Archive for August, 2012

Tozer on Worship Music – Hymnody – 9

August 31, 2012

Compare the Christian reading matter and you’ll know that we’re in pretty much the same situation. The Germans, the Scots, the Irish, the Welsh, the English, the Americans and the Canadians all have a common Protestant heritage. And what did they read, these Protestant forebears of yours and mine? Well, they read Doddridge’s The Rise and Progress of Religion in the Soul. They read Taylor’s Holy Living and Dying. They read Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress and Holy War. They read Milton’s Paradise Lost. They read the sermons of John Flavel.

And I blush today to think about the religious fodder that is now being handed out to children. There was a day when they sat around as the fire crackled in the hearth and listened to a serious but kindly old grandfather read Pilgrim’s Progress, and the young Canadian and the young American grew up knowing all about Mr. Facing-Both-Ways and all the rest of that gang. And now we read cheap junk that ought to be shoveled out and gotten rid of.

Then I think about the songs that are sung now in so many places. Ah, the roster of the sweet singers! There’s Watts, who wrote “Oh, God, Our Help in Ages Past,” and Zinzendorf, who wrote so many great hymns. And then there was Wesley, who’s written so many. There was Newton and there was Cooper, who wrote “There Is a Fountain Filled with Blood,” and Montgomery and the two Bernards—Bernard of Cluny and Bernard of Clairvaux. There was Paul Gerhardt and Tersteegen, there was Luther and Kelly, Addison and Toplady, Senic and Doddridge, Tate and Brady and the Scottish Psalter. And there was a company of others that weren’t as big as these great stars, but taken together they made a Milky Way that circled the Protestant sky.

I have an old Methodist hymnal that rolled off the press 111 years ago and I found forty-nine hymns on the attributes of God in it. I have heard it said that we shouldn’t sing hymns with so much theology because peoples minds are different now. We think differently now. Did you know that those Methodist hymns were sung mostly by uneducated people? They were farmers and sheep herders and cattle ranchers, coal miners and blacksmiths, carpenters and cotton pickers—plain people all over this continent. They sang those songs. There are over 1,100 hymns in that hymnbook of mine and there isn’t a cheap one in the whole bunch.

And nowadays, I won’t even talk about some of the terrible junk that we sing. They have a little one that is sung to the tune of “There’ll Be a Hot Time in the Old Town Tonight,” which goes like this:

 

One, two, three, the devil’s after me,

Four, five, six, he’s always throwing bricks,

Seven, eight, nine, he misses me every time,

Hallelujah, Amen.

 

And the dear saints of God sing that now! Our fathers sang “O God, Our Help in Ages Past,” and we sing junk.

This tragic and frightening decline in the spiritual state of the churches has come about as a result of our forgetting what kind of God God is.

— The Attributes of God

Tozer on Worship Music – Hymnody – 8

August 24, 2012

Thou art worthy to take the book, and to open the seals thereof: for thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us” (Revelation 5:9)—that’s the theme of the new song. The theme of the new song isn’t “I am”; it’s “Thou art.” Notice the difference! When you look at the old hymnody of Wesley, Montgomery and Watts, it was “Thou art, O God, Thou art.” But when you look at the modern hymns, it is “I am, I am, I am.” It makes me sick to my stomach. Occasionally a good hymn with testimonies is all right, but we’ve overdone it. The song of the ransomed is going to be “Thou art worthy, O God.”

