Send the Light

To hear this song played, click here.

To see the sheet music for this arrangement, click here.


Charles H. Gabriel

Charles Hutchinson Gabriel is one of the most prolific names in American church music for the 20th Century. He wrote some 8,000 songs, many of which are still included in modern hymnals.

He was born August 18, 1856 in Wilton, Iowa into a singing family. The Gabriel farmhouse was often the site of neighbors coming by to sing hymns together, led by Charles’ father, Isaac. The elder Mr. Gabriel taught singing schools and bought the family a reed organ, which Charles taught himself to play. In his autobiography Sixty Years of Gospel Song, Charles reflected on those early years: “In my home we were trained so thoroughly on the Hallelujah Chorus, for instance, that we sang it from memory. Choruses from Creation, Elijah, and other oratorios were included in our repertoire.” His only music education was what he received at the feet of his father. Charles was sixteen years old when his father died (1873), leaving behind a wife, eight children, and several appointments to teach singing schools. Charles took up his father’s schedule and began traveling and teaching, first keeping his father’s teaching dates and then – as his reputation grew – he made his own appointments as he traveled the country. In that same year, he published his first song.

After much travel, Gabriel returned to Wilton and – according to the Des Moines Register – became the town’s “leading musician, writing marches, polkas and leading the town’s band. Gabriel played the piano, cornet and violin, was a fine singer and excelled at arranging music.”

In 1890 Gabriel moved to San Francisco, California and began working with the Grace Methodist Episcopal Church as music director. It was there that he wrote Send the Light, which was first published in E.O. Excell’s Scripture Songs (1891). Send the Light was Gabriel’s first commercially successful song. Two years later he moved back to the Midwest and began work with the publishing side of religious music, anchored in Chicago.

From 1895-1912 he worked with Excell’s famous publishing house; then he moved to the Homer A. Rodeheaver Company of Winona Lake, Indiana. In addition to his publishing company, Rodeheaver was the song leader and music director for evangelist Billy Sunday. This union between Gabriel and Rodeheaver ensured that Sunday’s rival meetings would prominently feature Gabriel’s best work, cementing his reputation as a songwriter. On one occasion Washington, Iowa celebrated the chorister’s presence with “Charles Gabriel Day.” Reportedly, huge crowds turned out for the event.

He stayed active with Rodeheaver & Company until his death on September 14, 1932 in Los Angeles, at the home of his son, Charles Jr.

All in all, he edited some 95 hymnbooks during his carrier (although I have not seen this particular book, it is said that he edited The New Christian Hymnbook (1917), along with T.B. Larimore, for the Gospel Advocate Company of Nashville, a publishing house associated with churches of Christ.). These many works include: forty-three song books, seven men’s chorus books, nineteen anthem collections, and twenty-three cantatas. As stated earlier, Gabriel wrote around 8,000 songs. Supposedly, in order to keep buyers from thinking their products were collections of just Charles Gabriel songs, his publishers had him to publish many of his works under pseudonym. His aliases include Charlotte G. Homer, H.A. Henry, and S.B. Jackson.

His personal life included two marriages, with one child born to each. He first married Fannie Woodhouse in 1876 in Iowa. To this marriage was born a daughter, Vera. This marriage ended in divorce. His second marriage, to Amelia Moore, lasted from 1889 to her death in 1931. Charles, Jr., was born in 1892.


Send the Light is one of the great missionary hymns of the church. In 1890 missionaries’ tales of reaching the foreign masses thrilled the imaginations of stateside Christians.

Verse 1 sets the stage of adventure and distance, the call that comes ringing over the restless waves of the sea, beckoning the would-be missionary to traverse the wild sea and bring peace to the restless lives of those who call for help. The missionary would go and – in the words of Romans 10:14f – preach to them: “But how are they to call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent?” The missionary would go! Send him! Send the light-bearing messenger! Not only are there souls to rescue and save, they are calling for the gospel. The hearer is a given, the teacher is a given – the only thing lacking is the sender.

As Gerald Paden, great missionary and trainer of missionaries, is known to say: Some give by going, some go by giving – without both, no mission work is done. We are partners with our missionaries whom we support! This song pleads with Christians who have the means to send a man with a mission, a true missionary, over the restless waves to bring the light.

Verse 2 echoes the story of Acts 16:6-10, “The Macedonian Call.” There is very little that can tug at the heartstrings of a godly person more than a plea for help. Although Paul had other plans in mind, the image of the Macedonian man urging him, “Come over the Macedonia and help us,” convinced him that he would serve God in that context. In the same way, there are missionary points today from which the native people have called, “Help us, too!” When we hear them, do we jump into action like Paul did? Do their cries fall on deaf ears?

The “golden offering” which is pictured at the foot of the cross is from each of us and answers the proceeding questions. We would lay down our very best and dearest at the feet of a crucified Savior? “Yes!” we answer in song.

