Scripture Reading: Psa. 104:33; Eph. 5:19; Matt. 26:30; Acts 16:25
After a person believes in the Lord, he must learn to sing hymns. It is difficult when a Christian goes to a meeting but does not know how to sing hymns. Prayer is often neglected in the meeting, but hymn singing is neglected even more. We must learn to sing hymns. We are not trying to be musicians, but we should be familiar with the hymns. This is an important matter.
I. The feelings behind the hymns
There are prophecies, histories, doctrines, teachings, and commandments in the Bible. There are also songs in the Bible. Songs are the expression of man’s finest feelings. The sentiments of man’s prayer before God cannot match the sentiments of his songs before God; the former are never as fine and tender as the latter. God wants us to have fine and tender feelings. This is why He gives us many kinds of songs in the Bible. In addition to the Psalms, the Song of Songs, and Lamentations, there are also songs in the history and the commandments (Exo. 15:1-18; Deut. 32:1-43). Even in Paul’s Epistles, we find hymns interspersed in his teachings (Rom. 11:33-36; 1 Tim. 3:16 etc.). All these examples show us that God wants His people to have fine and tender feelings.
Our Lord’s feelings are fine and tender. We have fine feelings as well as harsh feelings. Wrath and anger are clearly harsh feelings. Some people are not full of wrath, but their feelings are not fine either. God wants us to be patient, compassionate, merciful, and sympathetic because all these are fine feelings. God wants us to sing in the midst of our trials and to praise and bless His name in the midst of our pain because all these are expressions of fine feelings. When a person loves another person, his feeling is tender. When he forgives or shows mercy to others, his feeling is also tender.
God wants to lead His children toward a walk of finer, tenderer, and more song-like feelings. The more a person learns of God, the finer, tenderer, and more song-like his feelings become. Those who learn little before God are rough and unrefined in their feelings. If a Christian walks noisily into the meeting and has no concern for others, he is not behaving like a well-tempered Christian. Even when he sings, his voice will not sound like a song. If a person walks into a meeting and runs over others left and right, knocking over chairs, he is not behaving like a person of song. We must realize that from the day we were saved, God has been training us to have fine and tender feelings day by day. To be a good Christian, one must have fine and tender feelings. The deepest feelings that flow from a man’s heart are the feelings expressed in songs. We do not want harsh feelings. Harsh feelings have nothing to do with hymns; they do not belong to a Christian.
II. The requirements for hymns
Every hymn that is up to the standard must meet three basic requirements. If a hymn fails to meet any of these requirements, it is not a good hymn.
First, the words of a hymn must be based on the truth. Many hymns meet the other two requirements but contain errors in truth. If we ask God’s children to sing these hymns, we are leading them into error. We are putting human errors into their hand when they go before the Lord; we are ushering them into an improper sentiment. When God’s children sing hymns, their feelings are directed toward God. If the hymns have wrong doctrines, they will be cheated in their feelings and will not touch reality. God does not meet us according to the poetic sentiment of the hymn; He meets us according to the truth conveyed in the hymn. We can only come before God in truth. If we do not come to God in truth, we are in error and will not touch reality.
For example, one gospel hymn says that the Lord Jesus’ blood cleanses our heart. But the New Testament does not speak of the Lord Jesus’ blood cleansing our heart. The Lord’s blood does not cleanse our heart; there is no such word in the Bible. Hebrews 9:14 says that the Lord Jesus’ blood purifies our conscience — the conscience is part of the heart, not the heart itself. The Lord’s blood washes us from our sins. Because we have been washed from our sins, our conscience no longer accuses us before God. Therefore, the blood cleanses only the conscience, not the heart. Our heart cannot be cleansed by the blood. Man’s heart is deceitful above all things (Jer. 17:9). No matter how much we try to wash it, it can never be cleansed. The biblical teaching concerning the heart is that our stony heart is removed and that God gives to us a heart of flesh (Ezek. 36:26). He gives us a new heart; He does not cleanse the old heart. When a man believes in the Lord, God gives him a new heart. He does not cleanse his old heart but washes away the offenses in his conscience. God does not wash his heart. If we go to the Lord and praise Him, saying, “The blood of Jesus cleanses my heart,” our praise is not according to the truth. This is a very serious matter. If there are errors in the doctrine of a hymn, it will bring people into wrong sentiments.
