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Good Hymn. Great Savior!

I like old hymns. Unlike those who grow up in many contemporary-minded churches which eschew hymnody, my childhood was spent singing songs like Be Thou My Vision, It Is Well With My Soul and Joyful, Joyful to mention a few. I’m not a “hymn guy” for merely sentimental reasons, but because of their content’s depth and richness which I believe is sorrowfully lacking in much modern-day worship music. Don’t get me wrong. There are bad hymns just like there are bad contemporary choruses.  However, I have found that to be truer of choruses than hymns (maybe that’s because the bad hymns didn’t make it past their own era). Nevertheless, I think one of the gifts of the Church Historical is the music she has produced over the centuries. For English speakers that is especially true over the last several centuries. I am continually amazed when I run across hymns I’ve never heard before but whose doctrinal depth, lyrical beauty and spiritual tone leave me stilled in worship.

I want to share one of those songs with you. One of the ways I enjoy hymns is when their lyrics are paired with a contemporary arrangement of their tune. Let’s be honest, one of the reasons many don’t like hymns is because they feel too detached from the  original tune’s other-worldliness. While some feel this to be a positive, many think otherwise. Regardless of your view, I think it’s a good thing to re-fit an old  hymn with a new arrangement so as to give the song a broader appeal. That is the case with the song I’m posting.

Keri Lilley, one of my church’s wonderful worship leaders, will periodically find a hymn that most would consider obscure, rearrange it musically, play a rough “scratch” track on the piano, record it on her iPhone and submit it to the pastors to listen to. Obviously, it’s a very unpolished product because the point isn’t to distribute the song for general use but a quick “insider” listening. Often, if there’s a missed chord or verse, Keri will correct it during the song and continue to play. No biggie. Our other worship pastors do the same, and I’m amazed witnessing their talents every single time.

Recently Keri sent a song that’s arrested me of late. It’s called O Savior, Who For Man Hast Trod. It was written by Charles Coffin in 1736 and translated to English by John Chandler a hundred years later. The tune was by John Bishop (Ills­ley, circa 1710) but rearranged in 2009 by Keri. This morning, while getting ready for the day, I pulled up the lyrics for the first time to read as I listened to Keri sing a 270+ year-old song with just the accompaniment of a piano recorded merely on an iPhone “memo app”. By the end of the song  I had tears streaming down my face, incredibly moved by the love of my Savior and the greatness of his work in the gospel. The roughness but simplicity of the recording only adds to the moment for me – the song feels honest, earnest and intimate. Indeed, even Keri’s mistakes in this scratch track serve to highlight the truth that we are people in need of someone to be perfect for us. That’s why I really like this version of the hymn, and why I really love Christ!

Okay, enough gushing. Enjoy. I suggest listening to this file while reading through the lyrics on this page. Take time working through each line, taking into your heart what exactly is being stated. Let these truths fan the flame of worship in you.

O Savior, who for man hast trod
The winepress of the wrath of God,
Ascend, and claim again on high
Thy glory left for us to die.

A radiant cloud is now Thy seat,
And earth lies stretched beneath Thy feet;
Ten thousand thousands round Thee sing,
And share the triumph of their King.

The angel host enraptured waits:
“Lift up your heads, eternal gates!”
O God-and-Man! the Father’s throne
Is now forevermore Thine own.

Our great High Priest and Shepherd Thou
Within the veil art entered now,
To offer here Thy precious blood
Once poured on earth a cleansing flood.

And thence the Church, Thy chosen Bride,
With countless gifts of grace supplied,
Through all her members draws from Thee
Her hidden life of sanctity.

O Christ, our Lord, of Thy dear care,
Thy lowly members heavenward bear;
Be ours with Thee to suffer pain,
With Thee forevermore to reign.

All praise from every heart and tongue
To Thee, ascended Lord, be sung;
All praise to God the Father be
And Holy Ghost eternally.

Picture of Yancey Arrington
Dr. Yancey C. Arrington is an eighth generation Texan, Acts 29 Network and Houston Church Planting Network fan, and Teaching Pastor at Clear Creek Community Church in the Bay Area of Houston. He is also author of Preaching That Moves People and TAP: Defeating the Sins That Defeat You, and periodically writes for Acts 29 and The Gospel Coalition.

1 thought on “Good Hymn. Great Savior!”

  1. I didn’t grow up in church, but as I have grown in my walk with Christ I have learned a lot about myself and my outlook on hymns. I do now appreciate solid hymns more than many contemporary songs. I love that we trust in the same Truth and share in the same sufferings as those writers did (Ecclesiastes 1:9). Come Ye Sinners is a personal favorite…

    Come, ye sinners, poor and needy,
    Weak and wounded, sick and sore;
    Jesus ready stands to save you,
    Full of pity, love and pow’r.
    Come, ye thirsty, come, and welcome,
    God’s free bounty glorify;
    True belief and true repentance,
    Every grace that brings you nigh.
    Come, ye weary, heavy-laden,
    Lost and ruined by the fall;
    If you tarry till you’re better,
    You will never come at all.
    View Him prostrate in the garden;
    On the ground your Maker lies;
    On the bloody tree behold Him;
    Sinner, will this not suffice?
    Lo! th’ incarnate God ascended,
    Pleads the merit of His blood:
    Venture on Him, venture wholly,
    Let no other trust intrude.
    Let not conscience make you linger,
    Not of fitness fondly dream;
    All the fitness He requireth
    Is to feel your need of Him.
    * Refrain:
    I will arise and go to Jesus,
    He will embrace me in His arms;
    In the arms of my dear Savior,
    Oh, there are ten thousand charms.

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