by Waitsel Smith
Christian Music - Part 3
Three things convince me of the spirituality of music: 1) the Bible, combined with nature and logic; 2) the opinions of some of the greatest minds in history; and 3) my own experience, plus that of other musicians and singers. In this article, I will cover the first two.
First, the Bible, combined with nature and logic. What is the most mundane, filthy thing mentioned in the Bible? Plus, what is the one subject Jesus addressed more than any other? The answer to both questions is money. Why would Jesus have spent so much time talking about money if it weren't a spiritual thing? Yet, it is called "filthy lucre" in scripture (KJV). I can't tell you how many of the greatest minds of the Church have written and spoken on the spirituality of money and/or the spiritual importance of the decisions we make regarding it. Are you going to tell me that music, which is used by heavenly beings and mankind alike to worship God, is less spiritual than money?
God is a God of order. The first thing He did in the beginning was to bring order out of chaos. Music does the same thing: it brings harmonious order out of a chaos of sounds. Otherwise, music is just noise. It is the order that makes it music. In that regard, it is the most godly of all the Arts. No other Art comes closer to imitating what God did in the beginning. For that reason, among others, music has always been exalted above the other Arts, and the Arts have been exalted above all other human activities. (See the quotes below, especially the one by John Adams near the end.)
David, the shepherd boy, used music to drive away the evil spirit that God had sent to plague King Saul (I Samuel 16:14-23). How could he have done that if music were not spiritual? For those who say it is the words that make Christian music "Christian," there were no words involved with the music David played for Saul: he simply played his harp; no singing is indicated. It was the music itself, not sung words, that drove away the spirit. This, I'm sure, has something to do with William Congreve's famous phrase, "Musick has Charms to sooth a savage beast." Countless scientific studies have been done on the effects music has on the emotions and learning. But in Saul's case, the music affected his spiritual condition. To do that, the music itself had to be spiritual.
I'm not saying the words to a song aren't important - they are. But isn't it interesting that of all the Arts God could have chosen with which to combine His Words in worship, He chose music. He didn't choose architecture, art or drama primarily, although those certainly can be combined with words. He chose music. The Psalms were originally set to music, and they have always been the most read and sung section of scripture in the Bible. Music has the ability to connect with people emotionally and spiritually the way nothing else can. And the Psalms, with their gamut of emotional and spiritual circumstances, do the same.
In Chronicles, there are countless lists of people given, but the only ones, other than priests, for which a profession is named are singers, and it occurs over and over. Evidently, God feels that singers rank with priests in importance. Jewish people know how important the cantor (singer) in their worship services and culture is. If you've ever seen the movie The Jazz Singer, you have some idea. There is something about the sung word that surpasses even the spoken one. When spiritual words are combined with spiritual music, it's a double dose of grace. Both the mind (through the words) and the emotions (through the music) are involved. The entire person is engaged. If we're going to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, I can think of no better way than singing His Word with a grateful heart, can you?
I could continue along these lines, but now I would like to give you some quotes by some very famous and / or well respected people. See what they thought of music. I've thrown in some non-serious quotes as well, just for fun.
