Tag Archives: worship songs

Reflections on the modern hymn In Christ Alone

(This article was first published in the NZ Baptist Magazine website: http://www.baptistmag.org.nz/discipleship/in-christ-alone/).


When was the last time you remember singing about God’s wrath? If the modern hymn “In Christ Alone” is in your playlist, then it was probably more recently that you realised.

“In Christ Alone” was the first hymn that writers Stuart Townsend and Keith Getty produced together, and to this day, it remains their most well known. Since its release in 2001, “In Christ Alone” has been referred to as “surely the worship song of the century so far.” The song has been covered by scores of artists including Owl City, David Archuleta, and Natalie Grant, and has been translated into several different languages.

 

The hymn takes a linear approach in unfolding the gospel narrative (the life, death, and resurrection of Christ). The first verse introduces Christ as solid ground, a cornerstone that we can find safety and refuge in. In the same way that stonemasons in biblical times relied on the precise placement of a cornerstone to set the foundation for every other stone, Christ promises to be “a cornerstone chosen and precious” (1 Peter 2:6) that we can rest every triumph and tragedy upon.

The second verse invites us to gaze at the wonder of the incarnation—the fullness of God in human form—before zooming into the life and death of Jesus. Despised and rejected by the people he came to save, the Messiah willingly poured himself out during the drama of the cross, where gruesome death and sacrificial love satisfied God’s righteous anger that our sins deserve (Romans 3:21-26, Romans 5:9).

The third verse begins with gloom of the tomb, but gives way to unabashed celebration of the risen Christ. The melody climaxes alongside triumphant news: Jesus is alive, victorious over death! We can now have the confidence to claim him as our own! The resurrection proves that sin’s death grip no longer remains: “…for as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:22).

Powerful stories demand a response. In the final verse, we are invited to sing our reaction to the good news of Jesus. His unmatched power provides assurance that guilt need not plague us, death need not scare us, and hell can never take us: there simply is “no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). With King Jesus in command of our destiny, we stand with confidence, awaiting the day we finally meet him face-to-face.

Just as a diamond’s brilliance and sparkle depends on the number and placement of its many facets, God’s beauty shines most brightly in light of his many facets. In 2013, one of these aspects came under scrutiny when the American Presbyterian Committee on Congregational Song voted to exclude “In Christ Alone” from its hymnal, in light of the words in verse two, which speak about God’s wrath being satisfied. The decision attracted media interest and sparked a firestorm of controversy. There was much wrath about God’s wrath: some criticised the hymn writers for not allowing a change to the lyrics, while others accused the hymn committee of holding an unbiblical view of God.

Talk about God’s wrath brings unsettling images to the minds of 21st century Kiwis. We rightly reject caricatures of God having the uncontrollable anger of Jake “The Muss” from Once Were Warriors, or spewing forth hateful words at protest marches. Yet God’s wrath—revealed in the Bible—means God was willing to confront the cancer of sin hollowing out his beloved image-bearers, and Christ was willing to absorb the consequences of this cancer in our place. Without it, God’s love becomes saccharine and ill-equipped to respond to the horrors of human sin; whether anti-Semitic violence, or our own Samaritan blind spots; whether selfish exploitation of workers, or our own self-absorbed materialism.

That’s why when we sing about the wrath of God, we actually sing about ourselves: sinners in need of the rescue that Jesus willingly offers on the cross. To minimise any one of God’s attributes from our vocabulary is to rob ourselves of the full brilliance of God’s beauty, and to make Christ’s sacrifice less costly.

“In Christ Alone” depicts a God not made in our own image, but as he presents himself in the Biblical story: beyond us yet with us; holy yet gracious; angry yet loving; just yet merciful. And all of it is worth singing about.

 

Video: Only Your Blood is Enough (Ukulele Cover)

Missed church with HBC yesterday due to being on lockdown from opthalmic shingles. I feel fine but the doctor (and Cheryl) both suggest not infecting other unsuspecting people with the chicken pox virus

So instead of gathered worship, we sang a few hymns and I read some Valley of Vision, then worked out this song for our family hymnal.

