Tullian.JPGWe ought to experience God with the totality of our being in worship. Worship services ought to inform the mind intellectually, engage the heart emotionally, and bend the will volitionally. God wants thoughtful worshippers who believe, emotional worshippers who behold, and obedient worshippers who behave. God-centered worship produces people who think deeply about God, feel passionately for God, and live urgently in response to God. Therefore, when we meet God in worship, we should expect a combination of gravity and gladness, depth and delight, doctrine and devotion, precept and passion, truth and love.
- Tullian Tchividjian

Worship by Tullian Tchividjian taken from Don’t Call it a Comeback, edited by Kevin DeYoung, copyright 2011, Crossway Books, a division of Good News Publishers, Wheaton Illinois 60187, www.crosswaybooks.org, p. 219-220.

wattsIf you read my blog, you know I am a big fan of Isaac Watts. Yesterday I received an email from Ligonier Ministries that Reformation Trust is offering a Watts bio for free the rest of May. The material below is snipped from that email. I would urge you to read about this most prolific and outstanding hymn writer. 

Until the end of May, Reformation Trust is giving away the eBook edition of Douglas Bond’s The Poetic Wonder of Isaac Watts.

We all know and love ‘Joy to the World,’ ‘Jesus Shall Reign,’ ‘Alas and Did My Savior Bleed,’ ‘When I Survey the Wondrous Cross,’ ‘O God, Our Help in Ages Past,’ and a host of his other compositions. And yet, most Christians know precious little about the author of these great hymn texts—the man history has dubbed as the ‘Father of English Hymnody.’ At least, until now. Thanks to the prolific and eloquent pen of Douglas Bond, we now have an insightful glimpse into the life, the faith, and the poetic wonder of this remarkable servant of the church: Isaac Watts. This delightful book needs to be put at the top of your must-read list.”

—Dr. George Grant

Available in May as a Free Download

“God is the ultimate musician. His music transforms your life. The notes of redemption rearrange your heart and restore your life. His songs of forgiveness, grace, reconciliation, truth, hope, sovereignty, and love give you back your humanity and restore your identity.”

- Paul David Tripp

God is the Ultimate Musician

jcryleThe benefits [the Lord’s Supper] confers, are spiritual, not physical. Its effects must be looked for in our inward man. It was intended to remind us, by the visible, tangible emblems of bread and wine, that the offering of Christ’s body and blood for us on the cross, is the only atonement for sin, and the life of a believer’s soul. It was meant to help our poor weak faith to closer fellowship with our crucified Savior, and to assist us in spiritually feeding on Christ’s body and blood. It is an ordinance for redeemed sinners, and not for unfallen angels. By receiving it we publicly declare our sense of guilt, and need of a Savior – our trust in Jesus, and our love to Him – our desire to live upon Him, and our hope to live with Him. Using it in this spirit, we shall find our repentance deepened, our faith increased, our hope brightened, and our love enlarged – our besetting sins weakened, and our graces strengthened. It will draw us nearer to Christ.

J.C. Ryle
Commentary, Matthew 26.

Oh! You’re here too?

February 11, 2014 — Leave a comment

“On Sundays God wants us to do more than sing songs together and have wonderful worship experiences. He wants to knit the fabric of our lives together. For many, church has become all about me – what I’m learning, what I’m seeking, what I’m desperate for, what I need, how I’ve been affected, what I can do. We see ourselves as isolated individuals all seeking personal encounters with God, wherever we can find them. Sadly, this reflects our individualistic, me-obsessed culture. Rather than seeing ourselves as part of a worship community, we become worship consumers. We want worship on demand, served up in our own time, and with our own music.”

Bob Kauflin
Worship Matters, Crossway Books, 2008,

God in Flesh and Blood

January 16, 2014 — Leave a comment

God in Flesh and BloodLast Sunday we introduced the song “God in Flesh and Blood” (By Jennie Lee Riddle, Travis Ryan and Brandon Collins) to our congregation. One of the moments that all worship leaders dread a bit is wondering if a song they introduce is going to “take hold” in the congregation. Some songs you don’t even bother doing again because the echoing thud of it seals its fate. Others deserve a second or third go around before deciding and some just settle right it at home. I knew that would happen with “God in Flesh and Blood.” It’s just that good. At rehearsal, the band asked “why didn’t you do this at Christmas time?!” Well, I have only just come across it for one and besides that, why are incarnation songs limited to the Advent/Christmas season? I love narratives that cover the scope of Christ’s ministry. A great example is Stuart Townend’s “From the Squalor of a Borrowed Stable.” The title sounds all Christmasy but it’s one of the most dynamic resurrection songs you will ever hear. “God in Flesh and Blood” begins at the incarnation:

