The efficacy of Sacred Music exemplified.
PREACHED BEFORE THE
Congregation of Christ Church,
ON THE FIRST SUNDAY AFTER TRINITY,
JUNE 2, 1861
BY REV. SOLOMON G. HITCHCOCK, A. M.
PRICE TEN CENTS.
Transcribed by Wayne Kempton
Archivist and Historiographer of the Diocese of New York, 2014
SUNDAY EVENING, June 2, 1861.
Rev. and Dear Sir:
The Vestry of your Church, as well as the Members of your Congregation generally, are very desirous of having your interesting and instructive Sermon, delivered by you this day, published for general circulation. We, therefore, solicit the manuscript for this purpose.
We remain, dear sir,
Your friends and parishioners,
N. QUACKENBOS, THEO. W. BAYAUD, S. SEYMOUR,
PH. L. FRENEAU, W. SKELLY, F. BAILEY.
REV. S. G. HITCHCOCK,
Rector of Christ Church, Piermont.
PIERMONT, June 3, 1861.
The delivery of the Sermon, of which you speak, preceded the realization by us, in behalf of our organ music, of the largest collection that has ever been taken in our Church-room, and that from a congregation not at all above ordinary in point of size, if its ''general circulation" can render farther aid in behalf of the object for which it was written, objection to its publication will be overcome in the mind of
Respectfully and truly,
Your friend and servant,
SOLO. G. HITCHCOCK.
Messrs. N. QUACKENBOS, THEO. W. BAYAUD, S. SEYMOUR,
PH. L. FRENEAU, W. SKELLY, F. BAILEY.
IN presenting this Sermon to the public, we rely, for its success, upon the merits of its composition.
To our neighbors we desire to make an appeal in behalf of our Church. The subject of Music, until within a few months, has been entirely neglected, owing to the paucity of our congregation and the difficulty of selecting from their number those who were able, and at the same time, willing to conduct the choral services.
During the last winter, a few gentlemen were determined that a suitable instrument should be purchased or hired, and a competent organist should also be procured, thus enabling our faithful pastor to give full solemnity to the Church service.
A subscription paper was circulated, and a sufficient amount to defray the hire of the instrument for six months obtained; this sum being exhausted, a collection was taken up on the day on which the Sermon was delivered; but there is still required to be added to the fund about $200. This will enable us to purchase the organ, and also secure the services of our present organist, and besides give us the aid of a suitable alto accompaniment.
We are, and have been, dependent upon the voluntary aid of the more devoted members of the congregation, for the female accompaniments.
With this brief notice, we trust our friends will contribute their aid.
PIERMONT, June 3, 1861.
"And it came to pass, when the evil spirit from God was upon Saul, that David took an harp, and played with his hand. So Saul was refreshed, and was well, and the evil spirit departed from him."--I. SAMUEL xvi, 23.
The power of music to sooth the ferocity of a mind in which despair had taken up its abode, was exemplified in the case of Saul, King of Israel. After the prophet Samuel had anointed the youthful David, to be the future King of Israel, in place of Saul, who had been rejected for his disobedience to the command of God--we are told that "the spirit of the Lord came upon David from that day forward"--but "the spirit of the Lord departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the Lord troubled him." His "servants," who were probably his physicians, finding the course of treatment which they had previously pursued unavailing, thought proper to recommend the use of music as a recipe, and advised him to procure the services of a young man, who, above all others within the circle of their acquaintance, would be competent to make a fair trial of its efficacy. The language addressed to him by one of their number, was: "Behold, I have seen a son of Jesse, the Bethlehemite, that is cunning in playing, and a mighty valiant man, and a man of war, and prudent in matters, and a comely person, and the Lord is with him." Thus recommended, and brought into the presence of Saul, the power of David's music was blessed to the production of its intended result. "When the evil spirit from God was upon Saul, David took an harp and played with his hand. So Saul was refreshed and was well, and the evil spirit departed from him."
