Daniel Mount and Pastor Chad Berry discuss the concept of expository songs, Colossians 3:16, and Isaac Watts’ hymn “I Sing the Mighty Power of God.”
- I Sing the Mighty Power of God (The Couriers)
- I Sing the Mighty Power of God (The Mark Trammell Quartet)
- Isaac Watts, Divine and Moral Songs for Children (1715)
This transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.
Daniel: Welcome to the Expository Songs podcast. We discuss songs where the main idea of a passage of Scripture is the main idea of the song. My name is Daniel Mount and today we’re introducing the podcast and discussing the classic hymn “I Sing the Mighty Power of God.”
1: Introduction of Guest
Daniel: I have the honor to be joined by my pastor, Chad Berry. Welcome!
Chad: Thank you for having me! It’s good to be here.
Daniel: Great! So you have a background, not just in the pulpit, but in worship music.
Chad: That’s right. Prior to serving at New Liberty Baptist Church, where I’ve been for the last two years, I served as the associate pastor, primarily working with the youth group at the church that I grew up in, Lincoln Heights Baptist Church.
But from the time that I was about probably 18 or 19, I started playing on the worship team there, primarily playing guitar, and then eventually bouncing back and forth between guitar and drums. And so for probably close to fifteen years, I’ve been a part of a worship team. I helped out with music as well at the church where I attended in Kentucky, here and there.
Daniel: And even now, as a lead or senior pastor, you’ve been pretty engaged in selecting the songs for each service and leading the singing.
Chad: Yeah, that’s correct. And full confession: Because I’ve never been a very strong vocalist, that was the part of becoming the pastor of New Liberty that was the most terrifying—knowing that I was going to have to put the worship sets together and then lead the singing as well. But I’m very thankful for our pianist who also happens to be my mother-in-law. She’s been immensely helpful in that venture. It’s been really good. The Lord has really, I would say, lit a passion for music and for especially crafting worship sets and utilizing songs that have been written to help exalt the Scriptures.
Daniel: And that is one of the first things I noticed when we first visited—how thoughtfully the songs we sing each week tie into either the passage itself, if there’s a familiar enough song that everybody knows that we can sing from that passage or tie in thematically. That I think is a real strength of the church and I appreciate what you bring there.
Chad: That’s very kind. Thank you.
2. What is an Expository Song?
Daniel: Sure. So before we talk about “I Sing the Mighty Power of God,” to introduce this podcast, I think it would be good to start with a couple of minutes talking about just this idea of “What is an expository song?” As far as I know, I coined the term. But I’ve been thinking about this topic, using this term, for about a dozen years or so. And I don’t want this to be a monologue. Definitely feel free to jump in when you have a related thought.
So I’ll start by defining what is an expository song. I would define that as a song where the main idea of [a passage of] Scripture is the main idea of the song.
Chad: Yeah, I think that’s a great definition and you’re the first person that introduced me to that phrase, expository song or expository music.
But it’s so fitting because we think about it the same way we think about preaching. When we’re preaching expositionally or exegetically, the whole purpose is that we’re exposing the meaning of the text. Similarly, a song that seeks to expose the meaning of the text would thus be expository. So I think it’s a great definition and I’m thankful for the thought that you’ve put into it and introducing me to the idea.
Daniel: Thank you.
So the history of English language hymnody is really closely tied to this concept. Not necessarily with this term, but to the concept in general.
Isaac Watts lived from 1674 to 1748. He is considered the father of English-language hymnody. Now before Watts, many English language churches only sang Psalms—and when I say Psalms, not in the Hebrew, [but] translated into English. But not just translated into English, translated into English and paraphrased into usually 126.96.36.199. meter or some other meter that was relatively easy to sing. And the innovation of Watts, and why we call him the father of English-language hymnody, is that he began writing hymns based in other Scripture passages too.
So through the rest of the 1700s, really, many hymn writers followed his lead in writing songs closely based on a passage of Scripture. I would describe many of the hymns of John Newton and Charles Wesley in particular also as expository.
Chad: Yeah, it’s interesting for you to point that out, especially when you take into consideration that those guys were also preachers. So when you were drawing the connection at the beginning between expository music and expository preaching, seeking to expose the text, those guys were doing that in music as well as in the pulpit.
