Eternal Truths Retold: “Death Was Arrested” Song Discovery

“Death Was Arrested” was inspired by the epitaph of a tombstone found in a St. Mary’s, Georgia, cemetery. The inscription reads:

Here rests what was mortal of Samuel Burr, age 42. In search of help far from home, death arrested his progress on April 2, 1831. Quietly he fell asleep in the Christian hope of immortality and glory forever.

Why lead this song?

One task of a songwriter is to say old truths in a new way. Due to their familiarity, eternal truths expressed in worship songs can sometimes feel dated or trite. Good songwriters communicate them in an unexpected way to capture attention and inspire the imagination.

Death Was Arrested” does exactly that. We know what the the gospel is—it’s the good news that God loved the world so much that he sent his only Son, that “whoever believes in Him will not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).

But until this song, we hadn’t thought about eternal life as juxtaposed to the death of death. The lyrical hook “When death was arrested, and my life began” helps us see that.

Theology in “Death Was Arrested”

“Death Was Arrested” is firmly based upon the word of God and is packed with gospel truth from start to finish.

Mark Dever, in his wonderfully clear book What Is the Gospel? from the 9 Marks series, outlines the gospel as follows (with our commentary below):

1. God. God is the creator of all things (Gen. 1:1). He is perfectly holy, worthy of all worship, and will punish sin (1 John 1:5, Rev. 4:11, Rom. 2:5–8).

We see themes of this in the lyric “You have made me new, now my life begins with you.” Because God is the author of all life, He has the power to give new life. The song acknowledges God as the source of true life.

2. Man. All people, though created good, have become sinful by nature (Gen. 1:26–28, Ps. 51:5, Rom. 3:23). From birth, all people are alienated from God, hostile to God, and subject to the wrath of God (Eph. 2:1–3).

These truths are expressed in verse 1: “Alone in my sorrow, and dead in my sin. Lost without hope, with no place to begin.” In four brief phrases, the writers capture our helpless, fallen state.

3. Christ. Jesus Christ, who is fully God and fully man, lived a sinless life, died on the cross to bear God’s wrath in the place of all who would believe in him, and rose from the grave in order to give his people eternal life (John 1:1, 1 Tim. 2:5, Heb. 7:26, Rom. 3:21-26, 2 Cor. 5:21, 1 Cor. 15:20-22).

This story is hinted at in hook of the song, “When death was arrested,” and is explicitly retold in verse 4: “Our Savior displayed on a criminal’s cross / (And) Darkness rejoiced, as though heaven had lost / But then Jesus arose, with our freedom in hand / That’s when death was arrested, and my life began.”

4. Response. God calls everyone everywhere to repent of their sins and trust in Christ in order to be saved (Mark 1:15, Acts 20:21, Rom. 10:9–10).

We see these themes in the phrase “ash was redeemed” in verse 2 and in the bridge lyric “Come join the song of all the redeemed.” Christ has redeemed us, and there’s an open invitation to the world to trust and be saved.

Tips for leading

As for inserting this song into a worship service, it pairs well with any sermon that is explicitly about the gospel. It’s also a good evergreen option, since the gospel is the centerpiece of any worship service. You can’t go wrong choosing this song.

That said, because of its melodic range, “Death Was Arrested” is not as singable as other worship songs. The range is an octave plus a sixth, which makes it a bit difficult for your average singer. Songs like “What A Beautiful Name” or “Holy Spirit” are more accessible because their melodies stay within an octave.

One way to work around this is to have a male vocalist and female vocalist lead different parts of the song. Because the bridge is the only place where the melody jumps above the one-octave range, you might have the female vocalist lead the verses at a lower octave. Then when the chorus and bridge come around, the male vocalist can lead at the next octave. The song will still have its natural lift, but the worship leader won’t have to cover the whole range of the song alone.

The gospel is like a prism. If you shine a light on a prism, you can see that same light in many colors. When we meditate upon the gospel, we can approach it from many perspectives and see something new and beautiful every time.

The thought-provoking lyric “death was arrested” is one such result. This new song is worth leading because it retells the truth we stake our whole lives on in a way that perhaps we haven’t heard before.

***

Lyrics

Verse 1
Alone in my sorrow, and dead in my sin
Lost without hope, with no place to begin
Your love made a way to let mercy come in
When death was arrested, and my life began

Verse 2
Ash was redeemed, only beauty remains
My orphan heart was given a name
My mourning grew quiet, my feet rose to dance
When death was arrested, and my life began

Chorus 1
Oh your grace so free, washes over me
You have made me new, now life begins with You

Verse 3
Released from my chains, I’m a prisoner no more
My shame was a ransom, He faithfully bore
He cancelled my debt, and He called me his friend
When death was arrested, and my life began

Chorus 2
Oh your grace so free, washes over me
You have made me new, now life begins with You
It’s your endless love, pouring down on us
You have made us new, now life begins with you

Verse 4
Our Savior displayed on a criminal’s cross
(And) Darkness rejoiced, as though heaven had lost
But then Jesus arose, with our freedom in hand
That’s when death was arrested, and my life began
That’s when death was arrested, and my life began

Bridge
Oh, we free, free, forever we’re free
(So) Come join the song of all the redeemed
Yes, we’re free, free, forever amen
When death was arrested and my life began

***

This is a guest post by music professionals Cody Norris and Stephen Folden.

Share
Written by
Guest Author

This post was written by a Faithlife guest author. Faithlife, maker of Logos Bible Software and the world's first integrated ministry platform, is committed to using technology to equip the Church to grow in the light of the Bible.

View all articles
Written by Guest Author