"I have no pleasure in any man who despises music. It is no invention of ours: it is a gift of God. I place it next to theology. Satan hates music: he knows how it drives the evil spirit out of us." – Martin Luther (1483-1546), German monk, theologian, university professor, Father of Protestantism and church reformer
"The best, most beautiful and most perfect way that we have of expressing a sweet concord of mind to each other is by music." – Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758), American Congregational preacher, theologian, missionary to Native Americans and president of Princeton University
"Music is well said to be the speech of angels; in fact, nothing among the utterances allowed to man is felt to be so divine. It brings us near to the infinite." – Thomas Carlyle (1795-1881), British historian and essayist
"Music is the harmonious voice of creation; an echo of the invisible world." – Giuseppe Mazzini (1805-1872), Italian patriot, philosopher and politician
"Music is spiritual. The music business is not." – Van Morrison (1945 - ), Grammy Award-winning Northern Irish singer, songwriter, author, poet and multi-instrumentalist
"I play the notes as they are written, but it is God who makes the music." – Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750), German composer and organist
"There's nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself." – Johann Sebastian Bach
"Bach gave us God's Word. Mozart gave us God's laughter. Beethoven gave us God's fire. God gave us Music that we might pray without words." – Quote from outside an old opera house
"All the good music has already been written by people with wigs and stuff." – Frank Zappa (1940-1993), American composer and rock musician
"There is two kinds of music, the good and bad. I play the good kind." – Louis Armstrong (1901-1971), American jazz trumpeter and singer
"Rap music... sounds like somebody feeding a rhyming dictionary to a popcorn popper." – Tom Robbins (1936 - ), American author
"Music is the shorthand of emotion." – Leo Nikolaevich Tolstoy (1828-1910), Russian writer
"Music is an outburst of the soul." – Frederick Deluis, musician
"Music is the movement of sound to reach the soul for the education of its virtue." – Plato (BC 427-BC 347), Greek philosopher
"Music, when healthy, is the teacher of perfect order; and, when depraved, the teacher of perfect disorder." – John Ruskin (1819-1900), English art critic
"Music is God's best gift to man; the only art of heaven given to earth, the only art of earth we take to heaven" – Walter Savage Landor (1775-1864), British writer
"Music, the greatest good that mortals know, and all of heaven we have below." – Joseph Addison (1672-1719), English essayist, poet and dramatist
"Without music, life would be an error. The German imagines even God singing songs." – Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900), German philosopher and classical philologist
"Music expresses that which cannot be said and on which it is impossible to be silent." – Victor Hugo (1802-1885), French poet, dramatist and novelist
"After silence, that which comes nearest to expressing the inexpressible is music." – Aldous Huxley (1894 - 1963), English writer, "Music at Night", 1931
"Silence is more musical than any song." – Christina Rossetti (1830 - 1894), English poet
"Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard are sweeter." – John Keats (1795-1821), British poet
"A man should hear a little music, read a little poetry, and see a fine picture every day of his life, in order that worldly cares may not obliterate the sense of the beautiful which God has implanted in the human soul." – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749 - 1832), German writer
"Where painting is weakest - namely, in the expression of the highest moral and spiritual ideas - there music is sublimely strong." – Mrs. Stowe
"Words are the pen of the heart, but music is the pen of the soul." – Shneur Zalman (1745-1812), Orthodox Rabbi
"The poet ranks far below the painter in the representation of visible things, and far below the musician in that of invisible things." – Leonardo Da Vinci (1452 - 1519), Italian painter
"It is a wise tune that knows its own father, and I like my music to be the legitimate offspring of respectable parents." – Samuel Butler (1612-1680), British poet and satirist
"Music is the language of the spirit. It opens the secret of life bringing peace, abolishing strife." – Kahlil Gibran (1883-1931), Lebanese-American artist, poet, writer, philosopher and theologian
"Music is a higher revelation than all wisdom and philosphy. Music is the electrical soil in which the spirit lives, thinks and invents." – Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827), German composer and pianist
"Music is the mediator between the spiritual and the sensual life." – Ludwig van Beethoven
"Music: the one incorporeal entrance into the higher world of knowledge which comprehends mankind but which mankind cannot comprehend." – Ludwig van Beethoven
"I don't know anything about music. In my line you don't have to." – Elvis Presley (1935-1977), American singer, musician and actor
"You don't need any brains to listen to music." – Luciano Pavarotti (1935-2007), Italian opera tenor
"It is only by introducing the young to great literature, drama and music, and to the excitement of great science that we open to them the possibilities that lie within the human spirit – enable them to see visions and dream dreams." – Eric Anderson (1936- ) British educator and Provost of Eton College
"Music can name the unnameable and communicate the unknowable." – Leonard Bernstein (1918-1990), American conductor, composer, author, music lecturer and pianist
"Music washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life." – Berthold Auerbach (1812-1882), German-Jewish poet and author
"Take a music bath once or twice a week for a few seasons, and you will find that it is to the soul what the water bath is to the body." – Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. (1841-1935), American Supreme Court jurist
"Music cleanses the understanding; inspires it, and lifts it into a realm which it would not reach if it were left to itself." – Henry Ward Beecher (1813-1887), Congregationalist clergyman, social reformer, abolitionist and speaker
"Music is Love in search of a word." – Sidney Lanier (1842-1881), American musician and poet
"Music is the vernacular of the human soul." – Geoffrey Latham
"Music exists for the purpose of growing an admirable heart." – Shinichi Suzuki (1898-1998), Japanese violinist and creator of the international Suzuki method of music education
"Teaching music is not my main purpose. I want to make good citizens. If children hear fine music from the day of their birth and learn to play it, they develop sensitivity, discipline and endurance. They get a beautiful heart." – Shinichi Suzuki
"He who hears music, feels his solitude peopled at once." – Robert Browning (1812-1889), English poet and playwright
"The happiest people are those who think the most interesting thoughts. Those who decide to use leisure as a means of mental development – who love good music, good books, good pictures, good company, good conversation – are the happiest people in the world. And they are not only happy in themselves, they are the cause of happiness in others." – William Lyon Phelps (1865-1943), American author, critic, scholar and professor at Yale University
"I must study politics and war that my sons may have liberty to study mathematics and philosophy. My sons ought to study mathematics and philosophy, geography, natural history, naval architecture, navigation, commerce, and agriculture, in order to give their children a right to study painting, poetry, music, architecture, statuary, tapestry, and porcelain." – John Adams (1735 - 1826), American statesman and President
I hope you enjoyed this little excursion into the realm of music's spirituality. Next time I'll tell you some of my own experiences, as well as those of other musicians and singers.
