Near to the Heart of God

by David Lemmons

It is an absolute truth that the sermon I preach on Sunday mornings has been preceded by your “sermons.”  There are indeed several “sermons” that you may preach each Lord’s Day (some time in the future we may write about them), but for this article I wish to zero in on the “sermons” that you sing.  From the omniscience of God Almighty He has placed within our worship assemblies the requirement that we TEACH and AD-MONISH one another (Colossians 3:16).  We do this by means of psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, preceded by letting the word of Christ dwell in us richly in all wisdom.  We ought continually to chal-lenge ourselves with the thought that this is God’s will for us to sing in such a manner and for such a magnificent purpose.  By our gathering together and following the instructions of the Lord, we have the blessed opportunity of stirring one another up toward love and good works (Hebrews 10:24).  In addition, we can help visitors outside of Christ to develop a longing for what we have IN CHRIST.  Understanding this, it is beyond me how it is possible for any Christian not to join in this worthy work with the greatest enthusiasm possible!

If we are not careful, we might tend to devalue or at least not value highly enough our involvement together in singing.  There have been many attempts among our brethren to encourage greater appreciation for the singing part of our worship assemblies.  Some of these involve looking more closely at the lyrics of the songs we sing.  I have in my library an 851-page book which is the record of the 32nd MSOP Lectureship.  The title of that book is: Lessons in Lyrics, a study of 59 songs we use in worship.  Many of us are familiar with brother Tom Holland’s work in developing and participating in the “Diana Singing,” in Diana, TN.  They have just finished the 40th year of that great twice-per-year gathering.  Brother Waller was telling me recently about a very successful singing he helped to develop in Barnesville, when he preached there a few years ago.  I receive in an Email, once per week, a rather detailed “Hymn Study,” produced by one of our anti-brethren.  We are not left without encouragement to appreciate our worship in song!

For the past few weeks I have been reading from the book, Amazing Grace: 366 Inspiring Hymn Stories for Daily Devotions, written by K.W. Osbeck.  Each day I have been reading one of these hymn stories.  On Friday, I read about “Near to the Heart of God,” written by Cleland B. McAfee (1866-1944).  It is #592 in our songbooks.  It is hard for me to make a decision when it comes to selecting a FAVORITE hymn.  Sometimes I think they all are my favorites, but this one is surely one worthy of “favoriting”!

As is the case with a great number of the songs in our songbooks, the man who wrote this song was not content just to wear the name Christian, but was identified as a Presbyterian.  Nonetheless, he obviously had tremendous talent with words and produced a hymn for the ages in “Near to the Heart of God.”  Let me quote from page 281 of the book mentioned earlier to give some back-ground for the writing of this song.

…Dr. McAfee was stunned to hear the shocking news that his two beloved nieces had just died from diphtheria. Turning to God and the Scriptures, McAfee soon felt the lines and the tune of this hymn flow from his grieving heart. On the day of the double funeral he stood outside the quarantined home of his brother Howard singing these words as he choked back the tears. The following Sunday the hymn was repeated by the choir of McAfee’s church. It soon be-came widely known …

There is a place of quiet rest, near to the heart of God, a place where sin cannot molest, near to the heart of God.

There is a place of comfort sweet, near to the heart of God, a place where we our Savior meet, near to the heart of God.

There is a place of full release, near to the heart of God, a place where all is joy and peace, near to the heart of God.

Chorus: O Jesus, blest Redeemer, sent from the heart of God, hold us who wait before Thee near to the heart of God.

Fallacies About Singing


by Roger Campbell

When it comes to singing songs of praise to the Lord God, our concepts of such need to be based on the teaching of the New Testament. Sometimes, though, when it comes to singing in worship, Christians accept ideas that simply are not true. Since such fallacies often influence the mindset and actions of others, we need to be aware of their danger.

A common fallacy about spiritual songs is that it does not matter what we sing, as long as we are sincere when we sing it. While it is true that our worship must come from a sincere heart (John 4:23,24), the Bible also says that when we sing, we teach others (Colossians 3:16). It is just as wrong to sing a falsehood as it is to preach one. The content of every song that we sing needs to harmonize with the Bible.

A second fallacy about singing is that if I am convinced that I do not have what humans would count as “a good singing voice,” then I am relieved of my responsibility to sing. The message of Ephesians 5:19 is for every child of God: “Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord.” Those members of the church who refuse to sing should seriously consider what the Master said: “Why call ye me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say?” (Luke 6:46).