From heaven You came down
You left Your throne and bowed
Humble sovereignty
Laid at the Father’s feet
Earth recognized Your cry
As worship filled the night
Son of God has come
Love now here with us

The chorus hearkens to the angels of Bethlehem and yet rings out as the fresh cry of grateful hearts at anytime:

Glory to God in the highest
Peace to the weary world
Blessed is He who has come to save us
God in flesh and blood

The second verse goes right to the cross and God in flesh and blood takes on a whole new insight:

Your hands and feet were bound
Thorns became Your crown
The love that molded us
Was nailed upon the cross
Every drop of grace
Was spilled out on that day
You were lifted high
O God the crucified

The chorus, as you might imagine, gains even more power at this point and the bridge that follows brings God in flesh and blood to yet another place – not the babe in Bethlehem or the crucified one on Calvary but the church!

Resurrection life
You gave up Your Spirit to give it to Your bride
Resurrection life
You gave up Your Spirit to come and live inside us

I don’t know if the writers were consciously carrying that theme forward from the manger to the cross to the church, but I think it works powerfully as praise and instruction. The melody is memorable, easily learned, the hook is there but the star is the lyric. By the way, you can purchase the beautiful string arrangement that accompanies the song in the video below.  If I have any quibble at all with the song it’s the use of “it” to refer to the Spirit. The Spirit, being a person, should be referred to as such but it’s a small matter. All in all, I’m delighted to add this to our church’s repertoire. Thanks Jennie, Travis and Brandon for such a lovely song.

“And he shall reign… forever.” – Gabriel

The Annunciation by El Greco

The Annunciation by El Greco

“The true Christian should often dwell on this glorious promise and take comfort in its contents. He has no cause to be ashamed of his Master. Poor and despised as he may often be for the Gospel’s sake, he may feel assured that he is on the conquering side. The kingdoms of this world shall yet become the kingdoms of Christ. Yet a little time and He that shall come will come, and will not tarry. For that blessed day let us patiently wait, and watch, and pray. Now is the time for carrying the cross, and for fellowship with Christ’s sufferings. The day draws near when Christ shall take His great power and reign; and when all who have served Him faithfully shall exchange a cross for a crown.” - J.C. Ryle

Isaac Watts: A Biographical Sketch, Part 4

Pinners’ Hall, London Here Isaac Watts preached from June, 1704, to October, 1708

Pinners’ Hall, London
Here Isaac Watts preached from June, 1704, to October, 1708

Come, we that love the Lord,
And let our joys be known;
Join in a song with sweet accord,
And thus surround the throne.

The sorrows of the mind
Be banished from the place:
Religion never was designed
To make our pleasures less.


- Watts, Hymn 20:1,2,10

Very early on his talent for rhyme and verse was apparent and intrigued his mother. Thinking that the rhymes he brought her might be “borrowed” from some other source, she challenged him one day as to his integrity, whereupon he sat down in her presence and composed the following acrostic:.

Title page of Watts first hymnal.

The title page of Watt’s first hymnal published in 1707


I  am a vile polluted lump of earth,
S o I’ve continued ever since my birth,
A lthough Jehovah grace does daily give me,
A s sure this monster Satan will deceive me,
C ome therefore, Lord, from Satan’s claws relieve me.

W ash me in thy blood, O Christ,
A nd grace divine impart,
T hen search and try the corners of my heart,
T hat I in all things may be fit to do
S ervice to thee, and sing thy praises too.

When Watts returned home for two years after his studies at Stoke Newington concluded, he was attending his father’s church and began to complain of the psalm singing. The metrical notes and chant-like singing carried no depth of beauty or heights of exaltation.  Watts loved the Psalms but he saw them as not always illuminating the glories of the gospel. When the congregation would sing, one line would lift hearts in praise but the next would bring the mind to thoughts of despair. He was quite sure the church could do better. One Sunday as he was complaining, Isaac Sr. challenged him to provide something better for the church to sing. The young man was already known as a poet, what about lyrics? The following Sunday he returned and the first hymn by Isaac Watts, “Behold the Glories of the Lamb” was sung at the Above Bar Congregational Church.