Daniel: Yeah, and it shows. Their understanding of Scripture shows you don’t have to be a preacher to write a good expository song, but you have to understand Scripture.
Chad: That’s right.
Daniel: Because if you don’t understand Scripture well, you might write a song out of a passage of Scripture that’s poorly done, theologically, and could cause some confusion down the road. Many a song has done that.
Chad: Yeah. You know, context is still context. Whether you’re, whether you’re explaining the text through music or in a prayer or from the pulpit or with a written word, we still have to be true to the context of the writer. That’s a good point.
Daniel: So, let’s move on to the next century, the 1800s, particularly during and after the Second Great Awakening, pre-Civil War, and then through the rest of the century. Topical songs really overtook expository songs in popularity, on both sides of the ocean, both in England and the United States. And topical songs really remain the dominant form today.
Now, I’m not running down topical songs. They have a great value to the church. But this podcast will have a particular focus on songs where the main idea of the song is the main idea of a passage of Scripture.
I’m not at any point making the case that expository songs are the only songs a church should sing. I’ll make that clear up front. The churches should sing some topical songs too. But there’s great value to a church in singing these songs deeply rooted in Scripture, something we’re missing out on if we’re not being thoughtful about it. So in this podcast I’m interested in all uses of Scripture and song, but we can break it down in several ways.
- There are direct paraphrases, whether the Psalms or some other passage of Scripture.
- There are songs that generally share the main idea.
- There are songs that imaginatively put yourself in the shoes of a Bible character.
- And then there are songs that are more passing references.
So we have these different categories of songs that are all useful and worth considering. And Pastor Chad, do you have any examples in mind, any favorite examples of some of these different types of songs?
Chad: Oh man, I could think of several. The first couple that popped to my mind, “Great is Thy Faithfulness,” is one that fits in that category based on Lamentations 3 and then kind of builds around it. When we sing “Great is Thy Faithfulness, O God my Father, there is no shadow of turning with Thee,” to capture the unchanging nature of God and that His mercies are new every morning, that Jeremiah builds upon in Lamentations 3.
A newer one that sprung to my mind: Matt Papa is probably one of my favorite modern hymn writers. He has a song called “Unto the One” that’s built off of Revelation chapter 5, “Unto the One who sits on the throne and unto the Lamb who was slain be all blessing and honor and glory and power.”
Those are some that are kind of more directly tied or at least thematically tied to the text.
When you were explaining about kind of imaginatively putting yourself in the text, one that just sprang to my mind that I hadn’t thought about that has always fascinated me is “How Firm a Foundation.” Because in “How Firm a Foundation,” the hymn writer is in many ways almost taking on the voice of God. And as we sing, it’s as if we’re hearing the truths that we know about God and how He cares for us in the Scripture, and we’re singing them to ourselves. And that one spring to my mind, we just sang that one last week at church. That would be another one. But you know as well as I do that you and I could go on all night talking about examples.
Daniel: Yeah! And I would say “How Firm a Foundation,” while it’s not necessarily word for word any particular passage of Scripture, it ties in pretty well with Matthew 7:24-27, the wise and foolish man building their house on the rock in the sand—fits that thematically pretty well but in an imaginative sort of way.
And I would say one of my favorite examples of an imaginative treatment of a passage of Scripture is a song that for a while in my teens was actually my overall favorite song, Michael Card’s song “Forgiving Eyes,” the story of Jesus forgiving the woman caught in adultery. Very moving.
But just to use another example from his music, we take a song like Jubilee, which is one of his biggest songs. It’s not word-for-word Leviticus 25, but it’s definitely [based in] that passage. It’s about the concept of Jubilee.
And, you know, in medieval times, and in the early church, there was this [idea of the] fourfold interpretation of Scripture. They interpret Scripture literally, which is our default mode in Protestantism. But they saw three other ways to look at Scripture. We really actively talk about two of these ways. One is moral, the application, that’s just what we call application in a sermon, how it applies to us. Allegorical is how we preach Jesus from the passage, that’s just an older term for it. And the anagogical is what the passage tells us about the end times.
