One thing I desire to do on this blog is to talk thoughtfully about – and share – good music. Recorded music, live music, music for gathering worship, music for a road trip or for dancing, indie music, music from the top 40 – any form, medium, or context. I particularly want to talk about good music. Music that tells a compelling story, is well-crafted, is lyrically beautiful, dynamic, vocally and melodically rich – music that is moving in some meaningful way. I am not making any claims of having the final voice on what is or is not “good” music. I simply wish to add whatever voice I do have to the cultivation of good music, and I hope that you will join me.
For a while now, I have admired and enjoyed the faithful work of Sojourn Church in Louisville, Kentucky. They are a great example of leading in the arts and developing a community of artists, all while holding fast to deep theology and the beauty of the gospel. They have written and recorded several very good albums over the years, and are quickly gaining an influence as a community that creates interesting and excellent music. We sing several of Sojourn’s songs and arrangements in our gathered worship at Providence. Earlier this year, they released a split EP from two of their songwriting musicians. The opening track from this album is entitled Approach My Soul, The Mercy Seat, written and recorded by Jamie Barnes, and inspired by John Newton’s hymn. It is a great song, both lyrically and musically:
This song is a call to remember the gospel, to remember what our God has done for us. And in this way, it is a great song of meditation for our current preaching series in the book of Deuteronomy, especially for this coming Sunday – “You shall remember the Lord your God, for it is He who is giving you power to make wealth, that He may confirm His covenant which He swore to your fathers, as it is this day.” We are to remember the Lord our God and the covenant he has made with us. We are to remember the gospel for it is our only plea before a Holy God:
Approach my soul, the mercy seat
Where Holy One and helpless meet
There fall before my Judges’ feet
Thy promise is my only plea, O God
God is the Holy One, the righteous Judge. We are the helpless, filled with sin and grief. When we come before God’s presence, our only plea is the promises God has made to us in the gospel. We are to remember the gospel because it is the very power of God to lift us from the clutch of sin, relieve us from fear and grief, and protect us from the lies and schemes of Satan:
Send wings to lift the clutch of sin
You who dwell between the cherubim
From war without and fear within
Relieve the grief from the shoulders of crumbling men
Fashion my heart in your alchemy
With the brass to front the devil’s perjury
And surefire grace my Jesus speaks
I must. I will. I do believe. O Lord.
In the Old Testament, the Ark of the Covenant was a chest that held the Ten Commandments, and so was a sacred symbol of the relationship (the covenant) God had with His people. He was their God (Yahweh), and despite their lawlessness, they were His people. The ark was kept inside the ‘Holy of Holies’ (the Temple’s innermost sanctuary) because the ark was associated with the presence of God. The ‘mercy seat’, was an object that rested on the ark between two golden statues of cherubim, forming a seat for Yahweh (Exodus 25:18-21). The Holy of Holies then, could only be entered by a priest who was to sprinkle the blood of a sacrificial bull onto the mercy seat, as an atonement for himself and the people of God. This was a way of honoring the covenant, remembering who God is and what He had done for them in delivering them from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.
But there came a sacrifice greater – Jesus, the Sacrificial Lamb – whose blood was the blood of the new covenant. It has once and for all been poured out, covering the mercy seat as an offering to appease God’s wrath. This is the great promise of God, the gospel: that Jesus took our sin upon himself, he died in our place, and he was raised to new life where he sits at the right hand of God interceding on our behalf (Rom. 8:34). Jesus satisfied the holy, righteous demands of God against sin. Through the death of Jesus, a holy God and helpless men can meet and have fellowship. Jesus is our mercy seat.
“For Christ has entered, not into holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf. Nor was it to offer himself repeatedly, as the high priest enters the holy places every year with blood not his own, for then he would have had to suffer repeatedly since the foundation of the world. But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself.” (Heb. 9:24-26)
O God – Pour out your mercy to me. My God, Oh what striking love to bleed.