I was recently at Wheaton College in Illinois, where the Evangelical tradition is strong and has a great history. I attended a service on campus, and we sung a hymn whose simplicity and beauty got right in amongst me, so much so that at the end of the service I made a bee-line for the pianist to find out who wrote the tune (a setting of Havergal’s ‘Take my life and let it be’). Later, I reviewed the number of times I have made that same bee-line for the same purpose, and realised that in every case it was in a church or institution dedicated to preaching God’s word and only God’s word—I’ve done it at All Souls Langham Place, St Helen’s Bishopsgate, St Andrew the Great, Redeemer New York, and other places I can’t now remember.

Still later, I realised how foolish I was to be surprised at this—it’s not a coincidence. There is a real link between faithfulness to God’s Word written and good music. Does Scripture ever tell us to ‘speak’ God’s praise? No, we are told again and again to sing God’s praise, and to do so vigorously—shout is a word that often appears in the context of the praise of God by His people. We are also to use a variety of loud musical instruments: Praise him with trumpet sound; praise him with lute and harp! Praise him with timbrel and dance; praise him with strings and pipe!  Praise him with sounding cymbals; praise him with loud clashing cymbals! So of course any church that tries to live by God’s word and calls others to live by God’s word is going to end up singing great hymns well even if no one is consciously putting it on the agenda.

The evangelical tradition in music can be summed up in the word ‘rousing’. Evangelicals have always composed and sung tunes that arouse the congregation—but to action, not to the mere enjoyment of emotion. Whether it’s Sullivan’s Gertrude, Jarman’s Lyngham, Ellor’s Diadem, the traditional evangelical hymn makes you want to get out into the world and do something for Christ. There are modern tunes equally rousing: Michael Brierly’s Camberwell for instance, written in 1960. I don’t know whether the weakness of many evangelical churches today is the result of or the cause of their use of the awful soppy three-chord tunes, all indistinguishable from one another, that they use, but there’s a link there somewhere.

The evangelical tradition in lyric is to focus on God, and not on us. ‘I love you Jesus’ is, I hope, a true statement by those who sing songs of that sort, but it is not praise of God, and too often it is self-congratulation, and leads only to more self-centeredness. ‘All hail the power of Jesus’s name’ puts it biblically, and the regular singing of such hymns builds biblical Christians.

Not all evangelical tunes are rousing, of course; there are plenty for the introspective moments as well, from Bradbury’s Woodworth to the tune I sang with such pleasure at Wheaton, which was written by Wheaton’s organ teacher, Tony Payne, and is still unpublished.

The link between evangelical revival and music is not an accident. Those who are hoping for a revival of evangelicalism today should not ignore the biblical injunctions to sing!

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