The Musicians of 1 Chronicles 25

For my morning devotions the last couple of weeks I have been reading through the book of 1 Chronicles. 1 Chronicles has taken a bit of a hard time in the higher critical era which is a shame. I can honestly say I do not think in 28 years I have ever heard a Sermon that originated out this book, which is even more unfortunate. The book is filled with innumerable stories and explanations that make the rest of the Old Testament that much clearer and understandable. It also helps in illustrating the life of an Israelite in the period of Israel’s greatest prosperity as a nation, the time spent under the rule of David and Solomon. All that being said the thing I wanted to highlight in this short piece this morning is the section I read this day over coffee and cereal. It again centers around an issue that God seems to continually toss into my lap at every turn of events and readings of Holy Scripture. That issue as one may have surmised at this point from the title is the proper place of musical intrumentation in the worship of God in the New Testament world and church life.  Despite my protestations and the instruction and pleas of others there definitely looks to be a sharp division (as the writer of the Book of Hebrews demonstrates on nearly every page of his letter) between the worship of God in the Old Testament Temple by shadows and types with the slaughtering of bulls and burning incense and all the smells and bells that accompianied worship in the time of David and Solomon up till the day Rome destroyed Jerusalem in A.D. 70 and the worship in the Church Age in which we now all live. One of these “types” that has seen resurgent use in the last 150 years has been the development of the playing of musical intruments (particularly the organ and piano) in worship. This is something our Puritan and Presbyterian forefathers never dreamt of doing, yet one of the interesting things about the introduction of musical intstruments into worship is that it came about for many of the same reasons people are looking to slide shows, drama, dancing, and other violations of the Regulative Principle in today’s culture. William Romaine, an Anglican priest writing in the early 1800’s notes in his work An Essay on Psalmody that the introduction of musical instruments (which is a side issue and technically unrelated to Exclusive Psalmody) was done in his Church for the effect of attracting and keeping the youths in the pews! How seemingly the same are the arguments made for the inclusion of every thing one can imagine in the worship by the broadly evangelical. Yet how do we speak against it? By using identical arguments found in books like Mr. Romaine’s and others including John Girardeau in defense of acapella worship.

Getting back to the text of 1 Chronicles 25 the basic background is that David is separating for a special service some of the Sons of Asaph that they alone should prophesy with harps, stringed instruments, and cymbals. In verses 1-8 we read who the sons are and what their responsibilities will be in the Temple. Verses 9-31 is the listing of what order they have been placed as far as their duties go. So what we read here is three-fold. Firstly, not all the priests who served in the Temple were to play musical instruments, only those given by David for that task, echoing David’s earlier statements in 1 Chronicles 15:16 and 16:4,9.  Secondly, they were only to use the instruments that David had constructed for this purpose.  There is no mention made of David giving these Sons of Asaph the right to do what they pleased in regards to musical instrumentation. In fact their conduct is strictly regulated. Thirdly and finally, we are to notice in verse 6 that this use of Musical Instrumentation was specifically rooted in the worship at the Temple. That there is an intimate tie between the Temple Sacrifices and the use of Musical Instruments.

Now what does this all mean? Well at least to this observer this means that musical instrumentation has a place in the Church that we ought to more closely take a look at and take our pre-suppositions and arguments based on nothing more than romantic notions and understandings and examine what it is we are to do more closely in the Worship of the Divine.

Revelation 14:2 and Musical Instruments in Worship

One of the verses I see most quoted in the arguments surrounding the propriety of using Musical Instruments in stated corporate worship is Revelation 14:2. This verse is used by many of the proponents of Musical Instruments as being a source text that we can point to for showing a New Testament example of the use of Musical Instruments in worship after the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem. In the short exegetical piece after the pericope I will show how the citation of this verse is folly and ripped out of context for those who wish to use it for the purpose of supporting the use Musical Instruments in worship.

Revelation 14:1-5

Then I looked, and behold, the Lamb was standing on Mount Zion, and with Him one hundred and forty-four thousand, having His name and the name of His Father written on their foreheads. And I heard a voice from heaven, like the sound of many waters and like the sound of loud thunder, and the voice which I heard was like the sound of harpists playing on their harps. And they sang a new song before the throne and before the four living creatures and the elders; and no one could learn the song except the one hundred and forty-four thousand who had been purchased from the earth. These are the ones who have not been defiled with women, for they have kept themselves chaste These are the ones who follow the Lamb wherever He goes These have been purchased from among men as first fruits to God and to the Lamb. And no lie was found in their mouth; they are blameless.

The above section of Scripture from Revelation 14 (specifically the highlighted part in verse 2) is often used as a proof text (and we wonder why the Puritans were not too keen on proof texting)  against the view that instruments should not be used in stated corporate worship.  However the problems with using this verse as a proof of “New Testament instrument use in worship” are many.

