MELODY AND HARMONY*
Extracts from a Sermon preached on Sunday morning,
29th November, 1959, in Westminster Chapel, London,
by Dr. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones.
‘Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord.’ Ephesians 5.19.
Now, we come on to the second part of this verse, to this statement, ‘singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord.’ This is undoubtedly descriptive, it seems to me, of the way in which the psalms and hymns and spiritual songs should be sung and expressed. I do not believe that this is an additional exhortation, that, before, the Apostle was talking about speaking only, but now comes to singing. I believe this is an indication or an explanation of the way in which we should sing the psalms and the hymns and the spiritual songs. Now this addition is a very necessary one, as I think we shall see, and a most important one, because in any expression of praise we must concentrate attention not only upon the words but also upon the tune, or the way in which the words are given this particular expression.
Our whole emphasis last time was on this, that we should be very careful not to ‘quench the Spirit,’ that in our fear of excesses we should not go to the other extreme and put a limit upon the free, spontaneous, inspired expression of the Christian soul and spirit under the leadership and guidance of the Holy Spirit. But having done that we must now follow the Apostle as, it seems to me, he puts this emphasis upon this complementary truth. There are certain truths which must always go together. We are now going to look at the second half of a particular combination. On the one hand we have ‘quench not the Spirit,’ but now we have, let everything be done decently, and in order’ Â— in a fitting and worthy manner. In other words we must sing psalms, and hymns also, and spiritual songs. There must be no quenching of the Spirit, no limit put upon the freedom of the Spirit in that sense. A glorious thing about the leadership of the Spirit always is this, that at one and the same time He provides stimulus and control. Wine does not do that; nothing else does that. This is the unique characteristic of the work of the Spirit Â— the stimulus, the life, the power, but always the control and the discipline.
Let us then proceed to see what the Apostle has to tell us. ‘Making melody,’ singing,’ he says, ‘and making melody in ‘our heart to the Lord.’ Let us look at his terms. ‘Making melody’ Â— what does this mean?
* First printed in Gospel Tidings Vol. 9, No. 1, but even more relevant today.
Well, its original meaning is ‘to strike the lyre,’ or `to strike up a tune.’ There is the lyre, and a man would strike up a tune on the lyre. And so the meaning has come to this, that it is the striking up of a tune. But it does not stop at that. That is merely the original meaning, and by now, and indeed throughout the centuries, and even in the time of the Apostle, this term ‘melody’ had a wider connotation. And as the Apostle exhorts us to ‘make melody in our hearts to the Lord’ in our singing, it is important that we should be clear as to the meaning of the term ‘melody.’
Here are some definitions given in the Oxford Dictionary, for instance: ‘Sweet music’; ‘beautiful arrangement of musical sounds’; `beauty of musical sounds’; ‘tunefulness’; ‘the air’. It is important that we should realize these meanings because I am arguing that what the Apostle is doing here is to give us a definition of what should always and invariably be the characteristic of Christian music. And as he is dealing with this whole question of how we should conduct ourselves in the Church, and when we meet together to worship and to praise God, it is important, as I think we shall see, that we should be clear about this. He says: ‘Making melody in your hearts to the Lord.’
This, I say, is always to be the characteristic of Christian music. There is such a thing as Christian music, as there is Christian poetry, and as there is Christian art. I have a feeling that one of the great troubles in the Church today is that we have forgotten the definition of these things and have tended, foolishly, to go in for ‘art for art’s sake.’
‘Melody,’ says the Apostle; what does he mean? Let me first tell you what he does not mean. He is saying that the way in which Christians express their praise or sing their psalms and hymns and spiritual songs is not by ‘clever’ music. Cleverness is never the characteristic of Christian music Â— or indeed of anything Christian. Cleverness belongs essentially to the world. Do you realize why I am saying all this? You are aware of the modern vogue not only in music but in art and in poetry. The idea today is that you must not be melodious; you must be clever. Melody is out of fashion. What is really admired today is a sort of series or collection of clashing discords, the exact opposite of what we read in our definition Â— ‘beautiful arrangement of musical sounds.’ Many moderns apparently make a deliberate attempt to avoid the beautiful. But then that is clever! People despise melody today, and they dislike poetry, the poetry that people used to like. They are not interested in hymning and in balance and in lines. It must be jerky, staccato. The `beautiful’ element seems to be at a serious discount, and tunefulness is despised. This is not merely my opinion or prejudice. Read the critics and you will find that this is sheer fact. Read the musical critics in the papers and you will find that they tend to despise anything tuneful and
melodious. It is the clever, clashing, cacophonous music that is popular at the present time.
