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Bible Commentaries

The Biblical Illustrator

1 Chronicles 25

Verse 7

1 Chronicles 25:7

That were instructed in the songs of the Lord.

Music and worship

In the services of the Jewish temple all is devout, exalted, appropriate, devotional, impressive, and soul-subduing, because the musicians themselves are close to the heart of the great Jehovah; the worshipping congregation hears His voice with awe, “as the sound of many waters,” and the priests of the temple lift their reverent thoughts to the great “I Am,” with every cloud of incense that floats above the altar.


I.
The moral purpose of music. All other aspects of music in religious service, that merely show off voices, and entertain the jaded senses of the crowd, without a devotional spirit and moral purpose behind them, may be theatrical and imposing, and to a certain extent moving, but they do not rise higher than the altitude of a passing mood. Musical effect is one thing--musical sincerity another. Words may be eloquent; they are useless when they do not touch the soul. Church music may be charming; it is but an idle breath when no message of spiritual power goes from the singer to him who listens. The Puritans and Spartans were both agreed that luxury of sound was sometimes mischievous. The Puritan said, “Sweet music at first delighteth the ears, but afterward corrupteth and depraveth the mind.” Timotheus, the Milesian, added a twelfth string to his harp, for which he was severely punished by the Spartans. They feared this luxury of sound would effeminate the people. Music is not only closely related to mind, but to morals as well; and, Church-wise, this moral quality makes its swift appeal to the emotional sense; the exact relation of music to the emotions and the effect of melody upon the listener are truly and eloquently described by Mr. Haweis: “Like the sound of bells at night breaking the silence, only to lead the spirit into deeper peace; like a leaden cloud at morn, rising in grey twilight, to hang as a golden mist before the furnace of the sun; like the dull, deep pain of one who sits in an empty room watching the shadows of the firelight full of memories; like the plaint of souls that are wasted with sighing; like paeans of exalted praise; like sudden songs from the open gates of paradise--is music. Like one who stands in the midst of hot and terrible battle, drunk with the fiery smoke and hearing the roar of cannon in a trance; like one who finds himself in a long cathedral aisle, and hears the pealing organ, and sees a kneeling crowd smitten with fringes of coloured light; like one who, from a precipice, leaps out upon the warm midsummer air, toward the peaceful valleys below, and feeling himself buoyed up with wings that suddenly fail him, wakens in great despair from his wild dream--so is he who can listen and understand.” Such is the mission of music, which George Eliot characterises as love in search of a word.


II.
There can be no sort of question that the religious bodies which give the people most to do in the service, and exact from the choir music of the most devotional type, are gaining the largest number of worshippers. In the first particular the Roman Catholic Church is seriously defective; but in the second particular it must be conceded that Protestants have absolutely nothing approaching the grandeur of the Roman Catholic masses, where we have a mind like that of Mozart or Beethoven steadily working out, in strains of incomparable depth and pathos, a great connected series of thoughts, embodying all the varied phases of religious emotion.” What man, capable of profoundest feeling, has not been thrilled to his heart’s depth by the great cathedral music of the Romish Church? Presbyterian and Congregational churches have been absolutely forced into warmer, more varied, and more worshipful forms of service by the hunger of the people and by the pressure of competition from without. On this point allow me to quote the strong language of Professor Waldo S. Pratt, of Hartford Theological Seminary, one of the most rigid and orthodox of Congregational institutions. He writes: “American Dissenting churches have begun to see that in their protest against the Episcopacy of the eighteenth century they went to the extreme in many matters. They have not only fallen into bald and irregular habits of worship, but in their exaltation of the teaching office of the pulpit they have almost forgotten the worshipping office of the pew. Accordingly, throughout the land arises a cry for the enrichment of public worship. Hence the growing use of responsive reading, of formulae of prayer and confession, of singing in which all the people may join,” Barren worship is productive of no such blessed inspirations and emotions as follow what is truly congregational worship.


III.
I am ready to grant the existence of certain dangers.

1. One is, that the music may be simply an entertainment. When Archbishop Stephens, of New York, was dying, he took the hand of a friend and whispered, almost with his last breath, “Come to the funeral. The music will be splendid.”

2. Another danger is that the service, largely ritualistic, may be emptied of all feeling of true devotion. Dr. Lyman Abbott notes a great absence of seriousness in the cathedral services of Antwerp, Cologne, and Paris. And upon this phase of the subject I will only remark that three principles must be duly observed in the construction of a satisfactory ritual--

(1) The sentiment of reverence must be increased, and not diminished. All tendencies toward trivialness in the treatment of the great realities symbolised by worship must be sternly reproved.

(2) There should be entire fitness of parts. Music, responses, prayers, must not be permitted to overweight each other. Proportion is as necessary in service as it is in architecture.

(3) Concentration of effects. The aim of all worship should be to bring God nearer, and to lift the soul in adoration. Whatever contributes to these results--though it be an innovation--ought at least to receive a respectful hearing in the court of reason. (F. Stanley Root, M. A.)

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Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "1 Chronicles 25". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/tbi/1-chronicles-25.html. 1905-1909. New York.