Reflections on the hymn
It was May 2005. I was standing in the Royal Albert Hall singing with thousands of other Christians, and I distinctly recall the song we were singing: In Christ Alone. I don’t remember the other songs we sang that day. I don’t recall much else at all (except that John Stott spoke to us too).
I don’t think I remember singing it because it was fairly new, or because of the spine-tingling experience of singing in unison with such a multitude, or even because this particular song was picked up and sung with unusual passion. It’s more that there was something significant about the song itself — its theology, its focus and its infectiousness — that causes me to vividly remember singing it, twelve years later.
What is it about this now famous Townend-Getty composition that has made such an impact on the church? It’s been called the Amazing Grace of our generation; is that a fair comparison? I think at many levels it is, and here are a few reasons why.
It’s simply captivating
In Christ Alone presents deep theology with short, simple, words. Its melody is instantly catchable and captivating, so it’s easy to learn and remember. Yet its doctrine isn’t shallow, and its message is profound.
It’s thoroughly Christocentric
For all its beguiling simplicity, the hymn’s biblical theology surveys the full scope of Jesus’ person and work and the full sweep of our salvation in Christ. We are taken from Christ’s incarnation as helpless babe through the cross and resurrection to Jesus’ ascension to heaven. We are conducted through two millennia of history to the present day and then to that exquisite day when we will see Christ, ‘when he returns or calls me home’.
The theology is utterly biblical and Reformed, in that it’s centred on Christ only. If there’s a 21st-century musical manifestation of Solus Christus, surely this is it!
It captures the joy of the redeemed
In a generation of Christian songs that are often merely subjective and sentimental, there is so much beautiful and objective truth here, as Christ’s person and work are displayed, and the security of our salvation is unfolded. This song is about far more than what we feel. And yet, this hymn doesn’t gloss over the subjective wonder experienced by the soul saved by Christ.
Sin’s curse has lost its grip on me… No power of hell, no scheme of man, can ever pluck me from his hand.
The song strikes a biblical balance: on the one hand, the objectivity of our salvation — achieved by God in Christ — and on the other hand the subjective, personal joy of the redeemed.
It’s unafraid to proclaim a full gospel
One endearing aspect of this hymn’s theology is the willingness of the composers to weave truth into its fabric, which is utterly central to the gospel, despite the inevitable controversy. The uniqueness of Christ — the main theme of the hymn — is as politically incorrect as it is inescapable. The composers didn’t strain to be inoffensive, and that’s good! The hymn rejoices in the wrath of God being satisfied, which is a truth so unpopular that a request was made to edit the line out of one hymnbook. The songwriters said no.
I praise God for hymn-writers who won’t theologically dilute a song just to gain wider distribution. I praise God for a modern hymn that glorifies Christ Jesus in his person and work, while simultaneously stirring our souls to grateful worship, and I pray for more hymns like this!