By Adam Clarke
ALL intelligent beings are especially
called to praise Him who made them in his love, and sustains them by
his beneficence. Man particularly, in all the stages of his being,
infancy, youth, manhood, and old age; all human beings have their
peculiar interest in the great Father of the spirits of all flesh:
he loves man, wheresoever found, of whatsoever colour, in whatever
circumstances, and in all the stages of his pilgrimage from his
cradle to his grave. Let the lisp of the infant, the shout of the
adult, and the sigh of the aged, ascend to the universal Parent, as
a gratitude- offering. He guards those who hang upon the breast;
controls and directs the headstrong and the giddy; and sustains old
age in its infirmities, and sanctifies to it the sufferings that
bring on the termination of life. Reader, this is thy God! how
great! how good! how merciful! how compassionate! Breathe thy soul
up to him; breathe it into him, and let it be preserved in his
bosom, till mortality be swallowed up of life, and all that is
imperfect be done away! Jesus is thy sacrificial offering: Jesus is
thy mediator: he has taken thy humanity, and placed it on the
throne! He creates all things new; and faith in his blood will bring
thee to his glory! Amen! Hallelujah.
Were I like Mohammed's feigned angel, having to my lot seventy thousand heads, each actuated by as many tongues, and each of these uttering seventy thousand distinct voices, with my present ideas of the divine Being, I should think their eternal vibrations in his praise an almost no-tribute to a God immeasurably good! And yet, where am I going? I have but one tongue, and that speaks but very inexpressively; the choicest blessings of heaven are given unto me, and how, how seldom, comparatively, is it used in showing forth his excellency, or acknowledging how deep his debtor I am! Omy God! what reason have I to be ashamed and confounded? But thou wilt have mercy. Again: I discover that God can only be viewed in the above light through God made man, that is, manifested in the flesh; and this sets forth the Redeemer in the most amiable and absolutely important point of view. God through him is altogether lovely! But remove this medium, and this my beautiful system is lost in chaos, in the twinkling of an eye. Glory be to God for Christ! Amen.
God is to receive praise in reference to that attribute which he has exhibited most in the defence or salvation of his followers. Sometimes he manifests his power; sometimes his mercy; sometimes his wisdom, his long-suffering, his fatherly care, his good providence, his holiness, his justice, his truth, &c. Whatever attribute or perfection he exhibits most, that should be the chief subject of his children's praise. One wants teaching, prays for it, and is deeply instructed; he will naturally celebrate the wisdom of God. Another feels himself beset with the most powerful adversaries, with the weakest of whom he is not able to cope; he cries to the almighty God for strength; he is heard, and strengthened with strength in his soul: he therefore will naturally magnify the all-conquering power of the Lord: another feels himself lost—condemned—on the brink of hell; he calls for mercy; is heard, and saved: mercy, therefore, will be the chief subject of his praise, and the burden of his song.
The deliverance of mariners from imminent danger, and in a way which clearly shows the divine interposition, demands not only gratitude of heart, and the tongue of praise, at the end of the storm; but when they come to shore, they should publicly acknowledge it in the congregation of God's people. I have been often pleased, when in seaport towns, to see and hear notes sent to the minister from pious sailors, returning thanks to the Almighty for preservation from shipwreck; and, in general, from the dangers of the sea; and for bringing them back in safety to their own port. Thus "they exalt the Lord in the congregation, and praise him in the assembly of the elders."
Though I never hail a personal quarrel with the singers in any place, yet I have never known one case, where there was a choir of singers, that they did not make disturbance in the societies. And it would be much better in every case, and in every respect, to employ a precentor, or a person to raise the tunes; and then the congregation would learn to sing, the purpose of singing would be accomplished, every mouth would confess to God, and a horrible evil would be prevented—the bringing together in the house of God, and making them the almost only instruments of celebrating his praises, such a company of gay, airy, giddy, and ungodly men and women as are generally grouped in such choirs; for voice and skill must be had, let decency of behaviour and morality be where they will. Every thing must be sacrificed to a good voice, in order to make the choir complete and respectable. Many scandals have been brought into the church of God by choirs and their accompaniments. Why do not the Methodist preachers lay this to heart?