The Attributes of God

I’m always suspicious when we talk too much about ourselves. Somebody pointed out that hymnody took a downward trend when we left the great objective hymns that talked about God and began to sing the gospel songs that talk about us. There was a day when men sang “Holy, Holy, Holy,” and “O Worship the King,” and they talked objectively about the greatness of God. Then we backslide into that gutter where we still are where everything is about “I.” “I’m so happy,” “I’m so blest,” “I’m so nice,” “I’m so good,” always “I.” The difference between heaven and hell is the difference between God and I. Jesus Christ, by canceling His “I” was the Christ of God, not as I will, but as Thou wilt. The devil by magnifying his “I” became the devil—when he said, “I will arise, I will raise my throne above the throne of God.” (Sermon, “Ezekiel”)

Tozer on Worship and Entertainment

After the Bible the next most valuable book for the Christian is a good hymnal. Let any young Christian spend a year prayerfully meditating on the hymns of Watts and Wesley alone and he will become a fine theologian. Then let him read a balanced diet of the Puritans and the Christian mystics. The results will be more wonderful than he could have dreamed.

The Best of A. W. Tozer

The older I get the more I love hymns, and the less I love secular music. Secular music, however beautiful and artistic it may be and however it may express the genius of the composer, has one jewel missing from its crown. But a hymn, though it may not reflect the same degree of genius and a good musician might find fault with it, is still beautiful because it has God there. The song that honors God is bound to be beautiful.

The Attributes of God

Throughout the Western world we tend to follow the poet and approach Christmas emotionally instead of factually. It is the romance of Christmas that gives it its extraordinary appeal to that relatively small number of persons of the earth’s population who regularly celebrate it.

So completely are we carried away by the excitement of this midwinter festival that we are apt to forget that its romantic appeal is the least significant thing about it. The theology of Christmas too easily gets lost under the gay wrappings, yet apart from its theological meaning it really has none at all. A half dozen doctrinally sound carols serve to keep alive the great deep truth of the Incarnation, but aside from these, popular Christmas music is void of any real lasting truth. The English mouse that was not even stirring, the German Tannenbaum so fair and lovely and the American red-nosed reindeer that has nothing to recommend it have pretty well taken over in Christmas poetry and song. These along with merry old St. Nicholas have about displaced Christian theology.

The Warfare of the Spirit

Om God Bo Alles Lief Te Hê

August 24, 2012

 “Jy wil by my weet waarom ons God moet liefhê en hoeveel. Ek antwoord, die rede om God lief te hê, is God self; en die mate waarin ons liefde aan Hom verskuldig is, is onmeetbaar.” – Bernard van Clairvaux, On Loving God.

Ons wil God liefhê, nie net die idee van God liefhê nie. Ons moet God liefhê soos Hy is, as ons die eerste en grootste gebod wil vervul. ‘n Mens het God nie op dieselfde manier lief as wat jy ‘n kind, ‘n kameraad of klassieke musiek lief het nie. Ons moenie vir God lief wees soos ons ons troeteldiere, ons rekenaars of ons beroepe liefhet nie. Soos C.S.Lewis dit stel, “die tipe begeerte is gesetel in die voorwerp van begeerte …” Om God op die regte manier lief te hê, moet die liefde wat jy gee ooreenstem met wie Hy is.

Die ou uitdrukking is, daar is ‘n gewyde liefde vir God. As jy God op dieselfde manier liefhet as wat jy  vir roomys, sagte speelgoed, romantiese situasies of oulike klein hondjies lief is, dan sou jy skuldig wees aan ‘n liefde wat nie ooreenstem met wie God is nie  –  ‘n onvanpaste liefde.

Wat as die liefde wat ek dink ek vir God het nie ooreenstem met wie of wat God werklik is nie? As my liefde vir God totaal van koers af is, maar ek ervaar tog ‘n warmte, waarmee is ek eintlik besig? Eintlik is ek besig met selfbevrediging. Die menslike hart is so bedrieglik (Jer 17:9), dat wat ek liefde vir God noem, eintlik afgodsdiens is: ‘n aanbidding van myself en my eie geluk. In die lig van die groot onenigheid in hedendaagse Christelike kringe oor hoe ons moet sing, aanbid of preek oor God,  is ons dalk net die geslag wat in ‘n groot mate daarin uitgeblink het om onsself tevrede te stel en dit dan aanbidding te noem.

