Understandeth Thou What Thou Singest?
By Charline Lemonds Sexton
When we worship in song, are we really worshipping in song or are we paying more attention to the dotted half notes and the rests than we are to the words and the message which are on the page before us? When we sing, "If Jesus goes with me, I'll go," it seems that even as we speak the promise, we have no intention of carrying it out. "Here am I; send me" likewise contains a pledge seldom taken seriously, seldom kept. The same is true of "Where he leads I'll follow."
One of the songs we sing is beautiful in words and harmony; but when the altos are called upon to say, "All my hopes on thee rely," what do these words and syllables mean? When some singers are instructed to hum while others sing the words, how does this achieve the command that Christians are to be "teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs" (Col. 3:16)? The song "Living by Faith" does not carry out the necessity the title suggests, because it says that Christ will return to earth "some sweet day; our troubles will then all be o'er," in spite of the fact that Paul says in I Thessalonians 4:17 that "we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air." Is it important, is it urgent, that our songs teach truth, or is it acceptable that we pretend not to notice when statements contrary to God's Word thus intrude into our worship? In some denominational churches the song "The Kingdom Is Coming" is sung enthusiastically; if it is all night for us to sing error in one song, is it acceptable for us to sing two or a dozen selections which have such errors in them? We have visited in one congregation in which the song "Living by Faith" was marked off with the notation that it was not to be used in the worship of that church. That, it seems to me, is a commendable action.
When we sing, "Rock of Ages, cleft for me," are we making a request or does "cleft for me" mean "which was divided or cut asunder for me"? The latter, of course, is true. In I Corinthians 10:4 we find a reference to the fact that "our fathers" were baptized 4 4 unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea" and "did all drink of that spiritual Rock that followed them: and that Rock was Christ." David, in Psalms 61:2, mentions "the rock that is higher than I." This thought, too, is the basis of a song which we often sing. Many scriptures in both Old and New Testament mention the Rock, meaning that which is solidly infallible, God the Father or Jesus, his Son. Of course, the word is used in a figurative sense in many books of the Bible.
"All Hail the Power of Jesus' Name" is a hymn of power and exultation, and when the command, "Bring for-th the royal diadem," is sung, we should realize that we are urging that everyone, in a figurative sense, place a crown or diadem on Jesus' head as a gesture of glory and acclamation. In the same song, the word prostrate means "to fall flat on the ground," totally overcome.
The word Beulah literally means "married," and as used by Isaiah it refers to the divine favor with which the Lord will bless the church: "but thou shalt be called Hephzibah, and thy land Beulah: for the Lord delighteth in thee, and thy land shall be married" (Isa. 62:4). In the song "Beulah Land" the word zephyrs (soft, gentle breezes) is used to describe the pleasant, ideal life which awaits us in heaven.
One of the most stirring hymns we sing is "A Mighty Fortress," in which God is spoken of as a bulwark, a wall used to defend and protect. Bulwark was originally a Danish word meaning "doing the work of a tree trunk." Such is descriptive of the way God will protect us if we will let him. In the same song, God is spoken of as "Lord Sabaoth," a name which has nothing to do with any day of the week. Paul uses a similar expression in Romans 9:29: "And as Esaias said before, Except the Lord of Sabaoth had left us a seed, we had been as Sodom, and had been made like unto Gomorrha." Sabaoth is a Hebrew word meaning "armies or hosts." We can thus see that "A Mighty Fortress" uses military imagery throughout, as do many of the songs we sing. Christian soldiers will not falter or go astray if we will but follow our Captain (Heb. 2:10).
When we sing of "Jesus, Rose of Sharon," what do we mean? Sharon was a fertile plain on the Mediterranean coast of western Asia. Beautiful roses (and other flowers) grew there. Solomon, in Song of Solomon 2:1, refers to Jesus as "the rose of Sharon, and the lily of the valleys." Though this allusion comes from a highly figurative source, it seems to be drawing a picture of the great love Christ has for his church. Isaiah 35:2 mentions the rose, which "shall blossom abundantly" and be given "the excellency of Carmel and Sharon."
A shortcoming in many congregations is the failure to sing along with the leader. Sometimes when he is saying, "O do not let the Word depart," many are singing, "let the Word depart." Perhaps when "What Shall It Profit?" is being sung, some are saying "all earth's gold and silver can make a sinner whole," and instead of "Why did my Savior come to earth?" many are, without meaning to, sending a message of doubt: "did my Savior come to earth?" When we as Christians come together and worship in song, what do we teach ourselves, our children, our visitors? Or is it someone else's duty to teach the truth in song?