1) It is a dangerous thing to do, in my opinion, to use the visions of John to support practically anything we do, because hermeneutically and logically if we do it here in Rev. 14:2 then why should we not do so for the other places in Revelation where worship is described in heavenly places? (cf: Rev 4: 9-11, 5: 13-14, 7:11, 11:16, etc…)

2) The Greek grammar in this passage, specifically verse 2, is full of simile. In Greek, just as in English, simile is not meant to be taken literally. The passage uses the Greek word ως before describing the many waters (ως φωνην υδατων πολλων), the loud thunder (ως φωνην βροντης μεγαλης), and the harpers playing their harps (η φωνη ην ηκουσα ως κιθαρωδων κιθαριζοντων). I have never seen “many waters” or “loud thunder” used in corporate worship, but if we take the third clause in that way why should we exclude them? Also we would never use verse 1 in this passage to support writing God’s name on our foreheads so why would we use a like, as simile statement to support what we do in worship?

3) Even more so this passage has nothing to do with the church gathered for worship, on earth or in heaven. Remeber who/what is John describing in verse 2? He is describing the voice from heaven, not what the 144,000 are doing.

2 Chronicles 29:25-29

What does it teach?

25 [Hezekiah] stationed the Levites in the temple of the LORD with cymbals, harps and lyres in the way prescribed by David and Gad the king’s seer and Nathan the prophet; this was commanded by the LORD through his prophets. 26 So the Levites stood ready with David’s instruments, and the priests with their trumpets.

27 Hezekiah gave the order to sacrifice the burnt offering on the altar. As the offering began, singing to the LORD began also, accompanied by trumpets and the instruments of David king of Israel. 28 The whole assembly bowed in worship, while the singers sang and the trumpeters played. All this continued until the sacrifice of the burnt offering was completed.

29 When the offerings were finished, the king and everyone present with him knelt down and worshiped. 30 King Hezekiah and his officials ordered the Levites to praise the LORD with the words of David and of Asaph the seer. So they sang praises with gladness and bowed their heads and worshiped.

R.L. Dabney on Musical Instruments in Worship

Girardeau’s “Instrumental Music in Public Worship.”
A Review
by
Robert L. Dabney.


Instrumental Music in the Public Worship of the Church. By John L. Girardeau, D.D., LL. D., Professor in Columbia Theological Seminary, South Carolina, 12mo, pp. 208. Richmond: Whittet & Shepperson. 1888.


The author in his eloquent conclusion anticipates that some will meet his arguments with sneers rather than serious discussion, which he proposes to endure with Christian composure. It is a reproach to our church, which fills us with grief, to find the prediction fulfilled in some quarters. Surely persons calling themselves Presbyterians should remember that the truths they profess to hold sacred have usually been in small minorities sneered at by the arrogant majorities. So it was in the days of the Reformers, of Athanasius, of the Apostles, and of Jesus himself.

The resort to this species of reply appears the more ill-considered, when we remember that Dr. Girardeau is supporting the identical position held by all the early fathers, by all the Presbyterian reformers, by a Chalmers, a Mason, a Breckinridge, a Thornwell, and by a Spurgeon. Why is not the position as respectable in our author as in all this noble galaxy of true Presbyterians? Will the innovators claim that all these great men are so inferior to themselves? The idea seems to be that the opposition of all these great men to organs arose simply out of their ignorant old-fogyism and lack of culture; while our advocacy of the change is the result of our superior intelligence, learning and refinement. The ignorance of this overweening conceit makes it simply vulgar. These great men surpassed all who have succeeded them in elegant classical scholarship, in logical ability, and in theological learning. Their depreciators should know that they surpassed them just as far in all elegant culture. The era of the Reformation was the Augustan age of church art in architecture, painting and music. These reformed divines were graduates of the first Universities, most of them gentlemen by birth, many of them noblemen, denizens of courts, of elegant accomplishments and manners, not a few of them exquisite poets and musicians. But they unanimously rejected the Popish Church music; not because they were fusty old pedants without taste, but because a refined taste concurred with their learning and logic to condemn it.

