The Use of Hymns in Congregational Singing

The reasons for insisting on congregational singing are few and simple, but they are incontrovertible:

  1. Only by such a service of song can we imitate the example of our Lord and his Apostles.
  2. The best and largest part of our churches call for it. If this part desires to sing the praise of God with its own lips, it is arbitrary and unjust to deprive it of the privilege, that the tastes of the few may be gratified by choir performances. Not only so, but if it is debarred the privilege, what becomes of the spirituality in the worship of song?
  3. The evidence is abundant that spiritual life is evoked from our hymnology only so far as it impersonally appropriated to the spiritual wants of the individual Christian.
  4. In the times of highest and purest spiritual activity, the Church of Christ has always demanded congregational singing. Revivals of religion tolerate nothing else. But we have great need to remember that congregational singing is not something which comes of itself and without effort. “If,” said John Calvin, “the singing is such as befits the reverence which we ought to feel when we sing before God and the angels, it is an ornament which bestows grace and dignity upon our worship, and it is an excellent method of kindling the heart, and making it burn with great ardor in prayer. But we must at all times take heed lest the ear should be more attentive to the harmony of the sound than the soul to the hidden meaning of the words.”…

Calvin’s idea of Church music was exactly that of Israel’s psalmist:

“Both young men and maidens, old men and children, let them praise the name of the Lord.”

We have need to follow closely the example of our great leader, in the cultivation of sacred song, as well as his theology.

First, the service of praise must be exalted as a part of worship. Then the fittest mediums of song-worship in the choicest chants and hymns should be furnished the people of God, and the tame, mediocre, insipid, prosaic rhymes on spiritual themes, falsely called psalms or hymns or spiritual songs, discarded. And then by a direct education of the people in singing these hymns to suitable tunes, the latent capacities for congregational singing in our churches should be called out. this will take time and pains, but it is well worth all the cost. In no dim or doubtful sense will it prove true, that a revival of the spirit of Christian song is a revival of religion.

– H. Rondel Rumburg, The Songs of Southern Zion, p.162