Should we retire “Come, Ye Sinners”?

A friend recently emailed me, asking my thoughts on the last line of the chorus of “Come, Ye Sinners.”

Come, ye sinners, poor and needy,
Weak and wounded, sick and sore;
Jesus ready stands to save you,
Full of pity, love and power.

I will arise and go to Jesus,
He will embrace me in His arms;
In the arms of my dear Savior,
O there are ten thousand charms.

Ten thousand charms?

We have sung this song for years or decades without really looking at the lyrics. Let’s try to set aside emotional attachment to the lyric for a few minutes, to look at its Biblical validity.

Part 1: Etymology

Etymology is the study of the history of how words and their meanings change over time. It is crucial to understanding the word “charms” and its significance for this lyric.

The word “charm” came into the English language in approximately the 1300s, borrowed from the old French word “charme,” which meant “incantation.” It came into English with a roughly equivalent meaning:

  • incantation
  • magical formula
  • reciting verses of magical power
  • an amulet with magical powers worn to ward off evil spirits

Not until Elizabethan England (1598) was the alternate meaning of “pleasing quality” first used.

According to Merriam-Webster, here, the primary meaning of the word to this day is “the chanting or reciting of a magic spell : incantation / “a practice or expression believed to have magic power.” The secondary meaning is “something worn about the person to ward off evil or ensure good fortune : amulet.” It’s only the tertiary meaning that is the generic usage, “a trait that fascinates, allures, or delights.”

Truth be told, the lyric is actually quite unclear as to which meaning is intended. Does Jesus hold ten thousand spoken magic spells in His arms? Does Jesus hold ten thousand magical amulets in His arms? Does Jesus hold ten thousand traits that fascinate, allure, or delight in His arms?

It is unlikely that the author intended either the first or the second meanings. The third definition doesn’t make linguistic sense, since a trait is a intangible characteristic that cannot be physically held in one’s arms. So Merriam-Webster helpfully offers a fourth and fifth definition:

  • a small ornament worn on a bracelet or chain
  • a fundamental quark that has an electric charge of +2⁄3 and a measured energy of approximately 1.5 GeV; also : the flavor characterizing this particle

It is safe to say that definition 5 would have been unknown, or at least not in common usage, some 150 or 200 years ago. So this leaves the rather absurd fourth definition, that of Jesus holding ten thousand small non-magical ornaments worn on a bracelet or a chain, as the most likely intended meaning.

Can Christians use a word fraught with the two primary meanings this word holds?

Part of the answer must depend upon how serious we as Christians are to take charms, incantations, amulets, and the like.

Part 2: God’s View of Witchcraft

Thanks to C.S. Lewis and Harry Potter, among others, our culture takes witchcraft lightly. But God does not.

Deuteronomy 10:10-12 states:

There shall not be found among you any one that maketh his son or his daughter to pass through the fire, or that useth divination, or an observer of times, or an enchanter, or a witch. Or a charmer, or a consulter with familiar spirits, or a wizard, or a necromancer. For all that do these things are an abomination unto the LORD: and because of these abominations the LORD thy God doth drive them out from before thee.

Exodus 22:18 is succinct and to the point:

Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live.

There are assorted applications of these principles—or instances of them being disregarded—throughout the rest of the Old Testament. For example, we see Samuel and Josiah, two of the bright spots in Israel’s history, following these commands. Witchcraft and wizardry consist of attempts to apply the power of Satan to natural or supernatural means—and as such, Biblically speaking, there are no good witches. All witches and wizards alike are active combatants in the war against God.

(This, incidentally, is the key issue with what makes Lewis’s writings problematic in this context; he asserted that there could be good magic, using that term for the powers and entities representing Christ / Christianity / the good side. Totally apart from the impact of the premise on the acceptance or toleration of witchcraft in Christian circles today, using the terminology of Satan’s powers to represent the actions of Christ’s powers brings up an entirely separate Scriptural discussion and violation, the practice condemned in Isaiah 5:20: “Woe unto them that call evil good, and good, evil.”)

But, you may ask, is this all Old Testament theology, and as such (you might aver) has no bearing on us today?

First, Jesus fulfilled the ceremonial law. But the moral law—where God states what is right and what is wrong—remains unchanged. What was morally right under the Old Testament remains morally right today, and what was morally wrong remains morally wrong today. As Paul states in Galatians 3, the law was our schoolmaster, to bring us to Christ. If God did not give us a standard for moral right and wrong, we would not know what moral wrong was or that we had committed it, and we would not know that we needed a Savior.

Second, even though what is clearly outlined as a moral wrong in the Old Testament remains a moral wrong, this particular teaching is emphasized in the New Testament. In Galatians 5:19-21, Paul states:

Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.

Now, while the New Testament clearly condemns witchcraft, I concede that it contains no commands to kill witches. This is explained simply enough; the portions of the Old Testament containing the law were given to men in civil government leadership positions, and contained a civil law. The family, the church, and the state all have separate jurisdictions, roles, and responsibilities, and capital punishment is the jurisdiction of the state and not of the family or of the church. The New Testament was written to a persecuted minority of individuals/families and church leaders, not civil magistrates; the Christian church had little to no involvement in government until Constantine, centuries later. As such, it rarely touches upon the area of civil law.

However fascinating this side discussion may be, let us return to the key point of the section: God takes witchcraft seriously. So should we.

Part 3: Hymn History

At this juncture in the discussion, one might expect that I have been building up to a conclusion that we should retire the hymn. Perhaps surprisingly, I do not take this viewpoint.

The hymn was written by Joseph Hart and was published in Hymns Composed on Various Subjects in 1759. The original lyrics of the hymn had no reference to “charms”!

Come, ye sinners, poor and wretched,
Weak and wounded, sick and sore;
Jesus ready stands to save you,
Full of pity, joined with power;
He is able, He is able, He is able,
He is willing, doubt no more.

Come, ye needy, come, and welcome;
God’s free bounty glorify;
True belief and true repentance,
Every grace that brings us nigh;
Without money, without money, without money,
Come to Jesus Christ and buy.

Come, ye weary, heavy laden,
Bruised and broken by the fall;
If you tarry till you’re better,
You will never come at all;
Not the righteous, not the righteous, not the righteous,
Sinners Jesus came to call.

Let not conscience make you linger,
Nor of fitness fondly dream;
All the fitness He requires
Is to feel your need of Him.
This He gives you, this He gives you, this He gives you,
‘Tis the Spirit’s rising beam

Lo! th’incarnate God, ascended
Pleads the merit of His blood;
Venture on Him, venture wholly;
Let no other trust intrude;
None but Jesus, none but Jesus, none but Jesus,
Can do helpless sinners good.

The industrious editors of Cyber Hymnal have provided a sheet music and midi of the original lyric with a compatible tune.  [EDIT, 6/7/12: Broken link removed.]

About a century after the original publication, an anonymous editor chopped off the last three lines of every verse and added the chorus we know today.

Matthew Smith, leader of the Indelible Grace Music touring band and a songwriter who writes new musical settings to classic hymn texts, provides a worthy analysis of the theological impact of the edits. Here’s an excerpt from the full post that takes the edits made to the fourth verse as a case in point for the whole:

Removing the last two lines and replacing them with that refrain absolutely wrecks the intended meaning. Hart strongly believed (based on this and his other hymns) that it is God who changes the sinner’s heart, and without this move of the Spirit, the sinner is completely unable to even feel his need for Christ. … I think that whoever originally gutted it of its meaning did so because he or she was offended by the truths Hart presented and wanted to put forth a more man-centered, pseudoromantic version instead.

