The foregoing argument has proceeded principally by two steps. The first is: Whatsoever, in connection with the public worship of the church, is not commanded by Christ, either expressly or by good and necessary consequence, in his Word, is forbidden. The second is: Instrumental music, in connection with the public worship of the church is not so commanded by Christ. The conclusion is: Instrumental music, in connection with the public worship of the church, is forbidden. If the premises are materially true, and if they are logically connected in the argument, the conclusion is irresistible. The first premise, which is denied by Romanists, Prelatists, and Latitudinarians, has been established by proofs derived from the Scriptures. The position that the church has power to decree rites connected with the worship of God’s house, rites not prescribed in the divine Word, is confessedly a doctrine of men, making a substantive addition to the only sufficient, complete and infallible rule of faith and practice. Of those who contend for this principle, the Romanist alone is consistent. It is plain that such a discretionary power in the church could only be grounded in her possession of continued inspiration. If she have that gift her authority is equal to that of the inspired organizers and instructors of the church themselves. She can supplement the Scriptures. But the claim to inspiration can only be substantiated by the working of miracles. This Rome admits, and meets the requirement by appealing to her miracles. These professed miracles are, however, of such a character as not to be placed above impeachment. They may be accounted for upon natural principles. They never rise to the point of creative power, nor of the power that restores life to the dead. The Protestant church, therefore, rejects the claim of Rome to inspiration and infallibility, and is consequently bound to deny the authority of that church, or any other, to decree rites and ceremonies not prescribed in the Word of God. For a church theoretically to make such a claim is to confess itself, to that extent, apostate. It is in flagrant rebellion against the sole authority of Christ as expressed in his Word. The past history of the church is a comment upon the correctness of this indictment.
The second premise, namely, that instrumental music is, in connection with the public worship of the church, not commanded by Christ, either expressly or by good and necessary consequence in his Word, is acknowledged to be true by all consistent Presbyterians. One would, therefore, argue that they would exclude it from the public worship of the church; and so, indeed, they have done until a comparatively recent period. On that very ground they have justly refused to employ it. How is the amazing change to its employment to be accounted for? How is it that in Scotland such a revolution against the historic position of the Presbyterian Church is now in full progress? How is it that in the conservative Scotch-Irish Church so formidable an effort is making to upset its testimony and its practice in relation to this subject? How is it that such men as Breckinridge and Thornwell, in the American Presbyterian Church, were hardly cold in their graves before, in the very places where they had thundered forth their contentions for the mighty principle which demands a divine warrant for every element of doctrine, government and worship, and where they had, in obedience to that principle, utterly refused to admit instrumental music into the church, the organ pealed forth its triumphs over their views? How is this state of things to be explained?
There is a class who look with indifference upon the question, who are willing that human opinions shall prevail and human tastes shall be gratified in the arrangements of public worship. It is needless to say that, as they disregard alike the teachings of God’s Word and the testimonies of their forefathers, they are countenancing a course which must, if not interrupted by the extraordinary interposition of divine providence or divine grace, land the church in open apostasy from the gospel.
There is a second class who maintain the prelatical theory, that whatsoever is not expressly—that is, in explicit terms—forbidden in the New Testament Scriptures is permitted. Those who hold this view break with the Westminster standards, play into the hands of Ritualists, and convert the ordinances of the Presbyterian Church, as the maintainers of the same principle have those of the Anglican, into propaedeutics for the cultus of Rome.
There is a third class who hold that, as instrumental music was commanded of God in the Old Testament church, it is justifiable in that of the New Testament. It is one of the things which God himself has prescribed. This is very extraordinary ground for Christians to take. It is hard to believe that they would contend for the following positions, logically validated by their view: That every positive enactment of the divine will under the old dispensation passes over unchanged in its authority to the new; that the Christian church is the Jewish temple, or even modeled in conformity with it; that the types of the Old Testament are continued in the new; that what was not warrantable to the Jew in the worship of the synagogue is justifiable to the Christian in that of the church; that all the external elements of worship authorized in the Psalms are allowable in the Christian church, for, upon that ground, animal sacrifices would also be proper; and that the whole nominal church, from the apostles to Thomas Aquinas, in 1250, was mistaken in regard to this matter. Still, carrying with it these consequences as it does, this view is supported by some in the Presbyterian Church.
There is a fourth class—and it is believed to be the largest—who hold theoretically to the great principle, that whatsoever is not commanded is forbidden, but deny its applicability to instrumental music in connection with the public worship of the church. They contend that it is one of the circumstances which the Confession of Faith assigns to the discretionary control of the church. This is probably the chief explanation of the wonderful change that is passing over the Presbyterian Church in the sphere of worship. It is to be feared that very few of her ministers and ruling elders have ever thoroughly studied the Doctrine of Circumstances. How many of them have ever expounded it to the people over whom the Holy Ghost has made them overseers? Nothing is more common than to hear it said that this question is one concerning a “circumstantial detail” of subordinate value, and that the issue, as one of minor importance, must give way to others of more commanding interest which are pressing upon the church. This confusion of thought would be surprising were it not so general. What a profound mistake is couched in such remarks! Instead of the circumstances relegated by the Confession to the discretion of the church being circumstantial details of worship, they are not details of worship at all. Instead of their being of secondary importance, they are indispensable—not as parts of worship, but as natural conditions of its performance. Without them there would be, there could be, no joint worship. The assemblies of the saints would be a dream.
