Very correctly, Young People, when we begin, or bring to a close our Sabbath Day’s service, we sing: “Praise God from Whom all blessings flow, Praise Him all creatures here below, Praise Him above ye heavenly hosts. Praise Father, Son and Holy Ghost.” And then not only do we sing a beautiful truth concerning our God; we also praise Him for what He does for us in His sovereign grace. All blessings flow from Him.
So sinful and incorrect, however, is what the world so often does around Christmas Day; or when God’s church celebrates Christ’s death and resurrection. A choir may have sung Handel’s Messiah, or hymns about Jesus’ death and resurrection; and then, not because of the truth that was sung, but to praise and thank those who sang, and because of what they did, there will be hand clapping.
It is interesting, therefore, but by all means informative, to note that Scripture presents the proper hand clapping. In II Kings 11:12 we read that after the son of the king who had died was anointed as king, and had a kingly crown placed on his head, the people clapped their hands and said: “God save the king.” That was an explanation of what their hands did. It was not because of what this new king had done, or was done by man’s work. It was in connection with, and a manifestation of, their praise to God: and in connection with the fact that He had given them this gift. In Psalm 47:1 we read: “O clap your hands, all ye people: shout unto God with the voice of triumph.” Then, too, in Isaiah 55:12 we read: “For ye shall go out with joy, and be led forth with peace: the mountains and the hills shall break forth before you into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.” Here, likewise, clapping is presented as a reaction to what God did, not to what man performed.
Thus, Young People, well-nigh at the beginning of our existence as a Protestant Reformed denomination, we were by our pastors warned not to clap our hands to express appreciation of what people did, and fail to show appreciation for what our God did, and was presented to us in song. If in our hearts and minds what man did, rather than what God did, moves us to clap our hands, we are overlooking a blessed truth presented in song. But by all means we must thank God, and not leave Him out of the picture. Not for one minute will I judge your hearts, Young People, when you clap your hands after a song presents God, and His work in song. But let it be born in mind that we may not push God out of the picture, when what He has done is presented in song. And all sacred songs and anthems are for God’s praise. He does give men and women beautiful and talented voices but that He does for His own praise. And He does this for us to appreciate what He has done, and does in His almighty power and grace.
Scripture shows that we may clap our hands, as the Israelites correctly did. But nowhere does Scripture teach us to thank and praise men instead of God Himself, when He has been presented in song in His divinity and grace. In Deuteronomy 10:21 Moses declares: “He is thy praise, and He is thy God, that hath done for thee these great and terrible things, which thine eyes have seen.” And when psalms and hymns are sung, it is about the great and wonderful things which God has performed in His power and grace. THAT must be on the foreground of our hearts and minds when God, through man and/or woman, brings to our attention what He in His power and grace has done. We may and must enjoy, and be pleased and thankful, when God in His works of grace and wisdom has been praised in song.
Go back again to Psalm 47, whose first verse was quoted. Look now at what we find in verses 6 and 7, namely, “Sing praises to God; sing praises unto our king of all the earth; sing ye praises with understanding.” Note then that the psalmist refers to singing unto God, not simply about Him. And our joy should be because of the truth that is sung, not merely because of the singing. We must not reveal that we are forgetting the truth concerning God, and are thrilled by man’s singing.
Once, while laboring in our mission field in Jamaica, I had a striking experience. During the preaching of a sermon a man, who was a believing child of God, stood up, and began to sing that which stood in connection with the truth just presented in the sermon. The preaching had to stop for a moment, and yet praise to God was being presented for what He reveals and declares in His word. And so often in Jamaica it is gratifying to hear men and women, during the sermon, cry out Amen or Hallelujah, and that because of glorious truths that were presented. That was not the “clapping of hands” because of what was done by men, but was an expression of appreciation of what our God has revealed to us in His word.
Consider also then what the holy angels did when Christ was born. They did not praise Mary for bringing forth such a beautiful child. A multitude of the heavenly host praised God; and they to the shepherds said, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.” They glorified God and praised Him for sending His Son for our salvation. They sang of God’s good will, not of Mary’s painful but fruitful work, nor of her body’s activity by which our Savior came into our flesh.
If there is clapping of our hands when Christ returns, and we receive our new spiritual bodies, we will do so because of what our God has done through His Son. This, too, by the way, we do already sing, when with our mouths and hearts we sing, as presented in Psalter # 383:1: “All that I am I owe to thee, Thy wisdom, Lord, hath fashioned me; I give my Maker thankful praise, Whose wondrous works my soul amaze.”
Look also at I Corinthians 1:4. For there we find our calling displayed by Paul. He wrote: “I thank my God always on your behalf, for the grace of God which is given you by Jesus Christ.” Figuratively, not literally, Paul claps his hands because of what God does. Always our praise for spiritual blessings calls for praise to God, Who realized it all, and in His grace bestows it upon us. He uses men and women, fathers and mothers, in presenting to children what God has wrought. To them we must be thankful; but we must not lift them above God, and thank them while remaining silent about what God does through them.
Be sure then, that when your hands are clapping, because of our wonderful salvation, it is because of what God has done for us in His grace. We should never turn man’s attention away from God, when He is the one Who is presented in song. For, men are God’s tools. They are creatures whom He uses for His own glory. And we must look beyond God’s tools; and must see and be reminded of our God and His work.
When the angels sang before the shepherds, the day Jesus was born, they sang not of Mary and Joseph, but of God, as pointed out a moment ago, and in love of God. And those shepherds did not clap their hands because the angels spoke so beautifully. They went to see what God had done. And in Luke 2:17 we read that these shepherds “make known abroad the saying, which was told them concerning this child.” They praised – and in that sense thanked – God, and not His angels who did sing a wonderful and comforting message.
Finally, Young People, look at what we read in Revelation 22:8 and 9. John had been shown what Christ is preparing for us, and the blessedness into which He will bring us. And we read that John, who wrote this Book of Revelation, fell at the feet of the angel which showed him these things. BUT that angel said to him, “See thou do it not; for I am a fellow servant, and of thy brethren the prophets, and of them which keep the saying of this book: worship God.” Note that last element: Worship God. Falling at the feet of this angel was worshiping a creature.
Here Scripture closes and reveals to us our calling. Praise God from Whom all blessings flow. Praise Him for the truth that is sung, and praise not those who provide the music, and sing God’s praises.
What men do must not turn us away from God. What God does through men calls us to praise God. Our God we should thank, for bringing us the truth, and for bringing it so beautifully through songs and the voices that are His gifts to mankind. Let me put it this way:
When truths concerning God and His work is sung,
We ought not turn our thoughts from what He now has done.
Nor must we turn away men’s thoughts to those who sang,
And thus away from God, Whose praise so richly rang.