Historically, the term "slave song" refers to a genre of music that developed out of the African-American slave community primarily during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The topics of these slave songs are diverse, ranging from recreational to religious. Examples include "'Round the Corn" and "Sabbath Has No End."
Similar to how the word "slave" needs rediscovering (as John' McArthur puts it) in light of Scriptural teaching, so also the term "slave song" needs redefining in a biblical context. Through this album (and booklet), I am offering an alternative definition of the' term "slave song," which is delineated below, along with a comparison of my meaning with the historical meaning.
In a broad sense, a "slave song" is a musical work to be sung by Christians (slaves of God) that facilitates worship of God (their Master). Christians, as fellow slaves of God, are to address "one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with [their] heart" (Eph. 5:19). Because psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs all share a common purpose of assisting corporate worship, it is possible to identify each as an example of' a slave song. In this respect, all Christian worship songs, covering various Christian themes, are slave songs.
Within a more narrow definition, a "slave song" specifically addresses the doctrine of spiritual slavery. It is certainly in the spirit of this more restrictive sense of the term that Slave Songs was created. All of the songs focus in some way on one or more of these elements relating to spiritual slavery: a Christian's identity and service as a slave of Christ, his position prior to becoming a slave of God, the' means by which his freedom from sin and enslavement to God were' procured, and characteristics of the Master and their implications for believers and unbelievers.
Thus, my use of the term "slave song" differs considerably from the more recent historical meaning. First of all, my definition is rooted in Scriptural narrative that precedes the genre of slave songs by thousands of years. Second, my definition concerns spiritual slavery while the other developed out of physical slavery. And third, the practice of slavery of men by men is evil, and it is from this immoral practice that the historical genre of slave songs arose. The reality of God owning slaves is not evil, because God is the Creator of mankind and He is good.
(NOTE: This is not to say that a historic slave song could not also be a slave song in the biblical sense, nor that a historic slave song is unimportant from a Christian paradigm. I contrast the differences to help explain the identity of the songs from our album, not to cast a negative light on what truly is a significant genre of music in American history.)
Spiritual Slavery Expressed Through Song
One may wonder why it is necessary or beneficial to create an album about spiritual slavery. In response, we should affirm the importance of all aspects of Christian theology that are rooted in the Bible. Paul declares in 2 Timothy 3:16, "All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, and for correction." The doctrine of spiritual slavery is especially profitable for Christians because it addresses theological issues regarding salvation, truths which lie at the heart of the Gospel. How can a just God accept unworthy sinners? Well, part of the answer involves God's emancipation of humans from their thralldom to sin and His incorporating them into His eternal service. It is important, therefore, for Christians to think about such things. Indeed, it is important for Christians to sing about such things!
With this in mind, we have written these slave songs for four main reasons: (1) to teach the church what it means to be ransomed from slavery to sin and made a slave of God; (2) to stimulate "spirit and truth" worship in light of this teaching using a biblically mandated form of art; (3) to exalt the Lord as a kind and loving Master in whose service the Christian is blessed to partake; and (4) to proclaim the grace of God to the world.
While unified in overall theme and purpose, the songs from this album vary in some regard, exemplified by their differences in intended function in the local worship service. Most of these songs are well suited for congregational singing because they possess a necessary musical approachability by a diverse mixture of musical levels. Some of the songs, however, which include "Captive Children," "O the Depth!," and "Untamed," may function best as a musical offering in which the congregation listens to and meditates upon the words being sung by trained musicians. In any case, leaders who oversee worship services will make this choice.
SUPPORTED BY TRADITION
The concept of writing Christian worship songs about spiritual slavery is nothing novel, for there are several well-known hymns that specifically address this very topic. For example, Frances R. Havergal's hymn "Jesus, Master, whose I am" delights in the Christian's service to God. Havergal writes in the first stanza,
Jesus, Master, whose I am,
Purchased thine alone to be
By thy blood, O spotless Lamb,
Shed so willingly for me,
Let my heart be all thine own,
Let me live to thee alone.
