It has always been a characteristic of God’s people that they are a singing people. This was Paul’s admonition when he commanded Christians in Colossians 3 and Ephesians 5 to sing. Early church father John Chrysostom emphasized the power of singing when he said, “Nothing so arouses the soul, gives it wings, sets it free from earth, releases it from the prison of the body, teaches it to love wisdom, and to condemn all the things of this life, as concordant melody and sacred song.” Ambrose of Milan, a fourth century pastor known as the Father of Latin Hymnody said, “A psalm is the blessing of the people, the praise of God, the joy of liberty, the noise of good cheer, and the echo of gladness.” This emphasis on singing continued on through the middle ages and into the Reformation. Martin Luther said, “We have put this music to the living and holy Word of God in order to sing, praise, and honor it. We want the beautiful art of music to be properly used to serve her dear Creator and his Christians. He is thereby praised and honored and we are made better and stronger in faith when his holy Word is impressed on our hearts by sweet music.” Jonathan Edwards continued this emphasis when he said, “The best, most beautiful, and most perfect way that we have of expressing a sweet concord of mind to each other is by music.”
Yet God’s people have also recognized that since music can be abused, we must always look to Scripture to guide us in understanding why we sing in worship and what this singing should be like. There are many places in Scripture that give us principles that should inform our practice of singing in worship, but there is perhaps no better a source of such guidance that the God-inspired collection of songs—the Book of Psalms. This is why, despite the fact that most Christians in church history have written and enjoyed singing newly written songs, all Christians have emphasized Old Testament psalms as the source and standard for all that we sing.
And so it is to a psalm that I would like to direct our attention for the next few weeks as I seek to answer the question, why do we sing in worship? Not all of the psalms were intendedto be sung in corporate worship, but many of them were. And we could look at any one of those psalms to help us understand why we sing and to discern principles to guide our singing today, but I would like to direct us to the ninety-sixth psalm.
Oh sing to the Lord a new song;
sing to the Lord, all the earth!
Sing to the Lord, bless his name;
tell of his salvation from day to day.
Declare his glory among the nations,
his marvelous works among all the peoples!
For great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised;
he is to be feared above all gods.
For all the gods of the peoples are worthless idols,
but the Lord made the heavens.
Splendor and majesty are before him;
strength and beauty are in his sanctuary.
Ascribe to the Lord, O families of the peoples,
ascribe to the Lord glory and strength!
Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name;
bring an offering, and come into his courts!
Worship the Lord in the splendor of holiness;
tremble before him, all the earth!
Say among the nations, “The Lord reigns!
Yes, the world is established; it shall never be moved;
he will judge the peoples with equity.”
Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice;
let the sea roar, and all that fills it;
let the field exult, and everything in it!
Then shall all the trees of the forest sing for joy before the Lord,
for he comes,
for he comes to judge the earth.
He will judge the world in righteousness,
and the peoples in his faithfulness.