SING UNTO THE LORD
T. PIERCE BROWN
Although there seems to be an increasing need for teaching on the subject of the kind of music God authorizes and with which He is pleased, this article is not primarily for the purpose of emphasizing why we should not use mechanical instruments in worship of God. It is to emphasize how, what and why we should sing unto the Lord. It was suggested by the reading of Psalm 95:1-3, “Oh come, let us sing unto Jehovah; Let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation. Let us come before his presence with thanksgiving; Let us make a joyful noise unto him with psalms. For Jehovah is a great God, And a great king above all gods.” This does not suggest that David is our authority for singing, or for how, what and why we sing. However, the principles he stated are still valid for us.
Let us notice how we should sing unto the Lord. First, it should be joyful. This does not mean it should have a hand-clapping or foot-stamping accompaniment. We may need an extended study of the words “joy” and “rejoice” to see how far they are from the general concept which most of us seem to have. Without dwelling on it, let us just mention Hebrews 12:2, “Jesus the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame.” We need to make a clear distinction between rejoicing in the Lord and merely having fun.
When he says, “Make a joyful noise to the Rock of our salvation,” he does not mean, “Make a loud noise like a rock and roll band.” Those who have not learned the difference in rhythmic hiccuping and admonishing one another in spiritual songs need to do so before going on a tour. When Paul says, “Rejoice in the Lord always: again I will say, Rejoice” (Phil. 4:4) he is also giving the principle of how our singing should be done.
Both how and why are suggested in verse 2, “Let us come before his presence with thanksgiving.” When we sing, we should remember what he has done for us, such as giving us remission of sins, the gift of the Holy Spirit, the fact that he will not suffer us to be tempted above what we are able to bear and that He will work all things together for our good. We need to give thanks for what he has done in us, such as making us a partaker of the divine nature. We need to be thankful for what he has done with us in giving us the honor of being fellow laborers with him in the greatest and most glorious task ever conceived on earth or in heaven–the redemption of mankind. We should sing thankfully many songs that suggest what he has promised to us, such as the fact that we are heirs of God, joint heirs with Christ, and will receive the adoption as sons including a new body, and all that is involved in having heaven for an eternal home.
Note what the Psalmist said we should sing unto the Lord. “Let us make a joyful noise unto him with psalms.” Of course we are not limited to psalms, for Paul said in Ephesians 5:19, “Speaking one to another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord.” A psalm does not have to be one of the psalms of David, but we do need to realize that a song can be a psalm, hymn and spiritual song at the same time. A spiritual song is not necessarily a psalm or a hymn, for it is a song that is in harmony with the Spirit of God, whether of praise or any other subject. My personal opinion is worth little, but I doubt that “My Country ‘Tis of Thee” fits in either category as a song to be sung in worship. A hymn is simply a song of praise addressed to God. One should be able to see that all hymns should be spiritual songs, but not all spiritual songs are hymns.
There are at least six reasons given in Psalm 95 telling why we should sing unto the Lord. First, he is the rock of our salvation. The word “rock” suggests permanence, strength, shelter and other things that exalt our Savior. Second, he is great. “The Lord is a great God, and a great king” (v. 3). He is great in power, love, wisdom, majesty, holiness, mercy and any other attribute we may properly ascribe to him. Third, he is strong. “The strength of the hills is his.” Fourth, he is holy. Verse six says, “Oh come, let us worship and bow down; Let us kneel before Jehovah our Maker.” One of the strangest doctrines we have ever heard a gospel preacher teach is that everything we do is worship. I presume that those who teach that think that since all we do is supposed to be to the glory of God, and since we glorify God when we worship, then all we do is worship. That is illogical and unscriptural. When the Bible says, “Husbands love your wives” and we adore her, honor her, praise her, and offer her gifts, we are glorifying God, for we are being obedient to him. But our offering and praise is not directed to God, and therefore not worship to him.
A fifth reason for singing is suggested in verse 7, “We are the people of his pasture and the sheep of his hand.” That is, he is our gracious shepherd. When we sing, “Savior Like a Shepherd Lead Us,” or “The Lord My Shepherd Is,” we are emphasizing this point. A sixth reason for singing, which would be reason enough by itself, is that he commanded it. Verses 7 & 8 contain a thought of which we need constantly to be aware, “Today, oh that ye would hear his voice! Harden not your heart.” One of the most amazing things of which we are aware is that millions claim to worship God, but do it for their own pleasure, or in terms of their own will, not in obedience to his word. If we had Jesus for a guest, and should say to him, “Lord, what do you want?” and he replied, “I want to take a dip in the pool,” surely no one would reply, “You can take a shower, or forget it!” If he should say, “I would like for Mary to sing, `Jesus Loves Me’,” surely no one would say, “Since he did not say for John not to play, `My Country ‘Tis of Thee,’ we will listen to John playing rather than to Mary singing.” Though we can scarcely conceive of anyone doing something like that, they do it by the millions! When the Psalmist said “sing,” he used the Hebrew word “ranan.” When he said, “play,” he used the word “nagan.” We may cry again with David, “Oh that ye would hear his voice!”
The understanding of the simple truths that we cannot do something in the name of Jesus that he did not authorize, and that we cannot teach and admonish each other by playing on a mechanical instrument would help a great deal. Also, in the Lord’s church, we need to be aware that we do not teach and admonish one another as God authorizes, by singing the kinds of songs or making the kinds of noises that neither praise God nor have any spiritual value. It makes no difference how melodious the noise may be, or whether the whistling or humming sounds better to us than singing, we have no right to do that which is not authorized. If every person who worships would try to make sure his worship is what pleases God instead of what pleases him, it would come nearer being in spirit and in truth.