Many hymns make no distinction in the dispensations. We do not know whether such a hymn should be sung by Abraham or by Moses. We do not know whether it should be sung by the Jews or by the Christians. We do not know whether it belongs to the Old Testament or the New Testament. When you sing this kind of hymn, it makes you feel as if you are an angel who has nothing to do with redemption, that you have no sin and no need of the blood. If a hymn is not clear in its teachings concerning the dispensations, and if it does not reflect the age of grace, it will lead God’s children into error.
Many hymns express only hope but no assurance. They express a hope to be saved, a desire to be saved, and a pursuit of salvation, but there is no Christian assurance whatsoever. We must remember that every Christian should come to God with full assurance. We come to God with full assurance of faith. If a hymn gives a man the feeling that he is in the outer court, his singing will make him think that he is not one of God’s people and that he is merely aspiring to be one of His people. Many hymns give people the impression that God’s grace is still far off and that a man still needs to seek for it. Such hymns put a Christian in the wrong position. This is not the Christian position. The Christian position is one full of assurance, one that gives him the confidence that he is saved. All hymns which do not give a Christian such assurance should not be sung.
Another common error found in many hymns is the notion that man enters into glory after he dies. Many hymns speak of the entrance into glory at the time of death, as if a man enters glory through death. But the Bible does not say that a man enters glory after he dies. Entrance into glory is something different from death. After we die, we do not enter into glory. After we die, we wait for resurrection. The Lord entered into glory only after He resurrected. This is the clear teaching of the Bible (1 Cor. 15:43; 2 Cor. 5:2-3). Any hymn that gives God’s children a wrong impression that man enters glory when he dies should not be sung at all, because there is no such thing. Therefore, a good hymn must be accurate in its doctrines. If it falls short in doctrinal integrity, it will easily lead Christians into error.
Second, accurate doctrines alone do not constitute a hymn. A hymn needs to be poetic in its form and structure. Truth alone is not sufficient. After there is the truth, there is still the need for poetry in form and structure. Only when there is poetry is a hymn like a hymn. Singing is not preaching. We cannot sing a message. There was one hymn which began with the words: “The true God created the heavens, the earth, and man.” This may be something good for preaching, but this is not singing. This is a doctrine, not a hymn. All the songs in the book of Psalms are poetry. Every psalm is fine and tender in form and expression and utters God’s mind in the way of poetry. Merely having every line follow a certain meter does not constitute a hymn. The structure must be poetic, and the form must be poetic.
Third, in addition to the truth and poetic structure and form, a hymn needs to provide spiritual impact. It must touch spiritual reality.
For example, Psalm 51 is a psalm of repentance by David. In reading it, we find David’s repentance doctrinally correct, his words carefully chosen, and the structure of the psalm intricate. But more than that, we feel something within the words; there is a spiritual reality, a spiritual feeling, within the psalm. We can call this the burden of the hymn. David repented, and the feeling of his repentance permeates the whole psalm. Many times in reading the book of Psalms, there is something we are struck with — every sentiment expressed in these psalms is genuine. When the psalmist rejoiced, he jumped up and shouted for joy. When he was sad, he wept. These psalms are not empty words void of reality. There is spiritual reality behind the words.
Therefore, a hymn must be not only accurate in truth and poetic in form and structure, but also filled with the sense of spiritual reality. In other words, if a hymn is meant for tears, it should make you cry. If it is meant for joy, it should make you happy. When it speaks of a certain thing, it should make you feel that very thing. We cannot sing a hymn on repentance without having a corresponding echo in our heart; we cannot be laughing while we are singing it. We cannot say that we are singing praises to God, yet be void of joy and rejoicing. We cannot sing a hymn on consecration, yet have no feeling of consecration. We cannot say that a hymn calls for prostration and brokenness before God, yet remain comfortable and proud of ourselves. If a hymn cannot give us an accurate feeling on a subject, it is not a good hymn. The feeling of a hymn must be genuine, and it must touch spiritual reality.