And interestingly “Jubilee” kind of hits all those points. It talks about literally what the concept was. It applies it to us, it applies it to Jesus, and it applies it to us in the future at the final judgment—and how that concept applies then. So it’s interesting to take a song that does all four. You don’t find many of those, but that song does it really well.
Chad: Yeah, very true.
3. Colossians 3:16: Scripture Dwelling in Us Richly through Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual Songs
Daniel: So if this concept of expository songs has a theme verse, it would probably have to be Colossians 3:16. It says, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms, and hymns, and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.”
I’ve actually heard you preach Colossians 3 twice, I believe, and we could probably spend an hour diving into this chapter in much greater detail. But for the sake of time, let’s just focus on this verse. And there are two big ideas in this verse. The first half is: “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly and all wisdom.” And the second half is: “Teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs.” These aren’t two random thoughts next to each other. They’re a connected thought. And do you have any thoughts on the connection? Could you unfold that a little for us?
Chad: Yeah, so the way that I’ll start with that is borrowing a phrase. And I don’t remember where I heard it from first, but I know that people will be very familiar with it—the idea that theology always leads to doxology. And you really should never have one without the other. If you have worship and praise that is not informed by theology, you’re really engaging in a form of idol worship because it’s not actually informed by anything and you’re not actually worshiping God.
On the other hand, if somebody has theology, if the word is dwelling richly—I’m tempted to put “dwelling richly” in air quotes, because can the Word really be dwelling richly in somebody’s heart if there’s not a response of praise and a response of doxology?—but if you have theology and no doxology, it raises the question of “Has that person actually rightly understood who God is and what God has done and what God has communicated to us through His Word?”
You know, one of my friends is part of a group and they wrote a song on an album that is songs from Colossians. The song is based on Colossians 3.16, that the Lord would plant His Word deep in our hearts and that there it would richly dwell. And when the Word does richly dwell within us, there’s nothing it can do except come out. And it’s just natural that it comes out in praise and it comes out in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs.
Daniel: Why don’t you give those friends a shout out?
Chad: So that’s The Grace Collective. Matt Carpenter is one half of The Grace Collective. Matt and I attended college together. So if they listen or ever join in on this podcast, I hope that your listeners will be very, very encouraged by their music. It’s really good. So if you don’t know The Grace Collective, check them out. You can find their music on iTunes, on Apple Music, Spotify, any of those places.
Daniel: Yeah, you don’t need to wait for their episode on the podcast. Go ahead and check them out now!
Chad: Yeah, check them out.
Daniel: Yeah. Then the other thing that comes up in this passage is that, well, there’s this idea of psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. There’s these three categories of songs. And in your study, in your reflection, what can you tell us about what these different categories of songs are, in a sense?
Chad: Yeah, it’s really fun when you read the commentaries on Colossians and the way that different scholars have tried to interpret it.
But when you take a step back and you really look at it, okay, how would Paul have been using those three words in his context when he was writing to the church in Colossae?
I’m convinced that Psalms is a reference to the Psalms, the Psalter in the Old Testament.
Hymns would have been a reference to other music outside of the Psalter that was used in some form of corporate worship, temple worship, various times when they were traveling. So one example would be when Jesus and the disciples left the Upper Room to cross the Kidron Valley to go to the Garden of Gethsemane the night that He was betrayed. It talks about how they sing a hymn, and it’s the same word.
And I would love to know what that hymn was! Because it doesn’t specify, it doesn’t tell us what any of the words were, there’s no reference to anything from the songs. So I’m convinced that that is something that would be an example that fits within that context of a hymn, a written piece of music for the express purpose of worship.
And then spiritual songs, I think, has to do with more of our personal praise and our personal expression of worship that just kind of springs out of our soul as we are connecting to the word of God dwelling in us richly. Sometimes that expression isn’t always going to be in the context of corporate worship, but as we’re doing our devotion, sometimes we’re moved to praise through the context of spiritual songs.
Chad: It is interesting, I’ll add, you know, there even nowadays, I mean, this would be this would be a whole ‘nother podcast episode. So I won’t dig into this too far. But if you talk to people nowadays, the debate about what a hymn is now—if you start talking about the difference between hymns and contemporary Christian music, what’s the difference between those two things?