The singing which is recommended, Col. iii, 16, is widely different from what is commonly used in most Christian congregations; a congeries of unmeaning sounds, associated to bundles of nonsensical and often ridiculous repetitions, which at once both deprave and disgrace the church of Christ. Melody, which is allowed to be the most proper for devotional music, is now sacrificed to an exuberant harmony, which requires not only many different kinds of voices, but different musical instruments to support it. And by these preposterous means the simplicity of the Christian worship is destroyed, and all edification totally prevented. And this kind of singing is amply proved to be very injurious to the personal piety of those employed in it: even of those who enter with a considerable share of humility and Christian meekness, how few continue to sing with grace in their hearts unto the Lord!
It does appear that singing psalms or spiritual hymns was one thing that was implied in what is termed prophesying, in the Old Testament, as is evident from I Sam. x, 5, 6, 10, &c. And when this came through an immediate afflatus, or inspiration of God, there is no doubt that it was exceedingly edifying; and must have served greatly to improve and excite the devotional spirit of all that were present. But I rather suppose that their singing consisted in solemn, well measured recitative, than in the jingling and often foolish sounds which we use when a single monosyllable is sometimes shivered into a multitude of semiquavers!
Here it may not be improper to remark, that the spirit and the understanding are seldom united in our congregational singing. Those whose hearts are right with God have generally no skill in music; and those who are well skilled in music have seldom a devotional spirit, but are generally proud, self-willed, contentious, and arrogant. Do not these persons entirely overrate themselves? Of all the liberal arts, surely music is the least useful, however ornamental it may be. And should any thing be esteemed in the church of God but in proportion to its utility. A good singer among the people of God, who has not the life of God in his soul, is vox et praeterea nihil, as Heliogabalus said of the nightingale's brains, on which he desired to sup, "He is nothing but a sound." Some of those persons, I mean those who sing with the understanding without the spirit, suppose themselves of great consequence in the church of Christ; and they find foolish superficial people whom they persuade to be of their own mind, and soon raise parties and contentions, if they have not every thing their own way; and that way is generally as absurd as it is unscriptural and contrary to the spirit and simplicity of the gospel.
It is very likely that the singing of the Jews was only a kind of recitative or chanting, such as we still find in the synagogues. It does not appear that God had especially appointed these singers, much less any musical instruments, the silver trumpets excepted, to be employed in his service. Musical instruments in the house of God are, at least, under the gospel, repugnant to the spirit of Christianity, and tend not a little to corrupt the worship of God. Those who are fond of music in the theatre are fond of it in the house of God, when they go thither; and some, professing Christianity, set up such a spurious worship, in order to draw people to hear the gospel. This is doing evil, that good may come of it; and, by this means, light and trifling people are introduced into the church of Christ; and, when in, are generally very troublesome, hard to be pleased, and difficult to be saved.
Did ever God ordain instruments of music to be used in his worship? Can they be used in Christian assemblies according to the spirit of Christianity? Has Jesus Christ, or his apostles, ever commanded orsanctioned the use of them? Were they ever used anywhere in the apostolic church? Does the use of them at present, in Christian congregations, ever increase the spirit of devotion? Does it ever appear that hands of musicians, either in their collective or individual capacity, are more spiritual, or as spiritual, as the other parts of the church of Christ? Is there more pride, self-will, stubbornness, insubordination, lightness, and frivolity, among such persons, than among the other professors of Christianity found in the same religious society? Is it ever remarked or known that musicians, in the house of God, have ever attained to any depth of piety, or superior soundness of understanding, in the things of God? Is it ever found that those churches and Christian societies which have and use instruments of music in divine worship, are more holy, or as holy, as those societies which do not use them? And is it always found that the ministers who affect and recommend them to be used in the worship of almighty God, are the most spiritual men, and the most spiritual and useful preachers? Can mere sounds, no matter how melodious, where no word or sentiment is or can be uttered, be considered as giving praise to God? Is it possible that pipes or strings of any kind can give God praise? Can God be pleased with sounds which are emitted by no sentient being, and have in themselves no meaning? If these questions cannot be answered in the affirmative, then is not the introduction of such instruments into the worship of God antichristian, calculated to debase and ultimately ruin the spirit and influences of the gospel of Jesus Christ? And should not all who wish well to the spread and establishment of pure and undefiled religion lift up their hand, their influence, and their voice against them? The argument from their use in the Jewish service is futile in the extreme, when applied to Christianity.
