Music is a marvelous means of expressing our hearts to God in worship. It unites individual voices into one voice. It unites meaningful words to memorable tunes. And it unites biblical doctrine to passionate expression. Music can carry joy and praise as well as grief and repentance. It can serve us and point our affections to Christ, but it can also mislead us and draw our affections away.
Basil Manly Jr. (1825–1892) understood the potential of music to give voice to the affections, both for good and ill. He was passionate about church music and compiled several collections of hymns. In 1859 he published Baptist Chorals: A Tune and Hymn Book Designed to Promote General Congregational Singing; Containing One Hundred and Sixty-Four Tunes, Adapted to About Four Hundred Choice Hymns. In the Introduction to Baptist Chorals he describes the value of music as well as its use and exploitation by the world:
Music can minister to amusement; it can be subservient to friendship; it is the chosen language of love. Music is summoned to excite the warrior for battle, to gladden the dissolute, to wreath its charms around the wine cup, and even to lure, by its enchantments, the unsuspicious into vice. Music, “one of the richest natural gifts of God to a world where discord, and confusion, and tears have so much place” has been perverted from its beneficial intent. She has been forced to grind for the Philistines; let us liberate her, and employ her best services in inviting men to holiness. “The first and proper place of music, on this side of heaven, is in the house of God.” If churches everywhere would cease to regard sacred music either with indifference or as a matter of mere taste; if they would commence with the young, training their ears while they are sensitive, and their voices while they are flexible; if families would unite at least once a day in a brief, spirited hymn, as well as in other domestic devotions; if, instead of the choirs being burdened with doing the singing, they should simply be honored with leading the singing; and if the voices of all God’s people should join heartily and understandingly, with grace not only in the notes but in the heart, the effect would certainly surprise us all.
Manly was convinced that music is a gift of God’s common grace to mankind and that its highest and most glorious purpose is to serve and glorify God. He quotes here from an address entitled “A Plea for Sacred Music” given by Edward W. Hooker (1794–1875), another strong proponent of church music. Hooker, who served as pastor of the First Congregational Church in Bennington, Vermont, urges the legitimate use of music by the church in the worship of God.
Christians must cease to regard music as only appropriate to the drawing-room, or scenes of gayety and festivity, or to the theatre and the military parade. Music is a heaven-born art; is one of the richest gifts of a merciful God to a world where sin, confusion, sorrow, and tears, has so much place. “The children of this world” see its worth, and they borrow it of the church so much, that the church almost forgets that it is one of her rightful possessions. The first and proper place of music, on this side of heaven, is in the house of God. Its most appropriate use is by “the great congregation,” in the worship of “the high and lofty One who inhabiteth eternity.” We protest against Christians regarding sacred music as an elegant and expensive luxury, a mere superfluity in religious services. It may be made so, it is true, by hiring foreign and merely professional performers, who serve the church on the Sabbath, and the theatre and the devil all the week. But employ Christian men to teach the children and youth, and to train the older members of the congregation, and to conduct the musical performances of the Sabbath, and it is no more an expensive superfluity than is education to read the Bible; than prayer; than the dispensation of the blessed Gospel. [from “A Plea for Sacred Music” published by the American Tract Society, c.1850]
Though the world may employ music to express its passions, “the first and proper place of music, on this side of heaven, is in the house of God.” It is our responsibility in the church to compose, teach, play and sing the music of worship with care, for God’s glory and our good.
Manly not only encouraged the use of passionate, doctrinally rich hymns in the church, he wrote them. His hymn, “Lord I Deserve Thy Deepest Wrath” (#445 in the Baptist Psalmody), shows his skill as a theologian and songwriter. The hymn not only teaches truth, it helps the congregation rightly understand how to receive and respond to truth. He vividly defines the doctrine of total depravity: the extent of our sinfulness and our just condemnation before God. We are wholly sinful, justly deserving the wrath of God, without hope and wholly unable to see our need. Manly weds this biblical truth to passion through musical expression, not as facts to be learned, or concepts to be debated, but as a heartfelt cry for mercy. What are we to do in light of our desperate condition? We must flee to Christ if we are to find forgiveness and freedom from the bondage and darkness of sin. He is the only hope for lost, condemned sinners.
Lord, I Deserve Thy Deepest Wrath
God, be merciful to me a sinner (Luke 18:13)
Lord, I deserve Thy deepest wrath,
Ungrateful, faithless I have been;
No terrors have my soul deterred,
Nor goodness wooed me from my sin.
My heart is vile, my mind depraved,
My flesh rebels against Thy will;
I am polluted in thy sight,
Yet, Lord, have mercy on me still!
Without defense, to thee I look,
To Thee, the only Savior, fly;
Without a hope, without a friend,
In deep distress to thee I cry.
Speak peace to me, my sins forgive,
Dwell Thou within my heart, O God,
The guilt and power of sin remove,
And fit me for thy blest abode.
“Lord I Deserve Thy Deepest Wrath”
Words by Basil Manly, Jr. (1850)
Music by John B. Dykes (1823–1876)
Download free sheet music (PDF) for this hymn, including a guitar chord chart, an arrangement of the hymn tune MELITA for classical guitar.
Read more Hymns from History