Sojourn Music’s Neil Robins wrote the words and music, and it’s adapted from Isaac Watt’s Psalm 51 Part 2 From Sojourn’s “Over the Grave” album.

From the Sojourn Music blog:

Neil Robins, who also produced, sang and played a variety of instruments on Over The Grave, wrote “Only Your Blood Is Enough,” adapted from “Psalm 51, Part 2″ by Isaac Watts [you can read the original here]… It’s a fun song to sing, with a bridge that gives both guys and gals a cool part to sing — something we don’t often do with songs in Sojourn. Beyond that, it’s simply a great, meaty song about the cross of Christ — only His blood is enough to cover our sin. As Mike Cosper told Sojourn’s Dominic Gratto, in an interview for our quarterly news journal Travelogue:

“I don’t have a favorite song (on the album) but I have a favorite lyric. It’s from the song “Only Your Blood Is Enough.” The lyric is, “no bleeding bird, no bleeding beast, no hyssop branch, no priest, no running brook, no flood, no sea can wash away this stain from me.” It comes from Psalm 51 where the psalmist says that if God had desired a sacrifice, He would have brought it.

When we were recording that song, I told Neil that, because of the way the song is mixed, it would make a great pop song. Apart from the lyrics about a “bleeding bird” and “bleeding beast,” I could really see Christian radio stations picking it up — but they don’t want to play songs about bleeding beasts. It’s a little too graphic for them, but I think it communicates a really powerful message.

I also like how this song draws out the ideas that King David originally wrote (original and actual sin, atonement from God Himself, regeneration of the heart). Not many worship songs help point out the futility of our own sacrifices, and Psalm 51’s words (though a bit gross sounding to our ears, bleeding beasts etc.) drive home the point that it’s only God’s own blood that can pay for my sins. Played it down at F (from G, which is a bit high for me)

Lyrics:

I am ashamed, conceived in sin, I’ve always been.
Born in a world where Adam’s fall corrupts us.
Rooted is the seed of death in life’s first breath.
The law demands a perfect heart, but I’m defiled in every part

For only Your blood is enough to cover my sin
Only Your blood is enough to cover me

All this guilt disturbs my peace; I find no release.
Who will save me from my crime? I’m helpless.
Behold, I fall before Your face in need of grace.
So speak to me in a gentle voice, for in Your mercies I rejoice.

For only Your blood is enough to cover my sin
Only Your blood is enough to cover me

Lord, create my heart anew (Father, come and make us wise)
Only You are pure and true (Lead us away from our demise)
Lord, You are the remedy (For only your blood can set us free)

For only Your blood can set us free; only Your blood can set us free

No bleeding bird, no bleeding beast
No hyssop branch, no priest,
No running brook, no flood, no sea
Can wash away this stain from me

For only Your blood is enough to cover my sin
For only Your blood is enough to cover me

Words by Isaac Watts and Neil Robins
Music by Neil Robins, 2009

If you’re interested, this is Sojourn’s much more polished recording:

Album review: Songs from the Book of Luke

TGC’s first album, “Songs for the Book of Luke” was released yesterday and is being unashamedly marketed far and wide on the conservative-reformed web as I write this.

Here’s my thoughts after listening to the album:

  • I’m thankful that so many people are captured by a vision to sing “songs about the glory of God and the wonder of redemption”.
  • I like the new-old idea of getting pastor-theologians involved in the songwriting process (for example, “Our Hearts Still Burn”, a meditation on Luke 24, is written by DA Carson)
  • I’m thankful to hear and see so much musical creativity from local churches in the US flow so freely through each song

The words are great and well-thought out (each one is inspired by a different part of the gospel of Luke), and the musicianship on each album is excellent. So if this were an album just to listen to, I’d be over the moon with it.

Yet Ben Peays writes in announcing this album:

After a nation-wide call for entries, more than 200 songs were submitted. Those were narrowed down to this collection of 13 songs, all rooted in the scriptures, all written for local congregations.