 The first recorded instance of appearance in public on the part of one, whose praise has been ever perpetuated in the Church of God from that day to our own, as the sweet singer of Israel, will suggest to us for consideration--the subject of--
1. DAVID'S MUSIC, and
2. THE SPECIMEN AFFORDED BY HIM OF ITS EFFICACY.
First. DAVID'S MUSIC. The skill in music which he evinced at this early period of his life to which our attention has been called, afterwards found a wider and far more important field for its exercise. No sooner had he been seated upon the throne of the united kingdoms of Israel and Judah, and removed the Ark of the Covenant to the tabernacle which he had erected for the place of the public worship of God, upon Mount Zion; than he made a suitable and becoming provision for the performance of the music which was connected with its services. He appointed as leaders of the congregation, "Je-i-el, with instruments of psalteries and harps," "Asaph, to sound cymbals," "Be-na-iah and Ja-haz-iel, the priests, with trumpets continually before the Ark of the Covenant of God." And "he left before the Ark of the Covenant of the Lord, Asaph and his brethren, to minister before the Ark continually, as every day's work required." Here most of those divine songs, called the Psalms of David, (from the Greek word psalmos, or song,) and which have been the delight and admiration of the Church in every age, were first brought into use. By the four thousand Levites and Nethinims who were devoted to the art of vocal music, and the use of the timbrel, psaltery, and harp, in the high praises of the Lord, they were sung responsively. And, at the Jewish synagogues in our own day, when the Psalms of David are sung, or cantillated, the congregation respond, in the repetition of them, to the precentor. They give utterance to sentiments of liveliest praise, or of devoutest supplication. The different occasions upon which they were written, and the subjects [6/7] which they embrace, may be said to unite in setting forth one grand, and all-pervading theme, which is everywhere prominent in every verse, and in every line--that is religion, sublime and beautiful, pure and true, as it reveals itself to the loftiest contemplations of the noblest minds. Nor is the devotional language of the psalmist, a mere lip service, a form of sound words, employed by the king to set a good example to his court. His poetry is a boiling flood, every verse alive, breathing, burning, throbbing, with unaffected sentiment. The spirit of inspiration takes up the harp, and strikes a note which vibrates in every breast, and awakens emotions of piety in every bosom. St. Athanasius styles the book of psalms, "an epitome of the whole scriptures." St. Basil calls it "the summary of the Old Testament." In later times, the reformer Melancthon eulogized it as "the most elegant writing in the whole world." His colleague Luther, in a preface to the psalter, uses the following beautiful language: "Where canst thou find nobler words of joy than in the psalms of praise and thanksgiving? There thou mayst look into the hearts of all good men, as into beautiful and pleasant gardens, yea, as into heaven itself. How do grateful, and fine, and charming blossoms spring up there, from every kind of pleasing and rejoicing thoughts towards God and his goodness. Again, where canst thou find more deep, or mournful words of sorrow, than in the psalms of lamentation and woe? There thou mayst look again into the hearts of all good men, as upon death, yea, as if into hell. How dark and gloomy is it there, from anxious and troubled views of the wrath of God. I hold, that no better or finer book of models, or legends of saints and martyrs, has existed, or can exist on earth, than the psalter. For we find here, not alone what one or two saints have done, but what the head of all saints has done, and what holy men still do, in what attitude they stand towards God, and towards their friends and enemies, and how they conduct themselves in all dangers and sufferings. And besides this, all sorts of divine doctrines and precepts are contained in it. Hence it is, that the psalter is the book of all [7/8] good men, and every one, whatever his circumstances may be, finds in it psalms and words suited to his circumstances, and which are to him, just as if they had been put there on his very account, and in such a way that he himself could not have made, or found, or wished for better."
Bishop Horne, of our own mother church, says: "Composed for particular occasions, yet designed for general use, delivered out as services for the Israelites, under the law, yet no less adapted to the circumstances of Christians under the gospel--they present religion to us in the most engaging dress--communicating truths which philosophy could never investigate, in a style which poetry can never equal, while history is made the vehicle of prophecy, and creation lends its charms to paint the glories of redemption. Calculated alike to profit and to please, they inform the understanding, elevate the affections, and entertain the imagination. Indited under the influence of Him to whom all hearts are known, and all events foreknown--they suit mankind in all situations, grateful as the manna which descended from above, and conformed itself to every palate. The fairest productions of human wit, after a few perusals, like gathered flowers, wither in our hands, and lose their fragrancy. But these unfading plants of paradise become, as we are accustomed to them, still more and more beautiful--their bloom appears to be daily more and more hightened, fresh odors are emitted, and new sweets extracted from them. He who has once tasted their excellencies, will desire to taste them again--and he who tastes them oftenest, will relish them best."
