Saturday, March 21, 2009

Angels are Singing

Praise for the Lord #39

Words & Music: Tillit S. Teddlie, 1923

Tillit S. "Ted" Teddlie (1885-1987) was one of the best-known and most naturally gifted songwriters among the Churches of Christ in the United States. By all accounts, and I have met several people who knew him personally, he was an equally fine Christian gentleman. His output of songs is certainly worth a post of its own, which (Lord willing!) I will get to someday.

Stanza 1:
Angels are singing redemption's sweet song,
Wonderful theme, glorious theme!
Shout the glad message and join in the throng,
Singing redemption's song!

Sing the sweet story--redemption's sweet song;
Over and over the chorus prolong;
Shout the glad message and join with the throng!
Ever we'll sing
Praise to the King,
Singing redemption's song!

The text is a reflection upon the eternal occupation of the angels in heaven, and in particular their songs of praise to Christ for His redeeming work. This was a theme he addressed again a few years later in "Worthy art Thou"(PFTL#782), which is more closely based on Scripture passages and, in my opinion, is the better song largely for that reason. Both songs may have been based in part on the same passage from the Revelation:

And they sang a new song, saying, "Worthy are You to take the scroll and to open its seals, for You were slain, and by Your blood You ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and You have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth." Then I looked, and I heard around the throne and the living creatures and the elders the voice of many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice, "Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!" And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, saying, "To Him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!" And the four living creatures said, "Amen!" and the elders fell down and worshiped.(Revelation 5:9-14)

It is interesting to consider the perspective of the angels, who are not the beneficiaries of Christ's redeeming work, and yet praise it simply for its nobility and worthiness. The gospel truly contains "things into which angels long to look."(1 Peter 1:12) Will we not join in this praise, who have our hope of heaven through this Savior and His sacrifice? "Let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name."(Hebrews 13:15)

Stanza 2:
Over and over the melodies ring,
Wonderful theme, glorious theme!
Heaven resounds with the tribute they bring,
Singing redemption's song!

As Teddlie meditated on the thought of the wonderful angelic choir praising Christ, he may also have read this passage from the Revelation:

Then I heard what seemed to be the voice of a great multitude, like the roar of many waters and like the sound of mighty peals of thunder, crying out, "Hallelujah! For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready;(Revelation 19:6-7)

It is worth remembering that God has always been the center of praise. He mentioned this, in passing, when He asked Job if he had been present at the creation of the universe, "...when the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy?"(Job 38:7) And as we have seen, the Revelation's vision of the future shows God again surrounded by praise. Then there are the four "living creatures" in Revelation 4:8 of whom it is said "day and night they never cease to say, "Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!" This same endless praise of God is engaged in by those who "have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. Therefore they are before the throne of God, and serve Him day and night in His temple; and He who sits on the throne will shelter them with His presence."(Revelation 7:14-15)

A cynic might call this "egotistical" of God; it is nothing of the sort. It is the reality of who He is.

Stanza 3:
Joy beyond measure awaits us up there,
Wonderful theme, glorious theme!
Soon we shall join with the angels so fair,
Singing redemption's song!

One of the most oddly touching moments in John's account of receiving the Revelation comes in the final chapter:

I, John, am the one who heard and saw these things. And when I heard and saw them, I fell down to worship at the feet of the angel who showed them to me, but he said to me, "You must not do that! I am a fellow servant with you and your brothers the prophets, and with those who keep the words of this book. Worship God."(Revelation 22:8-9)

Along with the sobering example of humility shown by this celestial being, is the exciting thought: we are co-workers with the angels!

What will the singing of heaven be like? The Revelation tells us enough that we can probably be sure of one thing: whatever our concept of "great music", it falls so far short of that heavenly reality that we may as well not speculate! There will also no doubt be a revelation of some great singers on that day. Remember the Lord's words to Samuel about the young David: "For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart."(1 Samuel 16:7) If I may be excused for making a careful paraphrase of that principle, "The Lord hears not as men hear; man hears the outward voice, but the Lord hears the heart." Some of those whose voices have failed over the years, will be restored to their full strength; some of those whose voices never did match their willing, worshipful spirits will be heard by rest of us, as God always heard them.

About the music: This is one of Teddlie's earlier songs, and shows much of the gospel quartet style that permeated the era. (The same influence is seen in the even earlier "To the harvest fields", PFTL#699.) In comparing Teddlie to Lloyd O. Sanderson, another great songwriter from the Churches of Christ in the same era, I think it is fair to say that although Sanderson's style was more ambitious (perhaps because of his background as a Methodist choir director), Teddlie's results were more consistent. Teddlie remained throughout his career a dyed-in-the-wool gospel writer, but he did it extraordinarily well. Above all, he was a man who knew a cappella congregational singing, and had the knack of writing well for that medium. He wrote good music that a congregation can sing easily.

This early song is no exception. The only difficult part is perhaps the chromatic turn in the soprano and alto in the first measure, and this is the bit of spice that makes an otherwise plain song memorable. It occurs again in the stanza (since the third phrase is identical to the first), then returns in the chorus at "Ever we'll sing / Praise to the King!" In the second half of that line, all of the voices leap up dramatically, and the soprano and alto flip their chromatic lines. Immediately following, the last line ("Singing redemption's song") repeats the figure with a few changes, including a G-flat in the bass which creates a fairly uncommon harmony (a German augmented-sixth chord) for emphasis. All of this is to say that Teddlie took a fairly simple little barbershop-harmony chromatic turn and used it to good effect, as a unifying "hook".

1 comment:

  1. One of my favorite Tillis S. Teddlie songs. My dad, Alvis A. Bryan, knew Tillis personally. My brother Jerry has, I believe, all the hymnals ever published by Tillis S. Teddlie, and I have copies of most of his compositions. David R. (Randy) Bryan