Live Coals: Music

My chief interest is in the music of the Bible. The Bible, like a great harp with innumerable strings, swept by the fingers of inspiration, trembles with it. So far back as the 4th chapter of Genesis you find the first organist and harper Jubal. So far back as the 31st chapter of Genesis you find the first choir. All up and down the Bible you find sacred music at weddings, at inaugurations, at the treading of the wine press. Can you imagine the harmony when these white-robed Levites, before the symbols of God’s presence, and by the smoking altars, and the candlesticks that sprang upward and branched out like trees of gold, and under the wings of the cherubim, chanted the 136th Psalm of David ? You know how it was done. One part of that great choir stood up and chanted,

Oh ! give thanks unto the Lord, for He is good!”

Then the other part of the choir, standing in some other part of the temple, would come in with the response :

” For His mercy endureth forever.”

Then the first part would take up the song again, and say,

“Unto Him who only doeth great wonders.”

The other part of the choir would come in with the overwhelming response,

” For His mercy endureth forever,” until in the latter part of the song, the music floating backward and forward, harmony grappling with harmony, every trumpet sounding, every bosom heaving, one part of this great white-robed choir would lift the anthem,

Oh ! give thanks unto the God of heaven,” and the other part of the Levite choir would come in with the response :

“For His mercy endureth forever.”

Now, my friends, how are we to decide what is appropriate, especially for church music? There may be a great many differences of opinion. In some of the churches they prefer a trained choir ; in others, the old style precentor. In some places they prefer the melodeon, the harp, the cornet, the organ ; in other places they think these things are the invention of the devil. Some would have a musical instrument played so loud you cannot stand it, and others would have it played so soft you cannot hear it. Some think a musical instrument ought to be played only in the interstices of worship, and then with indescribable softness ; while others are not satisfied unless there be startling contrasts and staccato passages that make the audience jump, with great eyes and hair on end, as from a vision of the Witch of Endor. But, while there may be great varieties of opinion in regard to music, it seems to me that the general spirit of the Word of God indicates what ought to be the great characteristic of church music.

And I remark, in the first place, a prominent characteristic ought to be adaptiveness to devotion.

Music that may be appropriate for a concert-hall, or the opera-house, or the drawing-room, may be shocking in church. Glees, madrigals, ballads, may be as innocent as psalms in their places. But church music has only one design, and that is devotion, and that which comes with the toss, the song, and the display of an opera-house is a hindrance to the worship.

From such performances we go away saying, “What splendid execution! Did you ever hear such a soprano? Which of those solos did you like the better?”

When, if we had been rightly wrought upon, we would have gone away saying, “Oh, how my soul was lifted up in the presence of God while they were singing that first hymn ! I never had such rapturous views of Jesus Christ as my Saviour, as when they were singing that last doxology.”

My friends, there is an everlasting distinction between music as an art and music as a help to devotion. Though a Schumann composed it, though a Mozart played it, though a Sontag sang it, away with it if it does not make the heart better and honor Christ. Why should we -rob the programmes of worldly gayety, when we have so many appropriate songs and tunes composed in our own day, as well as that magnificent inheritance of Church psalmody which has come down fragrant with the devotions of other generations? Tunes no more worn out than they were when our great-grandfathers climbed up on them from the church pew to glory?

Born, as we been, amid this great wealth of Church music, augmented by the compositions of artists in our own
day, we ought not to be tempted out of the sphere of Christian harmony, and try to seek unconsecrated sounds. It is absurd for a millionaire to steal.

I remark also, that correctness ought to be a characteristic of Church music.

While we all ought to take part in this service, with perhaps a few exceptions, we ought, at the same time, to culture ourselves in this sacred art. God loves harmony, and we ought to love it. There is no devotion in a howl. Another characteristic must be spirit and life. Music ought to rush from the audience like the water from a rock clear, bright, sparkling. If all the other part of the Church service is dull, do not have the music dull. With so many thrilling things to sing about, away with all drawling and stupidity. There is nothing that makes me so nervous as to sit in a pulpit and look off on an audience with their eyes three-fourths closed, and their lips almost shut, mumbling the praises of God. People do not sleep at a coronation ; do not let us sleep when we come to a Saviour’s coronation.


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The best music has been rendered under trouble. The first duet that I know anything of was given by Paul and Silas when they sang praises to God and the prisoners heard them. The Scotch Covenanters, hounded by the dogs of persecution, sang the psalms of David with more spirit than they have ever since been rendered. All our churches need arousal on this subject. Those who can sing must throw their souls into the exercise, and those who cannot sing must learn how, and it shall be heart to heart, voice to voice, hymn to hymn, anthem to anthem, and the music shall swell jubilant with thanksgiving and tremulous with pardon.

Again, Church music must be congregational.

This opportunity must be brought down within the range of the whole audience. A song that the worshipers can not sing is of no more use to them than a sermon in Choctaw.

Let us wake up to this duty. Let us sing alone, sing in our families, sing in our schools, sing in our churches.

“Gloria in Excelsis ” is written over many organs. Would that by our appreciation of the goodness of God, and the mercy of Christ, and the grandeur of heaven, we could have “Gloria in Excelsis” written over all our souls.

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