BEHIND THE SONG: Before the Throne of God Above

Before The Throne of God Above
Text by Charitie Lees Bancroft
Tune by Vikki Cook

Before the throne of God above
I have a strong and perfect plea:
A great High Priest, whose name is Love,
Who ever lives and pleads for me.
My name is graven on His hands,
My name is written on His heart;
I know that while in heaven He stands
No tongue can bid me thence depart
No tongue can bid me thence depart.
When Satan tempts me to despair,
And tells me of the guilt within,
Upward I look, and see Him there
Who made an end to all my sin.
Because the sinless Savior died,
My sinful soul is counted free;
For God the just is satisfied
To look on Him and pardon me
To look on Him and pardon me
Behold Him there, the Risen Lamb
My perfect, spotless righteousness,
The great unchangeable I am,
The King of glory and of grace!
One with Himself I cannot die
My soul is purchased by His blood
My life is hid with Christ on high,
With Christ, my Savior and my God
With Christ, my Savior and my God

As important, even supreme as words are in the context of a worship song, we sometimes need to be reminded of the power of melody to take those words and transform them.   A case in point is the 1860’s hymn “Before The Throne of God Above,” which has enjoyed a renaissance lately among contemporary artists.

If you know the text to this song, you know that it powerfully reminds us that Jesus is our advocate before the Father.   In fact, the writer of the text–Charitie Lees Bancroft–originally entitled the hymn “Advocate”.   Charitie was the child of an Irish minister, born in county Dublin in 1841 (so the Gettys are not the first writers of great Irish hymns!)   The text includes a multitude of scriptural allusions and images that assure us of the ministry of our “great high priest whose name is love.”   We’ll come back to the text later, but the first point to be made is how the tune brings that text alive.

Before Vikki Cook of Sovereign Grace Ministries wrote the tune in 1997, this rarely heard text was typically paired with hymn tunes (including the tune to “Sweet Hour of Prayer”) that give the words a mournful quality.   (Try singing the words with the Sweet Hour tune and you will see what I mean).  But set free with the strong and joyous folk tune that Ms. Cook penned, the text expresses the confidence and joy of a person secure in the powerful grace of Christ.   It is a compliment to the melody that many have mistakenly believed text and tune were created together, or that the tune predates the text.   When Shane and Shane first recorded it, they innocently failed to give the composer credit because they had been told both tune and text were in the public domain.

Back to the text–among it’s many strong teachings, I am particularly struck by the opening phrases to the second stanza.   Who among us has not felt the accusatory voice of Satan when we are aware of our sin?   While the convicting voice of the Holy Spirit would lead us to repentance and the assurance of forgiveness, the accuser’s voice desires only to discourage us and lead us into a paralyzing sense of hopelessness.   We desperately need the reminder that God really does “look on Him and pardon me.”

And that would seem to be the theme of the entire text–that we have an advocate who not only pleads our case, but also accepts the penalty for our crime.   The truths are so timeless, and the tune so singable, it was even included among many more energetic songs in the VBS curriculum that our church used this summer.   I am sure that many of the concepts were not grasped by the kids.   (Try explaining “no tongue can bid us thence depart” to first graders).   But they learned and sang the song with enthusiasm, and I am confident that over time, as we continue to sing this powerful hymn, the assurance it provides will be woven into the fabric of their faith as it has been in mine.

Listen to an arrangement of the hymn here:

(For a line by line meditation on this text and related scriptures, you can check out this blog:  
There is a brief article on Charitie Bancroft on Wikipedia.)


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