When planning the songs for the Together for the Gospel conference with Mark Dever, he suggested a hymn that I knew about but had never sung. It’s called How Sweet and Awful is the Place, and was written by my historical hero, Isaac Watts. Numerous guys came up to me at the conference and told me how much the words had affected them. Terry Stauffer from Alberta, Canada blogged on it. As I was considering what to post this morning, the words of the hymn kept coming to mind.
1. How sweet and aweful is the place
With Christ within the doors,
While everlasting love displays
The choicest of her stores.
2. While all our hearts and all our songs
Join to admire the feast,
Each of us cry, with thankful tongues,
“Lord, why was I a guest?”
3. “Why was I made to hear Thy voice,
And enter while there’s room,
When thousands make a wretched choice,
And rather starve than come?”
4. ‘Twas the same love that spread the feast
That sweetly drew us in;
Else we had still refused to taste,
And perished in our sin.
5. Pity the nations, O our God,
Constrain the earth to come;
Send Thy victorious Word abroad,
And bring the strangers home.
6. We long to see Thy churches full,
That all the chosen race
May, with one voice and heart and soul,
Sing Thy redeeming grace.
By Isaac Watts (1674-1748). Public Domain.
Two thoughts stood out to me as we sang this hymn at the conference last week. First, it models a proper response to the glorious and mysterious doctrine of election. In light of our persistent, pervasive, and complete defiance of God’s commands, the question we should be asking is not, “Why aren’t some people saved?” but “How can anyone be saved?” More to the point, “Lord, why was I a guest? Why was I made to hear Your voice?” A true understanding of God’ sovereignty should produce a growing gratefulness, humility, and dependence in our lives.
Second, I was deeply affected by the expressed desire in the last verse. “We long to see your churches full” – not simply for the sake of numbers or our own reputation. We long to see God’s churches full with those whose hearts, voices, and souls sing of God’s redeeming grace, provided through the glorious Gospel. To see the church that our Savior redeemed with His own blood, passionately proclaiming with their lips and lives the good news that our sins have been paid for, and through faith in Jesus Christ, we can be fully reconciled to God and included in His gracious plans.
How sweet, how awe-ful, is this place – with Christ.
“How sweet and awful” has long been one of my very very favorite texts. I have a recording from Trinity in NJ which is now several years old. While I think the tune used does reflect the sober character of the lyric, I always felt (my taste) the tune did not accuately reflect the over-arching theme of joy in our salvation (a wondering joy, yes, but joy nonetheless!). What tune did you use at TFG? I would LOVE to sing this song again in a fresh setting.
I couldn’t attend the conference, but I am deeply encouraged by the connections on the internet. I’ve ran across your site a few times but never stopped to read it. Thanks for your post, I’ll be stopping by a lot more.
We sang this song to the tune of St. Columba, an old Irish melody.
This song has become a longtime staple of Reformed University Fellowship (campus ministry of the Presbyterian Church in America). An alternative tune to which it has been sung can be found by linking to the “RUF Hymnbook” via http://www.ruf.org. It is well worth re-introducing to our churches!
I love that hymn! Kirk Whitworth wrote a modern melody with a chorus/refrain. I have never heard the original melody but Kirks is really very moving……Whenever we would sing that song and it got to the “why was I a guest”? part, I could hardly get the words out of my mouth without breaking into tears of joy! rejoicing over Gods sovereign grace! Salvation leaves no room for boasting, its all of God and all of grace!
Hi Will, do you have a copy of Kirk’s version?
Thanks for leading us to worship God through song at T4TG. That proved to be a powerful element of the conference. By the way, we have incorporated three songs from SG’s Awesome God cd into our church’s worship. We love them.
Even though Mark Dever said that we aren’t necessarily together in music styles, we were together in worship last week. Thanks for your gracious leadership.
Thanks for the link, too.
My husband, a pastor, attended the T4TG in 2006. I look forward to attending with him in 2008. For about 5 years, I served a music director (though not congregational leader) at our church. Once a month, as a congregation, we learn a new song by singing it every Sunday morning. By using this method, we have learn almost 50 rich “old” hymns and “modern” songs, many of them from Sovereign Grace. Now, a Sovereign grace song is sung almost every Sunday morning, either in “Early Praise” or in our worship service.
It is clear that our congregational singing improved. Where we used to here “Why don’t we sing (fill in)”, we now here “That song moved my heart” or “I love the words to that song –they are so rich”.
We learned “How Sweet and Awful” about 3 months ago, and the response to it was probably the strongest so far. How wonderul it is to hear the congregation sing with more joy and feeling because of the message of the song, and not because of the style of the music.
