WHICH HYMNS ARE APPROPRIATE FOR US GRACE BELIEVERS TO SING?
by Shawn Brasseaux
Which hymns are suitable for us to sing? How can we recognize high-quality Christian songs? Which melodies best communicate the doctrines of God’s Word rightly divided? Not “For what saith the hymnals?” but rather “For what saith the Scriptures?”
Hymns are a great way to express our understanding of Bible truths. Unfortunately, they can also be an excellent method whereby we advertise our Bible ignorance. People frequently spend more time in denominational teaching than sound Bible study. They rely on the minister to read and “explain” (?) the Bible to them, but they do not read by themselves. Oftentimes, the preacher was educated in religious tradition—not pure Bible—at his seminary or Bible College. Since he lacks solid theology, he transfers his erroneous views to his church members. They then write spiritual songs reflecting that denominational doctrine. Congregants everywhere sing those published hymns, thus further reinforcing and disseminating the faulty doctrine. Those songs inspire other denominational hymns. People spend more time singing and writing hymns than studying Scripture. (The cycle repeats and repeats and repeats through the decades and centuries.) Therefore, what they believe is often found in the hymnal but not in the Bible. Friends, we should exercise great caution here. Memorizing hymn verses and ignoring Scripture verses is spiritually hazardous!
We should sing only what is true. If we claim to be Christians, if we assert to have the truth, but we sing lies (false doctrine), then we discredit ourselves and become a reproach to the name of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Hymns should reinforce sound Bible doctrine (rightly divided Scripture); they should not teach error. This makes this whole matter of specious hymns most serious. Make no mistake: this is far from petty and pedantic!
Colossians 3:16 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.” Ephesians 5:18-19 adds, “ And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit;  Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord;….” We should put God’s Word in our inner man first, and then that Word will express itself in songwriting and singing. Conversely, fallacious hymns are the result of a failure to study the Bible rightly divided. When the Holy Spirit is in control of our minds and hearts, then we will write and sing dispensationally-correct songs!
In this Bible study, we purpose to accomplish two goals. Firstly, we want to identify some of the more recognized hymns that are awkward. Secondly, we will offer possible enhancements to correct them. Please note that these changes are not original to this author; he is merely passing along discerning revisions that others have suggested through the years.
“FACE-TO-FACE WITH CHRIST, MY SAVIOR” is a hymn that concerns meeting the Lord Jesus in the Rapture (our gathering together unto Him). It mentions in verse 2, “Only faintly now, I see Him, / With the darkling veil between, / But a blessed day is coming, / When His glory shall be seen.” Verse 3 reads, in part, “When the crooked ways are straightened, / And the dark things shall be plain.” These lyrics are then fed into 1 Corinthians 13:12. The Bible is thus said to be implying us entering Heaven when in fact the passage actually teaches the completion of the canon of Scripture. Unless we get this straight, we will force the Bible verse to say something it never said. It is better to just wholly disregard this hymn. The (God-inspired) Bible verse is more important than (man-inspired) hymn verse!!
Another religious song that is not conducive to learning and teaching sound Bible doctrine is “WE’LL UNDERSTAND IT BETTER BY AND BY.” The refrain is, “For we’ll understand it better by and by.” While it is true that we will understand all things in Heaven, it is self-defeating to sing praises to God to celebrate our current ignorance. How better it is to just discount this hymn altogether and go read the Bible to “understand better by and by!”
“VICTORY IN JESUS” is a beautiful, old hymn but it promotes much worthless denominational teaching. Verse 1 says, in part: “I heard about His groaning, / Of His precious blood’s atoning, / Then I repented of my sins / And won the victory.” Instead of “Then I repented of my sins,” say, “Now I’m forgiven all my sins.” Today, there is simply too much confusion about repentance, and too little understanding of forgiveness. If we sing of forgiveness instead of repentance, we may suppress this spiritual mix-up. Its last two verses also can be modified to better reflect sound Bible doctrine. Verse 3 is greatly denominational.