“Behold the glories of the Lamb, amidst His Father’s throne:
Prepare new honours for His name, and songs before unknown.  [Tweet this!]


Portrait of Watts taken from life by G. White, 1727.

Portrait of Watts taken from life by G. White, 1727.

The congregation was so enthused by the hymn that they requested a new one week after week. This was no small matter. While Germany had long been singing the hymns of Martin Luther, the church in England had steadfastly remained committed to singing only from the Psalter. The Psalms were the inspired Word of God! What could be more profitable? Yet Watts knew that the company of those under the New Covenant needed something more. He acknowledged that preaching needed improvement and better methods of prayer should be explored but when it came to the singing of praise, here the church failed most miserably!  In his own introduction to his book of hymns, he writes: “To see the dull Indifference, the negligent and the thoughtless air that sits upon the faces of a whole assembly, while the Psalm is on their lips, might tempt even a charitable observer to suspect the fervency of inward Religion; and ‘tis much to be feared that the minds of most of the worshippers are absent or unconcerned.” (From the preface to Watt’s preface to “Hymns and Spiritual Songs”)

For Watts, the glories of the gospel must stand front and center. He took issue with singing the songs of a lesser David when the greater David was the one we worshipped. Speaking of some of the Psalms he writes: “Some of them are almost opposite to the spirit of the Gospel… When we are just entering into an evangelic frame by some of the glories of the Gospel presented in the brightest figures of Judaism, yet the very next line perhaps which the clerk parcels out unto us, hath something in it so extremely Jewish and cloudy, that darkens our sight of God the Savior: Thus by keeping too close to David in the house of God, the veil of Moses is thrown over our hearts.” (From the preface to Watt’s preface to “Hymns and Spiritual Songs”)

The Rose - an illustration from the “Divine and Moral Songs “ -  Eighteenth Century Chap-books.

The Rose – an illustration from the “Divine and Moral Songs “ – Eighteenth Century Chap-books.

Much of the hymnody of Watts used today was written in the early period of his life when writing for his father’s church. His “Hymns and Spiritual Songs” was published in 1707 and included “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross,” “Alas, and Did My Savior Bleed,” and “Jesus, Thou everlasting King.” In 1719, Watts published his “The Psalms of David: Imitated in the Language of the New Testament, and Applied to the Christian State and Worship.” He wanted to make David and the Psalms speak in language that the church could relate to. “Oh God, Our Help in Ages Past,” “Jesus Shall Reign” and “Joy to the World” were among these hymns. Despite his immense suffering, he produced a great work of tenderness in 1720 entitled “Divine and Moral Songs, for the use of Children.”  In all, Watts wrote over 500 hymns, many of which are still published and in use today.

“Were the whole realm of nature mine, that were a present far too small;
Love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all.” – Watts
[Tweet this!]

Isaac Watts: A Biographical Sketch, Part 3

Lady Hartopp in
a chapel window

After two years at home, Watts returned to Stoke Newington and took up residence in the home of Sir John Hartopp in order to be a tutor to his Son. Watts thought very highly of Sir John and referred to him as a gentleman, a scholar and a Christian. He was an exceptionally well educated man with vast interests, especially astronomy, but above all he loved the Scriptures. Watts spent five years in the Hartopp home and paid close attention to his own development. He consistently read the scriptures in their original languages, pursuing the best commentaries available. The bulk of three of his works, “Improvement of the Mind,” “Miscellaneous Thoughts,” and “Logic,” were written during this time.

July 17th, 1698 was memorable for Watts. Not only was it the occasion of his 24th birthday, it was the day of his first public sermon at the church the Hartopps attended. From what accounts we have, his preaching was described as “solid rather than shining.” His sermons were prosaic and brilliant, satisfying for those who sought deeper waters but not delivered with strong oratorical power.   The pastor, Doctor Chauncy, was in need of an assistant and that same year invited Watts to become part of his staff.

