Posted by: rcottrill | February 22, 2013

The New Song

Words: Arthur Tappan Pierson (b. Mar. 6, 1837; d. June 3, 1911)
Music: Philip Paul Bliss (b. June 9, 1838; d. Dec. 29, 1876)

Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal

Note: The alternate title of this 1874 song is With Harps and with Vials. More information about Arthur Pierson, and the story of how the hymn came to be written, is available on the Wordwise Hymns link.

Though he wrote several hymns, Dr. Pierson was first of all a Presbyterian pastor and Bible teacher, serving the Lord in that way for fifty years. He was also a strong supporter of missions, and wrote many books. Along the way, he became convinced that the Baptist view of believer’s baptism was the correct and biblical one, and he was baptized by total immersion.

This is one of those infectious hymns that, once you have sung it, continues to resound in your head and heart. It is based on a prophecy in the book of Revelation (with the “vials” of the KJV being translated as “bowls” in the modern versions).

“Now when He had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb [Christ], each having a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are [or represent] 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).

A few explanatory notes on this passage.

1) The scroll. The purpose of the scroll given to Christ, the Lamb of God, is not identified in the text, but the most logical deduction I’ve seen is that it’s the title deed to the earth. The dominion of man, failed and flawed by sin, will be gloriously successful in the coming earthly reign of Christ, “the last Adam” (I Cor. 15:45).

2) The elders. As to the “elders” around the throne of God, Dwight Pentecost, in his magnum opus Things to Come, thoroughly examines the evidence (pp. 207-209, 253-258) and concludes that they are representatives of the church of Jesus Christ. These are the ones who cast their “crowns” before the Lord (Rev. 4:10-11). Their crowns aren’t the symbol of reign but of reward. They are referred to through the epistles as such (e.g. II Tim. 4:8; Jas. 1:12). The elders are clothed in white robes (Rev. 4:4), the common dress in the heavenly kingdom, spoken of nine times (cf. 7:9-10).

3) The incense. “Which are the prayers” is a common figure of speech called a metaphor, in which one thing represents something else. Jesus’ parable of the sower gives us another example: “The seed is [represents or symbolizes] the word of God” (Lk. 8:11). The Lord’s Supper gives us yet another: “This [cup of wine] is [represents] My blood” (Matt. 26:28). Since Old Testament times the rising smoke of fragrant incense has pictured the prayers and praises of God’s people ascending to God (Ps. 141:2; cf. Lk. 1:9-10).

4) The new song. The “new song” is mentioned nine times in the Bible. It refers not necessarily to the newness of the words or music. These may, or may not be entirely new. Rather, it speaks of praises lifted to God from the hearts of those who have had a fresh experience of His presence and power. In that sense, Thomas Chisholm’s 1923 song Great Is Thy Faithfulness can be sung today as a new song–because, as the Word of God and the song both say, God’s mercies are new every morning (Lam. 3:22-23).

5) Reigning on earth. The reign of the saints on the earth has to do with our role, under Christ the King, during the coming Millennial Age (Rev. 20:1-4). This responsibility is spoken of a number of times in Scripture, both in prophecy and parable (cf. Dan. 7:22; Matt. 19:28; Lk. 19:12-19; I Cor. 6:2; II Tim. 2:12).

6) Redeeming grace. The thing that overwhelms the hymn writer about this heavenly scene is that those of us who are there have no right in ourselves to be there. We were rebel sinners, defiled by our sins. But by the grace of God we’ve been washed and cleansed by the shed blood of Christ (Rev. 1:5; 5:9). He’s “bought us and taught us this new song to sing,” all glory and praise to God!

CH-1) 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.

CH-2) All these once were sinners, defiled in His sight,
Now arrayed in pure garments in praise they unite:

CH-3) He maketh the rebel a priest and a king,
He hath bought us and taught us this new song to sing:

1) What has happened in your own life in the past week that prompts you to sing a “new song” (or an old song with a new depth of meaning)?

2) How will living in the light and conscious prospect of heaven affect your life in the coming week?

Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal


  1. You left out my favourite!

    4) How helpless and hopeless we sinners had been
    If He never had loved us till cleansed from our sin:

    • Yes, helpless (Rom. 5:6) and hopeless (Eph. 2:12) about says it. Praise the Lord for His wonderful grace!


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