The singing was superb.
The harmony was rich and full. The phrasing was flawless. The rhythm and tempo were in wonderful agreement with the sentiment of the words. The words were pronounced with perfect diction, each syllable coming out clearly; and the audience was never in doubt as to the message conveyed by the words. Men sat with bated breath and were thrilled by the music that flooded their souls.
But did God enjoy it?
You may be sure that He does not enjoy the singing of those who have not the song of salvation in their hearts, even when they sing of that salvation. A song that is not sung in His fear makes a raucous sound in His ear. And we had better open our ears to what He says Himself about all such singing. Let me quote just a few verses from several parts of the Bible which will show that this is His judgment throughout Holy Writ.
“But unto the wicked God saith, What hast thou to do to declare my statutes, or that thou shouldest take my covenant in thy mouth?” Psalm 50:15. Asaph is speaking here of the speech of the wicked rather than of their singing. But the text clearly indicates God’s displeasure when the wicked use His Word whether in speech or singing, and that they are loathsome in His sight when they use the things of His covenant for their amusement and fleshly satisfaction. Or, if you will, go on to Proverbs 15:8, “The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to the Lord: but the prayer of the upright is His delight.” Once again the secondary author speaks of sacrifice rather than of singing. But it ought to be evident that he is speaking of spiritual exercises and of external functions that are not the work of a regenerated heart. And these are an abomination to God, though to men they may look to be so lovely that we are ready to label them works of faith. God reads the heart and listens for a song in the heart. Proceeding into the New Testament we found no one less than Jesus in His parable of the Pharisee and the Publican in Luke 18 declaring that the wicked Pharisee prayed with himself Jesus did not classify it as a prayer to God. He taught us in this parable moreover that such do not go home with the confidence of justification. And that can only mean that the wrath of God abides on such and thus that He does not enjoy their prayers. Romans 14:23b declares, “Whatsoever is not of faith is sin.” You may laud your so-called works of “civic righteousness” which the wicked perform. But you will not get God to go along with you in your philosophies. For He also declares that same truth more emphatically in Hebrews 11:6 where we read, “But without faith it is impossible to please Him; for he that cometh to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of them that diligently seek Him.” They may sing ever so beautifully. They may come with the choicest of “sacrifices”. They may offer a beautifully worded prayer, or sing the Lord’s Prayer with such tenderness that it brings tears to your and my believing eyes. But if they are unbelievers, they do not please God with their singing but instead in that very singing are an abomination to Him so that He asks them, “What hast thou to do to sing of My covenant with your vile lips and cess-pool heart?”
They sing beautifully; and at Christmas time the air is filled with the delightful music of the carols. Trained voices of the very best musical quality will sing of God’s covenant Head, Christ Jesus Himself, and of His coming in our flesh. They will “sacrifice” their talents on the altar of His worship. In every city of an appreciable size the “Messiah” of Handel will be sung with varying degrees of artistry. We will sing along in our hearts. We will thrill at the music and also at the message. But will God “sing” along with them? By the way we never read of God singing, do we? Jesus sang an hymn with His disciples at the last Passover. But, then, will God approve of all this singing which is of the lips and does not come from the heart? He certainly will not! For whatsoever is not of faith is SIN, and sin He will punish! He never approves of sin. And these do not please Him, but definitely in all this displease Him. He will find no reason to hire or import these trained and gifted singers into the Hallelujah Chorus of the new Jerusalem, not simply because He will create a people that will be able to sing more wonderfully from a musical point of view, but also because He is always reading the heart and cannot have before His face those who in their hearts hate Him. God sees that hate when they take His covenant in their mouths. It is not a question of whether these matters of His covenant can be and are in the mouth. We stand before God always as transparent I as clear glass; and He sees that heart and what is in it. That “spoils” it every time when He hears these that hate Him sing the songs of Zion. You cannot deceive Him by some sweet sounding words that fall from the open mouth. You can be an hypocrite, but not before Him. And how well Annanias and Sapphira know that now in hell!
What is more, if a saint such as Paul must declare that the evil that he would not, that he does, and the good that he would he allows not, how dare we speak of the unregenerated as being able to please God? We sometimes gather the impression; from those that defend the theory (for that is all that it is) of “civic righteousness” that the unregenerated with their “common grace” can do far more good than the regenerated can with saving grace. It is then hard to explain that those who surely must have both the “common grace” and this special, saving grace—such as the apostle Paul—have such a struggle that they say, “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.” Romans 7:18.
There are some amazing statements here!
