Then and Now: The Love of God

Several “Then…and Now” images of this nature have been circulating on Facebook; they have inspired me to make my own:

Then and Now - The Love of God

Now, even though I’ll make a dramatic point once in a while, my temperament is such that I always have to include any necessary qualifications and mitigating factors. The author of the second song, Martin Smith of the band delirious?, has said: “That song just wrote itself in about five minutes. The same chords the whole way through the song. I mean that’s embarrassing really! It was just a little ditty. Did it at church. It was good but I don’t think it really blew anybody away. It wasn’t like, ‘Oh Martin’s written the most amazing song!’ I still don’t really think it is. But yes, that song, that moment changed our lives really. It’s been one of the most sung songs in America and around the world. It’s crazy really, this little ditty that we don’t really do anymore.” So in all fairness to him, he’s capable of more serious work, but of all the songs he’s written, this is evidently the one that the most worship leaders prefer.

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86 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. LOL, when I saw the Sinatra / Bieber thing, it never even occurred to me to make a gospel version. In all fairness, besides the fact that the writer it capable of better writing, I am sure you also know that there are some examples of bad hymns and SG songs and good P&W. Admittedly finding P&W songs that have more meat and are better quality can be challenging, but they do exist. It is still funny though and there is some truth here.

  2. Daniel……In the above well written article, you did leave one very important word out. AMEN!

  3. I’ll add the AMEN!

  4. VERY GOOD! Can’t tell you the number of folks that come to our church and comment how “nice” it is that we still have hymnals and we USE them!

  5. THEN: Hmm, who are these new guys on this album cover? Did the other guys leave? Guess I better pick up a copy of Singing News and find out.

    NOW: Did you see on that this group lost ANOTHER singer?? That’s their third in less than a year…..and they still don’t have any new music out….

    • This comment got lost in the shuffle, but I just wanted to say it made me laugh.

  6. There’s nothing like the old hymns; more depth as they were penned from their souls, as demonstrated in the beautiful words of “Then.”

  7. “The Love of God” is one of my all-time favorite hymns and this verse is my favorite of the song! I can not listen to 7-11 music myself. I love the good old fashioned southern gospel!!

  8. In my Church we sing Hymns, the choir sings Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir songs, some people sing songs from the Collingswoth Family, others do more Bluegrass, sometimes we have Praise and Worship songs…all in the same service. The point is the message of the song, not if it fell in the right genre.

    Songs are like everything else, you get some good and some bad. SG has produced its share of flops and terrible music, as has other groups.

    I believe the way to look at this is to consider the songs that will still be popular 100 years from now. We love the old hymns…but not al of them. There are probably countless “Hymns” that flopped badly. But only the good ones have stood the test of time. Since we only see the good ones we think hymns are far and above all other music. Not really. Time just killed off all the bad ones before we got here so we don’t have to sort through them…praise and worship, SG, we’re still in the sorting process.

    • I agree that some hymns were flops, and we only remember the good ones.

      There are deep, theologically profound praise songs out there (take some of the best of Stuart Townend and Keith & Kristyn Getty, for examples). This song wasn’t one of them, though!

  9. The verse you gave us from “The Love of God” is my favorite lyric of all time, and to me…the most profound. We all try to say all we want to say about God’s grace…His love…the Cross. But I have never heard a song that comes as close to saying just that about God’s love than this one. I also love the SG song by the same title that so many groups have recorded. Someone has already said it…it’s about what the song SAYS; does it show a lost person how to be saved, does it encourage the saints, does it glorify God, does it take us to the Throne??!! God help all of us who write the songs to be mindful of the huge responsibility we have, in these perilous times, of how urgent our message is…and of what I believe to be the short time we have left to get it OUT where it can reach the people.

    • While I think “It is Well” might be my all-time favorite lyric, this would definitely have to be on a very short list of the all-time best!

    • Dianne,
      That verse is also my favorite verse from my favorite hymn.

      For me, it’s not merely what it says, but how it says it. “Amazing Grace” has a profound message, too, but “The Love Of God” has that plus more artistic value…especially that verse.