Moreover, there are many familiar hymns that may not directly concentrate on spiritual slavery yet do reference the doctrine. "Worthy of worship" by Mark Blankenship identifies God as "Almighty Father, Master and Lord" (emphasis mine). In his beloved advent hymn, Charles Wesley writes, "Come, Thou long expected Jesus, / born to set thy people free; / From our fears and sins release us; / Let us find our rest in thee." Another famous hymn, "Take my life and let it be," also authored by Havergal, reflects a proper understanding of the Christian's service to God. Every aspect of the Christian's life, including his time, hands, feet, money, minds, will, heart, and love, is surrendered to his Master.
Supported by a strong tradition of Christian slave songs, we offer the following additions to the church. May they remind and encourage the saints to keep serving their Master with joyful surrender, and may they reveal with imagination, creativity, and clarity the splendors of' God to all who will take time to listen.
WHAT IS ENSLAVEMENT TO SIN?
According to the Bible, there are two types of people. There are slaves of sin (non-Christians), and there are slaves of God (Christians). Paul writes in Romans 6:16, Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness?
What does it mean to be enslaved to sin? What does it mean to be enslaved to God? This chapter will address the first question.
Enslavement to sin is an inherited condition that every human experiences apart from salvation. It describes sin’s dominion over man, which results in man’s obedience to sin and his inability to obey God.
A Universally Inherited Condition from Adam
Every person is born a slave of sin. David recognizes his innate sinful condition: Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me (Ps. 51:5). Paul points out that prior to their salvation, the saints in Rome were once slaves of sin (Rom. 6:17), underscoring the state everyone experiences prior to regeneration. Furthermore, Jesus explains to the Jews, Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin (John 8:34). Because every person practices sin (Rom. 3:10-18, 23), everyone is a slave of sin.
Enslavement to sin is an inherited condition from Adam, our federal head. It is closely related to spiritual death in that the initiation of spiritual death coincided with that of imprisonment to sin. When God commanded Adam and Eve not to eat the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, He warned them that disobedience would result in death. Tempted by the serpent, Adam and Eve disobeyed God by eating the forbidden fruit, and God gave them death as He promised. But this “death” was not restricted to physical decay and the ultimate termination of human bodies; it also corresponded to a spiritual death. In Romans 5:12, Paul states, Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned. Just as spiritual death spread to all men through Adam, so also is enslavement to sin passed down to every human being. It is a universally inherited condition.
Sin as Disobedience to God
It will be helpful at this point to define sin. Concisely defined, sin is disobedience to God’s law. John remarks, Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness (1 John 3:4). This meaning is also indicated in Rom. 6:16, where Paul places sin directly in antithesis to obedience. One can serve sin or obedience; that is, disobedience to God or obedience to God.
How can a person be enslaved to disobedience to God? To begin, we can say that sin corrupts man’s nature to the extent that he can do nothing other than disobey God. This is the cruelty of sin as a slave- master.
Sin’s Corrupting Rule Over its Slaves
Sin rules over natural man with complete and total authority, much like a slave-master governs his slaves. The effects of sin’s rule are two-fold: (1) a corruption of all parts of man’s nature, and (2) a subsequent inability to change his condition.
Every aspect of man’s nature is subject to the rule of sin. Robert L. Reymond, a notable Christian theologian, describes it as follows: His understanding is darkened, his mind is at enmity with God, his will to act is slave to his darkened understanding and rebellious mind, his heart is corrupt, his emotions are perverted, his affections naturally gravitate to that which is evil and ungodly, his conscience is untrustworthy, and his body is subject to mortality. Indeed, sin governs all of man.
The human faculty most central to the discussion of enslavement to sin is the will. The will is man’s primary decision-making faculty; it is the soul’s power to choose between motives and to direct its subsequent activity according to the motive thus chosen. Contrary to the popular thought that man possesses a free will, Scripture seems to indicate that the will of natural man is directly bound by sin’s sway to the extent that he can choose only sin. The man of flesh does not and cannot submit to God’s law (Rom. 8:7), does not seek after God (Rom. 3:11), and cannot come to God of his own accord (John 6:44). Scripture tells us that souls are born again not…of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God (John 1:13).
