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V. Historical Argument.


V. Historical Argument.

James Dodson

I hope to prove to any candid mind that the historical argument in overwhelmingly against the use of instrumental music in the public worship of the Christian church. It has already been shown that it was not employed, under the Jewish dispensation, in the tabernacle until it was about to give way to the temple, or in the stated worship of the synagogue, and that, having been by divine direction limited to the ritual of the temple, it was, along with the other distinctive elements of that temporary institute, abolished at the inauguration of the Christian economy. It has also been evinced that the Christian church, by an easy transition, carried over into the new dispensation the simple worship as well as the polity of the synagogue, modified by the conditions peculiar to that dispensation; that the employment of instrumental music in Christian worship was not one of those modifications; for such a modification would have had the effect of conforming the gospel church to the temple, with its symbolical and typical rites—a conformity from which even the synagogue was free; and that the apostles, as the divinely commissioned and inspired organizers of the New Testament church, so far from authorizing the use of instrumental music in its worship, excluded it. The Christian church, it is clear, was started without it. What has been the subsequent history of the case? In answering this question, reference will be made to the practice of the church and to the testimony of some of her leading theologians during the successive periods of her development.

There is no evidence, but the contrary, to show that instrumental music was commonly introduced into the church until the thirteenth century.

The church historians make no mention of it in their accounts of the worship of the early church. Mosheim says not a word about it. Neander makes the simple remark: “Church psalmody, also, passed over from the synagogue into the Christian church.” [1] Dr. Schaff observes: “He [Christ] sanctioned by his own practice, and spiritualized, the essential elements of the Jewish cultus.” [2] They were historians, and could not record a fact which did not exist.

Bingham, deservedly held in high repute as a writer on Christian antiquities, and as a member of the Anglican church certainly not prejudiced in favor of Puritan views, says: [3] “I should here have put an end to this chapter, but that some readers would be apt to reckon it an omission, that we have taken no notice of organs and bells among the utensils of the church. But the true reason is that there were no such things in use in the ancient churches for many ages. Music in churches is as ancient as the apostles, but instrumental music not so.”

In regard to the doctrine of the fathers upon the subject I cannot do better than give an extract from a learned and able work of the Rev. James Peirce, [4] entitled “A Vindication of the Dissenters.” “I come now,” says he,: [5] “to say somewhat of the antiquity of musical instruments. But that these were not used in the Christian church in the primitive times is attested by all the ancient writers with one consent. Hence they figuratively explain all the places of the Old Testament which speak of musical instruments, as I might easily show by a thousand testimonies out of Clement of Alexandria, Basil, Ambrose, Jerome, Augustin, Chrysostom, and many others. . . Chrysostom talks more handsomely: ‘As the Jews praised God with all kinds of instruments, so are we commanded to praise him with all the members of our bodies, our eyes,’ etc. [6] And Clement of Alexandria talks much to the same purpose. [7] Besides, the ancients thought it unlawful to use those instruments in God’s worship. Thus the unknown author of a treatise among Justin Martyr’s works: ‘Quest. If songs were invented by unbelievers with a design of deceiving, and were appointed for those under the law, because of the childishness of their minds, why do they who have received the perfect instructions of grace, which are most contrary to the aforesaid customs, nevertheless sing in the churches just as they did who were children under the law? Ans. Plain singing is not childish, but only the singing with lifeless organs, with dancing and cymbals, etc. Whence the use of such instruments and other things fit for children is laid aside, and plain singing only retained.’ [8]

