How are we to respond to this good news? The answer is found in the second line of the stanza: “Let men their songs employ!” What does this mean?
To employ is “to use as an instrument of means” (Noah Webster’s 1828). We use a saw for cutting, a pen for writing, a brush for painting, a bowl for mixing. We employ tools for their intended use.
Well, we are also to employ our songs. St. Paul spoke of this: “Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit. Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Ephesians 5:18-20). Just as heaven and nature sing–the music of the spheres–so those who are redeemed by Christ are to sing and make music.
As we saw earlier, Plato once wrote “Give me the songs of the nations, and it matters not who writes its laws.” Similarly Maxim Gorki, a Soviet author and political activist, had a phrase to describe the impact of a writer – he is “the engineer of the human soul” (Time Magazine, October 9, 1944). Words and lyrics shape the souls of men, create culture, and ultimately determine the destiny of nations. Isaac Watts understood this. This is why he spent his life penning Biblical truth into the lyrics of songs to impact the church to be the conscience of the nation.
When and how are men to employ their songs? Lines three and four of the stanza seem to offer the challenging answer: “While fields and floods, rocks, hills and plains repeat the sounding joy.” What does this mean? First is that (heaven and) nature – fields, floods, rocks, hills, and plains – sing praises to their Creator and King. This is the musica universalis. Second, nature’s joyous song is repeated over and over again. Nature never ceases her song. Third, is the phrase “the sounding joy.” There are two major understandings of sounding that are worth noting in this context. The first is that of making a sound – to use a trumpet or voice to make an announcement or praise. So we are to make a joyful noise unto the Lord. But there is a second understanding and that is the sounding. Here the word means to probe the depths of something. How deep and profound is the coming of the Messiah and His Kingdom! Our songs are to ceaselessly probe the depths of the meaning of the coming of the Messiah and His Kingdom.
So our challenge as Christians is to make our song as joyful and enduring as that of creation’s. And, it is to employ our words and lyrics to plummet the depths of Christ and His Kingdom before a watching world. A wonderful example of this is found in Acts 2 when there was the breaking through of Heaven to earth, the meeting of the eternal with the temporal at the day of Pentecost. Here, the Spirit of God broke upon man in a spirit of word, song, and prophecy.
How can you begin to consciously employ your words and your songs to shape your community, culture, and nation?
-Darrow L. Miller
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