defense and an Explanation

With only two song battles done, I have already ruffled feathers and stepped on some toes. I’m sure there are many lovers of Christian Contemporary Music up in arms by what I’ve said, or rather by what they think I’m saying by pitting song against song in a lyrical battle. So before there is any misunderstanding, and before I am deluged with an onslaught of angry emails, I thought I should take a break from the battles to answer a few of your questions and to offer this defense of the Battle of the Songs series.

 

Q: What do you mean by The Hymns versus The Hers? Are you insinuating that all modern CCM songs are feminine? And is that insinuation meant to be insulting?

A: Firstly, when I introduced the Battle of the Songs, I related the idea of the song battle series to the Battle of the Sexes. The term “The Hymns versus The Hers” fit that allusion. Secondly, The Hers refers to the overly feminized characteristics—emotionally-driven, feelings-centered—of the majority (not the entirety) of CCM today.  Finally, the term “The Hers” is not meant to be insulting. God created us both male and female, said that that creation was a reflection of His image, and said that that was very good. Therefore my evaluation of the feminized nature of much of Christian contemporary music today is not in and of itself the basis of my critique. There is a place of value for the emotional, more feminine qualities in Christianity.  Paul, in Galatians 4:19— “My little children, of whom I travail in birth again until Christ be formed in you,”—compares  his heartfelt work in the Galatian church to the birthing labors of a woman. Christ Himself in Luke 13:34—“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, which killest the prophets, and stonest them that are sent unto thee; how often would I have gathered thy children together, as a hen doth gather her brood under her wings, and ye would not”—compares His heart for His people to a mother hen’s for her chicks. Clearly, the feminine quality of emotionality is not condemned in Scripture, so I would be remiss indeed to condemn this quality myself. The basis of my critique of the vast majority of CCM is not that the lyrics are emotional, but rather that they are only emotional and lacking the Scriptural and doctrinal substance that is necessary to help sustain our faith.

 

Q: What’s the big deal? Why can’t our lyrics be just emotional? We have the Bible for doctrine, so we don’t need it in our lyrics.

A: I wholeheartedly disagree, but who am I? So more importantly, the Bible disagrees with the premise of this question. 1 Corinthians 14:15 says, “What is it then? I will pray with the spirit, and I will pray with the understanding also: I will sing with the spirit, and I will sing with the understanding also.” Psalm 47:7 says, “For God is the King of all the earth: sing ye praises with understanding.” “Sing with the spirit” entails singing that engages our hearts and emotions. “Sing with the understanding also” indicates that our singing must also engage our minds and our reason. Colossian 3:16 says, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.” How are we to teach and admonish one another if the content of our songs is only emotional? The word ‘teaching’ connotes the activation of the mind. Finally, Romans 12:2 says, “And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.” Yes, the Word of God is the primary means of the transformation of our mind. However, as we are making melody in our hearts unto the Lord (Ephesians 5:19), the lyrics of those songs will have an effect on our minds. If those songs are Scripture-rich and doctrinally sound they will be life transforming.

 

Q: Are you saying we should only sing the hymns?

A: No. Ephesians 5:19 says, “Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord” (KJV).  Other translations say “speaking to one another” which I think makes it clearer that the speaking/singing is a corporate action and that there should be a variety of the types of songs. I believe there is an appropriate time and place for each type and form of song and that all are necessary. The key is balance.

 

Q: I think having a battle is not showing brotherly love. Are you trying to pit modern Christian lyrists and the old hymn writers against each other?

A: Please be careful to note that I am matching lyric against lyric, not writer against writer. My goal is to compare the lyrics of the hymns with the lyrics of modern songs, not to elevate the hymn writers or denigrate modern writers, but rather to illustrate the comparative quality of their writings. My critiques are of the words, not the people writing them. Furthermore, the Bible does tell us to contend earnestly for the faith. One aspect of our faith, I believe, is that it should engage our heads, not only our hearts. This is important as Christian are often critiqued for blind faith, for being superstitious, unscientific, non-thinkers. On the contrary, Christianity stands apart from world religions which tell you to emote your way through life, empty your mind and chant yourself into numbness and stupefaction. Christianity calls for us to use every faculty for Christ and His purposes, including our minds. Engaging our minds with our lyrics is what I am contending for in this series. I hope to do so with love and truth.

 

Q: Why are you using the hymns as a standard for scripturally rich lyrics? Comparing hymns with songs by today’s writers is like comparing apples and oranges. Why not compare the lyrics of a modern scripturally rich song against another modern emotion-centered song? Are you saying there are no modern scripturally well written songs to be found?

