Julian Freeman

Freed to live through the death of another.

Tag: Mark Altrogge

Modern Hymns for the Church: From Age to Age by Sovereign Grace Music

Sovereign Grace Music has truly blessed the church. Here is an album of modern hymns that I am happy to wholeheartedly recommend. It is called From Age to Age.

Musically speaking, the album is more eclectic than we’re used to from Sovereign Grace. These songs sound distinct from each other and different than previous SGM releases. At first I wasn’t sure what that would mean, since I’ve enjoyed many of Sovereign Grace’s recent albums. But this one stands apart.

Lyrically, this album is rich. The songs glory in the dynamic interplay of God’s transcendence and immanence and the majesty of the eternal God who revealed himself in the suffering servant.

Spiritually and emotionally, this album is gripping and engaging without being cheesy. I am amazed at how well the individual songwriters did at matching the musical elements to the lyrics so that the climactic points of the music serve to make the words even more worship-compelling.

I want you to hear this album so badly I’m embedding it below so you don’t even have to leave the page to hear it.

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Two Posts That Are Worth Your Time

Two posts caught my attention this morning and I wanted to pass them along to you. Interestingly enough, both have to do with things that will happen only as the believer is fully engaged in the life of the local church. I simply cannot say enough how important it is for believers to be connected and committed in a local context.

How to Receive Criticism Like a Champ

Quite frankly, receiving criticism is not something I’m particularly good at. So posts like this convict me like crazy. I’m thankful for the pastoral wisdom and quick wit of Mark Altrogge in this post.

I don’t love to be criticized or critiqued. I must admit, I don’t love “input.”

I think this goes back to my Intro to Design class in college. One day Dr. Grinchwold (named changed) walked past my desk, looked disdainfully at my project, a 3-dimensional paper fly (which was brilliant, by the way), and muttered something. “Excuse me, what did you say?” I asked. To which he replied for the whole class to hear, “I said, ‘Do you have a match?’ Because you should burn that thing.” I was stunned, mortified and humiliated. I wanted to say, “If I had a match I’d light your pants on fire,” but I didn’t.

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Why Singing Music from Sovereign Grace is Better Than Singing Hymns

I also thought about titling this post: Why Stephen Altrogge is better than William Cowper. I decided against that one, though.

In case you haven’t noticed yet, both the title and that first sentence are said with tongue firmly planted in cheek. But I will say, however, that I do agree with those statements, in a qualified sense. Let me try to defend that by way of example and comparison.

First, here is a classic hymn by Cowper–some have even suggested this is the greatest hymn of all-time!

God moves in a mysterious way
His wonders to perform;
He plants His footsteps in the sea
And rides upon the storm.

Deep in unfathomable mines
Of never failing skill
He treasures up His bright designs
And works His sovereign will.

Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take;
The clouds ye so much dread
Are big with mercy and shall break
In blessings on your head.

Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,
But trust Him for His grace;
Behind a frowning providence
He hides a smiling face.

His purposes will ripen fast,
Unfolding every hour;
The bud may have a bitter taste,
But sweet will be the flower.

Blind unbelief is sure to err
And scan His work in vain;
God is His own interpreter,
And He will make it plain.

I love this hymn. Especially in the context of Cowper’s life. It’s ministered to me huge at a number of points in my life.

That being said, I think the song could be improved. The reality is that the Bible tells us over and over (in narrative, in poetry, in apocalypse, everywhere!) that God moves in mysterious ways. But in Scripture, this always points us to the greatest mystery: the cross & resurrection of Jesus. The hymn never takes us there.

The ‘vindication’ of God’s wisdom and trustworthiness in the midst of what appears to be defeat is the cross. There should be another verse drawing us to the reality of God’s mysterious workings, as shown in the cross, the climax of all God’s revelation.

Now compare Cowper’s classic to a modern song by Sovereign Grace Music on the same theme, by Stephen Altrogge: (© 2002 Sovereign Grace Praise [BMI])

Who can comprehend
Your holy ways O Lord?
Your glorious power without end
From which the stars were born
How could we ever understand
The moving of Your hand?
How could we ever come to grasp
The One who never began?

Oh, what a glorious mystery You are
Oh, what a glorious mystery You are
Though we only see in part
You’ve completely won our hearts
Oh, what a glorious mystery You are

Who can comprehend
Your gracious mercy Lord
Great loving kindness that would send
A Saviour to be born?
Why would you, Jesus, die for us
Who cursed Your perfect name?
Why would You come to reconcile
Those who caused Your shame?

There are many similarities: both songs focus on the mysterious nature of God’s character and God’s works. Both songs glory in God’s sovereignty over all things.

But there are differences too. Frankly, I don’t think Altrogge could match Cowper’s poetic ability. Cowper’s turns of phrase and gripping metaphors are breath-taking and illuminating. But here’s why I’d rather sing Stephen’s song: He glories in the climax of Scripture and points us to the ultimate reason why we can trust a God who seems mysterious; he points us to the cross.

And which is more important? Where will a Christian find true comfort and solace in the midst of suffering or guilt or distraction or despair? In poetic imagery or in simply being reminded of God’s love for him displayed in the death of Jesus?

The reason why I continue to love Bob Kauflin, the Altrogges, and all the folks at Sovereign Grace Music is not because they are the best lyricists or musicians of all time. It is because they faithfully, time-after-time, give us song-after-song that points us to the revelation of God in the cross. And that’s what God loves! And that’s what Christians need.