      Given eight lines, most songwriters would write at least four thoughts. This writer extended the metaphor out for the entire verse. It’s condition/condition/condition/condition on the first four lines, then result/result spread over the last four.

      When you add in the mystery element in the hymn’s history…who really wrote that particular verse…could it have actually been an insane person?

      This hymn has it all.
      How many songwriters today can sustain a metaphor for an entire verse?

      • I love that verse too and the poetry. Although not as poetic some other lyrics that stand out to me are from the second verse of “The Family of God”.

        “From the door of an orphanage to the house of the King
        No longer an outcast, a new song I can sing
        From rags to riches, from the weak to the strong
        I’m not worthy to be here but thank God I belong”

        A similar thought I also like is in the song “A Child of the King” (the hymn, not the also good later song).

        “I once was an outcast stranger on earth,
        A sinner by choice, an alien by birth,
        But I’ve been adopted, my name’s written down,
        An heir to a mansion, a robe and a crown.”

      • Paul Simon?

    • Well said, Sis. Dianne! That last sentence is my prayer as well…

  10. I sang “The Love Of God” yesterday at my church! It is one of my favorite hymns of all time especially that last verse.

    The ocean holds approximately 343 billion billion gallons of water. Even that much ink could not describe the Love Of God!

  11. Might have been written by an insane person but doesn’t really matter: God can use anyone.

  12. Did you delete my comment?

    • Yes; it seemed there was a pretty good chance that your comment could have created the very flame war which you had commented you were afraid would happen. I didn’t want to see that flame war start.

      • Looks like I missed the very flame war you didn’t want to start when you deleted my comment…

  13. This has got to be one of the most disappointing posts I’ve ever seen from you Daniel. I just wish we could STOP comparing and just realize that everything has its purpose. No, “I Could Sing of Your Love Forever” isn’t the best representation of a song with strong lyrical content – however it is a song that has moved thousands upon thousands of people. It’s a song that help many people get ushered into the presence of their Savior. Isn’t that all that REALLY matters after all. I’m just so tired of all of this…

    • I’m not a huge fan of pragmatism. πŸ™‚

      (And can’t you understand light-hearted humor when you see it? πŸ™‚ )

      • I don’t mind a good joke. If people could take it as such – then it would be fine – however I’ve seen this kind of thing end up turning into nothing but a bash on praise and worship music and vice versa. I’m just over our industry in particular having such a superiority complex when it comes to these kinds of things – especially when it has no reason to have that complex…

      • You know, it would be funny – except that it’s not – how these discussions are even more likely to head in the direction of actually bashing those who say that not all attempts at art are equal.

      • I don’t believe I did that. You know me, and you know how much I push for more artistic excellence in our genre. I, however, am not a fan of criticizing other genres because we feel they aren’t as good as ours…

      • In the last 90’s I had a professor at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Dr. Keith Putt, who talked even then about some of the less than, shall we say, more thought out choruses. His “favorite” was one he called the “Chorus from Hades” (he used the King James translation) titled “Hallelujah.”
        Hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah. I’ll admit athat after seven or eight rousing choruses of that, I was ready for a coffee break. Sometimes Daniel, it pays all of us to lighten up, just a tad.:)

    • Daniel didn’t say anything about it any worse than the song’s own writer did.

    • If that’s all that really matters, why bother trying to create good songs, or good movies, or good poetry, or good art in general? If it helps somebody come closer to God, then what’s the point in attempting to do so with excellence?

      • That’s not what I meant, and I’m pretty confident you know it wasn’t. My point in saying that was that this song did end up serving a very very big purpose for not just the band but also for thousand and thousands of people – and THAT’S ALL THAT MATTERS (emphasis, not yelling). It doesn’t matter if WE as people with a critical nature don’t think the song was written well – what matters is that God used the song. Period. Just like He has used “The Love of God.” It all has its purpose.

        I just felt like this was a cheap shot at a song or genre of music that gets ridiculed a lot in our circles – and unfairly I think. Again, it goes back to this superiority complex that SG artists/fans have (but notably not really the writers) about our music.

      • This post is right on the border of what is permissible under the comment guidelines here.

      • But I repeat, if that’s all that matters… as in the ONLY thing that matters… then why DO we care about excellence? Because if you want to still say we should care about excellence, you need to revise your original statement.

