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Thursday, March 17, 2005

Come Ye Sinners (or "Hart, The Herald Angels Sing The Wrong Lyrics")

Tonight I posted a response to a thread on the Indelible Grace discussion board about the song "Come Ye Sinners," and the two drastically different lyrical versions that exist. It has been one of my favorite hymns since I recorded new music to it on the original Indelible Grace CD five years ago, and I recently re-recorded it for my EP.

I hate to be a stickler about things, but the history of this hymn gets me more worked up than almost any other topic (yes, I know, that is very sad). You can follow the whole thread here.
I've copied what I posted here below. Please feel free to add your comments here on the blog and on the thread itself (particularly if you have some historical insight that I'm not privy to). Also, please ask any clarifying questions in case my explanation was muddled. Soon I will return with a post that is hopefully not so nerdy (yes, this from a guy who titled his previous post "Conferences, Pt. 1"). I hope this gives you some insight into not only this hymn, but even shows a little of why I'm drawn to certain hymn texts and, uh, un-drawn to others.


The text that I used for "Come Ye Sinners" is the original, where Joseph Hart presents both our need for salvation and our utter inability to do anything to save ourselves. Here's his text:

Come, ye sinners, poor and wretched,
Weak and wounded, sick and sore;
Jesus, ready, stands to save you,
Full of pity, joined with power.
He is able, He is able;
He is willing; doubt no more.

Now, compare this to the popular truncated version. By deleting those last two lines and adding the refrain, the meaning of the song is changed quite a bit. Here are the refrain lyrics, which were added later and were not written by Hart:

I will arise and go to Jesus
He will embrace me in His arms
In the arms of my dear Savior
Oh, there are ten thousand charms

The original lyrics maintain that it is not only Christ's willingness and availability, but also his active obedience and pursuit, which gives us the hope of salvation. By taking out two lines and adding this refrain, it now sounds like Jesus is somewhat passively waiting for me to arise and go to Him. I believe this is emphasized with the modern change to "Full of pity, love and power" which I feel weakens Hart's image of Christ, who feels the depth of our hurt, yet joins that with his power to redeem (read John 11 for my favorite example of this truth, where Jesus weeps and rages against death even though he knows that he will exercise his power to raise Lazarus only moments later).

Every verse is severely weakened in this way. Here’s another example, verse 4:

Let not conscience make you linger,
Nor of fitness fondly dream;
All the fitness He requires
Is to feel your need of Him.
This He gives you, this He gives you,
'Tis the Spirit's rising beam

Removing the last two lines and replacing them with that refrain absolutely wrecks the intended meaning. Hart strongly believed (based on this and his other hymns) that it is God who changes the sinner’s heart, and without this move of the Spirit, the sinner is completely unable to even feel his need for Christ.

This is not saying anything against Ashley Cleveland or anyone else who has recorded this (and, for the record, she is a tremendous talent). I’m not lobbying for everyone to sing the music I wrote (the RUF Hymnbook also includes Darwin Jordan’s music to this text), but I will say that I wish folks would take a closer look at the history of this hymn. I think that whoever originally gutted it of its meaning did so because he or she was offended by the truths Hart presented and wanted to put forth a more man-centered, pseudoromantic version instead. (Doesn’t anyone else think that the “ten thousand charms” line is sort of meaningless, and, from a songwriting perspective, weak?) Whenever I am present when this truncated version is sung, I do not sing along, partially because of theological conviction, but mostly as an act of artistic solidarity for a man who’s not around to say “Hey! Don’t change the meaning of my song!”


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Does it feel wierd for a stranger to post a comment on your blog? No? Ok, then: I'm definitely "feeling you" about this hymn-changing. I can even offer my own favorite peevishness. (I don't think I'm getting off the point ... ) One of my -- ok, my definite all-time-favorite Indelible Grace hymn and one of my favorite hymns period is George Matheson's Oh Love That Wilt Not...!! Actually I don't even know the original tune, but the point is the lyrics: in one of the verses G had written (I hope I get this right) "O Joy that seekest me through pain, I cannot close my heart to thee. I climb the rainbow through the rain, and feel the promise is not vain that morn shall tearless be." And then his friends told him to say "I 'trace' the rainbow..." instead. Of course I'm making too much of it, but I'd rather sing the original stuff straight from G's head -- considering that he wrote this hymn from a full heart (after his fiancee left him b/c he was going blind? Pretty sure that's right.)! Anyway...