Part 4: Conclusion

God takes witchcraft seriously. We dare not presume to do any less.

In the poorly crafted and anonymously added chorus, the concluding word is an insurmountable problem. Either the author intended the primary or secondary meaning, at which point the chorus must be discarded on theological grounds as heresy, or he meant the tertiary or quaternary meaning, at which point the chorus must be discarded on linguistic grounds as absurd.

Thus, I am not making the case to retire the song. But we certainly should return to the original lyric.

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205 Letters to the Editor

Southern Gospel Journal welcomes letters to the editor. We will post the most thoughtful and insightful submissions. Ground rules: Don't attack or belittle groups or fellow posters, or advance heresies rejected by orthodox Christianity. Do keep comments positive, constructive, and on topic.
  1. *Eagerly waits for the next news item…*

    • Addendum: And yawns.

  2. It is too bad this is boring to some people as I think this is akin to what the Bible says in 2 Timothy 2:15 “Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth”

  3. Well written post. I totally agree. I find it encouraging that you look at how God views witchcraft… like you said, our culture is dumbed down about witchcraft.

    It kind of looks to me like the writer of the refrain wasn’t a very good poet… I mean, how many words that can be used in a hymn rhyme with “arms”?

    • Farms, harms, and alarms! 🙂

      • Haha. Exactly what I meant!

      • You forgot schoolmarms.

      • Schoolmarms! Hahahaha!

  4. Great work. Thank you for your efforts to research this song and to share your findings with us.

    • You’re welcome, and thanks for the encouragement!

  5. The only thing I will say is that when it comes to the toleration of witchcraft in Christian circles today, you will find Lewis’s influence to be fractionally small (in fact, I’ll just say it, non-existent) by comparison with Harry Potter. Or if you found insane people citing Lewis as an influence, you would not find Lewis applauding or condoning it, unlike J. K. Rowling.

    • I think Lewis’s problem was far from his intent—he had the best of intentions, but his syncretism opened the door for those who have come since.

      • As had Tolkien, they were in fact university associates, and Lewis saw his “Chronicles” as a watered down “Rings” saga.

        Both were guilty of syncretism precisely because they had a christian perspective but used a dubious premise – ‘good magic’ to allegorize Christianity.

        The syncretism charge CANNOT be laid at the door of Rowling or Meyer precisely because the Christian intent is absent. The greatest danger lies not in the [watered down] movies – but in the darker original literature.

        Neither is suitable reading for any believer’s children.

      • David, I’m astonished at how much intellectual ground we share! Few indeed are the Christians who have thought through the issue and implications of syncretism!

  6. Do you know the name of the tune that the original lyrics were set to as recorded by Cyber Hymnal? It sounds very familiar. I am thinking if I knew the name I find the other hymn/song that I know that goes with that tune (it’s bugging me that I can’t think of it).

    Incidentally, the Church Hymnal, copyright 1927 by Mennonite Publishing House, has the original lyrics set to the “Greenville” tune. Due to the metrics(?) of the tune, it deletes some of the repeated phrases at the end of each verse of the Cyber Hymnal version and how you have presented it under point 3 in your post. It also does not include fourth verse that Cyber Hymnal includes, but rather has as the third verse the “Let not conscience…” verse. There are a few very minor wording revisions along the way, also.

    I would vote for revising the current lyrics, as I am partial to the tune that is currently associated with that hymn! Anyway, interesting and valid presentation, Daniel.

    • Ellen, sorry, no I don’t. That’s fascinating – I had not heard of the original lyrics in usage in that era at all until now!

      I think that with the use of a few repeats, and cutting the three-times-repeated four-syllable phrase to a two-time-repeat, the current tune could be adapted to this without too much difficulty.

      • Hmmm, a project for you in your “spare time”? 🙂

        Also, that very hymnal that I mentioned was in use in our church until about a couple months ago. I am going to send you a scan of yet another tune that it (the original version) is set to that is in yet another hymnal that our church STILL uses that is copyright 1902.

      • Is there any possibility that your church has not discarded all the copies yet? 🙂

        Thanks for the scan!

      • We are still USING all the copies! 🙂 Or are you referring to the 1927 hymnal?

      • Well, the 1902 one is the one that intrigues me the most, I admit, since it’s entirely in the public domain. But even so, I wouldn’t hesitate to pay a couple of dollars plus shipping for a 1927 hymnal.

      • I will try to remember to keep you in mind when that time comes! I am sure they will be very well worn by then. Would you believe, however, that I just discovered that those 1902 hymnals can still be purchased new at (EDIT, 8/3/11: Broken link removed.)

      • Wow! I have just bookmarked that to add to my to-purchase list in a month when hymnal acquisitions are allocated for in my budget. 🙂

        Have the 1927 hymnals pulled from circulation been discarded?

      • I don’t know about the 1927 Church Hymnal. I will check to see! However, it is also still available new, if you can’t wait! (EDIT, 8/3/11: Broken link removed.)

      • Ah – I am patient! I doubt I’ll be buying hymnals before March, anyhow. 🙂

      • I’ve sent an email of inquiry to a key individual about the destiny of the 1927 Church Hymnals. Will keep you apprised!

      • Thanks!

    • WOW! Just discovered this topic, and I applaud you, Daniel for writing this !!!!!!
      2nd Kings 17: 37-41 (the whole chapter summarizes the fall of the Northern Kingdom, Israel) says:
      37″…ye shall not fear other gods.

      38 And the covenant that I have made with you ye shall not forget; neither shall ye fear other gods.

      39 But the Lord your God ye shall fear; and he shall deliver you out of the hand of all your enemies.

      40 Howbeit they did not hearken, but they did after their former manner.

      41 So these nations feared the Lord, and served their graven images, both their children, and their children’s children: as did their fathers, so do they unto this day.”

      The real tragedy is summarized in vs 41, where they “….feared the Lord, and served their graven images…”

      That is the exact problem with syncretism, the attempt to serve both the Lord AND our idols, whatever they may be. It destroyed Israel, and later Judah. It destroys us even to this day.

      • You’re welcome! I’m glad it still has value, two years later!

      • Another point, Revelation 21:8 says: “But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death.”

        “…sorcerers…..shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone…”
        Sorcerers, unless they repent of their sins, and accept Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and Saviour, don’t go to heaven.

        But thank God, there have been many who’ve been changed.
        1st. Corinthians 6:9-11:
        “Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor IDOLATORS, (emphasis mine…… whichcraft is beyond a shadow of a doubt idolatry) nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind,

        10 Nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God.

        11 And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God.”

  7. Daniel,

    Perhaps the ugliness and pre-emergent theology of the chorus WAS just an excuse to have a wee historical dig!

    Maybe you was asked to comment privately,
    and discovered that the underlying subtlety of the added lyric is not what it imposes as much as what is expunged.

    Whatever; it is a worthy piece of hymnological-research and provides a fitting vehicle for a succinct demolition of wicca type balderdash. You might have mentioned J R Tolkein as well as CSL and Rowling. None of which compare in essential wickedness to Meyer and Twilight….