“Chrysostom seems to have been of the same mind, and to have thought the use of such instruments was rather allowed the Jews in consideration of their weakness, than prescribed and commanded. [9] But that he was mistaken, and that musical instruments were not only allowed the Jews, as he thought, and Isidorus of Pelusium (whose testimony I shall mention presently), but were prescribed by God, may appear from the texts of Scripture I have before referred to. Clement . . . thought these things fitter for beasts than for men. [10] And though Basil highly commends and stiffly defends the way of singing by turns; yet he thought musical instruments unprofitable and hurtful. [11] . . . He says thus: ‘In such vain arts as the playing upon the harp or pipe, or dancing, as soon as the action ceases the work itself vanishes.’ So that, really, according to the apostle’s expression, ‘the end of these things is destruction.’ [12] Isidore of Pelusium, who lived since Basil, held music was allowed the Jews by God in a way of condescension to their childishness: ‘If God’ says he, ‘bore with bloody sacrifices, because of men’s childishness at that time, why should you wonder he bore with the music of a harp and a psaltery?’ [13] . . . From what has been said, it appears no musical instruments were used in the pure times of the church.”

2. With reference to the time when organs were first introduced into use in the Roman Catholic Church, let us hear Bingham: [14] “It is now generally agreed among learned men that the use of organs came into the church since the time of Thomas Aquinas, Anno 1250; for he, in his Summs, has these words: ‘Our church does not use musical instruments, as harps and psalteries, to praise God withal, that she may not seem to Judaize.’ From which our learned Mr. Gregory, in a peculiar dissertation that he has upon the subject, concludes that there was no ecclesiastical use of organs in his time. And the same inference is made by Cajetan and Navarre among the Romish writers. Mr. Wharton also has observed that Marinus Sanutus, who lived about the year 1290, was the first who brought the use of wind-organs into churches, whence he was surnamed Torcellus, which is the name for an organ in the Italian tongue. And about this time Durantus, in his Rationale, takes notice of them as received in the church; and he is the first author, as Mr. Gregory thinks, that so takes notice of them.

“The use of the instrument indeed is much more ancient, but not in church-service, the not attending to which distinction is the thing that imposes upon many writers . . . . Nor was it ever received into the Greek churches, there being no mention of an organ in all their liturgies, ancient or modern, if Mr. Gregory’s judgment may be taken. But Durantus, however, contends for their antiquity, both in the Greek and Latin churches, and offers to prove it, but with ill success, first, from Julianus Halicarnassensis, a Greek writer, Anno 510, whom he makes to say that organs were used in the church in his time. But he mistakes the sense of his author, who speaks not of his own times, but of the time of Job and the Jewish temple. For, commenting on these words of Job, 30:31, ‘My harp is turned to mourning, and my organ into the voice of them that weep,’ he says: ‘There was no prohibition to use musical instruments or organs, if it was done with piety, because they were used in the temple.’ By which, it is plain, he speaks of the Jewish temple in the singular, and not of Christian temples or churches in the plural, as Durantus mistakes him. Next, for the Latin church, he urges the common opinion which ascribes the invention of them to Pope Vitalian, Anno 660; but his authorities for this are no better than Platina and the Pontifical, which are little to be regarded against clear evidences to the contrary. That which some urge out of Clemens Alexandrinus I shall not answer as Suicerus does, (who, with Hospinian and some, wholly decrying the use of instrumental music in Christian churches, says it is an interpolation and corruption of that ancient author,) but only observe that he speaks not of what was then in use in Christian churches, but of what might lawfully be used by any private Christians, if they were disposed to use it; which rather argues that instrumental music (the lute and harp of which he speaks) was not in use in the public churches. The same may be gathered from the words of St. Chrysostom, who says: ‘It was only permitted to the Jews, as sacrifice was, for the heaviness and grossness of their souls. God condescended to their weakness, because they were lately drawn from idols; but now, instead of organs, we may use our own bodies to praise him withal.’ Theodoret has many like expressions in his Comments upon the Psalms and other places . . . . So that, there being no use of organs till the twelfth [thirteenth?] century, I could not speak of them as utensils in the ancient churches.”