        I for one simply appreciate musical excellence wherever I find it. I’m not incapable of recognizing when non-SG music outstrips SG from an artistic standpoint, but at the same time I don’t suffer from reverse snobbery. I’m not so much concerned with labels as I am with substance.

      • Either you’re not really understanding what I’m saying – you’re just at the point of arguing semantics.

      • You seem to be saying… and correct if I’m wrong… but you seem to be saying that if some piece of Christian art has had a big impact on many people, be it a worship song, Bible translation, or whatever… then it is pointless and counter-productive to poke fun at its quality if we consider it to be poor. And it’s more pointless than it would be if the art hadn’t had so much influence.

        My response is that the art is what it is. We shouldn’t suddenly be diffident about criticizing bad art just because it’s incredibly popular and has some positive effects.

      • The comment that Southern Gospel has a superiority complex is the closest I’ve let it get today!

      • I think we need to be careful about how we criticize that art – yes. Read some more of my comments below – I’m not against looking at something with a critical eye. Considering my history and criticisms with this genre over the last 10 years, I do think it’s funny you would think that my thoughts would skew towards not looking at something critically.

        My point was – the way this was portrayed was less of a “lets compare lyrics and look at them to see how we can better ourselves” – rather it approached with a sense of mockery (at least in my opinion). I’m saying THAT does us no good – from either side of the argument.

      • Mockery is both too strong a word and quite inaccurate. It is dangerous to make assumptions about someone’s motives, especially online, because – as here – those assumptions are often wrong. πŸ™‚

      • I don’t see anything wrong with enjoying a harmless joke once in a while. Let’s just lighten up and have fun.

      • So you’re telling me you had no intention of mocking either that song in particular or that style of music by making the comparison in the way you did? I like you Daniel, and if you say you didn’t, and I have no choice but to believe you since I’ve not known you to be a liar. I’m just saying how it comes across to me – someone who has seen the “worship wars” first hand – on a very many levels…

      • You are exactly right; mocking wasn’t the intent. Merriam-Webster defines “mock” as “to treat with contempt or ridicule.” This was more a light-hearted take on a current Internet meme. There was no contempt or ridicule involved – as I think pretty much all the other commenters, and perhaps all with this one exception, did recognize.

      • “There was no contempt or ridicule involved – as I think pretty much all the other commenters, and perhaps all with this one exception, did recognize.”

        Of course they do. They all, for the most part, skew towards your view of this genre and the genre of worship music. πŸ™‚

      • Whether someone agrees or disagrees with my position is largely irrelevant to whether they’re trying to read contempt or ridicule into something when it wasn’t there. Because they are regular readers, they know that contempt and ridicule are simply not how I write. Light humor with perhaps a touch of mild sarcasm … now that happens now and then! πŸ™‚

      • There are certainly those in the SG industry who say derogatory things about P&W (some uncalled for perhaps), but if you think that they don’t make fun of SG, you are sadly mistaken. Not only do they make fun of the style, the singers, the ancientness of it, but they act like there is no value and try to force it out of churches. They act like if it wasn’t written in the past few years it has no value and cannot reach people. That might be part of the reason people have their dukes up. Sure some just don’t like it and wouldn’t anyhow. However, this was funny and the direction hasn’t gone downhill. I think you are just sensitive to it because you like th style and have seen some bad things concerning the music and yes we would likely be as sensitive about SG being poked fun at on a P&W site for the same reasons. I wonder, do you defend SG with as much vigor on P&W sites that ridicule our music? For the record, I like some P&W and believe I defended some of it. Nonetheless, there are more dogs if you will in P&W than perhaps you will admit. Then again, I don’t like nearly all SG either.

      • You won’t find a bigger proponent of this music than myself.

        For the record – Praise and Worship is nowhere near my preferred genre of choice. Southern Gospel ranks much higher than it. I’m usually the first to criticize the overly simplistic and cliche filled lyrics. Just ask my worship leader. πŸ™‚

        I see it from both sides – both online and in “real life” at the church I have the pleasure of volunteering at. I’m sick of it from both sides – which is why I brought it up.

