The Place of Gospel Songs

A symposium on gospel music from musicians not of our faith, appearing in the Sunday School Times of September 25, 1937, contains certain gems which we here reproduce with but little comment.


A symposium on gospel music from musicians not of our faith, appearing in the Sunday School Times of September 25, 1937, contains certain gems which we here reproduce with but little comment. The full discussion is commended to all denominational musicians who are interested or concerned. First an important principle is well stated by Robert Harkness, of the former Chapman-Alexander party, well-known gospel-song com­poser, and evangelistic pianist:

"Modernism in music produces exactly the same reaction to gospel music as Modernism in the pulpit. Hence the comparison of modern musical classics with the music of the gospel reveals a simplicity in musical form together with a clarity of tonal effect which fail to satisfy the perverted and obtuse musical taste of the unspiritual musician."

Next, John B. Nield, Mus.D., church or­ganist and choir director, makes these cogent observations in his contribution :

"The purpose of singing in church is to release emotions; emotions of faith, contrition, confession, gratitude, love, and devotion. Intellectual attain­ment is not the prime object of preacher or wor­shiper. The heart of the worshiper is satisfied when he sings 'My faith looks up to Thee ;"Jesus, the very thought of Thee;' or 'What a Friend we have in Jesus.' In Christian worship, the psalms, the liturgical hymns and responses, and the spiritual songs (gospel hymns) are all needed. Varying types of personality, even varying moods, demand all three. . . .

"Back to God means back to worship. If the use of the singing of psalms, or gospel hymns, can win men for Christ, has the church the right to refuse either? Practically every great spiritual awakening in every country has been prefaced or accompanied by the singing of hymns and spiritual songs. The tendency today is undoubtedly away from the gospel song; may this not have some bearing upon the fact that great spiritual awakening is becoming rare? Doctrinal hymns, particularly those on the atone­ment, are being neglected; yet some of the greatest of our doctrinal hymns, in universal use, were originally written in controversial strain, such as those of the opposing camps of the Wesleys and the Watts, expressing the doctrines of free grace and the sovereignty of God."

Then, Herbert G. Tovey, Mus.D., director of music courses, Bible Institute of Los An­geles, enunciates a vital principle that should never be forgotten or forsaken by our singing evangelists:

"Charles M. Alexander, one of the most successful evangelistic song leaders the world has ever seen, a cultured gentleman who knew how to move in the highest society, was once asked why he used so many gospel songs of a 'doggerel' nature. He asked for an illustration, and upon being given 'Tell Mother I'll Be There' as a doggerel hymn, he said: 'I grant you that the song is not a classical piece of music ; but when I find in our meetings that people cease to accept Christ as their personal Saviour, as they have for years when that song is sung by consecrated Christians, then I will cease using it and other songs of its type that strike deep at the inmost heart of people everywhere.' "

And finally, the music editor, William M. Runyan, concludes with a statement and a question that should ever be remembered:

"When revival has swept the land, gospel songs have had irrepressible use. The keen, vital, urgent testimony of grace must find voice. The call to the sinning, the procrastinating, can be voiced more ap­pealingly through a gospel song than by a staid and dignified hymn. Was the sweep of gospel song of the Moody-Sankey period a device of the adversary or an expression of 'the mind of the Spirit'?"

Winsome Message Songs

At rare intervals through the years, spe­cial songs from our own denominational composers have appeared in the pages of The Ministry. We purpose henceforth to pub­lish specials with fair frequency, both for the use of our workers and to provide a long-needed outlet for the choicest of such produc­tions. Genuine merit in the combined lyric and score will be the determining factor, and the choices will be made by a special music committee. This movement should be bring­ing forth sacred songs with a real message, a strong heart appeal, and genuine musical merit. Such is the ideal toward which we should strive. The songs of the Reformation and of the Wesleyan revival were as potent as the Spirit-indited preaching of the times.

We have not yet capitalized the great possi­bilities of this field. This movement needs dis­tinctive message songs of power.

Advertisement - RevivalandReformation 300x250

Ministry reserves the right to approve, disapprove, and delete comments at our discretion and will not be able to respond to inquiries about these comments. Please ensure that your words are respectful, courteous, and relevant.

comments powered by Disqus


Digital delivery

If you're a print subscriber, we'll complement your print copy of Ministry with an electronic version.

Sign up
Advertisement - Southern Adv Univ 180x150 - Animated


Recent issues

See All
Advertisement - Healthy and Happy Family - Skyscraper 160x600