A hymn must be accurate in truth and poetic in form. At the same time, it must invoke the singer to the spiritual reality behind the words, that is, to touch what the hymn says. Otherwise, it is not up to the standard. All three requirements must be met before a hymn can be considered a good hymn.
III. Examples of hymns
Now let us look at a few hymns to illustrate our point:
Our God Among Us – by David Williams
It is rare for us to come across a hymn as great as this one. This hymn was written by J. N. Darby. Originally there were thirteen stanzas. In 1881, when he worked on this hymn with Mr. Wigram, he deleted several stanzas. Now there are only seven stanzas.
Apparently this hymn is speaking to man. Actually it is directed toward God. In singing it, we feel as if we are being lifted up to the universal stage in Revelation 4 and 5, the scene after the Lord’s ascension. Here we find Golgotha, resurrection, and ascension. The heaven is filled with glory, and at the name of Jesus, ten thousand voices begin their praise, and ten thousand knees bow to worship. In the heavens, on earth, and under the earth, praises ring from all directions. The whole universe is singing praises to Him. Such grandeur and majesty are unmatched by any other song! A person with lesser capacity would not have been able to write such a hymn.
“Hark! ten thousand voices crying.” These ten thousand voices came out of nowhere! It is as if a trifling believer, a little worm, a small man, is shouting at the top of his voice, “Hark! ten thousand voices are crying, ‘Lamb of God!’ with one accord. Listen, thousands and thousands of saints are replying.” Once the Lamb of God is lifted up, there is the universal response. On the one side is the sound of praise, and on the other side is the sound of response. Ten thousand voices shout, “Worthy is the Lamb who has been slain to receive the power and riches and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and blessing” (Rev. 5:12). Even before this sound dies out, thousands and thousands of voices join in. “And every creature which is in heaven and on the earth and under the earth and on the sea and all things in them” (Rev. 5:13) respond together. What is the result? “Wake at once the echo’ng chord.” This sound blasts forth in unparalleled magnificence. Anyone who touches this stanza will immediately be struck by his own smallness. The very first stanza raptures him to a grand and majestic scene where ten thousand voices are crying and thousands and thousands of saints are echoing. The sound rolls majestically and endlessly to an exaltation of the Lamb of God in one accord. The very opening gives a sense of awe, of the greatness of the universal praise.
Every subsequent stanza closely follows the preceding one. “Praise the Lamb! the chorus waking.” We hear the cry, “Praise the Lamb,” from all directions. All of them resound, “Praise the Lamb!” It is “praise the Lamb” here and “praise the Lamb” there and everywhere. These voices come from all directions. “All in heav’n together throng.” All in heaven means the whole heaven. All things there throng together to sing praises. “Loud and far each tongue partaking” — every mouth is confessing. Spontaneously this brings out Philippians 2:11: “And every tongue should openly confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.” Every mouth is confessing; this is why it is “loud and far.” Such endless song rolls around the whole universe. The whole universe is overflowing with this “endless song.”
There are not only voices but also “grateful incense…ascending.” This grateful incense is ascending “ever to the Father’s throne.” Not only are mouths crying, but also grateful hearts are ever ascending toward God. Not only are we crying to the Lamb with our mouths, but also our hearts are ascending to God. It is as if God’s plan and the Lord’s redemption have become one inseparable entity. We praise the Lamb, and we also thank God the Father. Such gratitude in praise and thanksgiving ascends to God like incense.
This praise does not stop here. The mouths are crying and shouting, but this is not all, because every knee has to bow and worship. Every knee must bow and worship the Lord. First there is “each tongue,” and then there is “every knee.” Spontaneously every knee bends to Jesus. On the one hand, we have thanksgiving to the Father. On the other hand, we have prostrating before the Lord. The next line is very poetic: “All the mind in heav’n is one.” This is not preaching. Those with less sensitive feelings cannot touch anything here. But when a person is brought to the stage where he sees the object of every tongue’s praise and every knee’s worship, spontaneously he will proclaim, “How one is all the mind in heaven!” The words all…is one are very poetic.
