Last Sunday, along with several more modern worship songs, we sang “It is Well with my Soul”. We are a contemporary church with a contemporary music program, but I received more positive comments on that song, and, while we are a church that usually sings well, we absolutely raised the roof with that little slow hymn sung with only piano.
There seems to have been a very unnecessary “war” over musical styles for the past 30 years in the evangelical church. “Unnecessary” because God never said the church should only sing modern or only sing ancient songs of faith. I believe a healthy church will utilize songs from all eras of church history including our own. How that balance is struck may vary from church to church, but like the age demographic of a church, if only one era is represented, that church is going to be missing something.
I love a lot of new modern worship music being written today, but I have found three reasons to keep including some of the ancient hymns of the faith…
Ancient Hymns have History. The church has history. That seems like I’m just stating the obvious, but if you asked the average evangelical to give you even a simple timeline of the 2000+ years of church history, it would probably sound something like this: Jesus, Apostles, monks, Billy Graham, Amy Grant, and Hillsong. That may sound a bit exaggerated, but unless your church makes a concerted effort to teach God’s providential work through history to preserve His church and His Word, this won’t be far from the truth.
Hymns not only point to events in the past, but also take us back to a time in our own lives when the truths in that hymn helped us through a trying time or taught us an invaluable lesson about who God is and what He has done.
Ancient Hymns have Theology. For centuries, many Christians would carry with them two books: The Bible and the Hymnal. Not that the hymnal was ever considered inspired, but it acted as a systematic theology as well as a songbook for the whole family. The best way to learn truths is to put them to a good melody and hymns did just that. If I said, “Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say…” you could probably finish the phrase. Have you ever recalled that line of “It is Well” when sorrows like sea billows rolled in your life?
Or can you finish the verse: “When we’ve been there 10,000 years bright shining as the sun, we’ve no less days to sing God’s praise…” The eternality of God and of the life He has given to us going forward is taught in that simple verse. Many modern worship songs also teach rich theology, but just because something is “old” it does not make it useless. When used in conjunction with each other, both modern and ancient hymns can give us a well rounded theology in song that we can carry with us for our whole lives.
Ancient Hymns have Singability. Not all melodies are created equal, and I know it sounds like “survival of the fittest”, but if a melody is not natural or singable, the song will not last. The great thing about a collection of hymns is that the publishers tend to weed out ones no one wants to sing. That leaves us with a collection of tried and true melodies that act like glue to bind the truths to our hearts.
Psalm 96 and 98 both command us to “Sing to the Lord a new song”, and I’m all for creativity in the church. I’m a song writer myself, but let’s not totally abandon what God has used, and still uses to bring Himself glory and build and edify His body simply because of a date at the bottom of a piece of music. Let’s seek to bring God our best, regardless of when in the history of God’s people it was penned.
When I Survey the Wondrous Cross
w/m - Isaac Watts
When I survey the wondrous cross
On which the Prince of glory died,
My richest gain I count but loss,
And pour contempt on all my pride.
Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast,
Save in the death of Christ my God!
All the vain things that charm me most,
I sacrifice them to His blood.
See from His head, His hands, His feet,
Sorrow and love flow mingled down!
Did e’er such love and sorrow meet,
Or thorns compose so rich a crown?
Were the whole realm of nature mine,
That were a present far too small;
Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all.
Here is another song from from my favorite hymn writer of all time, Isaac Watts, in the top 20 hymns of all time. This one sits at number 12 and is his most famous one. In a time when so many songs are being written offering therapeutic answers to our felt needs and troubles, it is refreshing to read these lyrics that basically say, we aren’t the center, and until Christ is, our needs will never truly be met. This song starts and ends with looking at Christ, not us.
When I survey the wondrous cross on which the Prince of glory died, my richest gain I count but loss, and pour contempt on all my pride. How many times do we “Survey the wondrous cross”? My guess is, we think about it far less than we should. The result is often pride. If we want to destroy pride in our life and release our grip on the things of this world, the quickest way is to meditate on what Christ did for us at Calvary.
Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast, save in the death of Christ my God! There is a big difference in boasting in one’s accomplishments and boasting in the work of the Lord. Any good in us is due to the indwelling Holy Spirit working in us. There is nothing to boast about from inside us, but we do not compromise in speaking and living out the inerrant word of God. We should boast all day long in our Savior! All the vain things that charm me most, I sacrifice them to His blood. There are so many things that “charm” us in this world, take up our time, and turn our focus from Christ. These “earthly joys” must fade each day in light of who we serve and what He has done.
