Walter Scott: My Bible, My Head, and Brother William Hayden

Walter Scott and William Hayden

Walter Scott (1796-1861), one of the early figures in the Restoration Movement, spent much time preaching in the area known as the Western Reserve (northeast Ohio). In discussing his preaching work, he told the brethren that he needed three things in order to be successful:

Brethren, give me my Bible, my Head, and Bro. William Hayden, and we will go out and convert the world” (Early History of the Disciples in the Western Reserve, p. 111).

We know why he would want his Bible. The gospel is “the power of God for salvation” (Romans 1:16). The Bible contains the truth from God (John 17:17) and is our source of faith (Romans 10:17).

We can also understand why he would want his head. Those who preach must do as Paul did in Thessalonica where he “reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and giving evidence” (Acts 17:2-3). In our teaching “we persuade men” (2 Corinthians 5:11). We must be able to think clearly to be able to do this.

Why did Scott want William Hayden to accompany him? Who was Hayden? We might assume that Hayden was a preacher and that Scott wanted someone to come with him to share in that work. Hayden did preach, but that was not why Scott wanted him to accompany him.

Bro. Scott said afterward, that he chose Bro. William Hayden not because he could preach better than any one else, but for his powers of music; that there was not a man in the association who could sing like him. Scott showed his discrimination in this choice. People used to come out to their meetings on purpose to hear Hayden sing. He was full of song and full of songs—a ready one always at hand, appropriate to the hearers. Many hearts were first melted with music, and then molded for Christ by the gospel” (Early History of the Disciples in the Western Reserve, p.112).

Scott recognized the important connection between singing and preaching the gospel. Nowhere in the New Testament do we find authority for singing of religious songs to be used for entertainment. On the other hand, the songs that are sung during a regular worship service or during a gospel meeting are not just “filler material” used to pass the time until the speaker gets up to preach. The singing itself is teaching! Notice what Paul wrote to the Colossians:

Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God” (Colossians 3:16).

Understanding the connection with singing and teaching, how should that affect the singing that we do?

  • Song leaders should take care that the songs they lead accurately teach the truth. It is also good, when possible, for the songs to complement the lesson being taught.
  • Song leaders should be careful that the songs they pick do not have music that distracts from the message (either due to difficulty or some other reason). This does not mean that new or unfamiliar songs cannot be led, but it does mean that some wisdom should be used in choosing songs that help, rather than hinder, our efforts to teach and worship.
  • Singers (the whole congregation) should pay attention to the words of the songs because they are, through the words that are being sung, teaching others and being taught themselves.
  • Singers should not get so caught up in how the songs sound that they ignore what is most important – the content of the songs.

The singing that we do of “psalms and hymns and spiritual songs” (Colossians 3:16) is important. We might enjoy singing, but that is not why we do it. We also do not sing just to fill up time in our service in between other things. Singing is instructive. The words are what make them “psalms and hymns and spiritual songs.” Let us always strive to sing in such a way that pleases God and teaches others.

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