When William Miller was holding a large meeting in Washington, D.C., a Senator asked a newspaper reporter whether the Millerites were in town. When the reporter informed him that they were, the Senator replied, "I thought so, for I never heard so much singing and praying in Washington before." There was music in the hearts of those believers in Christ's soon coming. They were happy and fervent. That music moved from their hearts to their lips, and from there to the hearts of other men. Likewise as we await the Second Advent of our Saviour there ought to be pulsating within our hearts songs of praise that will bespeak our constant hope in His soon return.
Singing is not merely some preliminary act prior to the worship of God. It is definitely part of the worship itself. Sometimes we may be unconscious of this and fail to be as reverent during that part of the service as we should be. To help in understanding this point, I quote:
"As a part of religious service, singing is as much an act of worship as is prayer."—Education, p. D58.
"Music forms a part of God's worship in the courts above, and we should endeavor, in our songs of praise, to approach as nearly as possible to the harmony of the heavenly choirs."—Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 594.
The work of the minister or song director is to lead the congregation intelligently to the throne of God through this medium of music. How careful he should be to choose music which will create the right impression and which will prepare hearts for the sermon which follows.
Objectives Sought.—The type of MUSIC to be used must be decided upon by the objectives of the church. The objectives of our church will determine our music. There is certainly a place for the songs of appeal and admonition and testimonial, just as there is a place for the psalms and hymns of praise. Each type of music has its proper sphere. But wholesome standards ought to be set up that will make both kinds acceptable and pleasing to God. Our evangelistic approach may differ somewhat from our services in the church on the Sabbath, yet one service is as sacred as the other.
What place does the gospel song have in the work of God today? Our answer depends upon our attitude toward evangelism, and revivals in particular. Surely the gospel song does not contribute toward a liturgical service. That is why it is not found in the popular churches. By nature it does not contribute toward an aesthetic approach to worship. It deals more with morals, Christian experience, truth, admonition, and appeal. But in evangelistic work gospel songs cannot be treated as of little consequence. Speaking of the wonderful power of song, Mrs. White says:
"It has power to subdue rude and uncultivated natures: power to quicken thought and to awaken sympathy, to promote harmony of action, and to banish the gloom and foreboding that destroy courage and weaken effort. It is one of the most effective means of impressing the heart with spiritual truth."—Education, pp. 167, 168.
Power to Subdue Rude Natures
Allow me to illustrate the truth that music has "power to subdue rude and uncultivated natures." When we sing that beautiful and appealing hymn, "Just as I am, without one plea, but that Thy blood was shed for me." there is a feeling that although the sinner may be rude, rough, uncouth, and uncultivated, yet he can come to the fount of salvation, "just as he is."
As a note of caution here, we wish to remind our song leaders that real discrimination must be exercised today because of the flood of gospel songs that are on the market. Any song that makes the feet unconsciously keep time with the rhythm, and causes the mind to wander from the spiritual truths, is not in keeping with the atmosphere of heaven.
Even good hymns can be spoiled by changing their tempo. Sometimes in evangelistic meetings the most sacred hymns are "ragged," as we call it. God is surely not pleased with this. That is why we need to be properly trained in the appreciation of good music.
The minister's work is to lead his congregation—whether it be an evangelistic audience or a church group—to the throne of God, and ask God to accept their praise and worship in song. The messenger of God tells us:
"The work in a large center of population is greater than one man can successfully handle. God has different ways of working, and He has different workmen to whom He entrusts varied gifts. One worker may be a ready speaker; another a ready writer; another may have the gift of sincere, earnest, fervent prayer ; another the gift of singing."—Testimonies, vol. 9, p. 144.
We ought to seek out those who have this gift of singing and conducting music. For if our worship in song is to rise like sweet incense to the courts above, it will be conducted with intelligence and not in any bungling fashion.
A Definitely Planned Song Service
At the opening of the song service the song leader stands before men and women from all walks of life. His purpose is to guide their diversified and perhaps distracted minds to the person of God. The leader with a happy countenance, a cheery word, and a song of hope and courage can usually get the attention of the people as a whole. He seeks to prepare the minds for the sermon that follows.
To put the song service in its true place as a sacred worship service, a short prayer after the first song would be very fitting. Ask God to bless your voices and your worship in song to the good of every soul present. Be sure to have your program made out beforehand, so that you have definite plans for each service.
If there are other features in the song service besides congregational singing (which there usually are), such as vocalists, instrumentalists, choir, then have these individuals or groups sitting at the front, so that the service may move along in a quick and orderly fashion. I believe that all these different parts should act as a rising crescendo to the point where you finally sing the theme song and the evangelist makes his appearance on the platform.
Another note of caution. Sacred service is no place for showmanship, for exploiting the voice or the personality. Song is worship to God, with self left out. The predominant desire should be to bring a definite message by word and beautiful melody.
Familiar and simple gospel songs are enjoyed by the average person. Great truths are here simply stated, and they are so worded that anyone with average intelligence can understand them. A great blessing is received through the direct power of simple gospel songs..
A great opera star once walked along a country road in the South and listened to two colored children sing "Count Your Blessings."
She had sung before thousands and heard the world artists sing, but she had never been so impressed by any song as she was by this simple gospel song. She said, "I have been counting my blessings ever since."
For the closing number of the song service choose a prayer song, a consecration song, or a song of surrender, for example, "I Would Draw Nearer to Jesus," then "I Am Praying for You," or "I Would Be Like Jesus"; then "Have Thine Own Way Lord," or "To Do Thy Will." Follow with your theme song or invocation song. Sing this softly or prayerfully if it lends itself well.
Short chorus songs—just a few words with an easy time—are very effectual in public efforts. These little songs will be found buried away in the heart long after the evangelist has left his field. An evangelist can preach until he is hoarse, or plead until he is weary, and get no response. But ofttimes a note of song filters through a heart door and makes room for the gospel message.
An appropriate closing song will seal the message in the hearts of the people as nothing else can. This fitting song may open the springs of penitence and faith in a soul that otherwise would never respond. It will help a man or, woman when speech seems insufficient.
Gospel songs can supply something in the public worship of God that is otherwise lacking, for through them, praise and adoration may rise to the throne on high as a sweet-smelling incense.
We have dealt chiefly with the gospel song in this writing. But in doing this we have not meant to overlook the grand old hymns that are so well known and so inspiring. These have not acquired their fame by accident. Good music appeals to all classes of people, so we ought to use as many of these popular and beautiful hymns as possible.
With attention given these points, singing can take its vital and sacred part in our worship to God, and its rightful place in the blessed work of winning precious souls for Christ.