See from His head, His hands, His feet, sorrow and love flow mingled down! Did e’er such love and sorrow meet, or thorns compose so rich a crown? Here, Watts begins to focus on the details of the crucifixion itself, giving us a look at the particulars of the scene. We see the head crowned with thorns, the hands pierced with nails, the feet pinned together with the spike. Then he makes the startling connection: we see sorrow, we see pain, we see thorns, but we also see love, and we see so great a salvation.
Were the whole realm of nature mine, that were a present far too small. Love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all. All the treasures of this world, this universe, pale in comparison with eternal life bought for us on that cross. God’s wrath on sin and His love for His own were on clear display that day 2000 years ago on a hill outside of Jerusalem. Today, that event, and our subsequent personal salvation should bring each of us to the point where we dedicate all we have to one who, in grace, saved us.
To God Be The Glory
w/m - Fanny Crosby
To God be the glory great things He has done
So loved He the world that He gave us His son
Who yielded His life an atonement for sin
And opened the life gate that all may go in
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord let the earth hear His voice
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord let the people rejoice
Come to the Father through Jesus the Son
Give Him the glory great things He has done
O perfect redemption the purchase of blood
To every believer the promise of God
The vilest offender who truly believes
That moment from Jesus a pardon receives
Great things He has taught us great things He has done
And great our rejoicing through Jesus the Son
But purer and higher and greater will be
Our wonder our transport when Jesus we see
This is our second week in a row for a Fanny Crosby song. This 11th most popular hymn of all time was written in 1872 and was a favorite in our Baptist church growing up. The 5th of the “5 Solas of the Reformation” is Soli Deo Gloria (Glory to God alone). We don’t give glory to Mary, or to the saints, or to man for our salvation, all the glory goes to God alone.
To God be the glory great things He has done. So loved He the world that He gave us His son, Who yielded His life an atonement for sin and opened the life gate that all may go in. There are so many things in life that we can give God glory for, but clearly the focus of Mrs. Crosby’s hymn is God’s plan and work of redemption. The second line is straight from John 3:16. The theology that Jesus was sent as a sacrifice by the Father, and yet, freely laid down His life is on clear display here. This stanza ends with the call for all men to be saved.
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord let the earth hear His voice. Praise the Lord, praise the Lord let the people rejoice. Come to the Father through Jesus the Son and give Him the glory great things He has done. In the chorus, we see adoration and application. It begins with personal praise to God for His saving us, then shifts to calling all peoples to come to the Father through the Son, so they can give praise as well for their salvation.
O perfect redemption the purchase of blood to every believer the promise of God. Every true believer can lift praise and adoration for their personal redemption. Jesus has bought them out of the slave market of sin with His blood. The vilest offender who truly believes, that moment from Jesus a pardon receives. When the lost see their sin for what it is, and run in faith to the Savior who stands with open arms, they are declared righteous and just by God and pardoned for every sin, past, present, and future.
Great things He has taught us great things He has done and great our rejoicing through Jesus the Son, but purer and higher and greater will be our wonder our transport when Jesus we see. Of all the blessed truths we have learned and paths our feet have traveled down here, nothing will compare to seeing Jesus face to face and live eternally with Him. The word “transport” initially gives off the impression of the rapture or “catching away”, but more than likely her use of the word means “delight” or “joy”. It will be pure joy when we stand face to face with our Savior and cry, “To God be the glory!”
w/m - Fanny Crosby
Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine!
Oh, what a foretaste of glory divine!
Heir of salvation, purchase of God,
Born of His Spirit, washed in His blood.
This is my story, this is my song
Praising my Savior all the day long
This is my story, this is my song
Praising my Savior all the day long
Perfect submission, perfect delight,
Visions of rapture now burst on my sight;
Angels, descending, bring from above
Echoes of mercy, whispers of love.
Perfect submission, all is at rest,
I in my Savior am happy and blest,
Watching and waiting, looking above,
Filled with His goodness, lost in His love.
We are moving through the most popular hymns of all time. This week is #10 (#9 is All Hail the Power, which I exegeted that one back in post #51).