Verse 3 emphasizes that it is grace which must be spread. In days past well-meaning missionaries have not only imprinted the story of Jesus upon native cultures, but they have also taken Western culture to foreign peoples. Jesus is cross cultural! Grace is not only given to Americans and American-style churches. In many ways, Christians of other lands would be good not to copy what they see in us. It would be to their advantage that they look ever to the Bible and New Testament congregations for an example of how to best serve Christ in their own local context. Does this not echo the words of Jesus as he chastised the Pharisees missionary methods? “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as you are” (Matthew 23:15). Why this condemnation? Because their message was something other than grace – they taught of a God who tied burdens on men (cf. Luke 11:46); Jesus represents a God who frees men. Grace produces thankfulness which, in turn, generates Christlikeness within the Christian. Truly knowing what God has done for us can lead only to becoming more like Jesus each day.

Whether we send or we are sent, verse 4 speaks to the hard work we are in for. Having grown up in a missionary family, I can attest to the rigors of living in a foreign country without any local support. As motivation Gabriel points to a heavenly crown, the stephanos victory crown of Revelation 2:10, “be thou faithful unto death and I will give thee a crown of life.” The souls we have a part in saving will be to our credit, not of meritorious salvation, but of “good works which He has prepared in advance for us” (Ephesians 2:10). The jewels adorning this crown sparkle as an eternal testimony to our faithfulness in evangelism.

The original words of the chorus are interestingly different from what we sing today. The singer is pictured as one who takes responsibility to spread the Gospel willingly. He answers the call with a resounding, “Here am I – send me!” (Isaiah 6). If he is the giver, then this brings to mind “God loves a cheerful giver” (II Corinthians 9:7). Two components of cooperation are mentioned: the heart and the hand. Often one’s heart is willing (that is, he agrees it’s a worthy idea), but he won’t lift a finger to assist. Similarly one can be a busy Christian with a misguided heart, cruising a course of unfulfillment and disappointment. We must be balanced workers to be of lasting impact in God’s kingdom. The glory, however, goes not to mankind for his cunning evangelistic schemes or church growth paradigms, but to God “who gives the increase” (I Corinthians 3:7). “We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty” (Luke 17:10).

From our shore to yours, let the light shine! Let the radiant beams of the Gospel light the world forever more!


Not only would one call this a typical gospel song, it is one which gave definition to the genre. The harmony is classic: predictable, yet enjoyable. The echoy voice parts are kept well within the singable ranges of the voices for which they were intended. The only part that doesn’t have a spotlight moment is that of the tenors. For the most part, the tenors only sing three notes through the whole song.

The most noticeable difference in this original arrangement of Send the Light is – obviously – the bass lead in the first chorus. However, do note that the second chorus is also different. In the last measure of the first line of the second chorus (“from shore to shore”), the soprano melody we’re used to hearing is Db-C-Bb-C (Fa-Mi-Re-Mi), but here it is Db-C-Bb-Ab (Fa-Mi-Re-Do).

I have no official story as to why the song was redacted to only one chorus, but the original chorus is growing on me. Do you know of other songs which were this significantly edited from their original versions?


Tags: , , , ,

2011 in review

The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2011 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 2,100 times in 2011. If it were a cable car, it would take about 35 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

Leave a comment

Posted by on December 31, 2011 in Uncategorized


Campbell’s Preface to “Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual Songs”

I’m sorry for being so long-gone from  My wife and I are expecting our first child soon and so my books and the shelves upon which they sat were removed from our house and banished to the garage until such time as the living quarters were rearranged to make room for Baby (sex is unknown; names are top secret). Well, the bookcases are now back up and books are coming out of their boxes!  I’m excited to have my collection back again.  I hope you enjoy today’s little glimpse into the history of the hymnals of the churches of Christ. I hope to get back to as my time permits.  This entry is regarding a revision of the first major hymnal of churches of Christ, compiled/edited by Alexander Campbell in 1851. This revision is said to contain “numerous additions and emendations” and is “adapted to personal, family, and church worship.” Campbell was assisted in his hymnal work by Walter Scott, Barton W. Stone, and John T. Johnson, all leaders in the back-to-the-Bible movement of the 1800s.


Alexander Campbell is known as a great intellectual theologian of the 1800s.  Though sometimes credited as “the founder of Churches of Christ,” most of those churches would not acknowledge themselves as “Campbellites” (as some have pejoratively called us).  Campbell was not solely a preacher and theologian, but also an educator, statesman, and writer/editor.  His influences are felt not only in the religious world, but in many other areas as well.