    I would imagine many young EHSS fans are in parallel obsessed with some of the above. It is encouraging to go back to the unexpurgated versions of some hymns and find their original theological basis to be stronger. We DO need the occasional rant against the “dumbing down” of our scriptural heritage!

    I appreciate the unseen effort behind the post.

    • David, thank you for the encouragement! I was originally just going to reply to the email, but as I got deeper and deeper into the research—and discovered, in fact, that there was more to the discussion than I’d realized.

      You know, I’ve heard of Tolkien but never read his books, so I had more hesitation speaking to it. I’ve also heard Twilight mentioned, and it sounds horrible indeed.

      “We DO need the occasional rant against the ‘dumbing down’ of our scriptural heritage!” – Thanks, and agreed!

    • I group Tolkien and Lewis on one side, Rowling and Meyer on the other, with Meyer the absolute worst.

      Lewis and Tolkien are light. The other two are darkness.

      • Lewis and Tolkien included some light, I’ll fully grant that – even if they mixed it with the darkness of pagan mythology into a syncretistic whole.

      • It’s really hard for me to take something like this statement seriously from someone who just above said he had only barely heard of Tolkein.

        But then again, it’s hard for me to take anyone seriously who speaks out against something without having any knowledge of it in the first place.

      • Umm, Chris, that’s why I didn’t talk about Tolkien.

        And as to having direct knowledge of what I did actually talk about in the post – I do. (The exception is Harry Potter, which I’ve read a fair amount about but have not read.) I choose to not go further in a public setting, but I do have knowledge whereof I speak.

      • You said “Lewis and Tolkien included some light”

      • If I can interject a comment here…I think that one does not have to read a bad book cover to cover to know that it’s a bad book.

        For example, I’ve read and heard enough about Twilight to know that I’d prefer not to touch it with a ten-foot pole, even aside from the fact that it appears to be a complete waste as “literature.” (“His beauty stunned my mind.” Really?) I believe that I can come to that conclusion reasonably without actually having picked up the book and jettisoned a few hours of my life to be able to say that I had read it.

      • Exactly. I have never listened to a rap song all the way through before in my life, but I know enough about it to know I wouldn’t want to, and that it isn’t right.

        Chris, it’s OK that you’re not personally convicted about Tolkien, but the personal attack on Daniel was completely unnecessary. I’m surprised he allowed it to go up. I pray that we can all be civil, even in disagreement.

      • I’ve never touched anything by a secular rapper like Eminem (and plan on doing so somewhere around never), although I have been subjected to some Toby-Mac ad nauseam on my local station. I won’t go so far as to say that he’s “of the devil,” but he does make the musician in me want to bang my head against the wall…

      • I’ll be completely honest with you guys, and you can judge me if you want. In my past, I’ve listened to Christian rap….and even some secular rap in my life. And its listening to “music” like that that makes me appreciate the simplicity of southern gospel music and the hardcore reality of its lyrics.

      • I’m not going to judge you, but I’m glad you’re listening to real music now. 😀

        And I do firmly believe that non-Christian rap, with the messages it brings, is very much of the devil.

      • Being critical of another person’s argument against something is not a personal attack. That’s why Daniel didn’t delete it. He knows that.

      • I could easily see how someone would take “But then again, it’s hard for me to take anyone seriously who speaks out against something without having any knowledge of it in the first place” as a personal attack, since if the point was just to be critical of my argument, you could have just been critical of my argument. 🙂

        But I had a better comeback than deleting, so I just put the better comeback up. 🙂

  8. David Mac: “I would imagine many young EHSS fans are in parallel obsessed with some of the above.”

    Some of the above what?

    • Sorry Josh, I was referring directly to my own previous paragraph, hence:

      C.S.Lewis, J.R.Tolkein, J.K.Rowling, Stephanie Meyer.

      It occurred to me that the upsurge in live gospel DVD, as a replacement in may cases for ‘live’ CD’s, parallels a rise in serial film/DVD’s of these authors books.

      It would not surprise me to find “Get Away Jordan” on a teen’s bookshelf alongside “Twilight”.

      It would, however, worry me hugely!

  9. Great work all the way around. I don’t have much if anything to add. I have heard of the hymn, but don’t really know it, at least not enough to have ever considered the lyric in question.

    Your theology and Bible analysis is spot on. I applaud that enthusiastically. Modern society’s casual acceptance of the occult is troublesome indeed. I have read Tolkien, but not in a great while. I have never read Lewis. I’m content with just sticking with God’s Word at this point in my life.

    Good read.

  10. In this case charms is a derivation pf charisma i.e., a gift,of/from/favored by God/the divine. Charisma is defined as a trait found in individuals whose personalities are characterized by a powerful charm and magnetism and markedly superior capabilities of interpersonal communication and persuasion. If charm is interpreted as a derivative of the word charisma,this definition makes sense also: a gift or power believed to be divinely bestowed; divine favor

    • You don’t find charms as an etymological descendant of charisma in any dictionary I checked! 🙂 Even if they do have similar roots, charms came into our language with a very specific meaning – which remains its primary meaning.

      • A woman has her charms, and they’re not magical.

      • A lotta guys been bewitched all the same.

        Take a look at Prov 9:13-18

      • Precisely.

        Now, just think about that for a minute, then think about that lyric.

        What is wrong with this picture?

      • You ain’t gotta picture NSF 🙂 🙂

  11. This is a very interesting discussion. My first thought was that the word “charms” in the song should be overlooked and chalked up to poetic license. But after further consideration, I feel a little more inclined toward carefulness of speech, and saying what is true, not what rhymes.

    • Ha! You were [yawn] waiting for the “next news item”.

      You wakened up, again, NSF? 🙂

      • This SGF isn’t new!

      • Ooops! mixed them up, again!

  12. You dismissed the third definition of charms, but it actually applies.

    “a trait that fascinates, allures, or delights.”

    The verse is in first person: “I will arise and go” etc.

    It’s not a matter of the Savior’s ability to physically hold fascination. It’s a matter of how the first person experiences fascination, allure, or probably most specifically, delight at being held in the arms of Jesus.

    Language, since the events at the tower of Babel, has constantly been in flux. A word that meant “to go before” in the King James era now most commonly means nearly the opposite “to stop.” I’m speaking of the word “prevent.”

    If we could transport ourselves back to France when the word “charme” referred to a witch’s incantation, we might be able to look back further and find a time when the word meant “a song.”

    Which in fact, it does. charme comes from the latin word carmen, meaning “a song,” and that comes from a hebrew word Karmel, meaning “a garden.” At least, to the extent I’ve been able to research the word in fifteen minutes using only the internet, which may be fallible, I admit.

    At any rate…
    “Garden” makes no sense, but “Oh, there are ten thousand songs” works fine for me.

    Keep the song. You went on a witch hunt when no witch was there.

    Clearly, the song would never have been accepted if the people thought “charm” was being used in the context of witchcraft, even if that does happen to be the first listed definition of the word.

      • Oh, and by the way, I’m completely with you on bringing back the original lyrics.

        Just not because I think “charm” is problematic.

      • I’m with you here, even though you stated it a little better than I did (before reading your comment).

    • Thanks David. I tried to stay out of this debate. I had a feeling that it was making something out of nothing, but had no proof to back that up so I just stayed out of it.

      I’m glad someone else was able to do the dirty work here.

