Series introduction: The title of this series comes from I Corinthians 14:15, where Paul said, “I will sing with the spirit, and I will sing with the understanding also.” I want to help you sing hymns with understanding; that is, to understand what you are singing with your mind, so that you can rejoice in what you are singing with your spirit. If you don’t understand something mentally, you cannot sing it spiritually. Understanding is the kindling that fuels worship, and I want to help pile up kindling in your heart.
The fifth stanza will be the final one for our purposes, as it is the last stanza typically sung. However, there are 10 stanzas in this hymn, and it is a shame we don’t sing more of them. Here’s the fifth stanza:
Then let our songs abound,
And every tear be dry;
We’re marching through Immanuel’s ground,
To fairer worlds on high.
In its first two lines, this stanza wraps up the application of all the truths in the entire hymn in one package: “Sing!” The Christian life is filled with joys unspeakable; our religion makes our pleasures more, not less; we’re the favourites of our Heavenly King; we have a thousand sacred sweets to enjoy on the road to Heaven! Because of these truths, we ought to sing – and keep on singing!
The Psalter is packed with exhortations to praise God with song. We are to “come before [the LORD’s] presence with singing” (Psalm 100:2); we are to sing “and not be silent” (Psalm 30:12); we are to sing “with understanding” of God’s sovereign kingship (Psalm 47:6). In the NT, we are told that one mark of being filled with the Spirit is “speaking…in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs.” Why do you suppose singing is so important to God?
I’d like to expand briefly on this command to sing and its relationship to the nature of theology and music. Theologian Sinclair Ferguson said, “Theology proceeds from God, teaches us about God, and leads us to God” (The Holy Spirit, p. 13). The goal of theology is to teach us about God that we might be rightly related to Him. And when we are, when we truly know Him, we cannot help but praise Him for what we know. John Piper wrote, “All theology, rightly grasped, leads the mind and the heart to doxology.”
And what more perfect place to learn theology and turn in into doxology than in song? There the powerful, life-changing doctrinal truths of Scripture are carried to our hearts on the wings of musical emotion. Musician E.Y. Harburg said, in one of my favourite quotations on music, “Words make you think a thought. Music makes you feel a feeling. A song makes you feel a thought.” And a song about biblical truth makes you not only know truth but feel truth. A song brings us into an encounter with truth – not just a mental encounter but also an emotional encounter.
And the way we are to encounter truth in music is by singing it – not just by listening to music on an iPod. Ephesians 5:19 says that we are to sing, not just listen to music. When we sing the words of a song, we are agreeing with it and committing ourselves to its truth. God’s truth enters our hearts when we sing with meaning.
So it is only when we sing a song, made up of beautiful and true words mingled with beautiful music, that the entire goal of theology is accomplished in one action as we express.
Now let’s enjoy that last two lines of the stanza. They remind us one last time of where we are: We are travelling through a world owned by Jesus on our way to Heaven. This should comfort us in two ways.
First, Jesus is Lord. On this road from earth to Heaven, we are walking on “Immanuel’s ground.” Jesus owns it all; even the dark valleys and treacherous pathways. He is sovereign – and He is good, and not a trouble comes your way but it has been planned by His loving mind.
Second, Heaven is sure. We are bound for “fairer worlds on high.” The road may seem long, but it is not forever; Heaven is forever. What is 70 years compared to 7 million years with Jesus?
So be strong in the Lord; Jesus is in control, and Heaven is your destination. Dry your tears, and sing praises to your Saviour who walks beside you in both sunshine and soaking storms!