The church, located on Mark Lane, was solidly committed to nonconformity, having been led by eminent men in that camp including Joseph Caryl and the famed puritan writer John Owen. In January of 1702, Watts was asked to succeed Chauncy as pastor. He was extremely reluctant and offered many suggestions to the church’s leadership as to how they might proceed without him but they were adamant and he at last agreed. He took the post on March 8th of 1702 under the shadow of the death of King William and the anxiety of what lay ahead for the Non-Conformists.

Watts never married although he attempted to engage the hand of a Miss Elizabeth Singer, a woman who had read his first book of published poetry, “Horæ Lyricæ,” and had fallen in love with him to the point that she began a very romantic exchange of letters. She came to visit Watts and surely anticipated receiving his proposal. What she saw was not what she expected. Watts was simply not an attractive man. By all accounts he was unattractive. When he proposed to her, Miss Singer replied “Mr. Watts, I only wish I could say that I admire the casket as much as I admire the jewel.” That would be the end of the potential marriage and Watts did not try again.

Watt in his study at the Abney home.

His health was a thorn in the flesh that hampered him severely. One has to wonder what his achievements might have been given his output, had he not been so often waylaid by illness. Even months before his ordination to the church he was in need of time away both at his father’s home and, on the advice of his physicians, at Bath. Surely the church had held out hopes that his health would improve but it would prove to be his undoing.   In 1703, in light of his health difficulties the church called the Rev. Samuel Price to serve alongside of Watts as his assistant. Together they saw growth in the church and the move of the congregation into their own facility. Over time the weight of work and study took their toll on his nervous system and it appears he broke down. In 1712 he was stricken with a highly debilitating fever that seemed poised to take his life. Prayer was offered up throughout London for his recovery and even though he survived, he would be considered an invalid for the remainder of his life. Rev. Price was formally ordained and made co-pastor with Watts. Watts remained a pastor to the church although in a symbolic way while the godly and generous Rev. Price would carry the lion’s share of the work for decades to come.

It was after the breakdown that Watts was invited to come and spend a week at the country estate of Sir Thomas and Lady Abney, the house of Theobalds, in Hertfordshire. What was intended as a week-long visit turned into a 36 year residency and the place where Watts would end his earthly life.  A sweeter gift heaven could not have provided at the time. Lady Abney was the sister of Watts’ best friend in his childhood, Thomas Gunston. She was a woman of tremendous wealth and the utmost generosity. Watts’ friendship with the Abneys grew into a deep commitment of mutual respect, admiration and affection. So solid was the relationship that Watts was allowed to remain at the home even after the death of Sir Thomas in 1722. Sometime after the death of her husband, Lady Abney moved to the home in Stoke Newington that Thomas Gunston had built and left to her in his will. Lady Abney, a kind and generous benefactor, allowed Watts to divide his time as needed between the Gunston home and Theobalds, seeing to it that Watts’ days were lived in a serene environment that allowed him the greatest opportunity for meditation, study and writing. Watt’s had his detractors, including some in his own family, but Lady Abney kept them at bay and allowed Watts to never be troubled by them. She would live only two months past the time of Watt’s death.


The Abney House, Stoke Newington

The season at Theobalds was both filled with delight at his surroundings and yet immense physical suffering. While he lived in a suite of well-appointed rooms that formed his apartment, his own body continued to betray him. There was a great peace that accompanied him but his nights were restless battles with insomnia. Only strong medicine could sometimes allow him to sleep. His nervous and weak constitution continually worked against him but nevertheless his deep confidence in Providence sustained him in sanity against the tides of infirmity. Here he prayed, studied and wrote. While Watts’ name is known around the world, it is in large part due to the gracious Abney family. Watts’ own biographer writes:“What honors are due to this family from the church and world! Where the name of Dr. Watts is mentioned as a distinguished blessing let it ever be gratefully remembered that it might under Providence be owing to Sir Thomas Abney and his amiable Lady that he was continued so long a burning, and a mining light in this hemisphere of the church, and that there are such remains of his beneficial lusters in the excellent sermons and other works composed by him under their roof.”
(Memoirs of the Rev. Isaac Watts, D.D., 1780, by Thomas Gibbons pg. 115)

 Watts’ output was highly substantial given his frailness of body and nervous condition. The years he spent in quiet were years of great productivity and influence. He took a great interest in the movements of Christendom both in England and in the States. He maintained correspondence with many New England leaders, Jonathan Edwards, Cotton Mather and Governor Belcher among them. He was deeply moved by the Great Awakening in New England and followed closely the work of the Wesleys and George Whitefield. He crafted many works that explored both philosophy and religion. His well-known “Logic” was published in 1724, followed by various catechisms for young and old, essays on a variety of subjects, and notably, strong works on the Trinity that were, in part, an answer to the Arian influence of his day. In 1728, both the Universities of Aberdeen and Edinburgh honored him with a doctoral degree.



