Essays Piety Quotations

Singing Requires Thought

It would appear that at least large parts of the church have forgotten this important truth. In hymnals that contain a great wealth of doctrinal treasure, reverent settings of the Psalms, the feelings of a truly spiritual devotion one can also come across meaningless excrescences of perhaps a fervent, but certainly an unintelligent piety. Sometimes we are asked to sing to God things which if they were intended must be lies: or we asked to parrot as our own the testimony of some particular individual. These are not trifles: they are things we cannot away with. When the bride of Christ comes to adore Him, shall she bring lies, trivialities and nonsense into His presence? Nothing we do comes up to the full measure of what God deserves; but this is no excuse for outright blasphemy, disrespect or blithering. On this point I can call additional witnesses:

John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, III.20.33

The principle we must always hold is, that in all prayer, public and private, the tongue without the mind must be displeasing to God. [In context, this includes singing –RZ]

And again, this time with two inspired witnesses and one further uninspired witness incorporated:

Albert Barnes, Notes on Amos 5:23

Take thou away from Me. Literally, “from upon Me,” that is, from being a burden to Me, a weight on Me. So God says by Isaiah, “your new moons and your appointed feasts My soul hateth; they are a burden upon Me; I am weary to bear them” (Isaiah 1:14). Their “songs” and hymns were but a confused, tumultuous, “noise,” since they had not the harmony of love.

For (And) the melody of thy viols I will not hear. Yet the “nebel,” probably a sort of harp, was almost exclusively consecrated to the service of God, and the Psalms were God’s own writing. Doubtless they sounded harmoniously in their own ears; but it reached no further. Their melody, like much Church-music, was for itself, and ended in itself. (Lap.):

Let Christian chanters learn hence, not to set the whole devotion of Psalmody in a good voice, subtlety of modulation and rapid intonation, etc., quavering like birds, to tickle the ears of the curious, take them off to themselves and away from prayer, lest they hear from God, ‘I will not hear the melody of thy viols.’ Let them learn that of the Apostle, ‘I will sing with the Spirit, and I will sing with the understanding also’ (1 Corinthians 14:15).

It seems an inevitable deduction to me, that if we are to love God with our minds, we are to worship Him with them as well: and that means we must worship Him with truth, with the great facts and connections and meanings that He has revealed: and with honesty, with things we really mean and can positively affirm. And that means that we can’t turn either our brains or our discernment off, just because we opened our denominationally approved hymnal.

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