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Wordwise Insight, Issue #039
March 14, 2008

WORDWISE INSIGHT is the free, informative monthly newsletter of


BIBLE INSIGHTS. An Easter Love Story; Christian Sympathy; How to Treat an Enemy, and more

READER Q & A. Are our hymn tunes old barroom tunes? and more



On March 8th another copy of February's newsletter was inadvertently sent out to subscribers. Sorry about that! You can put it down to an error by a non-techie. However, since we believe in the providence of God, maybe there is someone out there who missed the material the first time, and needed it!


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DISCUSSION BIBLE STUDIES ON THE BOOK OF JOB! There are 12 lessons in this unique series on an oft-neglected book. These will challenge your thinking in many ways. There is nothing else quite like this currently available on the book. Take a look at
Job Studies.

NEW LAST MONTH! An analysis of the novel In His Steps, by Charles Sheldon, showing points at which it is not true to Scripture. In view of the fact that the book is still popular, it is important to consider what it is saying. In His Steps--A Critique of the Novel

The Bible says, “God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8). Easter is a love story! John 3:16 tells us about the gospel, the good news of what God did for us, in love, through His Son. There we see:

1) The Reason for the Gospel–that “God so loved the world”

2) The Record of the Gospel–“That He gave His only begotten Son”

3) The Reception of the Gospel–salvation for “whoever believes in Him”

4) The Result of the Gospel–that we “should not peris but have everlasting life.”

In Romans 12, Paul’s theme is the unity of the body of Christ, and the interdependence of members of the body (vs. 5). Each one’s gifts are different, so that each can make a significant contribution to the whole. We ought not to boast or be conceited about a gift, because it is just that–a gift from the Lord (cf. I Cor. 12:11). And He also gives the faith needed for the fruitful exercise of the gift (vs. 3). Beyond mere giftedness, the unity of the body is affected by our attitudes toward one another. What brings one person joy ought to cause others around to rejoice. What brings grief to one ought to touch the others with sorrow.

The Chapter exhorts us to “rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep” (Rom. 12:15). If we are unconcerned, and intent only on our own needs, we are not functioning properly as part of the body. Matthew Henry says, “True love will interest us in the sorrows and joys of one another, and teach us to make them our own....Not that we must participate in the sinful mirths and mournings of any. Not envying those that prosper, but rejoicing with them; not despising those that are in trouble, but concerned for them, and ready to help them.”

While there is a dimension of human sympathy which is always appropriate, our response must be tempered with some understanding of the reason for the other’s grief. Not all painful circumstances can be dealt with in the same way. Here are four possible reasons for weeping:

1) The Season’s Common Reaping. The pains that will naturally be a part of our fallen humanity–sickness, aging, accidental injury, and so on, come upon all.

2) The Saint’s Confessed Repentance. “Godly sorrow [over sin] produces repentance” (II Cor. 7:10).

3) The Self’s Childish Ravings. The immature response to a deprivation of self, or the “poor me’s” of self pity.

4) The Sinner’s Calloused Remorse. Not sorrow for sin so much as regret because of the consequent pain and loss it brings (cf. Heb. 12:16-17).

It would seem that the first two of these must be dealt with much differently than the last two, where there is a place for rebuke and admonition.

The Apostle Paul tells the Romans (quoting Prov. 25:21), “If your enemy is hungry, feed him’ if he is thirsty, give him a drink” (Rom. 12:20). Often, the best way to get rid of an enemy is to treat him as a friend. This, of course, applies to those who have slighted or hurt us personally, not to those who are the avowed enemies of the cross. “If anyone comes to you and does not bring this doctrine [of Christ], do not receive him into your house nor greet him; for he who greets him shares in his evil deeds” (II Jn. 1:10-11). But with certain necessary exceptions, here is how to treat an enemy:

1) Love him, and be kind to him (Matt. 5:44; Lk. 6:27, 35)

2) Bless him, and desire the best for him (Matt. 5:44; Lk. 6:28)

3) Do good things for him (Matt. 5:44)

4) Pray for him (Matt. 5:44; Lk. 6:28)

5) Lend to him without obligation or expectation of return (Lk. 6:35)

6) Be merciful to him (Lk. 6:36; Rom. 12:17-21)

THE LEARNER-SERVANT PRINCIPLES. On the website there is an article about discipleship called The Learner-Servant Principles. Extensively referenced to Scripture, and with many diagrams, this material will give you a unique perspective on the subject. The seven basic principles are interconnected. They show the essence of discipleship as it is revealed in God’s Word, four key things God expects of us, and how sin contrasts with the four. As well, you will gain a helpful understanding of what it means to be filled with the Holy Spirit, and walk in the Spirit. The framework described can also be used to analyze passage after passage in the Bible. Please study the material, put it to use, and pass it on!