      • “Whatever; it is a worthy piece of hymnological-research and provides a fitting vehicle for a succinct demolition of wicca type balderdash”

        Which ever point of view you take, DBM I do think you are being a wee bit hard on Daniel, maybe he went lion hunting in an empty Den? 🙂 I think the underlying worry should be that the lyrics were abridged and amended – which poses a concern as the the contextual use of “charms”.

        Which inclines me more to Daniel’s point of view.

        Witchever standpoint we pontificate from, the debate is worthy. Point taken?

      • Josh bro,

        A very fine dash of ‘snarkiness’ spoils the taste.

    • David, our disagreement is not about the word’s etymology (I agree that carmen is cited as the Latin source), but about these questions: Are Christians called to a higher standard than the rest of the world, to conduct that is above reproach? And if so, should we avoid using words whose primary meaning was and is incompatible with a Christian worldview in this context?

      I say yes.

      Even if you say no, characterizing me as being on a “witch hunt” is unnecessary. I had made up my mind before putting this up that I’d leave any comment up unless it slipped into name-calling. Because it’s you, and because of the years we’ve known each other, I’ll leave it up. But you were one of the last people I’d have expected to go there. 🙁

      • 1 Thessalonians 5:21-22
        Prove all things; hold fast that which is good.
        Abstain from all appearance of evil.

        Don’t be discouraged. You have taken the time to “prove” this hymn in your heart, and found some “appearance of evil”, even if evil wasn’t intended. You should expect some ridicule, or some pushback, because taking a stand on Biblical truth should and will make us uncomfortable. Some will always respond to that discomfort by “shooting the messenger”, so to speak. Don’t let it get you down…it really means you’re doing something right.

      • Daniel,
        I agree with that. I had already tried to avoid using words like “luck” before I ever met you, but it’s because of your influence that I now take it further and try to avoid use of words like “fortune” and “fate” in a positive context.

        I can understand how you took “witch hunt” seriously, but it was really meant to be a tongue-in-cheek aside. You were literally talking about witches, so I thought the wry humor of my comment would be obvious without a smiley. It certainly was a jab at you for not completely revealing the root of the word “charm” to your readers, but it was not an ill-intentioned low blow.

      • David,

        Thank you so much for the clarification. I hadn’t known you meant it to be taken tongue-in-cheek, and I apologize for taking you more seriously than you intended!

      • I knew what David meant, but I’m sorry there was a confusion—good thing you got that straightened out!

      • I do feel it was wrong to edit out one of the meanings to make your argument stronger, Daniel. It is okay you feel this way, and you could argue that if there is doubt we should not say something that could be misunderstood. However, I feel the third shouldn’t have been removed. It should have been dealt with or at least presented. We wouldn’t want someone editing out info on the Bible, Christianity, our favorite groups or other topics near to our hearts by someone who disagreed. It would be dishonest of them to knowingly do that to make their points seem stronger.

      • quartet-man, I regret the need to be direct, but I must firmly rebut the charge of dishonesty. I did indeed include all five meanings listed in the dictionary I consulted (Merriam-Webster). Though I only dealt briefly with the grammatical absurdity of the third definition, of Jesus holding ten thousand intangible attractive qualities in his arms, I did indeed deal with it.

      • My apologies, Daniel. I meant no offense even when I wrote it. I saw David’s comment and looked at the Dictionary link versus your list above. I am not sure I even read the entire thing earlier yesterday.

        I guess I have seen good people (and you certainly are on) who are well-meaning, but either twist things or creatively leave out things to make their points stronger.

        I never said that you were dishonest per se, I only said that when people on the other side do such things the action is a bit dishonest.

        I even regretted the statement after I made it and turned the computer off because I knew how it could be taken. You have shown great character here and even though I don’t always agree with you, I can see your heart, intentions and motivations. So, I am sorry if it came across as an attack or questioning of your character.

      • Argh, “one” not on.

      • quartet-man, thank you so much for the clarification! I would agree that it’s dishonest to knowingly omit key facts/data. I didn’t do it here, but it is dishonest when it is done.

        Apology definitely accepted!

      • Daniel did indeed include all definitions, although I can see how one might miss it and be confused on a quick skim, since it’s the most natural and relevant meaning, and he spent hardly any time on it. But he did include it, however briefly.

      • Well, grammatically, it’s so transparently absurd that I didn’t really think anyone would be taking it seriously. But lest I be accused of dishonesty, I made sure to mention it and spend two or three sentences on it. 🙂

      • Well, considering that it was obviously the real intended meaning…but you might not really want to go there in full detail anyway. 😮

      • I don’t know if anything about the anonymous and poorly executed tampering with the far stronger original lyric can be called obvious! 🙂

      • Well, I’ll leave it at this: It obviously wasn’t talking about witchcraft.

      • But, if you would still contend that we should never use the word anyway in any context given the fact that some interpretations of it are related to magic, then I must respectfully take the part of Miss Dianne Wilkinson on that issue. 😉

      • I’m sorry, but that looks like the obvious meaning to me too. Not literal arms, but in His spiritual embrace.

        The definition says “traits,” not tangible objects. To suppose that the likely intended meaning was small amulets, ornaments, or (for all I know) key fobs, seems (pardon my saying so) absurd.

      • I don’t think Daniel was supposing that meaning to be likely, just trying to cover everything. 😛

      • It says so! “Most likely intended meaning” – definition number 4.

      • Exactly – just covering all my bases. 🙂

      • OK, well you did say “rather absurd,” but I couldn’t figure it out.

      • However, I will say that I think there was less of a focus on what was actually meant by the word here and more of a focus on what the word could hypothetically be taken to mean.

      • I understand what you’re trying to accomplish by saying hypothetically, but in point of fact people in my acquaintance have literally understood the word with its primary meaning and stopped singing the song altogether.

        (But I think there’s too much value in the song to scrap it altogether, hence my advocacy of dropping the poorly executed butchering and returning to the original lyric.)

      • Well, I think that’s because your acquaintances are jumping to conclusions without adequate knowledge of the language or of the history of hymn-writing. Just because some people who don’t know any better could take a word the wrong way doesn’t meant there’s something wrong with it across the board.

      • But it also does keep the question from being hypothetical.

      • “Exactly – just covering all my bases. :)”

        Daniel, I love a good bass as much or more than anybody, but don’t you feel that tenors, leads and baritones deserve to be covered too? 😉

      • Well, wouldn’t that be basses? 🙂

      • Yeah, it would, but the joke wouldn’t work. Besides, it is amazing how many bass singers I have seen who spell bass signer as base singer. 🙂 Then there are those even in the industry who say “Glenn Payne” or “Danny Funderburke”. I just don’t get it sometimes. 🙂

    • David,
      Excellent response – you seem to have expressed my feelings on this subject very clearly and succinctly.

  13. Not only is the chorus in the hymn, but it’s also a verse in “Shoutin’ Time”.
    There’s a SG song that our choir did where they changed a lyric because it talked about drinking from Jesus’ blood, and we thought it’d confuse people because Twilight was really starting to take off back then. But the meaning on the word was different. I think in this song, charms means something beautiful, like the latter definition states.
    Also, even southern gospel has these “witchcraft problems”, unless if magic has another definition. Bill Gaither states in almost every video about the “magical” night they had while filming a video. In that perspective, magic might mean wonder or amazement. Because what is the first thing that usually comes to mind when we think of good magic in a Disney movie?
    And speaking of Disney, a friend and I were talking about Disney and his involvement with witchcraft. Explains the movie themes and all the hidden messages…

    • You won’t find me speaking in support of the use of the word “magical” there – I am trying to be consistent! 🙂

  14. (Before reading comments, seeing’s there are 53 of them-)

    I was just jumping off the ship mid-trip when I found you were going to bring in the original lyric. I’m OK with that.