      • I wish I had the chance to go back and make a few paragraphs out of that. πŸ˜€ I have to leave for a while, but wanted to add as Daniel, Kyle, David and YGG can attest, the Oaks are one of my favorite groups. That doesn’t mean they don’t have some songs that are dogs or less good. I admit that. Even the Oaks have some songs or recordings they don’t like of their own. I have even made jokes about the simplicity of the chorus of Elvira’s lyrics in good fun. That is their biggest hit and Kyle’s favorite song of all time.

        It is the same thing with some other favorite groups (Cathedrals, GVB, Gold City for instance). Granted, I see where this is seen as poking fun at the entire style since it isn’t the style of the board here, but Daniel has poked some fun at SG too I believe. I will try to check back on this after while, but it uill likely be an hour or so.

      • I just saw your last comment. I too get tired of the true bashing, snobbery and eliteness that can be seen on both sides. Nonetheless, this was just fun. I do understand though how seeing the ugly side for real makes this more distasteful, but so far this hasn’t gotten out of hand and I doubt Daniel allows it to get close.

      • I didn’t grow up in a church with “worship wars,” so in a sense I’m seeing all this as an outsider.

        But for my part, I think it’s endearing to see people refer to southern gospel as “the best music in the world.” I don’t see that as elitism or snobbery. It may be that their musical horizons aren’t as broad as they could be, but meanwhile this is the music they love.

      • Some of the people who call Southern Gospel the best music in the world are quite familiar with other styles, and still think Southern Gospel is best. Such a thing is entirely possible. πŸ™‚

      • Again, I’m not bashing generalizations, and I’m not saying music is subjective. But when you start to get into a discussion of what really makes great art in music, what makes a lyric better or worse, what pure genius looks like in a rhythm or a tune… I find it impossible to paint with a broad brush. At a certain point you can’t avoid getting specific and conversing on a case-by-case level.

      • And then sometimes what one ends up with is a classic “apples vs. oranges” scenario. Those are the kinds of situations that really do come down to a matter of taste, where terms like “better” or “worse” just don’t seem to apply. It’s not that they never apply, but there are times when it just seems pointless to compare two very different, but equally good (or bad) things.

  14. I think it’s worth noting, and I went back and checked…neither Daniel’s post nor any other comments in this thread say anything negative about any genre of music as a whole. In fact, all the posts were positive until very recently.

  15. Hey… I think we forgot to ask… what does Michael Booth think? πŸ™‚

    • I don’t want to get him pulled into every controversy that happens around here!

      • Yeah, I was being silly and I wouldn’t blame him for staying out of it here… still though, I would be really interested to hear what he thinks.

      • Well, he’s made it clear that he loves songs with great theology where he can find them.

      • Right. It just occurred to me that Chris might not like a few things he said on the Live in Louisville DVD. He said he thought southern gospel was the best, but some people disagreed, and he guessed younger people didn’t appreciate it as much because they hadn’t lived long enough to appreciate the message of the lyrics. So, essentially saying that there’s a reason why old people like southern gospel and it’s because they’re more mature listeners! He also quoted the stereotyping comment “Southern Gospel is all about mama and heaven” and responded, “Well I got a great mama and I’m looking forward to going to heaven!”

  16. I can now see where old people are coming from when they say that they can’t stand today’s P&W Music! πŸ™‚ I used to assume that they were talking about songs like “As the Deer,” “Shout to the Lord,” “He is Exalted,” ect. (songs which I love) But I see what they’re talking about now. I don’t know why people will sing songs like the one above, but refuse to accept the old hymns of the church. Granted, there are some hymns that aren’t particularly well-written. But songs like “It Is Well,” “Our Great Saviour,”Great is Thy Faithfulness,” and “How Great Thou Art” are tremendous and should not be thrown out.

    Daniel, was the objective of this post to create controversy? From talking to you before, I’d assume not. πŸ™‚ But if it wasn’t for a discussion, what was it for?

    • It was intended to be taken in a productive and perhaps lighthearted fashion, which it was for hours, until Chris U. commented and it became more controversial. Also, if you’ll read the comments above, you’ll see further explanation.