And, you know, one of the one of the best definitions that I heard of a hymn is, you know, that it has a distinguishable meter. And that’s what kind of sets a hymn apart is the distinguishable meter. But I think we’re thinking in a different category when we’re talking about the difference between a hymn and a contemporary Christian song in comparison to what’s being stated in Colossians 3, or even in Ephesians as well, where, where Paul has almost the exact same phrase.
Daniel: Yeah, definitely hymns wasn’t defined in Jesus’ day as a song from the 1700s or 1800s!
So there’s another thought connected with this passage, which is that psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs can be really effective in helping the Word of Christ dwell in us richly, but they can’t do that very well if the Word of Christ isn’t present in those songs. Now, most topical songs have at least a passing reference to a Christian idea. But the more the Word of Christ is present in these songs, the more I would say it has a good shot of being effective in helping the Word of Christ dwell in us richly.
Chad: Yeah, I would agree with that statement 100%. And it helps us recenter on what’s truly important.
So when we’re thinking about the Word of Christ dwelling in us richly, we’re not talking about responding to our feelings. We’re talking about responding to truth. Christ’s Word is truth. And so when the truth of God’s Word dwells in us richly, in many ways that has more of a corrective upon our emotions as opposed to us merely responding emotively.
I know that that might not necessarily be where you were going with that statement, but when I think about the difference between music and song lyrics that are driven by Scripture, the difference that almost always comes to my mind is what is the focus? Is the focus on God, His truth, and how I respond? Or is it on me?
4. I Sing the Mighty Power of God
Daniel: Yes. So let’s move on and talk about I Sing the Mighty Power of God. Many episodes of this podcast I hope to interview writers of the songs and that’s not really an option for Isaac Watts!
Chad: Too bad!
Daniel: Yes, I know! It would be really interesting to talk with him about it—although this many hundred years of language barrier might be a little hard to overcome.
But I still wanted to feature this song in the first episode of this podcast because there’s just something poetic for this particular podcast idea about starting in Genesis 1 and starting with the hymn written by the father of English-language expository songs.
And not to jump too far ahead but… I don’t know exactly how long this first season of episodes will go, but I’ve already talked to a writer who wrote a song out of Revelation 22:20 I hope to close the season with.
Chad: Oh nice, that’s perfect.
Daniel: So I’m hoping to bookend the season with Genesis 1 and Revelation 22. We’re not going to hit every book of the Bible, not even in order in between, but there’s just something that feels right about starting Genesis 1 and finishing in Revelation 22 in this first season.
Daniel: So this song was originally published by Isaac Watts in his hymnal Divine and Moral Songs for Children (1715). So yeah, this was originally a children’s song!
And I’m going to put this in the show notes: Google Books has a free PDF of a 1728 printing of the book and I’ll also drop links to several excellent artist recordings. I’m going to assume most of you, if you’ve, if you’re interested enough in hymns that you’re still hanging in there with us at this point in the podcast, you probably already know the song “I Sing The Mighty Power of God.” If you don’t, pause this, jump over, learn this wonderful song, and then come back and hear us talk about it.
Chad: Let me offer some encouragement to the listeners. For what it’s worth, as much as I love old hymns (and I love modern hymns as well), this particular hymn is fairly new to me. I actually was introduced to it—your sister Bethany played it with my mother-in-law as a piano-violin duet and I loved it! The melody is just incredible. And so I went and read the lyrics and it was not very many Sundays after that we sang it at church because I loved it so much.
Daniel: Yes. So since this song is public domain and so we can do this, I will read the lyrics for each verse. And then we can talk about it, talk it through.
Verse 1 says:
I sing th’ Almighty power of God,
That made the mountains rise,
That spread the flowing seas abroad,
And built the lofty skies.
I sing the wisdom that ordained
The sun to rule the day;
The moon shines full at His command,
And all the stars obey.
One of the first things that jumps out here is—I went to a scan of an early edition of Watts’ work. I think it was first edition but ninth printing, the 1728 pdf. And it says originally “I sing th’ Almighty power of God.” Most hymnals today do change it to “sing the mighty power,” which I would say I think is a good change.