As they exhibit to our view, high and sublime conceptions of God, as the Creator, Preserver, and Governor of the world, and are (as we are taught by inspired writers in the New Testament, many of them, at least,) directly prophetic of Christ as the Messiah, and of the prominent events that were connected with the redemption which he achieved in our behalf--it is not surprising that the use of them should have been transferred, as a matter of course, from the worship of the Jewish, to that of the Christian Church. [8/9] Large portions of them were inserted into the ancient liturgies of the Church, and at the present time, the Greek, the Roman, and the English churches, at least, make them a part of their daily service, arranging them into such divisions, as will admit of their being said or sung, within a certain definite period. In our own Book of Common Prayer, they are divided into sixty portions--two of which are appointed to be used at the morning and evening prayer of each day of the month, with liberty of substituting "selections" on special occasions, for the regularly appointed portions, at the discretion of the minister. The repetition of them by the minister and the people alternately, has probably been introduced as a substitute for the responsive chanting of them by two distinct choirs, as was practiced at an early period in the Christian Church, and is now done in the worship of the Cathedral Churches of England. We are informed by the learned Bingham, that at the commencement of the fourth century, the charge of the music of the church, was committed to individuals selected from the congregation, who, though not formally ordained, were yet regarded as constituting an inferior order of the ministry. The part which they took in the worship of God, being considered as similar to that which had been assigned in the worship of the tabernacle by King David, in his own time, to the Levites especially. But though they were to act in the capacity of leaders, they were not to engross the performance of this part of the church's worship to themselves, exclusively. For the mingled voices of all ranks, ages, and sexes, like the glad sound of many waters, were to be blended indiscriminately with their own. The very language repeated, would have been strongly condemnatory of them for their neglect of doing so. "Let the congregation of saints praise him." "Let the saints be joyful with glory." "Kings of the earth, and all people, young men, and maidens, old men, and children, praise the name of the Lord." And the discrepancy would be as discoverable among us, between the language which we use, and the adoption by us, practically, of the sentiment which it conveys. For who, [9/10] on rising from bended knees, to engage in the exercise of praise to God, can consistently say: "O Lord, open thou my lips," "And thy mouth shall show forth thy praise," when no effort is made to join, in a repetition with the choir, of the words, "O come, let us (not read, but) sing unto the Lord." "Let us come before his presence with a song." "Sing, rejoice, and give thanks." "Let the people praise thee, O, God, yea, let all the people praise thee." The language which the church puts into our mouths evidently supposes, that all who have hearts which are susceptible of doing homage to their Maker, and voices with which to express it, will be ready to lift up their voices as the voice of one man, in singing their Maker's praise.
And the example of King David, affords a warrant for the introduction by us of instruments of music into the public worship of God. The very name by which his book of psalms (or songs) is commonly designated--that of Psalter is derived from the Greek word psalterion, or psaltery--which is also the name of a stringed instrument, that was chiefly used as an accompaniment of voices in the singing of them. The instrument which was used by him, in the presence of King Saul, upon the occasion of which the text speaks, was the harp--one of which he could not claim to have been the originator. For it is traceable to a period of far higher antiquity in the history of the world. Jubal, a descendant from Adam of the seventh generation, in the line of Cain, was, we are told, "the father of all such as handle the harp and organ." Neither could he be said to be the one by whom music was first made to constitute a part of the exercises of public religious worship. For there has not been, probably, a nation upon the face of the earth--either civilized or barbarous--among whom music has not formed a part of the worship which has been rendered by them, to the divinity whom they adored. But having been already thus universally adopted, (and how so? unless owing to the fact of its having been at first, divinely prescribed?) he made provision for the most befitting and rightful performance of it. [10/11] He does not hesitate, or scruple, to praise God with instrument as well as with voice--and calls on the world to unite with him in acclamations of praise, by bringing harp, trumpet, and cornet, to make a joyful noise before the Lord, the King.
The instrument which is now chiefly used in the public worship of God under the Christian dispensation, is that of the organ--which is said, by some, to have been first brought into use in the Christian church, about the middle of the seventh century, by others, at a still later period. In our own mother country, organs were used long before the Reformation--and were not discarded when the Church of England rescued itself from its state of subjugation to the Church of Rome. During the continuance of the Cromwellian usurpation, organs were looked upon as the greatest of abominations, and very many valuable ones were destroyed. But now, the sound of them is not only tolerated, but they are regarded as an almost indispensable requisite, in the choirs of the dissenting churches, as well as in those of the Church of England itself. In this particular, the sentiment of the non-conformist, Milton--who, as a poet, could use language with a degree of license which would not have been conceded to him had he expressed the same idea in a plainer form, is now prosaically adopted by them all--
"But let my due feet never fail,
To walk the studious cloister's pale,
And love the high embowed roof,
With antique pillars massy proof,
And storied windows richly dight,
Casting a dim religious light.
