DiM | Modernity and Tradition are Irrelevant

Presentation1Today is “Discernment in Music” day here at Faithful Stewardship. As this is a new feature here at Faithful Stewardship, I wanted to make clear that this is an exercise in Biblical Discernment, not in favoritism or piety. Traditional Hymns do not “get a pass”; modern music isn’t preemptively condemned. To demonstrate this, we’ll be looking at a Hymn that seems a bit confused and a modern hymn that is absolutely phenomenal in my view.

I’d like to take a moment to remind everyone that there is plenty of room to agree/disagree on issues of taste or flavor. Personally, I find the sound of an organ to be most unpleasant, especially if it is front and center in the music. That’s a matter of taste. I’m not here to tell you what you should like or dislike. My purpose here is strictly to look at the lyrical content of these songs and to determine their Biblical soundness. Whether or not you still “like” a song that has been demonstrated to bear little-to-no Biblical value, remains between you and the Holy Spirit. There are secular songs that I enjoy hearing, but I know full well the lyrics are not in any way Biblically sound. One such song I have mentioned before is “I’m feelin’ good” by Michael Bublé. However, that I like to listen to that song is a far cry from me considering “Christian” and would in no way serve as an endorsement of that song being played in a Praise and Worship setting. Similarly, songs labeled “Christian” need to be tested for conveying a Biblical Message. A “Christian” song being elevated to “Praise/Worship” status most definitely be tested/scrutinized according to the Scriptures. We dare not engage in public confession of false doctrine/teaching or misguided praise and worship.

Hymn 1: Christ, or Else I Die

Link: http://hopehymns.bandcamp.com/track/christ-or-else-i-die
Words: William Hammond, 1745
Music: Drew Holcomb
Arr: Tim Johnson and Matt Patrick

Lyrics
Gracious Lord, incline Thine ear;
My request vouchsafe to hear;
Hear my never-ceasing cry;
Give me Christ, or else I die.

Wealth and honor I disdain,
Earthly comforts, Lord, are vain;
These can never satisfy:
Give me Christ, or else I die.

All unholy and unclean,
I am weighted by my sin;
On thy mercy I rely;
Give me Christ, or else I die

Thou dost freely save the lost;
In Thy grace alone I trust.
With my earnest plea comply;
Give me Christ, or else I die.

All unholy and unclean,
I am weighted by my sin;
On thy mercy I rely;
Give me Christ, or else I die

Thou hast promised to forgive
All who in thy Son believe;
Lord, I know Thou cannot lie;
Give me Christ, or else I die

All unholy and unclean,
I am weighted by my sin;
On thy mercy I rely;
Give me Christ, or else I die

The problem with this Hymn, is one of confusion. Beginning with the Title and the closing line of very stanza, “Give me Christ, or else I die“, we have an odd declaration that sort of rings of a “give me liberty or give me death” vibe (though that famous quote dates back to 1775, while this hymn was written in 1745). If the statement being made her is “Without Christ I will die”, we have a doctrinal problem with this statement. If we are speaking of physical death… all die, with or without Christ.

Hebrews 9:24-28 (ESV) 24 For Christ has entered, not into holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf. 25 Nor was it to offer himself repeatedly, as the high priest enters the holy places every year with blood not his own, 26 for then he would have had to suffer repeatedly since the foundation of the world. But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. 27 And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, 28 so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.

If we are speaking of spiritual death, then we are speaking of it in the wrong order. Without Christ, we are already dead.

Ephesians 2:1-7 (ESV) 2 And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— 3 among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. 4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— 6 and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.

One might argue “artistic license” to keep it “singable”, but I give no license for changing truth for the sake of a melody. Now, the audience of this song is God the Father. So, the entire song is an appeal to God, “give me Christ, or else I die”. Well, then… so is this the song of a believer or an unbeliever? I matters not, really… since God has already given us Christ. We saw in the Hebrews verse already that Christ died once… was given to us once. He declared, “It is finished“. But let’s look also in John 3

John 3:16-21 (ESV) 16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. 19 And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. 20 For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. 21 But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.”

Christ was already given, all that remains is that we believe in Him. Now, if we took the first sentence (first to lines) of every stanza, we’d have a solid hymn (thought it wouldn’t have the same ring). However, with the inclusion of the closing phrase, what remains of the hymn is total confusion. It is an old hymn, but it wasn’t always an old hymn. At one time, it was cutting edge. When we exercise discernment in the lyrical content of modern songs, understand that the same method holds true and should be exercised regardless of when the song was written.

