On New Hymns & Seeing the World through the Gospel

Ben Shute Violin

Editor’s Note: CGC is often blessed with reflective contributions from Ben Shute, but today we have opportunity to share one of his original compositions and hymn texts. Here, Ben demonstrates that music–whether classical or jazz, indie rock or hip-hop–has the potential ability to meaningfully communicate the gospel and stir the affections for Christ. What follows is a reflection from Ben, the hymn text, an mp3 of a MIDI sketch of the song’s melodic movement, and a downloadable PDF of the sheet music. Many thanks to Ben for sharing this with us.  

INTRODUCTION:

We often talk about “worldview” these days, by which (practically speaking) we often mean something along the lines of “core beliefs.”  But I wonder how often and how completely we allow our worldview to be what the name suggests: the foundational understanding that interprets the raw data of all the world around us and informs all of our responses to it.  Or do we often claim one particular worldview while functionally seeing the world (at least in part) through the lens of another?  (Incidentally, I think both Christians and non-Christians each frequently borrow from the worldview of the other.)  This raises the question, What does it look like to see the world around us through a Christ-saturated lens?  And how does understanding the good news of Jesus utterly transform our outlook on this world?  This is of utmost importance to anyone involved in ministry—in other words, every Christian: after all, in professing faith in Christ, we are professing obedience to His call to “follow Me” in the mission and ministry of God to a dying world.

Jesus tells us how we should see the world when he says, “Lift up your eyes, and see that the fields are white for harvest” (John 4:35 ESV).  The gospel tells us not only what the world needs but also why we should care.  And that is what I have tried to capture (partly, of course) in this hymn by means of a progressively unfolding understanding of the world’s relationship to its God.  In a nutshell, this progression begins with natural revelation and the recognition of universal brokenness.  It continues in the second verse with the intensely personal recognition of hopelessness in the face of God’s righteousness, followed by the shocking revelation of God’s equally personal gift of sweet and radical saving grace.  The third verse explores how the gospel transforms and subverts our assumptions about the world and our experience in it, and the fourth verse applies this transformed understanding outward toward the world at large.  In short, the hymn aims to explore how the working of the gospel within our own heart becomes worked out in our understanding and perception of the world around us.  Beyond this, I will let the content of the text speak for itself.

The text is unapologetically poetic, as poetry not only concerns itself with beauty (fitting for the worship of the Creator of beauty) but also has the ability to convey complexity succinctly, which is important when dealing with a topic as broad and deep as the gospel in a work as short as a hymn.  And it happens that when the English language is used in such a way as to convey maximum density of expression within a set meter, the results may tend to sound “old-fashioned” to modern ears.  That is not my intent; I want the language to be accessible to today’s worshipers, and accordingly I have avoided archaic words like “thou” and “thy,” despite the fact that they tend to be sonically satisfactory in far more contexts than “you” and “your.”

I will say little about the music here, except that it is based on a love for the multi-part writing that has characterized church music for centuries as it has sought to combine clarity and accessibility with substance and richness.  The results are admittedly different than what is typically labeled (I would say mislabeled) “contemporary” worship; at the same time, I think and hope that this hymn represents a building upon rather than a reproduction of any of the great models of the past (e.g. the German chorale, the English psalm tune, etc.) and is thus a thoroughly contemporary product with which more “traditional” tastes will find continuity.  At the most basic level, my aim is to create something that will stir the soul—which (limited as I am) necessarily means operating within an aesthetic that appeals to my own soul.  I can only hope that others will find it meaningful and be moved to consider in greater depth the God and the gospel to which it points.

THE TEXT:

I.
White stand the fields of earth,[1] with heads
Uplifted in the wind,[2]
That sings through all[3] a Sov’reign to Whom
Are our little souls akin.[4]

Long through the ages rings the cry
To heav’n of earth’s distress:
For all our saviors vapors[5] are,
But dire our brokenness.

II.
Sin’s minion,[6] I lift up my eyes
To yonder darkened hill,[7]
Where God stands king, dread justice to bring
And all righteousness fulfill.[8]

Eli lama sabachthani?” [trans: “My God, why have you forsaken me?”];
Quake the heav’ns and rends the veil,
As grace rains from the Father’s throne
To call the unrighteous home.[9]

III.
Thus God the Son to earth descends
Our brokenness to share,
To bear the curse to Calvary’s cross,
And to crucify it there.

Though through death’s shadow’d valley, I tread
Only where my Savior trod;[10]
And at His heels, the gates of Hell
Yield to the bright morn of God!

IV.
And with the rising Righteous Sun[11]
Anew earth’s fields appear:
As sheep beloved unto the death
Of the great Good Shepherd dear.[12]

Capsize our sinking vessels, dear Lord,
When we flee your sea of grace;[13]
And grant us ’midst a ravaged earth
To prepare you a dwelling place.[14]

THE MUSIC:

AUDIO: Click to Listen, or “Right-Click, Save-As” to Download: White Stand the Fields MP3

PDF: Click to Read, or “Right-Click, Save-As” to Download: White Stand the Fields PDF

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[1] John 4:35
[2] Intimations of “Spirit” (pneuma, ruach); cf. John 3:8 et al.
[3] Ephesians 4:6; cf. Romans 1:20, et al.
[4] Romans 8:15; Galatians 4:6; cf. Acts 17:28-29
[5] Ecclesiastes 1:2 etc.
[6] John 8:40-41, 44; Ephesians 2:3.  Alternatively: “Sin’s bastard”
[7] Psalm 121:1; Exodus 19:18; Matthew 27:53
[8] Matthew 3:15; cf. Luke 12:50, Romans 6:3 etc.
[9] Hosea 2:1, 14; et al.
[10] Genesis 3:15; Luke 10:19, Psalm 91:3
[11] Malachi 4:2; intimations of “Son”
[12] John 10:11
[13] Jonah 3:10-4:2
[14] Revelation 21:3, et al.