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The Singing of Praise a Duty - by Rev. W.B. Smiley

Articles on Exclusive Psalmody

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A short overview of what it means to “praise” God.

THE offering of praise to God in some form by intelligent creatures like ourselves is a duty which lies at the very foundation of all religious worship, and is therefore assumed or taken for granted in the discussion of this subject. But should we feel ourselves under obligation to ” praise the name of God with a song,” is the question for present consideration. If we would lay the broadest possible foundation for the duty of singing praise we must go back to the beginning and watch the Creator as He lays the foundations of the world, and hear the praise that is bestowed upon Him ” when the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy.” It may be somewhat difficult to. determine who are intended by ” the morning stars,” but certainly this language is intended to convey to us the idea that anthems of praise were sung upon that important occasion. And when it was evident that this world could not fulfill the glorious purpose of its great Creator, on account of the ravages of sin, and the time was come for the manifestation of the Son of God in the flesh, that new heavens and a new earth might be established wherein should dwell righteousness, again we hear ” a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”

If it be fitting and proper that praise should be sung upon such occasions by angelic choirs, we have certainly a good starting-point from which to build an argument for such a service by the children of God on earth.

As a matter of history we have no means of knowing certainly when man first introduced the service of song into the public worship of God, but the first instance recorded was when Moses and the children of Israel, standing on the banks of the Red Sea, through which they had passed on dry ground, while their enemies were swept beneath its flood, sang this song unto the Lord: ” I will sing unto the Lord, for He hath triumphed gloriously: the horse and his rider hath He thrown into the sea. The Lord is my strength and song, and He is become my salvation.” However, this historic narrative would seem to indicate, like the account of the paying of tithes by Abraham, and the offering of the first sacrifices, that it was not a new thing just introduced into the worship of God for the first time. It is quite possible, therefore, that soon after the art of music began to be cultivated in the days of Jubal it was given a place in the worship of God. But from the time of the Red Sea experience onward, as special occasion seemed to demand it, a song was composed and sung in praise to God, until the days of the sweet psalmist of Israel, when it became a regular and permanent part of worship, and to the Levites was assigned the duty of ” standing every morning to thank and praise the Lord, and likewise at even,” according to the record of 1Chron. xxiii. As soon, therefore, as the chosen people came to have a definite and permanent place for their public worship, so that they could have some regular order and system in its observance, provision was made for the singing of God’s praise in connection with the daily sacrifice by having leaders trained and appointed for this service and songs composed which would suitably express their feelings and desires.
And whilst the first singing of praise recorded in the Scriptures would seem to have been a spontaneous outburst of grateful hearts, when the service came to be fully established it was definitely and frequently enjoined upon them by the commandment of Jehovah. In Psalm ix. we are exhorted ” to sing praises to the Lord, Who dwelleth in Zion.” In Psalm xlvii. the following language is to be found: ” Sing praises to God, sing praises: sing praises unto our King, sing praises. For God is the King of all the earth: sing ye praises with understanding.” Many similar references might be cited. Frequently these exhortations to sing praises to God are addressed to all nations of the earth, as in Psalm Ixvii.: ” O let the nations be glad and sing for joy. Let the people praise Thee, O God; let all the people praise Thee.” And again in Psalm Ixviii. the language is, ” Sing unto God, ye kingdoms of the earth,” indicating that this ordinance was intended for universal and perpetual use, and not to be limited to the Mosaic dispensation. There are also intimations that as a part of the Old Testament ritual it was more pleasing and acceptable to God than sacrificial offerings, for the Psalmist says, ” I will praise the name of God with a song. This also shall please the Lord better than an ox or bullock that hath horns and hoofs.” The example of our Lord and His Apostles in singing Psalms before they left the upper room, where the sacrament of the Supper was instituted, to go out to ‘ the garden of Gethsemane, and the singing of Paul and Silas within the prison walls at Philippi, followed by the miraculous opening of its doors, is evidence sufficient to indicate that this service was intended to form a part of the worship of the New Testament Church.

