Posted by: rcottrill | July 19, 2013

Kneel at the Cross

Words: Charles Ernest Moody (b. Oct. 8, 1891; d. June 21, 1977)
Music: Charles Ernest Moody

Wordwise Hymns (none)
The Cyber Hymnal (none)

Note: Charles Moody was a Georgia composer and musician who played the fiddle, the banjo and the harmonica. He came from a musical family, and music was in his blood. He is said to have traded a shotgun for his first fiddle.

In the late 1920’s and early 1930’s Moody was a member of the legendary Georgia Yellowhammers, a secular string band (that recorded Pass Around the Bottle, and other songs). Charles Moody wrote a popular novelty number, The Song of the Doodlebug, but he also contributed around a hundred gospel songs.

His compositions (such as 1924’s Drifting Too Far from Shore) became standards of southern gospel music. Kneel at the Cross was published in 1948. After the Yellowhammers disbanded, Moody was for many years the choir director of the Calhoun Free Methodist Church.

Though I want to discuss one particular aspect of this song that I hope will be instructive, it is not a selection that I can recommend overall. I realize there are simple, repetitious gospel songs that have blessed many. But in my view this one is too weak in content and theology for me to find much use for it.

Who is being asked to kneel? Saint or sinner? The fact that the cross is prominent, and there’s an offer of “life anew” suggests it’s the latter. Yet there’s no mention of sin. (The closest we get is “give your idols up,” stanza 3.) And no mention of cleansing and forgiveness of sin.

Then why does the song invite us to come to the cross? It all seems very Me-centred, reminiscent of the weak gospel preaching that urges sinners to come to Jesus so their life’s problems will be solved. Little is said of the fact that we come weighed down with guilt and shame because we have wronged the eternal Lord of all, and we realize that His grace is our only hope.

There is no mention in the song that, as lost and hell-bound rebel sinners, we have offended a holy God. That we kneel at the cross to confess our helplessness and seek cleansing and forgiveness. That it is there we receive eternal salvation, and there we bow to Christ and own Him as our Saviour and Lord.

Instead, we are to “leave with Him [our] care and begin life anew” (stanza one and refrain). We come to share His glory and find bliss, and we are told that “harm can ne’er befall” those who are anchored there (stanza two). This last assertion is not precisely accurate. It is true that no one and nothing can separate the Christian from the love of Christ (Rom. 8:35-39). But many believers suffer persecution and other “harm” in this life. The apostles certainly did.

Finally, there is the fact that the song pictures Jesus waiting at the cross to meet the seeker. While there may be a sense in which the one who trusts in Christ for salvation, sees Him, by faith, on the cross, we know that Calvary is a past historical event. Christ is now risen and glorified, seated at the Father’s right hand (Rom. 8:34). There He is our heavenly Advocate and Intercessor (Heb. 7:25; I Jn. 2:1). But we find none of that here either.

The one thing about the song that I’d like to discuss for a moment is the appeal to kneel in prayer (mentioned nine times, counting the repeated refrain).

Of course there is nothing magical about the posture used in prayer. In Bible times, some stood to pray (Gen. 18:22; I Sam. 1:26; Lk. 18:13), or bowed their heads–especially in worship (Gen. 24:26; Exod. 4:31; 12:27). Others sat (Neh. 1:4), some even prayed while lying in bed (Ps. 63:6), and still others fell face down, prostrate before the Lord (Num. 16:22; Josh. 5:14). But one option is kneeling (I Kg. 8:54; Dan. 6:10; Lk. 22:41; Acts 9:40).

“Oh come, let us worship and bow down; let us kneel before the Lord our Maker” (Ps. 95:6).

Though not involved a church where kneeling was a regular thing, I can recall occasions when I served as a pastor that I felt it was important for us to kneel together–all of us, including me. Some found it difficult, because of age or infirmity. Others objected because it was something different. But we did it. Even if that’s not our usual practice, it would be fitting to kneel for a time of prayer occasionally, either as a congregation or privately on our own.

Why? What does kneeling add to our praying? In one sense, not a thing. If we are kneeling on the outside, but rigidly refusing to kneel on the inside, bowing the knee will be rank hypocrisy and an insult to God. But let us suppose there is a willingness to do so, and a desire to understand what is meant by it.

1) Reverence. Kneeling is an expression of reverence and respect. It is what subjects traditionally do before a ruler. To kneel before the Lord in prayer is an expression of reverence for Him, and a recognition of who He is, our heavenly Lord.

2) Dependence. There is in the posture an expression of dependence, even of vulnerability. It seems to signify the opposite of strength and dominance. Sinful rebellion asserts our independence of God. But when we kneel in prayer it says we need the Lord and we are appealing for his aid, and trusting in Him.

3) Submission. Kneeling also expresses submission. We are not only to reverently worship the Lord our God, and depend upon Him, we are to subject ourselves to His will. Kneeling represents that, as well. It is the act of a servant ready to be commissioned and commanded, ready to obey.

1) Kneel at the cross, Christ will meet you there,
Come while He waits for you;
List to His voice, leave with Him your care
And begin life anew.

Kneel at the cross, leave every care;
Kneel at the cross. Jesus will meet you there.

1) Is this a song you would ever use? (Why? Or why not?)

2) You may attend a liturgical church, where kneeling during the services is common. But if not, would you ever consider having the congregation kneel in prayer? (Under what circumstances?)

Wordwise Hymns (none)
The Cyber Hymnal (none)


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