Once the writer of the hymn touches the Father and the Son, he brings out the doctrine of the Son and the doctrine of the Father. Everything is now revealed. “All the Son’s effulgence beaming, / Makes the Father’s glory known.” Glory is inward while effulgence is outward. What the Father has is glory. This glory of the Father becomes the effulgence in the Son. The Son’s effulgence is the expression of the Father’s glory. With the Father there is the glory; with the Son there is the expression of this glory. The expression is not with the Father but with the Son. “All the Father’s counsels.” Counsel is inward, and these counsels are “claiming equal honors to the Son.” This is not the Father’s act, but the Father’s counsels; it is not the Father’s work, but the Father’s plan. He wants to reveal to man that the Son is of equal honor. The third stanza turns from the Father to the Son. The fourth stanza turns from the Son to the Father and then from the Father back to the Son; it begins with the Son and ends with the Son. In the third stanza the writer begins to touch the Son, and in the fourth stanza the Son is touched again. Here we see the doctrine concerning the Father and the Son.
Anyone who touches the Father and the Son cannot stop with the Father and the Son only. And so it continues, “By the Spirit all pervading…” The Spirit comes into play. Once the Spirit appears, the scene is turned from the Son and the Father. The Spirit is all-pervading, all-permeating, and all-inclusive. The universe is filled with the Holy Spirit.
“Hosts unnumbered…hail Him.” Hosts here is a poetic expression. The heavenly angels, heavenly creatures, and unnumbered heavenly beings all hail Him. “Hail Him as the great ‘I AM.’” The great ‘I AM’ is Jehovah (cf. Exo. 3:14; 6:2). This is truly a hymn of praise, a grand hymn of praise!
Now we have to turn to the things around us: “Joyful now the new creation / Rests in undisturbed repose.” The surrounding scene is full of joy, rest, peace, and repose. Everyone is joyful, restful, undisturbed, and in repose. This is because everyone is “blest in Jesus’ full salvation” and “sorrow now nor thraldom knows.” All the problems have passed away.
Unconsciously, we might have tarried for too long, and so “Hark! the heavenly notes again!” Can you hear it? “Loudly swells the song of praise.” The sound of praise resounds from all directions again. There is still more to hear: “Through creation’s vault, Amen!” The whole universe is full of praises and amens. Every corner is crying, “Amen.” Why? “Amen! responsive joy doth raise.” The last amen is most poetic. It is not the amen one says after a song, but an amen that is raised in “responsive joy.”
This hymn shows us a redeemed universe, the scene depicted in Revelation 4 and 5, and Philippians 2. This is the praise in eternity.
Chief of Sinners – by David Williams
“My will is weak, my strength is frail.” Inwardly the will is weak, while outwardly the strength is frail. Inwardly one wants to will, but he is too weak. Outwardly he wants to do something, but he is too frail. He can neither will nor run. Thus “all my hope is nearly gone.” What else can he do? He can only “trust Thy working true.” At first the writer was talking to himself, but now he turns to God. He comes to God and looks to Him “to gently hold and lead me on.” This means that other than the Lord’s gentle step-by-step leading, he now has no more hope. This is where he stands.
Following this, we have the next line: “I’ve tried my best, but still have failed.” This is not preaching; this is poetry. “E’en as before I’ve failed and erred.” What should he do? “Thy patience is my only trust.” He trusts in the Lord’s patience to do what? “To hold and keep me to Thy word.” He has no other hope. His only hope is in the Lord’s power. It is His power that holds and keeps him in obedience. He sees himself as being completely hopeless; he is clear about himself.
In the third stanza, we see a man of God climbing slowly upward. “Whene’er my heart is lifted up” — this means whenever he is slightly proud and self-appreciating (only very slightly) — “How very near I am to fall.” He has had too much of such experiences already. What should he do now? “I dare not do, I dare not think.” He dares not do anything; he even dares not think anything. “I need Thyself in great or small” — this means that he needs the Lord in everything and in every place. Here is a person whose sentiments have thoroughly passed through the refining fire. They are not harsh before God. Every word is poetry and full of feeling. Every word touches God and God alone.