  17. Can’t we just all agree to like Victory in Jesus

  18. I really agree (with some) that worship music has, in some sense devolved, lyrically and musically. But I had a revelation this past Sunday morning as I was playing keyboard in my local church here in Nashville. Because of the simplicity of both lyrics and music (most only use four to five chords) modern worship music can be played by a larger amount of people than ever before — even a mediocre piano player like myself. Which isn’t all bad. I would, though, like to see better, more melodic melodies and more doctrinal emphases in the lyrics.

    • Good point, and a good balance. More people can play a Crosby/Kirkpatrick song than can play Bach, and more people can play a modern praise song than a Crosby/Kirkpatrick song. Interesting point.

      • And I have to add, on a lighter note, that I’ve heard enough of what you can do vocally that it’s almost impossible to imagine you being mediocre at ANYTHING musical! πŸ™‚

      • The guys on my Praise Team might disagree. πŸ™‚

      • I’ll take your word for it. πŸ™‚

    • There’s nothing wrong with simple praise music. “Jesus Loves Me” is a classic. “Oh, How I Love Jesus” is another. Those are simple, but profound, worship songs that have stood the test of time. Sure, they may be considered “children’s music,” but they can be easily sung in an adult style. (see GVB)

      Simple P&W music is nothing new. It was here before it was even called “praise and worship.”

      Singing the same phrase for 20 minutes, on the other hand….

  19. For what it’s worth, the verse Daniel posted pre-dates Bach.

    Granted, it was translated from another language, so the English version of the song is newer than Bach.

  20. Yes, the pw song in question is way beneath the quality of the yester years song, The Love Of God….so what, praise God! Our Lord and savior can use even weak songs to pull souls to His glory showing us yet again that all we really have to do is make the effort and He can use us mightly when we are willing to trust in Him.
    Our quality does not have to be top gun every time,
    we just have to be willing to try for Him.
    Seems like a harmless post, just talking about how different some songs can be. No big deal.

  21. Another way to look at what the songwriter said about the song. No matter how hard writers go into a writing process thinking ‘this is going to be the next big hit,’ things don’t always turn out that way. Take the story about Bill Gaither writing “There’s Not A Hoof Shall Be Left Behind.” At the time, he thought the Statesmen would make a hit of it. Now, he considers it the worst song he’s ever written. (Just search for that song title on YouTube, theres a video of Bill telling that story).

    Another example of things not going the way writers envision them also happens to involve Bill (and Gloria) Gaither. This song’s success was surprise to Bill and Gloria because “it was such a personal song.” That song is probably the most popular song penned by Gloria Gaither, “Because He Lives.” (For that story, search “Because He Lives 1972”).

    I don’t think that Martin Smith ever thought at the time “I Could Sing of Your Love Forever” was written that he had this mega-hit. That wasn’t the reason he put those words on the paper. But God took those words and used them to touch millions around the world.

  22. One more thing that comes to mind is that it is tough to compare a verse of a song to a chorus of a song. Choruses often have repeating phrases. Just look at the choruses of “It Is Well” ”and β€œHow Great Thou Art.” Those aren’t much more sophisticated choruses than “I Could Sing of Your Love Forever.”

    • At least “It is Well” has some vocal counterpoint going!

  23. Love this! Great Job.

  24. I’m so glad to hear about Bill Gaither’s “hoof” song. I was afraid I was the only one with such a song in my catalogue, which you all will never hear. My title was “God Ain’t Anybody’s Father-in-Law”. It was my feeble attempt to show that those folks who think they must be a Christian because they married one…must be a Christian because Mama and Daddy were, etc., won’t get to heaven with that way of thinking (my only excuse…I was REALLY a newbie). I STILL think the message is worthwhile. And, you gotta admit…it’s “hooky”. Still SOOOOO bad! πŸ™

    • LOL!!!!! Awesome!!

    • Dianne,
      What was the year you wrote your “clunker?”

