The problem with ‘Unseal My Eyes’

How I have benefited from the Good Shepherd Band’s two albums, Wake Up Sleeper and Glorious Things.

Wake Up Sleeper

Wake Up Sleeper, from its title track on, sounds the bugle call to us Christian men to wake from our spiritual slumber. From there the album keeps drilling the themes of sin and righteousness and judgment with Where are the Persecuted, Hiding Place, and a couple of others, concluding with the compelling lyrics of The Son of God Goes Forth to War set to a much more fitting tune (the original tune, with its prancing steps, fails to bring the full force of the text to bear on singer and hearer). This rendition is so powerful that I was compelled to memorize the words. I can hear that second verse:

That martyr first, whose eagle eye
Could pierce beyond the grave
Who saw his Master in the sky
And called on Him to save
Like Him, with pardon on His tongue
In the midst of mortal pain
He prayed for them that did the wrong
Who follows in His train?

Sometimes I have to listen to the track three times in a row. What a powerful call to godliness, faithfulness, obedience, humility, and reverent fear this album is.

Glorious Things

The Glorious Things album has a different purpose, being a collection of songs for use in corporate worship. At least three of them (the title track, Immortal, Invisible, and Jesus, With Thy Church Abide) are old hymns set to new tunes.

It took me longer to appreciate this album than it did the other one, but even so one track that quickly stood out was Jesus, With Thy Church Abide – a tender prayer of petition to the Bridegroom on behalf of His bride. It starts thus:

Jesus, with Thy church abide
Be her Savior, Lord and Guide
While on earth her faith is tried
O we beseech Thee, hear us

May her voice be ever clear
Warning of a judgment near
Telling of a Savior dear
O we beseech Thee, hear us

This one got ahold of me to such an extent that at the church family retreat back in April I begged Jordan to back me up on guitar and I sang it in the worship service Sunday morning there at the retreat center, and then again for the whole church a few weeks ago.

At the ClearNote Fellowship conference a couple of weeks ago, we sang several of the songs from the Glorious Things album. I almost immediately started to go hoarse. Confused, I then understood that the arrangements have the effect of drawing you into lifting your voice, in not holding back in confession and praise. Indeed, they were designed for this. The band, too, provides good leadership in this area.

I didn’t think much of Wake, Awake until we sang it at the conference. What a joy to sing it corporately — it tells of that glorious moment when the night of waiting is over and the Bridegroom comes:

The Bridegroom comes; awake!
Your lamps with gladness take
Get ready for the feast
‘Cause you must go and meet Him there!

The rest of the songs on the album are good too. There’s only one bad one, and that’s Unseal My Eyes.

The problem with Unseal My Eyes

The chorus of the song, which each verse swells to, goes like this:

Father unseal my eyes
Unveil my heart
Reveal this Christ to me
Father unseal my eyes
Unveil my heart
Reveal this Christ to me

What could be wrong with this? I mean, we’re focusing on Jesus, we’re praying to the Father to reveal Christ to us, what’s the problem?

The problem is, you could sing this song passionately and have a great emotional spiritual experience, yet still be ensnared in fornication, or theft, or lying, and somehow this song does not make you hate that sin, call you to account for it, or show the utter incompatibility of such unrestrained worship with unrepentant sin as it should. Despite the good lyrics of the verses, the emotional climax of the chorus of the song remains untethered to the truth of God’s holiness and wrath against sin.

It’s not that a swell of emotion is bad. Not at all! In Wake, Awake, the joy of the announcement of the Bridegroom’s coming swells our hearts into overflowing joyous praise for the chorus:

Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah, praise the Lamb!
Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah, praise the Lamb!

The joy of that chorus is somehow disciplined, tethered to His Lordship, His authority over us, by the knowledge of the coming of the Savior — in a way that the emotion of the chorus of Unseal My Eyes is not. Wake, Awake‘s chorus is not a disembodied hallelujah, but it carries with it the whole attitude of the song — a bride waiting for her Bridegroom, washed, pure, waiting, adoring, anticipating, ready.

Thanks to the Good Shepherd Band and ClearNote Church Bloomington for producing and making available these albums. I pray that God may use my criticism here for His glory and for the strengthening and beautifying of His bride.

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4 Responses to The problem with ‘Unseal My Eyes’

  1. Dear Daniel,

    Good insights. I don’t disagree with you about ‘Unseal My Eyes.’ However, if you go applying those criteria to the Trinity Hymnal, you’re going to find that a surprising number of hymns wind up on floor. Not every song has to, all by itself, paint a total theological picture, anticipating every possible abuse or misinterpretation. The service provides us an interpretational framework in which to hang our hymns. Context serves to discipline and guide our understanding (for good or bad). Typically, I would use a song like ‘Unseal’ in worship only after having dwelt a good while on God’s transcendent holiness, considered our state in light of His perfections, confessed our sins, and been assured of God’s pardon from the Scriptures. Only then, as a way of confessing faith in Christ while asking for more of it (Mark 9:24), would I have us sing a song like ‘Unseal.’ So, while I see your point and largely agree with you, I maintain that there’s a place for songs like this in the context of a well-ordered liturgy–one that’s modeled on the pattern of Isaiah 6 and the very logic of the gospel.

