Thursday, October 12, 2006

Would you be happy in heaven if Jesus was not there?

Good songs last. Some songs aren't good - and there are times to critique such songs..... But this is a good song - widely recognised as such. What makes it good is its simplicity of images that actually work. It doesn't try to explore too many themes or ideas - just a consistent rejoicing in the grace of God in the life of Christians - saved by grace, living by grace and forever enjoying grace.

Verses 1-2 celebrate the rescue that God does for us by his grace. Verses 3 & 4 the pitfalls of Christian life and God's promise and provision - living by grace. And verses 5 & 6 look to heaven's joy, beyond the veil with Jesus - enjoying grace forever.

For what its worth I think Newton's orginal verse is better than the one we're all used to singing (which he didn't write). Let's go back to his verse six! His focusses on having God in eternity, whilst the oft apended verse (when we've been there...) seems more interested in us singing. Heaven is the perfect place and Jesus is at the centre of it. John Piper's question (in God is the Gospel) is most apt: would you be happy in heaven if Jesus was not there? The answer had better be "no".

If there is any weakness to Newton's song its the absence of the cross. And that is a fairly big issue! However that can be remedied by combining with other songs that are more explicit about that - and Biblical preaching that is nothing less than expository exultation in the glorious doctrines of grace which centre upon the cross of Christ. Not every passage of the Bible is equally explicit about the cross, neither need every song be. But the big picture needs to have that at its centre.

Amazing grace! How sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found;
Was blind, but now I see.

’Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,
And grace my fears relieved;
How precious did that grace appear
The hour I first believed!

Through many dangers, toils and snares,
I have already come;
’Tis grace hath brought me safe thus far,
And grace will lead me home.
The Lord has promised good to me,
His Word my hope secures;
He will my Shield and Portion be,
As long as life endures.

Yea, when this flesh and heart shall fail,
And mortal life shall cease,
I shall possess, within the veil,
A life of joy and peace.

The earth shall soon dissolve like snow,
The sun forbear to shine;
But God, Who called me here below,
Will be forever mine.

The church is blessed with many great songs, many of them much forgotten. Cyberhymnal is a great place to discover some of those old lyrics. Dan Hames happily rediscovers many of these old hymns. Here and here. Bob Kauflin provides a strong lead in this and Keith Getty is writing many great new songs that both see and savour our great God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

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  1. I agree - cyberhymnal great - but be warned to turn down the volume on your MIDI organ - it can be just a little grating....

    The history of hymnology and changes made is fascinating - e.g. Newton's hymn as you point out, Dave. Can we expect a return to all 15 verses of Soldiers of Christ sometime soon?!

    Interesting interview with Stuart Townend on hymns in this months EN - see

  2. yeah the midi is rather unpleasant. Always MUTE before going there.

    Townend's blog is worth a look for a number of his articles:

  3. Didn't Newton in fact write a load more verses which we don't sing either?

    Good verse I agree. Only danger could be that today we'd mistakenly read it as a picture of the future that isn't creational or physical. But then that brings us back to 'songs are understood in a context, good bible exposition etc. etc.'

    Thanks for bringing this to our attention Bluefish!

  4. Its a good point - Piper's question even has that foible built into it... Would I be happy in the new creation if Christ were not there? may be better... but then we are allowed to talk about heaven too I suppose... :)

    I'd love to discover some more old-classics that are full of truth and capable of raising our affections it match their declarations.

  5. Then buy yourself a copy of Praise! Or even Christian Hymns, I suppose, though I'm quite into intelligible language myself.

    One of my faves is 'Your mercy, my God, is the theme of my song' (in an old book, look up Thy rather than Your!) - all the verses; not just the ones Caedmon's Call used recently! But I can't really pick one... For another Newton, How sweet the name of Jesus sounds is also great for raising our emotions to meet the statements of the song. But that's true of a great number of old classics I love :)

    For all the richness of new Townend & Getty hymns, and others, I can't quite get my head around how impoverished churches are whose only chance of singing an old hymn is if it's one of the few published in Spring Harvest...

  6. Oh and for the theme of this post, 'Come, let us join our cheerful songs' is a good all the praise of heaven & earth truly focusses on the lamb because he is worthy hymn!

  7. oddly, we just sang your last recommendation at our Together for the Gospel event tonight! Made me chuckle slightly.