Written by Michael W. Pursley with thoughts from Rev. John Kennedy
While Old Testament followers of God had no liturgy of prayer divinely provided for it, they did have a liturgy of praise…
…and therefore, in Old Testament times, before liturgy was prepared, or even began to be prepared, especially in the days of David, there was not lacking of a spirit of praise, nor was their lacking the spirit of poetry with which to put God’s praise into fitting shape and form. We can see this in the instance of the Song of Moses, when Israel came out of Egypt; it was a Song in which we find the most sublime conceptions of the Divine character, and one whose thoughts and words have received the highest tribute.
The New Testament contains neither liturgy of prayer nor really a liturgy of praise, but it informs us that both prayer and praise were practiced by the first Christians; therefore, nothing more is needed for allowance or approval. Further, the Christian Church throughout the ages, has had the inspired Psalter of the Jewish Church in its hands, and the church has used it as both groundwork and pattern for its worship of praise. Historical Christianity with its Old Testament examples, as well as the promised unction of the Holy One, has provided for itself the needful forms in which to utter its sentiments of all its adoration and praise.
It should also be noted that the New Testament Church has had more reason for praise than had the Old. Consider the fulfillment of the Promise in which the faith and hope of the godly has always rested: including the incarnation of the Son of God, the redemption wrought on Calvary, larger communication and relationship of the Holy Ghost, the resurrection and ascension of Christ, and the unveiling of life and incorruptibility of the Gospel. All these things should make the Spirit of the New Testament Church doubly jubilant, and furnish themes which the ancient saints at the best could never fully understand.
We will not be surprised to find that the service of praise and worship will be perpetuated and made complete in Heaven. How could it not be? Shall the spirit of the just made perfect keep their silence? With the common experience of the world such as sin, sorrow, persecution and tribulation in their past, and with the grace and blood of the Lamb as their present salvation, and the eternal heaven of purity and joy for their future; shall they be as stone? Shall we sing here below while it is yet comparatively our night, and a night of storm and disquietude; and then cease to praise when we emerge into bright and cloudless day? Impossible!
Shall we sing even now, “O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?” as we fall into the grave and then fail to praise with loudest voice when death and the grave are past? And shall we not also say with loudest voice, “Thanks be unto God, who hath given us the victory through Jesus Christ our Lord?”
True praise may be defined as the highest expressions, the highest sentiments of our love towards God. Love that was placed there by our Redeemer. Or, it may be that our praise is done with reference to God’s attributes, such as revealed in His works or in His Word. This at least, is definition enough for our practical considerations here. Further, we may say that the proper sentiments and praise we make towards God are in reflexive love, and if in proper mind, reflective of our Savior’s love for us.
There are few sentiments proper to worship, if any, which may not be regarded as sentiments proper to the service of praise.
For example, we also worship God when we make confession of our sins, and abase ourselves before His Throne. Our confessions and self-abasement are really acts of praise and worship to Him. We are praising Him as a Holy God, and we are honoring His law as a holy law, when we confess ourselves sinners, and humble ourselves as such. The sentiments avowed by us in confession and humiliation are sentiments awakened by the contemplation of His attributes; that is, the contemplation of his sovereignty and purity.
And if there are improper sentiments in our hearts to God, or to His attributes of Holiness, and love; and if we stand improperly in our relationship with our Redeemer, shall we be able to properly praise Him? Will not our praise be more than a deficiency, will it not be a sin?
Also, we must realize that we owe our highest sentiments to Him in worship and praise. They are a duty, even as our love to a parent or to a child is a duty, and the absence of them must also be held as more than a deficiency– the absence of our highest sentiments to Him in worship and praise–is sinful.
The feelings and thoughts of praise, as we have seen, may certainly be expressed in words.
The words, of course, must be of the language of those who use them. So to a certain extent, there must be music in which the words are sung; for, though we may praise God in words which are only spoken, not sung, God has bestowed on men the gift of music for this purpose mainly, that it be used in His service. And the musical form of praise must, like the language, to a certain extent, be a people’s own. I limit the statement by the expression” to a certain extent.” Because one people can borrow music from another, though it cannot borrow language. Or it can improve or modify its music by the music of another. But still, for the most part, we must expect nations to have their own characteristic music. And we must not claim for any one species of music any particular favor, but expect rather that every species of music should be sanctified to God’s praise. — Rev. John Kennedy
As to modes and forms of praise, we should endeavor to find some clear guiding principle. Questions often naturally arise as to the aids which congregations may employ in their service of praise. But as to the substance of praise, it is necessary, first of all that we engage in it with intelligence and sincerity. A true spiritual sincerity requires that we hold the dearly to truths on which these hymns are based. But a conscious sincerity requires that the mind shall apprehend the truths while it is engaged in that service, and that the true heart shall cherish the sentiments even while the lips are expressing them.
Let this very simple principle be accepted by the faithful followers of Christ. And let our highest principles be thus acted upon in as truly an honest manner in our praise, as we sincerely make it in a solemn manner in our prayer. In the worship of prayer we say: “Lord, Thou hast been our dwelling-place in all generations,” and we feel it a solemn thing to thus speak to God. Is it any less solemn for us to say in our song of praise, “Our God, our help in ages past?”
What difference should there be that while we are in prayer, that there is a solemn stillness, and forgetfulness or non-observing of everything around us, and “in praise, when addressing the very same God and addressing Him with the same love, reverence and respect, that there is an unconscious, absent-mindedness and restlessness in our manners?
It must be that we have not realized in ourselves that what we are doing is responding to the call, “Let us praise God.”