One may object to this assertion, contending, But non-Christians do choose morally good actions. For example, there are many charitable non-Christian organizations that assist the poor.
While it is certainly true that unbelievers make “good” choices, God tells us that whatever does not proceed from faith is sin (Rom. 14:23). The author of Hebrews writes, And without faith it is impossible to please [God] (Heb. 11:6). Therefore, even morally good actions performed by unbelievers are sinful because these actions are not motivated by faith in Christ, but rather, in some degree, by love of self. In this way, a slave of sin will always choose sin.
Tied closely to the will is man’s intellect and sensibilities, which likewise submit to sin. Concerning the corruption of both the intellect and emotions, Paul writes that the Gentiles (i.e. natural man) live in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity (Eph. 4:17-19, emphasis mine). In its unregenerate state, man’s heart is callous and his mind is darkened by folly. Paul tells the Corinthian church, The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned (1 Cor. 2:14).
A Hopeless Condition?
Apart from God’s intervening work, the condition of sin’s slave is one of hopelessness, for man is unable to save himself. He is born into a permanent service of cruelty, and there is nothing he can do about it.
However, what is impossible for man to undo is possible for God (Luke 18:26). But the price for ransom is great: the blood of the righteous Son of God. This is the only way to free spiritual slaves from sin.
WHAT IS ENSLAVEMENT TO GOD?
Everyone is born a slave to sin, but not everyone remains in that enslavement. According to His good pleasure, God sets apart for Himself a remnant of people whom He ransoms from captivity to sin and places in bondage to Himself. What does it mean to be a slave of God and how does that relate to freedom from sin?
Enslavement to God, which coincides with emancipation from sin, describes a Christian’s total devotion and submission to God. God’s dominion over Christians results in their ability and desire to obey Him.
The Dominion of God Over His Slaves
The word of the Lord teaches that all of creation is under the rule of the Creator (1 Chron. 29:11, Ps. 115:3, Ezek. 18:4). This means that every human being, both Christian and non-Christian, is under the Lordship of God because God created everyone. Despite God’s inherent authority as Creator, slaves of sin do not submit to Him but bow instead to Satan, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience (Eph. 2:1-2). But there will come a day when every person, in heaven, and on earth, and under the earth, will submit to the Creator (Phil. 2:9-11). It is only God’s slaves that, prior to the Day of Judgment, recognize and submit to God’s authority on the basis of His work in creation.
Slaves of Christ submit to God as Creator because He is also their Deliverer and Redeemer. Not only did God create His slaves, which in itself implies ownership, but He also ransomed them from their bondage to sin so that they are now, in an even greater sense, His possession. According to Murray J. Harris, Believers are divine property, invested at the discretionary will of the Master for his own profit. Because God is their Master, it is His right to rule them as He pleases. The Divine Deliverer possesses total rights over His slaves, and His slaves submit joyfully.
Service from the Heart
Slaves of God, who recognize and enjoy His ultimate Lordship over their lives, submit to the Lord joyfully out of love and an earnest desire to serve Him. In contrasting the motivation of first-century Roman slaves to that of slaves of Christ, Murray J. Harris notes, Whereas most slaves served under some degree of compulsion and expected punishment for disobedience, Christ’s slaves serve voluntarily, so that what motivates their service is not fear of punishment or even principally the prospect of reward, but the desire to please their Master. This is Paul’s meaning in Romans 6:17-18 where he states, But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness (emphasis mine). It is service motivated by a love for the Master, and this motivation is also the gracious work of God in regeneration.
At regeneration, God gives a person a new nature. He removes the heart of stone and replaces it with a heart of flesh, thereby enabling the person to obey God: I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules (Ezek. 36:26-27). This is Old Testament prophecy of a new covenant reality. When the Holy Spirit causes a person to be born again (John 3:1-8, 1 Pet. 1:3), God opens the eyes of a believer to behold the wickedness of sin and the goodness of God, so that he who once loved sin, now hates sin; and he who once hated God, now loves God. This is God causing His slaves to obey Him (Ezek. 36:27), and it does not conflict with the slave’s desires. The slave of God now recognizes the goodness of God and submits himself willingly to the service of his Master because he genuinely desires to obey Him.