Dr. Girardeau has defended the old usage of our church with a moral courage, loyalty to truth, clearness of reasoning and wealth of learning which should make every true Presbyterian proud of him, whether he adopts his conclusions or not. The framework of his argument is this: it begins with that vital truth which no Presbyterian can discard without a square desertion of our principles. The man who contests this first premise had better set out at once for Rome: God is to be worshipped only in the ways appointed in his word. Every act of public cultus not positively enjoined by him is thereby forbidden. Christ and his apostles ordained the musical worship of the New Dispensation without any sort of musical instrument, enjoining only the singing with the voice of psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. Hence such instruments are excluded from Christian worship. Such has been the creed of all churches, and in all ages, except of the Popish communion after it had reached the nadir of its corruption at the end of the thirteenth century, and of its prelatic imitators. But the pretext is raised that instrumental music was authorized by Scripture in the Old Testament. This evasion Dr. Girardeau ruins by showing that God set up in the Hebrew Church two distinct forms of worship; the one moral, didactic, spiritual and universal, and therefore perpetual in all places and ages—that of the synagogues; the other peculiar, local, typical, foreshadowing in outward forms the more spiritual dispensation, and therefore destined to be utterly abrogate by Christ’s coming. Now we find instrumental music, like human priests and their vestments, show-bread, incense, and bloody sacrifice, absolutely limited to this local and temporary worship. But the Christian churches were modelled upon the synagogues and inherited their form of government and worship because it was permanently didactic, moral and spiritual, and included nothing typical. This reply is impregnably fortified by the word of God himself: that when the Antitype has come the types must be abolished. For as the temple-priests and animal sacrifices typified Christ and his sacrifice on Calvary, so the musical instruments of David in the temple-service only typified the joy of the Holy Ghost in his pentecostal effusions.

Hence when the advocates of innovation quote such words as those of the Psalmist, “Praise the Lord with the harp,” &c., these shallow reasoners are reminded that the same sort of plea would draw back human priest and bloody sacrifices into our Christian churches. For these Psalms exclaim, with the same emphasis, “Bind our sacrifice with cords, even unto the horns of the altar.” Why do not our Christian aesthetics feel equally authorized and bound to build altars in front of their pulpits, and to drag the struggling lambs up their nicely carpeted aisles, and have their throats cut there for the edification of the refined audience? “Oh, the sacrifices, being types and peculiar to the temple service, were necessarily abolished by the coming of the Antitype.” Very good. So were the horns, cymbals, harps and organs only peculiar to the temple-service, a part of its types, and so necessarily abolished when the temple was removed.

If any addition can be made to this perfectly compact argument, it is contained in this suggestion of an undoubted historical truth: that the temple-worship had a national theocratic quality about it, which cannot now be realized in Christ’s purely spiritual kingdom. Israel was both a commonwealth and a church. Her political government was a theocracy. Her human king was the viceroy representing on earth her true sovereign, God. hence, in the special acts of worship in the temple, in which the high priest, Messiah’s type, and the king, God’s viceroy, combined, they represented the State Church, the collective nation in a national act of homage. This species of worship could not lawfully exist except at one place; only one set of officials could celebrate it. It was representatively the nation’s act. It is to be noted that , when at last musical instruments were attached to those national acts of homage to Israel’s political king, Jehovah, it was not by the authority or intervention of the high priest, the religious head of the nation, but by that of the political viceroy. David’s horns, harps and organs were therefore the appointed instruments of the national acts of homage to Jehovah. The church now is not a nation, but purely a spiritual kingdom, which is not of this world. Hence there is no longer room in her worship for the horns, harps and organs, any more than for swords and stonings in her government, or human kings and high priest in her institutions.

Let the true inference from this partial use of instruments of music in the typical, national worship be fairly and perspicuously stated. It is but this: since God saw fit to ordain such an adjunct to divine worship for a special object, it proves the use of it not to be sin per se, like lying or theft, for a holy God would not ordain an unholy expedient for any object, however temporary. The same argument shows that incense, show-bread and bloody sacrifices in worship cannot be sin per se. But how far short is this admission from justifying the use of any of them in worship now? Just here is the pitiable confusion of thought. It is not enough for the advocate of a given member of the church’s cultus to show that it is not essentially criminal. He must show that god ordained it positively for our dispensation.

Dr. Girardeau’s opponents stubbornly forget that the burthen of proof rests on them; he is not bound to prove that these instruments are per se criminal, or that they are mischievous or dangerous, although he is abundantly able to prove the latter. It is they who must prove affirmatively that god has appointed and required their use in his New Testament worship, or they are transgressors. Doubtless the objection in every opponent’s mind is this: That, after all, Dr. Girardeau is making a conscientious point on too trivial and non-essential a matter. I am not surprised to meet this impression in the popular mind, aware as I am that this age of universal education is really a very ignorant one. But it is a matter of grief to find ministers so oblivious of the first lessons of their church history. They seem totally blind to the historical fact that it was just thus every damnable corruption which has cursed the church took its beginning; in the addition to the modes of worship ordained by Christ for the new dispensation, of human devices, which seemed ever so pretty an appropriate, made by the best of men and women and ministers with the very best of motives, and borrowed mostly from the temple cultus of the Jews. Thus came vestments, pictures in churches, incense, the observance of the martyrs’ anniversary days—in a word, that whole apparatus of will-worship and superstition which bloomed into popery and idolatry. “Why, all these pretty inventions were innocent. The very best of people used them. They were so appropriate, so aesthetic! Where could the harm be?” history answers the question: They disobeyed God and introduced popery,—a result quite unforeseen by the good souls who began the mischief! Yes, but those who have begun the parallel mischief in our Presbyterian Church cannot plead the same excuse, for they are forewarned by a tremendous history, and prefer Mrs. Grundy’s taste to the convincing light of experience.

