Two Songs of Testimony

Consider the following two gospel songs:

No Other Plea (Eliza Hewitt (1851-1920) Tune  Sunshine in My Soul – Eliza Hewitt (1851-1920) Tune
My faith has found a resting place,
Not in device or creed;
I trust the ever living One,
His wounds for me shall plead.

Refrain

I need no other argument,
I need no other plea,
It is enough that Jesus died,
And that He died for me.

Enough for me that Jesus saves,
This ends my fear and doubt;
A sinful soul I come to Him,
He’ll never cast me out.

Refrain

My heart is leaning on the Word,
The living Word of God,
Salvation by my Savior’s Name,
Salvation through His blood.

Refrain

My great Physician heals the sick,
The lost He came to save;
For me His precious blood He shed,
For me His life He gave.

Refrain

There is sunshine in my soul today,
More glorious and bright
Than glows in any earthly sky,
For Jesus is my Light.
 

 Refrain

O there’s sunshine, blessèd sunshine,
When the peaceful, happy moments roll;
When Jesus shows His smiling face,
There is sunshine in the soul.

There is music in my soul today,
A carol to my King,
And Jesus, listening, can hear
The songs I cannot sing.

Refrain

There is springtime in my soul today,
For, when the Lord is near,
The dove of peace sings in my heart,
The flowers of grace appear.

Refrain

There is gladness in my soul today,
And hope and praise and love,
For blessings which He gives me now,
For joys “laid up” above.

Refrain

Both of these songs would be considered ‘gospel songs’ or ‘songs of testimony’. Since Colossians 3:16 and Ephesians 5:19 both speak of using our songs to speak, teach and admonish ‘one another’, there is certainly a place for a horizontal dimension to corporate worship. Gospel songs describe what they claim to be Christian experience. They are usually sung testimonies – the witness of one Christian to another of his or her experience of the grace of God, with possibly an invitation to the lost to experience the same thing.

What makes a gospel song useful? Quite simply, if the testimony recorded accords with a biblical experience of becoming or being a Christian. If the music to which that testimony is set presents an emotional colour in keeping with the various shades of Christian experience, it can be a useful song for singing to one another.

What makes a gospel song harmful? Simply, if the message of the lyrics trivialises, sentimentalises, romanticises or otherwise misrepresents the faith. This would make the testimony less than true. If the song’s description of Christianity makes it seem less serious than it is, or sweeter than it is, or more fun than it is, it is a distortion. If the music to which the lyrics are set presents a mood which warps the meaning of the words, or distorts our understanding of what affections we ought to feel as Christians, then the testimony is false.

In my opinion, one of the gospel songs above is useful for worship, and one of them is not. They’re both written by the same person, showing that the quality of one person’s output can vary greatly (and showing I have no axe to grind against Eliza E. Hewitt).

So considering both of the hymns above, evaluate them both with some of the following questions:

  1. What images are employed in each song to describe Christ and the Christian experience?
  2. What emotions are evoked by the use of these images? Do these emotions accord with Christian experience?
  3. Does anything in either (or both) of the songs make salvation seem less serious than it is?
  4. Does either (or both) of the songs use words about deep truths in a clichéd manner, so that you skip over the weight of them?
  5. What type of joy characterises the tune of each hymn? Flippant? Care-free? Triumphant? Jovial? Exultant? Is the kind of joy consonant with Christianity, and with the meaning of the lyrics?

In other words, which testimony is true, and which is not?

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4 Responses to “Two Songs of Testimony”

  1. Web Pulse – September 3, 2010 | Religious Affections Ministries Says:

    […] Conservative Christianity » Two Songs of Testimony – Two Songs of Testimony- What makes a gospel song […]

  2. dandelionsmith Says:

    I appreciate the balanced treatment, especially using two songs from the same composer. I would agree, that only one is appropriate for worship, and I am thankful that you do not “show your hand”, if you’ll excuse the expression.

  3. Walter Schmidt Says:

    Your observation as described above is well taken. However, is a hymnal the domain of hymns only for public worship? Historically and properly is it not also a tool for personal devotional meditation on the “things” of God? This is not to say that “all” hymns published are valid for either or both private / public worship or meditation. Rather, some hymns not properly useful for public worship are suitable for private use. I’m not necessarily referring to the above two hymns.

  4. David Says:

    Yes, I would agree that hymnals can be well used for private devotion, and that certain hymns better fit that circumstance. Certainly there are things I say to God in private prayer that are not appropriate for public prayer, not because they are perverse or irreverent, but because they belong to the circumstance of private communion with God. The same would be true of certain songs. Some of the prayers and poems of the mystics would be good examples of this. Often, their sentiments are more proper for a lone soul’s communion with God, not for the body of Christ’s corporate exaltation of God. However, two caveats:
    1) Hymnals are usually designed for corporate worship. Certainly, some editors may include hymns that they expect will only be sung in private, but we are speculating when we say this. The fact is, hymns in a hymnal are a collection used in public.
    2) With our hearts as deceitful as they are, we must be more than a little cautious before saying that a particular hymn is suitable for private devotion but not for public. It may be that I am nursing some inordinate affection, and have found a hymn to express that, and my heart is only too happy to use the public/private distinction to justify it. Before adopting it into my private devotions, I would want to see if other saints have perhaps quoted it, or spoken highly of it, or used it in their writings. If a hymn has embarrassed saints with its language, or been seen as flowery or audacious or sensual or inordinately intimate, I’d pause before using it. Even in matters of private devotion, wisdom would want to know if the sentiment in the hymn resonates with sober-minded believers.

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