    I have to say, though, I can’t possibly believe that the author intended anything to do with magic. We say that something is “charming,” or “holds charm for me.” In Christ there are 10,000 traits that should hold charm for us. Not magical, no, but certainly supernatural, if you insist on going there. The problem with witchcraft, as with most of what the devil does, is that it’s his attempt to counterfeit God’s work.

    If I were going to criticize it at all, I would say that it might be too light. Christ is certainly not just “charming”; however, He should “so enchain our spirit’s vision” that it could be roughly equivalent to 10,000 charms. FWIW

    • Amy, you’re getting closer to what I believe really makes the lyric somewhat problematic.

      • My take on it is, it was a rather lame attempt at a rhyme. The necessity for said lame attempt was caused by an unnecessary attempt at “dumbing down” an older lyric for modern consumption. That’s not a good thing, but I just can’t bring myself to believe it’s even tangentially related to witchcraft. Maybe after the HP series that might pop up in some listeners’ minds, but the author’s not to be blamed for that.

      • Actually, the “charms” lyric is carrying a very old tradition in hymnody—not exactly dumbing something down for a modern audience.

      • I don’t know if I follow you. My comment may have been too strong, but I was mainly referring to (1) shortening the verses, and (2) adding a chorus.

        I wasn’t thinking about it being an 1800s edit, but those are two traits I see firmly embedded in our church music today. We want bite-size nuggets of truth, and we need repetition in order to absorb it.

      • I was referring to the connotations of the word “charms” as used in this context.

        As for adding a chorus, that’s nothing new—look at “I Need Thee Ev’ry Hour” for example.

      • NSF – right one now?

        When you look at what has been REMOVED from the original lyric, I do think a “dumbing down” has been effected – which in turn affects the perception of the ‘weight’ of the chorus?

        Which is maybe close to Amy’s point as well.

      • I’m thinking the guy who said it was “pseudo-romantic” might be onto something.

      • Just a thought: I don’t think Daniel ever questioned the intent of the author…quite the opposite actually. It’s not always just about intent, though. It’s more about the possible “appearance” of something evil. Is it likely to give someone a curiosity about witchcraft? No, probably not, but we should try to maintain as high a standard as possible, so that we don’t bring about possible reproach to the name of Jesus. The same should apply to our songs.

        Because the Bible doesn’t say “thou shalt not use the word charm”, this is a matter of personal conviction. I’m not totally sure I agree 100% with Daniel about the lyric itself, but I applaud him for his efforts to maintain a high standard for his music, and this site. He absolutely should not be a target of contempt for it. (Not referring to you, Amy, of course.)

      • I would group the “charms” lyric with “Jesus, Lover of My Soul.”

      • I still don’t understand why we should be afraid as Christians about if someone might translate something differently than its actual meaning. It is what it is. We don’t need to be changing anything that’s not 100%.

        Also, word meanings change quite often. In the time the song was written. Today’s primary definitions likely were not so back when the song was written. Its about understanding the context in which lyrics are written. It’s like if “gay” was used in a song 50 years ago, it doesn’t have the same meaning now.

        Are we so afraid we might offend someone that we need to change every little detail to make everyone happy?

        I’m sorry, but I just hate changing little things just so we can be politically correct. It bugs me.

      • But Josh, there’s a whole world of difference between politically correct and Biblically correct.

        In fact, the two are usually diametrically opposed.

      • Josh, I don’t necessarily agree with everything Daniel said pertaining to this lyric, for a variety of reasons, but for the sake of clarification I should point out that he was indeed not trying to make a “politically correct” point. However, I am totally with you in cases where that is the motivation.

      • But if we are to follow everything that is in the Bible 100% to a T in order to be Biblically correct, then there would be no female ministers/preachers (1 Timothy 2:11-12) and Guy Penrod would be disgraced because of his hair (1 Corinthians 11:14).

        Things need to be taken in the context of which they were originally intended, and not the context of which they might mean today.

      • Josh, I am in indeed opposed on those Biblical grounds to female pastors/preachers, and to men wearing long hair.

      • Regrettably, too many Christians do accept female ministers. I completely agree with Daniel that this is flatly contradictory to Scripture and God’s plan for the ministry.

        As for long hair…I think that’s a less pressing issue, and there’s room for Guy Penrod-like exceptions. My main complaint is that it just looks scruffy/dorky/effeminate but Guy manages to make it dignified and masculine, somehow.

      • On the minister issue, I guess I feel what I do since my sister is an ordained minister (she is not currently pastoring a church)

      • That’s natural, but with all due respect, it doesn’t make it right.

      • While I do not want to put this in such a way as to be a personal attack on anyone, whether your sister or Guy Penrod or anyone else, I firmly believe that we should stick to what the Bible says.

      • If the Bible says it, that settles it, whether we believe it or not. There is no such thing as a female called by God to preach or pastor, and long hair is still a shame on a man. Those view aren’t popular anymore, but that’s God’s view.

        We MUST follow everything in the Bible to “T”. The Word hasn’t changed, and it never will.

        Malachi 3:6
        For I am the Lord, I change not.
        Hebrews 13:8
        Jesus Christ the same yesterday, today, and forever.
        Psalm 119:89
        For ever, O Lord, thy Word is settled in heaven

      • Now, I will say that “following the Bible to a T,” can in theory be carried to ridiculous extremes.

        For example, I know of a woman who has decided that she is going to do everything described of the “Proverbs woman.” This includes addressing her husband as “master,” and who knows, maybe even buying a parcel of land?

        My father would tell you that if my mother had begun constantly addressing him as “master,” he would ask “Where is my wife and what have you done with her body?”


      • Well, if she’s going to go that far, she might as well go all the way and address him by the Hebrew word from which the KJV translators translated “master”!

      • NSF, have you got a Scripture reference there? I haven’t heard about that, and Google hasn’t helped so far.

      • Sorry Brian, actually the woman was going to be “Biblical,” which included being like the Proverbs woman but also involved stuff drawn from elsewhere in Scripture. The “master” bit is from 1 Peter.

      • Oh…

        1 Peter 3:5-6
        5 For after this manner in the old time the holy women also, who trusted in God, adorned themselves, being in subjection unto their own husbands:

        6 Even as Sara obeyed Abraham, calling him lord: whose daughters ye are, as long as ye do well, and are not afraid with any amazement.

        I think it’s a stretch to interpret this as a command to call your husband “lord” or “master”. It is providing an example of one way in which Sarah was in subjection to Abraham.

      • I’m with Brian – that’s a supporting point, not a command.

      • I’m not quite sure what “following the Bible to a T” means?

        I am with Daniel on both the issues in question – because they are clearly stated in the N.T.

        The O.T. IS instructive, but from a legal perspective was written largely for a Jewish, pre-Messianic audience.

        By contrast the N.T. was written, especially after Acts 2, for present age, pre-Millenial Christian audience.

