Prayer is the chief part of thankfulness. But singing is a chief part of praise, if not indeed the chief part of praise.
For to praise is to extol for virtue. When we extol God for His goodness, it is an act of thanksgiving. When we extol Him for this goodness and for any one of or for all of the other virtues which He possesses infinitely, we are praising Him. And singing is the chief method of praising Him. We praise Him in prayer. We praise Him in preaching. We praise Him before men and we praise Him before His face. We extol Him publicly, and we praise Him privately. And we do this so richly in song. In fact the longest book in the Bible, the Book of Psalms, is a bundle of songs of praise to God.
But singing must be from the heart to be praise unto God.
Last time we pointed out that none, absolutely none, of the singing of the unregenerated is pleasing in God’s sight and none is considered by Him to be praise. And now we would come to that which we set out to write when we began last time. The question is, “How much of our singing is pleasing in God’s ears? How much ofour singing is praise to God? By what standards does He judge it? Do we fail sometimes because we try too hard for the wrong element?”
Is it not true that also with our choirs we strive for musical perfection, perfect diction, a proper balance of voices and parts, a musical masterpiece rather than a masterpiece of praise? Here again it may be stated that a childlike faith is pleasing to God. Here again it may be pointed out that many who are first shall be last, and the last shall be first. The voice may be cracked and have the very unmusical quality that will disqualify for the choir, but the song is in the heart and the praise is pleasing in God’s ears. There may not be a profound thought of praise to God in the song. It may not be a versification of the profound Word of God itself. It may express a very simple truth. It may be the simple confession of the Jamaican chorus we heard so repeatedly, “They call Him the Rose of Sharon. They call Him the Lily of the Valley. But I call Him, Jesus My Lord.” There is praise. And when sincerely sung from the heart it sounds so sweet to the ears of God, while the “artistic” rendition of the Hallelujah Chorus—which literally is the Word of God—may be an abomination unto Him.
And then I mean exactly that Hallelujah Chorus and those literal words of Holy Writ as sung by members of the church, and believing members at that! There is so much show-off singing, also with us. Instead of singing God’s praises unto God, we are trying to display our virtues of singing to men. Instead of extolling God for His virtues, we are striving to extol ourselves for our “virtues.” And our singing becomes an abomination in God’s ears. Truly our best works are polluted with sin. Surely with Paul we must say, “I find then a law, that when I would do good, evil is present with me.” And again, “For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not.”
We are not condemning choir rehearsal, although we would point out that this is a very dangerous thing. It is not dangerous because singing as such is a matter in which we can sin so easily and quickly. It is not dangerous because rehearsing as such is a violation or leads to a violation of God’s law. It is not dangerous because God frowns on a truly artistic rendition of a song of His praises. It is dangerous because it is so often and so easily accompanied with taking God’s name in vain! We take God’s name and His praises on our lips without any thought of Him in our hearts and minds. And our singing becomes no different from the profanity of the world! For surely when we take that name of God over and over again to get the phrase polished for an “artistic” rendition that will extol ournames and make us pleasing to men, we have taken that name of God in vain. We have used it for our flesh. We have used His holy name to advance our cause. We have not, as Paul exhorts us in Ephesians 5:19, been “singing and making melody in your (our) hearts to the Lord.” O, we are making melody. But it is not “in the heart to the Lord.” A song of praise to be a song of praise, a song of praise to be pleasing in God’s ears must come from out of the heart. We must not only sing believing that which we sing of God’s virtues and glory but also rejoicing in those virtues and in that glory. And this means that we must have a song in our hearts as well as one upon our lips.
It follows then that the unregenerated, the unbeliever, the enemy of God cannot sing a song that is praise and cannot sing a song that pleases God. He may believe what he sings. James tells us that the devils believe that there is one God and even tremble, so certain are they that there is one God. But they surely do not rejoice in this truth. Otherwise they would not tremble. They would sing. Do you know of any passage in Holy Writ that presents the devils as singing? Do you ever read of them having a song in their hearts? The very mention of God’s virtues makes them groan in anger. They rejoice in none of His virtues and they covet His glory for themselves. His sovereignty fills them with fury. His righteousness and holiness will never be the theme of their song. They cannot sing of His love, His mercy and His grace. For they are not recipients and objects of these virtues. And when they see these virtues bestowed upon. God’s people they seek to counteract them and to destroy them and to rob God’s people of their comfort and joy. And so it is with all their children, their spiritual offspring. All the unbelievers, all the unregenerated, all the unconverted are called by Jesus the serpents’ brood, a generation of vipers, or if you will, children of the devil. Thus John 8:44; Matthew 13:38; I John 3:8 and Matthew 12:34.