For those who haven’t been keeping track:
Blessed Assurance was written in 1873 by Fanny Crosby, one of the most prolific hymn writers of the 19th century. This song speaks of the doctrine of the “Assurance of our salvation”. This is different than “Eternal security” in that some people are eternally secure, but may not feel the assurance that is theirs, and some may feel they have assurance now, but on the last day, they will find themselves without eternal life (Matthew 7:22).
Assurance is there for the true believer who not only professes faith in Christ, but actually possesses it. When one has truly repented and believed, can see the fruit of the Holy Spirit in their lives, feels the guilt of sin and wages war with it, is in submission to God, and truly loves Christ and His bride, there can be a blessed assurance on this side of heaven.
Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine! Oh, what a foretaste of glory divine! We love Him because He first loved us. When we experience that unique love relationship with our Savior, this assurance becomes personal… Jesus is mine. That relationship is just an initial glimpse of the eternal bond we will one day share with Him. Heir of salvation, purchase of God, born of His Spirit, washed in His blood. The work of God in our lives seals that assurance, for if these things were dependent on us, we would lose them, and the assurance that goes with them, instantly.
This is my story, this is my song, praising my Savior all the day long. Jesus, the Savior, did the work of salvation. Our only right response is never-ending praise.
Perfect submission, perfect delight, visions of rapture now burst on my sight; angels, descending, bring from above echoes of mercy, whispers of love. This verse describes the feeling that accompanies this right relationship with God. Although the term “Rapture” is often used to describe an eschatological event, here, I believe context dictates that it simply means a feeling of intense pleasure or joy. When we submit to His plan, His purpose, His control, it is accompanied by perfect peace and joy that can’t be found in this life otherwise.
Perfect submission, all is at rest, I in my Savior am happy and blest, watching and waiting, looking above, filled with His goodness, lost in His love. Again, this verse begins with “perfect submission”. My guess was that Mrs. Crosby didn’t just run out of lines (She composed over 8,000 hymns in her life). She most likely wanted to drive the point home that without perfect submission, there can be little assurance. It is the work of God that saves us, and the work of God that keeps us. Relying on His work is paramount in finding happiness, rest, and this blessed assurance.
All Creatures of our God and King
w/m - St. Francis of Assisi
All creatures of our God and King
Lift up your voice and with us sing
O praise Him, Alleluia
Thou burning sun with golden beam
Thou silver moon with softer gleam
O praise Him, O praise Him
Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia
Thou rushing wind that art so strong
Ye clouds that sail in Heaven along
O praise Him, Alleluia
Thou rising morn in praise rejoice
Ye lights of evening find a voice
O praise Him, O praise Him
Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia
And all ye men of tender heart
Forgiving others, take your part
O sing ye, alleluia
Ye who long pain and sorrow bear
Praise God and on him cast your care
O praise him, O praise him,
alleluia, alleluia, alleluia!
Let all things their Creator bless
And worship Him in humbleness
O praise Him, Alleluia
Praise, praise the Father, praise the Son
And praise the Spirit, three in one
O praise Him, O praise Him
Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia
As we continue our series of the favorite hymns ever sung by God’s church, this one is number 8. It was written in 1225 in Italy, and other than “Be thou My Vision” which was written in the 6th century, it is the oldest one in our list. You may ask how these songs have endured for so long, and that is because they were written by skilled musicians to be timeless. These melodies are instantly recognizable, easily teachable, and aren’t dated by the recording styles of the day. There is a place for songs that speak specifically to today, but there is also a place for songs that speak across generations.
All creatures of our God and King, lift up your voice and with us sing, O praise Him, Alleluia. Throughout God’s Word, especially in the psalms, we see the call for all of creation to cry out in praise to the Lord (Psalm 96:11-12 is a good example). Now, we know that these creatures and created objects do not have a physical, literal voice. Nor do they have the will of man, but they do speak. “The heavens declare the glory of God”. All one needs to do is look at what God has made and, as they say, “A picture is worth a thousand words.”
“For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.” We can know that there is a Creator by what is created. Songwriters use “poetic license” the way God uses anthropomorphisms in Scripture. Often, as in this song, we will attribute human qualities to a created object, (the will, a voice) to sing praise to God.
Thou burning sun with golden beam, thou silver moon with softer gleam, O praise Him. God created the sun, moon, and the stars on the fourth day of creation. They give praise to God every time they appear in the sky and function exactly the way God intended.
