Johnny Cash struggled with his journey toward God. Before turning to Christ and bringing us all the Johnny Cash gospel songs we enjoy these days, the singer had to battle the evils of his addictions and even tried taking his own life. What this man has been through proves that being a Christian isn’t for sissies.
While Johnny Cash was entirely private with his personal life, he was the complete opposite when it came to his faith. His love for God overflows in his songs, and is usually the star of his most famous tracks.
In the hopes of sharing what we think are his best gospel songs, we revisited all the Johnny Cash Gospel Albums and came up with a list of 17 tracks that we believe are his best.
1. He Turned the Water Into Wine
Cash wrote this song for the Holy Land Album in May 1968 during his second trip to Israel. While driving from Cana to Tiberias with June Carter, his wife, he completed writing it in a matter of minutes.
“He Turned the Water Into Wine” is about how Jesus miraculously turned water into wine during a wedding in Cana. It’s considered by many as the greatest gospel song the musician has ever written.
2. Man in Black
“Man in Black,” released in 1971 for his album of the same name, is a song that ultimately shows who Cash is and how his faith in God defines everything he does. It is also a protest song he wrote against the unfair treatment that wealthy politicians give poor people, as well as mass incarceration and the war in Vietnam.
In it, he sings that he wears black for those that never heard the words of Jesus about love and charity as the road to happiness. Later, the black outfit becomes his distinct style of onstage costuming.
3. Why Me Lord?
Cash asks a crucial question in this song: Why are some people blessed with so much while others seem left out? Originally written and recorded by Kris Kristofferson, the song is about the moment a sinner realizes how much he needs the Lord’s love and grace.
4. Hurt (Nine Inch Nails Cover)
“Hurt” was originally written by Trent Reznor, songwriter for the industrial rock band Nine Inch Nails, and released in 1995. Despite the song receiving critical acclaim, it’s safe to say that Reznor did not look for spiritual truths when he wrote it. After all, it was a song about depression, loneliness, and self-hurt.
That said, Cash turned it into an ode to an even darker world when he covered it for his American IV 2022 album. It became a song that shows a soul-stirring perspective of the spiritual limitations of a man.
Additionally, publications such as NME consider the music video for Cash’s version of “Hurt” as the greatest of all time. Reznor praises Cash for his interpretation of the song, saying it’s sincere and meaningful. He even goes as far as to say that the song is no longer his.
5. God’s Going to Cut You Down
First recorded in 1946 by the Golden Gate Quartet, God’s Going to Cut You Down is a song covered by many artists. The song warns sinners that they can never escape God’s inevitable judgment.
Cash recorded his version for his 2003 album American V: A Hundred Highways. He used an arrangement for the music that was noticeably different from the popular versions of the famous gospel song.
6. In the Sweet By and By
Johnny Cash’s “In the Sweet By and By” is another of those gospel songs covered by many country artists. Some artists with notable covers of the song were Elvis Presley, Dolly Patron, Loretta Lynn, and even Kenny Rogers.
The song talks about the promise of life after death and how sweet it is. Cash’s take on the song has a much-needed sentimentality and longing vibe.
7. Where You There (When They Crucified My Lord?)
“Where You There (When They Crucified My Lord?)” is an American religious song recorded in 1899. Cash’s version of the track doesn’t diverge much from the traditional one. The only difference is that it’s sung using Cash’s trademark whisky-soaked baritone voice.
Finely delivered in noir-folk fashion, “Redemption” is a straightforward song about sin and redemption. In it, Cash speaks to the listeners, telling them to be thankful to God for redemption.
9. That’s Enough
That’s Enough is another one of those Johnny Cash gospel songs that hits all the right notes. The song talks about how God will always be there for you as a comforter of souls and broken hearts.
It’s one of the most comforting songs that you’ll ever hear from Cash. If you feel alone and helpless, listen to this song, and you’ll immediately feel better.
10. Help Me
In this gospel song, Cash provides another stellar performance. He paints a picture of how humility can sound so sweet. It’s a hymn that focuses on the humbling moment when someone realizes they need divine intervention when they’re already at the end of their rope.
11. Just As I Am
In the song “Just As I Am,” Johnny Cash confesses his spiritual bankruptcy. He declares that he’s the biggest sinner of them all. The best thing about Cash’s rendition of this classic song is the way he conveys peace that seems to pass all understanding.
12. My Children Walk in Truth
“My Children Walk in Truth” is a song that brings peace to Christian parents. It’s about knowing they’ll all be reunited with their children and grandchildren with the Lord in Heaven one day. The song urges parents to pray for the next generation to have the strength to fight the building pressure of people that want them to deny Christ.
13. The Man Comes Around
“The Man Comes Around” is a song that resulted from Cash’s yearning to write a modern gospel song. It’s a song with the same vibe as U2’s “The Wanderer,” which speaks to younger fans that have just discovered him.
The 2002 song draws inspiration from a biblical-style dream coming from the Book of Job. It focuses on the second coming of Christ and the final judgment that we all face.
It’s believed that Cash spent more time working on this song than any other song in his collection. “The Man Comes Around” is arguably the best song the man has ever written. It’s personal, poetic, and biblical and the perfect commemoration of his illustrious career.
The gospel song “Belshazzar” is about a wicked king that refuses to bend his knee to God. The song says we’ve all sinned and fallen short of God. The song says that the only way for us to be set free from sin is through the mercy and grace of Jesus Christ.
15. What is Truth
“What is Truth” was written in late 1969 by Johnny Cash after his first meeting with evangelist Billy Graham. The evangelist sought Cash’s consul on a few things. Among those problems was Graham’s struggle to connect with Franklin, his teenage son.
The song’s lyrics tackled the generational and cultural divide that the nation is facing. It also talks about the world waking up to a newborn day.
16. God’s Hands
This Johnny Cash gospel song talks about the many times we’ve felt abandoned in this world. It reminds us that God is with us, especially during those worst moments when we think that all hope seems lost.
The song also emphasizes God’s promise to never forsake us, especially during the most challenging times. The only thing we need to do is to cling to Jesus Christ and put our trust in him.
17. The Preacher Said, Jesus Said
Johnny Cash is known as a person that keeps his friends close and his best friends even closer. In 1971, his fantastic relationship with the evangelist Billy Graham spilled into the recording studio for his Man in Black album. The interludes of the album featured the famed evangelist’s spoken words.
Among the many gospel songs from the countless Johnny Cash gospel albums, “The Preacher Said, Jesus Said” is his most overtly Christian song ever recorded. Billy Graham himself quotes John 14:6 in the track.
It’s also worth mentioning that this song was recorded and featured by Cash during the peak of his fame. To top everything off, he did all that on The Johnny Cash Show, his top-rated ABC series.
Our Final Thoughts on These Johnny Cash Gospel Songs
These are just 17 of the countless amazing songs from numerous Johnny Cash Gospel Albums throughout the years. Many more will surely blow your mind once you listen to them. These are just songs that have a special place in our hearts.
Throughout his career as an artist, Johnny Cash experienced artistic and commercial success across several music genres. It’s not surprising since, in his gospel songs alone, you can feel Johnny Cash’s talent for blending the Americana, folk, rockabilly, and country genres.