“This people draw near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, while their heart is far from me“Isaiah 29:13
Worship with music is the consummation, not the beginning of worship. The christian life is one where worship begins in the home and in the heart, it has been carried along all week and finds is ultimate consummation and expression in singing of words. For this is quite evident what singing is: the overflow of the heart. How can a heart sing which has been dead and wanton all week? How can a heart come before God to rejoice and sing praise when it has been in negligence of him all week. If you wonder that your singing is so cold the root is not far off but dwells within your own self. It is not simply because the music is not stirring enough, or not loud enough, or the lights not dim enough. It is because all week you have not been living in worship of God with your conduct. You have given God no honor or glory in you behavior, in your conversations, in your reading, your writing, your learning, your working, your resting, your enjoyments. You have spent yourself on the world and your soul feels it deep within itself. And so there is no amount of singing that will bring your soul out of this state.
Men have made elaborate services in an attempt to draw the soul out of this state. The flesh is an easy subject to manipulate. Satan has been at work for millennia tempting the flesh because it is so easily enraptured with delights. But all these fashions and intricacies that surround our modern “worship services” are but a veneer for the deadness, coldness and silliness that fills our lives. We must have loud music lest we feel this coldness. We must have dimmed lights, lest the light expose our loose conduct and ill-spent days. We must have music that woos and swoons our emotions because we could not for the life of ourselves sing out of the abundance of our hearts. No wonder so many complain of the music played in worship services today. Every man wars for his preference because he scarce can sing a song that is not in his own emotional language. And if he comes to a “worship service” with a “musical dialect” differing from his own, no wonder he is silent, no wonder he is out of place. His heart has no room for rejoicing. It is not the sounds themselves, but the deadness and coldness of his heart that has no room for rejoicing. We manipulate the worship service in such a manner so that it so well suits our fancies that when we walk out we speak of how great we “feel”, when all the while we should have walked out of such a service and spoke of how terrible we feel because we have spurned our Savior all week long, we have neglected him and enjoyed this world itself in exclusion to him.
No wonder the older generations were vehement against the introduction and multiplication of instruments in their services. Though they wrongly attached to an outward thing the inward movement of the heart, that is, that “simple” music wrought a contrite heart. But they saw at work the degeneration of true worship. They came to services and instead of being in the presence of other Christians whose hearts were ready and prepared to worship God, they were in a multitude of dead, impenitent, wayward sinners whose hearts had but a faint beating after the good gifts of God. Such sinners came after living a week spent in front of the worldly entertainments and could scarce be lifted out of their worldly stupor and so, in needing to have their minds assuaged that they were not nearly as vile as they felt, they called for emotional and moving music, they colored the lights, they dimmed them, they raised the volume, and all this was done to drown out the violence of their hearts. This was what lay beneath the outcry of the older generation. They came to a service of simplicity, of rather quietness, where it was not to be pleasured by music but to bring the abundance of their hearts before God in praise to him. They did not need loud, amplified, banging instruments to do this. They could simply, without any instrument whatsoever, bring their voices to God in praise and this alone was sufficient.
We would be foolish men and women to think that in order to have a true service of worship we must return again to these simple forms of music. This would simply be to introduce a form Pharisaism into the church, that is to say, that “we would be better if we did such things, that our worship would be holier if it were simpler.” We mustn’t fall into this trap that many are falling into today. They think that it is the mere reintroduction of “old hymns” that will produce a “worshipping church”. This is folly. You may put before your congregation the greatest panoply of history’s hymns and songs, even David’s, Asaph’s and the Sons of Korah’s psalms themselves, and it would scarce raise the deadness of the hearts of those who move their lips and vocal chords. We have become clanging gongs and cymbals. We make a noise with our mouth but there is no truth behind our words. We praise our Creator once on Sunday morning, and praise our own creation on Sunday evening and for the following six days as well.
We have so identified worship with “time”. We speak of “moments of worship”. How many times have our lips said, “we had a great time of worship”. But Scripture does not think of worship in such manners. Worship is conduct, the manner of your life, the way in which you live before God. Time is irrelevant to worship. Jesus says that the “true worshipers will worship in spirit and in truth” not “in words and songs”. Both spirit and truth respect the manner in which you life your life. The words you speak and songs you sing are not the essence of worship, they are not even the expression of worship. The expression of worship is “doxology, a giving of glory, praise, honour, and homage to God… all true piety is worship – Godliness is worship” (J.I. Packer, A Quest for Godliness, p. 249). Songs and words are only then the expression of that worship. If you lack the former, the life, then the latter, the song, will be vain and empty. God looks upon the songs sung by thousands today and sees it all as silliness. He sees a myriad of clanging gongs, who come to him but for a moment in the week and venerate and invoke his name, and then all week malign him with their entertainments, their time, their pursuits, their behaviors, and their joys.
What we need today is not better “worship services”, that is better, more up-to-date music in our services. What we need is prophetic worship services, that draw out mens’ hearts and expose them to their vileness and vanity that they live in. We need our hearts to be exposed on Sunday morning to how we have been living in rebellion against our Creator for the last six days, how we have esteemed entertainment as more pleasurable that him, as worth more of our time than to spend our time in learning and understanding of him. Our country is in great need of repentance concerning their “worship”. We have “exchanged the glory of the immortal God” for entertaining, emotional, stirring music, so that we do not have to truly confront the majestic glory of God. Were we for but a moment walk into the presence of God in a worship service we would be struck down and tremble. No man enters the presence of God flippantly. No man comes into the presence of God awaiting an “experience”. Such a man will only walk away terrified, and cry out with Israel, “do not let God speak to us, lest we die.” We have erected a barrier between ourselves and God so that we do not have to experience the deep disquietness that resides in our hearts, lest we truly “experience” him and are brought down on our faces. We have set this veneer over our services, and of this veneer we must repent.
But there is a deeper repentance that must occur among our congregations. We must repent of the lives we have lived in the other six days. We must repent of the lives we have spent in worship of “images resembling mortal man, and birds and animals and creeping things.”. We must repent of the lives we have spent in omitting worship of the true Creator. We have neglected him with our conduct, we have failed to “regard as holy what is holy”, we have failed to “be holy, because he is holy”. We must repent of this life lived apart from God and not before God and there we must “draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need”. We must grip the feet of our Savior and confess our sins to him and find him alone to be our only hope, our only peace, our only joy. It is then, and only then, that we will begin to truly worship our Creator. It is then, and only then, that we will be able to sing and make music to God.