By J.R. Miller
"Let the saints rejoice in this honor and sing for joy on their beds." Psalm 149:5
It is a great thing to write a song that endures. To have composed such a hymn as "Rock of Ages, Cleft for Me," or "Jesus, Lover of My Soul," is a greater achievement than to have built a pyramid. But we cannot all write songs. We are not all poets, able to weave sweet thoughts into rhythmic verse that will charm men's souls. We cannot all make hymns which shall come as messengers of peace, comfort, joy, or inspiration to weary lives. Only to a few men and women in a generation is the poet's tongue given.
But there is a way in which we may all make songs; we can make our own life a song if we will. It does not need the poet's gift and art to do this, nor does it require that we shall be taught and trained in colleges and universities. The most uneducated man may so live--that gentle music shall breathe forth from his life through all his days. He needs only to be kind and loving. Every beautiful life is a song.
There are many people who live in circumstances and conditions of hardness and hardship, and who seem to make no music in the world. Their lives are of that utterly prosaic kind, which is devoid of all sentiment, which has no place for sentiment amid its severe toils and under its heavy burdens. Even home tendernesses seem to find no opportunity for growth in the long leisureless days. Yet even such lives as these, doomed to hardest, dreariest toil--may and often do become songs which minister blessing to many others.
The other day a laborer presented himself for admission to the church. He was asked what sermon or what appeal led him to take this step. No sermon, no one's word, he answered--but a fellow-workman for years at the bench beside him had been so true, so faithful, so Christlike in his character and conduct, that his influence had brought his companion to Christ. This man's life, amid all its hardness, was a sweet song of love.
A visitor to an old European city desired to hear the wonderful chimes which were part of the city's fame. Finding the church, he climbed up into the tower-supposing that to be the way to hear the sweet music of the chimes. There he found a man who wore heavy wooden gloves on his hands. Soon this man went to a rude keyboard and began to pound on the keys. There was a terrible clatter as the wood struck the keys, and close over head there was a deafening crash and clangor among the bells as they were pounded upon by the heavy hammers. But there was no sweet music. The tourist soon fled away from the place, wondering why men came so far to listen to this noisy hammering and this harsh clanging. Meanwhile, however, there floated out over the city from the bells in the tower the most exquisite music. Men working in the fields far off heard it and paused to listen to it. People in their homes, and at their work, and on the streets were charmed by the marvelous sweetness of the rich bell-tones that dropped upon their ears.
There are many people whose lives have their best illustration in the work of the old chine-ringer. They are shut up in narrow spheres. They must give all their strength to hard toil. They dwell continually amid the noise and clatter of the most common work. They seem to their friends to be doing nothing with their lives, but striking heavy hammers on noisy keys. They make no music--only a deafening clatter at the best. They do not dream themselves that they are making any music for the world. Yet all the while, as they live true, patient, honest, unselfish and helpful lives--they are putting cheer and strength and joy in other hearts. A little home is blessed by their love, its needs provided for by their hard work. Future generations may be better and happier, because of some influence or ministry of theirs. From such families many of the world's greatest and best men have sprung. Thus, as with the chimes, the clatter and clangor that the life makes for those who stand close beside--become gentle songs and quiet music to those who listen farther away.
God wants all our lives to be songs. He gives us the words in the duties and the experiences of our lives which come to us day by day, and it is our part to set them to music through our obedience and submission. It makes a great deal of difference in music, how the notes are arranged on the staff. To scatter them along the lines and spaces without order, would make only bars of sad discord. They must be put upon the staff according to the rules and principles of harmony, and then they make beautiful music.
It is easy to set the notes of life on the staff so that they shall yield only enervating discord. Many people do this, and the result is discontent, unhappiness, distrust and worry, for themselves; and in their relations to others, bitterness, strife, wrangling. It is our duty, whatever the notes may be that God gives to us, whatever the words He writes for us to sing, to make harmonious music. Jesus said, "My peace I give unto you" (John 14:27). An inspired promise reads: "The peace of God shall keep your heart and mind through Christ Jesus" (Phil. 4:7). A heavenly counsel is: "Let the peace of God rule in your heart" (Col. 3:15). Whatever the notes or the words, therefore, the song which we sing should be peace.
A perfectly holy life would be a perfect song. At the best while on earth, our lives are imperfect in their harmonies--but if we are Christ's disciples, we are learning to sing while here, and someday the music will be perfect. It grows in beauty and sweetness here just as we learn to do God's will on earth as it is done in heaven.
Only the Master's hand, can bring out of our souls the music that slumbers in them. A violin lies on the table silent and without beauty. One picks it up and draws the bow across the strings--but it yields only wailing discords. Then a master comes and takes it up, and he brings from the little instrument, the most marvelous music. Other men touch our lives and draw from them only jangled notes; Christ takes them, and when He has put the chords in tune--He brings from them the music of love and joy and peace.
It is said that once Mendelssohn came to see the great Freiburg organ. The old custodian refused him permission to play upon the instrument, not knowing who he was. After much persuasion, however, he granted him permission to play a few notes. Mendelssohn took his seat, and soon the most wonderful music was breaking forth from the organ. The custodian was spellbound. At length he came up beside the great musician and asked his name. Learning it, he stood humiliated, self-condemned, saying, "And I refused you permission to play upon my organ." There comes One to us who desires to take our lives and play upon them. But we withhold ourselves from Him, and refuse Him permission, when if we would only yield ourselves to Him, He would bring from our souls heavenly music.
Come what may, we should make our lives songs. We have no right to add to the world's discords, or to sing anything but sweet strains in the ears of others. We should play no note of sadness in this world, which is already so full of sadness. We should add something every day to the stock of the world's happiness. If we are really Christ's, and walk with Him, we cannot but sing.
