Spiritual Singing

Arthur Pink
April, 1947

Does not one have to be in the right mood for singing, either to engage in it personally or to enjoy that of others? Such is the idea which prevails generally among professing Christians. From one standpoint, it is of course true--but from another, it is not so. But surely no one sings when he is thoroughly miserable, unless he forces himself to do so. Ah, is not that exactly what the worldling would say? It is! and, sad to say, the great majority of church members hold the same view, which only evidences the carnality of their conceptions. Are the children of God in no better case than the children of the devil? Are they too "creatures of circumstances," swayed by the situation in which they find themselves, a prey to their feelings?

But must not one be in a cheerful frame in order to really sing? Yes, to sing naturally. But does not the saint require to be on the mount, before he can break forth into spiritual song? Such questions indicate how unscriptural are the thoughts of most people on this subject: they reduce singing to a mere physical exercise, an outburst of their natural emotions. Christians are bidden to delight themselves in the LORD (Psalm 37:4); and if they really do so, songs of praise are bound to spring up in their hearts. That it is not God's will that His children should be miserable, is clear from the fact that the service of song is an ordinance of worship; both under the old covenant (1Ch 6:31) and the new (Eph 5:19).

Singing is an act by which the soul renders homage, and the heart adores the glorious One: "Praise the LORD with harp: sing unto him with the psaltery" (Psalm 33:2). Singing is expressive of contentment and joy: "My heart greatly rejoices; and with my song will I praise him" (Psalm 28:7). "Is any merry? let him sing psalms" (James 5:13). Such expressions of spiritual gladness are both honoring and pleasing to Him: "Then I will praise God's name with singing, and I will honor him with thanksgiving. For this will please the LORD more than sacrificing an ox" (Psalm 69:30-31), that is, the most costly of the oblations appointed by Him under the Mosaic economy.

"The morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy" (Job 38:7). The reference there is to the angelic hosts celebrating the creation of this world.

For the next twenty-five centuries, Scripture records no further singing! Why? Because sin had come in and defiled the fair handiwork of God; and sin and crying; rather than sin and singing; more fitly accompany one another. It is salvation from sin which constitutes both the suitable occasion and the appropriate theme for song. Hence, it is as we read in Exodus 15:1: "Then Moses and the children of Israel sang this song unto the LORD." That was in most blessed contrast from what had characterized them while they toiled amid the brick kilns of Egypt. There were no joyful strains upon the lips of the Hebrews while they labored under the taskmasters of Pharaoh; instead, we read that "the children of Israel sighed by reason of the bondage, and they cried…And God heard their groaning" (Exo 2:23-24).

"Then Moses and the children of Israel sang" (Exo 15:1). When? The closing verses of Exodus 14 tell us: "Thus the LORD saved Israel that day out of the hand of the Egyptians; and Israel saw the Egyptians dead upon the sea shore. And Israel saw that great work which the LORD did…and believed the LORD." Ah, it is faith, and not unbelief, which evokes the spiritual song: a faith which perceived, "You in your mercy have led forth the people which you have redeemed" (Exo 15:13). It was the song of redemption which issued from the hearts of an emancipated people. Conscious of being freed from their bondage, they fervently praised their Deliverer.

And what did they sing about? Entirely of Jehovah: "I will sing unto the LORD, for he has triumphed gloriously" (Exo 15:1). There was nothing about themselves: it was wholly concerning Him. The word "LORD" occurs no less than twelve times in eighteen verses, while the pronouns of "He, Him, Your, You, Your" are found no less than thirty-three times! "I will exalt him" (Exo 15:2) expressed their design, as it must that of ever truly spiritual song. If the Lord engages our hearts and minds, there will be less groaning, and more singing!

"Now will I sing to my Well-beloved a song of my beloved" (Isa 5:1). Not only is He the object of that song, but its Theme too. How different is this from modern hymnology! The majority of the hymns (if such they are entitled to be called) of the past fifty years are full of maudlin sentimentality, instead of divine adoration. They announce our love to God, instead of His to us. They recount our experiences instead of His excellencies. They describe human attainments far more than they do Christ's atonement; a sad index to the lack of spirituality in the churches; while the jingling tunes to which they are set, and the irreverent speed at which they are sung, witness only too plainly unto the low state of present-day religion. Christian singing has been carnalized both in its conception and its execution.

Singing, like anything else which is acceptable unto the Father--must be "in spirit and in truth" (John 4:24), and not a musical performance of the flesh. The singing which the Scriptures inculcate, is not a thing of the senses, but of faith. It is not an outburst of emotional exuberance, but an expression of the heart's adoration. God is the Object of faith; and when that grace is in exercise, the soul is absorbed with His perfections, and melodious praise fills it. "I will pray with the spirit--and I will pray with the understanding also: I will sing with the spirit [not merely the throat], and I will sing with the understanding [not the emotions] also" (1 Corinthians 14:15). How that lifts those holy exercises above the plane of our natural feelings!

Unless the Christian's singing proceeds from the "spirit" or new nature, it is but lip service. Faith rises above nature and triumphs over all circumstances. No matter how distressing our situation, how low we may be in our feelings, if faith is engaged with its Beloved and ravished with His perfections, it will evoke song unto Him, about Himself, as it did from the bleeding and manacled apostles in the Philippian dungeon (Act 16)!

"Sing unto the LORD, O saints of his, and give thanks at the remembrance of his holiness" (Psalm 30:4). The divine holiness is indeed an attribute which inspires deepest awe, yet it also evokes praise from those enabled to discern its supernatural beauty. "Holy, holy, holy!" (Isa 6:3) is the song of the seraphim; and in it, the saints should join, as Israel did at the Red Sea when they adored Jehovah for being "glorious in holiness" (Exo 15:1). "My tongue shall sing aloud of your righteousness" (Psalm 51:14); can it be otherwise when the soul is assured His righteousness is imputed unto Himself! "I will sing of your power" (Psalm 59:16): we must do so if we realize that power is not against, but is "to us-ward" (Eph 1:19). "I will sing of the mercies of the LORD forever" (Psalm 89:1): it was not merely that the Psalmist was then in "a happy frame," but that his faith was exercised on its Object! "Your statutes have been my songs in the house of my pilgrimage" (Psalm 119:54): "Happy is the heart which finds its joy in God's commands, and makes obedience its recreation" (Charles H. Spurgeon, 1834-1892).

Observe well, my reader, that one thing is most conspicuous by its absence from the above passages: there is nothing whatever in those songs about man's experiences; not a word about his peace, his joy, his assurance, his progress. Again we say, what a contrast from the sickly rubbish which now passes as "hymns." The theme of Israel's song at the Red Sea, of Isaiah's, of the Psalmist's, were the perfections of the LORD: His holiness, righteousness, power, mercy, statutes. And when that is the theme, the song needs neither musical instruments as an "accompaniment," nor a trained choir to "render" it! The only song acceptable unto God is that which issues from a renewed soul, which is prompted by faith, and is directed by love. You may, dear friend, be cut off from other saints, unable to mingle your voice with theirs in public worship, yet in the privacy of your own room--you can be engaged in "singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord" (Eph 5:19), and thereby anticipate heaven!