Rev. Charles J. Hulin, III
I’d like to join with all the people across the country today that seem to revel in giving some advice. My advice is that if you, as a musician, have reached your goals, you have failed. If I reach my goals, I have failed! Why do I say this? The goal of all teaching is completion, maturity, wholeness. That’s perfection, isn’t it? And who is ever going to reach perfection in this life? So, none of us are ever going to be what we’d like to be. But isn’t it a glorious thing to have the highest goals that we can have - to be perfect in whatever God has called us to do and be. That is why I say if we have reached the goal, then the goal must not have been quite high enough. We are resting on our laurels. The goal I have in mind never really can be reached. But as I said, it is a glorious thing to keep on trying to improve one’s calling, one’s gift, and one’s talent.
Through the years, man has found something in music. It has meant so much to so many people. Music is well said to be the speech of angels (Carlisle). Schumann spoke in this fashion: "Music is to me the perfect expression of the soul." An unknown writer has written, "Music washes from the soul the dust of everyday life." Someone else put it this way: "The end of all good music is to affect the soul." Bach said, "The aim and final reason of all good music should be nothing else but the glory of God and the refreshment of the spirit." And, General Robert E. Lee, after listening to a band concert once in camp, stated, "I do not see how we can have an army without music." Moving closer to our own time, around the time of the first World War, the foreign minister of Great Britain spent an evening with some friends, discussing a number of things, and listening to the music of Handel. The following week he sent his friend a letter in which he wrote, "Europe is in the most terrifying struggle it has known in civilized times, and no one knows what will be left at the end, but the music of Handel will survive." Ladies and gentlemen, as we have said already, music lays hold on the lives of people. That has been true all down through the years. At this time let us take the Bible, and get certain passages, certain events, and things that people have said, and let those things speak for themselves.
We’ll cover many points today. These points are from the Bible, which is the story of a historic people, among other things. In the 137th Psalm, we find a record of how the Jews were in captivity in a foreign land. They hung their harps on the willow trees. They were very much downhearted. Their captors said to them, "Sing to us one of the songs of Zion." They responded, "How can we sing the Lord’s songs in a strange land?" There are two views one might take to this. One is that these Jews were faithful to what they believed because they did believe that the place for worship, and the only place for worship, generally speaking, was back in the temple at Jerusalem. That’s where the music would be made. They couldn’t see going out somewhere else to sing the Lord’s song. So they were true to their beliefs. Another way of looking at this is the way the modern Christian looks at it, and that is: Where else is there to sing the Lord’s song? What more appropriate place than in a strange land where people have never heard of Christ? Where millions lost in darkness are seeking the Light, and, as the Scripture states, are without Christ and without hope? We have a song to sing and should be singing that song, making that music from the depths of our hearts, and lives, and souls.
Music has meant much to man over the years, and the 137th Psalm gives us two ways of looking at it: true to what they believed back in the days of the Jews, and also the modern view - we’ve got music for the whole world, and we want to take it to where those who do appreciate it will receive it, but also to those who don’t really know enough about it to really appreciate it - play music for them. Let us also note that there was something about their music and God that was relating. Music has done something to men, has meant something to us, has lifted us, has formed us, has inspired us, it’s spoken to us, it’s urged us on to greater deeds from time to time. Also, though, somehow God is related to music. I don’t know the best way to express it, but God is interested in music. God is at the heart of so much of the music that has been written through the years. In 2 Samuel 19:35 a man named Barzillai attended the king. The king invited him to go a good distance for a banquet. Here’s what this man said to his master the, king. "I am this day fourscore years old. Can I hear anymore the voice of singing men and singing women?" So death was not long off for him, and he longed for what we call today the mixed chorus, the combined voices of men and women. So music was a part of this elderly man’s life and he longed one more time to hear men and women singing together.
Then, in 1 Chronicles 6:32 and following, we are told of a massive choir. This choir was "set over the service of song in the house of the Lord and they ministered with singing." You know, many, many times when you get up to speak, you wonder if you can match with your words the music that has been presented by the musicians, because it has been so good. Music in this particular case in 1 Chronicles was a ministry regarding God-related matters in the lives of the people.
