Scared as hell

If you’re a worship/liturgy leader, you probably know the name Stuart Townend.

If you’re not a worship/liturgy leader, let me explain…

From his bio at

Stuart is known and respected around the world as one of the leading worship songwriters of his generation. The depth of lyrical and theological content in songs such as In Christ alone, How deep the Father’s love, The power of the cross and Beautiful Saviour have caused some to draw comparisons with the greats of previous generations such as Watts and Wesley; while the marriage of great lyrics with wonderfully accessible melodies (largely through his successful writing partnership with Keith Getty) means his songs bridge different musical and cultural genres, and reach into every corner of the globe.

In other words, he’s a worship music stud. Two of those songs mentioned in the bio are in the top 50 songs of CCLI currently. He is obviously blessed with some wonderful gifts, and millions of people sing his songs across the world.

But I had a problem with one line of his, in one song, and I changed it, and I think its a better song now.

Now let me say that song writing is hard. I consider myself an amateur at best. Songs are rarely perfected. They often have to be revised repeatedly, and even the final product sometimes needs more work. I respect Stuart. My songs stink compared to his. I’m not trying to be overly critical. But I do care about the words that churches sing. I think it’s extremely important to give congregation’s the best texts possible (both theologically and artistically). What we sing in church is as important as what is preached in church, if not more important.

The song in question is called Immanuel (or as I call it, “From the Squalor of a Borrowed Stable”). It’s one of my favorite songs. I have put it into regular rotation every Advent for years. The lyric in question comes from stanza 4, the original quoted here:

Now He’s standing in the place of honor,
Crowned with glory on the highest throne,
Interceding for His own beloved
Till His Father calls to bring them home!
Then the skies will part as the trumpet sounds
Hope of heaven or the fear of hell,
But the Bride will run to her Lover’s arms,
Giving glory to Immanuel!

Here is the part I changed:

Then the skies will part as the trumpet sounds.
Heav’n joins earth where God will dwell,
And the Bride will run to her Lover’s arms,
Giving glory to Immanuel!

Here are some reasons why I changed it:

  • Fear is never a good motivating factor. Just ask any person who has lived under a dictatorship throughout history.
  • I don’t feel like God ever intended for a fear of hell to be the driving factor in His relationship to humanity. I vaguely remember Jesus saying some stuff about love.
  • A more biblical picture of the consummation of history is the collision of heaven and earth and the establishment of a New Jerusalem where God is present with us forever.
  • It’s also interesting that this “fear of hell” seems to be contradicted in another lyric from a different song by Stuart – the 4th stanza from “In Christ Alone:”

No power of hell, no scheme of man,
Can ever pluck me from His hand;

Romans 8:1 – “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus,” and the rest of the chapter is pretty good too.

3 thoughts on “Scared as hell

  1. I always took it to mean that the trumpet’s sounding would initiate those emotions. Hope for those who will be ascending, fear for those who aren’t. But, is hope of heaven much different than fear of hell? The hope of being united with Christ versus the fear of eternal separation. They seem to go hand in hand to me.

  2. Will – thanks once again for the comment. Glad to have someone reading.

    It’s hard to say what emotions that sound will bring. But my point is this: throughout the other 3 stanzas of this song, Townend has given us text that leads us to think that Christ has completed the work of our eternal salvation:

    “gift of God come down to man”
    “king of heaven now the friend of sinners”
    “filled with mercy for the broken man”
    “His righteous steps give me hope”
    “suffering to save the lost”
    “loosing sinners from the claims of hell”
    “our souls are free”
    “death defeated by Immanuel”
    “interceding for his own beloved”

    If we are the beloved of God, his children through grace, then we have no need to fear. It’s a false fear. And as I said, the picture of heaven joining earth and God forever dwelling with his people is a far more Biblical image.

  3. “I don’t feel like God ever intended for a fear of hell to be the driving factor in His relationship to humanity. I vaguely remember Jesus saying some stuff about love.”

    Most of what we know about hell comes from the words of Jesus himself. The topic can be overemphasized, truly, but it seldom is these days. The apostle Paul persuaded men because he knew “the terror of the Lord.” When we shy away from it, we’re unbalanced.

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