Category Archives: Singing

Seeing the whole gospel story in Christ alone

Some of you know that at our church we’ve started a year-long project of memorising 10 hymns of the faith. I spent a few weeks getting the music and the hymn books together in preparation. We started our first one (In Christ Alone) at the beginning of March, and on Sunday (while I was worship leading), we sang the entire hymn without the projected words. At the back of my mind I wondered what proportion of the church had been actively trying to memorise each hymn, or if it would be of much benefit.

So I was really encouraged to get this feedback from someone at church (the person has asked to remain anonymous):

“I have to admit – I used to not like In Christ Alone that much. It had become monotonous for me. Well, I would like to let you know that memorising the whole song has brought about a remarkable change. For the first time, I no longer heard the tune, but visually saw the whole song. I can’t quite articulate what I mean, but it was as if I saw the song only in its various parts with the first and last verse being the most obvious. But by memorising the song, I finally saw the whole song and would visualise the song in my mind when singing it.

It made a big difference to the way I sang the song too, whereby I no longer heard the tune, but saw the whole gospel story.

Look forward to memorising the next song.”

That comment made my day – praise be to God!

Declare your faith for those who are faithless

Grief

Earlier today I was listening to a sermon on Psalm 150 this afternoon. About halfway through, Daniel Montgomery made a good point regarding what we’re to do in our gathered worship:

And here’s the deal – what you notice in the “what” of praise [referring to who Psalm 150 is directed to], is that it’s not just about you. When we gather we respond to the Lord in singing, but we also according to Colossians 3:16, are called to “sing to one another.” See, there’s a corporate element that so many of us are missing.

So when we’re called to declare our faith, we’re called to declare our faith for those who are faithless when we gather. So when we have that opportunity to step into the reading of Scriptures and declare our faith — some of you are like, “Well I believe that” — well why don’t you state it for people that don’t?

When we gather and we lament, and some of you are like, “I’m not feeling down, I’m pretty good right now, I don’t need to pray that prayer”. But some are really hurting. Some are in hard relationships, or physically in despair. And they need you to lament with them. That’s simply obeying the command to rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep (Romans 12:15).

Firstly it reminded me to consider whether the choices of songs, prayers and readings at our church cover the spectrum of emotion that God’s people expressed in the Scriptures (especially the Psalter): rejoicing, celebration, but also lament, grief, repentance, even anger at God’s enemies.

And then the other thing was that I’ve recently had conversations with people who found it hard to sing songs of lament or about trials, when they were feeling fine. The speaker made a good point – we could instead adopt the biblical mindset of singing laments for those that need it, read statements of faith and creeds for those that don’t believe it. To declare our faith for those who are faithless.

A Lament to the Lord – Two Poems

Some might have heard of this poem that does the rounds, particularly among our senior brothers and sisters in Christ. It’s a call for singing the old hymns and laments the use of new songs, modernised words and the ongoing changes in our worship gatherings.

A LAMENT TO THE LORD
– Mavis Clark, “This England”, Spring 1990, Vol.23 No.1

They’ve brought you up to date Lord, down at Saint Cecilia’s.
They’ve pensioned off the organ, and they’re praising with guitars.
They’ve done it for the young ones; we want to draw them in,
But I do wish they could worship without making such a din.
For I’m growing rather deaf Lord, and when there’s all that noise,
It gets so very hard Lord, to hear your loving voice.

They’ve written brand new hymns Lord, with tunes that I don’t know,
So I hardly ever sing now, though I did love singing so.
They’re very go-ahead Lord, they’re doing ‘series three’,
But the words are not so beautiful as the others used to be

They’ve modernised the Bible and the Lord’s Prayer and the Creed
When the old ones were so perfect that they filled my every need.
My mind’s not quite so agile, as it was some years ago
And I miss the age-old beauty of the words I used to know.

It’s very clear to me Lord, I’ve overstayed my time;
I don’t take to change so kindly as I did when in my prime.
But it can’t be very long now before I’m called above,
And I know I’ll find you there Lord, and glory in your love.

So ’til then I’ll stick it out here, though it’s not the same for me,
But while others call you ‘You’, Lord, do you mind if I say ‘Thee’?

After some sleuthing on the Internet through historical archives (and a bit of cheeky wordsmithing), I think I’ve “discovered” the second poem in this series.

