Eschatology: the part of theology concerned with death, judgment, and the final destiny of the soul and of humankind.
Eschatology isn’t taught much. Many preachers feel underqualified to preach it because their seminary shied away from educating their students on these important doctrines. Many other preachers (incorrectly) believe that the body of doctrines in eschatology contain mysteries too dense and befuddling to fully understand. Another reason, sadly, is that many preachers and teachers don’t want to get involved in “controversies” regarding the timing of the rapture of whether there really will be a 1000 year kingdom on earth before eternity begins, controversies that aren’t really controversial at all. However, because of perceived difficulties of one kind or another, they shy away and don’t teach their congregants about ‘last things.’ Finally, the climate today in evangelical Christianity is to be ‘tolerant’ and ‘loving’, so the doctrines regarding judgment, hell, wrath, etc. are not ‘on trend’. Speaking of judgment and hell is almost taboo.
This vacuum in proper eschatological teaching has led to many fringe people ‘teaching’ on these things but instead, they’re just promoting wacky theories or generally mishandle the doctrines of last things completely. For example, they focusing on signs or setting dates, or worse, they lead many astray, confuse the sheep, or tarnish what should be a glorious hope. This wackiness has made orthodox preachers even more reluctant to delve into these doctrines because the fringe element has made eschatology almost into a joke and they don’t want to be associated with the fringe folks. So they stay even further away…and so on. The cycle continues.
It’s one reason I’m so relieved and excited I have access to Dr MacArthur’s teaching on last things. At home, I’ve been going through his Revelation series on Friday nights. I also trust S. Lewis Johnson, Martyn Lloyd Jones and Alistair Begg on last things also.
With the dearth of eschatological doctrines taught during sermons and Bible Studies, nowadays there is even less chance of finding songs about last things in worship music. But surprisingly, hymns, praise songs, Southern Gospel and Bluegrass Country used to be populated with songs about such things.
I was driving home from church on Sunday and turned my radio to a different channel. I found a little station out of Cornelia, Georgia I had not heard before. It was playing some old-timey country tunes from the 60s. This one I heard was by Naomi and the Segos, formerly Sego Brothers And Naomi. The group began gaining exposure in the late 1950s, though the band was well known in Georgia before that.
Their sons “Sorry, I Never Knew You” tells the story of a man who was dreaming. He was in heaven with all the people before Jesus, and when it was his turn to face Jesus he confidently said he had been a Christian all the while. The Lord uttered the title refrain, ‘Sorry, I Never Knew You, there is no record of your birth’. The song goes on… and at the end, the man awoke and with tears in his eyes, took stock of his faith, realized he’d been self-deceived, and repented.
I was so stunned I pulled the car over in order to listen, and to ponder the sudden sucking sound of a vacuum I heard in my mind. With that song from 1964, the first Gospel song to sell over 1 million records, by the way, I suddenly realized how FEW songs nowadays dwell on any of these topics. Would a song like that even get on the radio these days? Never mind make a million sales?
Here at SGM Radio, (Southern Gospel Music radio) they write of Naomi Sego, a Music Legend.
The song I’d heard was on what I have described before as one of the two most difficult and tear-inducing verses in the entire Bible, for me. There will be many on His day who plead for entry into the Kingdom, but the Lord will say,
And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’ (Matthew 7:23)
It’s a devastating promise. I say promise because it is prophesied, which means it will come true. I will exult in Jesus righteousness and His perfect ability to make judgments, but the thought of many self-deceived “Christians” being rejected in tears and in horror, being cast away into the Lake of Fire is emotionally wrenching.
The question is, should we sing about it? What are the boundaries of singing about God’s judgments? Is that a subject that’s off limits in music as well as it seems to be in preaching?
When songs have good doctrine in them, even praise songs or popular songs, the Lord can and does use them for souls. I read several websites where people said they had heard Sorry I Never Knew You when it came out and were saved by it. “I never knew you” is directly from the Bible and covers a scene explicitly described there. The song closely matches the scene.
We should sing about last things because they’re biblical. Last things were important to Jesus- He preached on His Second Coming almost more than any other topic. The Psalms are songs, and many of them were about judgment, the righteous decrees of God and how He will finally exult over His enemies.
I love singing about the rapture in songs such as “I’ll Fly Away”. There is nothing wrong and everything right with hanging our hopes on Jesus’ future promises. (2 Timothy 4:8). But I needed to clarify my thinking on the topic further, so I did some research.
Bob Kauflin at Worship Matters wrote a few essays on the topic that I liked. In this essay, Should we sing songs about God’s judgments?, he outlines three ways God might like us to sing about His judgments,
–focus on Jesus judgment on the cross
–God’s past judgments
–God’s future judgments
And here is the important point I want to make. Yes, I believe it is OK to sing about judgment and last things. But, as Mr Kaufman wrote,
The point of all this isn’t that we should always [emphasis mine] be focusing on God’s judgments, nor to sing about them in a cold-hearted way that minimizes the tragic consequences of sin. The point is to magnify the greatness of God’s holiness, justice, righteousness, sovereignty, power, mercy, kindness, and grace in his judging evil, and especially in the judging of the Savior in our place at Calvary. His undeserved kindness has enabled us to be forgiven, to be adopted as precious children, and to anticipate unending joy at God’s right hand in the new heavens and the new earth.
In his follow-up essay, Mr Kaufman wrote,
In a recent post, I suggested that generally we shy away from singing songs about God’s judgments, but that judgment is a theme found in many Psalms and Scriptural songs. I promised that I’d follow up with a post that suggested some songs we can sing that reference God’s judgments and help us think about them in a way that honors God, encourages a passion for holiness, and strengthens our confidence in the gospel.
I long for His appearing and not a day goes by when I don’t pray or sing “your kingdom come…” but that does not mean I’m cold-hearted about those who will be left behind to face the Great Tribulation or even an eternity in the Lake of Fire. In longing for His judgment it means He will have no more enemies. I long to be delivered from this body of death. I want never to sin against Him again. I want pure lips to praise Him. Most of all I want all the people to praise Him with pure hearts, with no sin or stain to interfere with the glory He is due from His redeemed.
If a song like “Sorry I Never Knew You,” which is doctrinally accurate, is used to gain Him one more soul in His triumph, then it is a good thing. We need more songs like that.