What I am concerned to emphasize is this Â— that that is not Christian. What is Christian is always beautiful, it is always melodious, it always leads to peace, to harmony, to rest and to joy. This must obviously be the case because it is something that is produced by the Holy Spirit. ‘Be filled,’ Paul says, ‘with the Spirit.’ Those other people with their bacchanalian drunken songs are only capable of producing various kinds of noises and clashes and discords. But that is not Christian. That is his whole point. That which is Christian is the exact opposite. What is Christian is always tuneful, always melodious, always has form and beauty as its most essential characteristic. And as I say, this is not only true of Christian music, it is true of Christian art in every form and in its every expression.
I am arguing that it is very important that the Christian Church should realize this, and that she must stand in opposition to the ugliness that is so evident in the worldly conception of art today in all ranges and in every department. The characteristic of Christian music is that it is always melodious. It is not merely clever; it is not merely an opportunity for people to show their cleverness in execution, and to go out of their way, as it were, to avoid melody, and not to put the note you would expect but deliberately put the wrong one so as to keep the composition in a state of flux, and deliberately avoid beauty of form. Christian music must always have melody, and therefore not just be merely clever. It is the opposite of that which is worldly, with its barren intellectualism and its hardness and its coldness. The latter is so evident in the modern world that it is our duty to go out of our way to counteract it and to show the beauty and the harmony, the peace and the joy that belong to Christian praise.
No Light or Flippant Music
But let me suggest another negative. I start with cleverness because it is the most obvious perversion in the world today; but it is not the only one. That which is true melody is never merely light or flippant or what is called `jiggy’ or ‘syncopated.’ The world likes that kind of thing Â— light and flippant music. But that is never Christian. Whatever is Christian cannot be light; it is impossible for it to be so. Whatever is Christian is always essentially simple; but simplicity is not incompatible with depth Â— indeed they generally go together. What the Apostle is telling us here is that we must always sing these psalms and hymns and spiritual songs in this melodious manner, not in any light or flippant way, not in a worldly way, not just being carried along by something superficially tuneful. There is no term that is being so abused today as this word `melody.’. Melody is never light, never flippant, never showy, never theatrical. That is incompatible with melody, and it is incompatible with
Christianity. The Apostle is concerned about all this. These people had become Christians, but they were not absolutely perfect yet, and they tended to do certain things in the old way and manner. His whole emphasis is, ‘You must stop doing it like that; you must do this in the Christian way; and this is the essence of the Christian way.’
My last negative is this: it must never be done in a sentimental manner. How easily could that thought also be expanded!
But let me sum it up like this. The Apostle is really saying that as we thus sing praise to God we must do it in a manner that is ‘worthy of or `suited to’ or, to use an expression which he uses in writing to the Philippians in chapter one, verse 27: ‘Only let your conversation be “as it becometh” the gospel of Christ.’ That is it Â— it must be becoming. It must be suitable. It must fit in, it must be of one piece and of one pattern. You cannot have great and glorious words and a jiggy tune or a sentimental tune. No, says the Apostle, if you are filled with the Spirit, and are allowing the Spirit to lead you and to guide you and to direct you, well, then, there will be no trouble about this at all, because He who gives the word will also give the music. He will give you the air, the tune, everything you want, and everything will be suited and fitted, will be matched together in a manner that is perfect.
That, then, is the first part of our consideration of this additional statement of the Apostle. We are to make melody, my friends; we are not to be devotees of this modern craze for ugliness and for mere cleverness. The Christian man is never merely a clever man. If any preacher of the Gospel, myself included, gives an impression of cleverness, then it is bad preaching. It is so unlike the New Testament, it is so unlike that which is inspired and produced by the Holy Spirit of God! No, there is a fitness in these matters, there is a form, there is a suitability Â— the expression or execution must always correspond to that about which we are concerned, to the subject-matter.
