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Bad Theology in Hymns: “The Earth Shall Soon Dissolve Like Snow”?

January 23, 2014

S. Lewis Johnson often pointed out the bad theology in the hymns we sing in church, observing  that hymn writers would “get to heaven as by fire.”  Expanding on this point, he would mention specific hymns and the wrong theology, including one song he especially disliked, “One Day,” which includes in the chorus, after the words “Living He loved me, dying He saved me, buried He carried my sins far away,” the phrase “rising He justified.”  As Dr. Johnson pointed out (as in this message from the Romans series), we were not justified at His resurrection:  I don’t sing that, “Rising, He justified,” because it seems to me that what the apostle teaches here is that the resurrection of Christ is the evidence that the justification has been completed.  We’re not justified by the resurrection.  We’re justified by His death. 

I was reminded of the bad theology in hymns again this last week when the local church sang Chris Tomlin’s version of “Amazing Grace” (“My Chains are Gone.”)  The last verse is from John Newton’s poem (the origin of the bad theology here), but not in the traditional “Amazing Grace” hymn:

The earth shall soon dissolve like snow;
the sun forbear to shine.
But God who called me here below,
will be forever mine.

That lyric has bothered me for the same reason SLJ mentioned concerning other hymns: it’s not biblical. The earth will be renewed and continue forever: a renovation of the earth, but the earth itself will not be destroyed or dissolve into nothingness.  Reference also this post here from a few months ago, Robert D. Culver’s exposition of 2 Peter 3.

Thinking about this lyric in “Amazing Grace,” I found this blog article, from someone else who sees the doctrinal error here.  Here is his suggested re-wording of that verse, a true expression of biblical teaching:

The earth shall be redeemed by God;
the sun will forever shine.
And God who called me here below,
will be forever mine.

  1. Neil Schoch
    January 23, 2014 at 5:47 pm

    Hi Lynda,
    While a certain amount of poetic license may be allowed for hymn writers in order to rhyme etc, you are spot on as to doctrinal errors.
    There is the great favorite hymn: When the roll is called up yonder – I’ll be there.
    I once stood up to preach after this hymn had been sung and announced that I would not be there, and I trusted that none of the congregation would be either. I sure got some strange looks.
    The fact is that at the rapture there is no roll call as “His sheep know His voice.”
    When the (ascending) shout comes all believers will instantly be with the Lord in the air, whether dead or alive. No roll call needed.
    The only roll call mentioned in scripture happens at the great white throne judgement Revelation 20:11-15 where books are opened including the Book of Life.

    I have always made a point of using the word “saints” or “saved” instead of “roll” to ensure doctrinal correctness.
    I have been accused of legalism for this but I would prefer to be correct.
    It is still a wonderful hymn full of precious thoughts, nevertheless.
    God bless!

    • January 23, 2014 at 8:17 pm

      Thanks, Neil. Yes, that’s another good example of doctrinal errors in popular and familiar hymns and Christian songs. I realize more and more what others, such as S. Lewis Johnson, have said, that hymn writers often have terrible theology.

    • September 9, 2015 at 5:07 am

      No offense, Neil, but is it possible you’re taking this hymn too literally? I’m a veritable freak for biblical precision — but there is such a thing as unfair nitpicking, especially when it comes to poetry.

  2. January 24, 2014 at 3:27 am

    Good one! I didn’t even catch that part in the song, largely because our church still sing the Traditional version though I have heard the newer Amazing Grace around the time of the Wilberforce movie some years back. Do you know where John Newton is in terms of eschatology? Was he Post-Mill?

    • January 24, 2014 at 8:14 am

      Yes. Actually, the local church sings the traditional version on Sunday mornings, but the Wednesday night meetings sometimes include the newer contemporary songs including this one. Yes, John Newton was post-millennial, as referenced in this article; he was generally in the same time period (a few decades later) as Jonathan Edwards, another well-known post-millennialist.

  3. March 19, 2014 at 8:33 pm

    Great point regarding the earth not melting away. When we realize that we will live on the earth in Resurrected bodies as the Bible says, it motivates us to live right in this age and with the next age in mind more than a theology that says everything in creation will deleted by God at the “end of time” and we live in heaven forever. 🙂

    • March 20, 2014 at 12:05 pm

      Yes, very true, the practical implications of our right doctrine, with an understand of “material spirituality.” 🙂

    • September 9, 2015 at 5:10 am

      But the Earth /will/ melt, J.S. See my longer post on this subject.