That a denomination, professing like ours to be anti-prelatic and anti-ritualistic, should throw down the bulwarks of their argument against these errors by this recent innovation appears little short of lunacy. Prelatists undertake every step of the argument which these Presbyterians use for their organ, and advance them in a parallel manner to defend the re-introduction of the Passover or Easter, of Whitsuntide, of human priests and priestly vestments, and of chrism, into the gospel church. “God’s appointment of them in the old Dispensation proves them to be innocent. Christians have a right to add to the cultus ordained for the New Testament whatever they think appropriate, provided it is innocent; and especially are such additions lawful if borrowed from the Old Dispensation.” I should like to see the Presbyterian who has refuted Dr. Girardeau in argument meet a prelatist, who justifies these other additions by that Presbyterian’s own logic. Would not his consistency be something like that pictured by the old proverb of “Satan reproving sin”? Again, if the New Testament church has priests, these priests must have sacrifice. Thus, consistency will finally lead that Presbyterian to the real corporeal presence and the mass.

To rebut further the charge that Dr. Girardeau is stickling for an unimportant point, I shall now proceed to assert the prudential and the doctrino-psychological arguments against the present organ worship.

1st. Sound prudence and discretion decide against it. The money cost of these instruments, with the damaging debts incurred for them, is a sufficient objection. The money they cost, if expended in mission work, would do infinitely more good to souls and honor to God. In our poor church, how many congregations are there which are today mocking Dr. Craig with a merely nominal contribution to missions on the plea of an organ debt of $1,600 to $3,600! This latter says it is able to spare $3,600 for a Christian’s use (or does it propose to cheat the organ builder?). I ask solemnly, Is it right to expend so much of God’s money, which is needed to rescue perishing souls, upon an object merely non-essential, at best only a luxury? Does the Christian conscience, in measuring the worth of souls and God’s glory, deliberately prefer the little to the much?

Again, instruments in churches are integral parts of a system which is fruitful of choir quarrels and church feuds. How many pastoral relations have they helped to disrupt? They tend usually to choke congregational singing, and thus to rob the body of God’s people of their God-given right to praise him in his sanctuary. They almost always help to foster anti-scriptural styles of church music, debauching to the taste, and obstructive, instead of assisting, to true devotional feelings. Whereas the advocates of organs usually defend them on grounds of musical culture and aesthetic refinement, I now attack them on those very grounds. I assert that the organ is peculiarly inimical to lyrical taste, good music, and every result which a cultivated taste pursues, apart from conscientious regard for God. The instrument, by its very structure, is incapable of adaptation to the true purposes of lyrical music. It cannot have any arsis or thesis, any rhythm or expression of emphasis, such as the pulsatile instruments have. Its tones are too loud, brassy and dominant; all syllabication is drowned. Thus the church music is degraded from that didactic, lyrical eloquence, which is its scriptural conception, to those senseless sounds expressly condemned by the apostle in 1 Corinthians 12.-14. In truth, the selection of this particular instrument as the preferred accompaniment of our lyrical worship betrays artistic ignorance in Protestants, or else a species of superfluity of naughtiness in choosing precisely the instrument specially suited to popish worship.

It so happens that the artistic world has an amusement—the Italian opera—whose aim is very non-religious indeed, but whose art-theory and method are precisely the same with those of scriptural church music. Both are strictly lyrical. The whole conception in each is this: to use articulate, rational words and sentences as vehicles for intelligible thoughts, by which the sentiments are to be affected, and to give them the aid of metre, rhythm and musical sounds to make the thoughts impressive. Therefore, all the world’s artists select, for the opera-orchestras, only the pulsatile and chiefly the stringed instruments.

As organ has never been seen in a theatre Europe; only those instruments are admitted which can express arsis and thesis. I presume the proposal to introduce an organ into the Italian opera would be received by every musical artist in Europe as a piece of bad taste, which would produce a guffaw of contempt. This machine, thus fatally unfit for all the true purposes of musical worship and lyrical expression, has, indeed, a special adaptation to the idolatrous purposes of Rome, to which purposes all Protestants profess to be expressly hostile. So that, in selecting so regularly Rome’s special instrument of idolatry, these Protestants either countenance their own enemies or betray an artistic ignorance positively vulgar. Consequently, one is not surprised to find this incorrect taste offending every cultivated Christian ear by every imaginable perversity, under the pretext of divine worship. The selections made are the most bizarre and unsuitable. The execution is over loud, inarticulate, brassy, fitted only “to split the ears of the groundleings, capable, for the most part, of naught but inexplicable noise and dumbshows.” The pious taste is outraged by the monopolizing of sacred time, and the indecent thrusting aside of God’s holy worship to make room for “solos,” which are unfit in composition, and still more so in execution, where the accompaniment is so hopelessly out of relation to the voice that if the one had the small-pox (as apparently it often has St. Vitus’ dance) the other would be in no danger of catching the disease, and the words, probably senseless at best, are so mouthed as to convey no more ideas to the hearers than the noise of Chines tom-toms. Worshippers of true taste and intelligence, who know what the fines music in Europe really is, are so wearied by these impertinences that they almost shiver at the thought of the infliction. The holy places of our God are practically turned into fifth-rate Sunday theatres.

