In Christ Alone

During this time whilst we can’t sing together in worship we are aiming to post a different hymn each week. For some Sundays it will be the obvious hymn in Common Praise for a particular Sunday and a brief commentary – partly with reference to The Penguin Book of Hymns edited by Ian Bradley, The Nation’s Favourite Hymns by Andrew Barr or research on the internet – will be published with our hymn choice for the week. The words of the hymn will be provided alongside a recording of the hymn, courtesy of Lucy Colbourne at home whilst Lancaster University is in lockdown. This will have been recorded by Billy Colbourne (Assistant Organist) and includes use of his Hauptwerk organ also at home, with the sounds of Salisbury Cathedral’s organ.

Charles Pavey – Organist & Choirmaster

In Christ Alone

In Christ alone my hope is found;
He is my light, my strength, my song;
This cornerstone, this solid ground,
Firm through the fiercest drought and storm.
What heights of love, what depths of peace,
When fears are stilled, when strivings cease!
My comforter, my all in all – 
Here in the love of Christ I stand.

In Christ alone, who took on flesh,
Fullness of God in helpless babe!
This gift of love and righteousness,
Scorned by the ones he came to save.
Till on that cross as Jesus died,
The wrath of God was satisfied;
For every sin on him was laid – 
Here in the death of Christ I live.

There in the ground his body lay,
Light of the world by darkness slain;
Then bursting forth in glorious day,
Up from the grave he rose again!
And as he stands in victory,
Sin’s curse has lost its grip on me;
For I am his and he is mine – 
Bought with the precious blood of Christ.

No guilt in life, no fear in death –
This is the power of Christ in me;
From life’s first cry to final breath,
Jesus commands my destiny.
No power of hell, no scheme of man,
Can ever pluck me from his hand;
Till he returns or calls me home—
Here in the power of Christ I’ll stand.

Words & Music: Keith Getty and Stuart Townend

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Hymn Commentary 

In terms of age In Christ Alone is the second youngest hymn that has featured in Holy Trinity’s Hymn for the Week for it is only twenty years old this year.  One of the writers, Yorkshireman Stuart Townend (b.1963), has featured on this website before and it was his The Lord’s My Shepherd – which was posted last year – that is younger by five years.  That hymn was a re-thinking of Psalm 23; not a re-working because, as I said at that time, the message of Psalm 23 (like the message of Easter) cannot be improved.  How coincidental, or maybe it’s greater than that, that this week’s anthem is Brother James’ Air which uses the words of yes, you’ve guessed it, Psalm 23!  We can’t put an exact date on when Psalm 23 was written but, at around 3000 years, we can’t get away from the fact that some words will never be able to change and the message is still the same after all this time.

So let us turn our attention to the time of Jesus just 2000 years ago, and the themes in this week’s Hymn for the Week.  The last lines of two verses encourage us to stand in Christ’s love and power; the last lines of the other two verses encourage us to live because of Christ’s death and the shedding of his blood.  It is a hymn that takes us from the cross on Good Friday to Christ’s resurrection on Easter Sunday and the hope that brings to all who believe.  So far so good but In Christ alone has been controversial.  The problem is the sixth line in verse two: ‘The wrath of God was satisfied’.  One hymnal refused to include In Christ alone as it was felt that a loving God would not be so vengeful and indeed the authorities behind the banning of this hymn from its hymnal suggested re-writing that line to: “the love of God was magnified.”  However, there is no doubting the theology, for by the love of God all mankind’s sin is forgiven and there was a means of achieving this, however awful.  Townend understands this for in another of his hymns, How Deep the Father’s Love for Us, there is the line that Christ’s “wounds have paid my ransom”.  The controversy however seems to have been not so much on the wrath of God itself, but rather that the wrath of God was satisfied.  Controversy apart though, In Christ alone has risen above this to become an undeniably popular hymn…and one of Holy Trinity’s Top Ten back in 2018.

In Christ alone was the first song composed by both Keith Getty and Stuart Townend.  Born in Northern Ireland in 1974, it was Getty’s (as he described it) “strong very Irish melody” that was the catalyst for the hymn.  Townend added lyrics and between them they produced a hymn that, as Townend said, is an “undeniable statement of the power of Christ to sustain us in this life”.  In this way it takes us back to this week’s Anthem for the Week already mentioned for, in Psalm 23, being sustained by God is the theme even if it is not explicitly mentioned; but 3000 years later it should still elicit a response of us trusting God as mercy is to be found. As verse two of In Christ Alone says about Christ and you and I: ‘For every sin on him was laid – here in the death of Christ I live’.

Charles Pavey - Organist & Choirmaster

Anthem for the Week