Starfield’s ‘The Saving One’, embedded above, is a triumphant hymn with spiritual depth (though the line ‘Death could not hold him down’ has an ambiguous pronoun); their ‘Absolutely’, on the other hand, which appears in the same album, is far in the excess both of self-incurvature and of eroticism (though the eroticism’s not as bad as it is in Kelly Carpenter’s ‘Draw Me Close’, which makes me feel like a girl to be singing it). ‘I’m in love so desperately’ and ‘I am absolutely in love with You’ are just not good lines for expressing the nature of an individual’s relationship with Jesus Christ: the awkwardness of a male worshipper singing those words should be a telltale sign. This degree of focus on the self and its fervour, moreover, is an expression of narcissism that has no place in the proper worship of God.
I guess the dramatic difference between the two tracks just shows how inconsistent we can be in what we produce, even in two works written around the same time, and how much the more careful to be in the selection of hymns for the Church. Much more caution is due to the task than most people seem to know or care, and I’m really tired of the ease with which songs are accepted into public worship, without rigorous review for conformity to Scripture in doctrine and in the form of spirituality. Blasphemy, it seems, is not high on the list of concerns. Even hymns that on their own are true and wholesome can be ordered in a structure that implies heretical ideas – if you don’t believe that order can encode and influence doctrine, see the history of the Book of Common Prayer – a possibility that’s all the more reason to give worship the attention it merits.
Not all hymns, of course, should be in the third person: a large part of the Psalter speaks to God in the second person, in terms that suggest great intimacy with God. Let me bring your attention back to ‘Draw Me Close’, and the contrast between that bad hymn and Charles Wesley’s ‘Jesus, Lover of My Soul’ (of which hear a newer musical setting by Indelible Grace and an interesting setting to J. S. Bach):
Jesus, lover of my soul, let me to thy bosom fly,
While the nearer waters roll, while the tempest still is high.
Hide me, O my Saviour, hide, till the storm of life is past;
Safe into the haven guide; O receive my soul at last.
Other refuge have I none, hangs my helpless soul on thee;
Leave, oh! leave me not alone, still support and comfort me.
All my trust on thee is stayed, all my help from thee I bring;
Cover my defenceless head with the shadow of thy wing.
Wilt thou not regard my call? Wilt thou not accept my prayer?
Lo! I sink, I faint, I fall – Lo! on thee I cast my care;
Reach me out thy gracious hand! While I of thy strength receive,
Hoping against hope I stand, dying, and behold, I live.
Thou, O Christ, art all I want, more than all in thee I find;
Raise the fallen, cheer the faint, heal the sick, and lead the blind.
Just and holy is thy Name, I am all unrighteousness;
False and full of sin I am; thou art full of truth and grace.
Plenteous grace with thee is found, grace to pardon all my sin;
Let the healing streams abound; make and keep me pure within.
Thou of life the fountain art, freely let me take of thee;
Spring thou up within my heart; rise to all eternity.
Let the fool deny that this hymn is an intimate expression of faith, but its powerful intimacy, even the sense of desperation for the Saviour, doesn’t detract from the theological depth and biblical imagery. Far from one undermining the other, the two in unity are stronger than they are apart.