By Daniel Steele
THE HOLY GHOST AND SINGING.
SINGING is a delightful part of divine worship. The only singing that pleases God and melts and moves men is inspired by the Holy Spirit. It is the spontaneous outflow of spiritual joy. "Be filled with the Spirit; speaking one to another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart unto the Lord." According to the Revised Version the heart is the instrument of acceptable singing. It is in tune only when at peace with God and filled with His Spirit, the blessed Comforter. Every hymn which is a true vehicle of praise was composed as the outgush of emotions awakened by the Holy Spirit. For as all genuine poetry is the language of the natural emotions, so all the great and imperishable Christian hymns are the utterances of the spiritual sensibilities.
The great poet of Germany, Goethe, near the close of his life, remarked with sadness that none of his poems had been deemed worthy of a place in the Lutheran hymnal. The Holy Spirit was not in that man and hence could not inspire one immortal lyric. It is just the same with song-singing as it is with songwriting. If the Spirit is not in the singer the highest effect cannot be reached. For there are no substitutes for His presence as the soul of sacred music. Science, art, voice culture and faultless instrumental accompaniments are all hollow without the indwelling Spirit breathing upon he finer chords of the soul. When the Spirit leaves a church the singing of the congregation declines. It becomes spiritless, cold and formal. At last "hallelujahs languish on their tongues, and their devotion dies." They send to the opera for a quartet " to praise God by committee," or for a soloist to say " amen" for them in a poor mimicry of the liquid trills and flourishes of a bobolink. A recent writer, Dr. A. J. Gordon, insists that this is a case of simony, the attempt to buy with money inspired song, a gift of the Holy Ghost. There are some very important things which gold cannot purchase: it cannot secure true nuptial bliss, it cannot bribe death, it cannot buy admittance to heaven, nor can it procure a proxy for praising God.
No modern religious movement magnified the work of the Holy Spirit so much as that begun by the Wesleys. Their converts were remarkable for their singing. Why did their singing draw and disarm even their persecutors? Because their hearts throbbed with "joy unspeakable and full of glory." They must sing or burst asunder without vent to their gladness. Make a man happy and he is sure to sing. If he cannot sing, he will learn. If he cannot learn, he will shout, or make what seems to him a joyful sound, though it may be a discord to others not in sympathy with his joy. The Wesleys, brimming with poetry and music, prepared suitable hymns and tunes and carefully guided this devotional exercise. Listen to some of John Wesley's directions: "Suit the tune to the words. Avoid complex tunes, which it is scarcely possible to sing with devotion. Repeating the same words so often, especially while another repeats different words, shocks common sense, necessarily brings in dead formality, and has no more religion in it than a Lancashire hornpipe. Sing no anthems. In every society let them learn to sing. Introduce no new tunes till they are perfect in the old. Exhort every one to sing — not one in ten only. Sing lustily."
When this charge was given, solo singing was not customary in the churches, and hence is not included in Wesley's condemnation. There is now and then a soloist filled with the Holy Ghost, like Mr. Sankey, who sings so distinctly and earnestly as to evince that he has a message from God. But the great majority of them, especially the women, drown the words in their pranks and twists of voice, as if they were simply trying, like acrobats dancing on the top bar of the musical staff, to exhibit their vocal gymnastics, while the people, instead of worshipping God, are staring at the performer with open-mouthed wonder. Nothing more strikingly demonstrates the spiritual decay of Methodism than the substitution of the artistic music of a few hirelings for the hearty and joyful singing of the whole assembly. We are disgusted with the introduction of the misnamed sacred music of a pure and classic type, "which is devouring," says Tyerman, "the very vitals of Methodistic worship, and no more harmonizes with the hymns of the Wesleys than an automatic scarecrow with a living, breathing man."
Our only hope is in the revival of preaching under the anointing, the pulpit magnifying the Holy Ghost and the pews receiving him in Pentecostal fulness and expressing their joy in jubilant songs.
In addition to the Holy Spirit in the heart, the elements of power in singing are, first, numbers to carry the tune so strongly as to override any discords of ill-trained voices and to create a tidal wave of feeling to lift the entire assembly on its bosom and move them heavenward. In the second place, the older the hymn and the tune the richer will be the tender associations enlivening the emotions. There is something very affecting in the thought that our fathers and mothers and our ancestors for many generations worshipped God in the use of the same words and the same tune. In the next place, the tune itself should not be like a jig, light and airy, suggestive of shallowness of feeling, and the words should be filled with such solemn truths as will awaken the feeling of sublimity. It is a marked characteristic of our old hymns and tunes, in contrast with those of modern composition, that they combine these qualities. Grandeur in poetry is wedded to tunes having long, swelling sweeps of melody bearing all hearts upward and almost blending with the heavenly choir around the throne of the Lamb. Again, our older musical compositions, being free from a chorus attached to every verse, can be sung entire with less weariness than attends the constant repetition of the same chorus in treadmill style without any advance in the thought.