Making Life Music in Chorus
"Make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose." Philippians 2:2
There is more to be said about making life a song. Each one of us should so live--as to make music in this world. This we can do by simple, cheerful obedience. He who does God's will faithfully each day, makes his life a song. The music is peace. It has no jarring dissonance, no anxieties or worries, no rebellions or doubts.
But we must make music also in relation to others. We do not live alone; we live with others, in families, in friendship's circles, in communities. It is one thing for a singer to sing solos, and to sing sweetly, sincerely in perfect time, in harmonious proportion; and quite another thing for several people to sing together, in choir or chorus, and their voices all to blend in harmony. It is necessary in this latter case that they should all have the same key and that they should sing carefully, each listening to the others and controlling or repressing or restraining his own voice for the sake of the effect of the whole full music. If one sings independently, out of tune, or out of time--he mars the harmony of the chorus. If one sings without regard to the other voices, only for the display of his own--his part is out of proportion and the effect is discord.
It is necessary not only that we make sweet music in our individual lives--but also that in choirs or choruses we produce pleasing harmony. Some people are very good alone, where no other life comes in contact with theirs, where they are entirely their own master and have to think only of themselves--but make a wretched business of living--when they come into relationships with others. There they are selfish, tyrannical, despotic, willful. They will not tolerate suggestion, request, or authority. They will not make any compromise, will not yield their own opinions, preferences, or prejudices, and will not submit to any inconvenience, any sacrifice.
But we are not good Christians, until we have learned to live harmoniously with others, for example, in the family. A true marriage means the ultimate bringing of two lives into such perfect oneness that there shall not be any discord in the blended music. To attain this, each must give up much. There must be on the part of both, self-repression and self-renunciation. The aim of each must be, what always is true love's aim--to serve the other. Only in perfect love, which is utterly self-forgetful, can there be perfect blending.
Then, as a family grows up in the home, it is harder still to keep the music without dissonance, with the varying individual tastes and preferences which are disposed to assert themselves often in aggressive ways. It can be done only by keeping love always the ruling motive. But there are families that never do learn to live together lovingly. Oftentimes the harmony is spoiled by one member of the household who will not yield to the sway of unselfishness, or repress and deny SELF for the good of all. On the other hand, in homes that do grow into the closeness of love, there is frequently one life that by its calm, patient, serene peace that nothing can disturb, at length draws all the discordant elements of the household life into accord with itself, and so perfects the music of the home.
In all relations, the same lesson must somehow be learned. We must learn to live with people--and live with them sweetly! And people are not all kind and gentle. Not many of them are willing to do all the yielding, all the giving up or sacrificing. We must each do our share--if we are to live congenially with others. Some people's idea of giving up--is that the other person must do it all. That is what some despotic husbands think their wives ought to do. In all associated life, there is this same tendency to let the yielding be by the other person. "We get along splendidly," a man says, referring to his business, or to some associated work. "So-and-so is very easy to live with. He is gentle and yielding, and always gives up. So I have things my own way, and we get along together beautifully." Certainly--but that is not the Christian way. The self-repression and self-renunciation should be mutual. "Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other," is Paul's rule. When each person in any association of living does this, seeking the honor and promotion of the other, not thinking of himself--the music is full of harmony. The essential thing in love is not receiving--but giving; not the desire to be helped or honored--but to help or honor.
Then not in our relationships only--but in circumstances also, must we learn to make our lives a song. This is not hard when all things are to our liking, when we are in prosperity, when friends surround us, when the family circle is unbroken, when health is good, when there are no crosses, and when no self-denials are required. But it is not so easy--when the flow of pleasant circumstances is rudely broken, when sorrow comes, when bitter disappointment dashes away the hopes of years. Yet Christian faith can keep the music unbroken, even through such experiences as these. The music is changed. It grows more tender. Its tones become deeper, tremulous sometimes, as the tears creep into them. But it is really enriched and made more mellow and beautiful.
There is a story of a German baron who stretched wires from tower to tower of his castle to make a great Aeolian harp. Then he waited and listened for the music. For a time the air was still, no sound was heard. The wires hung silent in the air. After a while there came gentle breezes, and then soft strains of music were heard. At length the cold wintry winds blew storm-like in their wild fury; then the wires gave forth majestic music.
Our lives are harps of God--but many of them do not give out their sweetest music in the calm of quiet, prosperous days. It is only in the heavy storm of trial, in adversity, in grievous pain or loss--that the richest, most majestic music comes from our souls. Most of us have to learn our best and most valuable lessons--in the stress of affliction.
We should seek to have our lives so trained, so disciplined, that no sudden change of circumstances shall ever stop its music; that if we are carried out of our summer of joy today--into a winter of grief tomorrow, the song shall still go on--the song of faith, love, peace. Paul had learned this when he could say, "I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength. Philippians 4:11-13. Circumstances did not affect him, for the source of his peace and joy was in Christ.
How can we get these lessons? There is an old legend of a musical instrument that hung on a castle wall. Its strings were broken. It was covered with dust. No one understood it, and none could put it in order. But one day a stranger came to the castle. He saw the instrument on the wall. Taking it down, he quickly brushed the webs and dust from it, tenderly reset the broken strings, then played upon it. The chords long silent, woke beneath his touch--and the castle was filled with rich music.
Every human life in its unrenewed state is such a harp, with broken strings, tarnished by sin. It is capable of giving forth music marvelously rich and majestic--but first it must be restored, and the only one who can do this--is the Maker of the harp, the Lord Jesus Christ. Only He can bring the jangled chords of our lives into tune, so that when played upon, they shall give forth sweet music. We must, therefore, surrender our hearts to Him, that He may repair and restore them. Then we shall be able to make music, not in our individual lives only--but in whatever relations or circumstances our lot may be cast!