I shall be reminded that there are some presbyterian churches with organs where these abuses do not follow. “They need not follow in any.” I reply that they are the customary result of the unscriptural plans. If there should be some sedate boys who are allowed to play with fire-arms, but do not shoot their little sisters through the brain, yet that result follows so often as to ground the rule that no parent should allow this species of plaything to his children. The innovation is in itself unhealthy; and hence, when committed to the management of young people, who have but a slim modicum of cultivation, such as prevails in this country at large, has a regular tendency to all these offensive abuses.

2nd. I find a still more serious objection to instrumental music in churches when I connect the doctrine of God’s word concerning worship with the facts of human psychology. Worship must be an act of personal homage to God, or it is a hypocrisy and offence. The rule is that we must “glorify God in our bodies and spirits, which are his.” The whole human person, with all its faculties, appropriately takes part in this worship; or they are all redeemed by him and consecrated to him. Hence our voices should, at suitable times, accompany our minds and hearts. Again, all true worship is rational. The truth intelligently known and intelligibly uttered is the only instrument and language of true worship. Hence all social public worship must be didactic. The apostle has settled this beyond possible dispute in 1st Corinthians. Speaking in an unknown tongue, when there is no one to interpret, he declares can have no possible religious use, except to be a testimony for converting pagan unbelievers. If none such are present, Paul expressly orders the speaker in unknown tongues to be silent in the congregation; and this although the speaker could correctly claim the afflatus of the Holy Ghost. This strict prohibition Paul grounds on the fact that such a tongue, even though a miraculous charism, was not an articulate vehicle for sanctifying truth. And, as though he designed to clinch the application of this rule upon these very instruments of music, he selects them as the illustration of what he means. I beg the reader to examine 1 Corinthians 14:7,8,9.

Once more: man’s animal nature is sensitive, through the ear, to certain sensuous, aesthetic impressions from melody, harmony and rhythm. There is, on the one hand, a certain analogy between the sensuous excitements of the acoustic nerves and sensorium and the rational sensibilities of the soul.. (It is precisely this psychologic fact which grounds the whole power and pleasure of lyrical compositions.) Now, the critical points are these: That, while these sensuous excitements are purely animal and are no more essentially promotive of faith, holiness, or light in the conscience than the quiver of the fox-hunting horses’ ears at the sound of the bugle or the howl of the hound whelp at th sound of his master’s piano, sinful men, fallen and blinded, are ever ready to abuse this faint analogy by mistaking the sensuous impressions for, and confounding them with, spiritual affections. Blinded men are ever prone to imagine that they have religious feelings, because they have sensuous, animal feelings, in accidental juxtaposition with religious places, words, or sighs. This is the pernicious mistake which has sealed up millions of self-deceived souls for hell.

Rome encourages the delusion continually. She does this with a certain consistency between her policy and her false creed. She holds that, no matter by what motive men are induced to receive her sacraments, these convey saving grace, ex opere operato. Hence she consistently seduces men, in every way she can, to receive her sacraments by any spectacular arts or sensuous thrills of harmony. Now, Protestants ought to know that (as the apostle says) there is no more spiritual affection in these excitements of the sensorium than in sounding brass or in tinkling cymbal.

Protestants cannot plead the miserable consistency of Rome in aiding men to befool themselves to their own perdition by these confusions, for they profess to reject all opus operatum effects of sacraments, and to recognize no other instrument of sanctification than the one Christ assigned, THE TRUTH. But these organ-grinding Protestant churches are aiding and encouraging tens of thousands of their members to adopt this pagan mistake. Like the besotted Papist, they are deluded into the fancy that their hearts are better because certain sensuous, animal emotions are aroused by a mechanical machine, in a place called a church, and in a proceeding called worship.

Here, then, is the rationale of God’s policy in limiting his musical worship to the melodies of the human voice. It is a faculty of the redeemed person, and not the noise of a dead machine. The human voice, while it can produce melodious tones, can also articulate the words which are intelligible vehicles of divine truths. The hymns sung by the human voice can utter didactic truth with the impressiveness of right articulation and emphasis, and thus the pious singers can do what God commands—teach one another in psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. For his Christian church, the non-appointment of mechanical accompaniment was its prohibition. Time will prove, we fear by a second corruption of evangelical religion and by the ruin of myriads more of nominally Christian souls, how much wiser is the psychology of the Bible than that of Mrs. Grundy.

