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In the presence of music the meditative soul contemplates a mystery. Music wields powers employed by no other art; for the musical art alone can stir the emotions without depicting objects or episodes such as the representative arts demand as a vehicle for expression. Music speaks directly to the heart. It is the language of the emotions. And perhaps it is because God sometimes speaks directly to the heart of man that the poets have called music “the Divine Art.” But all art is in a sense sacred, and perhaps Carlyle best describes the attributes of music when he declares:
“Music is a kind of inarticulate, unfathomable speech, which leads us to the edge of the infinite and impels us for a moment to gaze into it."
Whether or not music possesses a divine quality unshared by the other arts, music has become the most helpful of all the arts in the worship of the Divine Father. Said Michael Prætorius: "Music, in the opinion of many, ranks second only to faith and religion." And said Chateaubriand: "Music is the child of prayer, the companion of religion.” With what reverence music was esteemed in the Protestant Reformation may be understood from these words of Martin Luther:
“Next to theology I give to music the highest place and honor.
“Music is the art of the prophets—the only art that can calm the agitations of the soul: it is one of the most magnificent and delightful presents God has given us.”
In quite another sense hymn-writing may be regarded as a Divine Art, since its theme is divinity itself-since its noblest forms demand nothing short of the highest art. The hymn of praise is almost as ancient as divine worship. Each successive age has employed the hymn for an expression of the most intense spiritual emotion. Moses, the law-giver and God-inspired leader of his people, crowned his wonderful career of achievement with a hymn of praise to Him who made possible all of Israel's victories. David, the shepherd, the harpist, the great executive and king, the brilliant military general, gave vent to the titanic emotions of his spirit in the most wonderful body of hymns ever written—the Psalms. The Virgin Mary, to whom the angel had whispered the sweetest secret since the world began, proclaimed the exalted joy of her soul in the Magnificat. The stories of these and other ancient Hebrew hymns are but counterparts of the stories of modern hymns; for out of life have been wrought the best hymns, out of sorrow and soul-conquest, out of joy and revelation. And it is the element of the human soul needs, common to all ages, common to all conditions of men, and the all-sufficiency of God to meet every last, deepest need of the soul, that has enabled a hundred generations of men to appropriate these ancient hymns as their own expression of faith and worship.
Thus the greatest hymns come to be used by all ages. The Psalms of Israel's camp-fires and the hymn of the Apostles at the Last Supper blend in thought and emotion with the hymns of these later centuries in one grand Hymn of the Race to
“Our Maker, Defender, Redeemer and Friend."
When these two divine arts are united-music and hymn-writing-each divine in its own peculiar sense, worship finds its noblest expression, prayer its most beautiful form, and praise its loftiest utterance. In view of the peculiarly sacred office of the singing of hymns, it were sacrilege to employ them either with flippancy or indifference. Indeed, to meditate devoutly upon the hymns and their music, to study their meaning and message, and to comprehend the purpose of hymn-singing is to intensify one's reverence for music and hymnody.
Melancthon, once passing along the street at Weimar with his friends in banishment, heard a little girl singing in clear, sweet tones the great hymn of their beloved leader, Luther:
“A mighty fortress is our God," and at once he exclaimed, “Sing on, little maid; for you little know what hearts you are comforting.” The Church of God knows not what hearts are being cheered, what faith is being stimulated, what souls are being saved by the singing of the sacred hymns of the ages. Those to whom hymn-singing becomes merely perfunctory are apt to forget what a potent
influence hymns exert upon life, and the motives that control human action. That life which expresses itself only in hymn-singing is to be despised. But the life that seeks nobility of achievement often finds its most helpful inspiration in Christian hymns, that sing their truths into the heart of mankind and reëcho the divine love-songs of the Eternal Lover of the Soul.