Let us pause a moment to notice the fact, supported by a mass of incontrovertible evidence, that the Christian church did not employ instrumental music in its public worship for 1200 years after Christ. It proves, what has been already shown from the New Testament Scriptures, that the apostolic church did not use it in its public services, and surely the church ought now to be conformed to the practice of the apostles and of the churches whose usages they modeled according to the inspired direction of the Holy Ghost. It deserves serious consideration, moreover, that notwithstanding the ever-accelerated drift towards corruption in worship as well as in doctrine and government, the Roman Catholic Church did not adopt this corrupt practice until about the middle of the thirteenth century. This is the testimony of Aquinas, who has always been esteemed by that church as a theologian of the very first eminence, and who, of course, was perfectly acquainted with its usages. When the organ was introduced into its worship it encountered strong opposition, and made its way but slowly to general acceptance. These assuredly are facts that should profoundly impress Protestant churches. How can they adopt a practice which the Roman Church, in the year 1200, had not admitted, and the subsequent introduction of which was opposed by some of her best theologians? For example, Bellarmin, as we have already seen, condemns it as not belonging to the church perfected in the new dispensation, and Cardinal Cajetan said: ‘It is to be observed the church did not use organs in Thomas’s time; whence, even to this day, the Church of Rome does not use them in the Pope’s presence. And truly it will appear that musical instruments are not to be suffered in the ecclesiastical offices we meet together to perform for the sake of receiving internal instruction from God; and so much the rather are they to be excluded, because God’s internal discipline exceeds all human disciplines, which rejected this kind of instruments.” [15] The great scholar, Erasmus, who never formally withdrew from the communion of the Church of Rome, thus forcibly expresses himself: “We have brought into our churches a certain operose and theatrical music; such a confused, disorderly chattering of some words, as I hardly think was ever heard in any of the Grecian or Roman theatres. The church rings with the noise of trumpets, pipes and dulcimers; and human voices strive to bear their part with them . . . . Men run to church as to a theatre, to have their ears tickled. And for this end organ-makers are hired with great salaries, and a company of boys, who waste all their time in learning these whining tones [Ames translates, ‘this gibble-gabble.’] Pray now compute how many poor people, in great extremity, might be maintained by the salaries of those singers.” [16]

In spite of this opposition, the organ, during the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, steadily made its way towards universal triumph in the Romish church. Then came the Reformation; and the question arises, How did the Reformers deal with instrumental music in the church? Did they teach that the Reformation ought to embrace the expulsion of that kind of music from its services?

I will not appeal to Luther. Eckhard [17] is referred to as saying: “Lutherus organa musica inter Baalis insignia refert,” “Luther considers organs among the ensigns of Baal.” But the German reformer expresses a different opinion in his commentary on Amos 6:5.

Zwingle has already been quoted to show that instrumental music was one of the shadows of the old law which has been realized in the gospel. He pronounces its employment in the present dispensation “wicked pervicacity.” There is no doubt in regard to his views on the subject, which were adopted by the Swiss Reformed churches.

Calvin is very express in his condemnation of instrumental music in connection with the public worship of the Christian church. Besides the testimonies which have already been adduced to prove that he regarded it as one of the types of the Old Testament which is fulfilled in the New, other passages from his writings may be added. In his commentary on the thirty-third Psalm he says: “There is a distinction to be observed here, however, that we may not indiscriminately consider as applicable to ourselves everything which was formerly enjoined upon the Jews. I have no doubt that playing upon cymbals, touching the harp and viol, and all that kind of music, which is so frequently mentioned in the Psalms, was a part of the education—that 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 their 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 many other things, from the Jews. Men who are fond 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). The 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. What shall we then say of chanting, which fills the ears with nothing but an empty sound? Does any one object that music is very useful for awakening the minds of men and moving their hearts? I own it; but we should always take care that no corruption creep in, which might both defile the pure worship of God, and involve men in superstition. 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.”

On Psalm 150:3-5 he says: “I do not insist upon the words in the Hebrew signifying the musical instruments; only let the reader remember that sundry different kinds are here mentioned, which were in use under the legal economy,” etc. On verse 6, “Let everything that hath breath praise the Lord,” he remarks: “As yet the psalmist has addressed himself in his exhortations to the people who were conversant with the ceremonies under the law; now he turns to men in general,” etc.