I have made a few attempts at writing church music, all before the Lord let me discover Sovereign Grace material. I did introduce one of the songs to our congregation, and it has been received well by them and guests from other churches. I’m sending it to you, and if you’d like to know the tune to which we sing it, contact me and I’ll try to locate the name.
“None seeks for God” the Word proclaims.
And, “all have sinned is so.”
Mankind deserves both death and hell
For all are born God’s foe.
But God, in mercy, reaches down
To those He calls His own;
So loved before the world began
And given to His Son.
No unformed child himself conceived
Then chose to leave the womb.
And, neither can those “dead in sin”
Decide to be reborn.
Regeneration comes from God,
Our second birth He owns.
His sovereign power, His mercy great
Are universally shown.
A newborn soul can then repent,
and with God’s gift of grace,
Be justified when God alone
Decides salvation’s day.
How great our God! How great His gift!
What joy to always be
Adopted children of our God
His sovereign power, His Mercy great,
Shine through eternity.
My goal was to write a song (again before I learned of Sovereign Grace Music) that taught the basic doctrine of regeneration and the doctrines of grace as succinctly as I could. My prayer is that it can be used to His glory in whatever way He directs.
I am grateful to the Lord for you and your ministry to the church. The music from Sovereign Grace truly exalts our Lord and edifies His church.
Sandy, great song. I wonder if Bob actually saw it?
Ha! Rowan, I’m sure I did see it, but apparently never commented. Sandy, thanks for caring about the songs we sing and contributing to songs that reflect the magnificent doctrines of grace!
cool, wow thanks for the response. And how I stumbled on this old blog post by searching for it, after hearing you lead it (How Sweet and Aweful) at the shepherdsconference 2018. We’ll be singing soon at our church here in Cape Town, South Africa. God Bless.
You mentioned my friend Terry in your article. Yesterday, (Friday, Sept. 27, 2008) his oldest daughter, Emily, was murdered. Please remember him and his family in your prayers, and if you’d be so kind as ask others in Sovereign Grace to pray also, it would be much appreciated.
Blessings in Christ,
Paul Van Stralen
Thanks for letting me know. I’ll pass it on.
Bob, I wanted to let you know what a lifeline SGM songs have been for us since our loss. I couldn’t find your email, so I’ll express here our deep gratitude to you and your team for such soul-satisfying and hope building music.
Thanks for the comment on my blog, too. It meant a lot.
BTW, I should mention that the last time our daughter played in church, she played 3 SGM songs during communion.
I’m a discipleship pastor and preacher in Miami and was captivated by your message at the recent Desiring God conference on words. I was particularly interested in your ministry, having been a fan of your work with Glad, and having grown-up in a secular music environment where I fell in love with Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys stuff, and similar artists.
Even after some years in the ministry and many in the kingdom, I still find it difficult to find and listen to CCM or worship music (aside from some exceptions) that moves me to worship or excites my ear like the oldies secular stuff I grew up with (e.g. Beach Boys). Can you help me with that? While I enjoy occassionally the clever lyrical machinations of Apologetix, I’m looking for artists who musically can embody that vocal harmonic, pop, major key, melodic sound that moves me, with God glorifying lyrics.
I have tried and periodically enjoy: 4Him, Tomlin, Mercy Me, Mark Schultz, some of the new Leyland, Newsong, old Keith Green, Steven Curtis Chapman, etc. but am struggling to find more. Any insight you have to offer will be much appreciated. Thanks and God bless you and your ministry.
I know you’re busy, but would you happen to know how I can get a hold of the piano music for ‘How Sweet and Aweful’? Sovereign Grace has the guitar chords, but I need the sheet music for the piano.
Thanks for your time.
Jim, thanks for asking. Are you looking for a hymn version, or a piano transcription?
I am looking for the hmmm….not sure. Is there a particular difference?
Actually, I sure would like to sing it as a congregation in our morning meeting, so I don’t know which one (hymn version or piano transcription) would be better. If you know the websites where I can find both, Bob, you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I apologize for asking you about something like this, but thank you for being so gracious to me to be willing to help! :)
The version we sang at T4G is in the Trinity Hymnal, #469. There is no piano transcription from T4G. sorry about that! Chord charts are available from the Sovereign Grace webstore. http://www.sovereigngracestore.com/category.aspx?categoryID=2221
Thanks, Bob. You’re a blessing. My son (almost 16) digs your blog. Keep standing firm.
I was looking at the chord charts for Together for the Gospel and noticed that there are two versions for each song, a “CD-Chart” and a “Standard Chart” could you explain the difference for me?
Brandon, the CD charts are close to what I actually played at the 2008 conference. The Standard Chart is a little simpler. Thanks for asking.