Chad: It definitely rolls off the tongue a little easier and is a little bit more singable, to where you kind of have to mute “the,” skate the “the” and “almighty” together. “Th’ almighty” can be a little tricky to blend together. So I would agree that was a good change.
Daniel: Yes. And then talking about this song in a broad lens, it’s clearly rooted in Genesis 1, but it’s not a paraphrase. It’s not like Newton’s “Glorious Things of Thee are Spoken.” It’s a response to the creation account. You know, we go through point by point, a lot of the things that Genesis 1 talks about God creating, talks about the mountains, the seas, the skies, the sun, the moon, and the stars, but it’s framed by lines one and five. We’re singing God’s mighty power and we’re singing his wisdom. So it’s like in the context of the creation account, we’re rejoicing in what God has done.
Chad: Yeah, it’s really a perfect hymn to talk about on the heels of talking about Colossians 3.16 because in many ways you can almost see Watts reading Genesis 1, being filled with the Word of God, and saying, “Well, how do we respond to this?” Well, we sing the mighty power of God that is displayed through creation and through His power that made the mountains rise and that all the stars obey his command.
Daniel: Yes. And it’s possible to write a song that just recounts, summarizes Scripture. You can summarize Scripture in a song, but that’s not usually a very effective song, and it’s not usually a song that receives wide attention even in its own time, let alone looking decades or centuries down the road. The songs that last that deal with Scripture—they’re dealing with the passage, but they’re communicating effectively, “Why does this matter?” What are the stakes, if you will? You know, what are we learning from this verse?
What do we want to teach our children as we study Genesis 1? Yes, we’re teaching them the facts that God made the universe, made it in six days. That’s a very important thing, especially in today’s culture to teach. But we’re also rejoicing. A good hymn often reflects our response to a passage. As part of the hymn, as part of the chorus, somewhere in the hymn, you have the response done well. And this is a really good example of that.
Chad: Yeah, absolutely.
Daniel: Any other thoughts on verse one before we jump on to verse two?
Chad: The only thing that came to my mind as you were explaining all of that just now is how similar it is to the Psalms. When you read the Psalms, so many of the Psalm writers are responding to a truth or an event that has happened. They’ve physically seen the power or might of God and then they’re responding. So in some ways, they’re kind of like modern Psalm writers. They’re just not inspired.
Well, verse 2 says:
I sing the goodness of the Lord,
That filled the earth with food:
Who formed the creatures with His Word,
And then pronounced them good.
Lord, how Thy wonders are displayed,
Where’er I turn my eye,
If I survey the ground I tread,
Or gaze upon the sky!
So the first half of this verse is really mirroring the same pattern. We’re celebrating a new attribute of God, His goodness, as it’s revealed in food and in creatures and in pronouncing everything good.
It helps you understand the breakdown a little bit of why it seems like the second half might go a bit of a different direction when you understand this hymn was originally eight four-line verses. The melody we have combines them. But there’s really continuity to the first three verses before he pivots and starts to go a different direction. The first half of verse one—the original verse one—the second half of verse one, first half of verse two. These first three have a line that talks about an attribute of God and then the next three lines are explaining that attribute and how to see that attribute reflected in creation.
Do you have any thoughts on verse two?
Chad: Not more than what you had mentioned, except one thing. I’m preaching this coming Sunday from Ecclesiastes 9, under the heading of “death comes to all.” But when we take into account the reality that death comes to all, what also comes to our mind is to enjoy life. And so when we think about the things that God has given, they are good things because they come from Him, and because they’re good things that come from Him. we are able to enjoy them, which is also cause for praise.
Daniel: Yes. Verse 3:
There’s not a plant or flower below,
But makes Thy glories known;
And clouds arise, and tempests blow,
By order from Thy throne;
Creatures—as numerous as they be—
Are subject to Thy care;
There’s not a place where we can flee,
But God is present there.
So I’d say line two—“but makes thy glories known”—brings to mind Psalm 19:1, which says, “The heavens declare the glory of God and the firmament shows His handiwork.”
Chad: Yeah, that was the passage of Scripture that sprang to my mind as well.