In his homily on 1 Sam. 18:1-9, he delivers himself emphatically and solemnly upon the subject: “In Popery there was a ridiculous and unsuitable imitation [of the Jews]. While they adorned their temples, and valued themselves as having made the worship of God more splendid and inviting, they employed organs, and many other such ludicrous things, by which the Word and worship of God are exceedingly profaned, the people being much more attached to those rites than to the understanding of the divine Word. We know, however, that where such understanding is not, there can be no edification, as the apostle Paul teacheth . . . . . What, therefore, was in use under the law is by no means entitled to our practice under the gospel; and these things being not only superfluous, but useless, are to be abstained from, because pure and simple modulation is sufficient for the praise of God, if it is sung with the heart and with the mouth. We know that our Lord Jesus Christ has appeared, and by his advent has abolished these legal shadows. Instrumental music, we therefore maintain, was only tolerated on account of the times and the people, because they were as boys, as the sacred Scripture speaketh, whose condition required these puerile rudiments. But in gospel times we must not have recourse to these unless we wish to destroy the evangelical perfection, and to obscure the meridian light which we enjoy in Christ our Lord.”

In these views of his illustrious colleague Beza concurred. [18] “If,” says he, “the apostle justly prohibits the use of unknown tongues in the church, much less would he have tolerated these artificial musical performances which are addressed to the ear alone, and seldom strike the understanding even of the performers themselves.”

The French Protestant Church, which was organized mainly through the influence and counsels of Calvin, naturally adopted his views in regard to worship as well as doctrine and government. Consequently, as the Reformer did not oppose the use of a moderate and evangelical liturgy, that church following his lead employed one that was permissive, that is, not imposed by authority. One may wonder that Calvin, who unequivocally enounced the great principle that whatsoever is not commanded is forbidden, did not see the application of that principle to liturgical services, at least did not make that application practically. It would be irrelevant to the design of this discussion to consider that question as one of fact. We know that the French Reformed Church acted in accordance with his views on that subject; and it may be said, in passing, that it has been a matter of observation that the use of a liturgy by the Huguenot immigrants to this country has been a snare, which has had influence in leading many of them to abandon the church of their fathers that was so definitely opposed to prelacy, and identify themselves with a prelatic communion. Reading the case backward, we can see that whatever may have been the reasons which governed the Reformer in declining to apply the mighty principle mentioned to a liturgy, they have not been sustained by events. And it is somewhat curious, at least it is a striking circumstance inviting attention to its causes, that the Scottish and American churches which are now generally opposed to a liturgy, as Calvin was not, are more and more adopting instrumental music to which he was opposed.

But the fact here emphasized is that the French Reformed Church, in its day of efficiency and glory, excluded instrumental music from its services. Nor is the example a mean one. It was that of a great church, as illustrious an exponent of the principles of Presbyterianism, with the exception which has just been indicated and its alliance with the state, as has existed since the days of the apostles. These principles were not worn as a uniform on parade, but were maintained through blood and flame. A few extracts from Quick’s valuable work, Synodicon in Gallia Reformata, will illuminate this point as with a lurid glare. “Whilst,” says he, [19] “Mystical Babylon, spiritual Sodom and Egypt (where our Lord hath been in his most precious truths and ordinances, and in his dearest saints and members, for many ages successively crucified), did swim in the calm ocean of worldly riches and grandeur, in the pacific seas of peculiar felicities and pleasures, poor Zion in that bloody kingdom of France hath been in the storms and flames, hath passed from one fiery trial to another, from cauldrons of boiling oil into burning furnaces heated with fire seven times hotter than before; she hath been driven from populous cities and the pleasant habitations of men unto the cold, snowy Lebanon, to the high craggy tops of Amana and Shenir, to the frightful dens of lions, and to the horrid mountains of dragons and leopards.” Is this extravagant declamation? Let us glance at some of the facts.

