HYMN 91 In Christ Alone
I Corinthians 1:18-25;
Text: Stuart Townend: (1963- ). Tune: Keith Getty (1974- )
1. In Christ alone my hope is found, He is my light, my strength, my song. This Cornerstone, this solid Ground Firm through the fiercest drought and storm. What heights of love, what depths of peace When fears are stilled, when strivings cease My Comforter, my All in All Here in the love of Christ I stand.
2. In Christ alone! - who took on flesh, Fullness of God in helpless babe. This gift of love and righteousness, Scorned by the ones He came to save Till on that cross as Jesus died, The wrath of God was satisfied For every sin on Him was laid Here in the death of Christ I live.
3. There in the ground His body lay, Light of the world by darkness slain: Then bursting forth in glorious day Up from the grave He rose again And as He stands in victory Sin's curse has lost its grip on me, For I am His and He is mine Bought with the precious blood of Christ
4. No guilt in life, no fear in death, This is the power of Christ in me From life's first cry to final breath, Jesus commands my destiny No power of hell, no scheme of man, Can ever pluck me from His hand Till He returns or calls me home Here in the power of Christ I'll stand.
MEDITATION When the worship wars broke out in the mid 1970s, the contemporary worship leaders seemed to be attacking the traditional hymnals that were just at the moment being produced by the mainline denominations.
As I have said before, each generation’s music has a quarrel, almost Oedipal, with the past and produces its own song, much to the hurt of the previous one. In the next generation, things settle down and the music that worried the older generation is quietly taken in to the next hymnal.
The new material which seems to swamp everything of the past will not be uniformly good. It will take some time to sift through it to find what lasts. That has happened with the first wave of contemporary worship music from the 1970s. Its songs tended to be from the psalms, a practice of the Calvinist tradition going way back. They were not complete psalms, but pieces of the psalms in a repetitive style that foes of the movement called 7/11 songs, seven words repeated eleven times.
Probably the signature song of that time was Michael Smith and Amy Grant’s "Thy Word is a Lamp unto my Feet," a paraphrase of Psalm 119:105. Published in 1984, it is traditional now, although it reminds one immediately of "contemporary" worship sounds. Using the guitar and other folk instruments, it made the organ sounds of traditional hymnody seem out of date. That movement matured and has been superseded by the next generation of contemporary worship music.
Song writers today, I think, tend to prefer more complicated songs, not paraphrases, but reflections and a retelling of the gospel narrative, more like the hymns of their grandparents. This hymn text is a good example. It sounds like a hymn from an earlier time; it is not a psalm paraphrase, but lyrical and biblically rich. It was written to tell the story of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection and what it means for the singers. It is the sound of the music that makes it contemporary.
The hymn has now become standard issue in contemporary hymnals. It was not, however, included in the latest Presbyterian USA hymnal because of the line in stanza 2, “The wrath of God was satisfied.” The hymnal committee wanted to change it to “the love of God was magnified.” Townend and Getty refused, saying that they would not approve it because they believed it was an essential part of the gospel story. “The main thread of what we see revealed throughout the Old and New Testament is the need for man to be made right with God. The provided path toward reconciliation came through Christ’s predetermined and perfect sacrifice on the cross, satisfying God’s wrath once and for all.”
Because the writers would not allow the change, the Presbyterian hymnal committee voted not to include it. One thinks of H. Richard Niebuhr’s critique of American religion at his time, “A God without wrath brought men without sin into a Kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a cross.” (Kingdom of God in America)
God’s wrath has troubled many, through time, but especially now. Many think of Jonathan Edward’s famous sermon, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” and shrink from it. The question people are asking now is who is God and why did Jesus have to die on a cross? Theologians have spent the past two millennia asking that question. There are extremely subtle answers to the question for which there is no space here. As one of my younger colleagues said on hearing the question being answered badly, "This is not a buyer's market." We have to go with Scripture and tradition--as the writers of the song did.
The writers stuck to their initial words, braving disapproval from many and the loss of thousands of dollars in royalties. You might disagree with them, but they are right in seeing the cross as a scandal. It offends. And yet from it flows love so profound: "No guilt in life, no fear in death,This is the power of Christ in me."
The writers of this hymn grew up in the faith. Townend was the son of an Anglican vicar; his co-writer, Getty, from Northern Ireland. He studied music from an early age. Both have excelled in their crafts; Townend in literature at Sussex University; and Getty music composition at St. Chads, at Durham University. He conducted at Tanglewood Music Center and studied flute with James Galway. Both are highly esteemed leaders of the movement today, and well regarded by their peers. Getty was appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in 2017 for his work in modern hymnody.
This song, with its Irish folk song flavor, rocketed to the top of the Christian Contemporary charts and has stayed there. It is now considered to be in the top ten favorite hymns in the world.
The Gettys singing it
Adrienne Liesching and Geoff Moore/Twenty million hits!
The Living Stones Quartet/Indian
Sounds like Reign