The People’s Song (2)

True praise is heart work. Like smoking incense, it rises from the glowing coals of devout affection. Essentially, it is not a thing of sound: sound is associated with it very properly for most weighty reasons, but still the essence and life of praise lie not in the voice, but in the soul. Your business in the congregation is to give to spiritual praise a suitable embodiment in harmonious notes. Take care that you do not depress what you should labour to express. Select a tune in accordance with the spirit of the psalm or hymn, and make your style of singing suitable to the words before you. Flippantly to lead all tunes to the same time, tone, and emphasis, is an abomination; and to pick tunes at random is little less than criminal. You mock God and injure the devotions of His people if you carelessly offer to the Lord that which has cost you no thought, no care, no exercise of judgment. You can help the pious heart to wing its way to heaven upon a well-selected harmony; and you can, on the other hand, vex the godly ear by inappropriate or unmelodious airs, adapted rather to distract and dishearten, than to encourage intelligent praise.

—Charles Haddon Spurgeon. The Sword and The Trowel, June 1, 1870, 276-277

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The People’s Song

Could we rule the service of song in the house of the Lord, we should, we fear, come into conflict with the prejudices and beliefs of many most excellent men, and bring a hornet’s nest about our ears. Although we have neither the will nor the power to become reformer of sacred music, we should like to whisper a few things into the ear of some of our Jeduthuns or Asaphs, who happen to be “chief musicians” in country towns or rural villages. We will suppose the following words to be our private communication:

O sweet singer of Israel, remember that the song is not for your glory, but for the honour of the Lord, who inhabiteth the praises of Israel; therefore, select not anthems and tunes in which your skilfulness will be manifest, but such as will aid the people to magnify the Lord with their thanksgivings. The people come together not to see you as a songster, but to praise the Lord in the beauty of holiness. Remember also, that you are not set to sing for yourself only, but to be a leader of others, many of whom know nothing of music; therefore, choose such tunes as can be learned and followed by all, that none in the assembly may be compelled to be silent while the Lord is extolled. Why should so much as one be defrauded of his part through you? Simple airs are the best, and the most sublime; very few of the more intricate tunes are really musical. Your twists, and fugues, and repetitions, and rattlings up and down the scale, are mostly barbarous noise-makings, fitter for Babel than Bethel. If you and your choir wish to show off your excellent voices, you can meet at home for that purpose, but the Sabbath and the church of God must not be desecrated to so poor an end.

—Charles Haddon Spurgeon. The Sword and The Trowel, June 1, 1870, 276-277

Divine Action in Worship

Our incarnating God continues to meet us where we are: as imaginative creatures of habit. So we are invited into the life of the Triune God by being invited to inhabit concrete rituals and practices that are “habitations of the Spirit.” As the Son is incarnate—the Word made flesh meeting us who are flesh—so the Spirit meets us in tangible, embodied practices that are conduits of the Spirit’s transformative power…. The material practices of Christian worship are not exercises in spiritual self-management but rather the creational means that our gracious God deigns to inhabit for our sanctification. So while liturgical formation sanctifies our perception for Christian action, Christian worship is primarily a site of divine action…. Our incarnating God descends to inhabit these practices precisely in order to lift us up into union with Christ.

—James K. A. Smith, Imagining the Kingdom: How Worship Works, 14-15

Why We’re Here

God has not created the world out of a sense of his own interior need, or to bolster a failing ego. As Irenaeus said long ago, “in the beginning…God formed Adam, not as if He stood in need of any man, but that He might have [some one] upon whom to confer His benefit… For this is the glory of man, to continue and remain permanently in God’s service.”

—Noel Due, Created For Worship:  From Genesis to Revelation to You, 38

The Word in Prayer and Song

All too many free-church prayers and hymns have forsaken biblical imagery in favor of a host of frivolous, superficial, pop psychological jargon and cliches that chatter about “celebration,” “becoming human,” “finding ourselves,” “being free to be you and me,” and other amorphous trivialities. This is particularly tragic among those whose forebears once felt that the presence and guidance of Scripture in worship was something worth dying for.

—William H. Willimon, The Bible: A Sustaining Presence in Worship, 14