The worship of the Christian Church is remarkably different from the worship of any other religion. Only in the Christian Church does music serve such a central role in expressing the people’s heartfelt praise and thanksgiving for who their God is and what he has done on their behalf.
Yet, how many times have we sung a song only to realize we are not entirely clear on the meaning of certain words, lines, and references? The shame of this is not our lack of knowledge but our inability to honor the Lord. Because singing mindlessly, that is with our mind disengaged from the truth being sung, or singing without an understanding of the meaning is the same as singing gibberish. It does not glorify God and it does not properly stir the affections of our own hearts toward him.
Thinking about this I have selected the first three songs that come to my mind in which we might pass over the lyrics without really understanding their meaning.
Fairest Lord Jesus
I love this song and here is why. The word “fairest” does not mean “just” as in “It was a fair decision.” It means “attractive,” “pleasing in appearance,” or “beautiful.” The first line is then exclaiming how beautiful Jesus is to those whose hearts have been born again. This same idea is present in the second and third lines. To paraphrase them, they say, “The meadows are beautiful! The woodlands are still more beautiful! But Jesus is even more beautiful! He is the most attractive thing to my heart!” “Sunshine is beautiful! Moonlight can be even more beautiful! And the heavens above are breathtaking! The thoughts of them make my mind turn inside out! But Jesus, O Jesus, shines brighter! He is more beautiful than all of these things! His death is more precious to me than all of creation because he takes my sins! He is the “Fairest Lord Jesus.”
Praise to the Lord, the Almighty
The second line of this song asks, “Hast thou not seen / How thy desires e’er have been / Granted in what He ordaineth?” But have you ever thought about it? What exactly does that line mean? Here is what I believe it means. “E’er” means “ever” or “always.” Therefore to reword it slightly the line is asking, “Haven’t you seen how your desires have always been given to you according to what God has planned?” Then if we consider the context of the verse, “Shelters thee under His wings, yea, so gently sustaineth,” we can see that this verse is talking about God’s gentle care for Christians. It is asking us to recall how God has sheltered us and sustained us. Because of this, “Hast thou not seen how thy desires e’er have been granted in what He ordaineth?” should be understood as celebrating God’s ability to sovereignly keep the hearts of his people desiring himself. This truth is at the very heart of the Bible! That through Christ, God has made and will keep a people for himself who desire himself and the things of God. What a wonderful truth! It means that I will remain a Christian until the end of my life, not because I am spiritually strong enough to keep myself faithful to God but because God mercifully sustains me and turns my heart to himself. It is what he has ordained. He has ordained that I desire him and for that I must give him all the credit and all the glory.
It is also interesting to notice that in the last line the word “aye” means “always,” and not the more common “yes.” As a whole the last line declares, “We will always gladly adore Him!” – And why will we always gladly adore him? Because he graciously keeps us. What an excellent thought.
Finally, the author of this hymn is addressing both himself and the assembled people of God. When he is speaking to himself he uses the words, “thou,” “thy,” and “thee” but when speaking to the entire congregation he uses the plural word, “ye.” He is instructing his soul to praise God. Like this song I find it helpful to urge myself, often silently but sometimes out loud when I am by myself, to worship or delight in God. Most often I do this when I read or hear a truth about God that I know should elicit the sweetest praise I have to offer but does not because my heart is a fallen human heart. In those times when your emotions do not match the truth of what is being said, it is helpful to say to yourself, “Come on heart! Love the Lord! This truth is glorious! Love the Lord! Feel the goodness of what is being said here! Come on emotions, catch up with the truth you are hearing!”
Rock of Ages
There is a line at the end of the first verse in Rock of Ages which says, “Be of sin the double cure / Save from wrath and make me pure.” I’m not sure when I didn’t notice this earlier but this line points out the two sides of sin. First, sin defiles us making us impure. Second, it places us under God’s wrath. – “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men.” (Romans 1:18) – In this line the author is drawing our attention to the death of Jesus which is our “double cure” for sin. This is because on the cross Jesus took our sin upon himself and suffered God’s wrath while we received Jesus’ righteousness in place of our impurity. Therefore Jesus is the “double cure” for sin. He saves us from wrath and makes us pure.
It is my hope that this post will cause God to receive greater honor from his people and our hearts to burn more brightly with his truth as we worship him through music.
If you found this post helpful, please let me know by rating it. If it seems helpful I may make this into a series and explore the lyrics of other songs. I have given some thought to going through the new Baptist hymnal song by song. It includes both traditional and contemporary worship songs. As always, I invite your comments.