        So, the scriptural context remains the same [as in AD 50 – 95 when it was written] and transcends culture – as it did for born again Jews at that time.

  15. That is awesome, thanks for the post! I had always struggled with the last line, although I love the rest of the song.

  16. reminds me of the “prayer wheel” in Just A Little Talk. I think it’s interesting to see lyrics and through etymology studies, finding the roots of certain words. I think many times we may be surprised. A lot of the content has to do with the culture at that specific time period in which the song was influenced. I would lean more towards CS Lewis and JR Tolkien being captivating “Imagination” rather than any sort of “witchcraft”. You would believe that too if you read his autobiography “Surprised by Joy”, in Lewis’ case. One of the greatest Christian apologists of the 20th century.

    • Lewis’s Chronicles are justly his best-known books, yet he really was more of a thinker and apologist than a novelist. The best thing to happen to Christendom in the 20th century, my opinion.

      • agreed. i read the chronicles as a kid, but later in high school, began to read Screwtape, Mere Christianity, Problem of Pain, Miracles, and so on (i own all of his works)… made me think into spiritual depths i had never quite thought.

      • C. S. Lewis’ Narnia series should be taken for what it is and nothing more. It’s a collection of Christian allegories set in a world of fantasy.

        Harry Potter is another thing entirely.

      • Completely agreed, and it’s sad to see Christians so oblivious to the harm those books are causing. Ditto for the Meyer books.

        Here’s a great link from Mark Driscoll discussing the dangers of witchcraft in fantasy. I honestly have very little I could add:

  17. By the way, am I the only one who finds the “compatible tune” virtually unsingable?

    I’ll stick with Restoration.

  18. Daniel probably did not make myself very clear.

    The etymology of the word charisma actually seems to come from the word charm. From the Online Etymology Dictionary: “More mundane sense of “personal charm” recorded by 1959. Earlier, the word had been used in English with a sense of “grace, talent from God” (1875), directly from Latinized Greek; and in the form charism (pl. charismata) it is attested in English from 1640s.

    In this song, I believe it is referring to the grace and gifts from God.

    • All of this would be well and good if charisma was the word used.

      But it’s not.

      The word used is charm, and its two primary meanings are both magical in nature.

      • Yes, and the meaning as everybody understood in the song is romantic in nature, which brings its own issues.

      • And its third primary meaning is not magical. I’ve always thought of those as completely separate meanings.

        I am sure there are many words we all use which have questionable etymology, and I don’t think we are responsible for that. If you’re into horticulture, like I am, and check out the etymology of the name of a beautiful flower frequently used in corsages, it will make you cringe whenever you think about it. I can’t stop calling the flower by its name on that account. Not trying to be argumentative; I’m sure we’ll end up agreeing to disagree.

      • Ah, finally! A well-thought-through objection that hits at the core of the disagreement. I wasn’t sure anyone (of those disagreeing with my view) would actually get to the core of the matter.

        >>”I am sure there are many words we all use which have questionable etymology, and I don’t think we are responsible for that.”

        I do believe that, for something as serious as witchcraft (given God’s view of witchcraft), etymology matters.

        But the viewpoint that etymology doesn’t matter is one that I can at least understand and respect, even though I do not espouse it.

      • I think it depends. There are certain places where I think it’s entirely appropriate. For example, I don’t use the euphemism “freakin” because of the root obscenity it comes from. I just don’t think it’s right to hastily change it to a euphemism, then expect people to fall all over themselves thanking us because we didn’t use the actual obscenity.

        My opinion, anyway.

      • OK, and I’m with you on that one!

      • I wouldn’t go so far as to say etymology doesn’t matter at all, but that’s what I was alluding to when I mentioned the tower of Babel. That event is still happening. Our language is continually being confused.

        I can remember a time not too long ago when half the people I heard use the word “bad” really meant “admirable.”

        The history of a word does matter, but at some point on the scale of nitpickery (see, I just made that word up), a lyric must be interpreted in the context it was intended.

        It goes the other way, too. Is it worth fighting to reclaim the true meaning of the word “gay,” for example? Or do we let the world have it and find a word that won’t leave them questioning whether we really meant “happy?”

      • I’m inclined to give up on “gay” – and add nitpickery to my vocabulary! 🙂

      • Alas, I can’t claim I invented the word “nitpickery.” After doing a search, I found it was already being used. There’s even a WordPress blog at, though it appears to have been launched last October and then immediately abandoned.

      • Oh, you can claim it, David (whether true or not). 😀 Even then, I guess you did make it up, you just weren’t the first. 🙂

  19. So would Prince Charming be considered the prince of witchcraft then?

    • If he cast spells or broke spells – I don’t really remember – then, yes. 🙂

      • I don’t think so. I think he fell in love with a beautiful princess though…

  20. I think there’s a difference between etymology we’re generally aware of and obscure etymology.

    Take “euphemisms” – Most of us are well aware of what they mean, and don’t want to use them. In fact, the word still retains most of its original meaning.

    But if I have to resort to a dictionary to figure out whether I can use a familiar word or not, I’m always going to be stepping on someone’s toes.

    I’ve seen this done – I’ve been told I couldn’t listen to the Booth Brothers’ “Still Feelin’ Fine” because of the “Cajun” rhythm, when it’s almost the only “Cajun” rhythm I know. My brother’s been told he shouldn’t play such-and-such a rhythm on the keyboard (and we’re not talking about rock; more like pretty innocent swing, well within SG standards) because some people used to dance to it. And when someone informs me that their (pardon the expression) education in sin qualifies them to determine what is right or wrong, my feelers go out. I understand their intentions, and I know we need to be careful not to offend our brethren. If something brings up old associations, I don’t want to hurt them by doing that. But if that’s so, then how can a group of innocent people avoid unconsciously doing something wrong?

    I think this is a real concern, along with “the appearance of evil.”

    • True, and what if, after listening to a person’s complaints regarding some figure of speech/musical rhythm, etc., we say, “Well, I just think that’s an exaggeration, and you’re just wrong about that?” Must we still put ourselves to great lengths to avoid intentionally or unintentionally violating their “standard” when we know it’s just silly?

      Deliberately rubbing a person’s face in it is one thing, and the Bible in fact tells us not to provoke people with quirks. Going about our normal lives and happening to utilize the “offensive” thing is another. I personally don’t think we need to feel guilty for doing that if we are truly confident that we haven’t committed an actual wrongdoing.

      For example, suppose we’re hanging out with your friend who didn’t like the swing rhythm, and we’re feeling happy so we innocently break out whistling a jazz tune. The person perhaps casts a reproving glance our way, interrupts asking us to stop…are we obligated to blush and hastily murmur apologies at that point?

  21. Daniel and NSGF, what do you think about this line on the Greenes’ newest project? 😀

    “Shed His blood, gave His life for you and I.”

    • I think it’s a classic case of using bad grammar to get a rhyme (assuming that it’s a rhyme here). And in this case, we don’t have the excuse of a dialect like “I Wonder as I Wander.” (“for poor ornery people like you and like I”)

      However, I haven’t heard the song, so if it’s great in other ways I might still enjoy it. 🙂

      • Well, and imperfect rhyme: The previous line is “Oh, the cross where Jesus died.” 😀 The song with the awesome Tim Riley on it is more enjoyable as are the Hallelujah Chorus, One Holy Lamb and Unseen Hand (at least) so far. 🙂

      • Aaaaargh! So they’re using bad grammar to get a “rhyme” that isn’t really a rhyme anyway.