Verse 2: “I heard about His healing, / Of His cleansing power revealing. / How He made the lame to walk again / And caused the blind to see; / And then I cried, ‘Dear Jesus, / Come and heal my broken spirit,’ / And somehow Jesus came and brought / To me the victory.” Verse 3: “I heard about a mansion / He has built for me in glory. / And I heard about the streets of gold / Beyond the crystal sea; / About the angels singing, / And the old redemption story, / And some sweet day I’ll sing up there / The song of victory.”
We could change verse 2 to read: “I heard about Paul’s message about the mystery, ‘Christ’s Body’ / How that Jesus Christ, the Living Head, He gave us liberty; / I heard that now His message of ‘Grace’ to all believers, it takes away the Law that was and gives the victory!” Verse 3 can altered to be: “I heard His resurrection gives hope to those who trust Him / I heard about that Blessed Hope to all who are in Him; / About our home in Heaven, and our bodies fashioned like His, / And I rejoice and shout ‘AMEN!’ We have the victory!”
“THE CHURCH’S ONE FOUNDATION” is a song that claims that we the Church the Body of Christ are “his holy bride.” This is not true, and only confuses us with the nation Israel. “MARCHING TO ZION” is yet another hymn that blurs us with Israel. We need to skip this one completely as well. “THE OLD-TIME RELIGION” is quite inappropriate for us to sing, too. We do not have “religion;” yea, we do not want to go around singing a tune asking for religion. This will only confuse lost people listening to us. We want a relationship with God through Jesus Christ. Christianity is not a religion; it is a relationship with Father God through Calvary’s finished crosswork!
“ABIDE WITH ME” should not be sung. We have no need to ask the Lord to stay with us over and over again as this song would have us do. If we have trusted Jesus Christ as our personal Saviour, believing in Jesus Christ’s finished crosswork as sufficient payment for our sins (1 Corinthians 15:3-4), God’s Holy Spirit indwells us and He will not (yea, never!) leave us. “And grieve not the holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption” (Ephesians 4:30). Ephesians 1:13-14: “In whom [Christ] ye also trusted, after that ye heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation: in whom also after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that holy Spirit of promise, Which is the earnest of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, unto the praise of his glory.”
The hymn “BEULAH LAND” supposedly depicts Heaven. However, the Bible uses the term to explain the Earth, especially the Promised Land, when redeemed Israel enters her Millennial Kingdom. Isaiah 62:4: “Thou shalt no more be termed Forsaken; neither shall thy land any more be termed Desolate: but thou shalt be called Hephzibah, and thy land Beulah: for the LORD delighteth in thee, and thy land shall be married.” This is land on Earth, not in Heaven! It is better to just abandon this hymn altogether. We are not looking to partake of Israel’s hope; we are looking for God’s heavenly kingdom (2 Timothy 4:18).
“THE KINGDOM IS COMING” is an additional inaccurate hymn. We are not looking for God’s kingdom to come here; Israel is (Matthew 6:10). We are looking to go and be with Him in the air (1 Thessalonians 4:17), not meet Him on the Earth (Job 19:25-27). “I’VE PITCHED MY TENT IN BEULAH” has the Christian singing as though he was once enslaved in Egypt and is now enjoying the Promised Land. This is downright preposterous because it has the Body of Christ claiming Israel’s history as its own. It is better to just disregard this hymn altogether. It is also best not to sing at all, “I AM BOUND FOR THE PROMISED LAND.” Heaven is not the Promised Land, and we do not need to steal Israel’s promises either. The song “IN THE GARDEN” has Jesus talking with the Christian on a daily basis. This can be misconstrued to mean that God speaks to us apart from His Word, the Holy Bible. It is better not to sing this hymn.