The reader has by this time seen that I ascribe this recent departure of our Presbyterian churches from the rule of their fathers in no degree to more liberal views or enlightened spirit. I know, by an intuition which I believe every sensible observer shares, that the innovation is merely the result of an advancing wave of worldliness and ritualism in the evangelical bodies. These Christians are not wiser but simply more flesh-pleasing and fashionable. That is exactly the dimension of the strange problem. Other ritualistic adjuncts concur from time to time. Nothing is needed but the lapse of years enough for this drift, of which this music is a part, to send back great masses of our people, a material well prepared for the delusion, into the bosom of Rome and her kindred connections.

This melancholy opinion is combined, in our minds, with a full belief in the piety, good intentions and general soundness of many ministers and laymen who are now aiding the innovations. No doubt the advocates of instrumental music regard this as the sting of Dr. Girardeau’s argument, that it seems to claim all the fidelity and piety for the anti-organ party. No doubt many hearts are now exclaiming, “This is unjust, and thousands of our saintliest women are in the organ loft; our soundest ministers have organs,” &c., &c. All this is perfectly true. It simply means that the best of people err and unintentionally do mischief when they begin to lean to their own understandings. The first organ I ever knew of in a Virginian Presbyterian church was introduced by one of the wisest and most saintly of pastors, a paragon of old school doctrinal rigor. But he avowedly introduced it on an argument the most unsound and perilous possible for a good man to adopt—that it would be advantageous to prevent his young people from leaving his church to run after the Episcopal organ in the city. Of course such an argument would equally justify every other sensational and spectacular adjunct to God’s ordinances, which is not criminal per se. Now this father’s general soundness prevented his carrying out the pernicious argument to other applications. A very bad organ remained the only unscriptural feature in a church otherwise well-ordered. But another less sound and staid will not carry the improper principle to disastrous results? The conclusion of this matter is, then, that neither the piety nor the good intention of our respectable opponents is disparaged by us; but that the teachers and rulers of our church, learning from the great reformers and the warning lights of church history, should take the safer position alongside of Dr. Girardeau. Their united advice would easily and pleasantly lead back to the Bible ground all the zealous and pious laymen and the saintly ladies who have been misled by fashion and incipient ritualism.

R.L. DABNEY.

Rev. Dr. R. Scott Clark on Musical Instruments in Worship

We have discussed this issue on this particular blog before but I wanted to send you to read an article written by Dr. R. Scott Clark of Westminster Seminary, CA on the issue. I have highlighted a section here if you would like to read the rest please see Dr. Clark’s blog here.

Could Instruments Be Idols?

The only vaguely Reformed defense of instruments and uninspired songs is that they are only circumstances and not elements. The latter are essential to worship. They are usually said to include Word, sacrament, and prayer. Historically we’ve defined circumstances to refer to things truly indifferent such as time, place, and posture. A circumstance is supposed to be something that is genuinely indifferent, i.e. something that neither adds to worship nor, if omitted, takes away from worship.

When I say, “If they’re only circumstances, let’s get rid of them” I get a reaction that suggests that they aren’t really adiaphora (indifferent) or circumstances at all. “You can’t smash that organ. Why Mr So and So donated money for that organ back in 1870.” Or “We can’t stop singing that hymn, after all, that’s my favorite hymn.” Or even more to the point, as one student said years ago, “When I hear the organ, I feel the presence of God.”

When we hear objections like these we can see that it’s quite unclear whether musical instruments function as mere circumstances. When I propose to change the time of worship no one says, “But 11AM means so much to me.” When I say, “Let us stand,” no one says, “But when I sit, I feel God’s presence.” If folk do become so attached to a time or a posture or a place, well, then it’s probably time for a change. Worship isn’t about time, place, or posture, it’s about being met by the living God.

People react to the mere suggestion of the removal of instruments as they do because instruments and music are affective. Worship has become so identified with the affect produced by the instruments (or our favorite scripture song) that to take them away seems almost blasphemous. We love our instruments in a way we don’t love posture, place, or time. There is a categorical difference between instruments and P, P and T. If we can’t change them or if they have become sacred, well, maybe they have become idols?

There’s a second problem with instruments that is even more fundamental than our experience and that is those instruments that folk love so much come with some pretty heavy baggage. The only biblical ground for instruments also entails the sacrifice of animals. In other words, how are we going to use Moses’ or David’s instruments without killing Aaron’s lambs or engaging in holy war? The same instruments we want to borrow from Moses come covered with the blood of bulls and goats and resonating with the sounds of holy war against your local canaanite city. The old Reformed churches understood that the Mosaic covenant was totalitarian. It’s pretty hard to borrow just a little bit of Moses. Just ask the medieval church. How are we going to do what the medieval church did, borrow Mosaic elements (and for the same reasons) without gradually reproducing the Mosaic worship system just as the medieval church did?

