Tag Archives: songs

Reflections on the modern hymn In Christ Alone

(This article was first published in the NZ Baptist Magazine website: http://www.baptistmag.org.nz/discipleship/in-christ-alone/).

When was the last time you remember singing about God’s wrath? If the modern hymn “In Christ Alone” is in your playlist, then it was probably more recently that you realised.

“In Christ Alone” was the first hymn that writers Stuart Townsend and Keith Getty produced together, and to this day, it remains their most well known. Since its release in 2001, “In Christ Alone” has been referred to as “surely the worship song of the century so far.” The song has been covered by scores of artists including Owl City, David Archuleta, and Natalie Grant, and has been translated into several different languages.


The hymn takes a linear approach in unfolding the gospel narrative (the life, death, and resurrection of Christ). The first verse introduces Christ as solid ground, a cornerstone that we can find safety and refuge in. In the same way that stonemasons in biblical times relied on the precise placement of a cornerstone to set the foundation for every other stone, Christ promises to be “a cornerstone chosen and precious” (1 Peter 2:6) that we can rest every triumph and tragedy upon.

The second verse invites us to gaze at the wonder of the incarnation—the fullness of God in human form—before zooming into the life and death of Jesus. Despised and rejected by the people he came to save, the Messiah willingly poured himself out during the drama of the cross, where gruesome death and sacrificial love satisfied God’s righteous anger that our sins deserve (Romans 3:21-26, Romans 5:9).

The third verse begins with gloom of the tomb, but gives way to unabashed celebration of the risen Christ. The melody climaxes alongside triumphant news: Jesus is alive, victorious over death! We can now have the confidence to claim him as our own! The resurrection proves that sin’s death grip no longer remains: “…for as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:22).

Powerful stories demand a response. In the final verse, we are invited to sing our reaction to the good news of Jesus. His unmatched power provides assurance that guilt need not plague us, death need not scare us, and hell can never take us: there simply is “no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). With King Jesus in command of our destiny, we stand with confidence, awaiting the day we finally meet him face-to-face.

Just as a diamond’s brilliance and sparkle depends on the number and placement of its many facets, God’s beauty shines most brightly in light of his many facets. In 2013, one of these aspects came under scrutiny when the American Presbyterian Committee on Congregational Song voted to exclude “In Christ Alone” from its hymnal, in light of the words in verse two, which speak about God’s wrath being satisfied. The decision attracted media interest and sparked a firestorm of controversy. There was much wrath about God’s wrath: some criticised the hymn writers for not allowing a change to the lyrics, while others accused the hymn committee of holding an unbiblical view of God.

Talk about God’s wrath brings unsettling images to the minds of 21st century Kiwis. We rightly reject caricatures of God having the uncontrollable anger of Jake “The Muss” from Once Were Warriors, or spewing forth hateful words at protest marches. Yet God’s wrath—revealed in the Bible—means God was willing to confront the cancer of sin hollowing out his beloved image-bearers, and Christ was willing to absorb the consequences of this cancer in our place. Without it, God’s love becomes saccharine and ill-equipped to respond to the horrors of human sin; whether anti-Semitic violence, or our own Samaritan blind spots; whether selfish exploitation of workers, or our own self-absorbed materialism.

That’s why when we sing about the wrath of God, we actually sing about ourselves: sinners in need of the rescue that Jesus willingly offers on the cross. To minimise any one of God’s attributes from our vocabulary is to rob ourselves of the full brilliance of God’s beauty, and to make Christ’s sacrifice less costly.

“In Christ Alone” depicts a God not made in our own image, but as he presents himself in the Biblical story: beyond us yet with us; holy yet gracious; angry yet loving; just yet merciful. And all of it is worth singing about.


Video: Only Your Blood is Enough (Ukulele Cover)

Missed church with HBC yesterday due to being on lockdown from opthalmic shingles. I feel fine but the doctor (and Cheryl) both suggest not infecting other unsuspecting people with the chicken pox virus

So instead of gathered worship, we sang a few hymns and I read some Valley of Vision, then worked out this song for our family hymnal.

Sojourn Music’s Neil Robins wrote the words and music, and it’s adapted from Isaac Watt’s Psalm 51 Part 2 From Sojourn’s “Over the Grave” album.