This poem is a call for singing the old metric psalms and laments the use of new hymns, modernised words and the ongoing changes in our worship gatherings (there’s nothing new under the sun…)

A LAMENT TO THE LORD ABOUT THE HYMNS OF DR WATTS
– circa 18th century, in the spirit of William Romaine1

They’ve brought you up to date, Lord, in the Chapel at Mark Lane2,
They’ve done it for the young ones; we want to draw them in
They’ve put aside the Psalms and now they worship God with hymns,
But I do wish they could sing without resorting to “Watts’ whims”.

They say he’s modernised the psalms to point to Jesus Christ3
But why change what was perfect? The Psalter has sufficed!
These hymns aren’t as divinely blessed as metric psalms, you see
If psalms were good enough for Christ, they’re good enough for me!4

These hymns are new and needless, they’re Quakerish and Popish,5
I’m scared that next they’ll start to bring in instrumental music
These hymns are just a money-making scheme for Watts to gain from,
Why use them? All our fathers got to heaven fine without them!

I miss the age-old beauty of the words I used to know
My mind’s not quite so agile as it was some years ago
And with these brand new hymns, Lord, they use tunes I do not know
So I hardly ever sing now, though I did love singing so

It’s very clear to me, Lord – I’ve overstayed my time
I don’t take to change so kindly I did when in my prime
But it won’t be very long before I’m called above
And once I’m there I’ll sing the Psalms and glory in your love

Till then I’ll stick it out here, though it’s not the same for me
Though others think these hymns are great, I firmly disagree!

Note: I wrote this light-hearted parody to try and illustrate that what’s old was once new, and that by God’s grace Christians young and old can delight in the best old hymns of the faith, while also embracing the best songs that the coming generations have to offer, all so that Jesus might be more beautiful and believable to us.

 


  1. Who once said: “Christian congregations have shut out divinely inspired psalms and taken in Watts’s flights of fancy…” and “Why should Dr Watts, or any other hymn maker, not only take precedence over the Holy Ghost, but also thrust him utterly out of the church?” 
  2. Mark Lane Independent Chapel, Stoke Newington, where Isaac Watts began as assistant pastor 
  3. “But since I believe that any Divine Sentence or Christian Verse agreeable to Scripture may be sung, though it be composed by Men uninspired, I have not been so curious and exact in striving every where to express the ancient Sense and Meaning of David, but have rather exprest myself as I may suppose David would have done, had he lived in the Days of Christianity. And by this means perhaps I have sometimes hit upon the true Intent of the Spirit of God in those Verses, farther and clearer than David himself could ever discover, as St. Peter encourages me to hope. (1 Peter 1:11-12)” – Isaac Watts, Preface to The Psalms of David Imitated in the Language of the New Testament, And Applied To The Christian State and Worship  
  4. Nahum Tate recounts the story of a servant-maid who disapproved of singing a revised version of the Psalms: “If you must needs know the plain truth of the matter, as long as you sung Jesus Christ’s Psalms, I sung along with ye; but now you sing Psalms of your own invention, you may sing by yourselves.” 
  5. Said Thomas Symmes in a newspaper editorial in 1723, about Isaac Watt’s hymns:
    1. It is a new way, an unknown tongue.
    2. It is not so melodious as the usual way.
    3. There are so many new tunes, we shall never have done learning them.
    4. The practice creates disturbances and causes people to behave indecently and disorderly. 5. It is Quakerish and Popish and introductive of instrumental music.
    6. The names given to the notes are bawdy, even blasphemous.
    7. It is a needless way, since our fathers got to heaven without it.
    8. It is a contrivance to get money.
    9. People spend too much time learning it, they tarry out nights’ disorderly.
    10. They are a company of young upstarts that fall in with this way, and some of them are lewd and loose persons. 

A song to ring in the new year

Here’s a song to ring in the new year, sung to the tune for Auld Lang Syne. Words by Dustin Kensrue, former frontman of Thrice and now worship leader at Mars Hill Church.

May these words be a help in centering our priorities Heavenward for 2014. Happy New Year everyone!

Should nothing of our efforts stand
No legacy survive
Unless the Lord does raise the house
In vain its builders strive

To you who boast tomorrow’s gain
Tell me what is your life
A mist that vanishes at dawn
All glory be to Christ!

All glory be to Christ our king!
All glory be to Christ!
His rule and reign we’ll ever sing,
All glory be to Christ!

His will be done
His kingdom come
On earth as is above
Who is Himself our daily bread
Praise Him the Lord of love

Let living water satisfy
The thirsty without price
We’ll take a cup of kindness yet
All glory be to Christ!

All glory be to Christ our king!
All glory be to Christ!
His rule and reign we’ll ever sing,
All glory be to Christ!

