Before the Throne of God Above

Sadly, today many people are surrounded by a continual onslaught of negativity about disasters, rioting, and political unrest. This diet of doom and gloom can take its toll on a person’s faith and cause a believer to begin to question or even doubt God’s goodness and grace. As a worship pastor, I believe it is our responsibility to provide our congregations with songs that can function as prayers for the people. This is why I appreciate the biblical text and message of assurance found in Before the Throne of God Above. It is a hymn that is rich with theology and imagery about Christ as our intercessor and advocate before the Father.

History:

This song has an interesting story — so let’s begin with looking at the text. The lyrics of Before the Throne of God Above were written in Ireland by a woman named Charitie Lees Bancroft (1841–1923) originally introduced under the title of The Advocate in 1863. These powerful words were published in The Baptist Hymn and Tune Book, for Public Worship in 1871, and were also included in Charles Spurgeon’s Our Own Hymn Book in 1884. The hymn briefly rose in popularity during the 1870s then lay near dormant for almost 100 years until it began getting published again in hymnals around 1970. The original text was most often paired with traditional hymn tunes that worked well with long meter like SWEET HOUR (“Sweet Hour of Prayer”).

It’s most recent revival came when Vikki Cook of Sovereign Grace Worship, wrote a new tune for this text in 1997. This new version was made popular from recordings by Sovereign Grace Music (featuring Kristyn Getty), as well as being included on Shane and Shane’s 2009 album release Pages. Sovereign Grace maintains the original strophic form while Shane and Shane add an additional stanza of “Alleluia, Alleluia, Praise the One Risen Son of God” after the last verse. The tune written by Cook is beautiful and easily grasped by today’s congregations. If you decide to do the Shane and Shane version, be prepared for a much wider vocal range and less participation from your congregation.

Theology:

Hebrews 4:14–16 (ESV)
14 Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. 16 Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

The overall theme of this hymn is the character and nature of Christ as our advocate and intercessor. During our corporate worship gatherings, we cannot over emphasize the sufficiency of Christ enough. Many of the struggles in a Christian’s life flow from a heart that does not truly believe and rest in the truths found in scripture. When we try to become our own functional savior, by navigating this life in our own strength, we will find ourselves in a quickly sinking ship. It is only through the salvation and grace found in Christ we can walk in assurance that Jesus is sufficient at all times for all circumstances. He is our Great High Priest therefore we have the ability to draw near to the throne of grace with CONFIDENCE! Just take a moment to ponder that! I feel like many Christians have a hard time believing that, so it is vitally important to for us to continually remind believers that we are deeply loved by Jesus and through him we receive mercy and grace in times of need.

Before the Throne of God Above does a wonderful job of teaching the powerful themes of:

  1. Christ is our intercessor and advocate before the Father.
  2. There is no guilt or condemnation for those who are in Christ.
  3. Jesus is the perfect propitiation for our sins and will keep us until the end.

Recorded Versions Discussed Above:

Lyrics:

1 Before the throne of God above
 I have a strong, a 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.

2 When Satan tempts me to despair
 and tells me of the guilt within,
 upward I look, and see him there
 who made an end of 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.

3 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.