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IMPROPRIETY OF INSTRUMENTAL MUSIC IN CHRISTIAN
In Reply to a Correspondent.
That there are circumstances attending the worship of God, whether it be moral or positive, which are not the objects of divine appointment, I allow ; such as the tunes in singing, and whether we baptise in a pool or in a river, or drink the wine at the Lord's supper out of a silver or pewter or wooden cup. Each of these are alike indifferent. I do not admit however, that we have no example for uninspired preaching. On the contrary we have no proof, that I remember, that even the apostles themselves were under the infallible inspiration of the Holy Spirit in their sermons, nor in all their writings; though they were in those which have place in the holy scriptures. Be that as it may: If what every preacher advanced had been inspired, it would itself have contained the oracles of God; but in that case there would have been no propriety in that direction—If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God.' 1 Pet. iv. 11.
As to our using human compositions in singing, I have sometimes had my doubts, whether we ought not to sing the poetical parts of scripture set to sacred music. I should rejoice to see a book of such divine hymns introduced into all our churches, taking place of a vast load of trash and insipidity. If we had not hymns inspired, ready to our hands, any more than tunes, I should then think that the composing of the one as well as of the other, was a circumstance of worship left to human powers. But be this as it may, whether the hymns we sing be a discretional concomitant of worship or not, this cannot be said of instrumental music. It was from the first a subject of divine injunction. The very passage which you have quoted proves this. 2 Chron. xxix. 25–28. You must have seen with what tender regard to divine authority it was introduced. It was 'according to the command of David, and of Gad the king's seer, and Nathan the prophet; for so was the commandment of Jehovah by his prophets.' If the writer had designed merely to guard against the idea of David's having done it of his own discretion, he could not have chosen words better adapted to his purpose ; and indeed it manifestly appears that this was his design.
But you say, Instrumental music "was not instituted by any express command of the ceremonial law; that it has nothing in it of the nature of a positive institute, and cannot therefore be considered as abolished by the introduction of the gospel.” To this I reply-
1. Its not being required by the law of Moses does not prove, that it “was not instituted by any express command." You seem to be aware of this, and therefore have softened your position by adding the words, “the law of Moses.”
2. Its not being required by the law of Moses does not prove, that it was “not a part of the ceremonial law which is abolished by the gospel." A great number of the directions relating to the building of the temple, and the regulation of its worship, were ceremonial, though not commanded “by the law of Moses ;” and were all abolished when that temple ceased to exist. See 1 Chron. xxviii. 11-19. These appendages to the temple could not survive the temple, and it appears that instrumental music was a kind of appendage to the sacrifices of those times. So it seems to be represented in 2 Chron. xxix. 25-28. And it was as much abolished when sacrifices ceased, as the others were when the temple was no
3. If instrumental music was no part of ceremonial worship, it must have been moral ; for what has already been advanced proves that it was not a mere discretional circumstance of worship, concerning which no commandment was given. That the vocal praising of God is a moral duty, I allow; but the use of instruments is not so. It is a practice which has every property of a positive institute, and not one, that I recollect, of moral obligation. That all duties, both moral and positive, are commanded of God, is true; but what is moral is commanded because it is right; and the motive by which it is enforced is not the mere will of the legislator; whereas that which is positive is right because it is commanded. The whole authority in the latter case rests upon the divine command, and this is the ground on which the practice of instrumental music is rested in the scriptures. It was 'according to the commandment of David, and of Gad, and Nathan-For so was the commandment of the Lord by his prophets.' 2 Chron. xxix. 25. This is a kind of language which is never used of vocal music, or of any other moral duty, but which exactly accords with what is said of other positive institutions; particularly those which respected the appendages of temple worship. 2 Chron. viii. 14.-Another thing by which moral and positive duties are distinguished is, that the former are binding alike in all ages and nations; but the latter, originating in divine appointment, are binding only at those places to which the appointment extends. Now you yourself say, that instrumental music “ was not in general use till David's time, which was five hundred years after the law.” If it had been a moral duty, it would have been obligatory at all times, before David's time as well as in it; and we should have read of it, as I think we do of every moral duty, in the new testament.
4. Your argument from the worship of heaven reminds me of the argument in favour of the surplice, from the heavenly inhabitants being clothed 'in fine linen, clean and white, which is the righteousness of saints;' to which Robinson replies, We are sorry to say, it is all the righteousness that some saints have ! But seriously, the heavenly employments and enjoyments are frequently illustrated by things borrowed from the jewish ceremonial, which things were once right, but in our day would be will-worship.' Col. ii. 23. The blessed above are said to be made kings and priests' unto God. The same chapter in which we read of 'harps,' we also read of a
temple, and an 'altar' in heaven. Rev. xiv. 17, 18. But what would you think of an argument derived from hence, in favour of modern priests, temples, and altars?
In short, instrumental music, the more I think of it, appears with encreasing evidence to be utterly unsuited to the genius of the gospel dispensation. There was a glare, if I may so express it, which characterised even the divine appointments of judaism. An august temple, ornamented with gold and silver, and precious stones, golden candlesticks, golden altars, priests in rich attire, trumpets, cymbals and harps; all of which were adapted to an age and dispensation, when the church was in a state of infancy. But when the substance is come, it is time that the shadows flee away. The best exposition of harps in singing, is given by Dr. Watts
“ Oh may my heart in tune be found
Like David's harp of solemn sound."
UNLAWFULNESS OF INSTRUMENTAL MUSIC IN CHRISTIAN
I CANNOT forbear remarking the great similarity between your reasoning, and that of Episcopalians in favour of certain ceremonies to which the Puritans objected. They did not pretend that they were obligatory, but merely lawful ; that they had been of divine authority under the former dispensation, and were now matters of discretion. If this were indeed the case, and they had followed the example of an apostle, they would have relinquished them when they proved an occasion of offence. When some of the Corinthians pleaded for the lawfulness of eating the good creatures of God, though they had been offered in sacrifice to idols, Paul replies, granting them their principle, Meat commendeth us not to God : for neither if we eat are we the better, neither if we eat not are we the worse.' In a similar manner the Puritans answered the Episcopalians. Uncommanded ceremonies, granting them to be lawful, commend us not to God : for neither if we use them are we the better, neither if we disuse them are we the worse : and seeing they create much offence, they ought to be relinquished. And thus, though your principles should be true, your practice may be condemned. That for which you plead is confessedly not a duty. It commendeth you not to God : for neither if you make use of instruments are you the better, neither if you disuse them are you the worse : and seeing the use of them occasions offence to many serious minds, it ought to be relinquished.