Last Easter Sovereign Grace Music released a new album entitled Risen. Now, I don't often buy albums (as can probably be attested to by anyone who's noticed how often I lead Worthy, O Worthy are You Lord © 1976 - long before I was born - in the Leeds assembly; although I am unrepentant about that and still insist that its one of the greatest choruses ever!), and really need to be convinced that its well worth whatever amount of sterling that iTunes/Amazon/Kingsway/whoever is asking me to part with before I'm willing to make such a hefty investment. And anyway, nowadays with iTunes one can simply pick and chose the good songs without having to buy a whole album. So already, simply by the fact that I was willing to buy the whole album, you should be able to tell that this is going to be a positive review.
Even though I do tend to like Sovereign Grace songs, (after all, the new tune for Before the Throne of God Above comes from Sovereign Grace; and yes, although no one now remembers it, there was an old tune for it before the mid-90s; it is an old hymn), it wasn't until I started hearing the songs that I realised this was an album to buy.
According to the Sovereign Grace website, Risen consists of '13 songs that celebrate the reality and meaning of Christ's resurrection from the grave.' Of course, that means its brilliant for Easter, but also very appropriate on any Lord's Day.
But, in actual fact, this is an album that does a lot more than what it says on the tin. Although there are many worship songs which proclaim the truth that Jesus is alive, the songs on this album go further to explore what that means for us today. That's what I like so much about Sovereign Grace songs: they're full of good theology. Sovereign Grace songwriters seem to know how to join together the contemporary worship form with deep biblical truth and thankful response.
So, not only so these songs proclaim that Christ is risen, but also that we have been raised with Him, given new life in Him, that He's coming again to take us to be with Him forever, that through His Resurrection we have full assurance, that every evil power has been defeated, that He has taken away our curse, that to live is Christ and to die is gain, that His Resurrection guarantees our resurrection, that He has been exalted to the Highest place, that His Resurrection gives us comfort and strength, that His Resurrection gives us power to overcome temptation, that because He has risen, death itself will be destroyed, and that even now highly exalted He intercedes and cares for all our needs, as well as the truth that Jesus bore God's wrath for us by dying in our place and rising again. Quite a bit of biblical truth for 13 songs!
Let's have a quick run through the songs. (NB Click on the Song title to go to the Sovereign Grace page for that song where you can find the full lyrics, as well as free guitar charts, lead sheets and piano scores, often in a few keys, as well as hear a sample of the song.) If you want to hear the songs, Sovereign Grace has also made a YouTube video for each of them, so you can see the full song and see the lyrics. They're embedded below.
An upbeat number that starts off dealing with total depravity: 'My heart of stone was dead to You/ Asleep within a world / That scorned its Maker' before going on to regeneration, adoption, election, and our inheritance in Christ. Yet all that great theology is made simple, memorable and singable.
2. Oh, What a Day
Another fast, upbeat song that rejoices in the truth of Jesus' Resurrection and our resulting heavenly hope. the bridge focuses on Christ's return. This is one of the songs I like the least on the album, not because there's anything wrong with the song, but simply because I'm not sure how congregationally friendly it is, unless your congregation is used to very modern songs.
3. You Have Been Raised
The first verse looks at how we can know that we've been forgiven and the second on our freedom from condemnation. The chorus and bridge are excellent, pointing to the results of Christ's shed blood and Resurrection.
You have been raised, the tomb has been opened
Nothing can take away our hope in You
You have been raised
You have been raised, the work is completed
Hell and its powers have been defeated
You have been raised
The price You paid for us
Has fully been accepted
Because of Your shed blood
We cannot be rejected
Focuses more on the Cross and brings in themes from Isaiah 53. Looks to the Lamb who was once slain and now lives. 'All our sin for Your grace / What a glorious exchange.' I love this song, but I'm not sure how easy the verse would be for a small congregation.
Looks at how Jesus took our curse away through His Cross and that through His Resurrection death has lost its sting forever. 'For in Your death we died / In You we have new life / Jesus, Your Name alone can save.'
Focuses on the results of Jesus' Resurrection for our salvation.
Jesus, has done enough7. To Live is Christ
Our hope cannot be shaken
Because God raised Him up
We cannot be forsaken
Quite different in style to much of contemporary worship music, but a very singable melody. Quite different in content too, this happy melody teaches about death, grieving and the marriage supper of the Lamb.
To live is Christ, to die is gain8. Jesus Lives
In every age this truth remains
We will not fear, we’re unashamed
To live is Christ, to die is gain
Staying on the theme of death, this song makes the truly Christian proclamation:
I no longer fear the graveThe chorus focuses on our resurrection: 'I'll be raised from the dust with Christ on high.'
Christ has come
Took the sting of death away
Through His saving blood
Though my body fails and my flesh grows weak
Till my final breath to this hope I’ll cling
9. You Are Our Hope
This is an excellent uptempo song about the power of Christ's Exaltation (for it includes Christ's Ascension and Session, as well as the Resurrection) in our lives today to bring comfort, peace, strength, power to fight temptation, purpose in suffering, and never ending joy. The last line of each verse triumphantly asks/proclaims: 'How can grief remain when our Saviour reigns?'
10. Name Above All Names
A variation on the theme of the Carmen Christi of Philippians 2 with a touch of Revelation 5. This one's a slower worship anthem. Contemporary and highly singable. Brilliant.
11. We Will Rise
Another song focusing on how Christ's Resurrection guarantees ours. Reminds us that we don't mourn as this world mourns. Again, it's neither typical contemporary worship content, nor typical contemporary worship sound. A bit folksy. 'Because He is risen / With Him we will rise.'
12. Behold Our God (Who Has Held The Oceans)
We already sing this one in Leeds because its great. (I know some churches sing all the new songs, but it takes us a while to learn them, or maybe it's that it takes me a while to teach them.) It combines great objective truth, with an amazing chorus of worshipful response. Focuses on how the Sovereign, All-wise Creator humbled Himself to be crucified 'bearing all the guilt of sinful man' and now sits enthroned surrounded by the worshipping hosts.
Behold our God seated on His throneCome let us adore HimBehold our King nothing can compareCome let us adore Him!I can't hear this song without being driven to worship.
13. Hail the Day
Another of my favourites. Partly because its based on a Wesley hymn which I happen to love, but which is rarely sung. (Like Before The Throne of God Above, we have Steve and Vikki Cook to thank for this new adaptation of 'Hail the Day that sees Him rise'.) Partly because its on an important theme about which we sing so little. For this isn't a song about the Resurrection at all, but a song about the Ascension. Hail the Day reminds us that, although seated on Heaven's Throne, our Saviour King hasn't abandoned us, but has gone to present 'the scars of His great love' and to intercede for His redeemed, because 'Jesus cares for all our needs.'
This is a brilliant album! Like so much that comes from Sovereign Grace, it keeps the focus on Jesus and the Gospel, and so what we see shining through these songs above all is Jesus Christ, crucified for our sins and raised for our justification. And with so many good, Jesus-exalting, gospel-centred, theologically rich, appropriately responseful, congregationally singable songs, the biggest problem is deciding which ones not to use.