Emil Brunner on spontaneous singing

Here is some great insight into Emil Brunner’s free church spirit, which finds its greatest expression in the third volume of his dogmatics. This is from a sermon on Col. 3:16, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom: teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts unto God.”

We have our own hymn books and anthem-books. But again we must ask why this singing should be confined to Sunday morning. That was certainly not the apostle’s view. Perhaps some of you have been members of a good church choir and have experienced how the singing of inspired Reformation hymns has filled you with new life and power. There is some mysterious quality about these hymns and psalms which welled up from the heart, and are informed with the power of the Spirit of God. Something of this divine creative spirituality passes into us without our perceiving it when we sing with all our hearts and not merely with our lips. And since we are now on the eve of holiday time, let me say from my own experience what a tonic it is to heart and faith to sing such psalms and spiritual songs of the right sort, whether alone or in company with others. Truly, one can sing oneself thus into spiritual and mental health, one can sing oneself into communion with God. The apostle is thinking specifically not only of formal worship but also of individuals in their spontaneity: Sing to God in your hearts. We ought to practice this a little. Perhaps at first it will be necessary to overcome certain inhibitions, since the idea will strike us as somewhat singular. I can only say: conquer your inhibitions. Take with you on your holidays the new hymn-book with all those grand hymns which it has restored to us. Take it with you in your lonely walks and sing joyfully to the Lord in your hearts. You will see how the soul is enlivened and faith strengthened, indeed, what a heavenly blessing lightens the whole day by means of such singing.

“The Notes of Christian Living,” in The Great Invitation and Other Sermons, trans. Harold Knight (Westminster Press, 1955), pp. 101-102.



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