    Thankful for your criticism.
    Yours in Christ Jesus,

    Jody Killingsworth

  2. Jonathan says:

    This condemnation is unwarranted and against the clear example of scripture. There is no fault in singing a song simply of praise and pleading with God. There are several psalms that do just this.

    Psalm 117
    Praise the LORD, all nations;
    Laud Him, all peoples!
    For His lovingkindness is great toward us,
    And the truth of the LORD is everlasting.
    Praise the LORD!

    Where do you find in scripture the instruction or encouragement to levy such condemnation against those who praise the Lord our God?

  3. danielmeyer says:

    Dear Jonathan,
    Thanks for writing!
    I’ll answer your second objection first: Where do I find in scripture the instruction or encouragement to levy such condemnation against those who praise the Lord our God?

    Throughout the history of God’s people, God has always brought reformation by calling His people into greater conformity with His Word. The prophets for instance were not graceless monsters but heralds of the Father’s loving call to repentance, which involved condemning sin. Many were angry at the prophets because they loved their sin more than they loved the truth. But others repented and found that sweet forgiveness that we share with all the cloud of witnesses that have gone before. It would not have been loving for the prophets to be quiet and let the people go to destruction.

    Others called the people back to true worship, or to do the acts of mercy they had neglected. In the New Testament, the Apostles called the people in many specific ways to live a life worthy of the calling they had received. Was this condemnation? It was condemning the sin and error, not the people. To condemn the people all they would have had to do is be silent and let them drift away.

    I love my brothers in the Good Shepherd Band and ClearNote Church Bloomington. It is that love that moves me to speak these words of warning. The words of ‘Unseal My Eyes’ are good, but the way the ebb and flow of the music goes, it leaves you open to the danger of being enthralled with your own vacuous feelings as you sing the song rather than with Christ’s humbling work or with an understanding of what duties you’re asking for in pleading for your eyes to be unsealed.

    I think your first objection is I am simply wrong in this instance: that this particular song is fine and I shouldn’t have spoken against it. I will say that Mr. Killingsworth’s reply regarding providing in the surrounding context of the worship service what is lacking in the song itself is compelling. He may be right, perhaps the danger can be avoided with context. But I still think given the prominence of the chorus over the verses the danger is real. Perhaps someday a new arrangement will lift up the richness of the verses better. What an honor it would be for my criticism to be found to have been of service to our Lord and to the body of Christ.

    I could take your words as condemnation too, but why should I resist the blessing from God of being sharpened, of these faithful wounds? I love you for it, brother. Bring it on!

  4. Michael says:

    >>The problem is, you could sing this song passionately and have a great emotional spiritual experience, yet still be ensnared in fornication, or theft, or lying, and somehow this song does not make you hate that sin, call you to account for it, or show the utter incompatibility of such unrestrained worship with unrepentant sin as it should. Despite the good lyrics of the verses, the emotional climax of the chorus of the song remains untethered to the truth of God’s holiness and wrath against sin.

    Daniel,

    I know this is an old post, but I just read it now and had a few responses. First, as Jody and Jonathan pointed out, not every song–nor every Psalm–focuses on pointing out man’s sinfulness. Moreover, you can sing all sorts of songs, including ones that are completely focused on God’s wrath, and still be caught in serious sin (been there, done that). But more fundamentally, avoiding sin is not the problem with this song. To see Jesus rightly is to be called to repentance. When the Gospels recount times when people rightly saw Jesus (such as the Prostitute at Simon’s house, Zacchaeus, the Woman at the Well, etc. etc.) they turn from their sin and worship him. To rightly see Jesus is to see him crucified and resurrected (this story is contained in the verses of the song and is what the Apostle Paul said was the only thing he was determined to know). Jesus is how we understand not only mercy and grace, but holiness and wrath–he bore in his flesh our iniquity. This is, I think, what Jody is drawing from Isaiah 6. Isaiah sees the Lord–this leads him to repentance, purification, and finally to action.

    Scripture commands us to “fix our eyes on Jesus.” In another place God says “seek my face.,” and the psalmist replies “Your face, LORD, will I seek.” It is, properly placed (as it is on the album after declaring the holiness of God, the work of the Cross, man’s sinfulness, etc.), a very good thing to ask God to reveal his Son to us, indeed there is nothing greater. It is the conclusion of the Gospel as it stands now: the hope that we will see Jesus and that we will break bread with him at the wedding feast of the Lamb.

    The Law is the tutor that leads us to Christ–not vice versa.

    Love,

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