Music in Present-Day Evangelism

Music is a handmaiden of religion.

By J. HARKER, Minister, South England Conference

Music is the recognized handmaid of religion. In its varying forms, it has accompanied the work of God through all ages. Indeed, from the days of Moses until now, all the great religious movements have been marked by a fresh outburst of song. At such times, the poets and musicians have played an important part in the life and teachings of the church. As a result, we have come into a goodly heritage of thousands of hymns and gospel songs, large numbers of which are con­tinually in use.

Music and God's Work.—Much of what the Bible has to say has come to us in a musical setting, and is worthy of careful study. "The history of the songs of the Bible is full of suggestion as to the uses and benefits of music and song."—"Education," p. 167, We also read that in the schools of the prophets established by Samuel, "the chief subjects of study were the law of God with the instruc­tions given to Moses, sacred history, sacred music and poetry." "The art of sacred melody was diligently cultivated."—"Fundamentals of Christian Education'," p. 97.

We wonder if there is enough attention given to music today. History teaches that music, especially sacred song, is a powerful instrument used by God in regenerating human hearts. In evangelistic work, music cannot be treated as of little consequence without loss. If a young man has failed to study "the uses and benefits of music and song" in his days of training, when he comes to the time when he must begin his work as an evangelist, he will realize that he is suffering under a great handicap.

The Power of Music.—Next to the preach­ing of the word of God's appointed messen­gers, there is no greater or more potent agency for reaching the hearts of men with the gospel than the simple singing of sacred songs. The power of music was well understood by the Reformers, especially Luther. He not only gave the people the Bible in their own tongue, but he also gave them a hymnbook. He built up a new style of congregational singing such as would enable them to express in song their newly found faith. In this work he did not hesitate to use many of the popular tunes of his time. It is said that the Reformation produced no fewer than one hundred thousand hymns in Germany alone.

Later on, about the middle of the eighteenth century, Methodism began its great work in this country. Here again, .the Wesleys saw the great value attached to hymn singing. Within half a century, the "King of Hymn Writers," as Charles Wesley has been styled, is said to have provided approximately five thousand hymns—a collection that covered the entire range of Scripture.

In both of these periods of spiritual awaken­ing, it is asserted that the singing of hymns did more to spread the revival spirit and in­doctrinate the people than the preaching of the Word. We must use our judgment as to how this is to be interpreted, but the fact re­mains that the tremendous volume of exultant song which characterized these two move­ments, carried the work of God forward as on wings.

Music as Advertising.—Not only is good music a means of impressing the heart with spiritual truth, and a valuable asset in the work of educating the mind in spiritual things, but it is also good advertising, if properly managed. Whether it be the trained cathedral choir, the Salvation Army band, or the modern pentecostal meeting, the people will go where there is inspirational singing. Good singing is good advertising. On the other hand, poor singing is bad advertising. If the people at­tending a series of meetings are sent away each night with an appealing melody ringing in their ears, the chances are they will sing that melody all the week, and come back again without any further inducement.

We are impressed with the fact that the work of God flourishes best in an atmosphere of joy. Where the Spirit is, there is joy. Joy is essential to life. The gospel is to be "good tidings of great joy" to all people. All the great songs of the Bible are songs of joy. It is the absence of joy that makes the work go hard. If the evangelist is to make the most of his investments as well as his oppor­tunities, he must see that the music element is provided at each meeting.

The Power of Appeal.—Music can be used as a direct appeal to the heart. On this point, Doctor Pentecost, a distinguished preacher of the last century, has this to say:

"I am profoundly sure that among the divinely ordained instrumentalities for the conversion and sanctification of the soul, God has not given a greater, besides the preaching of the gospel, than the singing of psalms and hymns and spiritual songs. I have known a hymn to do God's work in a soul when every other instrumentality has failed. .. I have seen vast audiences melted and swayed by a simple hymn when they have been unmoved by a powerful presentation of the gospel from the pulpit."

Dwight L. Moody well understood this truth. He confessed that for eight years he had sought for someone who would make up for that lack of persuasive appeal which he at times felt in his work. When he discovered Sankey, having heard him for the first time at a prayer meeting, he was so overjoyed that he could scarcely wait until proper arrange­ments could be made for Sankey's release. On being told that he was in the employ of the United States Government, the great preacher said rather emphatically, "You will have to give that up." It took six months to bring it about, but eventually Sankey linked up his fortunes with Moody as a singing evangelist, and for thirty years the two men worked to gether. We all know the happy results.

It was at the close of an address that Sankey did his best work as a singing soul winner. Decisions were made in every meeting. His was the work of creating an atmosphere of joy at the beginning of a meeting, and at its close when decisions were to be made, sacred song had a definite mission to fulfill. A person may be disposed to accept the good things of the gospel, but may be like a customer who hesitates to purchase a material commodity until the salesman displays its beauty or util­ity. Thus the heavenly merchandise is some­times left unsold until the appeal of song has done its work.

The Modern Gospel Song.—The best type of music for appeal work in evangelism is the modern gospel song. In England it has not met with the same favor as in America, but experience has demonstrated its power and usefulness. The Methodists have long since adopted the plan of repeating the last lines of hymns as a kind of refrain, but it was left for men like Sankey to evolve the distinctive gospel song which has been used so effectively in modern evangelism.

The strength of this type of song, especially as a medium of appeal, lies chiefly in the chorus. Here the words and music are made to play around the key sentence of the hymn. It is here that the song "takes fire" with the people. During more recent years, choruses alone have been used with good effect in evan­gelistic work. Their value is largely inspira­tional, but nevertheless there is a large field of usefulness awaiting this kind of music.

In respect to both the gospel song and the simple four or six line chorus, we have thought more could be done in the way of increasing our stock of supply from our own ranks. Inspite of the fact that there are large numbers of both types of song in circulation, the range of subjects is not too great; and if we think of our own distinctive teachings, it is less still. Every one of the good advent doctrines is worth singing about.

There is a tendency everywhere today to be satisfied with songs that are sentimental, super­ficial, and exaggerated. This applies to both words and music. The next important thing to a sound faith is a vehicle of expression for that faith, which must also be sound. The advent teachings can be sung into the hearts of the people to a greater degree than at present. Christian Science and other modern movements are using this method very effec­tively. The same powerful instrument is avail­able for us.


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By J. HARKER, Minister, South England Conference

September 1939

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