Historically, however, no one can deny the impact Campbell had on religious reformation in the United States.  Weary of denominational bickering, the young Campbell and his father Thomas urged the Christian world to unite under the Bible alone, leaving behind all manmade elements of religion.  This movement became convinced of and accepted two overarching emphases in their work: Christian Unity and Church Restoration.  For the church to truly be united as one, it would have to restore biblical beliefs and practices, shedding all other creeds, belief systems, and practices which divide men. Regardless of how one judges the results of Christians to have achieved these goals, the ideal they represented is a noble one.  As all over the nation honest believers began to leave their denominational worlds behind, they searched for ways to be united more closely together. One of the greatest ways for Christians to be united over great distances is to have a common hymnody (or, as Campbell writes, “psalmody”).

Have you ever travelled internationally and found an assembly of Christians with whom to worship? Perhaps you’ve visited church when you’re across country, away from home, and you’ve see the familiar sign: “The church of Christ meets here” (at least the sign on our church building growing up said). The culture of the folks inside may be different, the language they speak may be different, the order of service, etc. But if they sing some of the songs with which you are familiar you know you are home.  Growing up in Russia as the son of missionaries, we sang Takov Kak Yest’, Kak Ti Vyeleek, Ti So Mnoi (Just as I Am, How Great Thou Art, and It Is Well with My Soul). I was more at home with the Russian lyrics than I was with the English, but even when visiting the United States, I knew we were welcome among Christian family because of the shared songs of faith.

Interesting to me was Campbell’s assertion that lyrics are more important than the music to which they are set. Thoughts?  What about the idea that the hymnal is the Christians #2 book – do you think that still describes the church today? What do you think about the idea that if you can’t preach a sermon to an unbeliever, then you may be able to sing him one?  Enjoy your reading – I hope to see some interesting comments on this piece.

My next entry will be the Introduction of which Campbell writes at the end of this Preface.


Our Brethren in collective bodies, as well as in private circles, have expressed a desire for a larger compilation 1851 Campbell Title Pageof Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual Songs, as well as for a greater variety of subjects. To meet their wishes, and to redeem our promises, we have modified and enlarged our Hymn Book, and have subjected it to a severe revisal. We have spent much time and reflection upon the subject, and have examined the best Psalmody[1] of Protestant Christianity in our own country, with very considerable care and attention. We flatter ourselves that we have in the volume the cream of the most evangelical and scriptural poetic compositions now extant, and on a variety of subjects and occasions as will be all the wants and circumstances of the Christian community, as individuals, families, and congregations.

We have made the divinely inspired psalmody of the sweet Psalmist of Israel our beau ideal[2] of Christian psalmody, with the mere difference of dispensation, believing that the materials of the Psalms of David furnish a perfect standard of the proper materials of all praise, whether contemplated as psalms, hymns, or spiritual songs.

These distinctions respect the subjects and not the forms of Christian praise or prayer. Lyric poetry is equality apposite[3] to them all. They differ in matter and not in form.

In our former compilations tunes were prefixed as a guide to the appositeness of the sound or tune to the sense.

This prefixing of a tune to each composition has been objected, to for two reasons. The taste of musicians and of those who select tunes differs. Some prefer one tune and some another; and in the judgment of one precentor[4], the tune named at the head of the composition is not so suitable as another which he would prefer.

Again, the tunes named are not universally known. For these objections or reasons we have left everyone to choose for himself. Our Hymn Book being used in every State of the Union, and in the British provinces, we have given no index to any song as to the tune most appropriate. In this as in all things merely circumstantial, let every community judge for itself. It is infinitely more important that we should have one pure speech and one evangelical psalomody than one and the same tune.

Again, in this selection we have had respect to another fact. All the compositions in a hymn book will be read but not all sung. Indeed, my observation goes to prove that in no one community are there more than one or two scores of favorite songs, I mean songs or hymns frequently sung. In all my travels, and they are not within narrow limits, I find only one or two dozen universal favorites, sung almost daily, especially at large public meetings.

This fact is not confined to what are called human compositions.[5] I remember it obtained in Europe in my youth when the psalms of David were sung in Scotland and Ireland. A score of these were universal favorite and almost weekly or monthly sung. But the synods occasionally enacted that they should be first explained and then sung. Hence the one hundred and fifty were generally sung in some churches once in two or three years.

But on the hypothesis that only a tithe[6] of all the compositions in our hymn books would be sung, they should contain both in number and variety an adequate supply for all persons, conditions, and circumstances, and on all subjects of praise or prayer for another and a great purpose.

The Hymn Book of a Christian community, next to the Bible, is more generally read, and much and often read by all true Christians. It is assumed that it does, and certainly it ought, to contain the marrow and the fatness of the gospel and the exercises of the Christian heart on all the themes of Christian faith, hope and love. It is the best substitute in the world for what is usually called a confession of faith, an exhibit of Christian doctrine and Christian instruction.