Vertical Church Band: The Rock Won’t Move

“VCB encourages us to have a faith that stands on the Rock that won’t move.”


vertical-church-rock-wont-moveI turned 57 this last week and it seems the older I get the more I’m turning into that guy. You know, the one who loves the old songs and wonders why we need a constant glut of new worship songs? I’m still trying to learn how to sing the ones from last year! And whatever happened to being able to hear individual instruments? Where did this wall of sound come from?  (I can hear my bones fossilizing as I write this…) As a worship leader, I honestly do value what new songs bring to the church and I’m always on the look out for great ones. More than once I have seen a new song breathe fresh winds into the sails of congregational worship. That being said, I’ve also seen a lot of really bad songs become popular due to catchy hooks but added nothing to edification of the church. (Col. 3:16) The great songs lift our hearts and feed our souls not not only with beauty but strong truth.

Enter Vertical Church Band and their new collection of worship songs entitled “The Rock Won’t Move.” VCB comes out Harvest Bible Chapel in Chicago, pastored by James MacDonald.  Harvest  has a strong emphasis on solid doctrine and biblical preaching that shows up clearly in the worship music that flows out of the church. Yes, there is the typical wall of sound going on here (Can’t wait for that pendulum to swing!) and some of the usual over worked exultations:

I am free, I am free indeed
I am free, I am free indeed
We are free, free indeed
We are free, free indeed
- “I’m Going Free (Jailbreak)

But there are some real gems here that are original, poetic, musically inspiring and theologically tasty. Two really stand out. First is “Worthy Worthy.” Somewhat akin to Revelation Song, “Worthy Worthy” has the kind of simple chorus that one can get lost in while worshipping, but the verses are what really stand out to me. It opens with:

No pen or quill, no scribe in perfect skill
With flawless words could capture all You are
No lofty thought, no scholar of this world
Could grasp an inch of such infinity

I appreciate songs that capture the notion of how transcendent God is and the smallness of our capacity to comprehend His greatness. The second verse with the pre-chorus:

With hearts amazed and songs that never frame
The fullness of your worth and majesty
We come again and fall on bended knee
And here adore the God that we don’t see
Though we cannot comprehend such a mystery
Just a glimpse of You revealed is compelling us to sing

Indeed! His self-revelation to our hearts is compelling! How can we not worship? The melody makes the song very congregationally friendly and I can see our church doing this.

“With hearts amazed and songs that never frame the fullness of your worth and majesty, We come again and fall on bended knee and here adore the God that we don’t see”

The PR folks are trumpeting  “The Rock Won’t Move,” “Strong God,” “Worthy Worthy,” “Call On The Name,” and the album opener “Found In You.” There really are some nice songs here but one not mentioned as a “key track” that I would consider THE track is “I Will Follow.”  Why? Because we have done such a poor job of  highlighting the reality of suffering and death in our worship. I’ve been saying for some time to young worship leaders that our job is not just to instruct people in living but preparing them to face suffering and the reality of death in a godly way. I can see some of this making an appearance in several of the songs in this collection but “I Will Follow” captures it beautifully:

When I see the wicked prospering
When I feel I have no voice to sing
Even in the want, I’ll follow You
Even in the want, I’ll follow You

When I find myself so far from home
And You lead me somewhere I don’t wanna go
Even in my death, I’ll follow You
Even in my death, I’ll follow You

These are profound statements with huge implications – ones that we need to train believers to deal with. The chorus is a simple affirmation:

I believe everything that You say You are
I believe that I have seen Your unchanging heart
In the good things and in the hardest part
I believe and I will follow You
I believe and I will follow You

In the “good things and in the hardest part.” One thing that 57 years have shown me is that the hard parts are relentless. VCB encourage us to have a faith that stands on the Rock that won’t move.
Check out the promotional video below and click here to get the song The Rock Won’t Move with leadsheet from Noisetrade!


Jeff Ling is the Pastor of Clear River Community Church in Northern Virginia.