Tozer and Worship Music – Hymnody – 7

August 17, 2012

In order to express myself more freely on a matter that lies very near to my heart, I shall waive the rather stilted editorial we and speak in the first person.

The matter I have in mind is the place of the hymnbook in the devotional life of the Christian. For purposes of inward devotion, there is only one book to be placed before the hymnal, and that of course is the Bible. I say without qualification, after the Sacred Scriptures, the next best companion for the soul is a good hymnal.

For the child of God, the Bible is the book of all books, to be reverenced, loved, pored over endlessly and feasted upon as living bread and manna for the soul. It is the first-best book, the only indispensable book. To ignore it or neglect it is to doom our minds to error and our hearts to starvation.

After the Bible, the hymnbook is next. And remember, I do not say a songbook or a book of gospel songs, but a real hymnal containing the cream of the great Christian hymns left to us by the ages.

One of the serious weaknesses of present-day evangelicalism is the mechanical quality of its thinking. A utilitarian Christ has taken the place of the radiant Savior of other and happier times. This Christ is able to save, it is true, but He is thought to do so in a practical across-the-counter manner, paying our debt and tearing off the receipt like a court clerk acknowledging a paid-up fine. A bank-teller psychology characterizes much of the religious thinking in our little gospel circle. The tragedy of it is that it is truth without being all the truth.

If modern Christians are to approach the spiritual greatness of Bible saints or know the inward delights of the saints of post-biblical times, they must correct this imperfect view and cultivate the beauties of the Lord our God in sweet, personal experience. In achieving such a happy state, a good hymnbook will help more than any other book in the world except the Bible itself.

A great hymn embodies the purest concentrated thoughts of some lofty saint who may have long ago gone from the earth and left little or nothing behind him except that hymn. To read or sing a true hymn is to join in the act of worship with a great and gifted soul in his moments of intimate devotion. It is to hear a lover of Christ explaining to his Savior why he loves Him; it is to listen in without embarrassment on the softest whisperings of undying love between the bride and the heavenly Bridegroom.

Sometimes our hearts are strangely stubborn and will not soften or grow tender no matter how much praying we do. At such times, it is often found that the reading or singing of a good hymn will melt the ice jam and start the inward affections flowing. That is one of the uses of the hymnbook. Human emotions are curious and difficult to arouse, and there is always a danger that they may be aroused by the wrong means and for the wrong reasons.

The human heart is like an orchestra, and it is important that when the soul starts to sound its melodies, a David or a Bernard or a Watts or a Wesley should be on the podium. Constant devotion to the hymnbook will guarantee this happy event and will, conversely, protect the heart from being led by evil conductors.

Every Christian should have lying beside his Bible a copy of some standard hymnbook. He should read out of one and sing out of the other, and he will be surprised and delighted to discover how much they are alike. Gifted Christian poets have in many of our great hymns set truth to music. Isaac Watts and Charles Wesley (possibly above all others) were able to marry the harp of David to the epistles of Paul and to give us singing doctrine, ecstatic theology that delights while it enlightens.

We Travel an Appointed Way

Tozer on Worship Music – 6

August 10, 2012

We can come and sing hymns in this church and only enjoy the dignity of the music as a relief from rock’n’roll. (Sermon, “Doctrine of the Remnant,” Chicago, 1957)

Tozer on Worship and Entertainment

Just as the book of Psalms is a lyric commentary on the Old Testament, set to the music of warm personal devotion, so our great Christian hymns form a joyous commentary on the New Testament.

While no instructed Christian would claim for any hymn the same degree of inspiration that belongs to the Psalms, the worshiping singing soul is easily persuaded that many hymns possess an inward radiance that is a little more than human. If not inspired in the full and final sense, they are yet warm with the breath of the Spirit and sweet with the fragrance of myrrh and aloes and cassia out of the ivory palaces.