It is, moreover, a sort of stereotyped preached gospel, and to unconverted persons it is the next best thing to a sermon or to an exhortation on the great themes of Christian salvation. One this account it may without any offence against good taste and good sense contain various compositions which may be regarded as not so apposite to be sung as to be read. But even these may be sung in obedience to an apostolic injunction: “Teach and admonish one another in psalms, and hymns, and spiritual songs, singing with gratitude in your hearts to the Lord.” We may, therefore, sometimes sing the gospel to sinners as well as preach it to them.

This object is not lost sight of in the following selection. But for this and other matter we solicit and attentive perusal[7] of the following introduction.

[1] the act, practice, or art of setting psalms to music; psalms or hymns collectively; the act, practice, or art of singing psalms.

[2] a conception of perfect beauty; a model of excellence.

[3] suitable; well-adapted; pertinent; relevant.

[4] a person who leads a church choir or congregation in singing.

[5] In Campbell’s time there was much debate whether to sing only biblical texts set to music (literally, singing the psalms) or if it was permissible and appropriate to sing texts of more recent, uninspired origin.  Isaac Watts was a great promoter of singing such “human compositions.” Campbell seems to be addressing the possible argument from a reader that the reason such a limited number of songs are sung is because they are not “divine compositions,” which would – to that reader’s mind – naturally meet with more success.

[6] That is to say, only ten per cent

[7] Although our typical usage of “peruse” would mean “to give a quick once-over,” its real definition is the opposite: “to read through with thoroughness or care.”


Posted by on December 12, 2011 in Biographical Sketch


Tags: , ,

The Sun-Bright Road of Calvary

To listen to On the Sun-Bright Road of Calvary, click here.
To see the music to On the Sun-Bright Road of Calvary, click here.

The gospel song On the Sun-Bright Road of Calvary was written by Austin Taylor (1881-1973), a Kentucky-bornAustin Taylor and Texas-bred song writer, associated with churches of Christ.  There is little published biographical information about Taylor’s life, but anecdotally several stories and moments remain.  Taylor was said to have possessed a very clear, loud singing voice, even into his later years.  He led the singing at many meetings for famous preachers in his day.  His legacy lives on in The Texas Normal Singing School (also known as The Singing School at Abilene Christian University).  In 1946 preacher Edgar Furr and Brother Taylor began to discuss the need for trained songleaders in the church. As often happens when men go off to war, the quality of singing in church houses diminished during World War II.  They established an annual two-week singing school at Sabinal, Texas.  Many, many boys and young men were trained in music theory, harmony, shape note sight reading, and songleading at that campus.  Eventually the buildings at Sabinal fell into disrepair and it was beyond the capabilities of a summer singing school to build anew. Since 1988, The Singing School has met each summer on the campus of ACU.  The program now caters to adults and presents a full curriculum of church music-related subjects.  Brothers Taylor and Furr would be happy to know that the staff is currently preparing for the 66th year of training men to lead singing (in fact, this blog was born out of a class that I teach at The Singing School on the history of our hymnals in churches of Christ).

What are roads for?  Travel.  Especially in biblical imagery, it’s travel by foot, it’s a walk.  The great word pictures of “walk” that Paul, Peter, and John (oh, especially John!) use in the New Testament gives great hope to the Christian reader who claims the text as his own.  As Gerald Paden taught in his lectures on I John, “It’s where you walk, not how you walk.”  Meaning in no way to ease the emphasis on holy living that the Scriptures teach, Gerald taught us that Christ forgives!  That “walking in the light” is not sinless perfection (for even Christians sin, cf. I John 2:1), but it is the blood-bought Christian’s march, marathon, sprint, crawl, and walk ever TOWARDS God that is an evidence of saving faith which God sees and through which He forgives.

In this song, the “sun-bright road” seems to be the walk of a Christian’s life.  In verse one, it’s the road upon which sings the “ransomed throng” “praises to the King.”  Why are they so confident to march this road, singing aloud? Because they were ransomed by the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or spot (cf. I Peter 1:18f).

In verse two it’s not only a road TOWARDS God, but a road away from “sin’s dark night.”  Isn’t that the essence of repentance? Away from sin, towards God.  No longer led by the desires of weak flesh, we together are led by truth.

Verse three invokes the picture of Hebrews 12:2, “fix your eyes on Jesus.”  Who knows how long this “sun-bright road” is?  What obstacles stand before us?  Keep your eyes on the prize, what lies beyond the finish line.

Characteristically, like many gospel songs, the last verse is evangelistic in thrust.  In it we see an invitation to the “sinner,” “lift your feet from the downward way.”  As children somehow we learn that heaven is “up” and hell is “down.” And you don’t want to go “down there, do you?,” asks the first line of the verse?  Yet the burden you carry continues to drag you down.  Instead, take Jesus up on his offer of rest for a weary soul (Matthew 11:25ff).

