We who preach the gospel must not think of ourselves as public relations agents sent to establish good will between Christ and the world. We must not imagine ourselves commissioned to make Christ acceptable to big business, the press, the world of sports or modern education. We are not diplomats but prophets, and our message is not a compromise but an ultimatum. A.W. Tozer

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

When I Survey the Wondrous Cross

One of my favorite hymns is Isaac Watts’ When I Survey the Wondrous Cross when sung to Lowell Mason’s tune “Hamburg.”  But as with other great old hymns, such as Amazing Grace twisted into Grace Like Rain, this wonderful hymn is being used for a song called The Wonderful Cross.
One thing both these new uses of old hymns do is remove very important verses with their solid doctrinal statements and replace them with trite choruses to be sung over and over.  I don’t understand why contemporary “artists” can’t just come up with their own songs instead of mangling old ones, except for perhaps it’s an easy way to make another buck without having any talent for hymn-writing.
I have to admit that, unlike Grace Like Rain which removes the very memorable tune of Amazing Grace and replaces it with a horrible, tuneless dirge, The Wonderful Cross at least keeps “Hamburg” as the tune for the verses.
Unfortunately, these gross misuses of old hymns don’t stay on the CDs or radio - the church has decided to adopt them as part of their worship services.  It seems to be all about pleasing the rock and roll crowd with their emotional need for 7/24 choruses (7 words sung 24 times).
Well, here is Isaac Watts’ When I Survey the Wondrous Cross as normally printed in hymnals, with that second verse which is deleted from the contemporary model.  Let’s go back to this in our worship services, and leave The Wonderful Cross version for the kids and their iPods.
When I survey the wondrous cross 
on which the Prince of Glory died; 
my richest gain I count but loss, 
and pour contempt on all my pride. 
Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast, 
save in the death of Christ, my God; 
all the vain things that charm me most, 
I sacrifice them to his blood. 
See, from his head, his hands, his feet, 
sorrow and love flow mingled down. 
Did e'er such love and sorrow meet, 
or thorns compose so rich a crown. 
Were the whole realm of nature mine, 
that were an offering far too small; 
love so amazing, so divine, 
demands my soul, my life, my all. 
[For the purists, there is a 4th stanza before the last one which I have never seen in a hymnal, although it wouldn’t hurt to add it:
His dying crimson, like a robe,
Spreads o'er His body on the tree;
Then I am dead to all the globe,
And all the globe is dead to me]

9 comments:

4simpsons said...

Yes, that is a great song.

Steve Bricker said...

7/24 choruses (7 words sung 24 times) - That is new to me. I like it.

And thanks for pointing out the missing verse. I enjoy finding these little treasures.

Diane1611 said...

I have 3 hymnals on my bookshelf and none of them have that 4th verse, Glenn. Interesting. Perhaps the imagery was too graphic, so the verse was deleted.

Glenn E. Chatfield said...

Actually, I was reading about song and being too graphic was an early complaint of the Methodists, so Watts marked it as an "optional" verse. I thought that was pretty interesting.

Drew said...

I heard recently that contemporary Christian songs are so horrible mainly due to the love of money. That is, the artists realize that doctrinal songs will inevitably offend some segments of "Christianity." To prevent this perceived problem, the artists create very bland songs that will be acceptable to Baptists, Presbyterians, Catholics, Seventh-Day Adventists, Mormons, etc. That way, they can sell more records.

The next time you sing a song in church, try judging it based on whether a Catholic could sing the same song.

072591 said...

I compared the lyrics to "Grace Like Rain" to "Amazing Grace", and found them to be comparable, with nothing doctrinally cut out from it.

And to be honest, I never liked the tune to Amazing Grace; I find it memorable, but not in a good way; it is bland, slow, and depressing. Really, how could a tune with uplifting lyrics be composed set to a tune best suited for funerals?

But it's a matter of personal taste; since Amazing Grace is not inspired (Revelation 22:18), changing it is not a blasphemous work. In this case, it isn't even an inaccurate work, as the main themes of the original still come through in the newer version.

Glenn E. Chatfield said...

072591,

There are six stanzas in “Amazing Grace,” five by Newton. In “Grace Like Rain,” there are three stanzas, two by Newton. There is some meat to the missing lyrics.

You said you never liked the tune, it being “bland, slow, and depressing” and comparable to a funeral tune. That is soooooooo funny. The tune for the verses in “Grace Like Rain” has virtually no melody and is indeed like a funeral dirge!

As for the traditional tune for Amazing Grace, it is really a very uplifting tune. Perhaps you are just used to it being sung for funerals and therefore associate it with them. If you ever heard it played by 500 bagpipers in a massed band, you would never call it “bland, slow, and depressing.” I don’t sing it or play it slowly, and have in fact often marched to it, which is something you couldn’t do with “GLR.” I have also played the tune on the pipes at many, many weddings!

I never said “AG” was inspired, so I don’t understand your reference to Revelation 22:18. And if someone DID claim it was inspired, Rev. 22:18 still has nothing to do with it (see my article on this passage at
http://watchmansbagpipes.blogspot.com/2010/06/revelation-2218-19.html

Neither did I hint that changing it was blasphemous, so I don’t understand why you brought that idea in.

As for keeping the “main themes,” when you leave out half the verses, I don’t see how you can keep “main themes.” I stand by my charge that “GLR” has a trite chorus which shows no artistic talent, and that the only purpose for it to have been done would be to appeal to those who like trite choruses.

Glenn E. Chatfield said...

And one more thing,

How in the world does "grace" "fall" like rain? Grace is like mercy and love - something intangible. It doesn't "fall" on us from God. God grants us his grace; he doesn't pour it like rain.

Which is exactly the problem with trite choruses.

Drew said...

The complaint about slow hymn tunes derives from the modern trend to play all hymns EXTREMELY sloooowly, perhaps to contrast them from the modern rock songs. People nowadays just have no concept of upbeat congregational singing.