Note again and first of all that here you have the speech of a regenerated child of God who says of his flesh that in it dwelleth NO good thing. Even regeneration, the new birth, does not change or improve that flesh of the child of God. It remains conceived and born in sin and thoroughly corrupt. And if that flesh is not changed in the reborn child of God, where will we find some good yet in the unregenerated who have only that flesh? Is it so—as is claimed—that this “common grace” of God does that? How does it then happen that Paul had none of this? Is it so that saving grace causes the “good” of the “common grace” to melt away? And if the regenerated find not how to do the good that their new life given in saving grace knows and wills to do, would it not be better that we receive this “common grace” instead of saving grace? Or, let God give us the saving grace just at the very end of our earthly life. Then in this life we can do some good at least.
But note further in Romans 7:18 that a regenerated child of God, speaking here under the infallible guidance of the Spirit of Truth, says that he cannot find a way to do the good that he would exactly because he still has that old flesh that is so corrupt. And should we then say, do we even dare to say, that the unregenerated not only will but also DO find a way to perform it and actually in their deeds perform “civic righteousness?” Do we dare to believe that God finds any joy at all in the words sung with a mouth that is wholly under the power of hatred against God? O, indeed, there are works that look good to man. But when you speak ofrighteousness, you speak of that which is an act of love towards God. That is never attributed to the wicked in Scripture. They may perform a duty well—as is the case with Jehu, who wiped out the whole family of wicked Ahab. II Kings 10:30. It may even be stated in II Kings 10:30 that Jehu had “done well in executing that which was right in mine eyes, and hast done unto the house of Ahab according to all that was in mine heart.” But that exactly limits also that which was right in God’s sight, and it explains what was right in God’s sight as the proper punishment upon the house of Ahab. It does not say that Jehu loved God; and since the inner principle of the law is love towards God, all true civic righteousness must be an act of love towards God. Jehu’s deed was not in His fear but in fear of Ahab’s sons. He knew that his own kingdom was not secure as long as one contender from the line of Ahab lived. This is what moved him to do such a good job of destroying Ahab’s house; and the love of God was not in it at all.
Just confer Hosea 1:4, if you need more proof of this fact. We read, “And the Lord said unto him, Call his name Jezreel; for yet a little while and I will avenge the blood of Jezreel upon the house of Jehu, and will cause to cease the house of Israel.” We may note that this well doing of Jehu in executing what was right in God’s sight is here called bloody murder! He did a good job of killing, but God calls his deed that which even men call a most detestable and atrocious crime: murder! He did well in that he exterminated every last one of Ahab’s descendants, but he did it in hatred of his neighbor and in hatred of the God Who sent him to do this, work of punishment upon Ahab’s house. The love of God was not throbbing in Jehu’s heart and therefore the deed of his hand was sin. It was not an act of faith.
So it is, with all this “beautiful” singing. God sees no ethical beauty in it. He sees it as nothing but sin. AndPsalm 50:15 indicates that He prefers to have them completely silent about the matters of His covenant. He does not enjoy their singing of the songs of Zion. Instead it fills Him with righteous fury. Instead of being labeled as “civic righteousness” by Him, He frowns upon it with righteous indignation. So true is this that He will one day silence it all in the fire of hell where their mouths instead will be filled with wails of agony as they gnash with their teeth. If all this singing actually pleases Him, why does He bring it to an end? And why to this awful end?
O, indeed, many will say in that day, “Lord did we not sing so beautifully in Thy Name? And we did it for Charity. We gave programs to raise funds for this cause and for that. We practiced hard to give a truly artistic rendition.” And some who heard them sing will have the same thoughts and expect these to receive a reward of glory. But Jesus has a way of cutting through all this activity that does not proceed from faith and says, “Depart from me ye workers of iniquity. I never knew you. ” Yea, look at that passage in Matthew 7:21-23. Here again were works that appeared to be “civic righteousness,” for they prophesied in Christ’s name not only but cast out devils and did many wonderful works. The social improvements which they realized, the many works of charity which they performed, the devils they chased out of the field of labor, and out of the social structure wherein men were abused and maltreated were surely—while they lived on the earth—branded as works of “civic righteousness.” But what is the Master’s answer to it all? Does He say? “Yea, ye did well in the sphere of the natural. I liked what you did, even though it had no saving good in it.” He does not! He says that they worked iniquity! He says that He never knew them! If the love of God is not in that heart, then whatever the lips may say, and regardless of the praise that men may heap upon the singer or speaker in God’s eyes (and ears) it is iniquity and not righteousness at all. Whatsoever is not of faith is SIN! Only when the song of salvation is in the heart will we sing in His fear. And only then will it be delightful in His ear.