In a representative system of religion, such as the Jewish, there must have been much outside work, all emblematical of better things; no proof that such things should be continued under the gospel dispensation, where outsides have disappeared, shadows flown away, and the substance alone is presented to the hearts of mankind. He must be ill off for proofs in favour of instrumental music in the church of Christ, who has recourse to practices under the Jewish ritual!
Moses had not appointed any musical instruments to be used in the divine worship; there was nothing of the kind under the first tabernacle. The trumpets, or horns, then used, were not for song, nor for praise, but, as we use bells, to give notice to the congregation of what they were called to perform, &c. But David did certainly introduce many instruments of music into God's worship; for which, we have already seen, he was solemnly reproved by the Prophet Amos, chap. vi, 1-6. Here, however, the author of this book states he had the commandment of the Prophet Nathan, and Gad, the king's seer; and this is stated to have been the commandment of the Lord by his prophets. But the Syriac and Arabic give this a different turn: "Hezekiah appointed the Levites in the house of the Lord, with instruments of music, and the sound of harps, and with the hymns of David, and the hymns of Gad, the king's prophet; for David sang the praises of the Lord his God, as from the mouth of the prophets." It was by the hand or commandment of the Lord and his prophets, that the Levites should praise the Lord; for so the Hebrew text may be understood; and it was by the order of David that so many instruments of music should be introduced into the divine service. But were it even evident, which it is not, either from this or any other place in the sacred writings, that instruments of music were prescribed by divine authority under the law, could this he adduced with any semblance of reason that they ought to be used in Christian worship? No, the whole spirit, soul, and genius of the Christian religion are against this; and those who know the church of God best, and what constitutes its genuine spiritual state, know that these things have been introduced as a substitute for the life and power of religion, and that where they prevail most there is least of the power of Christianity. Away with such portentous bawbles from the worship of that infinite Spirit who requires his followers to worship him in spirit and in truth! for to no such worship are those instruments friendly.
I have no doubt but the gross perversion of the simplicity of Christian worship, by the introduction of various instruments of music into churches and chapels, if not a species of idolatry, will at least rank with will-worship and superstitious rites and ceremonies. Where the Spirit and unction of God do not prevail in Christian assemblies, priests and people being destitute of both, their place, by general consent, is to be supplied by imposing ceremonies, noise, and show.
The Church of Rome, in every country where it either prevails or exists, has so blended a pretended Christian devotion with heathenish and Jewish rites and ceremonies, two parts of which are borrowed from pagan Rome, the third from the Jewish ritual ill understood, and grossly misrepresented, and the fourth part from other corruptions of the Christian system. Nor is the Protestant church yet fully freed from a variety of matters in public worship which savours little of that simplicity and spirituality which should ever designate the worship of that infinitely pure Spirit who cannot be pleased with any thing incorporated with his worship that has not been prescribed by himself, and has not a direct tendency to lead the heart from earth and sensual things to heaven, and to that holiness without which none shall see the Lord. The singing, as it is practised in several places, and the heathenish accompaniments of organs and musical instruments of various sorts, are as contrary to the simplicity of the gospel, and the spirituality of that worship which God requires, as darkness is contrary to light. And if these abuses are not corrected, I believe the time is not far distant when singing will cease to be a part of the divine worship. It is now, in many places, such as cannot be said to be any part of that worship which is in spirit and according to truth. May God mend it!
Charles Wesley, A.M., was the best Christian poet in reference to hymnology that has flourished in either ancient or modern times. The hymns used in the religious services of the Methodists were composed principally by him; and such a collection exists not among any other people. Most collections among other sects of Christians are indebted to his compositions for some of their principal excellences.