"There let the pealing organ blow,
To the full-voiced choir below,
In service high, and anthems clear,
As may with sweetness, through mine ear,
Dissolve me into ecstacies,
And bring all heaven before mine eyes."
THE EFFICACY OF DAVID'S MUSIC, may be regarded as having been, in the case of Saul, chiefly medicinal. It was no new [11/12] thing, at that early period in the history of the world, to employ music as a kind of charm, for the cure of certain diseases which had been induced by disorder of the mind, or of the passions. For the same thing had been done before King David's time, and is believed in our day, to exert a very highly beneficial influence upon certain forms of insanity. In the case of King Saul, we are told that it had the effect of restoring him to tranquillity of mind. The sprightly effusions, from the young shepherd's careless harp,
"Of linked sweetness long drawn out,
With wanton heed, and giddy cunning,
The melting voice through mazes running,
Untwisting all the chains that tie
The hidden soul of harmony,"
relieved the royal maniac of his melancholy. The same instrument of music, the harp, was productive of a similarly tranquilizing effect, upon the mind of the prophet Elisha. Being in a state of mental agitation, he caused a minstrel to play before him, in order that he might calm himself into a fit frame and condition of mind, to receive the divine Spirit--by means of which, he foretold a miraculous deliverance from drought, and a decisive victory over the Moabites. "It came to pass that, when the minstrel played, the hand of the Lord came upon him."
And the power of music to subdue and tame the fierceness of evil passion, and the wild discord of mental discomposure and agitation, has been exemplified in other cases than simply those of King Saul, and of the prophet Elisha. When employed to give rightful expression to the language of praise, which has been bequeathed by King David to the pious in every age since his own day for their perpetual use, it has been productive of the same effect. "Sacred song," says St. Basil, "is the calm of souls, the arbiter of peace--it represses tumultuous and turbulent thoughts, restrains the violence of passion, and checks lasciviousness. It conciliates hearts, associates those who are divided, and reconciles enemies. [12/13] For who could ever hold him as an enemy, with whom he had raised his voice to God? So the singing of psalms unites good men in charity, finds in the union of voices a certain bond of concord, and joins the whole people through the symphony of a single choir. It puts demons to flight, secures the aid of angels, supplies arms against nightly terrors, is repose from daily labor, the safety of infants, the honor of youth, the consolation of the aged, the most becoming ornament of woman, it peoples the solitude, and instructs the forum." The influence which is exerted by it upon the minds and passions of all, may be proved by the testimony both of observation and experience.
And the moralizing efficacy which is possessed and exerted by it, is no less plainly noticeable. The remark is said to have been made by Fletcher of Saltoun, "Give me the making of a country's ballads, and I care not who is the maker of its laws." The sentiments which are inculcated and diffused, through the medium of popular songs which are sung, do as much to benefit or to injure the public morals, as can be effected through the agency of any other instrumentality that can be wielded. We know the kind of influence which music exerts, when it is enlisted in the service of profligacy and vice. We know there is exerted an influence for evil, when "the harp, the viol, the tabret and pipe, are in the feasts of those who regard not the work of the Lord, neither consider the operations of his hands." And now, if music in the haunts of dissipation and debauchery exert a corrupting influence, may not the power which it possesses be made productive of another and opposite effect, when it is brought into, and used, in the service of the Lord? Who does not know, that in the awakening and revival meetings, where it is made to constitute a most prominent and important part of the services which are performed, the life and heartiness of the singing, exert a most powerfully subduing and melting influence upon the hardened and impenitent? If its power when misapplied, to cherish and call forth the evil which lies concealed in the corrupt heart of fallen man, [13/14] to recommend and excite in him all the follies of levity and dissipation, of intemperance and wantonness--be productive of harm--what, under such circumstances, are we to do, but to employ it in a different and better way? If the Philistines sing a chorus in honor of their idol, let the true Israel of God sing a louder one to the glory of the great Jehovah. In the heathen mythology we are told, that when the Sirens warbled soft, seducing strains, to allure heedless mortals into the paths of unlawful pleasure, two different methods were used to escape the snare. Some rendered themselves incapable of hearing, while others overpowered their songs by chanting divine hymns. The moral which is inculcated by that fabulous story, is a just