TRUTH IN OUR TRIALS. Check out the extensive outline study on the subject of suffering at Truth About Suffering.

BIBLE STUDY SERIES ON PROPHECY! The subject of Bible prophecy is a fascinating one. This series of 12 discussion studies covering the major themes of prophecy will give you an opportunity to examine what God has planned for the future. To check it out, click on Prophecy Studies.


QUESTION: Evelyn asks, "Did our hymn tunes originate as old barroom tunes?"

ANSWER: This is an oft-repeated claim. It implies that it was the general practice of earlier hymn writers to wed sacred words with secular tunes--and not just any secular tunes. The contention is that they purposely used the music of the rowdy beer hall crowd, so the people who frequented such places would be attracted to the gospel. But is that historically accurate? It may be for some a comforting and convenient notion, but is it true? If not, repeating it over and over will not somehow make it true. I heard this claim so often years ago that one day I took a large hymn book and went through it, checking every tune. I failed to find any melodies that could clearly be called “barroom tunes.”

If you study the history of the hundreds of tunes currently found in our hymn books (as I have done) here is what you will discover. A large percentage of the melodies for the hymns we sing were written especially for their texts, or were borrowed from earlier hymns. Those that did not originate in this way come to us from a variety of sources. Some are of unknown or uncertain origin. A very small number were adapted from Christian oratorios or operatic melodies. And a few are recognized as adaptations of traditional ballads or folk melodies. Were any of these ever sung in taverns? Perhaps. We were not there to hear. But we must not place too much stock in such claims.

Martin Luther is one on whom this argument is based. Sometimes, those who want to excuse bringing the excesses of worldly music into the church do so on the basis of something they heard or read somewhere about Luther--that he commonly used the music of the drinking songs of his day and put Christian words to them. We hear about Luther's use of "barroom tunes." But careful research has shown that is a myth. Of the 37 chorales (hymns) written by Martin Luther, here is the source of his music:

-15 original tunes composed by Luther himself

-13 tunes from Latin hymns

-4 tunes adapted from German religious folk songs

-2 tunes that were from religious pilgrim songs

-2 tunes for which the source is unknown

-1 tune taken from a secular folk song

Even if the story ended there, it would show that Martin Luther was not in the habit of taking drinking songs and making hymns of them. But there is an interesting postscript regarding that last tune. The original secular words were "I Arrived from an Alien Country." Luther wrote the lyrics for a Christmas hymn, and adopted the tune. But within the next four years, for reasons not completely explained, he wrote an original melody for the hymn, and replaced the secular one. One scholar suggests that he may have been embarrassed to hear the tune for his Christmas hymn being used in inns and dance halls. The associations of the tune diverted people's attention from the worship of God and defeated his purpose, so he discarded it.

In earlier times, simple hymn tunes were written to different metres. These were often used interchangeably with various hymn poems. Even today, a look at most hymn books will reveal many tunes that are used more than once. An example is the tune, Darwall, written in 1770, by John Darwell, as a tune for a paraphrase of Psalm 148. Later, it came to be used for the hymns "Come, Thou Almighty King," and "Join All the Glorious Names." And there were practical reasons for this multiple usage. First, many of the hymn writers were not trained musicians. They wrote poetry, but were not able to supply music for it. So they borrowed a hymn tune already in use. Then, in teaching a new hymn to a congregation, they were greatly aided by adopting a tune that was known. However, to suggest these were previously drunken beer hall songs is ridiculous.

But, let us look more closely at a possible example of a "barroom tune"--or at least one that was formerly used with secular words. It is the melody used for Paul Gerhardt's reverent text,

O sacred Head now wounded, With grief and shame weighed down, Now scornfully surrounded With thorns Thine only crown....

Gerhardt's words are a German translation of a poem attributed to the medieval monk, Bernard of Clairvaux (1091-1153).

The tune which we commonly use for this hymn appeared as a secular love song, in 1601. The song was called "My Heart Is Distracted by a Gentle Maid," and it was published in a collection of music by Hans Leo Hassler, one of the best German composers of the later Renaissance. Significantly, the melody was not wedded with Gerhardt's sacred lyric until 1644, more than forty years later (before which it had been associated with another German hymn for thirty years). Then, the hymn was harmonized by Christian composer Johann Sebastian Bach in 1729, and included in his oratorio, the St. Matthew Passion. (This gave the tune its present name, Passion Chorale.) Using this hymn for illustrative purposes, we can raise several important points.