However, a person who knows himself does not remain in himself. Eventually, he has to pray to God, “Thou art my Savior, strength and stay, / O Lord, I come to seek Thy face.” I have no way, no hope, nothing. I can only come to seek after You. “Though I’m the weakest of the weak” — here he refers back to stanza one. He does not end abruptly. My will is weak. My strength is frail. I cannot will. I cannot run. I am the weakest of the weak. What shall I do? “My strength is nothing but Thy grace.” The Lord’s grace is all that he needs. It is this grace that enables him to go on.
If our feelings are tested and refined, every time we come to God and touch such a divinely tested and refined hymn, our feeling cannot help but be caught up in it.
What about Him – by David Williams
This also is a very good hymn. The expressions and wording are very poetic, and the feeling is very deep. Everything about it belongs to a higher realm and is lofty and mature. It is rare for a hymn on fellowship to reach such a standard. There is not a tint of unnaturalness or extreme. It is a genuine expression of a genuine lover of the Lord toward Him. It is perfect submission borne out of perfect consecration. It is the voice of submission that comes from the heart of one who has no resistance toward the Lord.
“If the path I travel / Lead me to the cross, / If the way Thou choosest / Lead to pain and loss, / Let the compensation / Daily, hourly, be / Shadowless communion, / Blessed Lord, with Thee.” This is full of consecration and submission.
Stanza two is the best stanza in the whole hymn. Here the feeling ascends still higher. “If there’s less of earth joy” — the writer is contemplating — “Give, Lord, more of heaven.” He is praying to God, not for deliverance or for change, but for more fellowship. “Let the spirit praise Thee, / Though the heart be riven.” Here is a person who can differentiate between the heart and the spirit. The heart may be broken, but the spirit can praise. The heart may be riven, but the spirit is still fresh before God. He knows the difference between the heart and the spirit. He does not ask for enjoyment of the heart but for compensation of the spirit. He has begun the ascent, but the next line is still higher. The first line says, “If there’s less of earth joy,” while the fifth line says, “If sweet earthly ties, Lord, / Break…” These two lines are linked by the word earth. This is poetry. “If sweet earthly ties, Lord, / Break at Thy decree, / Let the tie that binds us, / Closer, sweeter, be.” He seeks neither compromise nor escape. He asks only for better fellowship. He jumps from the “sweet earthly ties” in the fifth line to “the tie that binds us.” This is lovely. The feeling is fine, the words are right, and the structure is wonderful. This is beautiful!
Since stanza two reaches the climax, stanza three turns into a prayer: “Lonely though the pathway, / Cheer it with Thy smile.” “Cheer it with Thy smile” — this is so spiritual and poetic. “Selfless may I live, Lord, / By Thy grace to be / Just a cleansèd channel / For Thy life through me.” This means that he asks for nothing else except that he would be a selfless and holy vessel to carry out God’s will. This is the prayerful finale of a consecrated person in suffering. If we read this hymn carefully, we will see that this is truly a fine hymn. We have to come to God to learn these hymns and the spirit of these hymns.
IV. Classification of hymns
We can classify the hymns into four categories: (1) the gospel trumpet; (2) words of praise; (3) Christ as life; and (4) the church life.
The first category is the gospel trumpet. This is to be used in the preaching of the gospel. It includes songs on the guilt of sin, the sinner’s position, God’s love, His righteousness, the redemption of the cross, repentance, faith in God, and so on.
The gospel hymns are to be sung by the gospel friends and us together. But there is a problem here. The hymns are written by saved persons. We have certain sentiments, but the gospel friends do not have these sentiments. It is not easy to ask them to sing songs which do not touch their feelings. However, if God blesses these hymns, the hidden needs of the sinners will be touched, and they will see their own condition as well as God’s salvation. Sometimes a sinner does not know how to pray or come to God, but the hymns help him come to God and pray. A hymn’s utterance becomes his utterance. Sometimes a hymn may be more effective than a message. At any rate, we need God’s blessing.
The gospel hymns are included in the hymn book for God’s children to use. In preaching the gospel, we should write out the hymns on big banners or print them on sheets. In this way we can invite our gospel friends to sing along with us. It is not easy for them to look for a hymn from the hymn book.