In the hymns all the basic doctrines of the Christian faith are celebrated. Were the Scriptures to be destroyed or made inaccessible to the Church, it would not be too difficult to extract from our hymns a complete body of Bible doctrine. This would, of course, lack the authority of the inspired Word, but it might well serve in a dark hour to keep alive the faith of our fathers. As long as the Church can sing her great hymns she cannot be defeated; for hymns are theology set to music.

Hymns do not create truth, nor even reveal it; they celebrate it. They are the response of the trusting heart to a truth revealed or a fact accomplished. God does it and man sings it. God speaks and a hymn is the musical echo of His voice.

—The Warfare of the Spirit

There fell into my hands some time ago a new hymnbook. It came from a far country and looked inviting. I opened it eagerly with the hope of finding some rare psalm or hymn or spiritual song that I had not known before, but my hope was short-lived. The book was published by a Christian group of the sand-counting school of doctrine and I soon discovered that each hymn was a prosaic lesson intended to indoctrinate the user in a narrow, one-eyed view of Christianity. The breath of sacred poesy was absent from the book. It did not mount up on wings as an eagle but walked solemnly and awkwardly along the ground. What original songs it contained were stuffy, joyless, unlovely and weighed down heavily with the half-dozen doctrines this particular group has chosen for constant and monotonous emphasis. Worst of all, many of the old favorite hymns were there but so mangled and emasculated as to be almost unrecognizable. The editors did not play on David’s harp; rather they used it as a sledge to hammer hard, angular doctrines into the heads of their followers. They did not intend that the hymns should give the singer joy, only that they should bring him into line and make him correct in his doctrinal position.

—God Tells the Man Who Cares

Religious productions which come into being during times of great spiritual blessing are to be valued above those which appear during times of spiritual decline. Especially is this true if the production is a fair reflection of the spiritual state which prevails at the time it is written.

Examples are not hard to find. Take for instance the hymnody that sprang up around the Methodist revival of the nineteenth century. One hymnal put out by the Methodists lies at hand as we write. It was published in the year 1849. It contains 1,148 hymns, 553 of them written by Charles Wesley, and the amazing thing about the book is that there is hardly an inferior hymn in it. One quality which marks the hymns is the large measure of sound doctrine that is found in them. Quite a complete course in theology could be gotten from the hymnal alone without recourse to any other textbook.

The Holy Spirit was upon the Methodists in fullness of grace, and they sang of God and Christ and the Scriptures and of the mysteries and joys of redemption personally experienced. The hymnal is lyric theology, a theology that had been strained through the pores of the men and women who wrote and sang their joyous songs. The hymns are warm with the breath of worshipers, a breath that may still be detected fragrant upon them after the passing of a century.

Lay this hymnal beside almost any of the productions of the last fifty years and compare them. The differences will be found to be pronounced, and to the devout soul more than a little depressing. The last half-century has been for the most part a period of religious decline, and the hymnody which it has produced has expressed its low spiritual state. With the coming of the great religious campaigns, with their popular evangelists and their mass appeal, religious singing started on a long trip down, a trip which from all appearances has not yet ended. Experience took the place of theology in popular singing. Writers became more concerned with joy bells than with the blood of sprinkling. Ballad tunes displaced the graver and more serious type of melody. The whole spiritual mood declined and the songs expressed the mood faithfully.

At the risk of being written off as hopelessly outmoded, we venture to give it as our studied opinion that about the only good thing in the average modern songbook is the section of great hymns which most of them carry in the back—hymns which for the most part were written when the Church was at her flood and which are included now as a gesture of respect to the past, and rarely sung.

—The Price of Neglect

Tozer on Worship Music – 5

August 3, 2012

The question of numbers and their relation to success or failure in the work of the Lord is one that disturbs most Christians more than a little.