Freedom from Sin
Enslavement to sin directly corresponds to freedom from sin. Just as God delivered the Israelites out of captivity in Egypt so that they may serve Him instead (Lev. 25:55), so He delivers His elect from their bondage to sin in order that they will serve Him as their new Master. Moreover, we may also infer from Scripture that freedom from sin and enslavement to God occur simultaneously in a manner which can be described as both immediate and progressive. Let us first examine how a Christian experiences freedom from sin.
The Bible teaches that freedom from sin occurs immediately at conversion. When Scripture discusses the liberation Christians now possess from sin, it refers to it in the past tense: But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness (Rom. 6:17-18, 8:2, emphasis mine). We must affirm, then, that at the moment of regeneration, a Christian is immediately freed from the dominion of sin.
However, in another sense, the Bible describes freedom from sin as a progressive experience, which can be delineated in three stages. It begins at regeneration, the moment at which the Holy Spirit causes a spiritual corpse to be born again. At this point, God gives a Christian a new nature that generally yet genuinely hates sin and loves God. Wayne Grudem remarks, This initial break with sin…involves a reorientation of our desires so that we no longer have a dominant love for sin in our lives. Conversion marks the commencement of a Christian’s emancipation from sin.
A Christian experiences the second stage of freedom from sin throughout his life as a believer. Prior to death or the return of Christ, Christians will continually struggle with enduring effects of sin. This struggle is evident in Romans 7:7-25, where Paul reveals how the remains of sin contend with His desire to please his Master: For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members (Rom. 7:22-23). Despite the continued presence of the flesh, a slave of God is not characterized by sinning, for John writes, No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God (1 John 3:9).
The final stage occurs at death, when a Christian soul leaves his earthly body to be with the Lord. It is at this point that God totally frees a Christian from the dominion of sin. When Christ returns, he will receive a glorified body that is completely free from all vestiges of sin, [bearing] the image of the man of heaven (1 Cor. 15:49).
Enslavement to God parallels freedom from sin. At conversion, Christians are instantly made slaves of God. For this reason, many of the New Testament writers introduce themselves as a slave of Christ/ God (Rom. 1:1, James. 1:1, 2 Pet. 1:1, Jude 1:1). These are titles that they could presently claim. By extension, these are titles that all Christians can presently claim because all Christians are in the service of God.
It is also true that as a Christian grows in his sanctification, he experiences greater devotion to his Master. Conversion commences the Christian’s service to God, but as a Christian matures in his relationship with His Master, he grows in greater conformity to His Master. Now the Lord is the Spirit, Paul writes, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another (2 Cor. 3:17-18, cf. Rom. 8:29). Eventually, the Christian’s lowly body will be transformed to be like Christ’s glorious body (Phil. 3:21), and his service as a slave of God will be consummated and continue for all eternity (Rev. 22:3).
Is Enslavement to God a Good Thing?
This question was addressed briefly in the introduction, but we shall consider it once again. Unbelievers may be unconvinced that slavery to God is a desirable position. “Why would I want to give up my freedom to anyone?” In response, I would pose these thoughts to the skeptic.
Imagine serving someone who does all things well (in fact, goodness is defined by His nature), who treats you with kindness and love, and who works all things to your good. Imagine that your innermost desires are in conformity with those of your master, so that that which your master wants you to do, you also want to do. Imagine still that you recognize the awful condition from which you were saved and you realize that the only one who can keep you from returning to that position is your new master, the one who delivered you from your wretched state.
Does this sound undesirable? While I recognize that this will remain unattractive to non-Christians until God changes their hearts (1 Cor. 2:14), the truth remains that slavery to God is a joyful and willing relinquishment of self. There is no better service.
FOR A MORE COMPREHENSIVE EXPLANATION OF THE ALBUM, INCLUDING COMMENTARY ON INDIVIDUAL SONGS, VISIT THE PSALLOS WEBSITE, WHERE YOU CAN ALSO DOWNLOAD THE FREE E-BOOK.