8:06 AM

Blogger Matthew Smith said...

It only feels weird when you don't sign your name.

I hadn't heard that Matheson story, that's interesting. I think "trace" is a better lyric though, and it sounds like Matheson did too. "Climb" may be the original straight from his head, but songs aren't divinely inspired in any kind of inerrant fashion (unlike Scripture). Besides, I promise that you don't want to hear the lyrics that come straight from my head-- editing and suggestions from close friends and trusted fellow songwriters can make a good song great.

10:43 PM

Blogger Flibbityflu said...


4:11 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey thanks for the admonition. My sister put this song on a performance list for our "little band", and I wanted to know who sang the recording we're modeling after. But then I found your blog, and got convicted (lol). I am actually more concerned with the modern refrain's use of the word, "charms". What on earth is that all about? Anyway, I wholeheartedly agree with your rant on the manipulation of Christian lyrics with the pseudo-intent of modernizing the vernacular. I believe that the real reason is because the manipulators just don't comprehend or relate to the spiritual meaning, so they change it to match their personal heresy (ok, that's a harsh word, but you get point). Wait, back to the word, "charms"! I stand by the word "heresy." Phew, I feel better now.

7:15 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think people are finally starting to figure out that theology doesn't remain in the ivory tower of the seminary or behind the pulpit. It directly affects worship as well.

The church is infected with a malignant cancer called, "semi-pelagianism". And it has even corrupted our most sacred music. It's time for someone to take out the trash.

Keep hacking on Agag my friend!

- Obiwanjacoby

1:40 PM

Blogger ryan said...

hear! hear! amen! i completely agree with you Matt. I really like that song; it is catchy, and most importantly, it has "some" good lyrics. I have always been bothered by the "10,000 charms" part... someone in our congregation said it reminded them of eating Lucky Charms. i can't tell you how much that means to a worship leader... to know that your congregation is thinking about cereal while singing a "worship" song... and to think that i am leading them in this worship of cereal (sarcasm implied). No matter how cool the song is... it needs to be theologicaly sound. if it's not, write a new one. The church has been filled with these"psyco-babble" songs for years. Jesus isn't our boy/girlfriend. he isn't a mystic, nor a fairy. He is the almighty, powerful, son of God and our savior. Any song that belittles his true attributes should be taken off our setlists; or at the very least, modified. we as worship leaders have a responsibility to make sure we are teaching sound doctrine in our music because we will be held accountable for what we teach people about God.

-Ryan K.
Missio Dei Church
Asheville, NC

9:32 AM

Anonymous Steve Meisner said...

Nice! I always hated that last line about he charms, i don't know. This kind of put my less specific feelings into words. thanks!

10:49 AM

Blogger Nathan said...

I heard this song for the first time in chapel today and I really like the sound of it and the line, "If you tarry till you're better, you will never come at all." But again, I was drawn to this post by google, searching what the heck the 10,000 Charms are... Thanks for standing up for for Hart and the historical lyrics, I have an even deeper appreciation for the song now. However, I still never figured out what the ten thousand charms comes from. Any clue?

10:33 PM

Anonymous Evers said...


I really appreciated your insight on the lyrics. It's scarce to find those who are as conscientious about authorial intent in hymns, let alone thoughtful about theological implications of changes to those same hymns (have you ever seen the modern version of Isaac Watts' "Alas and Did My Savior Bleed?" with its jarring refrain. Yikes).

In that vein I thought you might be interested to know that the 2nd stanza of "Come Ye Sinners" originally started with "Ho!" and not "Come," and is thus a direct allusion to the beautiful invitation in Isa. 55 for those who are thirsty to come buy without money and without cost. There are a few other differences as well ("poor and needy" was originally "poor and wretched", etc.).

I found the original lyrics here.

2:12 PM

Anonymous Jonathan said...