From the Sojourn Music blog:

Neil Robins, who also produced, sang and played a variety of instruments on Over The Grave, wrote “Only Your Blood Is Enough,” adapted from “Psalm 51, Part 2″ by Isaac Watts [you can read the original here]… It’s a fun song to sing, with a bridge that gives both guys and gals a cool part to sing — something we don’t often do with songs in Sojourn. Beyond that, it’s simply a great, meaty song about the cross of Christ — only His blood is enough to cover our sin. As Mike Cosper told Sojourn’s Dominic Gratto, in an interview for our quarterly news journal Travelogue:

“I don’t have a favorite song (on the album) but I have a favorite lyric. It’s from the song “Only Your Blood Is Enough.” The lyric is, “no bleeding bird, no bleeding beast, no hyssop branch, no priest, no running brook, no flood, no sea can wash away this stain from me.” It comes from Psalm 51 where the psalmist says that if God had desired a sacrifice, He would have brought it.

When we were recording that song, I told Neil that, because of the way the song is mixed, it would make a great pop song. Apart from the lyrics about a “bleeding bird” and “bleeding beast,” I could really see Christian radio stations picking it up — but they don’t want to play songs about bleeding beasts. It’s a little too graphic for them, but I think it communicates a really powerful message.

I also like how this song draws out the ideas that King David originally wrote (original and actual sin, atonement from God Himself, regeneration of the heart). Not many worship songs help point out the futility of our own sacrifices, and Psalm 51’s words (though a bit gross sounding to our ears, bleeding beasts etc.) drive home the point that it’s only God’s own blood that can pay for my sins. Played it down at F (from G, which is a bit high for me)


I am ashamed, conceived in sin, I’ve always been.
Born in a world where Adam’s fall corrupts us.
Rooted is the seed of death in life’s first breath.
The law demands a perfect heart, but I’m defiled in every part

For only Your blood is enough to cover my sin
Only Your blood is enough to cover me

All this guilt disturbs my peace; I find no release.
Who will save me from my crime? I’m helpless.
Behold, I fall before Your face in need of grace.
So speak to me in a gentle voice, for in Your mercies I rejoice.

For only Your blood is enough to cover my sin
Only Your blood is enough to cover me

Lord, create my heart anew (Father, come and make us wise)
Only You are pure and true (Lead us away from our demise)
Lord, You are the remedy (For only your blood can set us free)

For only Your blood can set us free; only Your blood can set us free

No bleeding bird, no bleeding beast
No hyssop branch, no priest,
No running brook, no flood, no sea
Can wash away this stain from me

For only Your blood is enough to cover my sin
For only Your blood is enough to cover me

Words by Isaac Watts and Neil Robins
Music by Neil Robins, 2009

If you’re interested, this is Sojourn’s much more polished recording:

John Wesley’s Rules for Congregational Singing

John Wesley by William Hamilton

The Wesleys (John and Charles) had a profound impact in proclaiming the message of Jesus in the 18th century. Charles Wesley penned over 6500 hymn texts in his lifetime, including hymns we sing at church like “Arise My Soul Arise“, “And Can It Be“, “Christ the Lord is Risen Today“, and “O For A Thousand Tongues to Sing“.

Apparently, to encourage his congregation in sung worship, John shared with them the following rules:

  1. Sing All – see that you join the congregation as frequently as you can.
  2. Sing Lustily (with vigour and vitality) – and with good courage. Beware of singing as if you were half-dead or half-asleep; but lift up your voice with strength.
  3. Sing Modestly – do not bawl so as to be heard above or distinct from the rest of the congregation that you may not destroy the harmony, but strive to unite your voices together so as to make one melodious sound.
  4. Sing In Time – whatever time is sung, be sure to keep with it. Do not run before and do not stay behind it; but attend closely to the leading voices and move therewith as exactly as you can and take care not to sing too slow. This drawling way naturally steals on all who are lazy; and it is high time to drive it out from among us and sing all our tunes just as quick as we did at first.
  5. Sing Spiritually – have an eye to God in every word you sing. Aim at pleasing Him more than yourself, or any other creature.

Helpful for any Christian!


“Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth;
break forth into joyous song and sing praises!” – Psalm 98:4 (ESV)

HBC service recap: 27 February 2011

(Here’s a recap of the service and the songs we chose this past weekend at Howick Baptist Church. You can find links to the set lists of this church and many other churches each week at theworshipcommunity.com. You can also read through previous HBC service recaps here.)


On Tuesday at 12:51 p.m., a magnitude 6.3 earthquake struck the city of Christchurch:

At least 147 people have been confirmed dead and more than 200 people have been reported as missing as of 5:56pm local time, 27 February, making the earthquake one of the deadliest natural disasters in New Zealand’s recorded history. Prime Minister John Key stated that 22 February “may well be New Zealand’s darkest day”. Nationals from more than 20 countries are among those missing. The New Zealand Government declared a national state of emergency for the first time in New Zealand’s history. (via Wikipedia 28/2/2011)

How does the church then meet together in corporate worship in light of acute devastation and sorrow our whole country has been experiencing? With the earthquake weighing heavily on everyone’s minds, many of us (myself included) all needed to draw comfort from “the Father of mercies and the God of all comfort (2 Cor 1:3-4). I think we all needed this reminder:

“Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe…” (Heb 12:28)


Order of Service (27/2/2011 AM)

(worship leader: William Chong)

Prayer for Christchurch. Peter and Joe led the church in prayer for the city, for the people, for the nation.
Scripture Reading – Psalm 46, Revelation 21:1-5. The first passage talks of God our fortress in the midst of the earth giving way. The other describes the new city of God that followers of Christ can look forward to, where “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more.” What hope!

1. The Solid Rock – Edward Mote and William Bradbury. “On Christ the Solid Rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand, all other ground is sinking sand!”
2. All I Have Is Christ – Jordan Kauflin. Someone commented that we should have done this song closer to the message, where a “gospel blockbuster” would usually be placed. However, given it was a busy service there was a possibility that a song would need to be cut, so we sang this earlier in the service to make sure it wouldn’t be this one!! Also it can be worthwhile shifting songs around a bit so the songs aren’t used in predictable, cookie-cutter ways (e.g., opening song with lights and big drums, always singing “Speak O Lord” before a message).
3. Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus (instrumental) – Helen Lemmel, Michael W Smith. We preceded this song with a moment of quiet prayer. It’s traditionally used as an invitation to respond to the gospel, but the words are equally apt to minister to weary saints.
4. There Is A Hope – Stuart Townend. There is not much more you need to say after singing:

“When sufferings cease and sorrows die and every longing satisfied then joy unspeakable will flood my soul for I am truly home.”

Sermon: John Lennox. We were privileged to have Professor Lennox (Oxford University) as the guest speaker. He spoke directly about the topic of the goodness of God in light of evil in this world. You can watch/listen to the message here.

5. It Is Well With My Soul – Horatio Spafford. After hearing how loud the church sang, I think the roof will definitely need fixing this year!


I’ll write more in a separate post about some big lessons I learnt from preparing for this week’s service (including specific questions about choosing songs in light of a tragic event). For now, it’s just great to have been a part of it all!

UPDATE: Click here to read some further lessons I’m still learning in light of leading worship after an earthquake.


– William

Christmas Weekend Service Redux: 25-26 December 2010

For many people, Christmas Day marked the start of the holidays. But I’m thankful to have been part of a faithful music team that sacrificed some family and present-opening time to serve our church family here at HBC.

Since Christmas fell on a Saturday this year, it meant that we ran two consective-day services, and kept the same music team for both days. Interestingly, we ended up having an overflowing auditorium on Christmas Day, followed by a congregation half the size the very next day! No doubt most people had already departed for their well-deserved holiday.

Here’s a recap of the service and the songs we chose this past weekend (You can find links to the set lists of this church and many other churches each week at theworshipcommunity.com).

Order of Service – 25 December

(worship leader: Craig Starrenburg)

1. Joy to the World – Isaac Watts, F.G. Handel. If it wasn’t so ingrained into the Christmas season, I’d love to use this one more often during the rest of the year. It’s a great way to start a service by inviting everyone to “Let earth receive her King; Let every heart prepare Him room, And Heaven and nature sing” – the arrival of God’s son. I liked what Craig said to precede this song – “we are the reason for the season” – for it is because of our sinful state that God came down as man to redeem and reconcile us back to Him.