The change which is taking place more and more in the worship of the Presbyterian Church is due to the combined influence of the views held by all these classes, but the chief peril results from that maintained by the last which has been named. It is almost inconceivable that the majority of the officers and members of the Presbyterian Church can have abandoned the consecrated principle that a divine warrant is needed for every element which enters into the worship of God’s house. Were that so, open apostasy in the department of worship would be acknowledged. But of what avail is the professed acceptance of the principle, if its application be refused? How it happens that this principle, which was construed by the Presbyterian reformers and the framers of the Westminster standards as excluding instrumental music from public worship, and was so applied by the Presbyterian Church almost universally for centuries after the Reformation, is now interpreted in such a way as to admit this Popish innovation into the once simple and evangelical services of that church, defies comprehension except upon one supposition. It is, that the Presbyterian Church is slackening her grasp upon her ancient testimonies, broadening her practice in conformity with the demands of worldly taste, and is therefore more and more treading the path of defection from the scriptural principles which she professes. The revolution in her practice began in the American Church scarcely beyond the recollection of some now living, and certainly in the Scottish Churches within that of those who are not yet fifty years of age. But once begun, what rapid progress it made! What would Gillespie and Calderwood now say, what Chalmers and Candlish, Cunningham and Begg, what Mason, Breckinridge and Thornwell—what would they say, were they permitted to rise from their graves, and revisit the scenes of their labors—the churches for which they toiled and prayed?
It is evident that a great change has taken place. Now, either it has been for the better or for the worse. If it be contended that it is for the better, these great men, and thousands who thought as they did, are pronounced to have been ignorant of the Scriptures and the principles of the Presbyterian system. Who are they that will assume such a censorship? Let them by argument prove their claim to this arrogated superiority. If they cannot—and they certainly have not yet done it—let them abandon the unwarrantable attempt to revolutionize the long-standing and scriptural practice of their church, and, ere it be too late, return to the good old paths trodden by their fathers. We are not bound to wear the yoke of human authority, it will be said. No. But these men wore the yoke of divine authority, and we ought to do the same. This is your own human assertion, it will be replied. Yes. But it is an assertion proved by irrefragable argument, founded on the Scriptures, the Presbyterian standards and the history of the true Church of Christ. The burden of proof rests upon those who have made, or who countenance, this change. They offer proof derived from the principles of nature and from human taste. What argument from Scripture is presented is such as would make us turn Jews and worship at the temple. It would not even convert us into Jews who worshipped at the synagogue. It is an argument which would take the Christian church over the ruins of the synagogue back to the temple, and in effect re-enact the madness of Julian by an attempt to construct again that abrogated institute.
But whatever may be the want of satisfactory argument to ground this wide-spread and astounding defection from the old, conservative position of the Presbyterian Church, the mournful fact is patent, that the congregations which that church embraces are more and more succumbing to its baleful influence. The ministers who are opposed to the unscriptural movement are, many of them at least, indisposed to throw themselves into opposition to its onward rush. They are unwilling to make an issue with their people upon this question. They are reluctant to characterize the employment of instrumental music in public worship as a sin. But a sin it is, if there be any force in the argument which opposes it. The people ought to be taught that in using it they rebel against the law of Christ, their King.
It bodes ill for the church that this subject is now so often treated in a flippant and even jocular manner. The question of the use of instrumental music in the public worship of God’s house is, for example, sometimes placed upon the same foot with that in regard to the use of tobacco. Both questions are scouted as equally illegitimate and equally trivial. Is tobacco ever mentioned in the Word of God? Is it forgotten that a private habit of an individual is a vastly different thing from an action which modifies the public, solemn singing of God’s praise by a congregation of professed worshippers? Such levity partakes of profanity. It makes a mock of holy things. The indulgence of this temper by our church courts will betoken the departure of our glory. It is not less than shocking to suppose that the church can make light of a subject about which God’s jealousy has smoked, and his anger has broken out into a consuming flame. If she will employ instruments of music, let her at least refrain from fiddling while many of her children are mourning over what they feel to be the corruption of her worship and the decay of her spirituality. Nero fiddled while Rome was burning, and Belshazzar was desecrating the vessels of God’s sanctuary in the midst of revelry when the mystic hand wrote on the wall of his palace the sentence of doom.
Those of us who protest against this revolution in Presbyterian worship are by some pitied, by others ridiculed, and by others still denounced as fanatics. If we are, we share the company of an innumerable host of fanatics extending from the day of Pentecost to the middle of the nineteenth century. We refuse not to be classed, although consciously unworthy of the honor, with apostles, martyrs and reformers. But neither were they mad, nor are we. We “speak the words of truth and soberness.” Mindful of the apostolic injunction, “Prove all things,” we submit arguments derived from Scripture, from the formularies of our church and from the consensus of Christ’s people, and respectfully invoke for them the attention of our brethren. We call upon them to examine these arguments, and either disprove or adopt them. But should they be dismissed without notice, and our faithful remonstrances be unheeded, we humbly, but earnestly, warn the church of the evil and bitter consequences which will, we verily believe, be entailed by that corruption of public worship which has been pointed out; and against it, in the name of the framers of our venerable standards, in the name of the reformers, divines and martyrs of the Presbyterian Church, in the name of Christ’s true witnesses in the centuries of the past, in the name of the inspired apostles, and. above all, in the name of our glorious King and Head, we erect our solemn PROTEST.