When Blooming Youth Is Snatched Away

blooming youth

Few hymns bring me more comfort or more pause in our unexpected loss of our 35 year old son than this classic by Anne Steele, published in The Christian Hymn Book for the Sanctuary and Home (Dayton, Ohio: Christian Publishing Association, 1875).

When blooming youth is snatched away
By death’s resistless hand,
Our hearts the mournful tribute pay
Which pity must demand.

While pity prompts the rising sigh,
O may this truth, impressed
With awful power–I too–must die–
Sing deep in every breast.

Let this vain world engage no more;
Behold the gaping tomb!
It bids us seize the present hour,
To-morrow death may come.

 The voice of this alarming scene,
May every heart obey;
Nor be the heavenly warming vain,
Which calls to watch and pray.

O let us fly, to Jesus fly,
Whose powerful arm can save;
Then shall our hopes ascend on high,
And triumph o’er the grave.

Great God, thy sovereign grace impart,
With cleansing, healing power;
This only can prepare the heart
For death’s surprising hour.

What Can Miserable Christians Sing?

Got your attention with that one, didn’t I?

I first heard this provocative question while listening to Mark Dever’s latest audio offering entitled, False Conversions: The Suicide of the Church on the 9Marks website . Good stuff as always from him. You can listen to the audio here.

Honestly, I don’t remember the context in which he brought up the question, the title of an article by Carl Trueman. But it caught my attention because some voices have chirped in my ear lately (more than usual and all well meant) about some aspects of our worship music at OGC. Now we certainly want to be open to feedback about our choices in corporate worship so as do the best we can in coming before the Lord in singing and praise, but I find this an excellent occasion to toot my colleague’s horn in one very important respect.

I appreciate A LOT of things about our chief musician. Among them is the range of emotional identification in the songs he selects that includes lament. I suspect he takes his cue from a number of things in that regard (if you know the man, you know exactly what I mean), but especially the fact that the psalms in Scripture, the Bible’s own hymnbook, consist much of lament, longing, grief, even downright agony. Life is like that. For many, loss and the pain that accompanies it, make up a good bit of their life experience at any given time. What do suffering saints sing then when they come to church? Not that there isn’t room for them to hope in the triumph of the resurrection and the truth of the gospel. But shouldn’t they/we be able to embrace and engage the minor key songs of worship life along with the major, especially when trials assault and afflict?

Trueman argues we should, we must, make room for such as these, especially given psalmody and the nature of its content as well as the consequences of limiting our selections to only the upbeat and happy kind of tunes. He writes:

A diet of unremittingly jolly choruses and hymns inevitably creates an unrealistic horizon of expectation which sees the normative Christian life as one long triumphalist street party — a theologically incorrect and a pastorally disastrous scenario in a world of broken individuals. Has an unconscious belief that Christianity is — or at least should be — all about health, wealth, and happiness silently corrupted the content of our worship? Few Christians in areas where the church has been strongest over recent decades — China, Africa, Eastern Europe – would regard uninterrupted emotional highs as normal Christian experience.

You can read the rest of his article here.

Believers mired in misery must grow to be sorrowful yet always rejoicing (2 Cor. 6:10) to be sure. Jesus promises us His brand of joy independent of circumstances as we abide in Him (John 15:11).

But the Man of Sorrows who wept in the face of great grief (John 11:35) must have sung from the Psalter and entered into lament when the seasons of life warranted it.

And so must we.

An Easter Gift During Holy Week

I came across this offer on Justin Taylor’s blog today.

I downloaded the files and listened to their rendition of O Sacred Head. Lovely. Hope you like it.

CXVI: “We’re giving away an entire album again in celebration of Easter! . . . We’ve even including a song off our upcoming album, Re:Hymns. Derek Webb remixed and reimagined 7 of our hymns, and it’s coming out June 12th, 2012. Enjoy!”

See below, or go here:

Why Sing Nothing But Old Hymns the Traditional Way?

Good question, considering we will do just that tomorrow in our service. And it’s not just because our chief musician is out of town. Though normally we use a style of music more reflective of the age we live in for purposes of our mission, periodically we employ the genre of traditional church hymnody, and that exclusively, in a service for a variety of reasons.

First, hymns are biblical. Jesus set the example for us with his disciples in Matt. 26:30 after the institution of the Supper. Paul prescribed the singing of psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs in Eph. 5:19 as part of the means by which believers manifest the filling of the Spirit.

Second, hymns are doctrinal. We teach what we believe when we sing to each other. The ESV uses the phrase addressing one another with respect to using the three genres in Eph. 5:19. And yes, I do distinguish between the three as opposed to seeing them essentially synonymous. Many hymns, not all mind you, but many shine when it comes to the theological depth contained within the various verses. Consider, for example, just the first two stanzas alone of Immortal, Invisible, God Only Wise, our first offering tomorrow:

Immortal, invisible, God only wise,
In light inaccessible hid from our eyes,
Most blessed, most glorious, the Ancient of Days,
Almighty, victorious, Thy great name we praise.

Unresting, unhasting, and silent as light,
Nor wanting, nor wasting, Thou rulest in might;
Thy justice like mountains high soaring above
Thy clouds which are fountains of goodness and love.

When we sing such truth-saturated lyrics to one another we remind, even instruct one another, as to the magnificent character of the great God we worship. That is not to say that modern hymns written by the likes of Getty, Townend, Kauflin and others don’t do the same thing. Singing In Christ Alone should convince one of that quite quickly. But compared to much of the content coming out of the modern worship song movement over the last several decades, most great hymns of the church take us to a level of biblical understanding and God-centered praise that knows not many rivals.

Third, hymns are missional. They often rehearse redemption’s story. They preach the gospel. Consider these verses of O for a Thousand Tongues to Sing, which we will also sing tomorrow (though I regret not the last two stanzas since they do not appear in our hymnal):

He breaks the power of canceled sin;
He sets the prisoner free.
His blood can make the foulest clean;
His blood avails for me.

Look to the Lord, who did atone
For sin, O fallen race.
Look and be saved through faith alone,
Be justified by grace.

See all our sins on Jesus laid;
The Lamb has made us whole.
His soul was once an offering made
For every human soul.

Fourth, hymns are singable. I know, that’s not a word. But it works for my purposes. Hymns, especially the church’s favorites, have passed the test of time of lyrical beauty and artistry that make them especially suited to congregational singing. Their music lends itself well to the average voice and their lyrics turn phrases and lines and stanzas in such a way that the worshipper knows he or she has just the right song for such holy purposes.

Fifth, hymns are historical. They tie us to centuries past in Christian history, even as do our creeds and confessions. They remind us of the great company of saints who have gone before us. They protect us from what C. S. Lewis, in Surprised by Joy, called “chronological snobbery” – the uncritical acceptance of the intellectual [might we insert artistic] climate common to our own age and the assumption that whatever has gone out of date is on that account discredited.

At OGC we don’t disdain the past; we insist on prizing it. How else shall we guard ourselves from going off a modernist deep end either in spirit or in truth? Jesus told us that true worship consists by necessity of both (John 4:24).

So as we gather tomorrow and sing in a manner uncharacteristic for us as a rule, may we do so with all these reasons in mind and failing that, choose to prefer those among us who treasure these songs for all those reasons and more, even as they do those who more often than not get the modernized version of hymnody on any given Sunday.