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
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)
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.
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).
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.
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.