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Friday, January 12, 2007

The Gospel According to Johnny Cash



As a crotchety musician I don't have much use for the new-fangled music the kids are listening to today. As a child of the 1990's, I lost interest in the new music playing on the radio after the Smashing Pumpkins broke up in 2000 (sniff, sniff). The good ole days. Anywho, as the rancidification of the radio airwaves got progressively worse, we were forced to go backwards in time to listen to the good stuff from before our time.

Any musician who is serious about knowing the history of the rock and roll he is playing is going to run into Johnny cash. A track he recorded was released posthumously just a few months ago, called God's Gonna Cut You Down, and it even saw some rotation on radio and MTV. It is a traditional folk song, so it is not Cash's song. But it is quite good (see the video here).

As an aside, I note that the video is very odd. It is full of wide mix of celebrities, all of whom, with the exception of Bono, are fairly open pagans and God-haters - the very ones that God is 'gonna cut down.' Are these people even listening to what Johnny's saying here??!!

Here are the lyrics:

You can run on for a long time
Run on for a long time
Run on for a long time
Sooner or later God'll cut you down
Sooner or later God'll cut you down

Go tell that long tongue liar
Go and tell that midnight rider
Tell the rambler, the gambler, the back biter
Tell 'em that God's gonna cut 'em down
Tell 'em that God's gonna cut 'em down

Well my goodness gracious let me tell you the news
My head's been wet with the midnight dew
I've been down on bended knee talkin' to the man from Galilee
He spoke to me in the voice so sweet
I thought I heard the shuffle of the angel's feet
He called my name and my heart stood still
When he said, "John go do My will!"

Go tell that long tongue liar
Go and tell that midnight rider
Tell the rambler, the gambler, the back biter
Tell 'em that God's gonna cut 'em down
Tell 'em that God's gonna cut 'em down

You can run on for a long time
Run on for a long time
Run on for a long time
Sooner or later God'll cut you down
Sooner or later God'll cut you down

Well you may throw your rock and hide your hand
Workin' in the dark against your fellow man
But as sure as God made black and white
What's down in the dark will be brought to the light

You can run on for a long time
Run on for a long time
Run on for a long time
Sooner or later God'll cut you down
Sooner or later God'll cut you down

Go tell that long tongue liar
Go and tell that midnight rider
Tell the rambler, the gambler, the back biter
Tell 'em that God's gonna cut you down
Tell 'em that God's gonna cut you down
Tell 'em that God's gonna cut you down


Now the question is this: is the Gospel in there? I'd say, yes, the Gospel is in there, but it is not the Gospel. The song talks about God's judgment of sinners, and alludes to Cash's own repentance. But, strictly speaking, this is only Law. It tells us about our obligations (Law), but not about what Jesus has done for us (Gospel). There is the 'do this...' of the Law, but the 'it has been done [by Christ]' of the Gospel is not explicit. You can argue, rightfully, that a Christian can understand the lyrics in the proper sense, where the 'man from Galilee' is the one who bears our sins and gives us eternal life and, on this basis, calls us to repentance. But this requires some background knowledge of the Gospel that is not explicit in the lyrics. Fine - this isn't supposed to be a Gospel tract we hand out to unbelievers, I take it.

In conclusion, I think Johnny's right on this one. Christians should sing it remembering that we - every one of us - are long-tongued liars, backbiters, and worse who needed, and continue to need, God's grace.

Category: Theoblogia

3 Comments:

  • I loved this song from the minute I heard it on way of the master radio. Speaking of evangelism, come check out my blog at streetfishing.blogspot.com

    rob

    By Blogger Robert, at 1:20 AM  

  • Great stuff on here. i enjoy your take on this subject. music is the modern man's poetry. Too bad most of the lyrical content these days can't hold a candle to Cash or many of the classics. ever listen to just about any Beck song on his Odelay album? he takes an "insert own subjective interpretation here" approach to his lyrics... meaning it's a lot of gibberish.

    keep up the good work and good luck with your music. do you have any songs available on line like on myspace?

    By Blogger phillycheese, at 6:21 PM  

  • Cash has such a 'I'm a broken man but don't mess with me' voice. I love his music, and enjoyed your post on this.

    What did you make of 'Walk the Line' as a film?

    By Blogger Andrew and Carolyn, at 3:32 AM  

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