All that to say, I am super-fantastically excited for the release of Risen coming up in a few days. If I’m certain of anything, it is this: Every song will make much of what God has done for us in Jesus.

And what could possibly be better to sing about?

‘The sun’s in my eyes…’

This morning, as my wife and I were making the commute in to the downtown area of Toronto (I drop her off at work before heading in to the seminary) we hit traffic. Now, for anyone who knows anything about Toronto, you’ll know that hitting traffic in Toronto is like getting wet in the rain–this is not a big surprise.

What was surprising was where we hit the slow-down. Usually at this spot in our trip, the traffic is moving well, so I began to wonder what the deal was. Then we came around a bend in the road and I realized, ‘ah, we’re heading east, around sunrise‘ (can’t wait for those clocks to shift…). I said to Stacey something to the effect of, ‘rats, we’ve got the sun in our eyes.’

And then I stopped to take another look. I was overwhelmed for some reason this morning by the brightness of the sun (maybe the fact that it was rising directly in front of my eyes had something to do with it…). As ‘chance’ (i.e. providence) would have it, just as those words were out of my mouth the song ‘Your Holy Majesty’ by Mark Altrogge (who doesn’t love Mark Altrogge?!) came on our stereo. Of course, the first verse has these words:

You are high above all things
The heavens can’t contain
Your radiance and Your beauty
You shine brighter than the sun
I’m ravished and undone
You’ve conquered me completely
Now I am longing for the time
When I will see Your (holy majesty)

I had to chuckle out loud. God is so good!

Immediately my thoughts turned heaven-ward. The heavens are the largest possible expanse we can fathom, but they can’t contain the radiance and the beauty of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus. He shines brighter than the sun!

What an awesome thought!

I started thinking about what an incredible sensation it will be to be completely surrounded, engulfed, warmed–totally and truly delighted–in the glory and splendour of the one who loved my soul enough to die for me.

Of course, this isn’t Mark’s own original concept. He’s building off of some large biblical images, not the least of which is Rev 21.23-25:

And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb. By its light will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it, and its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there.

Some Christians these days say we need to not think about heaven so much and to start thinking about this world more, since that’s where we live now. I agree that as Christians we need to be salt & light in this world, but never, ever, not even for a second, will I agree that we need to think less about death and the realities of heaven and hell. There is nothing that delights my heart more in all the world than the reality of the hope of one day seeing the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ–finally being able to be with him. He is all my glory and all my delight.

For now we know in part… then we shall see him, the lover of our souls. I only regret that I am so slow to turn my own heart and my thoughts to him and the realities of heaven and it often requires great acts of providence such as this to get me there.

Here are all the words for the Altrogge song, ‘Your Holy Majesty.’ You can hear a clip of it here:

You are high above all things
The heavens can’t contain
Your radiance and Your beauty
You shine brighter than the sun
I’m ravished and undone
You’ve conquered me completely
Now I am longing for the time
When I will see Your

Holy Holy Majesty
Your glory and Your splendor
Holy Holy Majesty
You fill my soul with wonder
And unspeakable delight
At just the sight
Of Your Holy Majesty

Why would You shed Your own blood
For those who spurned Your love
And so many times refused Your grace
Why would You take up our curse
Why did You love us first?
Oh You deserve eternal praise
Now I am longing for the time
When I will see Your

Mark Altrogge (c) 2001 Sovereign Grace Praise (BMI)
All rights reserved. Use only by permission.

Sing All the Verses!

I don’t know why, but for some reason over the past couple of decades it has become trendy to only sing parts of songs. It makes no sense. How can you follow any kind of flow of thought when you’re taking chunks out of the middle? You’re destroying an artist’s work and ripping the people off by not engaging their full minds in all the depth of the meanings of the songs. But I won’t go on and on about it, because Tim Challies blogged on this more ably already (see here) from some experiences he had before coming to our church.

All I’ll do here is show you one example that I just aboslutely don’t get. Most people know the song I Stand in Awe by Mark Altrogge. But here’s what blows my mind: Almost no one knows that there are two verses! Why don’t people sing the second verse? I have no idea! It’s awesome! Here are the words so you can see for yourself.

And if you lead services at your church, sing both verses! If you don’t, then tell your pastor that you should sing both verses… please! 🙂

I STAND IN AWE 

You are beautiful beyond description
Too marvelous for words
Too wonderful for comprehension
Like nothing ever seen or heard
Who can grasp Your infinite wisdom
Who can fathom the depths of Your love
You are beautiful beyond description
Majesty enthroned above

And I stand I stand in awe of You
I stand I stand in awe of You
Holy God to whom all praise is due
I stand in awe of You

You are beautiful beyond description
Yet God crushed You for my sin
In agony and deep affliction
Cut off that I might enter in
Who can grasp such tender compassion
Who can fathom this mercy so free
You are beautiful beyond description
Lamb of God who died for me

“I Stand in Awe” by Mark Altrogge. © 1986 Sovereign Grace Praise (BMI). Sovereign Grace Music, a division of Sovereign Grace Ministries. From I Stand in Awe: Worship Favorites From Sovereign Grace Music. All Rights Reserved. International Copyright Secured. North American administration by Integrity Music. International administration by CopyCare International. Used by Permission.

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