But the importance of this duty only becomes apparent when we consider it in its relation to the spiritual life of the worshiper. This ordinance was instituted no less for our profit than for God’s glory, and its proper observance must necessarily bear a very definite relation to the development of the graces of the Spirit in our hearts. Stafford, in his History of Music, says, ” In the first ages of the Church music formed a principal part of divine worship.” Pliny in writing to Trajan, A. D. in, says, ” The church assembled before daybreak to sing alternate hymns to Christ and to God.” And does any one profess to believe there was no connection between this fact and. the fulness of the Spirit’s influence and power which they then enjoyed? In later and corrupt times this part of worship was indifferently performed or entirely neglected, and one of the first efforts of Luther was to restore not only the doctrine of justification by faith, and the priesthood of the individual believer, but the privilege of popular participation in public worship. Says Waldo Pratt, ” If we are minded to imitate the practices of the early Reformation time, there is no item that would be more valuable than the united singing of hymns and psalms. In those days thousands were converted simply through the agency of song.” And another has said that ” the Church was largely psalm-sung into reformation.” It is evident, therefore, that the spirit in which the praise service of a congregation is conducted will determine the state of its spiritual life. Who would expect large spiritual results to manifest themselves where the praise service is left entirely in the hands of the choir, whether ungodly or Christian, while silence is allowed to reign in the pews when God is being worshiped in song? It has been truly said that choir music may foster a deeper and more intelligent spirit of worship. Under the ministry of such impressive music, when reinforced by the personal power of consecrated singers, a vast assembly may be touched and sobered as by the sound of an angel’s voice. But the singing of praise is not intended to affect the hearer so much as to utter the thoughts and emotions of the singer, and it can only flourish as a part of religious worship where there is congregational spirituality which craves expression. If strife and division characterize the life of the Church, or if coldness and indifference are manifest to any large degree among God’s people, the natural and necessary result will be a lack of spirit and life in the singing of praise to God. To perform this duty aright, therefore, it will be found necessary not only to cultivate a musical quality of voice, without which the singing must necessarily be indifferently performed, but, what is of still greater importance, we must seek to bring all the desires of our hearts and the purposes of our lives into harmony with the character and will of Him Whose praises we sing, else our praise service will be one in which the lips participate, but in which the heart finds no interest. A proper performance of this duty, however, requires that we

“Sing till we feel our hearts Ascending with our tongues; Sing till the love of sin departs, And grace inspires our songs.”

Another fact of no little weight, and not to be overlooked in considering the importance of this duty, is that the singing of God’s praise aright on earth is intended to fit us in no small way for participating to our utmost satisfaction in the engagements of heaven. Another has said, ” Singing is a leading characteristic of both the enjoyments and the engagements of that holy place. There the harpers are continually rolling from their golden harps anthems of praise.” Dr. Erskine represents the inhabitants of heaven as contending with each other as to who is most indebted to the divine mercy, and who owes to that mercy the loudest praise. After an unsuccessful attempt to settle the question they agree and say

“What, will no rival singer yield He has a match upon the field? Cease, then, and let all agree To praise upon the highest key; Then jointly all the harpers round In mind unite with solemn sound, And strokes upon the highest string
Make all the heavenly arches ring.”

And this picture of the Scotch divine is not greatly different from that which was seen in vision on Patmos, for we read in the Revelation: ” A voice came out of the throne, saying, Praise our God, all ye His servants, and ye that fear Him, both small and great. And I heard as it were the voice of a great multitude, and as the voice of many waters, and as the voice of mighty thunderings, saying, Alleluia: for the Lord God omnipotent reigneth.” Whoever, therefore, has any thought or desire to participate in such a service as this up yonder would do well to put himself in training for it by cultivating a voice and heart fitted to sing songs of praise to God on earth.

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