From earliest times the human voice accompanied by instrumental music has been used in public worship. The earliest song by man recorded in the Bible was the song which the children of Israel sang after their deliverance at the Red Sea. As they journeyed through the wilderness on their way to the Promised Land, this same song was repeated to cheer them on their way, we are told through the Spirit of prophecy.
David, the sweet singer of Israel, enriched the literature of his people with most beautiful psalms for use in the temple, and he also invented instruments of music with which to accompany the singing of trained men and women who were specially selected to lead in the congregational praises to Jehovah.
Coming down nearer to our own time, we find that congregational singing was found to be a wonderful acquisition to the work of the Reformers. Luther regarded a knowledge of music as a necessary accomplishment of a preacher.
During the eighteenth century God gave to the world the greatest musicians and hymn writers of all time. Why? Do you think the galaxy of musical talent which was so marked a feature of the history of that century was merely an accidental development because of some causes outside the purpose and plan of God? If so, we might as well suppose, or infer, that it was also purely accidental that during the nineteenth and tAtentieth centuries backward conditions, which had existed for thousands of years, suddenly gave place to our modern inventions and systems of intercommunication between all parts of the world. That man must be very blind who fails to recognize that all these modern facilities which we now enjoy have been made possible by the Creator, who gave to man the knowledge and the power to produce them for the express purpose of making it possible to carry the everlasting gospel to every nation, kindred, tongue, and people.
Without the radio and the modern printing machinery now obtainable, how could the message be carried to all the world in this generation? The necessity for such marvelous things in these days is recognized by all our workers. But what is not generally recognized by us is that in addition to all these amazing facilities for disseminating the message in all the world, God has also provided for us such soul-stirring music, both vocal and instrumental, as was never heard prior to these last days !
Bach, Handel, Haydn, Moiart, Beethoven, Schubert, Schumann, Mendelssohn, and other musical geniuses have enriched the world with harmonies and melodies unknown to the world before their day. And while these great musicians were producing their marvelous oratories and symphonies and songs, Isaac Watts, Charles Wesley, Horatio Bonar, William Cowper, Fanny Crosby, Philip Doddridge, Frances Havergal, Reginald Heber, Henry Lyte, James Montgomery, and many others were producing thousands of hymns and songs proclaiming in most beautiful poetic language the love of God and the gospel of salvation for sinners. I again ask, Is all this purely accidental? Nay, it is undoubtedly a part of the divine plan of God to herald abroad throughout all the world the last message of mercy, enabling His evangelists to stir the emotions of the people, and make them more susceptible to the working of the Holy Spirit. In the book Education, Mrs. White tells us:
"Amidst the deepening shadows of earth's last great crisis, God's light will shine brightest, and the song of hope and trust will be heard in clearest and loftiest strains. . . . As the children of Israel, journeying through the wilderness, cheered their way by the music of sacred song, so God bids His children to-day gladden their pilgrim life. . . . And such song has wonderful power. It has power to subdue rude and uncultivated natures; power to quicken thought and to awaken sympathy, to provide 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."—Pages 166-168.
Now, permit me to ask some other questions. Are we using these wonderful facilities as wisely as we should? Or are we neglecting them as being of little consequence and of questionable value in this closing work? Without desiring to be too critical, I must say I am afraid we are not using as fully as we should the musical talent with which God has endowed our people, or the wealth of beautiful vocal and instrumental music which is available these days. I have been pained as I have witnessed the callous disregard which is paid by some of our people to the music which is being rendered for the worship of God. Who, for Instance, would think of talking to one standing or kneeling next to him during the prayer season? Yet some of our workers apparently think nothing of talking to someone during the singing of a hymn.
Who, for instance, would think of walking, into or out of a meeting while prayer is offered? Yet some of our people think nothing of walking into or out of a meeting while a hymn is being sung to the glory of God. In fact, that seems to be quite a usual thing to do in some places. Yet we are told by the messenger of the Lord: "Singing is as much an act of worship as is prayer. Indeed, many a song is prayer. If the child is taught to realize this, he will think more of the meaning of the words he sings, and will be more susceptible to their power."—Ibid., p. 168.
This thought prompts me to observe that something should be done to encourage our people to sing with understanding, to realize the meaning of the words they are singing, and to sing with expression.
As an illustration of my meaning, let us take a look at one of our well-known hymns which we quite frequently use. I refer to hymn 538 in the Church Hymnal, "When Jesus Shall Gather the Nations." I have heard the chorus of this hymn sung with great gusto, and without the slightest attention being given to the tenor of the words being sung. Let us look at them a moment: "He will gather the wheat in His garner, but the chaff will He scatter away." That is truly awful to contemplate. It is quite possible that some of our dearest relatives and friends may be among the "chaff" which will be scattered away. Is that anything to be joyful about? Nay, by no means. Then we should sing that phrase with that awesome thought in mind.
Some of our own dear children might even be in that "chaff." Then let us sing such a passage with sorrow in our hearts, and sing it softly as though we understand what we are singing. Next time you use this hymn I would suggest you read the chorus and ask the congregation to sing that phrase very softly and sorrowfully, for it never should be sung gleefully. Apply the same idea to the words in the stanzas, for they set forth some remarkable contrasts. Take the second stanza:
"Shall we hear, from the lips of the Saviour, The words 'Faithful servant, well done.' Or, trembling with fear and with anguish, Be banished away from His throne?"
Note the contrast in these lines, and yet they are frequently sung fortissimo all through, when they could be made most telling if the people were instructed to sing them with an understanding of their meaning. Then there is a vast difference between hearing the words, "Faithful servant, well done," said to us, and being "banished away from His throne," "trembling with fear and with anguish." Such diversity of thought surely calls for diversity of expression when sung.
These suggestions can be applied to most of the hymns we sing. Let us mend our ways, and sing with expression and understanding.