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Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature

Music, Instrumental

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As there are many Christians who hold that the use of instrumental music in the sacred services of the Church does not find its warrant in the New- Testament Scriptures, we here append an article on this negative position. We add a few arguments on the affirmative. Following so closely after the historical discussion furnished above, the inquiring student will be .the better able to judge for himself whether instrumentals can be used in Christian worship.

I. Against the use of instruments in Christian churches the following reasons may be urged:

1. There is no warrant in the New Testament for their use.

(a) There is no example of such by Peter, Paul, John, James, or the Master himself, nor by any others in the apostolic age; nor have we any in the first three centuries; nor until the mystery of iniquity was strongly at work.

(b) We have no command either to make or to use them. It is claimed that ψάλλοντες in Ephesians 5:19 requires playing on strings; but that is expressly declared to be done in the heart. (See in a following paragraph.)

(c) We find no directions, formal or incidental, for their use; while we have line upon line about singing - what to sing, when to sing, how to sing.

2. Instruments were not used in the worship of the ancient synagogue. They belonged to the tabernacle and the Temple, especially the latter; but were never in the congregational assemblies of God's people. The trumpet and other loud instruments were used in the synagogue, not to accompany the psalm, but in celebrating certain feasts (Leviticus 25:9; Numbers 10:10; Psalms 81:3). There was a feast of trumpets (Leviticus 23:24; Numbers 29:1). They were used for proclamation, in going to war, in moving the camps, in assembling the congregations, as well as in triumphs, coronations, and other extraordinary occasions (Numbers 10:1-10; Leviticus 25:9; 1 Kings 1:34; Joel 2:1; Jeremiah 6:1, et al.). Such celebrations resembled our day of Independence, but were much more devotional, and withal ceremonial in their meaning. Conrad Iken tells us that the Sabbathday was introduced with blowing trumpets at the synagogues six times. At the first blast they dropped the instruments of husbandry, and returned home from the field. This was on Friday evening, as we call it. At the second blast they closed all offices, shops, and places of business. At the third blast pots were removed from the fire, and culinary occupation was suspended. The other three blowings were to designate the line between common and sacred time. All of these uses, though connected with the worship, were entirely different from the psalmody in which they were used at the Temple: but

(a) No hint is given in Old Testament or New that instruments were ever used in the synagogue worship.

(b) Orthodox Jews do not allow the organ or any other instrument in their synagogues; only Reformed or Liberal Jews have introduced the organ and many other innovations.

(c) Archaeologists (Prideaux, Jahn, Calmet, Townsend, etc.) make no mention of instruments in the worship, while they describe minutely the furniture of the synagogue; and Hahn particularly notices the singing of the doxologies, such as Psalms 72:18; Psalms 68:1; Psalms 96:6; and Psalms 113:1. Iken gives four doxologies for the Sabbath, but no organ or harp.

3. The early Reformers, when they came out of Rome, removed them as the monuments of idolatry. Luther called the organ an ensign of Baal; Calvin said that instrumental music was not fitter to be adopted into the Christian Church than the incense and the candlestick; Knox called the organ a kist [chest] of whistles. The Church of England revived them, against a very strong protest, and the English dissenters would not touch them.

4. The instruments of the former economy were ceremonial. This is probably the chief reason for their use in the Temple. They were not merely figurative, like bread, water, wine, light; nor merely typical, like Isaac, David, Solomon, and the manna; they were figurative, typical, and ceremonial, as appears thus:

(a) They depended largely on the priesthood. The trumpet was the leading instrument-master of the whole; this belonged exclusively to the priests (Numbers 10:8-9; Numbers 31:6; Joshua 6:4; 2 Chronicles 13:12; 2 Chronicles 13:14). The smaller instruments belonged to the Levites, whose station was adjoining the priests (1 Chronicles 23:28; 1 Chronicles 25:1-8). In the worship, as well as in celebrations, both were combined (1 Kings 1:39-40; 1 Chronicles 15:14-28; 2 Chronicles 5:12, et al.). Thus all were made to depend on the priesthood.

(b) They were combined over the sacrifices (see especially Numbers 10:10; Numbers 29:1-2, etc.; 1 Chronicles 15:26; 2 Chronicles 7:5-6; 2 Chronicles 29:26-28; 2 Chronicles 30:21, etc.; Ezra 3:4-5; Ezra 3:10-11; Nehemiah 12:43; comp. Nehemiah 12:27; Nehemiah 12:35-36; Nehemiah 12:41; Nehemiah 12:45-47).

