I’ve picked an unlikely hymn to start this project. On the Background page of this blog, I mentioned that I usually write music for obscure hymns that are rarely sung these days. Well, “Nothing but the Blood” certainly doesn’t fit that category. In fact if there are 10 hymns in the world that are taboo to mess with, this one is probably on that list. I sent the MP3 of this rewrite to my friend Nathan, and he said his initial reaction was “NOOOOOO, you can’t do that. The [mature] folks will freak!” He changed his mind, however, after he heard the new arrangement. While some hymns are lost in the shuffle, this one is a staple of most churches that still use hymns in their gathered worship. So why did I write new music for this classic?
In February I was preparing to lead the music at a youth conference of about 300 middle and high school students. While I had put a lot 0f popular music in the sets for the weekend, I needed to supplement those with a few songs that would challenge the students. I had chosen a few great contemporary songs with powerful lyrics. But as I read through the set as a whole I realized that most of the songs I had chosen focused on the greatness of God in creation and his powerful love, but very few of them really focused on Christ or his work on our behalf. Essentially I needed a song to fit a very specific spot in the set. I needed a song that spoke about forgiveness and redemption through the cross of Christ. I couldn’t find the right one. I began to search my hymnal for a hymn that would fit. I found countless songs that had the right message, but none that had the melody, tempo, and style that I needed. “Nothing but the Blood” seemed to be a great choice lyrically. My band and I tried a few versions of the original melody with different instrumentation, but nothing we did felt natural for the song. So I set out to write a new tune for it.
It was a noisy week and a hard week for me mentally. Political voices berated each other over health care reform, and the talking heads seemed to crowd every TV and radio station with their polemic energy. Angry co-workers bickered over nothing. My children (whom I love with all my heart) “lived out loud” as I returned home from work. To top it all off, a tinge of my cyclical depression had surfaced in the midst of the chaos. More than I needed one more song for a weekend conference, I needed peace. I needed to be gently reminded of the gospel of Jesus Christ. So, as I often do, I retreated to my studio that night and turned on the mic. And with a heavy heart, I began to play.
A new melody came, simple and calm. It gently reminded me of the gospel; that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. In the words of the writer of this hymn, Robert Lowry, that gospel is “all my hope and peace.” There are weeks when I want to know more about God. There are weeks when I want to read theology and study church history. There are times in my life when I am passionate about church life and government. But there are other times when I just need peace and assurance. I find both in the gospel of Jesus Christ. I believe Jesus Christ really lived a perfect life. I believe that he really was fully God and fully man. I believe that he died on a real cross and shed real human blood. I believe he really rose on the third day and conquered death. In fact, I’m betting my life on it. I hope my new tune and Robert Lowry’s words gently remind you to rest in the finished work of Jesus Christ.
Each month I’ll post a new song. These are low-budget recordings and you can have them FREE. Just right-click on the link below, choose “Save Target As,” and it’s all yours. If you want to make a donation, I am funneling all funds from this project to International Justice Mission. Visit the Donate page for more details. And please share this blog with your friends.
(if you can’t download the file, send me a message at email@example.com and I’ll email you the MP3)
For those who want to use this song in their worship services, visit the Resource page for a pdf version of the chord sheet.
Words by Robert Lowry 1876
Music and additional lyrics Copyright 2010 Eric Parker/BMI
Eric Parker – guitars and vocals
Brett Nolan – keys and production