Although a good evangelistic song, “SEND THE LIGHT” says “we have heard the Macedonian call today.” In the Bible, the “Macedonian call” was the Apostle Paul’s vision in which he saw and heard a “man” inviting him to preach the Gospel in northern Greece (Acts 16:9-10). God uses no such supernatural experiences to lead us today. We have a completed Bible, so let us keep that Bible and toss out the mistaken hymns!
“OLD-TIME POWER” features this chorus: “O Lord, send the power just now, / O Lord, send the power just now, / O Lord, send the power just now, / And baptize every one.” While probably sincere, the songwriter (like most) evidently believed our pattern is Acts chapter 2, the day of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit came upon the Jewish Messianic saints. There is nothing in Acts chapter 2 about us the Church the Body of Christ. Today’s Charismatics are wrong in that they keep trying to claim “the power of Pentecost” as their own—tongues, miracle healings, and other supernatural experiences. We do not need this so-called “baptism with the Holy Ghost.” There is a related hymn, “FALL FRESH ON ME,” containing the lyrics: “Spirit of the living God, Fall fresh on me, Spirit of the living God, fall fresh on me. Break me, milk me, mold me, fill me.” It would be utterly inappropriate for us to sing this, too. Also, the hymn “BREATHE ON ME” should be fully skipped because it has us asking the Holy Spirit to breathe on us. What mystical silliness!
“I KNOW WHOM I HAVE BELIEVED” is a grand ol’ song highlighting the wonderful Bible truth of security in Christ, but it has some glaring doctrinal mistakes. Verse 1 says: “I know not why God’s wondrous grace / To me He hath made known, / Nor why, unworthy, Christ in love / Redeemed me for His own.” And, verse 3: “I know not how the Spirit moves, / Convincing men of sin, / Revealing Jesus through the Word, / Creating faith in Him.” This is nothing but singing about our ignorance again. “I know not… I know not.” The Bible says we do know! Therefore, we had better change the words to “I know now!” (Otherwise, unsaved people listening to us will leave, claiming, “Ha, see they do not know spiritual truth either! I had better go elsewhere if I want to find God’s Word!”)
When “THE SOLID ROCK” says in verse 2, “When darkness veils His lovely face,” we should change that to “When darkness seems to veil His face.” Else, we start repeating Israel’s legalistic passages—God punishing her because of her failure to keep the Mosaic Law (Deuteronomy 31:17-18,20; Isaiah 8:17; Isaiah 59:1-2; Ezekiel 39:29; Micah 3:4).
Verse 3 now: “His oath, His covenant, His blood / Support me in the whelming flood; / When all around my soul gives way, / He then is all my hope and stay.” We are under no covenants in the Dispensation of Grace. This verse should be altered, possibly to read, “His love, His mercy, and His grace, / Support and help me run the race. / When all around my soul gives way, / He still is all my Hope and Stay.”
The original verse 4 says, “When He shall come with trumpet sound, / Oh, may I then in Him be found; / Dressed in His righteousness alone, / Faultless to stand before the throne.” It is better to say, “When He shall come with trumpet sound, / Oh yes I will in Him be found; / Dressed in His righteousness alone, / Faultless to stand before the throne.” We do not want to sing that we “may” be found in Christ. We have assurance of salvation in Christ, not wishful thinking (2 Timothy 1:12; 2 Corinthians 5:8).
“BLESSED ASSURANCE” says, “angels descending, Bring from above echoes of mercy, whispers of love” in verse 2. We can get into major theological trouble here, for this is a gateway to the Charismatic Movement. Angels have no ministry to us today. We do not look for angels, and we do not listen for “echoes of mercy” and “whispers of love.” We read the Bible if we want to hear from God. It would be more proper for us to sing, “I have His Spirit living within, I am in Christ, and free from all sin.”
