Here’s a good word from Jonathan Edwards on singing from his Christian Cautions, or the Necessity of Self-Examination.
Second, do you not live in sin, in living in the neglect of singing God’s praises? If singing praise to God be an ordinance of God’s public worship, as doubtless it is, then it ought to be performed by the whole worshipping assembly. If it be a command that we should worship God in this way, then all ought to obey this command, not only by joining with others in singing, but in singing themselves. For if we suppose it answers the command of God for us only to join in our hearts with others, it will run us into this absurdity, that all may do so. And then there would be none to sing, none for others to join with.
If it be an appointment of God, that Christian congregations should sing praises to him, then doubtless it is the duty of all. If there be no exception in the rule, then all ought to comply with it, unless they be incapable of it, or unless it would be a hindrance to the other work of God’s house, as the case may be with ministers, who sometimes may be in great need of that respite and intermission after public prayers, to recover their breath and strength, so that they may be fit to speak the word. But if persons be now not capable, because they know not how to sing, that doth not excuse them, unless they have been incapable of learning. As it is the command of God, that all should sing, so all should make conscience of learning to sing, as it is a thing which cannot be decently performed at all without learning. Those, therefore, who neglect to learn to sing, live in sin, as they neglect what is necessary in order to their attending one of the ordinances of God’s worship. Not only should persons make conscience of learning to sing themselves, but parents should conscientiously see to it, that their children are taught this among other things, as their education and instruction belongs to them.
So we should learn to sing. This is the logical conclusion drawn from God’s commandment to us to sing in the Christian assembly. If God has told us to sing, how much more should we learn to do it, and learn to do it, the best that we can? I wonder how much we sing unskillfully without giving our best to God. There are some silly ideas floating around evangelicalism advocating what they call a “cross-centered” or “gospel-centered” worship, which to them means that we can and even should do it badly (since Christ humbled himself on a cross and all that), or that we do not need to give our best (after all, that axiom may lead us to the conclusion that we should sing some difficult music!). Edwards reasons differently. Note his logic (loosely stated here):
- Singing is “a thing which cannot be decently performed at all without learning.”
- God has commanded us to sing.
- Ergo, “all should make conscience of learning to sing.”
I like the way that J.E. thinks.
On another note, did you catch how he gives the responsibility of educating children singularly to their parents?