Then we go to the 150th Psalm. This is when the psalmist is going to celebrate, and he’s exhorting everyone to praise God. To me this says that music is greater than he is. It’s in control of his life. It’s not the other way around. It’s something he reaches up to, greater than he is, higher than he is, more long-lasting than he is. In light of that, he brings in all those band instruments. He speaks about the cymbal, the trumpet, the harp, string instruments. So music is everyone’s business. It’s too great to narrow down to one or two persons. He brings in all the instruments and the people who make the music. It’s greater than he is and greater than we are today.
In the 42nd Psalm the psalmist was in captivity, and to add to his discouragement, dark days, and lonely nights, his enemies were speaking to him with pointed sarcasm, making fun of his condition. As all of us would do, since the present was so unpleasant, he thought of another time. We might think of the future when we’ll be out of the situation, or we might think about the past. For some reason or another, we go back to the good old days about as much as anything. When we look back on those good old days, they seem to have been really good days. But when we were back in those days, they were filled with anxiety, stress, and strife. You didn’t know who you would end up with as your life partner. You didn’t know how you would make a living. You didn’t know what would happen with your health. You didn’t know anything – you had all those anxieties. So those days weren’t as good as we think when we really remember how they were. But the psalmist did look back on those good old days, so to speak, and he said in the 42nd psalm, "I had my friends." He’s spoke of fellowship and companionship with his friends. Then he sounded almost like someone writing today, saying, "I went with them to the house of the Lord." He went to worship with them, and that was most meaningful. Thinking on these things, he sounded a note of victory, "The Lord will command His loving-kindness in the day, and in the night His song will be with me." So God in His music comes in the darkest night. This shows something of the extent of His music – the care of God, the love of God, and the unlimited bounds to which He might go. In the darkest night the music came to the psalmist, an instrument of the Lord filling the need in his life, and it gave him a note of victory in his voice. That says something about music. God brings it to us in the very darkest of nights, and in the daytime, of course, He commands His loving-kindness in many ways.
Let us go over into the New Testament and hear the writings of Paul in 1 Corinthians 14:15. This is an interesting chapter because Paul writes about doing things "with the spirit and with the understanding". No less than three times he uses that expression. We hold on to the "in the spirit" because that’s found in all the translations. I personally lean on the Williams translation for the "with the understanding" because I think it says it more clearly and gets to the heart of the matter. He says "with the mind in action" which is a good translation of the Greek concept. He’s talking about praying in this chapter, and he says that "I will pray with my spirit, but I will pray with my mind in action, too." He speaks of speaking, and he says that it is to be done "in the spirit, but with the mind in action, too." Otherwise, it will be unintelligible. And in regards to music, "I will sing with the spirit, but with the mind in action, too." Now you and I know that we do not need mindless music anymore than we need mindless preaching. Many preachers aim at nothing and hit it, and we could do that in music, too. We could wander all over everywhere and not come up with anything that is really music, that has melody, that has rhythm, that has something that seizes you, something that really lifts you up and makes you better than what you are. That’s what I think music can do, among other things, and that comes when music is made and presented, not only with the spirit, but the with mind in action, too. Preceding these words, Paul wrote of some musical instruments. He said, "even things without life whether flute or harp, except they give a distinction of the sounds, how shall it be known what is piped or harped? And if the trumpet give an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself to the battle?" So mark it down…where there is music presented with the spirit and the mind in action, there is going to be communication. And isn’t that what we want? We want communication. We want to speak to lives, minds, and hearts, wills, dispositions, moods, emotions, attitudes, and all the rest…we want to speak to that in our music, or in whatever else we are doing for God. And so we do it with the spirit and the mind in action.
Paul in Ephesians, the fifth chapter, said more about music. He said, "be filled with the Spirit, always be speaking to one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, out of reverence to Christ." Here we see the two relationships we have in this world. We have the vertical relation, man with God, and the horizontal, man as he looks out to relate with his fellow man. It’s all right here in this verse. We speak in reverence to Christ, which is the vertical relationship; and we seek to communicate with each other by speaking to one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. That’s a lot better than shouts, and a few words that might not be very appropriate, or have much taste to them, or class for that matter, but we are challenged by Paul to communicate with one another through psalms, (-all this is music-) hymns, and spiritual songs. And that’s making our horizontal relationship right by having that vertical relationship right, and that is all out of reverence to Christ. So we communicate with one another as we relate to Christ, and it’s bound to be a glorious occurrence when we do just that.