I know that you are going to notate this, but the difference in line five, where typically it’s “While all that borrows life from Thee,” that’s one of my favorite lines in the hymn. It reminds us that God is the one who is over all and in all and that truly we’re all on borrowed time. And that helps to reflect God’s glory and God’s power and it makes Him known. You know, the book of Ecclesiastes, God has placed eternity in the hearts of man, and when we look around at creation, ultimately the only thing that we should see is the Lord.
You know, it’s a tricky topic, this question of changing hymn lyrics, because… the first thing you have to say is for modern-day hymns you can’t without permission of the writer because the modern-day hymn—if it’s been written since about the 1920s or thereabout in the U.S., it’s under copyright. International listeners, check your country’s own laws—it differs country to country. But you need permission to change a modern-day song.
For old songs there are many changes made that are not great. There’s plenty of hymnals of the mainline denominations that take the grand old hymns of the faith and make them gender-neutral, sometimes even in relation to God, and water them down a fair amount.
But there’s also a few changes that are objectively good, I think. And I’d have to say this is a change that’s objectively good. Along with changing, “I sing th’ almighty power of God” to “I sing the mighty power of God.”
I think of changes to hymn lyrics—for the public domain, you can pretty much do what you want—but I think of it in the context of the Golden Rule. As somebody who does a fair amount of songwriting myself, what would I want and what wouldn’t I want somebody changing of mine 100 or 200 years down the road? And I feel this way—I think many writers would feel this way: If something comes across to the tongue a hundred years later as clunky, hard to sing, and there’s an alternative that’s faithful to the original meaning, that I think is something that I’m thoroughly comfortable with and something that I would venture to say most hymn writers are comfortable with.
You know the hymn “Rock of Ages,” right?
Daniel: There’s this, “When my eyes shall close in death” was originally “When my eye-strings break in death.” Because, you know, somebody’s eyes roll back when they die, and there was thought in medical work at the time that there was a string that connected the eyes where it was.
Chad: Oh, that makes sense.
Daniel: And when somebody died, the string broke, and that’s why their eyes rolled. Well, once we understood human anatomy a little better, as it relates to the eyes, We still wanted to keep singing that song, but that line got really distracting for people. I don’t mind that they changed it. And likewise, I don’t mind the change here.
Chad: Yeah, that’s a good word. And I think what you said is perfect, capturing the meaning. The first thing that I thought of was whatever group it was that wanted to make an edit to “In Christ Alone.” Of course, you can’t do that without permission because “In Christ Alone” is copyrighted by the Gettys and Townend. But, you know, they wanted to change the line “The wrath of God was satisfied” to “The love of God was magnified,” which completely alters the meaning of what is being portrayed in that particular verse.
Daniel: Yeah, that was, I believe, the hymnal of one of the mainline Presbyterian denominations, probably the PCUSA. But I’m not completely sure.
So we look at the second half of this verse where it says:
But all that borrows life from Thee
Is ever in Thy care
And everywhere that man can be
Thou, God, art present there.
Or, as the original would have it, “There’s not a place where we can flee / but God is present there.”
I think that both are good in those last two verses. But I would say that “There’s not a place where we can flee / but God is present there” in his original is probably even more clearly than what most people sing today a call out to Psalm 139.
Chad: Mm-hmm. Yeah, where can I go for…
Daniel: Verses 7-10. Sorry!
Chad: Oh, no, I was just thinking about the psalm that you were quoting in 139, you know, where can I go?
Daniel: Yes, I pulled up the text just to have it handy. Verses 7-10 say:
“Where can I go from Your Spirit?
Or where can I flee from Your presence?
If I ascend into Heaven, You are there;
If I make my bed in Hell, behold, You are there.
If I take the wings of the morning,
And dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
Even there Your hand shall lead me,
And Your right hand shall hold me.”
Now you might think, if you’ve sung this song in church through the years growing up like I did, you might think we’re gonna wrap up this hymn discussion here. But no, we got one more!
Because Watts actually wrote eight verses—as I gave a little spoiler a couple minutes ago. And we don’t sing the last two. But they say:
In Heaven He shines with beams of love,
With wrath in hell beneath:
’Tis on His earth I stand or move,
And ’tis His air I breathe.
His hand is my perpetual guard,
He keeps me with His eye:
Why should I then forget the Lord,
Who is for ever nigh?