And the About the Project blurb states:

 Most of all, we hope that as you listen, as you sing, and as churches consider singing these songs, you’ll be refreshed and reminded once again of the richness of the Book of Luke and the glory of our Savior.

So the stated aim is new songs for congregational use. And because of that, I have some further thoughts on that:

  • The melodies in quite a few of these songs (e.g. “Lift Up Your Head”, “Come to the Feast”, “For Your Sake”) have that singer-songwriter feel to it that make them very easy to listen to, but too sophisticated and for the average churchgoer to pick up easily (the wide vocal range of some of the songs don’t help either). The one exception so far which stuck out as quite singable is “Not in Me” by Eric Schumacher and David Ward, perhaps because of its simple tune and hymn meter.
  • There’s a couple of different genres represented but the songs are mostly based around the alternative/indie paradigm (e.g. “Authority of Christ”, “Our Hearts Still Burn”). Perhaps it’s because the recording band was put together by Sojourn Music. It makes each song great to turn up on my headphones, but it’s hard to envisage how to lead these songs for a church vs. the performance tracks I’m listening to. Also if you’re someone with a strong preference for one musical style, you’ll either love this album or be turned off before the first track is over.
  • I almost wished each song on the album was re-recorded with just a guitar/piano and vocal to get a better sense of how to use them for gathered worship. I know the album comes with lots of reinforcements in the form of sheet music and chord charts. And the “Learn the Song” videos perhaps was how they tried to answer this, but I don’t know if that’s enough to give smaller churches the confidence to try many of these songs (especially once the umpteeth electric guitar vamp blasts through).

 

But let me end with some of the words from “Not in Me”, which is my favourite song from the album (“Our Hearts Still Burn” is my second-favourite). The writers describe it as follows:

What would it sound like for the Pharisee in Luke 18:9-14 to repent? His prayer begins proclaiming what he has not done, with a list of people he is “not like”. So, repentance must be renouncing such boasts before God. In the end, the repenting Pharisee’s prayer is the same as the tax collector’s. Ultimately, whether for a Pharisee or a tax-collector, there is only one Gospel, one hope of salvation. God shows mercy to sinners, self-righteous or self-loathing, on the basis of Christ crucified and risen. In the end, neither can earn his forgiveness or merit a standing.

We’re both the tax collector and the Pharisee. One moment, we are wallowing in our sin, relenting of any hope due to the greatness of our evil. The next moment, we are boasting of our own righteousness and finding comfort in our external goodness and self-control. We need songs that preach the Gospel to us in and lift us out of the ditches on both sides of the road.

Here’s some of the lyrics:

No list of sins I have not done, no list of virtues I pursue,
No list of those I am not like can earn myself a place with you.
O God! Be merciful to me. I am a sinner through and through.
My only hope of righteousness is not in me, but only you

No humble dress, no fervent prayer, no lifted hands no tearful song,
No recitation of the truth can justify a single wrong.
My righteousness is Jesus’ life. My debt was paid by Jesus’s death.
My weary load was borne by Him And He alone can give me rest.

 

Amen to that!

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Video: Jesus Your Blood and Righteousness

Loved singing this arrangement by Ruth Buchanan when we were at YLC (now called Equip Conference).

Strangely enough, after searching everywhere, we couldn’t find a recording of it, nor any sheet music to help.

So we made our own – just me and a guitar (and Cheryl humming in the background).

 

Hopefully it’ll be useful for others too.

I’ve also created a chord chart here: Jesus Your Blood And Righteousness [Ruth Buchanan] – D

Verse 1
Jesus, your blood and righteousness,
my beauty are, my glorious dress;
Mid flaming worlds, in these arrayed,
with joy shall I lift up my head;
With joy shall I lift up my head.

Verse 2
Bold shall I stand in that great day,
and none condemn me, try who may;
Fully absolved, through Christ I am,
from sin and fear, from guilt and shame;
From sin and fear, from guilt and shame.

Verse 3
This stainless robe its beauty wears,
when all else fades in passing years,
no age can change its glorious hue,
the robe of Christ is ever new;
The robe of Christ is ever new.

