Summary: sermon on the value of Christian music at the dedication of an organ

Colossians 3:16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God.

Dedication of Organ

I was asked to speak a few words to you this evening on “The Value of Music in our Services.” I enjoy to speak on that subject, because I love music and I know the Lord Himself loves music otherwise we would not find so many psalms and hymns in the Bible. Shakespeare says, “the man that has no music in himself is fit for treasons, stratagems and spoils.” We might say with more truth: The congregation that has no music in itself is fit for the grave yard, in other words is spiritually dead, for how can the heart be silent that has been set free from the shackle of sin by the redeeming blood of Christ. It must break forth in melody saying with David: I will sing unto the Lord a new song.

The apostle Paul makes a very fitting tribute to the value of music in our church services when he writes to the Col: Let the word of Christ dwell among you richly, etc.

Music, especially as it is used in our services, should not merely be a pleasing combination of sounds and tunes, but an expansion of the heart and soul, as he says singing in your hearts. Some people may well know all the ins and outs of music can play and sing anything as far as the technique of the music is concerned, yet the most we can say about their playing and singing is that they have succeeded in making much noise and have filled our ears with the din of a conglomeration of sounds and tones. That is not music in the true sense.

Music should give expression to the thoughts of the hearts and soul and when that is done, even tones without words seem to speak to us and sound forth a kindred feeling with in our own hearts. Whether the thoughts of the heart are pure or impure, they can be expressed in music. There is an expression of the soul put with the music by the writer and an expression given by the one who plays and sings it. We can make the liveliest music seem frivolous by the manner in which we render it and can sometimes pour into music that was not meant to be religious a sacred feeling that uplifts it out of the mire in which it originally lay. Most valuable for our church service is that music therefore which was originally written to express the lofty truths and Scripture and is also rendered by a soul that lives in these truths.

For of all music church music takes first rank, because of the lofty and worthy and lasting truths which it expresses. The songs of Zion were lovely even the heathen people of Babylon, so that they said: Sing us a song of Zion! Because the songs of Zion have a lasting truth to express, a truth that appeals and talks to every soul, the voice of God speaking to His creatures. There is an extraordinary beauty in all music that gives glory to God. St. Olaf’s choir sings nothing but our old Lutheran church hymns, yet people of all classes find their singing beautiful and uplifting. The greatest music we have and music that can never grow old is church music, music that renders praise to God and Christ. I need but mention: St. Matthew’s Passion by Bach, Creation and Messiah by Handel, (?) Elias by Mendelssohn. It is said of Handel that he was so elated by the truths which he wished to express that he was moved to praise and tears while jotting it down. Those notes were not merely a combination of tones to him, but an expression of the soul and so should music be rendered also. That kind of music will not die, because it gives glory to Him to Whom glory alone belongs.

Why is it on the contrary that our many popular songs live and die in rapid succession like the Green (?) Bay fly which tonight swoops the air up and down and the next morning lies dead upon the grass, food for the ducks? Because the popular ditties do not give glory to whom it belongs and have no lasting truth to express. The man who glorifies his loved one as a god and angel before they are married would often like to make a slave of her afterward. The soul’s expression given in most of them is merely a flirting lust and affection.

I am not well enough versed in the technicalities of music to give you a learned discourse on that phase of music, and if I were able to do so, I am sure the majority of you would not be able to follow. I only know this of the value of music in church services that God wants us to sing and make music, for He says so. But I think we need to be reminded also that our music in church is then only of value, if it is the true expression of a heart that trusts in God and loves God and pours out its heart to g. Moody once said, that the singing of some choirs reminded him of the speaking with tongues at the time of the apostles, because he could not hear or understand what they were singing. Surely that detracts quality from the value of the song, for the Christian song has our everlasting gospel to preach and that gospel word should be heard and understood. If the choir gets up and sings for 7 or 8 stanzas a repetition of the words, “We all like sheep”, and then finally finishes with : “have gone astray” and the last words an song so that we do not catch them: we go home with the impression that our choir likes sheep and the value of the message which that passage of Scripture gives is lost by the poor singing of the choir.

The true value in our service lies therefore in the expression it gives of the everlasting truth of the gospel, the believing soul giving voice to its hope and faith and rendering praise to the Lord.