Songs in the Courtroom

As I searched through the hymnal for a list of songs to lead, I found almost nothing on the Judgment or on God as Judge. It just wasn’t there.

One little phrase from the Psalms. And another from a song written by a brother in Christ about the Lord coming to judge. And that was it.

Why, I wonder, is one of the major themes of Scripture absent from our hymns?

For one, we have inherited many, if not most, of our songs from other groups. But that still begs the question.

Perhaps we find it strange to sing in a courtroom.

If there is one truth which we confront weekly around the table of the Lord, it is God’s judgment.

At the cross, God judged sin. His guilty verdict singed the very air. He became the justifier of men, while remaining just in his character.

The table itself is a moment of judgment, as Paul makes clear in 1 Corinthians 11:27-32, with language heavy with terms of judging and condemnation.

Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died. But if we judged ourselves truly, we would not be judged. 32 But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world. (ESV)

That God is Judge makes a difference in how we live now, James tells us in 5:7-9:

Be patient, therefore, brothers, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient about it, until it receives the early and the late rains. You also, be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand. Do not grumble against one another, brothers, so that you may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing at the door.

Peter tells us that God is “ready to judge the living and the dead” (1 Peter 4:5).

We eat the supper of the Lord with an eye to the coming of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. His manifestation will usher us into judgment. We stand under the blood of the cross, but we know we will still be judged according to our deeds. And our greatest deed is trusting in the death of Christ.

With such confidence in God as Judge, let us rejoice at this meal. And find a song for the courtroom.

5 thoughts on “Songs in the Courtroom

  1. I have turned up a hymn for you on the Judgement.
    O SOLEMN THOUGHT by R. F. Cottrell 1885
    and George Coles, 1792 – 1858
    “O solemn thought! And can it be
    The hour of judgement now is come
    Which soon must fix our destiny,
    And seal the sinner’s fearful doom?
    Yes it is so; the judgment hour
    Is swiftly hastening to its close;
    Then will the Judge, in mighty power,
    Descend in vengeance on His foes.
    “He who came down to earth to die
    An offering for the sins of men,
    And then ascended up on high,
    And will ere long return again,
    Is standing now before the ark
    And mercy seat, and cherubim,
    To plead His blood for saints, and make
    The last remembrance of their sin.
    “The solemn moment is at hand
    When we who have His name confessed
    Each in his lot must singly stand,
    And pass the final, searching test.
    Jesus! we hope in Thee alone;
    In mercy now upon on us look,
    Confess our names before the throne,
    And blot our sins from out Thy book.
    O blessed Saviour! may we feel
    The full importance of this hour.
    Inspire our hearts with holy zeal,
    And aid us by Thy Spirit’s power,
    That we may, in Thy strength, be strong
    And brave the conflict valiantly;
    Then, on Mount Zion, join the song,
    And swell the notes of victory.”
    This obviously refers to the judgement as mentioned in Revelation 14: verse 6 onwards.
    “Then I saw another angel flying in the midst of heaven, having the everlasting gospel to preach to those who dwell on the earth – to every nation, tribe, tongue and people. – 7. saying with a loud voice, “Fear God and give glory to Him for the hour of His judgement has come . . .”
    As the gospel is right now being preached around the whole world by evangelists, television and radio, that would imply that the judgement has begun. It is a solemn thought, and we should prepare for His coming, which must be very, very soon, when Scripture tells us each one will receive his just reward. As I understand it,if we receive our reward at His coming, then the judgement will already have ended, when each case will already have been decided. (See Rev. 22:12)

  2. I searched through several of the old song books that I have and there are several well known songs that would qualify as “judgment songs” in my opinion. “There’s a great day coming”; “Prepare to meet thy God”; “What will your answer be”, and others. There is more emphasis placed on ‘Love’, ‘Praise’ and ‘Prayer’ as far as songs but they are also necessary in the path to meet our savior!

  3. Thanks for this article. It is thoughtful and stimulates reflection.
    While contemporary descriptions of the gospel citing 1 Corinthians 15:1-4 are often limited to the death, burial and resurrection, Paul’s gospel proclamation included the unpopular message of divine judgment as evidenced in Romans 2:16 and Acts 17:31.
    Since a church’s hymnody reflects its theology, it is interesting to note the general dearth of judgment related songs in hymnals. Might this be a growing trend in more recent hymnals as churches increasingly strive to portray a positive message, either in reaction to classic “hell fire and brimstone” preaching or perhaps to be more marketable?
    Certainly Biblical balance is needed in both preaching and singing. History would suggest this is hard to consistently maintain.

  4. I did not make it clear that I was leading singing in Portuguese and was examining our Brazilian hymnal. I suspect, however, that English songbooks differ little. Many of our songs in Portuguese derive from English originals.
    Though not statistically proven, our songs here, from my impression, also cater to the individual’s needs and wants. Perhaps it’s a feature of the language where the first person singular is more easily expressed in song, with shorter words and fewer syllables, than the first person plural.
    However that may be, I suspect it’s a reflection of the Protestant emphasis (most songs in the hymnbook come from them), as well as the Brazilian ethos.

  5. Hi brother Randal–just read your article here–interesting I just posted the song “Time” on HymnWriters at SaintsMeet.com! Yes, the judgment is such an important topic! It came to mind as I started to write the words to this melody. With the hope that more folks will think about the judgment and prepare.

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