“In the national Synod of Rochelle, in the year 1571, Mr. Beza presiding in it, the Reformed could count then above two thousand one hundred and fifty churches; and in many of these above ten thousand members, and in most of these two ministers, in some they had five, as in the year 1561 there served the church of Orleans (which at that time had seven thousand communicants) Anthony Chanoriet, Lord of Meringeau, Robert Macon, Lord des Fontaines, Hugh Sureau, Nicholas Fillon, Lord of Valls, and Daniel Tossane, who afterwards died at Heidelberg in the Palatinate. When the Colloquy [our Presbytery] of Poissy was held, they had in the one only province of Normandy three hundred and five pastors of churches, and in the province of Provence three-score. And I remember the author of Le Cabinet du Roy de France, a book printed in the year 1581, and dedicated to Henry the Third, makes a computation of their martyrs to have been in a very few years at least 200,000 cut off for the gospel, and he makes up his account thus: ‘Allow,’ saith he, ‘but a hundred martyrs to every church, and you have the sum; and yet ‘tis as clear as the sun at noonday that the sum is vastly more. For ‘tis a truth incontestable, that there have been cut off by the sword and massacres for religion from the church of Caen above 15,000 or 16,000, from the church of Alencon 5,000, from the church of Paris 13,000 from the church of Rheims 12,000, from the church of Troyes 12,000, from the church of Sens 9,000, from the church of Orleans 8,000, from the church of Angiers 7,000, and from the church of Poictiers 12,000 persons, etc.’ Livre Premier, pp. 274-277.” [20]

Quick makes this remarkable statement, [21] which I cannot forbear quoting, concerning the powerful influence exerted by the simple singing of psalms upon the French people at the beginning of the Protestant Reformation: “Clement Marot, a courtier and a great wit, was advised by Mr. Vatablus, Regius Professor of the Hebrew tongue in the University of Paris, to consecrate his muse unto God; which counsel he embraceth and translateth fifty of David’s psalms into French meter. Mr. Beza did the other hundred and all the Scripture songs. Lewis Guadimel, another Asaph or Jeduthun, a most skilful master of music, set those sweet and melodious tunes unto which they are sung even unto this day. This holy ordinance charmed the ears, hearts and affections of court and city, town and country. They were sung in the Louvre, as well as in the Pres-des-Cleres, by ladies, princes, yea, and by Henry the Second himself. This one ordinance only contributed mightily to the downfall of Popery, and the propagation of the gospel. It took so much with the genius of the nation, that all ranks and degrees of men practised it in the temples and in their families. No gentleman professing the Reformed religion would sit down at his table without praising God by singing. Yea, it was a special part of their morning and evening worship in their several houses to sing God’s praises. The Popish clergy raged, and, to prevent the growth and spreading of the gospel by it, that mischievous Cardinal of Lorraine, another Elymas the sorcerer, got the odes of Horace and the filthy, obscene poems of Tibullus and Catullus to be turned into French and sung at the court. Ribaldry was his piety, and the means used by him to expel and banish the singing of divine psalms out of the profane court of France.”

Whatever may be the practice in recent times of the churches of Holland, the Synods of the Reformed Dutch Church, soon after the Reformation, pronounced very decidedly against the use of instrumental music in public worship. The National Synod at Middleburg, in 1581, declared against it, and the Synod of Holland and Zealand, in 1594, adopted this strong resolution: “That they would endeavor to obtain of the magistrate the laying aside of organs, and the singing with them in the churches, even out of the time of worship, either before or after sermons.” The Provincial Synod of Dort also inveighed severely against their use.

Some testimonies are added from distinguished continental theologians. Pareus, commenting on 1 Cor. 14:7, says: “In the Christian church the mind must be incited to spiritual joy, not by pipes and trumpets and timbrels, with which God formerly indulged his ancient people on account of the hardness of their hearts, but by psalms and hymns and spiritual songs.”