        I think I need to go read some James Montgomery to clear my mind…

      • Well, the thought is true and I am sure people can be reached by it. Many probably will think that is correct. However, I do wish they had found another way to get it done. 🙂

      • It’s a perfectly fine rhyme in terms of songwriting. I wouldn’t even consider that a slant rhyme.

      • And of course I meant “an” not “and.” 😀

  22. Okay, songwriter friends…we gotta go to our respective homes and get under a blanket somewhere and hide till this thread plays out. I’m remembering using a line in a Cathedrals’ song that talked about “heaven’s enchantments”, which I meant as something that delights. I’d be mortified if I thought anyone thought I meant something else. I think we should talk about guitar players for awhile. Wouldn’t that be good? (hahahaha)!!!! Seriously…I agree that when “you and me” is correct, we should keep working on that lyric line without resorting to “I”. NOW, on to the guitar players.

    • Where’s the great-idea-bravo emoticon? 😀

    • Hey guys, what does everyone think of Kevin Williams? I think he’s the greatest thing since sliced bread. 😛

    • I’m a big fan of David Johnson.

      • Phil Keaggy ain’t half bad either…

      • I concur. fun to watch live too.

    • “Oh, Come Along” with the rest of us, Dianne. 😉

    • Dianne, you could always go back and change the lyric to, “enhancements”.

      Jake ain’t got no wig in gloryland.

      • Can heaven be enhanced?

      • No, but I surely will be when I get there!

  23. Daniel — I hadn’t heard this song in years. If nothing had been said, it might have retired itself just from lack of use. I imagine this article and all the response has probably added 20 more years to its life. lol

    • I’m not much more than 20 years old – 24, to be precise – and I’ve grown up hearing it in different churches all my life. Perhaps it’s more popular in Ohio, where I grew up and lived till last year, than in the South.

      • I’ve never heard anything but the Hoppers’ version, and haven’t heard that much.

      • 24 years old? I can just hear George say ”
        I’ve got socks older than that.” 😀 Or at times he said “milk in the refrigerator”.

  24. Look at you, quartet man – you knew the song I was talking about! It’s special to me, because it was the last of my Cathedrals’ songs to be sent to radio, and my first Dove nomination. Cute story about it…MacRay Dove told me once that he spent most of a day going through old Stamps-Baxter songbooks, trying to find that song. He thought it was an old song! That was the nicest compliment I could have had. MacRay Hon, if you’re reading this – you need to record it!!!

    • I love that song Miss Dianne. 🙂

      • So do I, though I’m ashamed to admit I couldn’t remember which Cathedrals song had that phrase. 🙂 Maybe I’m not as obsessed as I thought. 😉

  25. While on the subject, Twilight was mentioned. I wouldn’t touch it either, but I was wondering if anyone here has read Dracula? (The old 19th century book.) I read Frankenstein several years ago. That one wasn’t even dealing with the supernatural as I recall. It was an early form of science fiction, not with out its merits, or justifications for existence, if you will.

    I started Dracula, but never got very far. Just wondered if any one out there had read enough to form an opinion.

    • I haven’t read either book, but I have read a truly glorious pan of Frankenstein. I can’t even remember it all at the moment, and I’m not sure I have access to it now, but it was spectacular. 😀

      • Aha. Good old Grandfather google has turned it up for me. Enjoy. Published in a journal in the year 1818:

      • By pan, you mean an interpretation? I’m reading now …

      • No, I mean a pan as in a demolition, a wipeout. “Your nose is ugly. Your eyes are ugly. Your mouth is ugly. Everything about you is ugly…” etc. 🙂

      • Oh, OK. I’m finished now … A couple of interesting comments. It’s evidently a contemporary review, and makes me think that the book was published anonymously, because it keeps referring to the author as “he.” It’s by an early feminist author, who was living with a stolen husband, namely Shelley. (This is based on memory and could be faulty.)

        It’s definitely an uncomfortable read, and in my defense, it was maybe ten years ago that I read it. I didn’t even remember who died. But I thought there was a little more significance to it than the reviewers saw.

      • Yes, it was a contemporary review, and yes, the novel was published anonymously. Women stood a much better chance of getting their work published in those days if they took on a male pseudonym.

        Of course, you will find feminists shrieking to the high heavens about this. I view it as unfortunate, but not quite the vessel-bursting outrage that some people seem to think of it as…

  26. Greetings from Wordwise Hymns. Thanks for your interesting analysis of Joseph Hart’s great hymn. I posted an article on it myself this morning, as well as answering a blogger’s question about its origin.

    I agree that well-meaning tinkerers have often weakened some of these powerful old hymns. Most editors today shy away from calling sinners “wretched,” but it’s a perfectly appropriate word.

    • Yes. Today’s seeker-sensitive environments seek to make the Gospel so attractive that they would gloss over or omit the need for the Gospel.

  27. As I was saying (or attempting to say), even though the romantic usage of the word “charms” is not the word’s primary meaning today, it was at least as common as the magical one at the time the lyric was written. Therefore, we should examine its context before automatically concluding that it means what it would most likely mean today.

    • The case I made above takes into consideration the word’s etymology and meaning through the years.

      • Well, you argued that it was impossible to tell what the author meant, therefore we should treat the word as we would treat a reference to witchcraft, since that is one of its primary meanings. However, since we DO have good evidence that it was being used romantically, the logical thing to do is discuss the appropriateness of that usage

  28. I’m not sure, but after doing a study on this song myself for a class, I think that we are looking TOO deeply at the “Ten Thousand Charms”
    I think this is merely referencing just how wonderful the arms of Jesus are. Charm…that infers something lovely…
    In the Arms of my dear saviour, oh there are ten thousand charms.

    10,000 is not a literal number…like there are ONLY 10,000 and no more…it is expressing a large ammount.

    • The author’s intent was indeed to reference how wonderful the arms of Jesus are. The question at hand is if the author, perhaps unwittingly, chose inappropriate language to do so.

  29. I personally love the song, but I think you miss understanding how exactly words work. Assuming that a given word contains the full meaning of all its prior meanings is a literary fallacy. Words convey meaning based on the culture in which they are received…which may or may not carry nuance of previous meanings. This is why Biblical scholars have written newer translations of Scripture over the years, because the vocabulary of the original KJV (or older translations) is so archaic that people read it wrongly. (look at the word “mansion,” for instance)

    There are certain words in modern use today that have little (or nothing) to do with the original usages. There are even english words that carry far different tone and connotation in England than they do here. What is important is not what those words meant 400 years ago, but what they mean today.

    If by “charms” someone is reminded of magical incantations today, you would have a point. But the fact is that the idea that it has to do with witchcraft in the arms of my dear Savior never even occurred to me, and sounds absolutely ludicrous.

    I suppose the real question we should be asking is, do debates like this over the meaning of words (and not even the words of Scripture, but the words of a hymn) edify the Body and build it up, or do they lead to “envy, dissension, slander, evil suspicions, and constant friction” (1 Timothy 6:3-5). Don’t we have better things to worry about than the origin of an English word used in an edifying hymn?

    If you go back in time 400 years, sure, don’t sing the “charms” part. But today, there’s absolutely no problem.

