Posted by: rcottrill | September 2, 2009

Why Christians Sing

I’m sure there are lots of reasons why we sing, but I’d like to deal with two: one that is spiritual, and another related to the nature of music itself.

1) The New Song
The spiritual reason has to do with something the Word of God calls a new song. It’s spoken of 9 times in the Bible, Old Testament and New. For example, David says:

I waited patiently for the Lord; and He inclined to me, and heard my cry. He also brought me up out of a horrible pit, out of the miry clay, and set my feet upon a rock, and established my steps. He has put a new song in my mouth–praise to our God; many will see it and fear, and will trust in the Lord (Ps. 40:1-3).

So, what is meant by a new song? Some in our day interpret this to mean we must adopt the current music styles of the world, or be constantly teaching the newest and latest selections for our congregation to sing. Conversely, they say, “We have to get rid of all those old-fashioned hymns. Those are old songs. We want new ones!”

But I do not believe that is what is meant. Notice the above text again. It doesn’t say, “He has put a new song in my mouth–the latest guitar licks, the newest rock sounds.” David is speaking of what comes from his mouth, and it is “praise to our God.” Young’s Literal Translation actually makes the latter phrase the text of the song itself, by putting it in quotation marks: “He putteth in my mouth a new song, ‘Praise to our God.'” Rotherham does something similar.

But what’s so new about that? Many of us, even if we don’t always sing it, certainly say it often, “Praise the Lord!” So how is such a song new? May I suggest that is involves at least a couple of things:

  • A newly prompted motivation
  • A newly personalized message

In song, we testify to our experience with the Lord It is “new” because we have a new reasons to praise Him. That makes our song ever new, because we’re always having fresh experiences of God’s blessing. Here’s the key: When the song comes from the heart, and reflects our own experience, it becomes a new song–even if we borrow the words of Fanny Crosby or Charles Wesley to express it. We sing because we have something to sing about.

2) The Nature of Music
A second reason why sacred music has such a major place in the lives of Christians has to do with the nature of music itself.

First, consider the difference between prose and poetry. Let’s suppose you get up early in the morning, and you say to your wife, “The sun’s coming up.” That’s prose.

But if you were a William Shakespeare, you might say (as he does in Romeo and Juliet):

Look, love, what envious streaks
Do lace the severing clouds in yonder east:
Night’s candles are burnt out, and jocund day
Stands tiptoe on the misty mountain tops.

(“Jocund” means cheerful.) And that’s wonderful poetry. Notice how the lines not only convey facts but stir the imagination and the emotions as well. It is as though the day can hardly wait to dawn. Poetry paints word pictures in order to help us better feel the facts.

Then, music can add an even stronger emotional element, and it affects us physically as well. Here is a stanza of a German hymn written about 200 years ago (translated into English by Edward Caswell). It too is about the dawn. And in Joseph Barnby’s tune, called Laudes Domini, the notes follow a repeatedly rising pattern, as though to express in music both the rising of the sun and the joyful lifting up of praise to God.

When morning gilds the skies,
My heart awaking cries,
May Jesus Christ be praised!
Alike at work and prayer,
To Jesus I repair,
May Jesus Christ be praised!

When you have poetry set to music, you have a powerful tool of communication that can express both ideas and emotions. That is one reason why the Bible has so much poetry in it–and talks about music so much. God knows how He made us. He knows that we can testify to the facts of our faith much more feelingly in poetry and song. See how the process is described in Ps. 28:7:

The Lord is my strength and my shield; my heart trusted in Him, and I am helped; therefore my heart greatly rejoices, and with my song I will praise Him.

But there is an inherent danger with the emotional power of music. In our use of it, we must be careful not to confuse emotional excitation with spiritual exaltation. That replaces legitimate emotion with emotionalism, which may be simply an easily manipulated visceral response to the music. Consider the above verse again, and notice particularly the order of things.

1) The Lord is my strength and my shield; (a basic truth)
2) my heart trusted in Him, (the truth accepted by faith)
3) and I am helped; (faith verified in life)
4) therefore my heart rejoices, (an inward emotional response)
5) and with my song I will praise Him. (an outward expression with poetry set to music)

The order there is significant. The excitement and joy David feels is not generated by the music, but by an appropriation and appreciation of God’s truth, and his experience of God’s blessing. That is how our hymnody should be used, and it ought to be the reason why we sing. It expresses what the Lord has done for us, and how we feel about it. As an old gospel song by Albert Ketchum puts it:

Deep in my heart there’s a gladness,
Jesus has saved me from sin!
Praise to His name–what a Saviour!
Cleansing without and within.

Why do I sing about Jesus?
Why is He precious to me?
He is my Lord and my Saviour,
Dying, He set me free!


  1. […] Today in 1894 – Albert Ketchum Born Little is known about Albert Allen Ketchum, except that he was once a student at Moody Bible Institute, in Chicago, and lived at one time in Long Beach, California. While attending Moody in the early 1920’s, he wrote the words and music for a gospel song called, Why Do I Sing About Jesus? It was one of 12 or 15 songs he submitted to Harry Dixon Clarke for publication. The song raises a good question. We certainly sing to praise the Lord, and to bear witness to what He means to us. For an article on this subject, see Why Christians Sing. […]


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