  4. October 28, 2014 at 8:40 am

    I got a better idea, why not sing Amazing Grace the way it was written to be sung

  5. andydoerksen
    July 30, 2015 at 12:46 pm

    Hello, Lynda. I only discovered your blog today, and will bookmark it for future reference!

    Allow me to suggest that both of the following are true: the Earth will be redeemed/restored, AND will dissolve like snow. The latter will happen first, though.

    It seems to me to be impossible to get around the literal sense of 2Pet. 3, in which vv. 10-11 speak of the cosmos as a whole being “burned up” and “dissolved.” And of course snow, when it dissolves, liquefies. I believe that’s what we’re seeing depicted in 2 Pet. 3, and that this event will actually be a partial reversal of the very Creation event Peter recounted earlier in the chapter, when he affirmed, with Genesis, that Earth was formed “out of water.”

    The current world will be liquefied – but not annihilated – and reformed into the “new heavens and earth.”

    If you see another way of reading the passage, I’m open to that. But I think it’s easy to see, at least, that the hymn, rather than containing “bad theology” about the fate of Earth, merely gives us a reasonable interpretation of 2Pet. 3:10-11.

    • August 8, 2020 at 9:28 am

      I also think of 2Peter 3:10 when I sing this verse.

  6. Chris
    September 5, 2015 at 3:30 pm

    Is it at all possible that the writer is referring to something other than this literal understanding of earth? Could it be that their world, rather than this piece of rock we call the earth, was soon to be dissolved? Could it be that there’s truth to be found in those words by anyone who wants to sing them?

    Perhaps there is no room for anything other than a literal interpretation here, but this verse in particular seems loaded emotive language and sounds to me like the words of someone in anticipation of intense hardship reminding themselves that they cannot be separated from God.

  7. September 9, 2015 at 4:50 am

    Lynda makes the mistake of assuming that “dissolve like snow” = “dissolve like nothingness.” But that’s simply inaccurate.

    When something melts, it hardly becomes “nothing”; it becomes /liquid/. And this is precisely what 2 Pet. 3 reveals is going to happen to the Earth. Indeed, it’s possible this will happen to the entire cosmos. It will be, effectively, a reversal of the Creation process to which Peter refers in v. 5.

    The “stuff” of the universe — its basic material (water?) — will endure; God preserves it, as per Lynda’s expectation. But the /form/ that material has been given in this age is /not/ permanent. Hence the Bible says elsewhere, “the present form of this world is passing away.” (1Cor. 7:31; cf. Psa. 102:26; Matt. 24:35)

  8. April 27, 2017 at 9:56 pm

    Are we sure the suggested rewording is more biblical than the original wording? “And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God is its light, and its lamp is the Lamb” (Rev 21:23, NRSV). “And there will be no more night; they need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.” (Rev 22:5). It sounds like Newton is expressing the message of Revelation 21-22 and the revision (“the sun will forever shine”) actually misses the mark. I also agree with andydoerksen that 2 Peter 3 does suggest that the earth will dissolve in some sense. I’m not sure that Newton got it wrong here, but I think the revision may actually get it wrong.

  9. August 4, 2018 at 3:23 am

    Yes, I think Newton got his verse from 2 Peter 3:10-12, as others have said: “But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up. Seeing then that all these things shall be dissolved, what manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy conversation and godliness, Looking for and hasting unto the coming of the day of God, wherein the heavens being on fire shall be dissolved, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat?”

    However, I noticed that the Mormons (at least BYU) have changed the lyrics from “The Earth shall soon dissolve like snow” to “This Earth, one day, will be like snow,” and this change shows how bad their Theology is (Newton said “soon” because Jesus’ coming is soon, and changing it to “one day” doesn’t show a sense of urgency; another is that it won’t be “like” snow but it will “dissolve like snow” – big difference).

  10. Christine Roberts
    January 9, 2021 at 5:20 am

    I think when the writer said “ this earth will soon dissolve as snow” he was not referring to the earth but rather to the inhabitants of the earth.
    In this pandemic right now I’m seeing this happening
    darkness is filling the earth because mankind is going against God’s instructions
    God is allowing these things to happen

  11. ck
    September 7, 2021 at 5:11 am

    I do sing “Rising, He justified” because of Romans 4,25…: “Who … was raised again for our justification”

    • September 11, 2021 at 8:02 am

      Yes, that is a good reference and way of viewing it.

  12. David
    July 9, 2022 at 9:02 pm

    Maybe it is referring to the earth ‘as we know it’, or the worldly earth and all its worldly problems that will poetically “dissolve like snow”?

    Also, snow doesn’t dissolve, it melts. Poetry just uses a word that sounds better in the phrase than the technically accurate word.

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