The Singing Beneath Singing
Relearning what singing is, from Cinderella and Jonathan Edwards
It seems at every point during this COVID lockdown, we are learning something, about ourselves. As Cinderella wisely taught us in the 80’s, you don’t know what you got (till it’s gone). Or until it’s threatened: so often in Salt Lake City we heard Christians say “I’ve learned so much about the gospel since moving to Utah”. Being in an environment where the gospel is threatened by opponents or competed with by counterfeits forces you to circle back again on what you really believe.
Such is happening to us, and it might again soon, if and when we are forced inside for worship, by the weather. And then the County’s guideline will be no singing, mask or not. Our County health authorities believe indoor singing could create a super-spreader event.
Which then forces us to consider, just what is happening spiritually, at the moment we singin church? To ask it in a different way, when the singing is stripped away, what’s left, if anything? If we are left to hum along with the worship team under our masks, is anything spiritually important left to us in that moment?
As I much as I don’t look forward to that kind of worship (sounds a little spooky, if you ask me), I believe there is indeed something important left to us. Vitally, crucially, world-changingly important. That important.
Take a Walk . . .
So gird up the loins of your mind, and walk along with me through a paragraph of the writing of Jonathan Edwards:
God is glorified within Himself these two ways: 1. By appearing . . . to Himself in His own perfect idea of Himself, or in His Son, who is the brightness of His glory. 2. By enjoying and delighting in Himself, by flowing forth in infinite . . . delight towards Himself, or in his Holy Spirit . . . . So God glorifies Himself toward the creatures also in two ways: 1. By appearing to . . . their understanding. 2. In communicating Himself to their hearts, and in their rejoicing and delighting in, and enjoying, the manifestations which He makes of Himself . . . . God is glorified not only by His glory’s being seen, but by its being rejoiced in. When those that see it delight in it, God is more glorified than if they only see it. His glory is then received by the whole soul, both by the understanding and by the heart. God made the world that He might communicate, and the creature receive, His glory; and that it might be received both by the mind and heart. He that testifies his idea of God’s glory doesn’t glorify God so much as he that testifies also his approbation of it and his delight in it.1
Consider what Edwards is saying. God is glorified by His a) appearing to our understanding – our eyes, or our mind; and b) by “communicating Himself” to our hearts, which then causes us to rejoice & delight in Him.
Trace again what Edwards says in the second half of that quote. God does get glory in the first manner – by our mind’s comprehension and speaking of Him. But God is glorified more– much more – when our “whole souls” experience that “communication” of Himself, and then we delight in Him.
To put Edwards’ last sentence in my own words: you do give God glory, when you speak with your mouth, about the idea of God – about His grace, His excellence, His holiness, His righteousness, His power, His delivering work in your life. That testimony does give Him glory. But God gets so much more glory by our heartfelt, overflowing praise2 of Him – by our “delight”, by our happiness, in Him.
How Does God Get More Glory?
To put this another way: what does God get the most glory from, in your moment of singing, in church? Is it the singing itself, especially when you are only singing the words, but you’re thinking about whether you like the song or not? Or when you have to stop singing, for joy, and you simply stand there, and smile, as you simply delight in Who our God is? Edwards would say the smile – so much more, the smile. Yes, it is better to have both. But if you can only choose one, go for the smile.
This is the logic of David, in Psalm 34. After testifying to the “idea” of God’s glory, in all that God has done, David calls us to
“. . . taste and see that the Lord is good . . .” (v. 8)
To not just apprehend it, with your mind. Yes, do that. And to not just speak of it, with your mouth. Yes, do that. But taste it, and relish it, and see that goodness, with the eyes of your heart. And then delight in Him.
Now, I’m not saying “Pretend to like the restrictions on indoor singing.” Not at all. But this is a call for us to
Consider how God gets the most glory from you, in your singing, and in your life – not merely by your testifying to Him, or singing to Him, but by your delighting in Him, underneath the words, whether spoken or sung.
To pray to Him, that He would give you the desires of your heart – that He would show you His excellencies, to such a degree that it matters not if you can sing to Him, for the joy and delight that would flow out of your heart – a joy and delight that singing is only the outward manifestation of.
To use this season, as your launching point, on a great search, for all the joy that is found in God Himself. It will take all eternity to explore this “undiscovered country”. Embark on that search today.
And as we discover more joy and delight in Him, we will grow into the likeness of Christ – in the footsteps of Jonathan Edwards. What many people don’t know is that Edwards – America’s greatest theologian – was fired by his own church. David Hall, a member of the church’s council, reports this about Edwards’ response:
Edwards received the shock, unshaken. I never saw the least symptoms of displeasure in his countenance the whole week but he appeared like a man of God, whose happiness was out of the reach of his enemies and whose treasure was not only a future but a present good, overbalancing all imaginable ills of life, even to the astonishment of many who could not be at rest without his dismission.3
When you have that joy, and delight, in God Himself, you have something that is “out of the reach” of all our enemies, because you have a treasure that can never be taken from you, not even by death or the devil himself. May God give us this joy in Himself, whether we may express it in singing in church, or throughout the rest of our weeks. Father, hallowed be Your name!
Piper, John. A God Entranced Vision of All Things. 26. ↩︎
A synonym for “approbation”. ↩︎