A common request we’ve received is to change the “gates of gold” phrase in the third verse of Steve and Vikki Cook’s song I Will Glory in My Redeemer, because Rev. 21:21 says that they’re gates of pearl. Others want to add verses to songs (like The Gospel Song) or rewrite entire lyrics to songs, which is a bad idea. It’s like demanding someone enter into a co-writing relationship with you when you’ve never met each other. And it’s not very often that the new or additional lyrics are an improvement on the original. So with very few exceptions, our policy is to deny requests for lyric changes to Sovereign Grace songs.
But I’m always grateful when someone asks about changing lyrics because it means they’re thinking about the words we sing, and a couple times we’ve actually made changes. We treat lyric writing as a stewardship issue, and give a significant amount of time to coming up with lyrics we think are faithful to Scripture and communicate what we’re trying to say. That doesn’t mean our songs can’t be improved upon. Far from it. But lyrics are protected by copyright, and changing them requires permission. (Two exceptions that come to mind are changing a song from 3rd person to 2nd person, or changing singular pronouns to plural.)
Last May I had an email exchange with a guy named Jeremy who wanted to change a line in the song “Father, How Sweet” from our album From Age to Age. We said no, but I thought the way he asked, followed by his response to my answer, were a great example of how to humbly a request a lyric change. Here’s how it went down:
Good afternoon! We are rejoicing in the God’s faithfulness demonstrated through the latest SovGrace recording From Age to Age. [Note: it's good and biblical to start with encouragement!]
We praise God for His work through SovGrace. Just as a reminder, you and I have had email conversations when our fellowship was trying to report usage through CCLI. Also, you have sorted out some sheet music things for us.
As a pastoral staff, we had a question about the last stanza of “Father, How Sweet.” The last stanza/verse states, “Jesus, in glory You’ve ascended, never again to leave Your throne . . .” We do not mean to be presumptuous in making this request. Please do not take it as a challenge. We are wondering how our Lord’s return factors into that line.
Would SovGrace allow us to modify that statement to “seated upon Your royal throne” (for use in our fellowship’s gatherings)? We do not mean to nit-pick. If you say “no,” we will understand. However, we thought we should ask. Like you, we want to train the local fellowship to remember truth through song.
OK. This has been awkward! :-) Again, we greatly appreciate the Lord’s work through SovGrace.
Thank you for considering this request.
Thanks for asking, Jeremy. We love people who care about what we sing!
“Never again to leave your throne” is a poetic way of saying that Jesus’ authority will last forever. It’s not meant to be taken literally that he will not leave his throne to return for his bride. Perhaps you could explain that to your congregation? We do ask churches to sing the songs as written. Changes to lyrics have a way of making their way out beyond the original church.
Thanks for asking, and thanks for your understanding!
May God give much fruit to your gospel work.
Thank you so much for taking the time to address our request. We can understand the thought process behind the line. Yes, explaining will be the way to go! :-) I understand how allowing changes on “local levels” could/would create issues outside of the local avenue.
Lord’s blessings be with you!
Really, I was impressed when Jeremy got back to me. It’s not always quite so simple.
A few years ago I would regularly change words or phrases in songs without giving it much thought. I don’t do that now, for the reasons I gave to Jeremy. Also, if it’s a more popular song, it can confuse people who have the original lyrics already in their heads.
If I can’t sing a song because of a word or lyric, I should ask for permission, explain it to the congregation, or find another song. There are a few gazillion out there to choose from.
For more thoughts on changing song lyrics, check out the Sovereign Grace Music FAQ page.