God and Music

When he was 48, Johann Sebastian Bach acquired a copy of Luther’s three-volume translation of the Bible. He pored over it as if it were a long-lost treasure. He underlined passages, corrected errors in the text and commentary, inserted missing words, and made notes in the margins. Near 1 Chronicles 25 (a listing of Davidic musicians) he wrote, “This chapter is the true foundation of all God-pleasing music.” At 2 Chronicles 5:13 (which speaks of temple musicians praising God), he noted, “At a reverent performance of music, God is always at hand with His gracious presence.”

—”Johann Sebastian Bach, ‘The Fifth Evangelist,'” Christian History

Advertisements

Not Up to Us

In biblical teaching the initiative lies with God, not with us. We can certainly pray that He would move us to honor Him and encourage one another in our singing. But God’s ability to minister to us in a gathering of His people does not depend on the intensity of our singing, the degree of our enthusiasm or the style of our music.

—David G. Peterson, Encountering God Together, 129

Music as A Means

If music is simply used to create a mood or to entertain, it can be manipulative (e.g. the excessive repetition of songs to intensify the emotions of those present). But when it is employed to highlight the meaning of words, music can plant biblical truth memorably and powerfully in our hearts. Music can help us to be involved in prayer and praise emotionally as well as intellectually. It can be a vehicle for expressing deep reflections and feelings.

—David G. Peterson, Encountering God Together, 141

The People’s Song (4)

One of your great objects should be to induce all the congregation to join in the singing. Your minister should help you in this, and his exhortations and example will be a great assistance to you; but still as the Lord’s servant in the department of sacred song you must not rely on others, but put forth your own exertions. Not only ought all the worshippers to sing, but each one should sing praises with understanding, and as David says, “play skilfully” unto the Lord. This cannot be effected except by instructing the people in public psalmody. Is it not your duty to institute classes for young and old? Might you not thus most effectually serve the church, and please the Lord? The method of Mr. Curwen, and the use of his Sol-fa Notation, will much aid you in breaking ground, and you can in after years either keep to the new method, or turn to the old notation as may seem best to you. Thousands have learned to sing who were hopelessly silent until the sol-fa system was set on foot. The institution of singers, as a separate order, is an evil, a growing evil, and ought to be abated and abolished; and the instruction of the entire congregation is the readiest, surest, and most scriptural mode of curing it. A band of godless men and women will often instal themselves in a conspicuous part of the chapel, and monopolise the singing to the grief of the pastor, the injury of the church, and the scandal of public worship; or else one man, with a miserable voice, will drag a miserable few after him in a successful attempt to make psalms and hymns hideous, or dolorous. Teach the lads and lasses, and their seniors, to run up and down the Sol-fa Modulator, and drill them in a few good, solid, thoroughly musical tunes, and you, O sons of Asaph, shall earn to yourself a good degree.

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

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