Posted by: rcottrill | March 6, 2010

Today in 1837 – Arthur Pierson Born

Arthur Tappen Pierson was an American pastor and Bible teacher. He and his wife had seven children. They were all converted before the age of 15, and grew up to serve the Lord, as missionaries, pastors, or lay leaders in the church. Pierson was a friend and associate of many prominent Christian leaders in his day, including Dwight Moody. When Charles Spurgeon took sick near the end of his life, Arthur Pierson filled the pulpit in the Metropolitan Tabernacle for several months.

Dr. Pierson also wrote a number of hymns. And in 1874, when Daniel Whittle and gospel musician Philip Bliss were holding a six-week campaign in Detroit, they stayed in the Pierson home. He gave Bliss the words for The New Song, thinking the latter could provide a tune for the text–a simple lyric loaded with Bible truth. He was impressed when Philip Bliss withdrew for a time of prayer before doing so. The result is a rousing song based on the scene in heaven, when Christ, the Lamb of God is worshiped.

The twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each having a harp, and golden bowls [“vials,” KJV] full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. And they sang a new song, saying: “You are worthy to take the scroll, and to open its seals; for You were slain, and have redeemed us to God by Your blood out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation, and have made us kings and priests to our God; And we shall reign on the earth.” (Rev. 5:8-10)

With harps and with vials, there stand a great throng
In the presence of Jesus, and sing this new song:

Unto Him Who hath loved us and washed us from sin,
Unto Him be the glory forever, Amen.

All these once were sinners, defiled in His sight,
Now arrayed in pure garments in praise they unite:

He maketh the rebel a priest and a king,
He hath bought us and taught us this new song to sing:

(2) Today in 1919 – Julia Johnston Died
Julia Harriet Johnston lived in Peoria, Illinois. She wrote over 500 hymns, including There’s a Sweet and Blessed Story, and Grace Greater Than Our Sin. (To see more about her, and another hymn written by Julia Johnston, see the second item under Today in 1815.)

The latter hymn movingly extols one of the greatest and most pervasive themes of Scripture. God’s grace has been defined as His unmerited favour. It is God sovereignly doing for us what we have not earned. The grace of God provided for the salvation of lost sinners who deserve just the opposite. “God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8). No works of ours can purchase God’s eternal salvation (Eph. 2:8-9). All we are called to do is receive it as a free gift, trusting fully in what the Saviour has done for us.

Marvelous grace of our loving Lord,
Grace that exceeds our sin and our guilt!
Yonder on Calvary’s mount outpoured,
There where the blood of the Lamb was spilled.

Grace, grace, God’s grace,
Grace that will pardon and cleanse within;
Grace, grace, God’s grace,
Grace that is greater than all our sin.

Sin and despair, like the sea waves cold,
Threaten the soul with infinite loss;
Grace that is greater, yes, grace untold,
Points to the refuge, the mighty cross.

Here is a choir in the Philippines doing a beautiful job of this hymn. The arrangement is admirable, combining as it does Julia Johnston’s hymn with William Newell’s At Calvary (sung to a different tune than usual). The words of the number are projected on the wall behind them, a boon for those who are hard of hearing.

I enjoyed the video, as I hope you will. But I do want to take a moment to comment on the custom of applauding a ministry in music. Recently, at a church in another town, I sang a solo praising God for His wonderful love in sending the Saviour to die for us. Afterward, the congregation applauded. I stopped them, as graciously as I could. It felt like they had entirely missed the point. Comments later focusing on my voice suggested the same thing. When we applaud, what are we applauding? To me, the clapping at the end of the video is distracting and intrusive. What are they applauding? God’s marvelous grace? Or the choir’s performance? For further thoughts on the subject, see Hold That Applause…Please.


  1. I’d be interested to know what you said to the congregation to stop the applause.

    About two years ago another lady in my church and I sang a duet in the morning worship service — one of the arrangements of Psalm 23. The folks at my church had been applauding the special music for quite some time. My duet partner and I agreed that we don’t care for applause, and at the end of my (spoken) introduction to our music, I said, “Because we are singing for the glory of God, we request that there be no applause.”

    There was none that day, but the next Sunday, it was back, and has been every Sunday since. And the more “upbeat” the music, the louder the applause. Including the offertory–the selections for which are becoming more and more jazz-and-rock-infused.

    VERY discouraging.

    • You’re right. It is discouraging. Say what they will, the most common meaning of applause is “Well done! Good job!” But that should not be our primary focus in the house of God. As I’ve said previously, time enough after a service to approach the one who ministered and compliment his/her skill, if we believe that would be an encouragement. Yet even then it would be better to focus on how the ministry blessed us spiritually. The custom of applauding suits a secular concert which is geared to entertaining those who’ve purchased tickets. But a church service is quite different. We are there to praise the Lord, and to learn from His Word. Music should be geared to those twin purposes, and that should be our focus as we listen.

      As to what I said in the incident described, I must admit I was caught off guard. Didn’t expect it. (Much better to do as you did, and make a comment before. Then you can prepare what to say.) I waved my hands with the “No goal!” signal of a hockey referee, and said something like, “I don’t need your applause–unless you’re clapping to thank the Lord for His great love.” I was kind of embarrassed and sad. Strange thoughts went through my mind–like maybe next time I should just read the words, instead of singing them. Then maybe they’d pay attention to the message!

      To some extent, I blame church leadership for the persistence of this habit. It should not be up to singers and instrumentalists to make the point. (Because even in doing so we divert attention from the message of the songs.) There will sometimes be visitors in a service who are used to clapping and may start it off. But the regular congregation should be taught that this is inappropriate. It could be covered in a variety of venues–a church business meeting, Sunday School classes (where discussion of the biblical principles would be appropriate), from the pulpit–even as a sermon topic, by a bulletin insert, or brief instructions in the bulletin. (For example, at the bottom of the order of service at which a soloist will minister, a statement such as: “As the ministry of music is offered to the glory of God, we request that you please refrain from applauding afterward.” Or something like that.)

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