“Instrumental music,” remarks Zepperus, [22] “in the religious worship of the Jews, belonged to the ceremonial law, which is now abolished. It is evident that it is contrary to the precept and rule of Paul, who (1 Cor. 14.) wills that in Christian assemblies everything should be done for edification, that others may understand and be reformed; so even that of speaking in unknown tongues should be banished from the church; much less should that jarring organic music, which produceth a gabbling of many voices, be allowed, with its pipes and trumpets and whistles, making our churches resound, nay, bellow and roar . . . . In some of the Reformed churches these musical instruments are retained, but they are not played until the congregation is dismissed, all the parts of divine worship being finished. And they are then used for a political [civil] purpose, to gratify those who seek pleasure from sound and harmony.”

Molerus, on the 150th Psalm, observes: “It is no wonder, therefore, that such a number of musical instruments should be so heaped together; but although they were a part of the Paedagogia Legalis [the instruction of the law], yet they were not for that reason to be brought into Christian assemblies. For God willeth that, after the coming of Christ, his people should cultivate the hope of eternal life and the practice of true piety by very different and more simple means than these.” [23]

Gisbertus Voetius argues at length against the use of instrumental music in churches in his Ecclesiastical Polity, a work which is held in high estimation among Presbyterians. [24] The argument is characterized by the great ability for which the author was noted, but it is too elaborate to be here cited.

It might seem hopeless to get from the Church of England a testimony against the employment of instruments in worship; but when her first love was warmed by the blessed influence of the reformation from Popery, she spoke in no uncertain sounds on the subject. In her homily “Of the Place and Time of Prayer” these notable words occur: “God’s vengeance hath been and is daily provoked, because much wicked people pass nothing to resort to the church; either for that they are so sore blinded that they understand nothing of God or godliness, and care not with devilish example to offend their neighbors; or else for that they see the church altogether scoured of such gay, gazing sights as their gross phantasie was greatly delighted with; because they see the false religion abandoned and the true restored, which seemeth an unsavory thing to their unsavory taste; as may appear by this, that a woman said to her neighbor, ‘Alas, gossip, what shall we now do at church, since all the saints are taken away; since all the goodly sights we were wont to have are gone; since we cannot hear the like piping, singing, chaunting, and playing upon the organs that we could before!’ But, dearly beloved, we ought greatly to rejoice and give God thanks that our churches are delivered out of all those things which displeased God so sore and filthily defiled his holy house and his place of prayer.”

The thirty-two godly and learned commissioners appointed by King Edward VI. to reform ecclesiastical laws and observances submitted the following advice: [25] “In reading chapters and singing psalms, ministers and clergymen must think of this diligently, that God is not only to be praised by them, but that others are to be brought to perform the same worship by their counsel and example. Wherefore, let them pronounce their words distinctly, and let their singing be clear and easy, that everything may be understood by the auditors. So that ‘tis our pleasure, that the quavering operose music which is called figured should be wholly laid aside [26] since it often makes such a noise in the ears of the people that they cannot understand what is said.” “Certainly,”' says Ames in answer to the taunts of Dr. Burgess, “these were neither distracted nor stupid men; whence their prejudice came, let the Rejoinder himself judge.” [27]

“In the English Convocation, held in the year 1562, in Queen Elizabeth’s time, for settling the Liturgy, the retaining of the custom of kneeling at the sacrament, of the cross in baptism, and of organs, carried only by the casting vote.” [28] Hetherington’s account of the matter is as follows: [29] “In the beginning of the year 1562, a meeting of the Convocation was held, in which the subject of further reformation was vigorously discussed on both sides . . . [Among the alterations proposed was this]: ‘That the use of organs be laid aside.’ When the vote came to be taken, on these propositions, forty-three voted for them and thirty-five against; but when the proxies were counted, the balance was turned; the final state of the vote being fifty-eight for and fifty-nine against. Thus it was determined by a single vote, and that the proxy of an absent person who did not hear the reasoning that the Prayer-Book should remain unimproved, that there should be no further reformation, that there should be no relief granted to those whose consciences felt aggrieved by the admixture of human inventions in the worship of God.”

