The gifts and talents which the Almighty has given are numerous and varied. To one He gives the ability whereby that one is able by a deft blow of the hammer applied to his chisel to carve out an amazing likeness of another creature. Again we find one gifted with the critical eye and well controlled hand wherewith to guide a brush dipped in the proper color and hue to portray upon the canvas a likeness of man or of landscape. Then, again, we see the blur of swiftly moving fingers gliding over an ivory sea which flows between the ebony cliffs while beautiful melodic tones and rich harmonies come from pipe or string. Or we may marvel at the glorious and lyric sounds which flow forth from the opening and closing mouth of one gifted with that much-to-be-desired power to express by word, rather than by form, line, color, shape, suggestion or imitation, what resides in the soul. Truly, the Almighty has filled creation with glory and beauty and given to man, the highest of His earthly creatures, many wonderful and glorious talents wherewith man might praise and magnify Him. For that purpose alone they were given, and man has his calling with these to glorify his Creator. This truth resided in the soul of the psalmist and came to expression by him when he said in, “I will sing unto the Lord as long as I live; I will sing praise to my God while I have my being.”
But have you ever paused to reflect upon the fact that all of these abilities and powers which men call the “fine arts” there is only one of which Scripture states that it will enter into the new creation? That blessed realm shall be filled with music both instrumental and vocal, but chiefly vocal music shall glorify that realm of perfection. All in that realm shall be accomplished musicians. All shall be gifted with voices that shall immeasurably overshadow anything heard here below, whether it be from the voice of man or from the sweetest warbling of the nightingales of our feathered friends. Scripture says nothing about such creative arts as painting and sculpture entering the new creation. Surely it says nothing of dramatics. How shall we before the face of Him who is truth even dare to behave untrue to our natures which He gave us? But Scripture does speak repeatedly of the music of heaven and of the new creation. The angels are presented as singing constantly before the face of the thrice holy God. When the Lamb receives the book with the seven seals, we read that the four and twenty elders (representing the whole Old and New Testament Church) fall down before the Lamb and sing a new song. The one hundred forty and four thousand upon Mt. Zion inlikewise sing a new song before the throne. In Revelation 15 those who have gotten the victory over the Beast sing the song of Moses and of the Lamb.
To be sure, instrumental music, whatever form or shape it shall assume we know not, neither need we consider that now, shall also enter into the New Jerusalem, for each of these four and twenty elders have their harps of gold to accompany themselves in their singing. And the one hundred forty and four thousand are accompanied by “harpers harping upon their harps.” It ought, however, to be plain that such instrumental music occupies and ought to occupy a secondary place. They accompany. They serve the singing, while singing is the chiefest work of praise to God.
This is in perfect harmony with both God’s work in creation and in recreating His people in Christ Jesus. Made to be God’s friend servant, man’s loftiest praise is the praise he speaks and sings. In fact he was the loftiest of God’s creatures here below exactly because God made him to be a rational, moral creature one that could know God and could love Him. Thus created he was able, willing and active in coming to God and by word of mouth and song from the heart to tell God that He is great and good and glorious. Being conscious of all his works he could praise God. Not only does he exist to the praise of God, but he exists to praise God. There is a vast difference. All things exist, are made and continue to exist for the praise of God. The psalmist declares that the heavens declare the glory of God and that the firmament showeth His handiwork. All things point to God and declare in that way that He is God. But man was made to perform the deed of praising God. And he was saved by the blood of Christ also for that very purpose. The apostle Peter says in, “Ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should show forth the praises of Him Who hath called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.” And though man during his earthly sojourn may, surely, practice those other fine arts of painting, sculpturing, etching, carving and writing of poetry, yet these will all be left on this side of the grave and will perish with this present world.
We had planned to limit ourselves in this present and the following article merely to the gift of vocal music, but we do wish, before we go on, to make a few practical remarks about instrumental music in our lives. We are not at all condemning instrumental music any more than we in the above lines condemned painting, sculpturing, etching, carving or the making of poetry. But our purpose in these articles is to hold before your eyes the fact that at the top of all the talents God gives to His people is that ability by word and song to praise Him.
As far, then, as instrumental music is concerned the Scriptures show clearly that when it is rendered by the believing child of God and done to His glory, it is not only permissible, but it is also pleasing in His sight and in His holy ears. We hear the Church of God exhorted to praise God ineven with the clanging and high sounding cymbals. In we read, “Praise the Lord with harp, sing unto Him with the psaltery and an instrument of ten strings. Sing unto Him a new song; play skillfully with a loud noise.” When Samuel sent Saul home after anointing him as king over Israel, he told him that he would meet a company of prophets with psaltery (a wind instrument), harp, lyre, tabret and pipe. David was a cunning player upon the harp. Even though these instruments have their inception in the inventions of godless Jubal, the Scriptures certainly make it plain that God’s people may make use of these things to the glory of His name.
That does not mean at all that we may play any style of music, nor by any means does it put the stamp of approval upon all kinds of music to be played in the divine services as an offertory. It does not mean that we may play anything we please in the prelude and postlude to our divine services. No more than every piece of vocal music is suitable for use in our divine services is every piece of music composed by believer or unbeliever proper for prelude, offertory or postlude. We do not even hesitate to state that not every arrangement of an hymn or Psalter tune is suitable for these occasions even though they might be permissible at a program, or at home.
In the house of God before the services and during the services the music ought to be slowly and softly played. God’s people come from various environments to the house of prayer and meditation. As we gather there we are gathered at Jesus’ feet to be taught by Him. Anything that would by its lilting rhythm, its boisterous character or its levity would tend to destroy the solemnity and reverence of the occasion ought to be kept off the music rack of piano or organ. Indeed, there may well be the joy of salvation surging thru the souls of God’s people as they congregate and especially as they hearken to the word of God preached. At times the auditorium may ring with resounding praise to God. And the organist may often desire to have at his disposal double the volume of which his organ is capable to cope with this joyful burst of praise to God. Those thrilling experiences are often the greatest inspiration the organist has for his work. But, nevertheless, this does not at all detract from the fact that as the congregation assembles or as the congregation renders its offering it behooves the holiness and solemnity of the occasion that the music itself be of such a nature and that it be played slowly and softly so that the congregation is not led into earthly meditation and excitement but instead is prepared psychologically to listen to the Word of God.
In the home there is more freedom with our instrumental and vocal music, but there is no license to all kinds of either of these. About these things we will write in our next installment. We will then strive to complete our thought, for the title above in full is, “I will sing unto the Lord.” Is that so with you? You sing. You play. But do you sing and play to the Lord? Or is it to men that you play? It will make quite a difference in what you choose to play and also in what you would rather not sing or play. Think so? Be with us next issue then.
John A. Heys