There is a moment of hushed expectancy.
At least there ought to be such a moment before the divine worship service begins.
From various directions and distances the saints have gathered in one place as members of a local manifestation of the body of Christ. Each has his own problems and cares that trouble his soul. Each, in the week that has gone by, has had his own personal experiences. Each has had his own struggle with sin and with the temptations of the flesh. But all gather before God’s face to hear what the Spirit hath to say to the churches.
All the reborn pilgrims there assembled have the song of salvation in their hearts. Under all the burdens and anxieties of the day that song is there. Deep withinthem the song of Moses and of the Lamb murmurs in their souls. And this it is that brings them to this place at this time.
Indeed, there is much custom and habit about our church attendance. We go to church because we have been going to church. There is not too much thinking very often, from the first waking moment on the Sabbath until we arrive in our pew, about what we are doing here and why we came to this sanctuary. Not until we sit down and breathe our prayer for God’s blessing upon the service do we squarely face the reality of our coming into God’s house.
Even then all that which we did that morning before coming to church pointed us in that direction. We dressed differently. We laid out the money for our children to give as their offering. We picked up our Bible and hymn book instead of our tool box and dinner pail. We backed our car out and headed in a different direction. And if we have over-slept, we will hurry to get into our seat before the servant of God steps up to the pulpit.
Then, in these moments before the service begins, there is or ought to be that moment of hushed expectancy while we wait for the salutation; while we wait to join with the other saints to sing the song that is in our hearts; while we wait for the moment when our souls shall be united in prayer—the moment when the world fades from our eyes and from our minds—and we stand before God’s face; while we wait—O! were it only breathlessly—for God Himself to speak to us through His human mouthpiece.
This is an important moment.
The organist—or pianist—should therefore constantly bear this in mind and avoid making it a moment of fleshly agitation. The organist should remember that this song of Moses and of the Lamb is there in the hearts of God’s people. And every effort should be put forth to bring it out rather than to stifle it and excite to toe-tapping or ear-tickling fleshly entertainment.
Our attention has been called to the fact that we wrote something along this line in the department of “In His Fear” some sixteen years ago. It was suggested that we reprint them for today’s generations. We will do so and add a few new thoughts.
“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 in Psalm 150 even with the clanging and high sounding cymbals. In Psalm 33:2, 3 we read, ‘Praise the Lord with the 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 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 them 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 a prelude, offertory or postlude. We do not even hesitate to say that not everyarrangement of a 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 tend to destroy the solemnity and reverence of the occasion ought to be kept off the music rack of the piano or organ. Indeed, there may well be the joy of salvation surging through 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 a resounding praise to God. And the organist may often desire to have at his disposal double the volume of which the 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 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 nature and that it be played softly and slowly so that the congregation is led not into earthly meditation and excitement, but instead is prepared psychologically to listen to the Word of God.”
Need we add that the prelude, offertory and postlude are not to be an exhibition of the organist’s abilities? These are to assist the child of God in His worship and praise of God. It must not sound before or during the service as though the last exercise or etude that the organist has mastered for his “lesson” is now going to be run through before this audience so as to keep in practice on it. And it must not be something “over the heads” of the children of God assembled. It must not be a dazzling display that attracts the attention of the saints (who have assembled to see God’s glory in our salvation) and focuses that attention to the man seated at the console. It must serve to direct the whole service to the praise and glory of Him Who created music in order that His glory might shine forth. There is a place for the brilliant and intricate fugue and even of the stirring march, but that place is not at the place where God’s people have assembled for quite a different purpose: to hear what the Spirit hath to say to the churches. The song in the heart of God’s people must not be curbed and be shunted by that which has its appeal merely to the flesh and is designed to emphasize and call attention to the work of man.
Organists do well to remember that at any program that which receives the greatest appreciation is a well known tune or composition. The music is played or sung in order that the audience may follow in its soul. A strange melody may have its appeal, but even then after it is known it has greater appeal. One simply wants to walk along with the song. He wants in his soul to keep up with the melody, he wants to share with the performer. And a known melody serves that purpose. Applied now to the prelude, offertory and even postlude—although the attention to it is far less critical or serious—this means that what satisfies, serves and prepares the child of God for meeting his God in the preaching of the Word is the song of salvation in his heart which by God’s grace he knows. A reverently, quietly and softly played hymn or gospel song, wherein these diversified saints can unite with their souls in the contemplation of God’s glory and in the wonder of salvation, prepares them for that for which they have assembled.
Let it never be lost sight of that they are assembled for the spiritual. They came not for entertainment but for edification and inspiration from the Word, and by the Word. Let then that Word also be there in the prelude and offertory in that the melody played suggests the Word which is versified and has been united to that tune. We are reminded of Paul’s words in I Corinthians 14:19, “Yet in the church I had rather speak five words with my understanding, that by my voice I might teach others also, than ten thousand words in an unknown tongue.” We do speak figuratively of the “voice” of the organ. And that organ can speak very beautifully to the saints gathered in the sanctuary, if we use it to speak the Word by means of the melody that has been associated with it.
It is a thing to be regretted that the world does take our church music, put its sensual and fleshly words to it and thus rob us of its use in our churches. What was written for church music, what could well be used to set a quiet, reverent mood by its smooth-flowing melody and rich harmony we would not dare to use even at a church program, because today it is far better known as, “Moonlight and Roses.” Here is one melody of which the world has robbed us. In fact we find it hard to think of it anymore as anything but a song of the world, even though it was written for church music and simply called, “Andantino in D Flat.” Use it before the saints, and we would certainly send their thoughts down any direction but the momentary confrontation with God Himself in the preaching of the Word.
But so it is also with, those melodies which we do at once associate with particular Scriptural truths—and indeed also with heretical positions. The latter are, of course, to be avoided. The former are to be sought and used. Let the musician serve the congregation and fill this moment of hushed expectancy with music that will not make the service a sharp contrast by its reverence and spiritual atmosphere. Instead let the prelude blend into and lead into the worship service. Then indeed it is a prelude. One does not play the organ before church for oneself but for others. And it is a wonderful service to prepare others to wait in hushed expectancy and in His fear for the moment of united worship of the thrice holy God.