On the question there are two opposing schools of thought. There are Christians, for instance, who dismiss the whole matter as being beneath them. These correspond to the lovers of high-brow music who firmly refuse to admit that there is anything of any real value other than that composed by Bach, Beethoven and Brahms. They know they are in the minority and glory in the fact, for in their opinion it is a very, very superior minority and they look down their noses at all who enjoy anything less complicated than a symphony.

Of course this is cultural snobbery and tells us a lot more about such persons than they would care to have us know. They remind one of the unco-learned of whom Colton wrote,

So much they scorn the crowd that
if the throng
By chance go right, they purposely
go wrong.

Now among religious persons I have met a few who are guilty of a kind of spiritual snobbery of which they are doubtless wholly unaware. These have recoiled so violently from popular, cheap-Jack Christianity that they simply have no longer any sympathy with crowds. They prefer to sit around the Lord’s Table in a select and tight little circle, admiring the deep things of God and, I very much fear, admiring themselves a wee bit also. This is a kind of Protestant monasticism without the cowl and the beads, for it seeks to preserve the faith of Christ from pollution by isolating it from the vulgar masses. Its motives may be commendable, but its methods are altogether unscriptural and its spirit completely out of mood with that of our Lord.

The other and opposite school is the most vocal and has by far the largest following in gospel circles today. Its philosophy, if it can be called a philosophy, is that “we must get the message out” regardless of how we go about it. The devotees of this doctrine appear to be more concerned with quantity than with quality. They seem burned up with desire to “bring the people in” even if they have not much to offer them after they are in. They take inexcusable liberties both with message and with method. The Scriptures are used rather than expounded and the Lordship of Christ almost completely ignored. Pressure is exerted to persuade the people (who, by the way, come to the meetings with something else in mind altogether) to accept Christ, with the understanding that they shall then have peace of mind and financial prosperity, not to mention high grades in school and a low score on the golf course.

The crowds-at-any-price mania has taken a firm grip on American Christianity and is the motivating power back of a shockingly high percentage of all religious activity. Men and churches compete for the attention of the paying multitudes who are brought in by means of any currently popular gadget or gimmick ostensibly to have their souls saved, but, if the truth were told, often for reasons not so praiseworthy as this.

Now the serious Christian wants to escape both extremes. Yet he is much concerned about the whole matter of numbers and is eager to find the will of God for his life and ministry. Should he go out for larger crowds or accept smaller ones as the will of God for him? Does success in the Lord’s work depend upon numbers? Is it possible to make up in quantity what is lacking in quality and so accomplish the same result?

Perhaps an illustration or two might help. If our country should be visited by a famine and you were put in charge of feeding the starving in your section of the city, would numbers matter? Most surely they would. Would it not be better to feed five hungry children than two? Would you not feel obligated to feed hundreds rather than tens, thousands rather than hundreds? Certainly you would. Or if a ship sank and your church were given a rescue boat, would numbers mean anything? Again the answer is yes. Would it not be better to save 10 than two, 100 than 50?

So with the work of God. It is better to win many than few. Each lost one brought home increases the joy among the angels and adds another voice to the choir that shall sing the praises of the Lamb. Plainly Christ when He was on earth was concerned about the multitudes. And so should His followers be. A church that takes no interest in evangelism or missions is subnormal in every way and desperately in need of revival.

Our constant effort should be to reach as many persons as possible with the Christian message, and for that reason numbers are critically important. But our first responsibility is not to make converts but to uphold the honor of God in a world given over to the glory of fallen man. No matter how many persons we touch with the gospel we have failed unless, along with the message of invitation, we have boldly declared the exceeding sinfulness of man and the transcendent holiness of the Most High God. They who degrade or compromise the truth in order to reach larger numbers, dishonor God and deeply injure the souls of men.

The temptation to modify the teachings of Christ with the hope that larger numbers may “accept” Him is cruelly strong in this day of speed, size, noise and crowds. But if we know what is good for us, we’ll resist it with every power at our command. To yield can only result in a weak and ineffective Christianity in this generation, and death and desolation in the next.

— The Size of the Soul