A third fallacy which some have is that it is cool to sing without using a songbook, even if you do not know the words to the song. All saints of God are instructed to sing, and by such singing we admonish one another (Colossians 3:16). When I do not sing along because I do not know the words, obviously I am not doing any admonishing, am I? What if everyone in the entire congregation followed the same practice of not looking at the songbook during the singing? We would surely have some “dead time” in the middle of certain songs – that would not be much admonition, would it? If one thinks it is childish to use a songbook, he needs to be reminded that singing praises is a spiritual activity that is supposed to come from a heart that wants to honor the Creator, not look macho in the eyes of our peers.

A fourth fallacy about singing is that if the song leader leads more than one verse of a closing song (or all the verses of a “regular” song), that makes worship too long and is an infringement on my personal free time. Bless your heart, unless the elders decide otherwise, it is the song leader’s prerogative to decide how many verses of each song will be sung. I personally love singing the “extra” verses.

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Ivory Palaces

The word IVORY is found some 13 times in the Bible (KJV).  The source of ivory is the tusk of elephants.  It has been an important item of trade for many centuries (2 Chr 9:21; Rev 18:11-13).  This kind of trade is now mostly illegal because the vast numbers of elephants that have been slaughtered to procure it have come close to depleting the species.  In the days of King Solomon ivory was one of the precious items brought in by his ships (1 Kgs 10:22).  Ivory was one of the indicators of Solomon’s tremendous wealth that the Queen of Sheba once came to investigate (1 Kgs 10:1-13).  The prophet Amos refers to ivory twice in the Book of Amos to demonstrate the great wealth of the people of Israel, to illustrate their lack of interest in spiritual concerns, and to warn of judgment against them (Amos 3:15; 6:4).

An especially interesting use of the word “ivory” is found in Psalm 45:8, where these words are found… “All thy garments smell of myrrh, and aloes, and cassia, out of the ivory palaces, whereby they have made thee glad.” This text surely is a reference to the Messiah to come.  The Hebrews writer clearly makes use of this text as a description of Jesus Christ (Heb 1:8).

Based upon this Psalm, also, is the song, “Ivory Palaces,” from the pen of Henry Barraclough.  This song is wonderfully rich in meaning and emotion.  As we sing it, we are awed with the beauty of our Savior and the magnitude of his love for us.

How can such a song be sung without our devotion and dedication to the Lord being augmented?  The only way that could possibly be done is if we sing without regard to Paul’s instruction of 1 Corinthians 14:15… “What is it then?  I will pray with the spirit, and I will pray with the understanding also: I will sing with the spirit, and I will sing with the understanding also.” It is obviously true that this passage is in the context of instruction regarding the proper way to exercise supernatural gifts, however, surely the principle applies to our singing in worship assemblies of today as well.  After all, our Lord did emphasize the same point when He spoke out against the “vain repetitions” (Mt 6:7) of the scribes and Pharisees.  It is really important that we give our full attention as we sing in the worship assemblies.  We teach and admonish one another with the words we sing and they are very important (Col 3:16).  Our worship must be rendered in spirit and in truth (Jn 4:24) in order to be well pleasing to the Lord.  The words of this song, “Ivory Palaces,” are especially expressive of thoughts that can make us stronger and more faithful.  Please consider them carefully…

     My Lord has garments so wondrous fine,
     And myrrh their texture fills;
     Its fragrance reached to this heart of mine
     With joy my being thrills.

     His life had also its sorrows sore,
     For aloes had a part;
     And when I think of the cross He bore,
     My eyes with teardrops start.

     In garments glorious He will come,
     To open wide the door;
     And I shall enter my heavenly home,
     To dwell for evermore.

     Out of the ivory palaces,
     Into a world of woe,
     Only His great eternal love
     Made my Savior go.

When we contemplate the IVORY PALACES from which our Lord descended to this “world of woe” and that the reason He did so was “Only His great eternal love,” how can we do anything but love back such a Savior as this?  The love of Jesus, demonstrated at Calvary, needs to be appreciated and considered very thoughtfully by each and every one of us.  As these thoughts strengthen us let us see the value of letting others know of this wonderful Savior.

–David Lemmons

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