A: No, I am not saying there are no scripturally rich modern songs. There are modern writers and musical groups today who do pack tons of Scripture references and doctrinal teachings into their lyrics. DoubleEdge is one of those groups. By comparing only hymns to the modern songs, I do not mean all good songwriters died in the 1800s. On the contrary, my purpose in comparing the old hymns to today’s songs is three-fold: 1. to awaken a newfound love for the hymns for those who have abandoned them, 2. to arose an awareness of the depth of the hymns for those younger generations who have never sung them or been exposed to them and lastly, 3. to encourage modern writers to dig deeper into the Scriptures and pour more of it into their lyrics.   Just as aspiring authors and poets may study Shakespeare and Tennyson and aspiring architects and artists may study the Pyramids and the Sistine chapel, I believe modern Christian songwriters should look to the hymns as remarkable models of their craft.   A culture with no admiration and respect for and deference to the greatness in its past will likely crumble into mediocrity in its future. Our Christian music culture today I believe is rapidly losing its admiration for the hymns of the past and is therefore headed towards a mediocre future. This Battle of the Songs Series is a call to stop this slide into further mediocrity and return to the rich heritage of the songwriting past.

 

I hope that these few brief answers clarify the intention and purpose of this Battle of the Songs Series: The Hymns versus The Hers. For more answers to questions Christians are asking about music, visit doubleedgemusic.com. And stay tuned for the next battle tomorrow.

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.

Battle One: Desert Song by Hillsong Versus How Firm A Foundation

As all around us every day it seems like there is more bad news about our economy, more bad news about the state of our social affairs, I think it is fitting for the first battle to pick songs about confidence during tough times. According to www.praisecharts.com, Top 100 CCLI Songs, Desert Song comes in as number 5 on the list of Songs with the Greatest Gain. As many take comfort in this song which points to the hope that God is with us through the tough times, the deserts of life, Desert Song is rising fast up the charts.  It is for these reasons that Desert Song is our first contender in our Battle of the Songs series.

The challenger I have picked is to face this rising star is How Firm a Foundation by Rev. John Rippon. How Firm a Foundation is from the 18th century. In years past, it has been sung at presidents and statesmen’s funerals because of its popularity and poignancy at the time. According to Brown’s historical account, this song seemingly at the height of its popularity in 1898, was reportedly sung by the entire Corps of the United Sates Army as they were encamped in Havana, Cuba.

On the left are the lyrics to Desert Song (by Hillsong, 2008) as found on www.lyricsmode.com. On the right are the lyrics to How Firm A Foundation (John Rippon, 1787) as found on www.nethymnal.org.

Desert Song by Hillsong How Firm A Foundation by Rev. John Rippon
Verse 1:
This is my prayer in the desert
And all that’s within me feels dry
This is my prayer in my hunger and need
My God is the God who provides

Verse 2:
And this is my prayer in the fire
In weakness or trial or pain
There is a faith proved
Of more worth than gold
So refine me Lord through the flames

Chorus:
And I will bring praise
I will bring praise
No weapon formed against me shall remain
I will rejoice
I will declare
God is my victory and He is here

Verse 3:
And this is my prayer in the battle
When triumph is still on it’s way
I am a conqueror and co-heir with Christ
So firm on His promise I’ll stand

Bridge:
All of my life
In every season
You are still God
I have a reason to sing
I have a reason to worship

Verse 4:
This is my prayer in the harvest
When favor and providence flow
I know I’m filled to be emptied again
The seed I’ve received I will sow

Verse 1:

How firm a foundation, ye saints of the Lord,
Is laid for your faith in His excellent Word!
What more can He say than to you He hath said,
You, who unto Jesus for refuge have fled?

 

Verse 2:

In every condition, in sickness, in health;
In poverty’s vale, or abounding in wealth;
At home and abroad, on the land, on the sea,
As thy days may demand, shall thy strength ever be.

 

Verse 3:

Fear not, I am with thee, O be not dismayed,
For I am thy God and will still give thee aid;
I’ll strengthen and help thee, and cause thee to stand
Upheld by My righteous, omnipotent hand.

 

Verse 4:

When through the deep waters I call thee to go,
The rivers of woe shall not thee overflow;
For I will be with thee, thy troubles to bless,
And sanctify to thee thy deepest distress.

 

Verse 5:

When through fiery trials thy pathways shall lie,
My grace, all sufficient, shall be thy supply;
The flame shall not hurt thee; I only design
Thy dross to consume, and thy gold to refine.