one, and suggestive of an important duty to ourselves. The singing of sacred songs, did much at the time of the Reformation, to advance the cause of pure and undefiled religion. Bishop Jewell, of England, says: "A change appears visible among the people, which nothing promotes more, than the inciting them to sing psalms." Of the Huguenots in France, it is said, that they were heard continually singing sacred songs which they had learned by heart, while they were engaged with the performance of their daily labors. The great reformer, Luther, was not ashamed to avow, that "next to divinity, no art was comparable to music." And, says he, "we know that music is intolerable to demons." St. Paul urges upon Christians the duty of "teaching and admonishing one another in psalms, and hymns, and spiritual songs--singing and making melody in their hearts unto the Lord." The "teaching and admonishing," that were connected with such an exercise, being evidence that it was productive of a moral influence. And says he, "is any merry?" (or in a joyful state of mind) "let him sing psalms." There is, no doubt, a tendency in sacred music, to recall the heart's affections from things that are low and degrading, and to elevate them to such as are excellent and praiseworthy. In this respect, the office which was performed by the youthful David for King Saul, is still discharged by his music in our behalf, viz: that of driving from [14/15] us the evil spirit by which we may have been before possessed, and the replacement within us, of a new and better spirit in its stead.
But it is not enough that religious and moral sentiments are expressed through the medium of musical sounds in such a manner as to please and entertain us. For we can derive from them no benefit of a permanent and enduring nature, unless we recognise the possession by them of a claim upon us, not only for our admiration and approval, but also for the reduction of them to practice. It is not by those who hear and are entertained, but by those who hear and do, that the requisite qualifications for admission into heaven, are possessed and exhibited. Our feelings may be so lulled into unison with piety, and stirred up to lofty determination by the power of music, that we seem, for a time, to be completely weaned from the things of this world, and ready to enter upon a performance of the duties of life, strongly fortified against the enticements and allurements to evil by which we may be assailed. But no sooner do we retire from the hearing of it, and find ourselves removed to a distance which places us beyond the reach of its immediate influence, than the fugitive emotions which it had awakened, are dispelled, and the glow of feeling which it had enkindled, is extinguished. The language that is repeated, becomes to us "as a very lovely song of one who hath a pleasant voice, and can play well on an instrument, for we hear the words, but do them not."
It is said that in the primitive church, music attracted to the worship of God, as spectators, some who were afterwards baptized. And it has not accomplished for any the benefit which it should aim to effect, until, as in the case of the prophet Elisha, upon whom the hand of the Lord came when the minstrel played, it has so softened their hearts as to dispose them to yield to the moral battery of God's Holy Spirit. It is not those who are simply wrought upon and enraptured, but those who do the will of God, that derive from the music of the sanctuary a permanent good. Nor is the exercise of praise wholly emotional, and dependent upon the possession [15/16] of a high degree of physical excitability. We must "sing with the spirit, and sing with the understanding also." "The first and most essential requisite," says the late Bishop Wainwright, "to render the music of the church acceptable to God, as well as edifying to the people, is a preparation of heart. Without this, the finest strains of melody are no better than a solemn sound upon a thoughtless tongue. But if the voice respond to devout affections of the soul, sounds coarse and inharmonious in themselves, will be acceptable in the ears of the God of Sabbaoth, and even those whom nature has deprived both of ear and voice, and who cannot, without discomfort to their fellow-worshipers, be vocal in their praises, may yet "sing and make melody in their hearts unto the Lord." By doing so, they are but beginning in the Church militant on earth, an exercise in which the Church triumphant in heaven are wont to engage. There, we are told that with "harps, and golden vials full of odors," they "sing a new song, saying worthy art thou, for thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood, out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation." The praises of God and the Lamb which are celebrated by the true Israel of God on earth, will be resumed by them again in the sanctuary of heaven, where an immense tide of song will roll from thousand times ten thousand voices of glorified saints. There, with crowns upon our heads, and harps in our hands, may we be fitted to execute the will, and hymn the praises of our God, wearing the diadem of saints, and making the melody of heaven.