In 1564, during Queen Elizabeth’s reign, considerable discussion was had touching the use of vestments in public worship. Bishop Horn wrote to Gualter at Zurich about the matter. He and Bullinger replied to him recommending moderation. Whereupon Samson and Humphrey, in February, 1565, wrote to the Zurich divines giving “a copious account of the grounds on which they founded their refusal to obey” the orders of the Queen and Parliament: Bullinger answered them by again recommending moderation. [30] This letter of Bullinger to Samson and Humphrey was sent to Horn and Grindal, who published it. “Upon this Samson and Humphrey wrote to Zurich complaining of the printing their letter, and carried their complaints much further than to the matter of the vestments: they complained of the music and organs, of making sponsors in baptism answer in the child’s name, of the Court of Faculties, and the praying for dispensations.” [31]

These facts are sufficient to show that the Church of England was at one time on the verge of eliminating instrumental music along with other relics of Popery from her public services; and had she been thoroughly reformed in accordance with the wishes of her purest divines she would have conformed her practice, in this matter, to that of the Reformed churches on the continent. But the taste and the will of an arbitrary female head of the church determined her usages in a contrary direction. The history deserves to be pondered most seriously.

What were the views of the English Puritans on this subject has already been indicated when the question was under consideration in regard to the position assumed concerning it by the Westminster Assembly of Divines. It is not necessary to exhibit their sentiments by further appeals to authority. To their almost unanimous opposition to instrumental music in the public worship of the church, as unscriptural and Popish, there were some exceptions, among whom was the justly celebrated Richard Baxter, a great man, but neither a great Calvinist nor a great Presbyterian. Those who wish to see his arguments in favor of a temperate employment of instrumental music in church-worship can find them in the fifth volume of his works, edited by Orme, page 499: arguments about as weak as those by which he attempted to support the Grotian theory of the atonement. As they may, to some extent, be considered in the examination of the arguments in favor of instrumental music, they will not be noticed in this place. I cannot pass from this reference to the English Puritans without pausing to express the conviction that, whatever may have been some of their peculiar characteristics—and even these have been magnified and caricatured by opponents who were partly or wholly destitute of their religious earnestness—no purer exponents of the truth of God as set forth in the Holy Scriptures have existed on earth since the days of the apostles; and the growing defection from the views they maintained touching the purity of worship, which now conspicuously marks the English-speaking non-prelatic churches, carries in it the ominous symptoms of apostasy from the gospel. Some few yet stand firm against what is now called, in a painfully significant phrase, the “down-grade” tendencies of this age. Prominent among them is that eminent servant of Christ—a star in his right hand—the Rev. Charles H. Spurgeon, who not only proclaims with power the pure doctrines of God’s Word, but retains and upholds an apostolic simplicity of worship. The great congregation which is blessed with the privilege of listening to his instructions has no organ “to assist” them in singing their praises to their God and Saviour. They find their vocal organs sufficient. Their tongues and voices express the gratitude of their hearts.

It is almost needless to cite the example of the Church of Scotland. She was—with the exception of an unholy alliance between the church and the state, a baneful source of incalculable evils, “a spring of woes unnumbered,” to the former—a glorious instance of church as completely reformed as could be expected in this present, imperfect, pre-millennial condition. Even the permissive liturgy of John Knox she soon threw off as a swathing band from her free limbs, and for centuries she knew nothing of instrumental music in her public services. Would that she now retained this primitive purity of worship! But within a half-century back, in consequence of the agitation persistently pursued by some who clamored for a more artistic “celebration” of worship, the Established Church relaxed its testimony, and consented to make the question of instrumental music all “open” one—that is, the matter was left to the option of individual congregations. Meanwhile the Free Church stood firm, and has so stood until recently. Dr. Begg, in his work on organs, could express his gratitude for the conservative attitude of his church on the subject, and Dr. Candlish deprecated the discussion of the question as fraught with peril. But they have fallen asleep, and the church of their love is now, by the action of her Presbyteries, making it an “open question.” The floodgates are up, and the result is by no means uncertain: the experience of the American Presbyterian Church will be that of the Scottish.

