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
Therefore let God-inspired Scripture decide between us; and on whichever side be found doctrines in harmony with the word of God, in favor of that side will be cast the vote of truth. --Basil of Caesarea
Once you learn to discern, there's no going back. You will begin to spot the lie everywhere it appears.

I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me, because He considered me faithful, putting me into service. 1 Timothy 1:12

Monday, November 6, 2017

The Wonderful Cross — Theft of Isaac Watts’ Song

This was addressed somewhat in a post back on 1/25/11, but since we sang this song in church yesterday, I’m going to address it again, with a wee bit more commentary.

Isaac Watts had a great hymn (and I like it best to “Hamburg” rather than “Waly, Waly”) titled, “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross.”  Here are the lyrics you will find in most hymn books:

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.

Several years ago I discovered there was another verse, which would be between the 3rd and 4th verses in the above, and here it is:

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.

Notice that the hymn has a theme with an overall progression to the climax of the song, even if we remove the verse which is normally left out.

Ah, but what if you are a modern musician whose imagination isn’t as good as that of Watts’ and you want to make some easy money?  Well, just steal his song and add a chorus to it!  And what does Chris Tomlin get? More money and popularity!

Let’s look at what Tomlin did with his “The Wonderful Cross”:

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

See from His head, His hands, His feet
Sorrow and love flow mingled down
Did ever such love and sorrow meet?
Or thorns compose, so rich a crown

Oh the wonderful Cross, oh the wonderful Cross
Bids me come and die and find that I may truly live
Oh the wonderful Cross, oh the wonderful Cross
All who gather here by grace, draw near and bless Your name

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

Oh the wonderful Cross, oh the wonderful Cross
Bids me come and die and find that I may truly live
Oh the wonderful Cross, oh the wonderful Cross
All who gather here by grace, draw near and bless Your name

Well, his performance version adds some more repetitive lines, which aren’t normally sung in church (and so not included here), but look at what he did by dropping out that important 2nd verse — he disturbed the flow of the theme in Watts’ song.  Oh, but his chorus is where the “praise band” gets to really show their stuff as the people sway too and fro!  Oh, and see the part I put in bold?  Well right there the music leader had to up his volume and raise the octave — probably because that is the performance way it was done (I’ve never listened to it — and I refuse to sing that perverting chorus!).

Really, just what was added to the theme of Watts’ song with that chorus?  Absolutely nothing, and, in fact I think it disturbs the original theme and adds a wee bit more self-focus!

I really, really wish church music leaders would get rid of all these “radio song” versions that really aren’t meant for congregational singing — I mean, who knew you were supposed to increase volume and pitch on that last verse?!?!?

One last thing: I have absolutely no respect for such lyric writers who steal from old authors just so they can add a chorus and enrich themselves unethically.  Besides, when music leaders use this stuff, aren’t they fostering the theft of intellectual property?


Anonymous said...

Glenn, I didn't know the contemporary version was different from the original. I think Watts' second verse reminds us that we aren't to be filled with pride or attached to our material possessions. It needs to remain. I don't like Watts' optional verse, though, because it provokes a bloody image like the Roman Catholic crucifix. The contemporary additional, repetitive chorus doesn't bother me because it does at least have meaning. I like hymns that have a few lines of repetition so that my mind has time to process what I'm singing. Too many words distract me so much that the message doesn't sink in. I don't know what Tomlin's motivation was in modernizing the song, whether to honor a timeless hymn or to make a quick buck by copy-pasting lyrics from a song in the public domain. This almost sounds like a defense of Tomlin's music, but in fact, I've recently left a church in part because of the (LOUD) contemporary worship music. I'm now in a church that sings from a hymnal, with piano and woodwind accompaniment, and it's quite refreshing.

Glenn E. Chatfield said...

I don't care for that "optional" verse (I don't think Watts considered it optional) because to me it doesn't really go with the theme of the remaining verses.

Since Tomlin does the same to "Amazing Grace," it appears he just likes to add "ya-ya" choruses as he plagiarizes others rather than use his own imagination -- for a quick buck.