Sacred Music & Associations

One thing I love about music discussions is that they’re never controversial.  Especially when the discussion focuses on associations for particular songs or artists – then the conversation becomes exceptionally balanced!

Anyway, all joking aside, here are two well-balanced articles on music and association.  Scott Aniol does an accurate job breaking “association” up into carefully nuanced categories in the first post; he explains why “association” arguments often miss the real issue in the second post.

On Associations
Punting to “Association Problems” may be a cop out.

Sing a New Song

Is old music better than new music? We all know the joy and freshness of learning a new hymn or hearing a new song of praise, but at other times we feel hesitant and uncertain about being too new or too edgy. Add to the mix the fact that churches and families are made of people with a variety of opinions and ideas about music. It certainly seems like the safe thing to do is just to stick with the old, proven hymns that we’ve been using for years. The safe and easy option, however, is not necessarily best. God teaches us that we should create and sing new songs of worship.

The Scriptural references to singing a new song are widespread. Around 1000 BC, David testified that God had “put a new song in [his] mouth” (Ps. 40:3) and that he would “sing a new song” to God (Ps. 144:9). Three hundred years later, Isaiah preached, “Sing unto the Lord a new song” to the nation of Judah (Isa. 42:10). Throughout that time, several anonymous psalms called God’s people to sing a new song to the Lord (Pss. 33:3; 96:1; 98:1; 149:1). In the New Testament, it is possible that several passages in Paul’s letters are parts of ancient hymns (perhaps Phil. 2:6-11 and 1 Tim. 3:16). The apostle John looked forward to the new song that the twenty-four elders and four heavenly creatures would sing to the Lamb (Rev. 5:9), and he saw 144,000 redeemed people singing a new song that only they could learn (Rev. 14:3). Throughout Bible history, each generation of God’s people wrote new songs to express their praise.

What does a “new song” entail? If we were to look at that phrase in the Hebrew or Greek, we’d notice that it literally means “new song.” There’s nothing fancy, surprising, or revolutionary about what the words mean. It was common for a time to make a sharp distinction between “new in time” and “new in quality,” but a detailed study actually shows that those two ideas overlap more than they differ. Those who promoted the split definition usually went on to argue that the music of a Christian should sound different from the music he listened to before he was saved. For some Christians, that’s true. But what about people who listened to classical music before they come to Christ? Or children who grew up in a home where they were protected from harmful music? It is not universally true that one’s music must change stylistically at the occasion of his conversion. I would suggest that the “new song” we’re talking about is new in both time and quality, but primarily in time. Simply stated, the Scriptures call us to write and sing new songs.

Why does God desire that we write and sing new songs? Is our song new because He is changing? Certainly not! He is the same praiseworthy God yesterday, today, and forever (Heb. 13:8). Should we use new songs because the content of our praise is substantially new? Again, no. Take Psalm 33 as an example: the “new song” praised God for creating the world (vv. 6–9). The content can’t get much older than that! Has the record of God’s marvelous work in history changed? No, the historical events of our deliverance (Christ’s life, death, and resurrection) have not changed.

We must sing our new songs because we are new people. We are not the same people who were saved during the third century. We are not the same people who were saved during the Reformation or the Great Awakening or even the 1910s. God wants us to articulate our praise in our own words and our own songs! Here we find an inconsistency in many churches. We rightly stand against ritualistic prayers and stolen sermons, yet some insist on exclusively singing a bygone generation’s praise.

There’s a balance here, of course. Jesus and the disciples sang a hymn at the Last Supper (Matt. 26:30), and that hymn was most likely a psalm. Paul exhorts singing psalms (Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16). We have a hymn heritage that is rich and profitable, and we should certainly take from it the many songs that are doctrinally rich, devotionally expressive, and musically good. But we should not rely solely on the praise of saints who have gone before us; we must put our hearts and minds to the task of creating new songs of worship!

At SacredAudio.com, you can find new songs from nearly all our artists. We seek to offer recordings of the best new conservative sacred music as well as the excellent hymns that have been passed down to us. Our goal is to help your worship as you “sing unto the Lord a new song”!