Maybe the Reformed in the 16th and 17th centuries knew what they were doing when they rid our worship of instruments and of uninspired songs?

You Need Not Yearn To Look Back at Former Things

Ready again to open up a can of worms, as it seems I have been doing lately, I would like to now take a look at the Biblical warrant for the use of musical instruments in the stated worship of the Lord’s Day. I think one of the things hindering the discussion is a misunderstanding on all our parts on the purpose of Lord’s Day worship and how it may (or may not) differ from occasional worship (occasional in the “special occasion” sense not as in the frequency of meeting). So to move past that I would first like to have some introductory words on the subject.

Occasional Vs. Stated Meetings

Stated Services

The stated service is the worship services that take place on Sunday’s, as has been “stated” by the Elders of the Church. This service differs from occasional services in the respect that it is stated by God to occur on a specific day and in a specific manner.

Francis Turretin says:

For although sacred assemblies for the public exercises of piety can and ought to be frequented on other days also by everyone (as far as their business will allow) and every pious person is bound in duty to his conscience to have privately his daily devotional exercises, still on this day above others a holy convocation ought to take place (as was the custom on the Sabbath, Lev. 23:3) in which there may be leisure for devout attention to the reading and hearing of the word (Heb. 10:25), the celebration of the sacraments (Acts 20:7), the psalms and prayer (Col. 3:16; Acts 1:14), to alms and help to the poor (1 Cor. 16:2) and in general to all that sacred service pertaining to external and stated worship. (Turretin, Enlentic Theology Vol. II, 11, Q. XIV, xxvi)

Occasional Services

The occasional service are things like daily prayers, family worship, weddings, funerals, and other such things that happen on occasions and a particular way of organizing are not explicitly spoken of in Scripture. Here is a specific example and explanation provided by the RPCNA:

Today the worship of the family and of the individual is primarily a meditation on God’s Word accompanied by prayer and praise. Those leading family or group worship do not have the authority to preach officially, to dispense the sacraments, to pronounce the benediction, or to exercise ecclesiastical discipline. The worship of the Church properly takes place as the Church is assembled for that purpose under the direction of the elders. (The Worship of the Church: A Reformed Theology of Worship)

Now to The Exciting Part!!!

First I would like to give you a few varied and quite striking quotes from Dead Old White Guystm that span the generation’s.

John Calvin (I am required by law to begin with Calvin) from his commentary on Psalm 71:22:

In speaking of employing the psaltery (a musical instrument not the Psalter) and the harps in this exercise, [David] alludes to the generally prevailing custom of his time. To sing the praises of God upon the harp and psaltery unquestionably formed a part of the training and of the service of God under that dispensation of shadows and figures; but they are not now to be used in public thanksgiving. We are not, indeed, forbidden to use, in private, musical intruments, but they are banished out of the churches by the plain command of the Holy Spirit, when Paul in 1 Cor 14:13, lays pray to him only in a known tongue.

Charles Spurgeon (A Baptist for God’s sake) from his commentary on Psalm 71:22:

There was a typical signification in [instruments]; and upon this account [instruments] are not only rejected and condemned by the whole army of Protestant Divines, as for instance, by Zwingli, Calvin, Peter Martyr, Zepperus, Paroeus, Willet, Ainsworth, Ames, Calderwood, and Cotton; who do, with one mouth, testify against them, most of them expressly affirming that [instruments] are a part of the abrogated legal pedagogy. So that we might as well recall the incense, tapers, sacrifices, new moons, circumcision, and all the other shadows of the law into use again. . But Aquinas himself also though a Popish schoolman pleads against [instruments] upon the same account, quia aliquid figurabant and saith the Church in his time did not use them ne videatur judaizare, lest they should seem to judaize (in reference to the Judaizers Paul speaks against in his letters).

John Crysostom (really old guy) on Psalm 92:3:

Instrumental music was only permitted to the Jews, as sacrifice was, for the heaviness and grossness of their souls. God condescended to their weakness, becasue they were lately drawn off from idols.

Adam Clarke (a Methodist) looking at Eusebius on Psalm 92:3:

Eusebius, in his comment on this Psalm, says:”The Psaltery of ten strings is the worship of the Holy Spirit, performed by means of the five senses of the body, and by the five powers of the soul.” And, to confirm this interpretation, he quotes the apostle, 1 Cor. 14:15, “I will pray with the spirit, and with the understanding also; I will sing with the spirit, and with the understanding also. As the mind has its influence by which it moves the body, so the spirit has its own influence by which it moves the soul.” Whatever may be thought of this gloss, one thing is pretty evident from it, that instrumental music was not in use in the Church of Christ in the time of Eusebius, which was near the middle of the fourth century. Had any such thing then existed in the Christian Church, he would have doubtless alluded to or spiritualized it; or, as he quoted the words of the apostle above, would have shown that carnal usages were substituted for spiritual exercises. I believe the whole verse should be translated thus: Upon the asur, upon the nebel, upon the higgayon, with the kinnor. Thus it stands in the Hebrew.

