Art and Worship
Psalm 57:8
Awake up, my glory; awake, psaltery and harp: I myself will awake early.

Art and Worship — these stand in our day like two rival spirits, contending for the mastery in the religious life of this country. In all our churches, alike in country parishes as in our great cities, where popular concerts and music for the million has done so much to raise the standard of taste, there is everywhere the same sense of unquiet. To some, music is the heavenly maid, and the more elaborate and artistic the more their soul is dissolved, as Milton describes his in ecstasies under Church music —

"There let the pealing organ blow

To the full-voiced choir below,

In service high, and anthems clear,

So may with sweetness through mine ear

Dissolve me into ecstasies,

And bring all heaven before mine eyes."But all men have not this sensibility to sound. The inner spirit is not reached in this way by concord of sweet sounds. There are some to whom music is only the least disagreeable of noises. But putting aside the two extremes of the highly-trained ear, delicately strung to vibrate within at the least note of music, and the ear dull, if not deaf, to its sweet influences, the vast majority of mankind are in the middle state on the subject. They think of music very much as the lady who, when asked how she liked the art, made answer that music was good when it was good. Now, though that sounds very much like a truism, it conveys an important thought, which is this — that music only answers the end it was intended for when it stirs the soul by quickening the sensibilities. What I mean is, that through the sense of hearing a quiver of emotion is borne in on the soul, nameless and undefined, and that this taken up into the soul is there translated into thought and clothed in some intelligible form. I pity the car which is unable to be the channel through which impressions of this kind pass which enter the soul as sound, and are there transmuted into spiritual impressions. But I know that many are not impressionable enough to be set thinking in this way on high and heavenly themes. On the contrary, elaborate music acts on them almost as a disturbing element in devotion, and they are set thinking not so much of the words of the Te Deum, as of the execution of the choir. To the choir let me say that the higher the class of the music the more carefully it should be executed. It is an infliction to a trained ear to hear high symphonies and sonatas where tune is secondary, and the stress depends on time and tone, rendered amiss by a careless and half-trained choir. Now let me say a word to the congregation, and particularly to the least musical portion, as I assume the majority to be. Ought there not, in the first place, to be some give and take on your part? A service has three parts — the prayers, which are for all, without exception; the praise, which is also for all who can follow to take part in; and the sermon, in which the preacher alone speaks, and all listen with as much attention and interest as he can draw out. "Awake up, lute and harp; I myself will awake right early." The psalmist first calls up sounds of praise from wood and wire — the mere mechanical instruments of music. But does he stop there? If so, we should never rise above the mere externals of worship. Our churches would be no better than concert halls, and our services only oratorios. But not to end thus, he goes on to say, "I myself will awake right early." He means that the praise which began with mechanical effort, as of lute and harp, shall go on and rise into the higher region of spiritual service. I myself will awake, and that, too, right early — i.e. with all my soul and strength. If music does not go on to this it fails of its object, and does harm instead of good. Our aim, then, should be to spiritualize our services. The senses are to buoy up the spirit, as a Santa Philomela, borne aloft on a network of the expanded wings of swans. This may be a fancy, but it symbolizes a great thought of the relation of art to worship. We shall never fully reach it on this side of eternity. But in heaven the hallelujah of the long thanksgiving psalm will be the perfect marriage and union of art and worship.

(J. B. Heard, M. A.)

Parallel Verses
KJV: Awake up, my glory; awake, psaltery and harp: I myself will awake early.

WEB: Wake up, my glory! Wake up, psaltery and harp! I will wake up the dawn.

The True Source of Spiritual Song
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