Musically, there’s nothing remarkable about this song.  I do notice that the bass part is written more like an “old hand” bass singer would sing it, rather than the way most are written.  For example, the last three bass notes in measure 4 (mi-re-do), the mi in the 4th measure of the chorus, the first two notes of the last measure, etc., could have been written as do-do-do, do, and so-so.  Obviously there are hundreds of moments in the hymnal where we notice that we don’t sing the notes exactly as written – because our own personal arrangement sounds more “fitting” to our ears or our surrounding culture.  Taylor seems to have incorporated that “bass culture” into his song to begin with.

This is probably a good example of comfortably singable ranges in church music. No single part is strained in what they are asked to sing.  Only the sopranos’ F’s in the second measure of the chorus might give certain unexercised voices a moment’s pause.

So, why is this a “gospel song” and not a “southern gospel song” (also known as “quartet songs” or “convention songs”) or a “hymn”?  It’s true, the definitions are a bit arbitrary, but maybe these observations will help.  Also, keep in mind that it’s not just one or two of these rules that causes a song to go into one category or another. They’ve got to hit a critical mass of attributes before they’re classified one way or another.  Especially in the “in-between years,” songs can easily be hybrids of any given genres.

  • Gospel songs: written between 1830-1930, simple rhythm, a lyrical hook that’s repeated in each verse, Elizabethan English, all parts sing together (with notable exceptions), war themes, at least one evangelistic verse, simple harmonies (I-V-I-IV-V-I), more open harmonies with sometimes an octave between neighboring parts.  Gospel songs are probably the easiest songs in any church’s repertory, due to their folksy nature.  Their major strength is that they can be sung by anyone.
  • Signs of a “classic” southern gospel songs:  Accidentals (especially lots of Fi’s), syncopated rhythm, and upbeat tempo, tighter harmony (made possible by the many accidentals), melody switching from part to part, call-and-response or echo lyrics, usually written between 1935-1965.
  • “Modern” southern gospel songs are more flashy (?), and definitely more syrupy in harmony (think Bill and Gloria Gaithers).

What style of song makes your heart sing? Why?


Posted by on September 29, 2011 in Biographical Sketch, Song Reviews


Tags: , , , , , ,

When Storms Around Are Sweeping

To see the sheet music, click here.
To hear the song, click here.

Yes, another song arranged for male quartet singing.  This song has several noteworthy moments for our consideration.  My sight reading teacher, Clint Davis, shared this song with me one day as we were sitting on his living room couch talking about the ministry of teaching others to sing.

Composer: Johanna Kinkel
When Storms Around Are Sweeping is sung to an old German tune, composed by Johanna Kinkel.  Kinkel was well-trained in many areas of music, having received private lessons from Franz Ries, Beethoven’s violin instructor.  She met great success early in her professional career, but her personal life led to much turmoil and grief.  She married an abusive man and left him after six months of marriage, leading to years of divorce proceedings, and debilitating depression. Felix Mendelssohn, a famous composer in his own right, encouraged her to continue her music, which she did with much continued success.  After the divorce was settled, she became director of the Gesangverein (“Choral Society”) of her home, Bonn, Germany (one of the first female choir directors in Germany).  She remarried, this time to a Protestant theologian, Gottfried Kinkel.  As revolution swept Germany in 1848, the musical and literary circles of high society in which the Kinkels circulated collapsed.  Gottfried was elected to represent Bonn in the newly-formed National Assembly.  However, as often happens to revolutionaries, he was arrested and sentenced to death. Later he escaped from prison and the Kinkels fled to London where they became pillars of the local German community.  Johanna continued to work in music, conducting, teaching, and writing two books on music education.  Even after all of their trials, Gottfried proved to be a poor husband; history questions his faithfulness to Johanna and their four children.  In 1858 Johanna’s lifeless body was discovered in the garden, below the window of her third-story bedroom.  While it could not be established, suicide was suspected.  The words Freiheit, Liebe und Dichtung (“Freedom, Love, and Poetry”) were inscribed on her tombstone.

Composition and Arrangement
Click here to see a great video of a German chorus singing the original lyrics.
The tune (“Kinkel”) is associated with the German song “Ritters Abschied” (Knight’s Departure).  Abschied has become a traditional “going-to-war” song, the words of a knight leaving his beloved for the Kaiser’s battlefield. “Farewell, farewell my own true love,” ends each line.  Accordingly, this song has several points for musical dynamics to come into play, each phrase being sung more softly or loudly than those on either side. Wistful and longing would be good terms to describe the feel of this song.

Unusual, though not unseen, is the change from 4/4 in the verses to 3/4 in the chorus.

R.J. Taylor’s hymnal Songs for Worship and Praise (2010) names the tune “Sweeping Storms,” noting that these are the words with which the tune is regularly sung. Taylor’s hymnal (and others) does not have the male quartet arrangement here, but a SATB arrangement.  Some of the chords are different, but not to the point that it would be unrecognizable or musically significant.  This TTBB arrangement was taken from Elmer Jorgenson’s Great Songs of the Church II.

