“Man of Sorrows”: An Old Hymn Reimagined (Song Analysis)

two worship leaders teaching new worship songs

Every person who steps into church is, to varying degrees, a sufferer. It’s part of the human condition. While it’s good that we sing songs about joy and victory in Christ, we misportray the Christian life if we never sing about suffering—and even risk alienating sufferers from our midst.

That’s why songs like “Man of Sorrows” are so refreshing—they provide time to reflect on and worship our suffering Savior, and there find solace. In the very least, they help strip away the shame of suffering, because if our Lord suffered with dignity and purpose, so can we.

This post will reflect on this theme in “Man of Sorrows” by Hillsong (not the old hymn), followed by a brief musical analysis. It is the first post in our five-part series on worship songs about suffering.

Biblical themes in “Man of Sorrows”

Man of Sorrows is more than a name we ascribe to Jesus. It’s a biblical description given to him in Isaiah, foreshadowing the shape his life would take. Though He abided in the joy of the Father, He—by the very nature of His divinity—suffered in even coming to earth (e.g. Matt. 17:17), let alone dying on the cross.

Isaiah 53, the most direct Old Testament prophecy about Christ’s atonement, reflects upon the scope of His sorrow—His rejection in life and especially in death.

He was despised and rejected by men,
a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief;
and as one from whom men hide their faces
he was despised, and we esteemed him not.

Surely he has borne our griefs
and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
smitten by God, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his wounds we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray;
we have turned—every one—to his own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all. (Isa 53:3–6)

“Man of Sorrows” beautifully renders these divine words into English verse:

Man of sorrows, Lamb of God
By His own betrayed
The sin of man and wrath of God
Has been on Jesus laid
Silent as He stood accused
Beaten mocked and scorned
Bowing to the Father’s will
He took a crown of thorns

What a comfort that our Lord knows what it is to suffer. He was fully human and suffered as we do—but at a far greater level, because the full consequence of our sin fell upon him on at Calvary.

Sympathizing Savior

As if the gift of atonement was not enough, God also gives us the gift of a Savior who sympathizes with our weakness and suffering:

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Heb. 4:14–16)

Hebrews 4 welcomes us to suffer before the Lord. We do not have to hide our suffering and pain, because we have a Lord who knows suffering and pain beyond what we could ever imagine. “Man of Sorrows” unabashedly recounts His suffering, while still acknowledging that His suffering is not the end of the story:

Now my debt is paid
It is paid in full
By the precious blood
That my Jesus spilled
Now the curse of sin
Has no hold on me
Whom the Son sets free
Oh is free indeed

Suffering was not the end for Christ, nor is it the end for us. Our hope in suffering is provided by His power over suffering, for He rose to glory.

Musical analysis

Musically, “Man of Sorrows” feels hymn-like, with the structure and melody similar to modern hymns like “In Christ Alone” by Keith Getty and Stuart Townend. However, it has a chorus and bridge that you can land on and repeat two or three times for added emphasis.

Its hymn-like melody mixed with a contemporary sound makes the song feel both new and old at the same time. It may be a great choice for congregations of varying ages and preferences (i.e. contemporary and traditional).

Conclusion and lyrics

What a relief to to reflect on the suffering of Christ for us—a profound, immeasurable gift! Regardless of how stormy or placid the waters of our lives are at the moment, Jesus died for us and bears our grief and carries our sorrows. He himself is our peace and healing.

V1
Man of sorrows, Lamb of God
By His own betrayed
The sin of man and wrath of God
Has been on Jesus laid

V2
Silent as He stood accused
Beaten mocked and scorned
Bowing to the Father’s will
He took a crown of thorns

Chorus
Oh, that rugged cross, my salvation
Where Your love poured out over me
Now my soul cries out, hallelujah
Praise and honour unto Thee

V3
Sent of heaven, God’s own Son
To purchase and redeem
And reconcile the very ones
Who nailed him to that tree

Bridge
Now my debt is paid
It is paid in full
By the precious blood
That my Jesus spilled
Now the curse of sin
Has no hold on me
Whom the Son sets free
Oh is free indeed

V4
See the stone is rolled away
Behold the empty tomb
Hallelujah, God be praised
He’s risen from the grave

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

Ad reading "A Free Book for You. Get it this month from Faithlife Ebooks."

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