2. Silent Night – Joseph Mohr, Franz Gruber, John Freeman Young. The lyrics in the third verse stand out to me most with its proclamation of the baby Jesus’s divinity – something that’s still hard to fully fathom the importance of:

Silent night, holy night!
Son of God love’s pure light.
Radiant beams from Thy holy face
With dawn of redeeming grace,
Jesus Lord, at Thy birth.
Jesus Lord, at Thy birth.

Reading: Luke 1:26-38. This passage describes the annunciation, as Mary is told by the angel Gabriel that she’ll be the mother of the Son of God.

Musical item: Mary Did You Know – Mark Lowry, Buddy Greene. We followed the reading with this song, which helps us to picture what might have gone through Mary’s mind as she contemplated what her child would grow to become:

Mary, did you know
that your Baby Boy would one day walk on water?
Mary, did you know
that your Baby Boy would save our sons and daughters?
Did you know
that your Baby Boy has come to make you new?
This Child that you delivered will soon deliver you.

We were privileged to have a good friend David Chua sing the solo for this piece (you can watch it here).

Reading: Luke 2:1-14. This passage described the birth of Jesus, and the subsequent angelic chorus that startled shepherds at night, singing: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased.”

3. Hark the Herald Angels – Charles Wesley, Felix Mendelssohn. A fitting song to follow the reading.

4. O Holy Night – Adolphe Adam, John Dwight. This is a favourite of many people at HBC, young and old. I enjoy singing this one, though my personal wish is that it the words would be clearer on how exactly “Chains shall He break for the slave is our brother; And in His name all oppression shall cease.” Maybe it has something to do with the fact that the English translation was penned by a Unitarian minister, John Dwight in 1855 – but I’m not too sure. In any case, before using it next time I’d like to explain exactly how oppression ceases in Christ’s name, and be clearer on the gospel of peace that the song refers to.

Sermon: Peter shared a short message, taking a slightly different account of the story of God coming to earth as a man. In the first chapter of John’s gospel, there’s no sign of Joseph and Mary, no angels, no shepherd, no wise men….

The Word Made Flesh – John 1:1-3,14 (Peter Somervell) from Howick Baptist Church on Vimeo.

5. How Deep the Father’s Love For Us – Stuart Townend. We closed with this song, which sums up the gospel really well and spells out the reason why he sent his only Son (to make a wretch His treasure).

Order of Service – 26 December

(worship leader: William Chong)

This was my opening call to worship (penned about 20 minutes before the start of practice):

As I left church yesterday, one point Peter made during the message stayed in my mind for the rest of the day. He made the point that’s particularly relevant in this holiday season of shopping, celebrating, and partying – that everyone, Christian or not, has some sort of a Saviour. Yet for many this festive season, it’s not Jesus Christ – instead, it’s a whole range of functional saviours, to save us from our respective hells.

This morning, your Lord and Saviour could be:
– some Christmas present you didn’t get, to save you from the hell of not having what you wanted
– popularity and prestige, to save you from the hell of being called a loser
– getting married, to save you from singleness hell
– even your children, who you worship above all else, to save you from your childless hell.

But really, all these things if accepted correctly as part of God’s abundant gifts towards us should lead us to praise and worship our ultimate saviour, Jesus – who, “though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. [8] And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:6-11 ESV)

We’ll start our singing with a song that’s an invitation to continue our worship of our God, by asking Him to tune our wayward heart to sing of His grace.

1. Come Thou Fount – Robert Robinson.

2. See What a Morning – Keith Getty, Stuart Townend.

3. How Deep the Father’s Love For Us – Stuart Townend.

4. O Great God – Bob Kauflin.

Sermon: Peter gave the church an end-of-year message, challenging us to be steadfast, watchful, and thankful in our prayer life.

Persevering in Prayer – Col 4:2 (Peter Somervell) from Howick Baptist Church on Vimeo.

5. Let Your Kingdom Come – Bob Kauflin.


It was a very busy weekend – in the morning prayer on Sunday morning, everyone looked shattered from a full-on Christmas Day with family and friends. But by God’s grace we made it through, and the gospel was proclaimed this weekend. So we happily cry out soli deo gloria – to God be the glory!


– William Chong