Genre of Music
Stylistically, this is not a gospel song, nor is it quite a(n) hymn.  In a stretch, it could be a highly developed gospel song (harmonies are a bit more complex than your typical I-IV-V-I [do, fa, so, do] gospel song) or a late hymn, somehow blurring the lines between the two types of song.  Lyrics that are addressed to God are also more typically associated with hymns than gospel songs.

Lyrics: Anonymous
There is some slight possibility that Kinkel – who, after all, lived in England – wrote the English lyrics “When storms around are sweeping…,” but it’s considered an outside possibility at best. Most scholars do not even think that she wrote the German lyrics, but that she wrote the tune to match the folk poem.

The English lyrics are divided into three stanzas, joined by a common refrain. So joined are they that the sentences which comprise the verses each find their completion in the chorus.

The meter of the poetic lyrics is with a refrain of 8.8, but of the available hymn tunes, none truly fit these words like “Kinkel.”

The first verse seems to be that of a watchman – whether on a ship or at sea is unclear – during a “dark and stormy night.” I suppose this is not the first dank, tiresome night for this man on guard, after all the storms are plural.  Not only is he awake in the darkest night, but he alone is on duty.  Finding himself surrounded by the descending fires of evil and tempters’ siren call, he appeals to El ‘Elyon.  El ‘Elyon is the Hebrew term translated into English as “God Most High,” literally the Chief (or supreme) Power.  The God we serve is not just strong, He’s not just a mighty one, He is the Mighty One.  This is a humble song that recognizes our lack of strength to withstand the storms of life, but at the same time recognizes the unfathomable might of God.
“Save me, Mighty God, from the temptations of life!”

Does verse two echo the moments of Matthew 14 and Peter’s stroll out onto the stormy sea? The lyricist imagines that he – like the apostle – actually begins to step out on faith, but the out of control “raging motion” of the sea disturbs his faith and it begins to shrink back, causing him to sink into the water.  Again, the only one who can help is The Mighty One.  This is all too similar to Matthew 14:30f, “…when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, ‘Lord, save me.’ Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, ‘O you of little faith, why did you doubt?’”
“Save me, Mighty God, from the weakness of my faith!”

The third and final verse visualizes yet another scenario, a man ensnared by the crushing power of sin.  Like the night of the first verse, the darkness is all-pervasive.  By highlighting the mortality of life in the last couplet, the singer appeals to the All-Mighty to remember him in death, much like the thief on the cross.
“Save me, Mighty God, from the power of sin!”

Throughout the Bible the faithful have implored God, “Remember me!”  Samson (Judges 16:28), Hannah (I Samuel 1:11), Nehemiah (Nehemiah 13:14), David (Psalm 25:7) and others took their prayers before God saying, “Remember me, O Mighty One.”


Posted by on July 19, 2011 in Uncategorized


Tags: , , , , , ,

A Christian’s Response to the Death of Osama bin Laden

“Do not rejoice when your enemy falls, and let not your heart be glad when he stumbles, lest the Lord see it and be displeased…”    (Proverbs 24:17-18a)

I know it’s Mother’s Day and that this isn’t the most fitting day to write an article about the death of an

Celebrating OBL's Death


internationally hunted man, but it’s been a week since his death and to wait any longer would completely allow time to set our hard hearts in our own human ways of thinking.

Osama bin Laden was a murderer, no doubt.  As the architect of the 9/11 attacks (among others), he was responsible for the death of thousands.  He was an evil man.  He turned wives to widows and children to orphans.  Few individuals in history have ever become the “face of evil” more than he did.  He was the sworn enemy of the United States of America and the Western “free world” of which she is the leader.  I do not doubt that, given the opportunity, he would have destroyed this country and our way of life.  Do not misunderstand me, I do not defend his memory nor pretend atonement has been made for him.

In the days since his death, Americans have taken to the streets in revelry, dancing in the streets and waving the flag; people have voiced exhilaration, thrill, relief, and joy that such a man was killed by the very capable Navy SEALs; it is a time –it seems– for national celebration.  Yes, it has been said, American military prowess and determination have won the day.  Not to leave out our national sense of religion, Amazing Grace was majestically piped from the ruins at Ground Zero, NYC.  In response to the bagpiper’s tune, the crowd chanted “USA, USA!” as they, again, waved Stars and Stripes (this video can still be seen on

I have two points I want to make:

1) Such Americans are worshipping themselves, worshipping an idolatrous notion that Americanism is inherently Christian and vice-versa.  Many have made this a moment of vain self-glory.