Thank you, thank you! I have always been weirded out by the ten thousand charms line. Tonight as I was preparing for worship I grew extremely suspicious of the "I will rise and go to Jesus" line. But then looking at the entire chorus I couldn't believe the lack of Biblical truth. After reading a blog where several people left comments excusing away the ten thousand charms I stumbled upon a link to your site. So refreshing! I will be singing a different version of this song this Sunday. Thanks again.

7:42 PM

Blogger Andy said...

Regarding your complaints:

1. The first verse had cut from it the command to "doubt no more." Coupled with the first line ("Come, ye sinners"), we have an invitation to trust Jesus which is still present in the revised version and even highlighted via the response vocalized in the refrain.

2. Yes, changing "full of pity, joined with power" has a slightly different feel than "full of pity, love, and power," but does it do any disservice to a God who defined himself as love? (1 John 4:8)

3. Verse 4 is perhaps your strongest argument in its omission of "this He gives you." Nevertheless, the verse begins with "Let not conscience make you linger," a command/invitation that we are expected to respond to. Even understanding that we receive the ability to do this from Him, Hart's original lyrics also appear to me to assume our participation in terms of assent/yielding/responding to God's leading. Must every song we sing proclaim "CALVINISM!" to be theologically acceptable?

The foundation of the matter is that the entire original hymn was an invitation: come, ye sinners! The revised version simply adds a response: I will! If the original hymn was merely descriptive, the revised version is transactional: He offers, we receive. And wherever you fall on the predestinarian scale, I think that most of us can all agree that it's nice (and often more engaging) to be able to verbalize our commitment to Christ when singing worship songs.

There are a few disappointing things in your review that aren't tied as much to your argument as the tone of this post:
1. You write, "I hate to be a stickler about things, but the history of this hymn gets me more worked up than almost any other topic (yes, I know, that is very sad)." Is this a confession that you're making a bigger deal out of this than it merits, or a recognition that there are other more important things that you'd be better off being concerned over, but are not? (Or some other option?)
2. You appear to be unjustifiably assuming the worst possible motives of the person who originally revised this song. ("I think that whoever originally gutted it of its meaning did so because he or she was offended by the truths Hart presented and wanted to put forth a more man-centered, pseudoromantic version instead.") Isn't it possible that Hart himself could see the revised version and appreciate it? (Did you ever talk to Hart yourself that you knew exactly what he believed?) And even if you do maintain that the theology of the song has been destroyed, isn't it possible that the one who revised the song simply wasn't interested (or informed) in the nuances of theology, but just wanted to add in a singer's response? There's no reason or need to assume diabolical motives here.

I prefer the new version better because it's set to a more modern tune, because I feel that the meaning and tone of the original hymn have not been compromised, and mostly because it allows me to vocalize a response. What lover would feel complete if he only ever praised his wife's virtues and never asserted his own love and affection for her? A lover does not assert his love to prove his worth, but to praise the object of his love. "God, I love you!" is not man-centered even if the subject is me!

2:15 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you for your thoughtful and discerning comments, Andy.

3:32 PM

Anonymous Tom said...

If the modified lyrics fit together with the old or added something effective to the song I would see it as a good sort of combination. I like traditional lyrics for the history, but am happy to be flexible there depending on the merits of the old and new.

What we have instead is a very scripture based, moving, deep original set of lyrics which has had significant lines cut out to instead jarringly interject a "Jesus is my boyfriend" chorus which I originally thought might be adapted from Song of Solomon but which after a search seems to actually have zero scriptural basis.

I am going to encourage our worship leaders to consider switching to the Matthew Smith or Darwin Jordan version.

4:39 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

The song itself in the original version is very good. I am offended by the cutting out and inserting 10,000 charms. Not the 10,000 but the word charms. I searched scripture and cannot find anything to support that version. Charms to me in scripture have to deal with amulets, witchcraft, sorcery. Why couldn't they have said 10,000 praises, reasons or how about this, leave it the way it was. Boy isn't that a novel idea! Using the word charms for me conjures up the dark side of things, not the charming that one persons opinion is. I'm sorry but this really upset me, and I can't believe that it wasn't challenged before going into the hymn books.

2:41 PM


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