It is better to eliminate entirely verse 3 of “ARE YOU WASHED IN THE BLOOD?, which says: “When the Bridegroom cometh will your robes be white? / Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb? / Will your soul be ready for the mansions bright, / And be washed in the blood of the Lamb?” This omission will keep us from again confusing ourselves with Israel and making her verses apply to us (Matthew 25:1-13; Matthew 9:14-17; John 14:2; et al.). Those passages are related to Christ’s Second Coming for Israel. They are not about His coming for us at the Rapture. Contrary to religious tradition, we are not the Bride of Christ and He is not our Groom. The Bible says we are the Body of Christ (Ephesians 1:22-23).
Verse 4 in some versions of “JESUS LOVES ME” says, “Jesus loves me! He will stay / Close by me all the way; / If I love Him when I die, / He will take me home on high.” This is highly unfortunate and actually heretical. We do not go to Heaven because we “love Jesus” when we die. This is nothing but works-religion. We go to Heaven because we have trusted in His blood sacrifice on the cross as sufficient payment for our sins (Ephesians 2:8-9; Romans 4:1-5; Titus 3:5)!
The two hymns “LET JESUS COME INTO YOUR HEART” and “LET HIM IN” promote a perverted interpretation of Revelation 3:20. This Bible verse is not about lost people letting Jesus into their heart so they can be saved unto eternal life. It rather discusses Jewish kingdom believers waiting in Israel’s program for Christ’s Second Coming to set up their kingdom on Earth. “REDEEMED” has a fourth verse, “I know I shall see in His beauty The King in whose law I delight….” We can sing this song, but it is better to skip this verse completely because it too applies to Christ’s Second Coming and Israel’s Millennial Kingdom (Isaiah 33:17).
“BURIED WITH CHRIST” features the chorus: “Buried with Christ and dead unto sin; / Dying but living, Jesus within; / Ruling and reigning day after day, / Guiding and keeping all of the way.” This would be better worded, “Buried with Christ and dead unto sin; / Dying but living, Jesus within; / Rightly dividing God’s Word today / Jesus revealed His truth in this way.”
You may retain verse 1 of the hymn “UNSEARCHABLE RICHES,” but use verses 2 and 3 as written by Grace saints. (verse 2) “Oh, the unsearchable riches of Christ, / From other ages concealed. / Now, through the message of Grace He has given / These precious truths are revealed!” (verse 3) “His secret purpose He wants us to know, / Hidden no longer His plan. / Members of Christ, and His Body are we, / Highest of callings for man!”
“SHOWERS OF BLESSING” has us the saints singing, “Showers of blessing, / Showers of blessing we need: / Mercy-drops round us are falling, / But for the showers we plead.” How totally unwarranted it is for us Christians to ask God for “showers of blessing!” Ephesians 1:3 says, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ.” God has given us everything in Christ—we are “complete [lacking nothing] in Him” (Colossians 2:10). Now, we go around begging Him to give more?! Preposterous! Additionally, “showers of blessing” is a quotation of Ezekiel 34:26, “And I will make them and the places round about my hill a blessing; and I will cause the shower to come down in his season; there shall be showers of blessing.” These are not figurative showers as the hymn implies; they are literal rain, for the context shows vegetation growing. This is Christ’s Millennial Kingdom; it is Israel’s verse, not ours. And, there are no “mercy-drops!!”
“STANDING ON THE PROMISES” has the following lyrics in verse 3: “Standing on the promises I now can see / Perfect, present cleansing in the blood for me; / Standing in the liberty where Christ makes free, / Standing on the promises of God.” And verse 5: “Standing on the promises I shall not fall, / Listening every moment to the Spirit’s call. / Resting in my Savior as my All in all, / Standing on the promises of God.”
We can enhance verse 3 to read: “Standing on the promises I now can see, / Romans through Philemon written just to me; / Standing fast in liberty Christ makes me free, / Standing on the promises of God.” We should not be “listening every moment to the Spirit’s call” as verse 5 implies. The Holy Spirit is not speaking to us apart from His Bible! Long ago, some Grace brethren changed verse 5 to read, “Standing on the promises, I shall not fall / Following the pattern of Apostle Paul / Resting in my Saviour who accomplished all / Standing on the promises of God.”