(c) They belonged to the national worship of the peculiar people (Exodus 15:20; 2 Samuel 6:5; 2 Samuel 6:15): "All the house of Israel" (1 Chronicles 13:5; 1 Chronicles 13:8; 1 Chronicles 15:3; 1 Chronicles 15:28; 2 Kings 3:13-15; Psalms 68:25). So it had been arranged from the first (1 Chronicles 25:1-8), and so carried out to the last (Nehemiah 12:45). Incidental events, as well as set forms, show the same connection: the "company" in 1 Samuel 10:5 were coming down from the high-place, and those in Isaiah 30:29 are going up to it. David's individual harp was like his songs, a preparation for the Temple; and the incident of 2 Kings 3:15 was a national affair. Hence

(d), even when introduced as symbols in the Apocalypse, they are grouped with their usual ceremonial accompaniments. Trumpets are not there presented as part of the music, though prominent for other uses. 'The "harpers" have their "vials full of odors," stand with the Lamb that had been slain, are on the sea of glass, and sing the song of Moses and the Lamb. They have their Mount Zion, their twelve tribes, their city of Jerusalem, their Temple and its pillars, their seven candlesticks, ark of the covenant, altar of incense, golden censer, pot of manna, cherubim, white robes, palm-branches, with other things which have passed awav together; according to Hebrews 7:12, "The priesthood being changed, there is made, ἐξ ἀνάγκης (of necessity), a change also of the law." The use valid use of all these things ceased when Christ yielded up his spirit on the cross. The very sanctum sanctorum was thrown open when the veil was rent. The Christian Church carried her singing not from the Temple, but from the synagogue. (See SYNAGOGUE).

5. Instrumental music is inconspatible with directions for singing given in the N.T.

(a) Hebrews 13:15 : "Let us offer the sacrifice of praise, that is, the fruit of the lips." This exhortation is given in terms of the O.T. (Psalms 50:14; Psalms 69:30-31; Psalms 116:17; Hosea 14:2, Sept.), yet the formal definition of praise makes it the production of the lips, not of the organ.

(b) Ephesians 5:19 : "Singing and making melody (ψάλλοντες, touching the chords) in the heart to the Lord." Praise requires more than the mere " talk of the lips" (Proverbs 14:23); but the accompaniment is not an instrument in the hand, but a living organ of some sort.

(c) Colossians 3:16 : "Singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord." In this passage "grace" answers exactly to ψάλλοντες "touching the chords" in the heart; both passages harmonize in requiring something besides the voice, as do many others. But that something is not a machine in the hand. What is it? What was symbolized by all these cymbals, organs, harps, trumpets these "things without life giving sound?" The general idea of Christian people is that they all were intended to represent grace in the heart the working of a regenerated soul in gratitude to God. Hence the martyr's exclamation, "O for a well-tuned harp!" and the prayers of godly people for their hearts to be put in "tune." John Bunyan's account of Mr. Fearing, who was always playing on the base, with many such allusions, chime in exactly with the whole idea of acceptable worship (John 4:24, "in spirit and in truth;" 1 Corinthians 14:15, "I will sing with the spirit").

This idea is supported by the following considerations:

(a) In the passages above cited "grace" in one answers to "melody" in the other, and both are in the heart.

(b) This "melody," this "grace," is different from the "singing" superadded to the "fruit of the lips."

(c) The "harps" hold the same relation to praise that the vials of "odors" do to prayer. 1 Corinthians 14:15 : "I will pray with the spirit" (Psalms 141:2; Revelation 5:8; Revelation 8:3-4).

(d) They are eminently adapted to represent "grace" in a variety of aspects. Take the following (with the trumpet as used in proclamation we have no concern here, but with the instruments of praise):

(1) They represent grace as it deals with the deepest moving of the affections, both in sorrow and joy. In Isaiah 15, 16 we have the workings of pity, even to hopeless commiseration, winding up with this: "My bowels shall sound like a harp for Moab;" and like expresions, 63, 15; Jeremiah 4:19; Jeremiah 48:36; Jeremiah 31:20, margin; comp. Jeremiah 31:4 with Job 17:6. They combine the deepest mixture of sorrow and joy (Genesis 31:27; Ezra 3:10). The change of feeling is sometimes very sudden (Job 30:31; 1 Chronicles 13:8-11; Revelation 18:19-22). The same sound will give sorrow to one and joy to another at the same time (1 Samuel 18:6-9; Psalms 96:9-13; Psalms 98:6-9, with Revelation 1:7).

(2) They represent the countless variety of gracious experiences, with their wide range of degrees and imperfections, from Bunyan's "Mr. Fearing" up through tenor, alto, and treble, with leger-line above the clouds (2 Timothy 4:6-8). The combinations of musical notes amount to millions of millions. The harp of a thousand strings is a low approximation to playing on the chords of the heart to the Lord.

(3) They represent grace especially in its pleasurable aspects-pleasing and being pleased (Psalms 92:1-4). Godly sorrow is real sorrow; the harp has a solemn sound when played on the base. Still the power predominating, both in music and in grace, is joy (Revelation 14:3; Revelation 15:3). During the battle, long before the triumph, the tabret and harp are heard amid the din of war (Isaiah 30:32). The believer is sometimes a captive, and then he suspends his harp on the willow, because for the time he has no joy (Psalms 137:2). In every case short of this he can joyfully touch the chords in the heart (Isaiah 38:20; Habakkuk 3:17-19).

