We live in a world of music. We are constantly surrounded by it in myriad forms. It pours forth in never-ending streams from radios, television sets, loud-speaker systems, and phonographs. Every religious meeting, every program, and every motion picture makes use of music in some way. The man on the street sings it, the boy on his way to school whistles it, and the choir peals it forth in mighty anthems.
We find from our study of the writings of Ellen G. White that music was given to us by God and is meant to be a blessing. Here are a few short quotations from her pen illustrating the virtues of music.
"Music can be a great power for good." —Testimonies, vol. 4, p. 71. "Music . rightly employed, is a precious gift of God, designed to uplift the thoughts to high and noble themes, to inspire and elevate the soul."—Education, p. 167. "Song is one of the most effective means of impressing spiritual truth upon the heart."—Evangelism, p. 500. "Music was made to serve a holy purpose, to lift the thoughts to that which is pure, noble, and elevating."—Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 594.
But there is another side of the picture. We find that music, like everything else in this world of sin, can be a power for evil as well as good. We find that music may "deprave the imagination and debase the morals."—Testimonies, vol. 4, p. 653. It is "often perverted to serve purposes of evil, and it thus becomes one of the most alluring agencies of temptation."—Education, p. 167. "How many employ this gift to exalt self."—Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 594.
"A love for music leads the unwary to unite with world-lovers in pleasure-gatherings where God has forbidden His children to go."Ibid. From the previous statements we can draw the following conclusions:
Music may influence for good or evil. A love of the right kind of music can speed the Christian on his spiritual and upward way, while a love for the wrong kind may pull him downward to destruction.
This leaves the sincere Christian with a problem. His happiness on this earth and his future destiny are at stake. It is a problem that he has to face. He cannot ignore it without peril to his soul.
In considering the problems of morality in music, morality in music, we should recognize two separate classifications of music—sacred and secular. First of all, let us consider these from the negative point of view. Mrs. White says that in evangelistic work the ways of the world should not be followed. Theatrical display and worldly singers are not to be used. Formality is to be shunned, and although sacred music should have emotional appeal, it should not be extremely emotional. (See Evangelism, pp. 500-504.)
On the positive side we read: "Music was made to serve a holy purpose, to lift the thoughts to that which is pure, noble, and elevating, and to awaken in the soul devotion and gratitude to God."—Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 594. Words and phrases used in describing the sacred music of ancient Israel include the following: "songs of rejoicing" (ibid., pp. 704, 705); "thanksgiving" (Education, p. 162); "songs of praise" (ibid); "triumphant anthem" (Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 288); "glad hosannas" (The Desire of Ages, p. 448); and "jubilant strains" (ibid., p. 449).
David used sacred music in a therapeutic sense, as a cure for anxiety and depression. (See Patriarchs and Prophets, pp. 643, 644.)
In the early morning, Jesus, during His youthful years on this earth, welcomed the morning light with singing. He cheered His hours of labor with songs of thanksgiving and gladness. (See The Ministry of Healing, p. 52.)
We are told that in the new earth the redeemed will sing songs of victory, praise, joy, and thankfulness. (Ibid., p. 506; Education, p. 407.) And here is a significant statement: "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 following are brief quotations and descriptive phrases regarding good sacred music. "Rightly employed, it is a precious gift of God, designed to uplift the thoughts to high and noble themes, to inspire and elevate the soul."—Education, p. 167. The Holy Scriptures put to music and used in singing have wonderful power—"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."Ibid., p. 168. "The science of salvation is to be . . . the theme of every song."—Evangelism, p. 502.
Another quotation names the three positive elements that music should have: "beauty, pathos, and power."—Testimonies, vol. 4, p. 71.
From the preceding quotations we may be able to compile a list of both negative and positive qualities regarding sacred music. And this list could be a help to us in making intelligent moral decisions regarding the use of music in worship.
Our first list suggests three things that good sacred music should not possess: display, formality, extreme emotion.
The following qualities should be contained in sacred music: beauty, pathos, power, inspiration, harmony, elevation, nobility, purity, holy purpose, devotion, and gratitude to God. Its theme should be the science of salvation.
Measuring Secular Music
In our study of secular music we find that Mrs. White offers only the negative view. What her complete, or almost complete, silence in commendation of secular music means is a good question. It is doubtful that she felt that a Christian cannot safely participate in anything but sacred music. However, her warnings against certain types of secular music contain the information needed in its evaluation.
Here are two somewhat similar quotations describing the kind of music Christians should avoid.
Angels are hovering around yonder dwelling. The young are there assembled; there is the sound of vocal and instrumental music. Christians are gathered there, but what is that you hear? It is a song, a frivolous ditty, fit for the dance hall.—Testimonies, vol. 1, p. 506.
A view of one such company was presented to me, where were assembled those who profess to believe the truth. One was seated at the instrument of music, and such songs were poured forth as made the watching angels weep. There was mirth, there was coarse laughter, there was abundance of enthusiasm, and a kind of inspiration; but the joy was such as Satan only is able to create.—Counsels to Parents and Teachers, p. 339.
The servant of the Lord says that music can become an idol. In many cases it "has occupied the hours which should have been devoted to prayer."—Testimonies, vol. 1, p. 506. It may lead to pride, vanity, and folly. Some music is infatuating and causes sacred music to be uncongenial to the listener's taste.
Here is a strong statement that should be read by all who play a musical instrument: "No one who has an indwelling Saviour will dishonor Him before others by producing strains from a musical instrument which call the mind from God and heaven to light and trifling things."—Ibid., p. 510.
Notice the associations that give additional clues as to the type of music referred to: "Low songs, lewd gestures, expressions, and attitudes, deprave the imagination and debase the morals."—Ibid., vol. 4, p. 653.
It is pointed out that a love for music leads the unwary to unite with the people of the world in places not fit for Christians. (See Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 594.)
Speaking of the youth, she says, "Frivolous songs and the popular sheet music of the day seem congenial to their tastes."—Testimonies, vol. l, p. 497. This music takes time from prayer and excites, but does not impart strength and courage against temptation.