1) Let us suppose that Hassler's secular song was originally sung in the taverns of his day. It is important to ask whether the atmosphere of the taverns of that period is analogous to what is experienced today. We cannot indiscriminately impose our present culture on an earlier time. Often, the taverns were local meeting places or they functioned as restaurants in conjunction with inns. That may not be quite the same as a modern barroom.

Further, we must consider another cultural difference. There was not, in former days, a distinction made between the music of the younger and the older generations. Junior's music was also grandpa's music. Making and enjoying music was a family affair. Sometimes, the issue behind the "beer hall tunes" argument today is the desire to impose the music of one generation upon another which may not want it. That is quite a different matter.

2) Then, consider the importance of historical separation. The fact that the tune, Passion Chorale, is not now being used in bars and taverns (as far as I know!) means that it does not have that current association in people's minds. How many Christians, singing this hymn on a Sunday morning, would find it shifting their thoughts back to some scene in the local bar? (I venture to say, None!) Perhaps it is even significant that it took forty years before the words of "O Sacred Head" were put with this tune--not to mention that Bach's use came over a century later still.

3) While it has undoubtedly been done at times--this wedding of sacred words to a secular tunes--we must not ignore the forceful a reaction against this practice by many. There has been at least as strong an argument in the other direction. Christian revivalists and reformers were sensitive to anything in the church that was tainted with worldly values. Luther states that he provided his own tunes for his hymns, “To wean [people] from the love ballads and carnal songs, and teach them something of value in their place.”

Another comment of Luther's is even more pointed. “Take special care to shun perverted minds who prostitute this lovely gift of nature and of art with their erotic rantings; and be quite assured that none but the devil goads them on.” Luther, Wesley and others were appalled that Christians should be singing the degrading songs of the world. They certainly would not condone using something that would remind people explicitly of immoral conduct or a sinful lifestyle. Many down through the ages have laboured to keep the church's music distinct and separate, recognizably different from the secular music of the day.

4) We need to remember, also, that the process of history is not cyclical. We must be careful of saying that what is happening now is simply history repeating itself. God warns us that in the last days, "evil men and impostors will grow worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived" (II Tim. 3:13). The morals of today are not necessarily the same as those of four hundred years ago. Nor is the quality of music. To say that a popular song of that earlier day had a standard of excellence worthy of better words, is not to say that the music of today necessarily has. It may be suitable for such a use or it may not.

5) But, some will tell us, "We mustn't let the devil have all the good tunes." This saying has been variously attributed to Luther, Wesley and others. It has been used as an excuse to bring worldly music into the church, on the contention that this somehow sanctifies it. In fact, evidence indicates that the statement was first made in 1844, in a sermon by Rev. Rowland Hill. His church, Surrey Chapel, in London, had just installed a new pipe organ. He was referring to this, and to the church’s efforts to keep their music of high quality. He was not condoning the introduction of worldly melodies or music styles into the house of God.

There is a saying that "all truth is God's truth." In a limited sense, perhaps we could say that all beauty and fine craftsmanship is the Lord's too. In other words, a well-structured melody is worthy of being united with sacred words unless:

Its style is unsuited to the sacred lyric

It is associated in people's minds with a prior lyric that is corrupt

It is associated, because of its former use, with a lifestyle or practices that are dishonouring to the Lord

It is of a clearly recognizable style, and the style itself has these strong sinful associations

6) It would be interesting to propose that we reverse the process. That is, what if we took the tune for "O Sacred Head," or for the hymn "Abide With Me" (for example) and played them in a bar today, would this be accepted by the patrons? Would such tunes be well received if we played them in precisely the traditional style that is used in our churches?--because that is what is being proposed for music coming from the other direction, the duplication of a style. The answer is probably not.

7) In the final analysis, we must not use the practices of others as our standard. We cannot say, "Because some hymn writer did this, it is permissible for me to do the same." We cannot even be sure that these hymn writers, in their own time, did not face difficulties because of their occasional use of secular tunes. And the bottom line is that our ultimate standard is Christ (Eph. 4:13). When Jesus met with His disciples after His resurrection, Peter, curious about what the future held for John, asked, "Lord, what about this man?" The Lord's answer affirms a basic principle of personal responsibility: "What is that to you? You follow Me." (Jn. 21:21-22).

To sum up: No, our hymn melodies were not previously barroom tunes. If this can be said for one or two of them it is a rare exception. If someone makes that claim, ask him to give you a list of the tunes, and send the list to me. I’d love to check it out. The following Scripture issues a clear condemnation of the practice of bringing the ways of the world into the assembly of God’s people. When Israel was about the enter the Promised Land, Jehovah God gave the people a pertinent warning through Moses:

“When the Lord your God cuts off from before you the nations which you go to dispossess, and you displace them and dwell in their land, take heed to yourself that you are not ensnared to follow them, after they are destroyed from before you, and that you do not inquire after their gods, saying, ‘How did these nations serve their gods? I also will do likewise.’ You shall not worship the Lord your God in that way; for every abomination to the Lord which He hates they have done to their gods; for they burn even their sons and daughters in the fire to their gods. Whatever I command you, be careful to observe it; you shall not add to it nor take away from it” (Deut. 12:29-32; cf. Lk. 16:15).