(4) They represent all this grace in the heart as something that has been put there (Psalms 4:7). The natural melody of the soul is lost in the fall the strings are broken: "Ye must be born again." The Ethiopian treasurer, when born of water and of the Spirit, went on his way rejoicing. Spiritual joy is not natural, but gracious; neither is it unnatural, it fits the place; it is supernatural, restoring the soul to its original, and with greater security (Isaiah 35:10, "Everlasting joy upon their heads"). Ezekiel 28:13 gives some insight into this matter: "The workmanship of thy tabrets and of thy pipes," etc. There is textual difficulty here of no ordinary breadth; but whether the personage addressed be Ithobal, or Adam, or Abaddon, it illustrates the case in hand; each had the power of music concreated with him especially Lucifer, son of the morning. There was a time when the morning-stars sang together, Apollyon with the rest. Such tabrets and pipes must have been of a spiritual nature, as they were of exquisite "workmanship" (Ephesians 2:10, "We are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works;" so also Galatians 6:15; Galatians 5:6). The new creation produces the faith which works by love, and harmonizes the music of Moses and the Lamb (Psalms 119:54; Psalms 40:8; Romans 7:22; Hebrews 10:9). The renewed soul sings that song which no other can learn. Such a one has the melody belonging to instruments of very honorable name (1 Chronicles 16:42; 2 Chronicles 7:6; Revelation 15:2; Isaiah 38:20; Habakkuk 3:19; Psalms 57:7, "My heart is prepared I will sing and ψαλ῝ῶ," Sept.).

(5) They represent grace in its perfection-the sublimity of heavenly joy. Light has its own kind of sublimity; hence we read of "the inheritance of the saints in light." Light reveals objects at a distance; music carries us away. Music is incomplete unless voice and harp go together. Ezekiel's mellifluous oratory could not be illustrated by the one without the other (Ezekiel 33:32). The Temple music represented very fitly the joy of that house where the sweet Singer will preside, the glory of which eye hath not seen nor ear heard; it is "reserved;" yet it is "prepared" for them that love him; where song and harp and organ blend with sweet odors; while they sweep the chords of the heart to the Lord.

II. In favor of Instrumental Music for Churches, it may be replied that the above considerations, however plausible in general and often beautiful in sentiment, are rather speculative than logical. But more particularly, it is not sufficient to show that such performances were not customary or known in the sacred services of the primitive Christians; if we would authoritatively exclude them, it must be proved that the N.T. positively forbids, or by direct implication discountenances them. There are many practices of modern times which are perfectly lawful, proper, expedient, and edifying, which were not known in the earliest days of Christianity. Such an argument would reprobate Sunday-schools and numerous well- approved institutions of the present day. Our Savior and his apostles purposely left all these immaterial questions and detailed arrangements discretionary with the Church, and it is best they should so remain. Times change, and religious observances, where not absolutely prescribed, must be modified accordingly.

We might justly add, under this head, that there is no positive proof, after all, that instrumental music did not in any case accompany the songs of the early Christians. The evidence a silentio is always insecure. Indeed the reasoning above is not altogether conclusive on this very point. The presumption is certainly the other way, for it can hardly be presumed that persons who had always been accustomed to associate instrumental music with the services of the sanctuary as was the case at least with the Hebrews, who formed the nucleus and dominant element of the infant Church would have suddenly and totally abjured this delightful and inspiring part of divine worship under a new economy, unless there had been some express prohibition or absolute incompatibility respecting it. On the contrary, such an accompaniment has been found in all ages a decided stimulus to devotion, and a powerful auxiliary to the strains of vocal melody. It is so congenial with the spirit of Christianity that the most remarkable and sublime efforts of genius in this field have been those of Christian composers and Christian performers.

Finally, therefore, to interdict these concomitants of congregational worship is a mistake savoring of asceticism and iconoclasm. It is, moreover, a scientific blunder, as well as an aesthetic degeneration. If the O.T. saint could profitably employ instrumental music as a means of grace, why should it be denied the Christian? If David's soul took wing with celestial vigor as he strung his lyre in accord with his devout lays, why may not the modern saint refresh his soul with the ravishing harmonies of the organ? The immortal productions of Mozart and others require the full orchestra to bring out their grandest effects, and even the ordinary songs of the Church are greatly enhanced in their power over the heart when properly accompanied from the choir. The human voice itself is but one instrument of music; and the experience of the truest and purest believers in every age, whether in high or low condition, has attested the healthful and edifying influence of instrumental symphony, when duly subjected as a handmaid to sacred lyrics and vocal execution.

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These files are public domain.

Bibliography Information
McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Music, Instrumental'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.

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