Chad: Yeah, I didn’t know the fourth verse, so reading it on here is my first exposure to any additional verses beyond the first three.
Daniel: I’m kind of a hymn nut, I love the hymns, and I didn’t know it till pretty recently. So yeah, it’s definitely not widely known. I’m going to guess the reason it’s not widely sung today is because of the reference to wrath. And hymnals in the later 1800s didn’t have so many wrath songs in them as the hymnals of the early-to-mid 1700s did. I’m guessing, I’m not an expert in the history of this hymn, but I’m guessing the fourth verse got dropped in the 1800s.
Chad: Yeah, and that’s just—to kind of connect as we’re coming to the end of that song here back to Colossians 3: A big part of the Word of God dwelling in us richly is not just dwelling upon the truths of God that we like, but also dwelling upon the truths of God that are a little uncomfortable.
At the end of verse 3, where he says, “There’s not a place where we can flee, but God is present there.” You know, that’s not just true for believers, but that’s also true for unbelievers. And so that’s gonna bring great comfort that we can never be away from the Lord to the Christian. And it’s probably gonna bring a little bit of fear upon the person who doesn’t love the Lord. and who has hardened their hearts against him. And of course, our prayer is that God would move in their heart and save them and that they would delight in being in the presence of Yahweh.
But a part of letting God’s Word dwell in us richly means that we don’t get to cherry-pick just what’s comfortable and palatable, but that we’re dealing with everything and talking about the fact that God does display His wrath.
But then we look at the next two lines and those are two of the best lines in the whole song. Watts being the first, his writing was sometimes a little rough around the edges, sometimes didn’t quite rhyme, sometimes the syllable emphasis was not quite as perfect as a William Cowper might have been or John Newton might have been or Wesley. But you often have with Watts this raw power—more like a Broadway singer who can belt to the back of the auditorium unamplified than a finesse singer. That’s maybe not a great analogy but—Along with that raw power, sometimes he had these marvelous insights, and I think lines three and four of this are some of his best lines in the whole song. “‘Tis on his earth I stand or move, and ’tis His air I breathe.” That’s a really good conclusion to the song!
Daniel: And I would say it ties into Psalm 24:1, “The earth is the Lord’s and all its fullness, the world and those who dwell therein.”
Daniel: Well, that covers “I Sing the Mighty Power of God.” Pastor Chad, if any listeners are in north central Ohio and don’t have a home church, where can they find New Liberty, both online and offline?
Chad: So offline, we are in Lexington, Ohio, which is just south of Mansfield. The address is 2705 Lexington Avenue, Mansfield, Ohio. Our service starts at 10:30. Anybody who wants to join would be more than welcome. We would love to have you.
Daniel: And you have a book coming up!
Chad: I do. It’s been really, really fun. So it’s titled, Communing with God: A Basic Guide to the Discipline of Prayer. So it’s actually a four-part sermon that I preached about a year ago on the topic of prayer, answering four questions. Why pray? How to pray? What to pray? And when to pray?
In addition to working at the church, I also work with a local hospice organization here in Richland County in central Ohio. And in my visits with hospice patients, I’ve met a lot of people along the way who, when I ask them about their prayer life, they just say, “I don’t really pray much.” And then when I ask them why, the amount of people who had then said, “I don’t really know how.” And I’m not talking about people who aren’t Christians. I’m talking about people who have gone to church for decades.
And it just kind of created a burden in my heart to create and craft something. And I did it first and foremost for our church in the form of a sermon series. And then I’m not really sure how Comma Editing, the editing company who reached out to me, picked it up, but they were like, “Hey, would you be interested in converting a sermon series to a book?” And I was like, “As a matter of fact, I would, and I’ve already got the sermon series that I would do.”
So that book will be available. I don’t exactly know when. It should go to print at the end of this week It should be available by the end of May on BookBaby. It’ll also be pushed to Amazon as well. But yeah, so again the title’s Communing with God: A Basic Guide to the Discipline of Prayer.
Daniel: Cool, thank you!
And in conclusion, I would say that you can find and subscribe to this podcast on your favorite podcast platform or watch us on YouTube. You can also find future episodes, episode transcriptions, and the free 48,000 entry Expository Songs searchable database at danielmount.com. Thank you for listening!