 

Verse 6:

Even down to old age all My people shall prove
My sovereign, eternal, unchangeable love;
And when hoary hairs shall their temples adorn,
Like lambs they shall still in My bosom be borne.

 

Verse 7:

The soul that on Jesus has leaned for repose,
I will not, I will not desert to its foes;
That soul, though all hell should endeavor to shake,
I’ll never, no never, no never forsake.

 

Both How Firm a Foundation and Desert Song point to God as our comfort and confidence in tough times.  The greatest difference however is the point of view from which each song is written.  Desert Song speaks from our point of view as those going through the trial; the majority of How Firm a Foundation is God speaking to those going through the trial. The lyrics “This is my prayer” from Hillsong have a man-to-God directionality. The lyrics “What more can He say, than to you He has said” from How Firm a Foundation have a God-to-man direction. How Firm a Foundation contains allusions, as well as direct quotes, from passages in Isaiah. For example, Isaiah 41:10 “Fear thou not; for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness” is echoed in verse 3.

Yes, Desert Song tells us “In every season, You are still God. I have a reason to sing, I have a reason to worship.” But, How Firm a Foundation is more compelling, more explicit about what our reason for rejoicing is. “Even down to old age… [God’s ] sovereign, eternal, unchangeable love” is what is going to keep us rejoicing and praising. Compare “still God” with “sovereign, eternal, and unchangeable.”

I think this battle is over. My verdict: TKO! How Firm a Foundation wins it, hands down! What do you think? Leave me a comment. I’d love to hear from you.

Introduction to a New Article Series: The Battle of the Songs

The churches that still sing hymns are becoming increasingly rare these days. A few will sing revamped or updated versions of the hymns, perhaps keeping a verse or two from the original while pairing the remnant of the original lyrics with a new beat and a modern chorus. Honestly, I’m a bit of a purist about certain hymns, so this technique is usually not my cup of tea. Still I suppose this modernization of the hymns is better than complete abandonment. I don’t think that those churches who have entirely turned their back on “Rock of Ages” and “Faith of Our Fathers” in favor of “Forever Reign” and “Desert Songcompletely comprehend the wealth and the depth of sound theology, doctrine, Scriptural praise and encouragement that they are losing. By discarding the hymns and embracing new choruses and praise songs during church services, we may gain a wider audience and appeal to younger generations and those who want a “hipper” “cooler” sound. However are we sacrificing depth for wider appeal? I say unequivocally yes we are! We may draw the younger generations in with pop-sounding choruses, but will the simple lyrics to the new-fangled choruses point those young folks back to the Word that will sustain them till the end?

I believe that the hymns give us a far richer content than most– not all certainly, but the overwhelming majority– of modern choruses and praise songs. But I don’t want to get on my soapbox and preach to anyone about the merits of the hymns. In the old days a matter was often decided by a duel or a good old fashioned fist fight. Today we are far more “civilized”, so we duke it out with words instead in a proper debate. Pit one idea against the other in a match of wits and words and the strongest argument wins. So you’ve heard of the battle of the sexes… Well I’d like to propose a different sort of battle of the sexes: “the hymns versus the hers, the solid rich profound verses of old, versus the feminized emotionally centered lyrics of today.

In each article of this new series, I will list the lyrics of a modern song alongside a song from the old hymn books. I will give a brief commentary—perhaps to decode an out of use word or two, or to give a Scripture verse for reference—but more than anything, I will simply let the lyrics speak for themselves.

By now I am sure you can tell where my biases lie, so perhaps these will not be fair fights. Perhaps it is prejudicial to pit some of the heavy hitters of the past against the lightweights of today and call it a fair representation of the totality of worship music past and present.  So it is only fair and just to note that in any era there will be those that are outside of the common mold. There are hymns of old that are simple and repetitious; as well as, there are songs today that are profound and richly written. However this series is not about the exceptions. The Battle of the Songs series is about the vast majority of the content of the past versus today and its impact on the state of the church.

Those of you that love a good old fashioned boxing match and an old school debate, get ready! I’d love for you to engage me. If you have a “song request” that you’d like for me to include in this series, I’d love to hear from you. You throw some modern songs in the ring and I will send in my old timers and we’ll see the results. In good Christian love, let’s contend. Let the Battle of the Songs begin!

If you are looking for Contemporary Christian Music that captures the essence of the old hymn writers, be sure to check out the music of DoubleEdge @ www.doubleedgemusic.com.