The second category is words of praise. The very day we were saved, we received heavenly joy, and thanksgiving and praises swelled from within us toward heaven. As we advance more in our spiritual walk, and as our knowledge of God’s love, righteousness, grace, and glory grows, our hearts and mouths flow out in unceasing praises. This category of hymns includes all our praises toward the Lord and God.
The third category of hymns concerns Christ as life. The goal of God’s redemption is that we would live the life of Christ. God does not ask us to imitate Christ. God wants the resurrected Christ to be lived out from us. When Christ was on earth, He was expressed through the body He received from Mary. Since His resurrection and ascension, His body is the church, and now He wants to be expressed through the church.
When we were sinners, we needed salvation and justification. After becoming believers, our pursuit turns to the knowledge and experience of the life of Christ; we seek to live out the life of this Christ. “It is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me” (Gal. 2:20). He lived on earth on our behalf. He dealt with our sins, our temptations, and our flesh. Now He becomes our life, our holiness, our love, and our joy. He is doing the work, not we. This is the goal of the work of the Holy Spirit in this age. This category of hymns includes everything from our initial pursuit of the knowledge of the inner life to the full expression of this life in faith, fellowship, satisfaction, warfare, and service. In short, it includes everything related to the pursuit and experience of this life.
The fourth category of hymns concerns the church life. It includes everything related to our Christian walk, the everyday experience, environment, work, and affairs of a Christian. This category includes hymns for meetings, marriage, love feasts, family, children, sickness, etc.
V. How to use the hymns
In choosing the hymns, we must note the following:
A. The direction of a hymn
Hymns are sung to three different kinds of people. In other words, they are directed toward three parties.
1. Toward God
Most hymns are directed toward God. The object of this poetry is God. Most of the psalms in the book of Psalms are poetry directed toward God. Psalm 51 is a famous psalm of prayer to God. All hymns of praise, thanksgiving, and prayer are sung to God.
2. Toward men
Other psalms are directed toward men. Psalms 37 and 133 are examples of such psalms. This kind of hymn either preaches to men or encourages men to go to God. All the gospel hymns and hymns of admonition are sung to men.
Colossians 3:16 says, “Teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to God.” Here we see that psalms and hymns can be used for teaching and admonishing. This is toward men. But at the same time, it involves “singing with grace in your hearts to God.” This is also toward God. Therefore, even hymns that are toward men are directed toward God.
In the church there should not be too many hymns directed toward men. In the book of Psalms, this kind of song occupies a small portion. We can have hymns that are directed toward men, but it is not proper to have too many such hymns. When there are too many of this kind of hymn, we lose sight of the main purpose of the hymns. The main goal of the hymns is to direct men toward God.
3. Toward oneself
There is still a third kind of hymn in the Bible — those which we sing to ourselves. Many passages in the book of Psalms include the phrase O my soul! All these hymns are directed toward oneself. Psalms 103 and 121 are good examples of such hymns. This kind of hymn is a person’s fellowship with his own soul. It is one’s counsel with his own heart and his conversation with himself. Everyone who knows God knows the meaning of fellowshipping with his own heart. When a person has fellowship with God, he spontaneously learns how to fellowship with his own heart. At such times, one sings to himself, shouts to himself, addresses himself, and reminds himself. Such hymns often end with a turn to God. A man may begin by fellowshipping with his own heart, but invariably he ends up fellowshipping with God.
Each of these three kinds of hymns can be used in its own way. Hymns on salvation, fellowship, thanksgiving, and praise are sung toward God. When the church gathers together, we should choose hymns which are directed toward God; our hearts must be directed toward God. When we engage ourselves in work, or when we address the saints or sinners, the hymns function as part of the preaching, and we sing toward men. When we are alone, we can sing hymns in fellowship with ourselves. In the church meetings (the bread-breaking meeting, the prayer meeting, and the fellowship meeting), we need to learn to sing to God; sometimes we can sing to ourselves. In the meetings of the work (gospel meetings and message meetings), we can use hymns that are directed toward men as well as hymns that are for God. When we are by ourselves or when there are individual needs, we can use the hymns that are meant for ourselves.
