A few Sundays ago, I led worship at my home church. One of the songs we sang was Before the Throne of God Above. I’m posting an audio of what we did because I wanted to make a number of points with it. Feel free to listen as you read.
1. Introducing You to the Song: Even though “Before the Throne of God Above” has been recorded by Sonic Flood, Selah, Promise Keepers, Lou Fellingham (from Phatfish), Sojourn Church, GLAD, Shane and Shane, Matt Papa, and possibly others, you might not have heard it yet. So I wanted you to hear it. The lyrics, by Charitie Lees Bancroft (1841-1923), are a brilliant combination of Gospel-centered theology with personal application, set to a beautiful and timeless melody written by Vikki Cook, a good friend and part of a Sovereign Grace church in Orlando, Florida.
When I first heard “Before the Throne of God Above,” it was one of a number of songs that Vikki and her husband, Steve, had been working on, and I was listening to their demo. As soon as it finished I thought, “This song is a classic. The church could be singing this a hundred years from now.”
2. Pursuing Musical Variety: On this particular Sunday we stripped down the band and went for a simpler musical accompaniment. We used a (mostly) acoustic band, with a grand piano, two acoustic guitars, an electric bass, and two percussionists. There was no drum set, electric guitar, extra solo instruments, synthesizer, or choir. Overall, it went pretty well. One of our goals in using different bands is to help the church understand that corporate worship isn’t dependent on a particular sound, a specific musical accompaniment, or a solitary musical style.
3. Song Flow and Using Instrumentals: Occasionally we’ll use an extended musical interlude as a bridge between songs. I thought it would work this morning because most people knew the song being played, and it gave us time to reflect on all we had been singing. Dave Campbell served us well with his nylon string rendition. This was the flow:
Praise God From Whom All Blessings Flow (first verse)
Come Now, Almighty King (an adapted version of “Come Thou, Almighty King)
The Name of Jesus (Aaron Shust)
What a Savior (my son’s adaptation of the Phillip Bliss hymn “Hallelujah, What a Savior”)
You Are My King (Billy Foote)
Before the Throne of God Above (you can listen to another version here)
The first song led directly into the second. After singing “Come Now, Almighty King” I shared that we had gathered to glorify Jesus Christ and all he did to accomplish our salvation. It’s something that requires God’s help, which is what we had just asked for in the previous song. I then reminded the church that we can never exalt, praise, worship, or trust Jesus too much. Then we taught The Name of Jesus, which reflects on how the Father is delighted when we give glory to the Savior. We followed that up with “What a Savior,” and celebrated again Christ’s magnificent work of redemption that rescued “guilty, vile, and helpless” sinners. That led into a reflective “You Are My King,” after which I wanted to take one more song to spell out the specifics of how Jesus’ substitutionary sacrifice has changed our lives.
3. Using Phrases to Focus Attention: I’ve written before on speaking or singing brief comments to help think more intentionally about the lyrics we’re singing. This song contains a few spots when I do that. I never assume that everyone is completely locked into the meaning of the words, no matter how mature the group or how rich the song. So I’ll occasionally share one-line comments that hopefully encourage people to focus on the meaning more than the music.
4. Trying to Grow in Humility: I debated posting the actual audio track because the mix isn’t always the best, we aren’t as tight as I had hoped, and we’re not always singing in tune. So another reason to share this is just to continue to pursue humility, and to encourage those of you who think that no one else struggles with the problems you do.
5. Clear up Some Confusion: Writing a song that sounds “timeless” is a mixed blessing. On the bright side, there’s a good chance that it will survive the changing winds of popular taste and be used by congregations for decades. On the down side, people can assume that the person who composed it is dead and the lyrics and melody are public domain.
That’s what’s happened recently on not one, but two CDs. We received word that Matt Papa and Chris Orr had released a hymns CD with Before the Throne of God Above on it, only crediting the lyricist, Charitie Lees Bancroft. Then Shane and Shane released their Pages CD, also including Before the Throne of God Above. Only this time Shane Barnard added a chorus and didn’t mention Vikki either.
After a little research I got Shane Everett’s cell phone number and called him to find out what had happened. Turns out that a worship leader in his church had used the song. He was so affected that he asked him where it had come from. “I dunno. I think it’s just an old hymn.” He was half right.
I’m happy to say that I also talked to Matt Papa as well, and everything’s been resolved in both situations. Vikki will receive credit for the tune on future printings of both CDs. But I wondered how many other people might hear Before the Throne of God Above and think the melody was written in the18th century.
Since I know that Vikki would never bring this to anyone’s attention, I wanted to do a post on it to clear up confusion. Hence the lengthy title of this post. I’m just trying to spread the word.
More importantly, I’m trying to spread the words that are found in this song:
Because the sinless Savior died
My sinful soul is counted free
For God, the Just, is satisfied
To look on Him and pardon me.
Charitie Lees Bancroft, 1863