Melody in the Heart
But let us go on with his definition. ‘Making melody,’ he says, ‘in your hearts.’ Now this is not just something thrown in, this is not just an accidental word. What does he mean? Well, let us be clear, once more, about what he does not mean. He does not mean that you should only do this privately, secretly, or inwardly. Some people have thought that he is saying that, but the whole context is against that. He is dealing with Christians in community, in gatherings. He is not concerned to tell them here what they should do when they are alone; he is emphasizing what they should do as they gather together. I remind you that the contrast is with the gathering of those other people who meet to drink wine and to have their singsong, and to have what they think is a happy and a jolly
time together. That is the contrast, the world in its gatherings and Christians in community. So it is not a man in the innermost part of his being, in his heart, privately, secretly making melody and singing praise to God.
It is equally important that we should realize that he does not mean ‘heartily.’ Many have got confused and have thought that he is saying that. They imagine that he is saying what we hear so frequently these days Â— let us sing together our psalms and hymns and spiritual songs heartily, let it go with a swing, etc.’ You are familiar with that kind of exhortation! Now I am going to show you that he not only does not mean that, but that he almost means the exact opposite of that. He says ‘in your heart,’ not ‘heartily.’ Heartily’ is something very different, as I shall show you.
What, then, does he mean? Well he means this. He says you must be controlled in this respect by the Holy Spirit in the very centre of your being. The ‘heart’ here, as so often and generally, indeed, in the Bible, includes not merely the seat of the emotions Â— it includes that, but it goes beyond that Â— it includes the whole man. What is the contrast which he has in mind? Well the contrast is this Â— that we must realize what we are doing, we must be aware of what we are singing. Now those other people in their drunken meetings are not behaving intelligently, they do not think at all. They cannot think, they must shout and sing. That is their idea of making themselves happy, and the more they sing, and the more they shout, the more they become intoxicated, and it gets worse and worse. The Christian is the exact opposite of that; he sings and makes melody in his ‘heart’ Â— and the heart includes the understanding.
In other words, he says that Christian praise is thoughtful. As Christians, he says, led by the Spirit, you realize that you are in the presence of God and that you are singing praise unto God, and that you are there to show forth God’s glory, and to glorify and magnify His great and His holy name. That is what he means. Our Lord Himself put it quite plainly to the woman of Samaria. He said: ‘Ye worship ye know not what’ and ‘God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.’ What matters is not ‘this mountain,’ it is not ‘Jerusalem,’ it is not forms and ceremonies, it is a matter of the Spirit (see John 4.20-24). That is precisely what the Apostle is saying: You are filled with the Spirit, and the Spirit enlightens your heart, and that includes your mind, your understanding, your reason. You do not merely sing, you realize what you are doing, and you are careful and thoughtful. It is a very intelligent type of singing.
The psalmist puts emphasis upon the same thing in Psalm 47. ‘Sing praises to God, sing praises; sing praises unto our King, sing praises.
For God is the King of all the earth: sing ye praises with understanding.’ The understanding is involved always in every action of the Christian. What we are examining is a very wonderful statement. What it brings out everywhere is this, that the Christian always knows what he is doing. The Christian is never thoughtless, the Christian is never to be unintelligent. Whatever the Christian does, this element of reason, understanding, thought, is an essential part of it, because he is a man who has been enlightened. He is no longer a ‘fool,’ he knows what he is doing. And he is not to be guided by anybody else. It does not matter how great a musician or expert a man may be, if he is not a Christian I do not listen to him, I am not interested in his opinion on this matter. He cannot give an opinion on Christian praise. He may know all about the mechanics of music, but that is not ‘Christian’ praise. This is something peculiar, and it is governed by this Christian understanding that is given to us as the result of being filled with the Spirit.