The Irish Presbyterian Church has for years seriously debated the question in her General Assembly. So far she has refused to make it an open one; but the pressure of a heavy minority, it may almost with certainty be expected, will prevail in breaking through the dykes of scriptural conservatism. The fact, however, that to the present hour that noble church maintains its opposition to instrumental music contributes no unimportant element to the historical argument against its use. It is likely that the question has never been subjected to so thorough-going an examination as it has met in the protracted discussions of her supreme court. She is now almost the last great witness for the simple singing of praise in public worship. Should the standard of her testimony go down, it must be left to small, seceded bodies, or to individuals, to continue the witness-bearing and the contest for a simplicity of worship from which the majority in the church have apostatized.

The non-prelatic churches, Independent and Presbyterian, began their development on the American continent without instrumental music. They followed the English Puritans and the Scottish Church, which had adopted the principles of the Calvinistic Reformed Church. How the organ came to be gradually introduced into them it were bootless to inquire. They began right, but have more and more departed from the simple genius of Christian worship. On what grounds they have done this it would be well for them to stop and inquire. For if there be any force in argument, their present position cannot be maintained. It is a clear departure from the practice of the church, both early and reformed. The United Presbyterian Church has but recently given way. A respectable minority opposes the defection, but what the issue will be events do not yet furnish sufficient data to determine. The Associate Reformed Church has not yet receded from the pure principles and practice of their forefathers. May God grant them grace to continue in their maintenance! The time may ere long come when those who stand on these principles and refuse to yield to the demands of a latitudinarian age will be attracted by adherence to a common sentiment towards a formal union with each other. It may be made a question whether the retention of a pure gospel-worship does not constitute a reason for the existence of a distinctive organization.

It has thus been proved, by an appeal to historical facts, that the church, although lapsing more and more into defection from the truth and into a corruption of apostolic practice, had no instrumental music for twelve hundred years; and that the Calvinistic Reformed Church ejected it from its services as an element of Popery, even the Church of England having come very nigh to its extrusion from her worship. The historical argument, therefore, combines with the scriptural and the confessional to raise a solemn and powerful protest against its employment by the Presbyterian Church. It is heresy in the sphere of worship.

[go to CHAPTER 6.]


[1] Hist. Vol. i., p. 304.

[2] Hist. Apos. Ch., p. 345; see also Hist. Chris. Ch., Vol. i., pp. 120, 121.

[3] Works, Vol, iii., p. 137.

[4] A Non-Conformist; died 1726.

[5] Pt. iii., Ch. iii.; London, 1717.

[6] In Ps. cl.

[7] Paedag., Lib. ii., C. 4.

[8] Resp. ad Orthodox., Q. 107.

[9] In Ps. cl.

[10] Paedag., Lib. ii., C. iv., p. 163.

[11] Comm. in Isa., C. v., pp. 956, 957.

[12] P. 955.

[13] Epist., Lib. 2, ep. 176.

[14] Works, Vol. iii., p. 137, ff.

[15] Hoffm. Lex., voce Musica, quoted by Peirce.

[16] In 1 Cor. 14:19, cited by Peirce and Ames.

[17] A German theologian. He argued in favor of instrumental music against Calvin.

[18] In Colloq. Mompelg., Pars 2, p. 26.

[19] Epistle Dedicatory.

[20] Introduction, pp. lix., lx.

[21] Ibid., p. v.

[22] De Lege Mosaica, Lib. iv.

[23] The three foregoing testimonies are extracted from the report of a committee to the Presbytery of Glasgow in 1808.

[24] Pars i. Cap. iii., De Organis et Cantu Organico in Sacris.

[25] Reform. Leg. de Div. Offic., Cap. v.

[26] “Vibratam illam et operosam musicam, quae figurata dicitur, auferri placet.”

[27] Church Cerem., p. 406.

[28] Dr. Henry’s Hist., Strype’s Annals, p. 363.

[29] Hist. Westminster Assembly, p. 30.

[30] One is here reminded of Luther’s words: “Too much discretion is displeasing to God.”

[31] The author of Primitive Truth, citing Bp. Burner, Reformation, Vol. iii., pp. 308-310.