When on the day the great I Am
The faithful and the true
The Lamb who was for sinners slain
Is making all things new.

Behold our God shall live with us
And be our steadfast light
And we shall ere his people be
All glory be to Christ!

All glory be to Christ our king!
All glory be to Christ!
His rule and reign we’ll ever sing,
All glory be to Christ!

from the album Joy Has Dawned
Words by Dustin Kensrue, arrangment by Kings Kaleidoscope / © Dead Bird Theology (ASCAP), It’s All About Jesus Music (ASCAP)

Album review: From the River to the Ends of the Earth by Matt Searles

In the morning our family has been reading the Psalms in reverse order (starting from Psalm 150 and going backwards). What an encouragement and refreshment to start the day being reminded to praise the LORD, who “takes pleasure in his people” (Ps 149:4), who is our “refuge/portion in the land of the living” (Ps 142:5), who formed my inward parts (Ps 139:13), in whom “there is steadfast love and plentiful redemption” (Ps 130:7), who “deals well with his servant according to his Word” (Ps 119:65)….

So I’m doubly thankful for UK songwriter Matt Searles’s latest album, “From the River to the Ends of the Earth” – a collection of 10 psalm arrangements (including some of the psalms we’ve read together as a family!)

Here are some of my thoughts (no particular order):

  • I love that each track is a whole psalm put to music and versified in today’s language. When was the last time you sang a psalm in its entirety in church?
  • All the tracks on this album use either the standard acoustic-guitar led band style that churches using contemporary music will be able to handle easily, or even simpler piano and vocals. I like this as I’m able picture more easily how it might work in our church context and available instruments.
  • Probably the psalm that’s easiest to introduce congregationally is “O King” (Psalm 45), which uses Holst’s Thaxted melody (the one they play at the Rugby World Cup).

    The words do a great job of painting the picture of the King on his eternal throne with the court in attendance, and draws the redemptive-historical connection to Jesus being King and the church being his bride. For example:

“This king will reign forever, his sons upon the earth
And ev’ry generation will tell of his great worth
All nations will soon praise him and fall down at his feet
His kingdom established, where truth and mercy meet
O Jesus we adore you, our lover and our king
Your church, your bride is waiting and so to you we sing”

Great!

  • I love how “Be At Rest” (Psalm 116) brings out the psalmist’s love for the Lord, and transforms Psalm 116:8 into a vibrant chorus to be sung in every season of life:

“You delivered my soul from death
My eyes from tears
My feet from stumbling, LORD
That I may walk before you, LORD my God
As long as I shall live”

    • I’m glad to hear writers putting Psalm 42 to music and words that better reflect the psalmist’s desperation (e.g. Sing Team, Sons of Korah) – certainly more accurately than the unfortunate “As The Deer”. I like Matt’s attempt (Like Deer in Thirsty Lands; using piano and vocals alongside a stanza/refrain-structured paraphrase of Psalms 42 and 43) which has a wistful, longing sound to it.
    • King and Priest Forever (Psalm 110) is an upbeat Christ-centred psalm with a catchy hook (“Jesus, yours alone is the Kingdom, all the power belongs to you!”).

  • Matt (formerly assistant minister at Dundonald Church, Wimbledon, currently studying at Oak Hill Theological College) draws material and ideas from the Free Church of Scotland Psalmody Committee, who strive to encouraged psalm singing among the next generation. They seem to have lots of helpful resources to help those who aren’t used to psalm-singing.
  • “Let Your Kingdom Come” (Psalm 72) is a much more realistic depiction of our anticipation for Jesus’s Kingdom to fully arrive. The almost mournful way you first hear the chorus I think paints that “now-but-not-yet” tension really well. I like verse 2 in particular (paraphrasing 72:8-11):

From the river to earth’s farthest bounds
Your kingdom will reach every shore
Glory and majesty, power and honour are yours
Soon all rulers will fall at your feet
And nations and lands bring you tribute
Every oppressor will tremble before your great wrath
Jesus Messiah, you are the hope of the needy
All the world, one day will gather around your throne

Let your kingdom come
Let your kingdom come
Let your kingdom come

All in all, Matt’s album is a great resource if you’re in a church looking to incorporate more psalm singing in your gathered worship. These psalms are easy to sing to (I think more so than the Sons of Korah albums, which tend to be more a listening experience) and Matt does a great job of pointing the psalms to Jesus, the Lord who is King. May there be more songwriters that write congregational music for entire psalms!

You can listen to and get the album here: http://mattsearles.bandcamp.com/

Disclosure: I was given a review copy of the album, but all opinions are my own.