Now, the folks over at TGC (The Gospel Coalition) launched a project a while back to write Gospel-centered Praise and Worship. I do not simply accept that every song they write is sound, but I applaud the Gospel focus in the endeavor. After hearing the hymn above, I then heard the following hymn (modern hymn written in an older style), “Not in Me”.

Not In Me

Words and Music by Eric Schumacher and David L. Ward, “Not In Me” Songs for the Book of Luke by The Gospel Coalition. ©ThousandTongues.org
Source: http://www.wogmagazine.com/2013/06/not-in-me-by-the-gospel-coalition/

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 death.
My weary load was borne by Him And He alone can give me rest.

No separation from the world, no work I do, no gift I give
Can cleanse my conscience, cleanse my hands,
I cannot cause my soul to live.
But Jesus died and rose again. The pow’r of death is overthrown!

My God is merciful to me and merciful in Christ alone.
My righteousness is Jesus’ life. My debt was paid by Jesus death.
My weary load was borne by him, and He alone can give me rest,
And He alone can give me rest.

Great song. The first verse echos Ephesians 2:1-9. We were all dead in sin. Our salvation is by Grace through Faith, not by works so that no one can boast. Solid verse. The second verse addresses piety and good works as not being our assurance of Salvation. Our assurance is in the Righteousness of Jesus Christ, not in our own which echoes Romans 3:21-31 well. The next verse echoes the previous verses, but I’d like to include Romans 8:1-11. The final verse echoes the same truths throughout, but also notice the references to rest. There is much to be said of entering God’s rest, but a good place to see it condensed a bit would be Hebrews 4:1-10. For the sake of this song, let us look at the concluding verses:

Hebrews 4:9-10 (ESV) 9 So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, 10 for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from His.

Conclusion

I absolutely loved the second song (Not In Me), lyrically. I’d love to hear it performed in every popular musical style imaginable (provided the music doesn’t drown out the lyric). Wonderful song. The first song, is confused. I think the writer sacrificed accuracy for poetry, and I’d rather not sing it. It isn’t so wrong that I’d levy a formal complaint with the pastors or elders, but if asked, “what do you think about this song” my reply would be simply, “I think it’s a confused song”.

Today, I wanted to refute the notion that I simply rejected all things new and grant preferential treatment for “sacred” hymns. There are good hymns that sound great, there are good hymns that sound awful (to my ears at least) and there are confused hymns and other hymns that are just biblically unsound. I will not actively seek those out, because I’m not trying to create lyrical punching bags here. The goal of these posts is to practice Biblical discernment in music. From here on out, my focus will be on what is currently “popular” within Christendom, because that is what we are consuming in large quantities. Let us make sure it is spiritually healthy food.

Jude 1:24-25 (ESV)
24 Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, 25 to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.

In Christ,
Jorge

The Story Behind The Hymn – I Know Whom I Have Believed

Okay, so as excited as I have been about the series on God the Holy Spirit… I’m delaying part 3 of that post. In listening to a sermon this morning on 2 Timothy 1, the speaker mentioned the Hymn I Know Whom I Have Believed, and the story of its author, Major Daniel Webster Whittle. Not being much of a hymnal guy, it was the first I had heard of Mr Whittle. I chose to look this story up, and with a tear in my eye, I decided this was well worth sharing today.  I pray you find some blessing in this story, too.

The Story Behind The Song – I Know Whom I Have Believed

This beloved hymn written by Major Daniel Webster Whittle, the exact date of his composition is not known, but it was originally published in 1883 in Gospel Hymns No. 4. It is one of about two hundred hymns composed by Major Whittle as he was known. It is one of his most well-known hymns, one other popular hymn that he wrote is “There Shall Be Showers of Blessings” If you look at these two hymns for the authorship you may be a bit confused, you will see the name El Nathan on the left hand side indicating that El Nathan wrote the Lyrics, and you will see James McGranahan on the right hand side, indicating that he wrote the music. El Nathan is a pseudonym – a fictitious name used by a person or sometimes a group, which Daniel Webster Whittle used. He also used the pseudonyms Elias Nathan and W.W.D.