Thou rushing wind that art so strong, ye clouds that sail in Heaven along, O praise Him. Jesus said in John 3 that, “The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” The wind seems completely random, but there is nothing random with God. The wind blows exactly where it is intended to blow and the clouds move and give rain exactly where God means for them to.
Thou rising morn in praise rejoice. Ye lights of evening find a voice. The very first day of creation, before anything else was made, God made day and night, evening and morning. From the beginning, this cycle has been constant (with the exception of one day during Joshua’s time). Again, it gives praise to the Creator when the creation does what it was created to do. And all ye men of tender heart, forgiving others, take your part. This third verse speaks now directly to us. We can’t rightfully praise and serve God, when we have an unforgiving attitude. Even when people have wronged us and treated us unfairly, it is our job to forgive. Then, regardless of their response, we can rightly join in true worship.
Ye who long pain and sorrow bear, praise God and on him cast your care. There are always times of pain and hurt. The cares of this life will weigh us down. It is part of living among sinful people in a fallen world. But when we cast our care on Him, it frees us up to focus on the worship of the Almighty.
Let all things their Creator bless and worship Him in humbleness. One of the Greek words translated “Worship” is proskuneo. It means to kneel or bow down. One who is humble is in the right position spiritually to worship.
Praise, praise the Father, praise the Son, and praise the Spirit, three in one. One of the salvific doctrines that a true Christian must have right is a belief in the Triune God. All three persons of the Trinity deserve our praise and worship. We don’t need to, and can’t fully understand the concept of the Trinity, but as I’ve often quoted, “Define the Trinity and lose your mind… deny the Trinity and lose your soul.” The one God in three Persons deserves the eternal praise from all the creatures of our God and King.
Be Thou My Vision
w/m - Traditional
Be Thou my vision, O Lord of my heart;
Naught be all else to me, save that Thou art.
Thou my best thought, by day or by night,
Waking or sleeping, Thy presence my light.
Be Thou my Wisdom, and Thou my true Word;
I ever with Thee and Thou with me, Lord;
Thou my great Father, I Thy true son;
Thou in me dwelling, and I with Thee one.
Riches I heed not, nor man’s empty praise,
Thou mine inheritance, now and always:
Thou and Thou only, first in my heart,
High King of heaven, my treasure Thou art.
High King of heaven, my victory won,
May I reach heaven’s joys, O bright heaven’s Sun!
Heart of my own heart, whatever befall,
Still be my vision, O Ruler of all.
Be thou my vision is a 6th century hymn that has become the 7th most popular hymn of all time. It combines everything that makes for a timeless classic for the church, a beautiful Irish melody that you cannot get our of your head as well as a great blend of theology and supplication.
Be Thou my vision, O Lord of my heart; naught be all else to me, save that Thou art. Thou my best thought, by day or by night, waking or sleeping, Thy presence my light. Although the lyrics may seem a little ancient in their phrasing (or a little “Yoda” for those of you that need a pop culture reference), a little time spent reading through them will make for a wonderful prayer. It is the singular focus on God as the guide and director of our heart that makes this hymn so powerful. The worshiper calls on God to be the only source of light and direction in his life.
Be Thou my Wisdom, and Thou my true Word; I ever with Thee and Thou with me, Lord; Thou my great Father, I Thy true son; Thou in me dwelling, and I with Thee one. God is our source of wisdom, His Word, the one source of perfect knowledge. When we are His, in Christ, He is our Father and He loves us as His Children. He indwells us and we are one with Him forever. There is no greater, safer, more secure place to be.
Riches I heed not, nor man’s empty praise. Thou mine inheritance, now and always: Thou and Thou only, first in my heart, High King of heaven, my treasure Thou art. Boy, there sure are a lot of things in this world to draw our eyes away from God. A lot of other circumstances, both pleasurable and distasteful can become our “vision” if we are not careful. Riches can be a blessing or a curse. Man’s praise can spur us on to greater ministry, or make us focus on self. Nothing this world has to offer can match the eternal legacy of faithfulness to Christ.
High King of heaven, my victory won. May I reach heaven’s joys, O bright heaven’s Sun! Heart of my own heart, whatever befall, still be my vision, O Ruler of all. Who can compare to God? It seems like such a rhetorical question, but is it really? While we would never actually make a list of things we believe should govern our walk above our Creator and Lord, we often live as though God should take a back seat sometimes. May it never be. What we do in service for our King has eternal reward. What we do for our own pleasure will burn up at the judgment seat. Whatever we face, good or bad in this world, let our hearts cry out to God for guidance, help, and to forever be our vision.