    • There is a crucial counter-point to the issues you raise in the last two paragraphs: It is absolutely critical, in this generation more than ever, to examine the songs we sing, the books we read, and the sermons we hear for whether they are doctrinally sound. Debates of whether something is doctrinally sound have been absolutely crucial to preserving the truth of Christian doctrine for the last 2,000 years.

      As to your point of whether we have better things to worry about: If it wasn’t worth your time to join in the discussion, you shouldn’t have taken the time to compose a five-paragraph comment. 🙂 Maybe it’s not your calling or role in the Body of Christ to examine whether a song is theologically sound. That’s fine. But it would be a fallacy to assume that because you haven’t been called to it, nobody has!

      • I understand your counter-point, but it appears you misunderstood the reasoning behind my comment. The first part of my post was simply to illustrate why your argument isn’t convincing, but the real reason I posted is because I felt like the debate was a waste of time to begin with. Simply put, the point I was trying to make was “Let’s stop arguing over words,” and the supporting material was “your argument isn’t valid due to x,y, and z.”

        I totally agree with your assertion that it is wise (and necessary) to discern the doctrinal integrity of the media we expose ourselves and our children to. I completely disagree that the use of a certain bit of vocabulary could in any way be construed as doctrinally unsound based on its usage 400 years ago.

        Let’s debate about meaningful things such as justification, sanctification, and glorification–not the etymology of a vocabulary choice. It’s good to not be naive, it’s dangerous to be a conspiracy theorist.

        You state that “Either the author intended the primary or secondary meaning, at which point the chorus must be discarded on theological grounds as heresy,” (I’d assert this is a ludicrous idea that reeks of conspiracy theory) “or he meant the tertiary or quaternary meaning, at which point the chorus must be discarded on linguistic grounds as absurd.” Again, a logically unwarranted conclusion. If (and I assume this is the case) the author of that line simply used the word according to Merriam-Webster’s definition of “a trait that fascinates, allures, or delights,” that could un-heretically and meaningfully describe the “wondrous love of my savior.” To follow your penchant for allowing ludicrous yet conceivably possible meanings, we could also offer a sixth option: that he meant that Jesus’s arms are full of Quarks with a measured energy of approximately 1.5 GeV. ( Need I go further?

      • I would have to completely disagree that discussing whether the primary meanings of words in a song are doctrinally sound would be a conspiracy theory.

        Regarding your last paragraph: Please understand that I’m not making the case that the word has a possible alternate meaning – a possibly absurd alternate meaning. I’m making the case that the word’s primary meaning is problematic.

  30. Daniel,

    I’ve enjoyed reading through this discussion. While this wasn’t the point of the discussion at all, something really caught my attention and I would like you input. In the conversation between you and DBM, he mentioned trying not to say “luck” even before meeting you and your influence concerning words of that nature. Avoiding using the phrase “good luck” and others like it are something I’ve tried to do, but I haven’t found a good alternative that I can adopt and make second-nature. What words and phrases would you suggest using to replace “luck” “fortune” etc.? Thanks!

    • In a conversation where “good luck” would be used, I’ll generally say “I wish you the best” or “I’ll hope it all works out well for you.” I will sometimes use “I’ll be praying it all works out well for you” if I’m (a) talking with a Christian or at least someone who knows I am one and (b) I really, actually will pray about it. 🙂

      The one that I had the hardest time erasing from my vocabulary was “fortunately.” When I actually started paying attention to how often I used it, I found that it was ALL the time! Eventually, I was able to get used to saying “thankfully” instead, but that took quite a while.

  31. Respectfully, I have to disagree with you and agree in part with what Andy said. By giving the word charms all these different meanings you’re participating in the overload fallacy, giving the word meanings that clearly aren’t intended. Another example of this would be if I said “Look at the spring poking out of that bed.”Now according to Merriam-Webster the primary meaning of spring is a source of water. Obviously you wouldn’t assume that I’m talking about a source of water. Nor would you assume that I was talking about a season. Or a sudden jump. Many, many words have multiple and very different meanings. This is why we have to look at context. In this case the context clearly shows that it is talking about charms in the sense of something that is fascinating and alluring.

  32. Daniel, I just posted an article about the questionable doctrine in Lord of the Dance, and the comments led to bringing up this charm song too so I linked back here to your discussion. You can see at my place how we gave short shrift to this 10,000 charms lyric at our church way back when.


    • I’d be interested in reading that article.

  33. I have no idea why we would pick apart a really great song for one simple word. A word of which was not written in French , but in English.

    The definitions of Charm in English (the original language) are as follows:
    N. The power or quality of giving delight or arousing admiration.
    V. Delight greatly.

    In the arms of Christ I find well over 10,000 charms! If the song is of any fault at all I think it underestimates the amount of charms found in the arms of Christ.

    If we are going to study something so closely word for word, let’s make it the Word of God, not a man made song that is OBVIOUSLY an act of worship! What did Jesus say when John came to him in Mark 9, worried about others casting out demons in Jesus’ name?

    38“Teacher,” said John, “we saw someone driving out demons in your name and we told him to stop, because he was not one of us.”

    39“Do not stop him,” Jesus said. “For no one who does a miracle in my name can in the next moment say anything bad about me, 40 for whoever is not against us is for us. 41 Truly I tell you, anyone who gives you a cup of water in my name because you belong to the Messiah will certainly not lose their reward.

    This song is so clearly written to profess the name of Christ! So I think the same principal applies here!

    • When we’re discussing a song that’s hundreds of years old, it’s a fallacy to work solely from modern/recent dictionary definitions.

      • While, I guess, there could be a sense of validity to this argument, I think you are looking too literally at the many possible definitions of the word. Because the American language is really a mishmash of many other languages, you have a vast opportunity for interpretation of nearly every word we use.

        The word in this song is probably more in line with the definition of a trait that fascinates, allures, or delights. Looking at the word contextually, you can plainly see this was the general use of that term during the time period where this refrain was added.

      • I gotta agree with Jordan, that usage was very common in the time this song was written, and it seems like the only one that makes sense here anyway! Nothing else it could mean without being nonsense.

      • I’m sure that the author did indeed intend the word in the sense of allure. You’re almost certainly right on that point. But that’s not the point I was making. My point is that the word has a significantly circulated alternative meaning which is objectionable, and that this alternative meaning has been the primary meaning at points, and is, in fact, the word’s etymological roots.

      • I hope you don’t get annoyed with my continuous pot stirring. As a public educator, it’s in my job description argue. I tend to like taking the road less traveled for the sake of intellectual discussion.

      • Wait a minute: If you like taking the road less traveled, in this discussion, come on over and join my side. I sure wouldn’t mind the company. 🙂

      • No, I’m not annoyed. 🙂

        You’re starting from a point of enough common ground that we can have a good and balanced discussion. For example, you’re working from a starting place that acknowledges that words do have meanings; a few of the comments on this post, some of which may not have made their way through moderation, reflected the postmodern assumption that words have no absolute meanings. We, at least, have enough common starting ground to have a coherent conversation! 🙂

      • Ha! I’m sure I could present some sound arguments for your side of the road, as well.

  34. I just deleted a couple of comments submitted for moderation. I am open to honest discussion of the questions at hand. But biting sarcasm will get us nowhere. It only makes opponents mad and does nothing to bring two sides closer to an agreement.