Since time began, God’s people have praised him not only with speech but also with song.
The Lord knew, of course, that his creatures would need more than the spoken word to voice what was in their hearts: he made us not cold but warm, not solely rational but also emotional. And so throughout Scripture, by example and by invitation, he compels us to sing and make music, to encourage one another with song, and to sing new songs—new rhythms and rhymes, new chords and cadences.
It is through his gift of music that the deeply emotional and spiritual facets of the human soul find full expression. Music touches places in the heart that speech cannot reach.
And music does even more. It is sometimes the old hymns—think Lutheran chorales—that preserve God’s truth when church leaders malign the Word and take their people adrift. It is the “Jesus songs” of childhood that stay with us in our last days, when we can barely remember our own children’s names. And it is in jubilant song that the hosts of heaven praise our Lord even now, an everlasting song sung by a celestial choir—a choir with places waiting for us.
And so this hymn.
The Scripture references are many, including . . .
- Ephesians 5:19: speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord,
- Psalm 119:171: May my lips overflow with praise, for you teach me your decrees.
- Revelation 5: The four living creatures, 24 elders, and thousands of angels sing: Worthy is the Lamb who was slain.
- Luke 1:46-55: Mary’s song: My soul glorifies the Lord.
- Exodus 15:1-21: The song of Moses and song/dance of Miriam: Sing to the Lord, for he is highly exalted. Both horse and driver he has hurled into the sea.
- Psalm 51: One of David’s many psalms of repentance: Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight . . . Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
- Psalm 98:1: Sing to the LORD a new song, for he has done marvelous things.
- Psalm 40:3: He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God.
- Philippians 3:21: On the last day, our returning Savior will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.
“We Cannot Help But Sing, O Lord” follows loosely in the tradition of “When in Our Music God Is Glorified.”