Praise to the Lord the Almighty
w/m - Joachim Neander, Catherine Winkworth, Straisund Gesangbuch
Praise to the Lord, the Almighty, the King of creation!
O my soul, praise Him, for He is thy health and salvation!
All ye who hear, now to His temple draw near,
Join me in glad adoration.
Praise to the Lord, who o’er all things so wondrously reigneth,
Shelters thee under His wings, yea, so gently sustaineth!
Hast thou not seen how thy desires e’er have been
Granted in what He ordaineth?
Praise to the Lord, who doth prosper thy work and defend thee!
Surely His goodness and mercy here daily attend thee;
Ponder anew what the Almighty can do
Who with His love doth befriend thee
Praise to the Lord, O let all that is in me adore Him!
All that hath life and breath, come now with praises before Him!
Let the amen sound from His people again;
Gladly forever adore Him.
Over and over scripture calls on the people of God to Praise the Lord… and not just in the psalms. It is well over 130 times, so God must not only be worthy of our praise, but must take delight when His people do praise Him. This hymn (the 6th most popular of all time) is a great example of a “God-focused” song. It is about what God can do, has done, and will do.
Praise to the Lord, the Almighty, the King of creation! O my soul, praise Him, for He is thy health and salvation! God not only created this world and sustains it with His almighty power, but loves us so much that He gives us “every spiritual blessing” and many earthly blessings as well. He never promised us perfect physical health, or even good health for that matter, but is the true source of the health of our soul. Any emotional therapy that we receive that does not include the work of God is empty. Just as any salvation we may seek apart from Him is built upon no foundation and will crumble in the end.
All ye who hear, now to His temple draw near. Join me in glad adoration. This is a great example of a line that the congregation sings horizontally. While our praise is aimed at God alone, this is an exhortation to the person standing next to you to join you in multiplying that praise.
Praise to the Lord, who o’er all things so wondrously reigneth, Shelters thee under His wings, yea, so gently sustaineth! I have a hard enough time balancing my checkbook or herding a couple of kids around a store. God sustains and reigns sovereignly over every single action in the universe at every single second of time. That is how much God is higher than us. All we can do is just wonder in awe of His greatness. Hast thou not seen how thy desires e’er have been granted in what He ordaineth? Every step we take, every desire we see fulfilled in this life, is ordained by God. While we have the free will to obey or not obey, God uses it all in His perfect plan to bring about our good and His glory.
Praise to the Lord, who doth prosper thy work and defend thee! Every blessing comes from God. All the fruits of our labors are by His hand, and every moment of peace and protection we experience are graces He gives us. That’s why the verse continues: Surely His goodness and mercy here daily attend thee. Ponder anew what the Almighty can do Who with His love doth befriend thee. Praise God today for His love for you.
Praise to the Lord, O let all that is in me adore Him! All that hath life and breath, come now with praises before Him! Let the amen sound from His people again; Gladly forever adore Him. I can’t wait to stand in the throne room of heaven and join my voice with the saints of all the ages and the heavenly spirit beings in praise to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. In my most sanctified times here on earth, when I am most overwhelmed by God’s goodness, my praise still falls so short. Maybe then, when freed from this body of death, I will adequately be able to give praise to the Lord, the Almighty!
It is Well with my Soul
w/m - Horatio Gates Spafford, Philip Paul Bliss
When peace like a river attendeth my way
When sorrows like sea billows roll
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say
It is well, it is well with my soul
It is well with my soul
It is well, it is well with my soul
Tho' Satan should buffet, tho’ trials should come
Let this blest assurance control
That Christ hath regarded my helpless estate
And hath shed His own blood for my soul
My sin O the bliss of this glorious tho't
My sin not in part but the whole
Is nailed to the cross and I bear it no more
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord O my soul
And Lord haste the day when the faith shall be sight
The clouds be rolled back as a scroll
The trump shall resound and the Lord shall descend
Even so it is well with my soul
“It is Well With My Soul” is the fourth most popular hymn of all time (Behind Amazing Grace, How Great Thou Art, and Holy Holy Holy). It is the quintessential hymn of praise in the midst of trial, and most everyone knows the incredible story behind it (If not, I’ll let you do some research on the web).