Washington bickers back and forth about which political party is more responsible for this victory, while the-man-on-the-street dismisses D.C. and praises the US military for their power.  Yet, who gives God the credit?  Should we really be so proud of ourselves, a nation that is increasingly atheistic, accepting of homosexuality, promiscuity, pornography, abortion, and substance abuse; a nation where corruption runs rampant, the guilty go free, and many are trapped in self-destructive cycles of behavior?  To just such a nation God once said, “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter! Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes, and shrewd in their own sight! Woe to those who are heroes at drinking wine, and valiant men in mixing strong drink, who acquit the guilty for a bribe, and deprive the innocent of his right!” (Isaiah 5:20-23)  Do you hear what God says to that kind of nation?  “Woe!”  Indeed, our days, too, are numbered as we turn away from godliness.  It is not because of our own national righteousness or selectivity that God used the US to bring Osama to earthly justice.  God could have used “tiny” Luxemburg or “evil” North Korea to accomplish the same goal.  Instead of hearing “was blind, but now I see” and shouting “USA, USA!,” we Christians should fall on our knees and echo Psalm 20:7, “Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.”  This is not a time to build ourselves up, but to take inventory of ourselves, lest our nation come under judgment next (now, go read Habakkuk 1-3).

In front of the White House

Osama was not brought to justice by the United States.  “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord’” (Romans 12:19).  God directs the affairs of nations (Daniel 2:21).  Instead of prattling on about ourselves, let us know “…the Lord is in his holy temple; let all the earth keep silence before him” (Habakkuk 2:20) because “it is God who executes judgment, putting down one and lifting up another” (Psalm 75:7).  The Bible does not tell us to decry that bin Laden has been brought to justice, but it does call us to recognize that God is in control and to give Him the glory.  “…if you do wrong, be afraid, for [the one in authority] does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer” (Romans 13:4).  Are we Christians first then Americans, do we put them on equal footing, or are we Americans first, then Christians?

2) Many have turned the death of yet another human – even a terrible one – into a moment of celebration and a continued excuse for hatred for “the other side,” instead of reflecting on deeper, spiritual realities.

I wonder: What did you feel when you heard the news of his death?  Did you, too, rejoice that this enemy of our country, of freedom, this evil man was dead?  Why were so many people actually rejoicing at his death?  If we are Christians, we have given up the right to hold onto our own notions; they must give way to a godly view of the world.  We need to ask, “What do the Scriptures say about how we should view this death?”

“‘Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked,’ declares the Lord God, ‘and not rather that he should turn from his way and live?’ … ‘For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone,’ declares the Lord God; ‘so turn, and live’” (Ezekiel 18:23, 32).  Do you hear who’s speaking?  That’s God Himself.  Even when He is the one who passes out judgment, He takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked.  Heaven mourned the death of Osama bin Laden.  Read the last couple words in that quote from Ezekiel 18: “so turn, and live.”  God sees things on a spiritual level (it’s our challenge to see the world as He sees it).  His goal is that our hearts would be turned towards Him while we yet live on earth.  God does not dislike the death of everyone: Psalm 116:15 tells us, “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints.”  God looks forward to the death of the righteous, but He laments the death of the wicked.  Why are we backwards? Why do we want to hang on to the saints, yet hurry sinners to their eternal destiny?

Consider this poignant thought: Christ is the only difference between us and bin Laden.  He was evil, yet the Bible tells us that without Christ you and I were “by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind” (Ephesians 2:3).  He was a murder of innocents, yet the Bible tells us that you and I have “crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men” (Acts 2:23). Yes, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).  It is only because of God’s amazing grace that we are saved from sin.  When we hear the strains of that song let us not shout “USA, USA!,” but, “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:24f)

As believers, we must beexhorting one another to be transformed into the image of the Christ who said, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:44f; Romans 8:29). “Never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God … if you enemy is hungry, feed him … do not be overcome

by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:19-21).  In the days of Roman injustice and oppression neither Jesus nor His apostles urged believers to rejoice over the death of the church’s persecutors.  Interestingly, God’s way of dealing with the greatest persecutor (Saul of Tarsus) was to convert him, not to have him die (Acts 9).

World peace will not come when all the “evil people” are imprisoned, bombed, or otherwise taken out of the picture.  True peace, on any scale, comes from being lead to trust in Jesus.  Christian, do not sleep better at night knowing Osama is dead, but rather “Rejoice in the Lord … And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:4, 7).  As the lyrics to the bugle call Taps conclude, “All is well, safely rest, God is nigh.”

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God” (Matthew 5:9).

1 Comment

Posted by on May 7, 2011 in Uncategorized


Rearranged Songs / Nearer My God to Thee

To see the music under discussion, click here.

To hear the music under discussion, click here.

As Aaron noted in his comments on the song Crossing the Bar, he is familiar with the song, but not that arrangement.  What does it mean to “re-arrange” a song?