There is a hymn known as “THE LORD IS MY SHEPHERD,” which is largely Psalm 23 paraphrased and expanded. While Psalm 23 is God’s Word, we have no need to sing it; it is literal truth to be sung in a future time, after our Dispensation of Grace.
“JESUS LOVES EVEN ME” says, “If one should ask of me, how can I tell? / Glory to Jesus, I know very well! / God’s Holy Spirit with mine doth agree, / Constantly witnessing Jesus loves me.” It would be better worded as follows: “If one should ask of me, how can I tell? / Glory to Jesus, I know very well! / The Holy Bible has shown me the key, / Rightly dividing what’s written to me!”
A grace brother, Pastor Ted Fellows, added verse 5 to the hymn, “THE BIBLE STANDS.” He wrote, “The Bible stands in the King James Version, / There it’s been preserved for me; / God’s Word in English, and without error, / And my final authority!”
“THERE’S A SWEET, SWEET SPIRIT IN THIS PLACE” emphasizes the Lord’s presence as some Spirit who mysteriously floats around and hovers over an assembly. This is nothing but vain superstition (also Charismatic/Pentecostal-oriented). We have no reason to sing it. The Holy Spirit lives inside us the believers in Christ (1 Corinthians 3:16; 1 Corinthians 6:19; 2 Timothy 1:14). God, according to Scripture, does not live in manmade church buildings (Acts 17:24)!!
Finally, some of our most beloved Christmas hymns are in error. “WE THREE KINGS OF ORIENT ARE” declares there were three wise men and yet the Bible never says how many visited young Jesus. We do not know if they were kings, either. “THE FIRST NOEL” contains a similar error. Furthermore, it has the wise men visiting Jesus at the time of the shepherds, which the Bible does not support. This is all just vain religious tradition. The wise men visited Jesus in Nazareth when He was as much as two years old (Matthew 2:1-16) whereas the shepherds visited Him in Bethlehem when He was a newborn Baby (Luke 2:1-20). Martin Luther’s “AWAY IN A MANGER” song claims, “Be near me, Lord Jesus, / I ask Thee to stay / Close by me forever, / And love me, I pray.” Again, this is useless. Jesus Christ does not leave Christians.
Titus 2:1 instructs us, “But speak thou the things which become sound doctrine.” It is therefore only appropriate that we speak (and, by extension, sing) that which fits, or is in accordance with, sound Bible doctrine. This Bible study was an attempt to provide insight into how we not only believe sound Bible doctrine but also how we should actually work it into hymns. Our hymnals should be an aid in teaching rather than an aid in confusing.
Of course, this list is not exhaustive. Many lesser-known hymns, songs that that this author is not familiar with, could have been added and corrected here. What of those we have not covered in this study? (Are the modern “Contemporary Christian” songs any good? Usually not, as they are doctrinally shallow. Be extremely cautious here.) Friend, you will have to take God’s Word rightly divided and decide for yourself which songs are inappropriate for you (and/or your congregation) to sing. Use your renewed mind to write your own lyrics to replace doctrinally-deficient ones. If you have any background in music, you are strongly encouraged to compose brand-new dispensational songs that will glorify our Lord Jesus Christ (and reinforce sound Bible doctrine for hearers—saved and lost alike).
Dear saints, in closing, remember that the Bible is the standard. We get hymns from the Bible; we do not get the Bible from hymns. God the Holy Spirit inspired the Bible; He did not inspire hymns, no matter how beautiful, moving, or popular they are. The “good ol’ hymns,” “great songs of the faith,” are indeed our heritage—our link to the saints of God of centuries past—but our allegiance belongs first and foremost to the Holy Scriptures. We should be more fearful of changing the Bible to fit the hymns than altering the hymns to fit the Bible. The hymns are the creations of men; the Bible is the Word of Almighty God. I would rather correct the hymns than trade God’s eternal words for men’s temporal words. What about you?