The songs of the world therefore instead of extolling God for His virtues ridicule these virtues, ignore them and deny them; and the world has a song in its heart that extols the vices of men. The world’s songs sing the praises of man. And so often these are what throb in our souls. Instead of singing, “How Great Thou Art” and, “O God how good Thou art”, it is the “goodness” of man, the might and wisdom of man that vibrates in our fleshly hearts. And were that all, it would be bad enough. But listen once to what is offered today, and every day, and twenty four hours a day on radio and juke box! It is man’s filth. It is his caricature for love. It is his sensuous, filthy passions of the depraved flesh! And your children fill your house with it, and you tap your toe to it?
Let us not be narrow in our observations and put the choir on the spot. What about us who are the listeners? By what standards do we judge their singing? Do they strive for such an “artistic” rendition in our churches because we do not know what is pleasing to God? Are we the listeners so interested in man and what he does that we ignore the element of what God is, and those who sing for us must cater to our fallen tastes rather than God’s glory?
Do we reject sincerity for sonority? Is it with us a question of loudness rather than love to God? Do we look for that which the world also can do or that which only the child of God can and does do? Do we concentrate on the delivery rather than on the doctrine? Do we rejoice in rhythm rather than in revelation? Is the melody more important than the message? Do we try so hard to please our ears that we have no thought any more for what pleases God’s ears?
Let us also examine our congregational singing. Do we drag it or swing it? Do we sing with no heart in it, or do we sing it in the spirit of better-get-this-thing-over-as- fast-as-we-can? We have heard much lifeless singing, and we have tried to stay with this race-track execution of what ought to be praise and instead is getting away from God’s presence in song as fast as we can, so we can go on to other matters. We are in agreement with neither. But we do say that both reveal what is in the heart.
A heart with the song of Moses and the Lamb in it just cannot drag the words out as though this is a necessary evil, something that is our calling to do but in which our heart is not. You see them sometimes from the pulpit. The mouth remains closed, the eyes are lifeless. There is no interest in what is going on. There is no song in the heart and consequently there is none on the lips. O, indeed, there may be times when the heart is overwhelmed with grief. There may be times when one just cannot sing. This indicates that the song must co from the heart. And there are dirges, songs of sadness, cries for deliverance and complaints. These songs others can sing during our moments of deepest grief. For you cannot cry and sing at the same time. But if one is never able to sing, if after the shock of the severe blow has passed we still cannot sing, it must mean that we have no song in the heart. We simply do not know the joy of the salvation which is ours in Christ and therefore we cannot sing about God.
Is that not an awful thing, not to be able to sing about as well as unto God? We can sing about men, about material things. From the moment we wake up in I the morning until we close our eyes in sleep we will listen—and sing along in our hearts, for otherwise we would not turn the radio or record player on—but in church????? Is it not the testimony of the book of Psalms throughout that the child of God SINGS? It is equally true that he sings because of the song of salvation in his heart. A quick glance at my concordance shows some ninety references in the Psalms to the heart, and the word “sing” appears about forty times. Even then there is not a single one of these one hundred fifty psalms that is not in itself in the form of a song. The whole book is a compilation of poems of praise.
And if we really have that praise in our hearts, do we need a powerful organ to pull us along? Is it the organ that makes our singing so spontaneous, or is it the song in our hearts? We do not condemn the organ, nor even the cymbals and drums. Why not a trumpet with its clear and triumphant sound? Why not clapping of the hands in the joy and ecstasy of justification by faith? If we get on fire in the heart by the joy of salvation full and free, the musical or unmusical quality of our voice will not keep us silent.
But the song of salvation will move to the deeds of salvation. There will be the decorum of a sanctified life and not the wild, savage tempo and antics of heathendom. There will be a restrained joy which is not a joy held back but a joy before God’s face. After all a song of praise is a song UNTO God. Away with this singing unto men. That you find in the world, for the children of the world know no one above the children of the world. Away, then, in our churches and church circles with singing unto men. Singing before men is in order, provided it is unto God and in His fear. With reverence and awe—and how else can you sing, if you give heed to the words of the spiritual song—in the very consciousness that we are before God’s face—let us sing praise to God from Whom all blessings flow. Let our song be this:
Ye who His temple throng,
Jehovah’s praise prolong,
New anthems sing;
Ye saints, with joy declare
Your Maker’s loving care,
And let the children there
Joy in their king.