So many of us have sung this song during our trials and have been encouraged, but this is a difficult song to sing. Not because the melody is challenging, but because if we really speak these words in testimony, it is a momentous task to live up to.
When peace like a river attendeth my way, when sorrows like sea billows roll, whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say, “It is well, it is well with my soul.” “Whatever my lot”… that’s all encompassing. While it is true that God will never give you more than He can handle, He often gives us more than we can handle… in our own strength. That is why it is crucial to rest in His.
I have used this illustration many times. When I was in New York City a few years back, looking up at the buildings right next to me, with the clouds moving, it looked as if the building was coming down on me. It can actually be quite frightening. But I have flown over cities in an airplane, and those same skyscrapers now appeared like monopoly hotels. The size of the building did not change, just my perspective. Learn to look through God’s sovereign eyes and rest in His power and you can have peace regardless of how big the trial is.
Tho' Satan should buffet, tho’ trials should come, let this blest assurance control: that Christ hath regarded my helpless estate and hath shed His own blood for my soul. Many Christians wrongly blame Satan for our trials, and while he may be used to inflict them, he has no power or authority but that which is given him by God. So God is the primary cause and has the primary purpose and plan for the trials. We may lose the whole world… but gain our souls. Christ’s blood does not guarantee the absence of trial, but it does guarantee assurance through it, if we rely on His omnipotence.
My sin O the bliss of this glorious tho’t… my sin not in part but the whole is nailed to the cross and I bear it no more. Praise the Lord, praise the Lord O my soul! This verse may seem disconnected from a song about trials. Yes, our sins are paid for by Christ and we won’t have to pay for them in the lake of fire ourselves, but what does that have to do with the day to day trials of life? The answer is everything.
So many times we read stories like David and Goliath and we insert ourselves as the heroes of the story fighting our “Giants”. We too often take the glory from that battlefield with an, “I can do it” attitude, when the real lesson to be learned is that I CAN’T do it. Without Him, we can do nothing. There is no greater “Giant” in our lives than sin and death, and we are powerless against it, slaves to it. God is the hero who conquered sin and defeated death when we couldn’t. If He can do that, then we can say in the midst of these comparatively tiny problems, “It is well with my soul”.
And Lord haste the day when the faith shall be sight. The clouds be rolled back as a scroll. The trump shall resound and the Lord shall descend, even so it is well with my soul. One day, the pains and hurts of this life will be gone. All of our tears will be wiped away for we will see Him as He is and we will be like Him. Our minds, wills, and emotions will all be released from the curse of sin that still surrounds our flesh and all will be well with our soul forever and ever.
w/m - John Newton
Amazing grace how sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me
I once was lost but now am found
Was blind but now I see
'Twas grace that taught my heart to fear
And grace my fears relieved
How precious did that grace appear
The hour I first believed
Through many dangers toils and snares
I have already come
'Tis grace has brought me safe thus far
And grace will lead me home
When we've been there ten thousand years
Bright shining as the sun
We've no less days to sing God's praise
Than when we've first begun
Former slave trader, turned Anglican clergyman, John Newton penned this esteemed hymn that tells of God’s transformative power in the life of the depraved sinner. It has been named the most popular hymn of all time. Amazing grace, how sweet the sound. That saved a wretch like me. To understand just how amazing God’s grace is, we first must understand the human condition: Unrighteous, without understanding, not seeking after God, gone astray, unable to come to the Savior without the grace of God and drawing of the Holy Spirit, sold under sin, dead in trespasses, in utter rebellion against the Creator. We truly were wretched, and that is what makes the grace of God all the more amazing.
I once was lost but now am found was blind but now I see. Jesus is compared to the Good Shepherd who seeks for that lost lamb of His fold until He finds it. In John 9, Jesus healed a man born blind. When questioned, it was clear that he was not healed because he “had enough faith”, because he said, “Whether he is a sinner or not, I don’t know. One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see!”
It was only later that the man exercised faith in the one who healed him, “Jesus heard that they had thrown him out, and when he found him, he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” “Who is he, sir?” the man asked. “Tell me so that I may believe in him.” Jesus said, “You have now seen him; in fact, he is the one speaking with you.” Then the man said, “Lord, I believe,” and he worshiped him.” Then Jesus made the analogy to spiritual blindness, “Jesus said, “For judgment I have come into this world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind.”
