Singing the Sacraments: Introducing a New Hymn on Baptism

While singing in corporate worship primarily serves the function of addressing God, we cannot discount the fact that it also is a means of proclaiming God’s truth to one another. This is what the apostle Paul teaches us about the role of singing in worship when he instructs the Colossian church to “let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God” (Col. 3:16, English Standard Version). Notice how he parallels “teaching and admonishing” with “singing.” Congregational singing acts as a sort of communal preaching. Reformer Martin Luther understood this when he wrote, “Music and notes, which are wonderful gifts and creations of God, do help gain a better understanding of the text, especially when sung by a congregation and sung earnestly . . . we are made better and stronger in faith when his holy Word is impressed on our hearts by sweet music.”1

As a modern hymn writer, I share the conviction with our Reformed heritage that hymn singing is an appropriate forum for teaching doctrine. Songs in worship at times should be jubilant and marked by praise, at other times prayerful or meditative, but it is also fitting to put into song the beautiful theological truths that God reveals to us in his Word. To that end, I wrote the hymn “Here We Witness Covenant Surety” that the church might both study and celebrate the sacrament of the baptism.

Looking through a number of hymnals (mainly Presbyterian and Reformed hymnals) I was struck by how many so-called baptism hymns are in reality dedication hymns. While there is an aspect of baptism that is about dedicating our lives to the Lord (which is captured in the final stanza of this hymn), that is not all that baptism is. Our confessions rightly teach that in the sacraments God is the primary Actor and we are the recipients of his grace (e.g., see Westminster Confession of Faith 27:1). The grace exhibited in holy baptism is multifaceted, and so in this text I sought to bring out the many rich symbolisms associated with baptism throughout all of Scripture. Let’s take a moment together to walk through the theology, poetry, and musicality of this new hymn.

The first verse establishes that baptism, by definition of being a sacrament, is a seal or guarantee of God’s promise. When we witness the administration of the waters of baptism, we are witnessing a “surety,” or a down payment, of God’s covenant of grace. This seal of God’s covenantal promise revealed in visible and tangible ways is a means of strengthening our oftentimes fragile faith in God’s Word. Hence, we sing that we “are strengthened by Thy sign.”

Most evidently, baptism represents our cleansing from sin: as the water washes over the recipient we are given a picture of how “the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:7; cf. Titus 3:5), which is put to verse in stanza 2. Stanzas 3 and 4 exposit what Romans 6 teaches us about the sacrament: namely, that it is a sign of our union with Christ, both in his death and in his resurrection. Paul writes, “We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life” (v. 4). Congregations will echo this beautiful truth: “We were dead, but by Thy favor have been raised to life anew.”

Reformed theologians have recognized that baptism is a “solemn admission” into the covenant community (WCF 28:1; Heidelberg Catechism 74), outside of which lies only curse and judgment. The sacrament signifies that sober reality as well. Throughout Scripture, baptism is correlated with various “water ordeals” by which God’s people are brought safely through, while others are destroyed by God’s judgment. The flood and the crossing of the Red Sea are the primary examples. For the Christian, baptism is a sign of safely passing through this divine judgment and entering safely on the other side. This aspect of baptism is often forgotten and is certainly rarely sung about. Yet I wanted to draw it out in this hymn, and thus verse 5 explores how as our children receive this sign, we are assured that the Lord has brought them safely through his judgment and that they belong to the covenant.

The tune, written by gifted composer Jared M. Salyards, is extremely intuitive and easy for congregations to learn. The melody draws out the natural stresses of the text. At the beginning of each line, for example, the melody assigns the repeated “here we” phrase to what is known as the pick-up and places the strong verbs (“witness,” “see,” “claim”) on the emphatic downbeat. Likewise, the high D in the penultimate measure, with its dotted half note, draws attention to the importance of being “strengthened” by baptism, or draws our voices upwards as we sing about being “raised” with Christ in stanza 4—complemented by the ascending sixths in the bass and tenor. You will also hear minor chords introduced in the second line, which draws out that “we were dead” in our sins, or that we have “passed through judgment waters.”

In all of these ways and more, I think the music beautifully expresses the meaning of this text, but you will have to sing it for yourself. I pray this song will be used to promote the Reformed understanding of the glory and grace of this precious sacrament, to the praise of our God. You can download a free PDF of the sheet music and listen to a full recording at

1 Quoted in Paul S. Jones, Singing and Making Music: Issues in Church Music Today (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2006), 3–4, emphasis added.

Rev. Jonathan Landry Cruse pastors Community Presbyterian Church (OPC) in Kalamazoo, MI.