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.
|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
How wide, how deep
Oh, Lord, I am amazed by You
|1. I stand amazed in the presence
of Jesus the Nazarene,
and wonder how he could love me,
a sinner, condemned, unclean.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
One day every tongue will confess You are God.
Come, now is the time to worship.
One day every tongue will confess You are God.
Come, now is the time to worship.
Oh, come. Oh, come. 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,
The earth with its store of wonders untold,
Thy bountiful care, what tongue can recite?
Frail children of dust, and feeble as frail,
O measureless might! Ineffable love!
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.
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.