Worship: God with Us

Oct 14, 2011

Article by Dr. Gabe Statom

Consider this hymn, God Himself is With Us:

God Himself is with us: let us now adore Him,
And with awe appear before Him.
God is in His temple, all within keep silence,
Prostrate lie with deepest reverence.
Him alone God we own, Him our God and Savior;
Praise His name forever.

God Himself is with us: hear the harps resounding!
See the crowds the throne surrounding!
''Holy, holy, holy'' hear the hymn ascending,
Angels, saints, their voices blending!
Bow thine ear to us here:
Hear, O Christ, the praises that they church now raises.

O Thou fount of blessing, purify my spirit;
Trusting only in Thy merit, like the holy angels
Who behold Thy glory, may I ceaselessly adore Thee,
And in all, great and small,
See to do most nearly what Thou lovest dearly.

Doesn’t this text from 1729 still express the sentiment we should embrace each time we come into the presence of the Lord?  Our Chancel Choir will sing all of the verses to this hymn as part of our worship this Lord’s day to set the tone of reverence and awe to which this hymn calls the corporate body of worshippers.

The music to which this tune was set is a very old German chorale that many Reformed churches throughout Europe would open each worship service, and many still do.  Because of the long history with this hymn and it's use throughout church history, it is always a great opportunity to connect our worship with the historic community of faith by keeping these hymns alive in our twenty-first century context. 

The tune is very simple and therefore seemingly fitting to express such lofty statements.  This particular combination of text and music, though almost 400 years old, places the correct emphasis on the meter of the words, all at the exact correct moment!  When sung properly, it is almost as if the singers are reading the words with the correct inflection, except with the benefit of bringing out expression that words alone cannot.

In this case, the way the musical meter aligns with the words makes a textual and musical phrase, and not just a string of words that have no relation to each other.  The music aids the text because it emphasizes the full thought of the phrase and not the individual words in the phrase. The way this happens to work makes it easy to sing, but also easy to listen to because the stress is on the words and not the notes.

So, does the music really matter when the text is so good?  The music sets the tone for this text—and it has to be the perfect marriage of the two to convey the message of the text.  In this case the way the natural emphasis of the words fits the music makes it a perfect match!  I challenge you to listen for this quality on Sunday morning.  No matter one's musical tastes, I hope it will be evident that the musical setting of a text does matter!

Another issue in singing a hymn like this is to know who is speaking the text and whom it is addressing.  In this particular case, the text is speaking on behalf of “us" — the congregation.  It is actually a prayer acknowledging the presence of God through the spirit and welcoming His presence among us corporately. This Sunday, the choir will sing this as a choral declaration of God's glory and will represent the church's voice as a whole—a group of worshippers whose voices are combined into one, and that do not represent the testimony of just one person, but many.

The credibility of a group of people is often stronger than that of one-in this case, a choir of believers responding on our behalf. And we see in scripture that the heavens will be filled with choirs of angels and we aim to use the presence of the choir to express the sentiments of the whole church in moments like this.

I hope you will hear the beauty of God being with us through the simple message of this hymn sung by the amazing a cappella human voice.  I often tell the choir that the human voice is the only perfect instrument—it is the one that God himself created in His own image.  I hope you will envision the sound of a choir of heavenly angels at Christ's throne when you hear sung "let us now adore him, and with awe before him…all within keep silence, prostrate lie with deepest reverence?"