But, of course, it is not confined only to the intellect and to the understanding; it also means that the man does it with feeling. It is not to be done mechanically, it is not to be a dull, mechanical repetition. No, says the Apostle, if you are filled with the Spirit there will be love and joy within you, and you will be anxious to express this, you will be anxious to manifest this. You will be singing with the whole of your being, ‘Bless the LORD, 0 my soul: and all that is within me, bless his holy name.’ Not the mind only, not the feelings only. If the latter only it becomes maudlin sentimentality. The glory of the Christian position is this, that because the mind and the heart are engaged it is true melody, it is singing praise unto the Lord in a worthy and a fitting manner.
Not the Tune Only
That, it seems to me, is the essential definition of what the Apostle is saying. But let us proceed to apply this in practice. What is it then we have to do? The first deduction I would draw is this; that as we consider this whole question of Christian praise Â— and we should, we are exhorted to do so Â— we must have understanding.
What must we be careful about? Here is the first thing: we must remember that we are not to sing the ‘tune’ only. The moment we do that we have already departed from the apostle’s instruction. The words come first and the words are more important than the tune. What we are to have is this Â— the words and the tune coming together, married and blended together in order to give expression to our praise. There is nothing that is quite so fatal as to be singing the tune only, without paying any attention to the words. Let me illustrate what I mean. There is nothing that so appals me as I preach here and elsewhere as to hear what almost invariably happens when we sing that great hymn, ‘Jesus, lover of my soul’ and especially when sung to the tune ‘Aberystwyth.’ You come to the third verse, the second half of which goes like this:
‘Just and holy is Thy Name, I am all unrighteousness;
Vile and full of sin I am,
Thou art full of truth and grace.’
I find that it is almost an invariable rule that people shout the whole of that statement, ‘I am all unrighteousness,’ and especially ‘Vile and full of sin I am’ They shout it as if they are glorying in it, even more than when they come to the last line, ‘Thou art full of truth and grace’ Why do we do that? It is because we are carried away by the tune. We are not paying attention to the words, we do not think while we are singing. Here is a tune that goes well, and we are carried away by the tune, and we shout out these words.
I want to put a problem for your consideration. Is it ever right, do you think, to divorce the singing of hymns, or any expression of Christian praise and of worship, from the preaching of the Word?
No False Excitement
Now let us go on to another deduction. It is all here, you see. ‘Be filled with the Spirit, speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord.’ Not the tune only, I say, but also this Â— not a false or forced excitement of the nerves or the emotion. That is why I emphasized earlier that he does not mean that we are to sing ‘heartily.’ What the Apostle is recommending is the exact opposite of excitement or an excitable and forced and generated nervous condition of the emotions. The Apostle is calling for the exact opposite of that. So that when he tells us to sing and make melody in our hearts to the Lord, he is incidentally saying this: ‘Don’t sing too much.’ In other words he is saying: ‘Above everything don’t try to work up the meeting by forty minutes or so of preliminary singing’ He is saying that quite deliberately. But that is the modern idea, isn’t it? ‘Ah,’ they say, ‘we must work up the meeting, we must get the people into a good mood and into a good condition.’ In other words, they are deliberately doing something to their nerves, to their emotions; they are making a direct attack upon the emotions, trying by means of the singing to work them up. Now the Apostle is saying the very exact opposite of that, as I can show you.
There must not be too much singing, because you can become drunk on singing; you can go on singing and singing until, really, you are in such an emotional state that your mind is no longer operating Â— I have often seen that happen.
In other words, and to sum up this section let me put it like this. The Apostle is not saying that we should sing until we make ourselves feel happy; he is saying rather, ‘express the happiness that you already feel because of the work of the Spirit in you by singing in this way.’ You see,
most modern Christians have reversed all this. They say: ‘Now these people have come to the meeting. They are jaded and they are tired. It is our business therefore to work them up; we have got to get them into a good mood and into a right condition to listen to the gospel.’ And so they sing and sing and sing, and do it with all the accompaniments and all the modern trappings. Thus they believe they can get them into a good mood! The Apostle says: ‘Because you are filled with the Spirit, and because He has shed this joy abroad in your hearts, give expression to it by psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, making melody in your heart to the Lord.’