B. Different ways to sing the hymns
As far as we know, there are three ways to sing in the Bible: congregational singing, mutual singing, and solo singing.
In the Old Testament we find several instances when the Levites sang alone. The rest of the time the whole congregation sang. The book of Psalms is for congregational singing. When we come to the New Testament, we find hymn singing also being practiced in public. On the last night the Lord and the disciples were together, Matthew 26:30 says, “After singing a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.” This shows that they sang the hymn together. Therefore, congregational singing is found both in the Old Testament as well as in the New Testament.
After the church came into being, mutual singing and solo singing were added to congregational singing. Both Colossians 3:16 and Ephesians 5:19 speak of the matter of mutual singing. In mutual singing, after one brother sings, another brother responds by singing. The first brother may sing again, and the other brother responds again. Or several brothers can sing and another group of brothers respond in singing. The first group of brothers sings again, and the other group responds again. This way of mutual singing was almost as common in the early churches as congregational singing. It was a singing by brothers to brothers. However, when the clergy-laity system was formed in the church, mutual singing turned into a kind of singing between the clergy and the laity, the so-called antiphon. Later, it became the so-called responsive reading.
We believe that the Lord is still recovering the matter of singing among us. There is such a thing as singing one to another in the Bible. Hence, we should sing one to another. We may sing alternately stanza by stanza, between the sisters and the brothers, between one person and the whole congregation, or between different groups. The ones who sit in front can sing alternately to those sitting at the back, or those sitting on the left can sing alternately to those sitting on the right. All these are good ways to sing.
There is also solo singing in the Bible. First Corinthians 14:26 says, “Each one has a psalm, has a teaching, has a revelation, has a tongue, has an interpretation.” The phrase each one has a psalm refers to solo singing. In the meeting one brother may receive a revelation. Another brother may receive a teaching, and still a third brother may receive a psalm. The psalm here is sung by the individual. A brother feels that he has a psalm or a praise; he is filled inwardly, and he wants to sing it out loud. He is not doing something alone, something that others do not want to do. He is singing on behalf of the whole church. This kind of solo singing may or may not be based on something written. It may or may not follow a familiar tune. Many times, we can sing “spiritual songs,” the kind spoken of in the Bible (Col. 3:16; 1 Cor. 14:15). While one is singing such songs, the Holy Spirit spontaneously supplies the music and the tune. The person is inspired by the Holy Spirit to sing. In this kind of solo singing, the singer should put his whole being into the hymn, and the audience should learn to receive the supply from his spirit. The audience must not pay too much attention to the tune; they should try their best to receive the supply from the spirit. This kind of solo singing, whether with an existing melody or with an extemporaneous tune, needs to be done under the special inspiration of the Holy Spirit; it is unlike the solos of those who love to exhibit their flesh. Those who do not have the supply of the spirit should not sing any solos.
C. Practical training
We must first familiarize ourselves with the table of contents of the hymnal. We must remember clearly how the hymns are classified. If you understand the principle of classification, memorize the nature and use of every category, and know the location of each hymn, you readily will find the desired hymn when you have a need.
Find a hymn which is most applicable to you and learn it. Understand the words and the punctuation, and find how the writer’s thoughts unfold from beginning to end. Your heart has to be open. You have to have sensitive feelings, a pliable will, and a clear mind.
After all this, you still need to learn to sing. You can learn two to three hymns a week. At the beginning, if you cannot sing, you can hum a few tunes every morning, or you can make up simple tunes to hum to the hymn. Through this you will touch the spirit of the hymn and increase your spiritual senses. However, you still have to learn to sing according to the proper notes. After you have learned the proper notes, you can sing in whatever way the Spirit leads, whether it be congregational singing, mutual singing, or solo singing.
Hymns cultivate fine and tender spiritual feelings in a Christian. I hope that we can all learn something before God. If we can come to God in a fine and tender way, we will develop a more intimate fellowship with God. Thank the Lord that in eternity all our feelings will be fine and tender. We know that the praises in the heavens are more than the prayers on earth. Prayers will go away, but praises will fill the universe in eternity. On that day all of our feelings will be fine and tender. That will be the sweetest and happiest day.