'Twas grace that taught my heart to fear and grace my fears relieved. What a great line! This line tells of both Law and Grace. Law, because it pointed out to Newton his sin and gave him a godly guilt over it, and Grace, because it taught the mercy of God in the saving work of Christ.
How precious did that grace appear the hour I first believed. For by grace we have been saved through faith… and that is not of ourselves… it is the gift of God. From the perspective of man, we see the grace of God when we take that step of faith, but we love Him because He first loved us.
Through many dangers toils and snares I have already come. ’Tis grace has brought me safe thus far and grace will lead me home. Regardless of our past transgressions, even the neglect of so great a salvation, grace and forgiveness is always available. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us. The thing about grace is, when God pours it out in the saving faith of an unbeliever, that grace is not like the grace of other religions that only saves partially and temporarily, it will carry us all the way to glorification.
When we've been there ten thousand years, bright shining as the sun, we’ve no less days to sing God's praise than when we've first begun. They say, when writing a song, make sure your last line of the verse is the “killer line”, the one that really is well written and grabs you… one you can’t forget. This one could be the best of all time. What a thought! A thousand years seems like forever down here… in fact, sometimes, an hour seems like forever. But even after such a long span of time, it does not diminish eternity at all. What a glorious thought… infinity spent in the presence of the one who showed us such amazing grace!
How Great Thou Art
w/m - Stuart K. Hine
O Lord my God when I in awesome wonder
Consider all the worlds Thy hands have made
I see the stars, I hear the rolling thunder
Thy pow'r thru’out the universe displayed
Then sings my soul my Savior God to Thee
How great Thou art, How great Thou art
Then sings my soul my Savior God to Thee
How great Thou art, How great Thou art
When through the woods and forest glades I wander
And hear the birds sing sweetly in the trees
When I look down from lofty mountain grandeur
And hear the brook and feel the gentle breeze
And when I think that God His Son not sparing
Sent Him to die, I scarce can take it in
That on the cross my burden gladly bearing
He bled and died to take away my sin
When Christ shall come with shout of acclamation
And take me home, what joy shall fill my heart
Then I shall bow in humble adoration
And there proclaim my God how great Thou art
This is one of the most popular hymns in history. It was written, in its current form by Stuart Hine, a Methodist missionary who was greatly influenced by the “Prince of preachers”, Charles Spurgeon. O Lord my God, when I in awesome wonder consider all the worlds Thy hands have made. I see the stars, I hear the rolling thunder. Thy pow'r thru’out the universe displayed. The curse of spiritual blindness, that every man is born into, is never more clearly on display than when man looks at the beauty, creativity, and incredible detail of nature and comes to the conclusion that all of this happened by chance from nothing.
Romans 1 says, “The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse. For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles.” If not for the grace of God, we would all still be radically depraved and without excuse. Without excuse, because “The heavens declare the glory of God.”
Then sings my soul my Savior God to Thee, “How great Thou art, How great Thou art”. Once we are made alive, regenerated by God, we can truly see what we couldn’t see in our sin, and marvel at how great He is.
When through the woods and forest glades I wander and hear the birds sing sweetly in the trees, when I look down from lofty mountain grandeur and hear the brook and feel the gentle breeze…This verse continues the look at the amazing design and plan in nature, and concludes that it must take a great and powerful Creator to bring about such a stunning creation.
And when I think that God His Son not sparing, sent Him to die, I scarce can take it in. That on the cross my burden gladly bearing, He bled and died to take away my sin. Now here is where the song takes an even more gripping turn. For all the power it took to create the universe, the most amazing miracle in our history is when God sent His Son to this created earth, to die for this created mankind. Speaking the world into existence was nothing compared to the grace shown when God poured out His wrath on His Son to save a created man.
When Christ shall come with shout of acclamation and take me home, what joy shall fill my heart. Then I shall bow in humble adoration and there proclaim my God how great Thou art. This fourth verse was added to the song later, but brings the story full-circle. There is no mention of a resurrection in the song up to this point, and without it and it leaves the story with Christ in the tomb. Here we see Christ alive and coming on the clouds to gather His church and take them home to heaven. Our joy will be complete and everlasting when we are home, in our new bodies, standing before the throne singing, “How Great Thou Art!”
Bill Itzel has been a worship leader and singer/songwriter for over 30 years and is based in Westminster, MD. His family tours and leads worship, not only in their home church (Mt. Airy Bible Church), but around the country. This is a blog about congregational worship and the latest news in the The Itzel's ministry.