Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Then Sings Not My Soul

My Mouth Won't Sing What My Soul Doesn't

There are songs my soul does not sing. So my mouth no longer sings them either. I try to be as broad and charitable as possible in determining what I will not sing. With some songs, there are lines I do not sing, with others verses, and there are some I will sing not at all. Sometimes, it seems hypocritical to sing of experiences I have not had and do not aspire to have. In some cases, it seems, if not heretical, in error to sing what I am asked to sing.

I am not thinking of the P&W songs, nor of their predecessors the choruses we sang in my youth (e.g. I’ve Got the Joy, Joy, Joy Down in my Heart  and Let Jesus Come into Your Heart).  Nor am I thinking of hymns I grew up singing (e.g. Since Jesus Came into My Heart  and Whispering Hope). I am not thinking of songs included in the hymnals (where those still exist) of other church traditions.

I confine myself to hymns I have been or might be asked to sing out of the hymn book of my own denomination. Let me give you and idea of what I am thinking about:

Is it your story that you have attained a “perfect submission”  that brings “perfect delight” and enables you to testify that “all is at rest”? Is it your song that  “visions or rapture now burst on (your) sight” with “angels descending” who “bring from above echoes of mercy whispers of love”? Are you “filled with his goodness, lost in his love”? If this is your experience when you sing of a Blessed Assurance, sing on, though it seems to me contrary to our doctrines of assurance and sanctification. If it is not, why do you sing it as though it were?

As a result of your redemption are you “so happy in Jesus, no language (your) rapture can tell”? Do you know that “the light of his presence with (you) shall continually dwell”? Do you “think of (your) blessed Redeemer…all the day long”? Do you “sing” because “(you) cannot be silent” about Jesus’ “love…the theme of (your) song”? Does Redeemed, How I Love to Proclaim It! describe your Christian life? 

Do you find as a Christian that  “heaven above is deeper blue, earth below is sweeter green”, perceptions that “Christless eyes have never seen”? How would you measure the depth of the blue and the sweetness of the green? How would you know that your experience of the blue (deeper) and green (sweeter) is qualitatively different from that of an unbeliever? Perhaps you believe all this. I don’t.  (Note that there are other lines in Love with Everlasting Love that were substantially revised by Ed Clowney before the hymn was included in in Trinity Hymnal.)

These are things I have never experienced. My saying so could prove (1) that I am an honest believer speaking for what other believers would say if they thought about these things or had the courage to say them, or (2) that I have not attained legitimate goals of Christian experience such as perfect submission, or (3) that I lack Christian experience altogether.

Let me ask another question that relates to our doctrine of the covenant:

Should covenant children, who have no memory of not believing in the Lord Jesus, sing “Long my imprisoned spirit lay fast bound by sin and nature’s night”? Have they had the experience of God’s “eye “diffus(ing) a quickening ray” so that “ (they) woke, the dungeon flamed with light” and “(their) chains fell off, (their) heart(s) (were) free, so that “(they) rose, went forth, and followed thee.” I can grant the metaphorical usel of Peter’s release from the dungeon in Wesley's And Can It Be That I Should Gain  to describe the conversion experience of some, but is it that of all, particularly that of children who in the fulfillment of God's promises to them believed as they heard the truths at home and church?

I am not, never have been, and don’t think I’ll ever be an exclusive Psalm singer. But, I have begun to wonder if our “experiential” songs should be drawn almost exclusively from the Psalms. It seems to me that it is much more difficult to write experiential songs than doctrinal and doxological ones. It his hard for an uninspired individual to  express true, legitimate, and potentially universal experiences of God’s people.

Joel Beeke has written regarding Calvin and the use of the Psalms:

Psalms cover the full range of spiritual experience, including faith, unbelief, joy in God, sorrow over sin, trust in divine presence, and grief over divine desertion. As Calvin says, they are “an anatomy of all parts of the soul.” We see our affections and spiritual maladies in the psalmists’ words.

When we sing the Psalms we know that the emotions and experiences we sing are ones that are in one way or another legitimate spiritual emotions and experiences. We know that God approved them to be recorded in Holy Scripture. We know that the words they use to describe their experiences are inspired by God.

Someone might object that, if we sing of experience only from the Psalms, we will not include Christian experience on the other side of the accomplishment of redemption. I can accept that. But, then, I would ask if we might have a song or two of New Testament that lets me sing about where I live a lot of the time. For instance, Romans 7: 14-25. 

But I’ll also offer you a deal which, of course, you can refuse: I won’t ask you to sing what I feel and experience if you don’t ask me to sing what you feel and experience but I don’t.

Or, just this much: Don’t judge me if my mouth does not sing with you since my soul does not.


tcarman said...

Thanks for your insights! Much appreciated. I too do not like to sing songs that speak of me, "Oh, how I love Jesus..." I would prefer to sing, "Oh, how Jesus loves me..." In worship, it should be all about the majesty and greatness of WHO God is and WHAT He has done. Amen to all you said!!

Stegokitty said...

You're not alone on this. While I don't really have a problem with children singing of things they haven't yet experienced, I do have a problem in singing words that I believe are inappropriate or shallow, or smarmy. I'd say that about half of the songs sung in our church are without my voice. And then there are the times when I stop singing, not because I don't agree with the words but because either the music sounds more like a commercial jingle, and I feel like an idiot singing, or the music and/or lead singer is so loud that I feel like I'm being sung to, which is really, really, really annoying. But sometimes, thank the Lord, I don't sing because I can't -- the meaning of the words is too much for me to sing out loud and not cause a distraction, so I sing them in my heart while I try not to make a sobbing fool out of myself.

On a personal note, I'm sorry I haven't been keeping up with your blog. Now I remember how much I liked it.

Blessings little sister.


Brandon Morgan said...

I agree with you. From an a RPW perspective, only the psalms make sense for our "self expression" in corporate worship.

PastorJDM said...

I'm guessing that you may not be a very big reader of poetry either? I agree that we should not sing things that are theologically inaccurate, however, I do believe it is appropriate to sing things that SHOULD be true, even if they are not yet realized or felt--they are the ideal…like "perfect submission." I believe you miss the point of hymnody if you think that it should only be a description of your present emotional state.

Respectfully in the Lord,


The Christian Curmudgeon said...

Well, actually I do read poetry. I don't care for bad poetry, however. John Donne is an example of very good religious poetry. I do not think "perfect submission" that produces visions of rapture now burst(ing) on my sight" should be sung because what is described is not a true or healthy spiritual experience. It reflects a Christian perfectionism that is not Biblical. I do not even aspire to such.

John Marshall said...

Very well put. In addition to not singing songs that reflect bad theology, it should also be noted that there is a difference between corporate and private worship. "Come, Holy Ghost, with God the Son and God the Father, ever One; shed forth thy grace within our breast, and dwell with us, a ready guest" is an appropriate prayer for the congregation to sing. "Come, my soul, thou must be waking. Now is breaking o'er the earth another day: Come, to him who made this splendor see thou render all thy feeble strength can pay" is a personal exhortation to oneself that each worshiper can sing together. Songs such as "Blessed Assurance" might be appropriate for some in private worship (hopefully in closets), if they are so perfected.