      The reason I ask is because the contemporary Christian group Truth used to sing a song that poked fun at Southern Gospel called “God Ain’t Never Had A Grandchild.” The four guys who sang it went on to form 4Him, and I just happen to have a link:

      Now don’t that just bless your heart?? LOL

  25. Oh, David!!! I had no idea anyone else had thought of anything even close!! Maybe mine wasn’t as far off the beam as I thought (hahaha). I’m pretty sure mine dates back to late 1970s. I have a lyric sheet for it but have no idea what tune I put to it. I can’t listen to this till I get home from work, but I can’t wait. You made my day! πŸ™‚ P.S. I find it amusing that another writer just instinctively knew that “ain’t” would be okay with such a title.

    • I kinda thought it would be more appropriate to make it “God Ain’t NOBODY’s Father-in-Law.” Just seems to fit better. πŸ™‚

      • Brian,
        I agree it would be a more correct form of hillbilly grammar to say “ain’t nobody,” but I like “anybody” better for the way the extra syllable rolls off the tongue. LOL

  26. I love SoGo music so much it is part of my soul. And I love p&w music also.

    What about Larnelle Harris singing ‘Amen’ at NQC? That song repeats the word amen approximately 5 million times, but somehow is accepted and largely applauded. Just wondering what you think is the difference, Daniel?

    Also, the lyrics above were only copied by the man in the insane asylum, but it was later found out that it was an old Jewish poem. I really want to visit with the man when I get to Heaven and hear the story of how he was able to write the words on the wall of his room in a place such as that. Added to my ‘to-do’ list in Heaven. πŸ™‚

    • I’ve never liked the “Amen” song on its own merits. I have it on a few recordings; if there is an impressively magnificent vocal performance by the featured vocalist, then there is a chance I might play it more than once, but even so, it will typically remain the least played song on that album.

      • Oh, and Southern Gospel can’t take the blame or the credit for it, either, as far as I know. I’ve been told by a co-worker that it was either introduced or at least popularized in a film (with “Lilies” in its name, I think.)

    • It really all comes down to personal taste. There isn’t an argument that can accurately say that P&W or SoGo is better than the other. You can look at both sides and find both good and bad songs, but I don’t think it is fair to say that SoGo songs are better written. I can think of many P&W songs that have such rich and meaningful lyrics. Take this Chris Tomlin song,
      “There’s a peace I’ve come to know. Though my heart and flesh may fail, there’s an anchor for my soul. I can say “It is Well”. Jesus has overcome, and the grave is overwhelmed. The victory is won. He is risen from the dead. I will rise when he calls my name. No more sorrow, no more pain. I will rise on eagle’s wings. Before my God, fall on my knees, and rise.
      Those are some very rich and meaningful lyrics, if you ask me, and I could name a hundred more like it, too. I think we just get so caught up in how the song sounds that we don’t take the time to actually listen to what the song says.

      • “It really all comes down to personal taste.” – Are you saying that there is no objective standard by which one might say that one song is more theologically / lyrically rich than another?

      • Not at all. I think there should be a standard in place for both genres. I’m simply stating that I don’t see a valid argument for either side to state that their genre is more theologically/lyrically rich than the other. Each style has a plethora of very good songs. Each well written, theologically sound, and with poetic lyrics. But, each side also has it’s share of very poorly written songs.
        So, if one can’t present a solid argument(one based on factual and statistical knowledge), it really all comes down to personal taste.

      • That’s one of my favorite Chris Tomlin songs. Though I have to admit, musically it doesn’t go much of anywhere. That’s one thing that I believe could be said in general of southern gospel versus praise and worship—in terms of well-crafted MELODIES, memorable music, SG has a leg up on P & W, IMHO. Now of course, I think on the whole that southern gospel has better lyrics as well, but like you said there actually are quite a few worship songs where the lyrics by themselves are not so bad. It’s just that there’s very little variety or interest there from a musical standpoint.

        Also, it depends on what era of P & W you want to go for. After all, there was a time when “Because He Lives” might have been considered a worship chorus.

  27. I agree that P&W leaves you wanted in the melodic area. P&W music is just structured so differently from SoGo music. P&W relies on the music to create energy, while SoGo relies on heavy vocals to create the same energy. For those of us that are used to a wide range used in SoGo, P&W can be a let down.
    I would almost guarantee that “Because He Lives” would have been considered a worship chorus once upon a time. We Christians tend to be a fickle bunch when it comes to music.