The cathedral singing of the Germans is noted for its effect in awakening devotional feeling. Says an American theological professor: "I can never forget a spectacle that I saw in one of the old churches in Nuremberg. The great edifice was crowded, one half of the audience at least standing. The sermon had been delivered in a fervent manner and had apparently much interested the feelings of the audience. Immediately a powerful and well-toned organ sent its peals through all the corners and recesses of the cathedral, and in a moment every adult and child in the vast throng broke forth in praise to the Redeemer, in one of those old hymns, mellowed by time, and which breathe not of earth but of heaven. The effect, at least upon the stranger, was overpowering. Nothing like it ever can be produced by a small choir, however scientifically trained. Its performance must be comparatively dead, because so modern or so artistic and scientific, or because it has been subjected to so many mutations that few can join in it if they were permitted to do so. Music for a popular audience must be simple, and then, especially if a great multitude unite, it will often be affecting and sublime." Dr. Eben Tourjee, the late great American advocate of congregational singing, on one occasion in Germany was so overpowered by the outburst of universal song that he could not restrain his emotions, but rushed out of the cathedral lest he should disturb the worship by his hallelujahs.
Paul intimates that singing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs is the natural expression of the fulness of the Spirit. Song is the outlet of joy. The Holy Spirit diffuses joy, the highest, purest and most enduring. When the Spirit comes into the heart the tongue of the dumb sings. John Wesley emphasized the Holy Spirit as consciously receivable. The people believed and received, and spontaneously burst out in jubilant song. Charles Wesley was moved by the Spirit to furnish hymns adapted to this modern Pentecost. All the Methodists sang, and sang " lustily" too, as they were exhorted to do by that great reformer inspired by the breath of the Almighty to quicken a dead church and "create a soul beneath the ribs of death." But when the Methodists lost the fulness of the Spirit,
"Hosannas languished on their tongues.
And their devotion died."
Then they sent to the opera and hired ungodly minstrels to praise God for them. It was a long stride away from the masses who love to have an active part in worship. Congregational singing is a great social leveller. The ditch-digger with a rich tenor voice feels that he is the peer of the owner of broad acres. The poor man with a large family and small wages can share in such worship and preserve his self-respect. He is attracted to a democratic form of worship. The Holy Ghost never narrows the privileges of the common people.
President Lincoln once said, "We know that God loves the common people because He has made a great multitude of them." It is the desire of the Holy Spirit to regenerate and sanctify this multitude by drawing them to the house of prayer and keeping them there. Satan has competitive attractions, his institutions which put men on the same level, the saloon, the beer-garden, the Sunday excursion, the bicycle outing, the so-called "sacred concert" and the Sunday newspaper. The churches which are wise will popularize their worship and win back the masses who have been repelled by our artistic, exclusive and costly singing which the Holy Ghost has no use for in saving sinners and training them for life eternal. He can carry to the heart only that which comes from the heart. That singing which is the utterance of Christian truth, first through the glowing heart of the poet, and then through the fervid sensibilities of the singers, the Holy Spirit can impress on both those who hear and those who sing. But when the form in which the truth is conveyed attracts attention to itself, whether it be the ornate style of the preacher or the trills and demisemiquavers of the prima donna, standing where she ought not, admiration of the human performance diverts the mind from divine worship and the Holy Spirit is dishonored. It is a professed adoration of God, but a real adoration of man. Over such singing and preaching the Holy Spirit cannot preside. He can use the singing of a godly soloist whose sole aim, like that of the preacher, is the impressive utterance of saving truth.
Such a man is Mr. Sankey, the yokefellow of Mr. Moody. But much solo singing, especially of women, is so performed as to convey no truth to the mind, because it distinctly enunciates no words to the ear, in the effort to mount up to the highest notes possible to the human voice and to leap from peak to peak as Byron represents the "live thunder" reverberating amid the summits of the Alps, The hearer has not the words before him, nor has the preacher read them to the audience. If they are not plainly uttered by the songster, they convey no more truth than do the "do, re, mi" of the music-teacher. Such singing done softly may soothe while it does not edify. But it is God's purpose not to soothe with sound, but to save with truth. The organ prelude may awaken the emotion of sublimity in minds responsive to melody, but that alone never brought a sinner to God nor helped a believer into his full heritage in Christ. If instruments accompany singing, they should merely sustain the tune and strengthen the weaker parts, but never drown the words in an ocean of sound. Happy is that people who can sing well without an instrument. There is no music comparable to the human voice. Let it be used by as many as possible, even by those who make only discords, if there is only a volume of tuneful sound sufficient to overcome them.