Daniel Webster Whittle was born in Chicopee Falls, Massachusetts on November 22, 1840. He was named after the great American politician Daniel Webster who was greatly admired by Whittle’s father. Little is known of his childhood. His father had heard Daniel Webster, the great statesman, make a stirring speech. Daniel Webster in this speech said “It is my living sentiment, and by the blessing of God it shall be my dying sentiment — independence now and independence forever!”

This would later inspire his parents to name him after Daniel Webster in hopes that he would become a great leader in the fight for freedom as well. His mother is said to have been a godly woman who instilled in him and his three brothers strong Christian principles.

Daniel Whittle worked as a cashier for Wells Fargo bank as a teenager and into his early twenties. He was not a wicked man at first, on the contrary, he was quiet religious. He surrendered his life to the Lord one night while acting as a night watchman at the Wells Fargo Bank. He went into the vault, got down on his knees and gave his surrendered his life for the Heavenly Father to use as he would. He even became the Sunday School Superintendent at the great Tabernacle in Chicago where he would meet his wife, Miss Abbie Hanson. He would join the army in 1861 and be commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant. In the summer of 1862, August as the Civil War began to intensify his unit was called to go South. August 22, 1862, the night before his departure, he and Abbie were married. It would be a year before they would be reunited. In his own words he tells of his departure, “My dear mother was a devout Christian, and parted from me with many a tear, and followed me with many a prayer. She had placed a New Testament in a pocket of the haversack that she’d arranged for me”

This little New Testament would pay a vital part in his rededication. Whittle rose to the rank of Major and while leading a charge, actually filling in, and he was wounded in his sword arm which led to the amputation of his arm and a stay in a prisoner of war camp. It was while he was in this POW camp that out of boredom he began to search for something to read. He found in his personal effects the little New Testament that his Mother had placed there. He read through the New Testament in a matter of days and started through it again. One night the nurse woke him up and told him that one of his men was dying and had been begging for someone to pray for him. The nurse told Major Whittle that he (the nurse) was a wicked man and could not pray. Major Whittle confessed that he too was wicked man with many sins in his own life and could not pray either. The nurse said that he thought Major Whittle was a Christian because he had observed him constantly reading the Scripture and the Major Whittle did not cuss as the other men. The nurse begged Major Whittle to at least accompany him to see the boy as he did not want to return alone. Moved with compassion, Major Whittle reluctantly agreed. Here, in Major Whittle’s own words, is what took place that night: “I dropped on my knees and held the boy’s hand in mine. In a few broken words I confessed my sins and asked Christ to forgive me. I believed right there that He did forgive me. I then prayed earnestly for the boy. He became quiet and pressed my hand as I prayed and pleaded God’s promises. When I arose from my knees, he was dead. A look of peace had come over his troubled face, and I cannot but believe that God who used him to bring me to the Savior, used me to lead him to trust Christ’s precious blood and find pardon. I hope to meet him in heaven.”

Ten years later at the encouragement of his close friend D.L. Moody he would enter into evangelism. Some of his first songs were set to music by Phillip Bliss. Whittle attended and participated in the memorial service for Phillip Bliss. Later he would work closely with the man who would set to music many of his later songs, and who set the music to this song, “I Know Whom I Have Believed”, James McGranahan. Major Whittle died March 4, 1901 after having written over 200 hymns.

The refrain of the hymn is a direct quotation from the King James Bible in II Timothy 1:12 “…for I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day.”

The rest of the article is interesting, but I wanted to stop here and reflect a bit about the message of Salvation, the Gospel of Jesus Christ. In closing, let us return to the words of the Apostle Paul in his second letter to Timothy:

2 Timothy 1 (ESV)
1 Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God according to the promise of the life that is in Christ Jesus,
2 To Timothy, my beloved child:
Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.

3 I thank God whom I serve, as did my ancestors, with a clear conscience, as I remember you constantly in my prayers night and day. 4 As I remember your tears, I long to see you, that I may be filled with joy. 5 I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, dwells in you as well. 6 For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands, 7 for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.

8 Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God, 9 who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began, 10 and which now has been manifested through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel, 11 for which I was appointed a preacher and apostle and teacher, 12 which is why I suffer as I do. But I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that he is able to guard until that Day what has been entrusted to me. 13 Follow the pattern of the sound words that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. 14 By the Holy Spirit who dwells within us, guard the good deposit entrusted to you.

May the Lord bless and keep you, and may the Holy Spirit who dwells within us grow us into the full knowledge of Him who Saved us,
In Him,
Jorge