Theme: New Songs on Earth and a New Song in Heaven
In this week’s lessons, we see the importance of song in worship.
Scripture: Psalm 149:1-9
We love the old songs, of course, just as we love the old doctrines (Jer. 6:16). But each generation has fresh lessons of God’s grace, and new experiences of God’s grace call for new songs. Israel had experienced God’s goodness in bringing the people back to their homeland and (probably) giving them a military victory. So they composed this psalm.
When Jesus was born, knowledge of salvation in Christ called for new songs too, beginning with the song of the angels over Bethlehem: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests” (Luke 2:14). Or Philippians 2:6-11, the song beginning “Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped….”
Later believers who fought the critical Trinitarian and Christological battles left us hymns celebrating the Trinity and the deity of Christ. The Gloria Patri comes from the second century: “Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost.” A fourth century hymn begins, “All glory be to thee, Most High, to thee all adoration; in grace and truth thou drawest nigh to offer us salvation.” In the same century Ambrose of Milan (340-397) wrote, “O Splendor of God’s glory bright, from light eternal bringing light, thou Light of light, light’s living spring, true day, all days illumining.”
The recovery of the gospel at the Reformation led to powerful new songs by the Reformers, especially from Martin Luther (1483-1546), who wrote: “A mighty fortress is our God, a bulwark never failing”; “All praise to thee, eternal Lord, clothed in a garb of flesh and blood”; and this: “Great God, what do I see and hear! The end of things created!… Prepare, my soul, to meet him.”
A few centuries later John and Charles Wesley wrote hundreds of hymns, especially Charles (1707-1788) who has left us “O for a thousand tongues to sing,” “Ye servants of God, your Master proclaim,” “Hark! the herald angels sing,” “Jesus Christ is risen today,” “Arise, my soul, arise, shake off thy guilty fears,” “And can it be that I should gain an interest in the Savior’s blood?” and many more. About the same time, Count Nikolaus von Zinzendorf (1700-1760) composed “Jesus thy blood and righteousness my beauty are my glorious dress.” These hymns capture something of the spirit of the revival movements in those days.
What of our time? Have experiences of God’s grace led to the writing of good new songs today? I think so! Not all are great songs, of course. Some are poorly written and others badly man-centered. Those will fade in time. But there are many good ones and many good hymn writers. Michael Baughen, a contemporary English pastor, wrote a beautiful setting of Psalm 1. Margaret Clarkson, an English woman now living in Canada, wrote “We come, O Christ to you, true son of God and man” and “Our God is mighty, worthy of all praising.” Daniel Iverson, who died in 1977, wrote “Spirit of the living God, fall fresh on me.” And how about David Clowney, who wrote “God, all nature sings thy glory, and thy works proclaim thy might”? Or his father Edmund P. Clowney, who has given us “Vast the immensity, mirror of majesty, galaxies spread in a curtain of light”?
What about you? Do you have a new song to God’s glory? Most of us do not have the ability to write new songs. But don’t be sad if that is the case. You will one day. You will sing a glorious new song in heaven, one composed especially for the saints. You will sing: “You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth” (Rev. 5:9, 10). I do not think we will ever get tired of singing that.
How did Jesus’ birth call for a new song?
What happened historically that led to the writing of certain hymns celebrating the Trinity and the deity of Christ?
Reflection: How does knowing that some of the great hymns of the church were written in the midst of serious doctrinal struggle for the truth of God’s Word deepen your appreciation for those hymns?
For Further Study: Download and listen for free to Jonathan Master’s message, “Worship and Assurance.” (Discount will be applied at checkout.)