NEXT MONTH: Do Christians believe in ghosts? With the increasing interest in the supernatural, you will be helped by this article to see what the Bible has to say.

SEEKING A NEW PASTOR for your church? Check out the Pastoral Questionnaire.

BIBLE STUDY: Available now on the Wordwise website is a discussion Bible study on The Lord's Prayer. Why not check it out at The Lord's Prayer.



Long ago, Moses climbed Mount Sinai to receive the books of the Law. For many days he laboured on the mountain, privileged to commune with Jehovah God and to stand in His majestic presence. Then, when he came down from the mountain, Scripture says that Moses’ face shone with the glory light of God (Exod. 34:29-30). No further explanation is given for this unique physical phenomenon. But the New Testament makes a spiritual application of Moses’ unusual experience. The Apostle Paul writes, “We all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image, from glory to glory, as by the Spirit of the Lord” (II Cor. 3:18).

This latter “glory” does not cause the skin of our faces to shine, as it did for Moses in a bygone time. But God’s presence can light our lives from within, as the Holy Spirit works to transform us into the likeness of Christ. That is the essence of our heavenly Father’s purpose for each believer. As Romans puts it, “He...predestined [us] to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn of many brethren” (Rom. 8:29). As a result of the Spirit’s work in us, the fresh glow of God’s love should shine forth from our lives, and the radiance of His joy should often be reflected in our smiles. We need to carry the fragrance of our daily fellowship with Him into the hectic swirl of the marketplaces of the world. Out there, so many need to know the Lord. Are they attracted to Him, through us?

For one individual, a bright smile almost became a trademark. At the beginning of the last century, a cheerful old man named Ed Card was superintendent of the Sunshine Rescue Mission, in St. Louis, Missouri. Ed was a radiant Christian who always seemed to be bubbling over with the joy of the Lord. His glowing smile earned him the nickname “Old Glory Face.” During meetings at the mission, the one safety valve for all his pent up enthusiasm was the word “Glory!” (to him meaning “Wonderful!”). He often just exploded with it, in the middle of a sermon or a prayer. As author Ken Osbeck notes, “He praised the Lord, not with many words, but with one word repeated many times!” When he prayed, he would inevitably end with thoughts of meeting his Saviour in heaven, saying, “And that will be glory for me!”

Charles Gabriel (1856-1932) was a good friend of Mr. Card’s, and he wrote the hymn “O That Will Be Glory” in honour of the superintendent’s shining testimony. It begins, “When all my labours and trials are o’er, / And I am safe on that beautiful shore, / Just to be near the dear Lord I adore, / Will through the ages be glory for me.” The superintendent’s joyful anticipation of meeting Christ is reflected throughout the song. It goes on, “When by the gift of His infinite grace, / I am accorded in heaven a place, / Just to be there and to look on His face, / Will through the ages be glory for me.” Like the Apostle Paul, Ed Card was one of those who “loved His appearing” (II Tim. 4:8). They both looked forward to the day of Christ’s return, and to an eternity with Him.

The old man had the privilege of singing Charles Gabriel’s hymn himself, just before he died. He was thrilled to think that his Christian life had been an inspiration to others. Can each of us say the thought of meeting our Saviour is truly “glory for me”? Further, does our fellowship with Christ, now, bring the light of heaven to our faces? Does our presence inspire others to get to know Jesus better? And would those who know us ever describe us as “Old Glory Face”? Or would “Old Pickle Face” be more appropriate?

THE BEST BIBLE STUDY TOOL EVER. At least, the best one I have ever discovered, is fully described on the website. Strictly speaking, this is not an idea for your church program but for you, personally. However, if you try it, you may want to share it with your Sunday School class or Bible study group. If a number of you begin using it and trading insights, you may be amazed at what will happen! See Best Bible Study Tool.

Is your church thinking of purchasing A NEW HYMN BOOK? Check out Choosing a Hymnal for Your Church on the website, for nearly three dozen excellent tips and ideas to help you make your choice.

Check out EXPLORING CHRISTIANITY, a Wordwise Bible study series to help seekers, or new Christians! A wonderful "review" for long-time believers as well! The free 10-part series is now available at Exploring Christianity.

If you have a question or an idea to share, please go to the Wordwise website and use the question form.
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