Verse 4
When from the dust of death I arise,
to claim my home beyond the skies;
Then this shall be my only plea,
that Jesus died and lives for me;
That Jesus died and lives for me.

Verse 5
So shall the dead now hear your voice,
let those once lost in sin rejoice;
Their beauty this, their glorious dress,
Jesus, your blood and righteousness;
Jesus, your blood and righteousness;
Jesus, your blood and righteousness.

Words by Nicolaus L. von Zinzendorf
Arrangement by Ruth Buchanan
Copyright 1996 AFES.

First recorded on “Crowding the Gates” (http://sub.afes.org.au/_product/view-product?id=935aa23a8feda696a4370104c161bf17)

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(p.s.: for a list of all the songs we sang at the 2013 YLC conference, I made a list here).

US Holiday/WG11 Conference – rehearse, seminars, NZ connection, Enfield, Thabite

Day 2 of WorshipGod 11.

A full day of 2 general sessions and 2 seminars, as well as dinner with a family with strong NZ connections. Wow, thank you Lord for such an amazing day!

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Rehearse

There was some more comedy from Mark Altrogge in the morning (it seems like a WorshipGod thing for Mark to encourage and make us laugh with the things he says!)

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Rich Gunderlock and the Bairds led us in singing this morning. This included some songs they had written, including “Completely Done”. I appreciated the way they pointed to Jesus through singing, praying, Scripture reading and words of encouragement.

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The teaching this morning was from Bryan Chapell. He’s written a book called “Christ-centered Worship” which I’ve bought, look forward to reading it soon!

Bryan Chapell taught from Isaiah 6 as a picture or rehearsal of the gospel, and how it can inform the way our services can similarly help us to rehearse the gospel progression: from glory, to grace, to mission.

(Note: You can listen to the MP3 of the message here)

Seminars

We split up and attended two seminars during the afternoon.

William
The first one (run by Bob) covered principles and suggestions when thinking through how to choose songs. There were plenty of really good ideas and things to consider – will be looking forward to see how to apply them when I’m choosing songs in the future.

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The next seminar was even more interesting – a few worship bands signed up to play a song each. Bob gave feedback, encouragement and constructive feedback. What was particularly valuable was some of the comments about band dynamics, voicing, arrangements etc that Bob gave from his accumulated experience with contemporary praise bands.

Cheryl
Two workshops by Doug Gould, a sound technician at Covenant Life Church, were very helpful. Lots of good explanations for how to reduce stage noise, how different types of microphones work and what they’re useful for, and more. These are workshops and learnings our own sound engineers at HBC would be blessed by.

Thabite

For the evening session, Thabite Anyawile – the Caribbean Spurgeon – brought the Word to us from 1 Timothy 4, emphasizing that the Word of God is to be central in our preaching. I would recommend this message in particular to both pastors and worship leaders, as there are principles and applications for both. If the Word is to be central in our gatherings, both should be on the same page!

(Note: You can listen to the MP3 of the message here)

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Some miscellaneous highlights:

    • The worship in song tonight was led by Enfield – and the energy and zeal they had was AWESOME!

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  • We got to have dinner with a family who have a special love for New Zealand. Susan Perdue spent some time in Taranaki as an exchange student in NZ, and still have special connections with her adopted parents that she stayed with. Philip and Susan have three children who are all very talented musicians – their eldest son, Chris, showed me his mandolin – what a neat instrument!

 

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  • It’s a fascinating experience being in a church where there’s a traffic cop to direct traffic in, and where there’s traffic jams after each session. wow.

 

Next: More seminars, Joseph, Live album recording

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Update (26/08/2011): here’s the full series of our time in the USA.

Part 1: Fly, land, drive
Part 2: train, jam, steak
Part 3: sing, meet, glory
Part 4: rehearse, seminars, NZ connection, Thabiti
Part 5: edify, songwrite, organise, gather live
Part 6: mission-focused meetings, instrument shopping
Part 7: Covenant Life, tears, crepes and goodbyes, Giant groceries
Part 8: DC take 2, travelling back, final reflections  

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– William