Typically, when a song is written it has a melody (that is, a tune) and a harmonic structure.  That doesn’t necessarily mean it has soprano, alto, tenor, and bass parts, though.  If I asked you to sing your favorite song, you’d probably burst into song – that recognizable tune is the melody (in most church music, the melody is in the soprano part).  Without getting into discussing the study of harmony, let’s just say that harmony is when two or more complementary notes are sounded at the same time, resulting in the “atmosphere” of the song.  To put it in an artistic metaphor: If one drop of rain can refract a tiny ray of sun (that would be melody), ten thousand rain drops can use the same sunlight to make a rainbow (harmony).  So, when an author determines the harmonic structure for his song (not just the tune, but how the whole song should sound, its mood), he’s working on secondary details, on beautification of a solid foundation.

Rearranging, then, can be as simple as a second musician keeping the same melody, but changing the harmony.  There’s an old bit of folk wisdom that says all you need to sing a country [and western] song is “three chords and an old guitar.”  It’s very true that most popular songs can be reduced to 2-4 chords, even if they were originally very complex.  The opposite is also true, though: simple songs can be made more complex, just by adjusting the harmonies that accompany the melody.  (The reason the guitar is the go-to instrument for the lone vocalist – myself included – is that its six strings can easily provide a full harmonic background at a time, without the need for another performer).

Our case in point will be Nearer My God to Thee, a time-tested hymn of high quality.  We’re all familiar with the words (Sarah Flower Adams, 1841), and you probably have a melody in mind, too (mi, re, do, do, la, la, so, do, mi, re…).  The music in this post is based on the familiar melody written by Lowell Mason.  However, notice the following:

  • This song has been rearranged by J.B. Herbert (more on his prolific work later) as a male quartet.  Hence, the parts are not soprano, alto, tenor, bass, but are first and second tenor, first and second bass (all men’s parts).
  • The time signature has been changed from the traditional 4/4 to 6/4, turning this into a waltzy, song with a romantic feel.
  • Notice the echo words in the last line of the song, very different from what we’re used to.
  • The first portion is sung solo by the first tenor part.
  • A keen ear for music is needed to sing this unusual arrangement.  In fact, it’s so unusual, that you might not like it on your first listen.  It took me a little bit before I warmed up to it.
  • All in all, this is the same song, but a different arrangement.

(For your trivial information, earlier than the melody with which we’re familiar, the Nearer text was set to entirely different music.  You may have heard that Nearer was played by the ship’s band as the RMS Titanic sank to the Atlantic seafloor.  It was, but to a different tune [probably called Propior Deo].  We’ll look at completely other tunes in a later post.)

Once I was working on songleading with one of the young men at church.  For his song, he chose Listen to Our Hearts – by far one of most difficult songs in the book (the book being Songs of Faith and Praise).  Now, when sung around a campfire or in a devotional setting, this song comes as naturally as any, but when following the music as written, it becomes difficult.  There are moving parts, peculiar rhythms, an unusual harmonic structure, and a few other curve balls for the novice songleader.  After several moments of frustration, I heard, “I don’t like singing it this way, I like the way we sing it at camp! Why can’t we just do that?”  (I mean no discouragement to the young man, after all – he’d been working on a hard song!)  Even when they’re not written down (like most “camp versions”), we pass down our own home-made arrangements of favorite songs.

If you sit next to me in church while we sing How Great Thou Art, you’ll notice that few of the tenor notes sung don’t match the ones in the book; even more so when we sing This World is Not My Home.  This is fine and well-acceptable (it adds spice and color to our singing together, taking away the temptation to become stale), yet sometimes we meet people who have learned (perhaps “from birth”) to sing the same song with their own “twang” to it.  If there are just a few extra notes here and there, it’s probably safe to say it’s the same arrangement as you’re used to singing; it’s just “embellished.” If there are considerable personal touches to the way a song is sung, it’s probably fair to loosely consider that a “personal arrangement.”  Finally, if a person goes so far as to write down his own way of singing, then they can rightly claim to have rearranged the song.  Such full-scale rearranging can include changing the melody (yet it still must be recognizable), harmony, and rhythm of the song.  The real difficulty arises when your personal arrangement and my personal arrangement don’t mix.  At that point, who “wins”?  If you’re in a congregational setting, the songleader should be allowed artistic control – after all, he’s the leader off of whom everyone else is keying.  When it’s your opportunity to suggest a song be sung in a certain way, though, hopefully your fellow singers can be accommodating.  Keep this peace-loving bit of wisdom in mind, though:  We should not be in the habit of delegitimizing someone else’s song.  Just because “they” sing it differently than I know, than what I grew up with, than what I like, than what’s in the book – that doesn’t make it wrong or a matter of fellowship/participation.  (Now, if it’s honestly a missed note and they’re trying to sing what’s in the book like everyone else, there’s room for gentle corrective instruction, yes!).

Encourage one another to sing, share your songs with one another, share your arrangements of old faithful songs – revive within your fellow singer a passion to worship in song!  Rearranging songs is a great hobby of mine, parts of which I’m sharing through this blog.


Posted by on April 18, 2011 in Uncategorized


Tags: , , ,