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Who is Israel’s race?

I have noticed a great trend in recent years among pastors and music ministers to pay more careful attention to what truth they are singing. Unfortunately, in years gone by, many churches sang songs merely out of habit, even though the truth espoused therein contradicted their statements of faith. It always amuses me when Premillenialists sing “We’ve a Story to Tell to the Nations” or “Lead on, O King Eternal,” for example.

Now, however, it seems to me that more pastors and music ministers are being careful that what they sing fits their doctrinal convictions, and I am very thankful for this development.

Sometimes, when a pastor determines that a particular hymn does not fit his theology, he decides to remove the hymn from his church’s repertory. Other times, however, only one line of a given hymn is problematic, and so he will choose to change that line, a practice I actually applaud.

A line from “All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name” is an example I’ve often heard changed. Sometimes called the “National Anthem of Christianity,” Edward Perronet’s hymn is a powerful call to praise Christ sung by churches across the world. Here is the hymn:

All hail the power of Jesus’ name!
Let angels prostrate fall;
bring forth the royal diadem,
and crown Him Lord of all.

Ye chosen seed of Israel’s race,
ye ransomed from the Fall,
hail Him who saves you by His grace,
and crown Him Lord of all.

Sinners, whose love can ne’er forget
the wormwood and the gall,
go spread your trophies at His feet,
and crown Him Lord of all.

Let every kindred, every tribe
on this terrestrial ball,
to Him all majesty ascribe,
and crown Him Lord of all.

O that with yonder sacred throng
we at His feet may fall!
We’ll join the everlasting song,
and crown Him Lord of all.

The hymn is generally a universal expression of praise to the Savior, but the meaning of one line has been debated: “Ye chosen seed of Israel’s race, ye ransomed from the fall…”

I’ve heard some dispensationalists find this line problematic because “we, the church, are not Israel’s race!” Thus I’ve seen some change the line to “Ye chosen seed of Adam’s race.” I’ve seen others (non-dispensationalists) proclaim between stanzas, “As Israel’s race, let us join now in praise to our Savior,” essentially agreeing with the interpretation that this line is calling us, the church, to praise Christ.

Now Perronet was undoubtedly a covenantalist and likely equated Israel and the church, and as a traditional dispensationalist myself, I would agree that calling the church “Israel’s race” would not fit my beliefs.

However, a more careful look at the text of “All Hail the Power” reveals that this is not what Perronet is doing with that line.

Consider what Perronet is doing in this hymn. He begins with a call to “all” to praise Jesus’ name. Then, through each stanza he progressively addresses various groups who are included in the “all”:

  • Angels (stanza 1)
  • Israel (stanza 2)
  • Sinners (stanza 3)
  • Every kindred and tribe (stanza 4)

With this list of people the author calls to praise Christ, Perronet is likely alluding to visions of heavenly worship we find in Scripture. For example Hebrews 12:22-24 lists groups of individuals who are in heaven worshiping God:

But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.

Here we find groups of people we could categorize as angels, Israel (“the spirits of the righteous made perfect”), and sinners in general.

Revelation 5:8-11 also give us a vision into the worship of heaven:

And when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. 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.

Here again we see included among the host of worshipers in heaven angels, Israel (“twenty-four elders”), sinners (“ransomed people”), and every kindred and tribe.

Thus in the first four stanzas, Perronet is alluding to beings who are praising Jesus’ name in heaven. ((And, likely, in the future.)) It is not until the final stanza that he changes the perspective to us:

O that with yonder sacred throng
we at His feet may fall!
We’ll join the everlasting song,
and crown Him Lord of all.

After four stanzas of calling the various residents of heaven to praise Jesus’ name, Perronet cries out with a longing that one day we, that is, the church, will also join that throng.

In other words, regardless if you are a dispensationalist or a covenantalist, “Israel’s race” in stanza two is not directed to us. It is a call for literal Israel to praise Jesus’ name along with angels, all sinners, every kindred, and every tribe.

Thus dispensationalists should have no cause to change the line, and non-dispensationalists should not equate “use” with “Israel’s race,” even though their theology allows for it.

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Posted in Essays
3 comments on “Who is Israel’s race?
  1. Bob Smith says:

    Scott:

    Thanks for posting. I”m not sure these days if we”d ever follow through to read the Artistic Theologian as we might like to if our attention weren”t called to these excellent articles via email..

    (Last paragraph: “This Dispensationalists”…should be plural,right?) Bob

  2. Scott Aniol says:

    Thanks!

  3. Jim Stiekes says:

    Why couldn”t the author be referring to Paul”s teaching thgat all who accept Christ are the seed of Abraham? Gal. 3: 29

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