This is a slightly longer version of the article I recently wrote for SoundForth‘s Accents newsletter.

A Love that Glorifies God

Paul shares his heart’s desire for the Philippian believers when he tells them how he prays for them (Phil. 1.9-11). I’ve written the following poem to help us remember what God-glorifying love looks like. Pending the discovery of a suitable melody, I hope that this could be used as a hymn text.

A love abounding in me,
Growing more and more each day,
With knowledge and discernment
Grant to me, O Lord, I pray.
Choosing things that matter most,
That are honest, just and true,
To give You praise, please give me
A love that glorifies You.

A love abounding in me
As I wait for Your great day,
To keep me pure and blameless,
Grant to me, O Lord, I pray.
As I look upon Your face,
Make me pure in all I do.
To give You praise, please give me
A love that glorifies You.

A love abounding in me,
Bearing fruit in every way,
The righteousness of Jesus,
Grant to me, O Lord, I pray.
As Your Son transforms my life
With His glory shining through,
To give You praise, please give me
A love that glorifies You.

© 2009 James Steinbach. All Rights Reserved.

God of Mercy

God of MercyLast night, SoundForth presented its latest CD in the Bible Conference premiere concert.  God of Mercy is an excellent collection of new and old hymns sung and played by the BJU Singers & Orchestra.

I especially enjoy Dan Forrest’s setting of “How Firm a Foundation” – he does a great job creating an early American sound and communicating the strength and security that we find in God.  “Beneath the Cross” is a reflective song that encourages us to meditate on the forgiveness we receive from Christ and how that forgiveness affects daily life.  My favorite track is “Before the Throne of God Above” – I love the paradox of my unworthiness before Christ and my security in him!  This arrangement builds to a triumphant finish as the words remind us of our unbreakable union with Christ!

God of Mercy is available from SoundForth or via download at SacredAudio.com.  (The SacredAudio page includes a free bonus track that isn’t included on the CD.)

God Himself Is With Us

God Himself Is With Us Scott Aniol of Religious Affections Ministries recently released a CD of vocal solos and duets called God Himself Is With Us.  This CD of worship music focuses on what God has done to save sinners and how saved sinners should respond to God.  As a whole, the music is meditative and clear; the arrangements quietly complement the thought-provoking texts.

My personal favorites on this CD are “God of Grace” (a newer song that moves from redemption to daily life to resurrection hope), “My Song Is Love Unknown” (a beautiful setting of praise for the unspeakable love that Christ shows us in his sacrifice) and “My God, I Love Thee” (a haunting arrangement of a text that reflects the meager love that we return to our infinitely loving Savior).

You can hear some samples here and purchase the CD here.

Free from Guilt and Free from Sin

I’ve been listening to King of Love today and the words to one of the songs reminded me of the great debt that Christ paid for me and the great freedom he provided!

Dark, the stain I cannot hide,
Stain of sin, my guilt to prove.
Guilt my own, and foolish pride,
Pride, the reason for my sin.

Light of God came shining down;
Son of God, my soul to win,
Laid aside His heav’nly crown,
Paid the price for all my sin,
Paid the price for all my sin.

Wash me in the Savior’s blood;
Make me pure without, within.
Cleanse my heart and set me free,
Free from guilt and free from sin,
Free from guilt and free from sin.

Love of God that lights my way,
Love displayed on Calvary;
Lamb of God my soul to save
Gave His life to set me free!

Gone, the darkness, come the Light;
Gone, the night, the day begins.
Gone, the wrong, my soul made right,
Free from guilt and free from sin,
Free from guilt and free from sin.

(“Free from Guilt and Free from Sin” by Don and Jaree Hall)

Worship the Lord in the Beauty of Holiness

Repeatedly, the psalmists enjoin us to “worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness” (I Chron. 16.29; II Chron. 20.21; Ps. 29.2; 96.9) or in “holy array” or the “splendor of holiness.” Ps. 96.9 links this worship with fearing God – trembling before Him. John Monsell wrote a hymn entitled “Worship the Lord in the Beauty of Holiness” and he clearly understood the relationship between right worship and humility.

Worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness,
Bow down before Him, His glory proclaim;
Gold of obedience and incense of lowliness,
Bring and adore Him—the Lord is His Name.

Low at His feet lay Thy burden of carefulness,
High on His heart He will bear it for thee;
Comfort thy sorrows and answer thy prayerfulness,
Guiding thy steps as may best for thee be.

Fear not to enter His courts in the slenderness
Of the poor wealth thou wouldst reckon as thine;
Truth in its beauty, and love in its tenderness,
These are the offerings to lay on His shrine.

These though we bring them in trembling and fearfulness,
He will accept for the Name that is dear,
Mornings of joy give for evenings of tearfulness,
Trust for our trembling, and hope for our fear.

Glory Dwelleth in Immanuel’s Land

Anne Cousin’s hymn “The Sands of Time Are Sinking” has long been a favorite of mine. The last verse has always beautifully pointed to the glorious Christ with whom I will share eternity:

The Bride eyes not her garment, but her dear Bridegroom’s face;
I will not gaze at glory but on my King of grace.
Not at the crown He giveth but on His pierced hand;
The Lamb is all the glory of Immanuel’s land.

Turning my gaze Christ-ward instead of self-ward is a constant struggle for me; therefore the thought of being so lost in His glory that I complete lose sight of myself is beyond wonderful! The four or five verses of that hymn that are found in most hymnals have already ministered grace to me time and again. But I recently found that there are not merely five, but nineteen verses to this precious hymn! These verses penned by Anne Cousin, the wife of a nineteenth century Scottish preacher, look back to some letters and to the last words of Samuel Rutherford. Rutherford was a Scottish pastor who, during a period of separation from his church, ministered to their souls through letters. Here are a few of my favorite “unknown” stanzas:

Oh! Well it is forever, Oh! Well forevermore,
My nest hung in no forest of all this death doomed shore:
Yea, let the vain world vanish, as from the ship the strand,
While glory—glory dwelleth in Immanuel’s land.

The King there in His beauty, without a veil is seen:
It were a well spent journey, though seven deaths lay between:
The Lamb with His fair army, doth on Mount Zion stand,
And glory—glory dwelleth in Immanuel’s land.

But flowers need night’s cool darkness, the moonlight and the dew;
So Christ, from one who loved it, His shining oft withdrew:
And then, for cause of absence my troubled soul I scanned
But glory shadeless shineth in Immanuel’s land.

Deep waters crossed life’s pathway, the hedge of thorns was sharp;
Now, these lie all behind me, Oh! for a well tuned harp!
Oh! To join hallelujah with yon triumphant band,
Who sing where glory dwelleth in Immanuel’s land.

With mercy and with judgment my web of time He wove,
And aye, the dews of sorrow were lustered with His love;
I’ll bless the hand that guided, I’ll bless the heart that planned
When throned where glory dwelleth in Immanuel’s land.

Soon shall the cup of glory wash down earth’s bitterest woes,
Soon shall the desert briar break into Eden’s rose;
The curse shall change to blessing the name on earth that’s banned
Be graven on the white stone in Immanuel’s land.

I have borne scorn and hatred, I have borne wrong and shame,
Earth’s proud ones have reproached me for Christ’s thrice blessed Name:
Where God His seal set fairest they’ve stamped the foulest brand,
But judgment shines like noonday in Immanuel’s land.

They’ve summoned me before them, but there I may not come,
My Lord says “Come up hither,” My Lord says “Welcome home!”
My King, at His white throne, my presence doth command
Where glory—glory dwelleth in Immanuel’s land.

in paradisum

I’ve enjoyed much of Dan Forrest’s music – he has a gift for wrapping the truth of God’s Word in wonderfully appropriate robes of sound!  His work in paradisum for choir and wind band recently premiered at BJU’s Commencement Concert.  I was (very unfortunately) unable to hear the concert live, but the recording I heard was amazing!  You can hear a 3-minute sample on the BJU website here.  I can’t wait to get to BJU in a couple weeks and get a copy of this glorious work for myself!