Waitsel Smith, October 20, 2008
COMMENTS FROM READERS LIKE YOU:
[Send me yours and I'll include them on this page. Let me know what you think.]
What a great article about music being spiritual. I certainly agree and wish I had known about this one last year. We had a huge, probably longest running discussion on any topic about music on christianfilmmakers.org (see for yourself if you care, there actually is a lot of interesting thoughts on both sides: http://www.christianfilmmakers.org/forums/viewthread/9021/ ; this thread had 1,221 replies and 12,750 views, until the thread got locked, LOL :) Anyway, I did a ton of research on music, and came out with a whole new respect for your music. Glad to hear someone else positing these thoughts on music and its power in our lives! - Paul, North Carolina
Music is most definitely spiritual and I have taught this to my children, some of whom have become quite good musicians (even surpassing Dad), but even more important than that, have developed their ear. I did a study years back on Jubal in Genesis, called the father of music because of what he was charged with, etc. It is very revealing to see
how, throughout biblical history and even modern day, how Satan has turned music around (like every other form of art, etc.) where he gets the glory for music - something so pure and undefiled when God created it for
His glory and His alone. - Jamie, Virginia
Regarding music, I agree, it does seem that Christian sub-culture just imitates what's cool/trendy/liked in pop culture... however, I think there is some heart-felt music out there, more indie stuff though. The problem might not be the lack of artists, but that we as Christians are so influenced by the world that we have poor taste... thus aren't giving artists that are worthwhile and God-glorifying the traction they deserve. But artists I like that you should check out are Derek Webb, Brooke Fraser, Jon Foreman - I think they all have a lot of heart... and real, honest lyrics. - Scott, Atlanta
My son and I have had a good time with your music quotes. Here is the best one he sent me. I love the last paragraph - so un-martin-lutherly:
"I, Doctor Martin Luther, wish all lovers of the unshackled art of music grace and peace from God the Father and from our Lord Jesus Christ! I truly desire that all Christians would love and regard as worthy the lovely gift of music, which is a precious, worthy and costly treasure given to mankind by God.
"The riches of music are so excellent and so precious that words fail me whenever I attempt to discuss and describe them... In summa, next to the Word of God, the noble art of music is the greatest treasure in the world. It controls our thoughts, minds, hearts and spirits...
"Our dear fathers and prophets did not desire without reason that music be always used in the churches. Hence, we have so many songs and psalms. This precious gift has been given to man alone that he might thereby remind himself that God has created man for the express purpose of praising and extolling God.
"However, when man's natural musical ability is whetted and polished to the extent that it becomes an art, then do we note with great surprise the great and perfect wisdom of God in music, which is, after all, His product and His gift; we marvel when we hear music in which one voice sings a simple melody, while three, four or five other voices play and trip lustily around the voice that sings its simple melody and adorn this simple melody wonderfully with artistic musical effects, thus reminding us of a heavenly dance, where all meet in a spirit of friendliness, caress and embrace.
"A person who gives this some thought and yet does not regard music as a marvelous creation of God, must be a clodhopper indeed and does not deserve to be called a human being; he should be permitted to hear nothing but the braying of asses and the grunting of hogs." - Martin Luther
- Allene, North Carolina
Thanks for your article. I must say a resounding "Amen." - John, North Carolina
Thanks for all your great comments!
Text © 2008 Waitsel Smith. All Rights Reserved.