Let All Sing Together
So I come to my last deduction, which is this Â— indeed it is an emphasis. You notice that the Apostle addresses these words to all Christians Â— not to some Christians. Here you are, he says, you have gathered together, you Christian people, well now then speak to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, join together in singing and making melody in your hearts, we are all in this, this is Christian praise. You see he is not addressing his remarks to a choir only Â— with all the congregation just sitting and listening to the beautiful singing of the choir. That is almost the exact opposite of what the Apostle is saying. But that is what happens in many churches Â— the choir only sings. Still worse, of course, when it is a ‘paid’ choir; and still worse when the members of the paid choir, or the special quartet in it, are not even Christians but are brought in because they have good voices. I have been told sometimes in certain countries that these paid singers only arrive at the service just when they have got to sing and leave immediately afterwards! That happens in the Christian Church today! It is not so common in this country as in some countries, but it happens in this country. That is, I say, the exact opposite of what the Apostle is saying. Here, we have God’s people met together, filled with the Spirit, and they all take part because they all are sharers of the same Spirit and participators in Him and His activities. So far we have departed from the New Testament pattern, with your great, dignified cathedral service, only the choir singing, and nobody else venturing or daring to do so. How can we forget the New Testament to such an extent? We are all in this together, and if you do not sing there is something wrong with you. Why don’t you sing? Do you not want to, do you not want to praise God? ALL of you, says the Apostle, mingle your voices, join together.
But I would also emphasize this, that we must all do it together. It is because of excesses that people have gone to the extreme of choirs only Â— but that is not the answer. The extreme is never the answer. There is a right way for a congregation to sing. What is that? Well ‘sing together,’ says Paul, ‘making melody,’ this is where the harmony comes in, this is
where the balance and the control come in. How do we do it? This is the way Â— you do not behave in congregational singing as if you are a soloist. A soloist is meant to sing alone in a particular way, but not when in a congregation. The whole ideal and glory of a congregation singing is that there is this balance, this wholeness Â— they are all one, there are no voices standing out above the others. The prominence of particular voices destroys this element of harmony which is to accompany this beautiful melody. And for people to display their personal voices when a congregation is singing is a complete denial of the Apostle’s instruction. He says: ‘See to it always that you are guided and led by the Spirit.’ To what does the Spirit lead, and what are the fruits of the Spirit? Well Â— ‘love, joy, peace’ Â— peacefulness. Nothing that jars or irritates everybody else, no self-display, no standing out, but you become merged in the body, you do it all together. ‘Long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness’ Â— which is the opposite you see of showing your voice and being proud of it. ‘Meekness.’ And finally ‘temperance,’ which means self-control. A man says, ‘I have got such a great and powerful voice.’ Control that voice. ‘I have got wonderful breath control, I can go on.’ Well, don’t do it if others don’t. Temperance, self-control. We are all one here. ‘Love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, and temperance.’
Is it not a wonderful thing that the Apostle should have written all this? It is tremendously important. Are you sensitive to these things? I confess that I am, and very often when I stand in a pulpit people who fail to realize the Apostle’s teaching in this way are a hindrance to my preaching, and a hindrance to my spirit. You are aware of these departings from the presiding glory of the Holy Spirit, and the meekness, and the temperance, and the peace, and all these other glorious things that He always produces.
In other words, everything we do in these gatherings in God’s house is important. We are met together to praise God and to worship Him and to adore Him. What a terrible thing if we should go away having done nothing but give rein to our mere emotions and the animal part of our being! What if we should have displayed ourselves, our cleverness, our ability, our voice or anything else! No, it is to be the exact opposite of all that. Do not be like those drunken people; they keep on interrupting one another, each one wants to show that he is better than everybody else, displaying himself, boasting about Â— himself. You are not to be like that, says the Apostle, you are not ‘filled with wine, wherein is excess,’ you are ‘filled with Spirit,’ and therefore what characterizes your meetings is this peace, this melody, this harmony, this meekness, this self-control, this balance, this concern about the whole body, this concern about the glory of God. ‘Singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord; giving thanks always for all things unto God and the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.’