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- I will sing with the spirit, and with the understanding also'-—'Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your hearts to the Lord.'
Paul speaks more than once, in his epistle to the Corinthians, of instruments of music, but not as being used in religion. He describes them as necessary to war, but not to worship; and speaks of them in language of degradation, as 'things without life, giving sound.' If I have not charity, says he, I am as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.'
The history of the church during the three first centuries, affords many instances of the primitive christians engaging in singing; but no mention, that I recollect, is made of instruments. Even in the times of Constantine, when every thing grand and magnificent was introduced into christian worship, I find no mention made of instrumental music. If my memory does not deceive me, it originated in the dark ages of popery, when almost every other superstition was introduced under the plea of its according with the worship of the old testament. At present it is most in use where these kinds of superstitions are most prevalent, and where the least regard is paid to primitive simplicity. I remember lately to have noticed a description of modern Paris, by one of their own writers. “If, says he, you are attached to religious solemnities, you will find some of all sorts, Catholics, who offer up their prayers to the deity, with the sound of musical instruments, Lutherans, who calmly listen to the lectures from the bible and the gospel. Theo-Philanthropists, worshipping deists, who flourish in language, and sing as if they were at the opera."
I conclude with reminding you, that on the principle of discretionary worship, you may introduce the dance, and commence Welsh jumpers; the surplice, and become episcopalians; and even the mitre, and shake hands with his Holiness. I doubt not but your discretion will keep you from these things; but if there be no bar but discretion, I do not see what right you have to censure them in others.
The Editor cannot forbear adding a note, expressive of the sentiments entertained by Mr. HALL on this subject, communicated in a letter dated April 2. 1800, soon after reading the above correspondence.
"In my apprehension,” says this elegant writer, “there is not room for a moment's hesitation, on the lawfulness of instrumental music in christian worship, whatever may be thought of its expedience, a point on which no general determination can be passed, but must entirely be left to circumstances. Viewing the subject merely in the light of reason, the propriety of both kinds of music results from the fitness of certain sounds to excite and express devout emotion. This property they both have in a great if not an equal degree, and therefore to each attaches a natural suitability.
Considering them in the light of ordinances, the introduction of musical instruments in jewish worship by divine authority, will surely not prove that it is in itself wrong. Practices which have an inherent property are not rendered sinful, by their having been matter of positive institution, even when that appointment ceases; unless it be imagined that God exercises his sovereignty, by always selecting as the object of positive institutes, things in themselves ineligible, which seems to me a very harsh doctrine.--It is better in such points to avoid all eager altercation, and to practise the most perfect toleration. Let every one be fully persuaded in his own mind. He that useth an instrument, to the Lord he useth it, and giveth God thanks: he that useth not an instrument, to the Lord he useth it not, and giveth God thanks."
Reflections on Mr. Belsham's Review
MR. WILBERFORCE'S TREATISE.
Written in 1798.
Soon after Mr. Belsham had removed to Hackney, he printed his sermon on The Importance of Truth, in which he strongly maintained the superior moral efficacy of his principles. Amongst other things he affirmed, that “ those who were singularly pious with [Calvinistic] principles, could not have failed to have been much better, if they had imbibed a different creed."
Several things of the same kind were thrown out by other writers of the party. These pretensions were soon after examined by the author of The Calvinistic and Socinian systems compared. On the appearance of that publication, though Dr. Priestley could not be persuaded to read it, yet as Mr. Belsham, it is said, assured him “it was well worthy of his perusal,” it may be presumed that he himself has perused it. And as he is equally concerned to defend his assertion, and has been called upon to do so, it might have been expected that he would have come forward and answered that publication. But whatever be the reason, he has always shown himself averse to such an undertaking.
Two of his brethren however have stood forward, namely, Dr. Toulmin and Mr. Kentish: but neither of them has ventured to vindicate him, or Dr. Priestley. A Reply also to these publications has appeared, by the author of The Systems Compared; and lately Mr. Kentish has published Strictures upon that Reply. There is a certain point in controversy, at which it is proper to discontinue it. “When," as Dr. Watts observes, “little words and occasional expressions are dwelt upon, which have no necessary connection with the grand point in view,”* and when a serious investigation becomes likely to degenerate into vain wrangling, it is best to cease. When it comes to this, the public mind says Desist; and with this decision it becomes a writer, instead of tenaciously contending for the last word, respectfully to acquiesce.
To this may be added, when the misstatements of an opponent are numerous, his sentiments sufficiently explicit, and his expositions of scripture, with all his critical accoutrements, too absurd to be regarded by serious and thinking minds, the continuation of a controversy is not more tedious to a reader, than it must be irksome to a writer. The subject is before the public: let them decide.
A few remarks however may be offered on a passage or two in Mr. Belsham's Review of Mr. Wilberforce's Treatise.
Having given a brief account of his own opinions, he adds, “This short abstract of Unitarian principles will enable us to judge of the value of an argument proposed in a work entitled, Calvinism and Socinianism Compared, apon which Mr. Wilberforce passes a very high encomium; the amount of which is, “We Calvinists being much better christians than you Socinians, our doctrines must of course be true.' To this masterly defence of the doctrines of christianity, and acute refutation of the opposite errors, Mr. Wilberforce and his friends are welcome. The Unitarians will not trespass upon the holy ground. We have learned, that not he who commendeth himself is approved, but whom the Lord commendeth;' and satisfied with this, we wait with cheerful confidence the decision of that day which shall try every man's work. In the mean time we rest our cause upon the scriptures critically examined, and judiciously explained. This way of reasoning is branded in the same masterly performance as ‘mangling and altering the translation to our own minds,' which brings to my recollection the quaker's exclamation, Oh argument, oh argument, the Lord rebuke thee." p. 274.
* Improvement, part ii. chap. 8.
Mr. Wilberforce having observed it as an unquestionable fact, a fact which Unitarians almost admit, that they are not distinguished by superior purity of life, and still less by that frame of mind, which by the injunction to be spiritually, not carnally minded, the word of God prescribes to us as one of the surest tests of our experiencing the vital power of christianity.'-“Such," Mr. Belsham replies, “is the candid judgment which Mr. Wilberforce forms of the moral and religious character of the Unitarians. How nearly resembling the character of the pharisee in the parable: 'God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men, nor even as this publican.' How closely bordering upon that supercilious spirit which our Lord reproves in the jews, who concluded because the Son of man came eating and drinking, and affecting no habits of austerity, or unnecessary singularity, that he must therefore be the friend and associate of publicans and sinners. But be it known to Mr. Wilberforce, and to all who like him are disposed to condemn their brethren unheard, that if the Unitarians were inclined to boast in the characters of those who have professed their principles, they have whereof to glory; and if they took pleasure in exposing the faults of their more orthodox brethren, they likewise hare tales to unfold, which would reflect little credit, either on the parties or on their principles. But of such reproaches there would be no end.” pp. 267, 268.
On these passages I take the liberty of offering a few remarks
1. The amount of the work to which Mr. Belsham alludes, is not what he makes it to be that we Calvinists being much better christians than you Socinians, our