Augustine on singing in worship without instrumental accompaniment:

Sometimes from over jealousy, I would entirely put from me and from the Church the melodies of the sweet chants that we use in the Psalter, lest our ears seduce us and the way of Athanasius, Bishop of Alexandria, seems the safe one, who as I have often heard, made the reader chant with so slight a change of voice that it was more like speaking than singing. And yet when I call to mind the tears I shed when I heard the chants of the Church in the infancy of my recovered faith and reflect that I was affected not by mere music but by the subject brought out as it were by clear voices and appropriate tune, then, in turn I confess how useful is the practice.

And one more from Calvin on Psalm 33:2:

The name of God, no doubt, can properly speaking, be celebrated only by the articulate voice, but it is not without reason that David adds to this those aids by which believers wanting to stimulate themselves the more to this exercise, especially considering that he was speaking to God’s ancient people. There is a distinction, however, to be observed here, that we may not indiscriminately consider as applicable to ourselves every thing which was formerly enjoined upon the Jews. I have no doubt that playing upon cymbals, touching of the harp and the viol, and all that kind of music, which is so frequently mentioned in the Psalms, was a part of the education, that it is to say the puerile instruction of the law, I speak of the stated service of the temple. For even now if believers choose to cheer themselves with musical instruments, they should I think, make it their object not to dissever their cheerfulness from the praises of God. But when they frequent the sacred assemblies musical instruments in celebrating the praises of God would be no more suitable than the burning of incense, the lighting up of lamps, and the restoration of the other shadows of the law. The Papists, therefore, have foolishly borrowed this ,as well as other things, from the Jews.

Men who are found of outward pomp may delight in that noise, but the simplicity which God recommends to us by the Apostle is far more pleasing to him. Paul allows us to bless God in the public assembly of the saints only in a known tongue. (1 Cor 14:16). he voice of man, although not understood by the generality, assuredly excels all inanimate instruments of music and yet we see what Paul determines concerning speaking in an unknown tongue…Moreover, since the Holy Spirit, expressly warns us of this danger by the mouth of Paul to proceed beyond what we are there warranted by him is not only, I must say, unadvised zeal, but wicked and perverse obstinacy.

Moving On

This ought to give us a good starting point. My next post will look at the historical use of Instrumentation in worship through the centuries by the whole Church. Some of you may be quite surprised.

Ministry of Worship

This is the course I am taking at the Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminary. Our main texts for this class include: With Reverance and Awe by D.G. Hart and John R. Muether, Worship Reformed According to Scripture by Hughes Oliphant Old, and The Lord’s Day by Joseph A. Pipa, and Old Light on New Worship by John Price. These works are to be read for the class in the order that I have them listed here. One thing is for sure about this term, while I have less “work” to do per week the reading has doubled. This thankfully, does not present too much of a problem for me as I am a quick reader with the uncanny ability to comprehend what it is that I have read. The book I am most looking forawrd to read is the book by Joey Pipa on the Sabbath. I have always had misgivings about the laxity that most treat the Sabbath and would like to receive a more thorough understanding of Christian Sabbath. Also of interest is the work by John Price, especially since RPTS is the seminary for the RPCNA. It will be very interesting when we get to the part of the course where the professor explained in the first class he will present a defense (using the Price book and some of his own writings on the subject) of Exclusive Psalmody and non-instrumentals in worship. This should be a fascinating class.

Here, as promised, is a couple selections from a main text:

“We worship God because God created us to worship him. Worship is at the center of our existence, at the heart of our reason for being. God created us to be in his image-an image that would reflect his glory. In fact the whole creation was brought into existence to reflect the divine glory.”

Hughes Oliphant Old, “Worship Reformed According to Scripture” pg. 1

“If you listen carefully to current debates, you will encounter rhetoric that is strange for Reformed Christians. Here are some comments we have heard, none of which is terribly unusual:

  • “I like a church thats is casual, where I know I can go and relax during worship”
  • “I don’t always enjoy my church’s worship, but that’s okay. I know it will be different next week.”
  • “I’m tired of the barrenness of worship-I’m looking for something with more beauty.”
  • “Worship is ultimately a matter of taste, and there is no accounting for that.”
  • “If there is one thing you can say about our worship, it’s not boring!”

These popular sentiments all remind us that there is significant confusion about the nature, purpose, and practice of worship. This confusion extends to the Reformed community, and it underscores the urgency of recovering a biblical view of worship.

D.G. Hart and John R. Muether, “With Reverence and Awe” pg.11-12