Then notice in Colossians 3:16, Paul writes, "Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, admonishing, teaching one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord." So, isn’t music an expansion of the Word? He is saying, let the word of Christ abide with you. How do you do that? You admonish, you teach. And how is that teaching? By music- psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. So, music today, I contend, is an expansion of the Word in one’s life through singing, and it is directed in that vertical relationship at God.
Let us close with two examples today. In Matthew 26:30 we have the conclusion of the initiation of the Lord’s Supper by Jesus. Jesus has met with his disciples, and he’s warned them of difficult, stressful times just up ahead. They do not know what it’s all about, but He does. He’s speaking about how one will betray, and they ask, "Who is it?" He says, "the one who dipped in the cup with me just now," and all of them are asking, "Is it I, Lord? Am I the one who will let you down and betray You?" And Jesus continues to tell them of the dangers, in a general sense. Then the passage concludes, and in spite the tension of that time, it says "and when they had sung a hymn, they went out into the Mount of Olives." Now keep that in mind while we notice another example.
Paul, the great disciple, missionary saint of the Lord, apostle, apologist for the faith regarding the Greeks with their philosophical minds, is in prison, and Silas, his friend, is with him. A lot of things are going on, and God comes through with the earthquake and a lot of things happen. At midnight, Paul and Silas are singing praises unto God. They are praying, and that praying bursts into song. The prisoners fear them, the earthquake shakes the foundation of the prison, the jailer tries to kill himself because he feels responsible for all this happening and for Paul getting out. He asks to be saved, and he is saved by believing in Jesus, and the Bible says that his whole house is indeed saved. All of this happened because of two faithful witnesses believing in the Gospel - the gospel of music among other things. Now, what do these two situations have in common? You probably already thought about it and guessed what it is. You see, those friends at the Lord’s Supper, with all that tension and stress, could go out singing. They could do that because they had been with Jesus. That’ll bring a song every time, even in the darkest of nights. And here were these two disciples of the Lord, apostles you might say, learners, in prison, and I think one of the funniest things of all time was how these people probably didn’t want the Gospel to be heard, and yet they chained other prisoners to Paul. Paul couldn’t get away, but neither could they. So Paul could just witness to them day and night. But here they were, and they were in prison, and why should they sing praises unto God at midnight in such a time of darkness in their lives? For the same reason as before, they had met and believed in Jesus, and He had given them a song at midnight. Both of these situations have especially that one thing in common – these people could sing in stressful times because they had been with Jesus. You know, that’s what is going to make your music, I dare say, different. It’s going to make it different…it will. If you’ve been with Jesus, and I’m sure you have; and if you bathe that music in prayer. It’s just like the teacher said, "Preacher, bathe that message in prayer and be with Jesus, and it will make all the difference in the world." And it will. That applies also to music. Bathe it in prayer, be with the Lord, commit it to the Lord, be motivated by the Lord, stay with God all the way through, play the music for Him and to Him and let that music always control you as you look up in humility. And let not those instruments give an uncertain sound. The world awaits your music, and God’s music through you, and your commitment.
Let us all bow and unite in prayer. Lord, I do want to pray a special prayer for these young Christian musicians this beautiful warm summer morning, that You will honor their long hours, and indeed, their years of earnest endeavor, all the labors of their hands, and their hearts, and their minds, and those years of development, and their commitment to the calling, the path, and the talent that You have given to each one of them. May each one compete against his or herself, simply because his or her standards may be higher than anyone else’s standards for his or her life. If they’re always competing against themselves, trying to better themselves, we know that they’re going to come through, as they have already, with flying colors. And let them believe that their standards are high, and always be making them higher if possible. And we know God that You can warm their music; You already have. You can use their music beyond their fondest imaginations and expectations, and at times we believe that we have seen this occur. We know that good music can be life-changing. Please bless each one of these with excellent health, strong motivation, with undying love for music, and may none ever feel that he or she has arrived at any point along the way and feel that it is time to pitch tent and camp awhile, but may they continue to march forward, and upward, and outward, and may this be a glorious journey through this life from one end to the other, one day to the next, one year to the last year, as they give their music to the world. Richly bless each one we pray in all their efforts, in all their performances, in all these things that are getting started for them. We pray the best that You have for their lives.
In the blessed name of Jesus, our Lord, we pray, Amen.