By Rev. John Mackay. From the Free Presbyterian Magazine, July 1896.
IN this paper, I propose to state, in short compass, some of the reasons why our Church is opposed to instrumental music in public worship…
The discussion of this subject may be regarded as unimportant, if not ridiculous, by scoffers at religion, and such as God is not in all their thoughts. But the reflection that the question relates to the acceptable worship of the great God will at once lead those that fear His name to regard the matter from a much higher standpoint. In the worship of God, and especially in the singing of His praise, there is, on the part of the Church, a real approach to Him, and those who imagine that, under the New Testament, believers are left very much to the freedom of their own will as to how this approach may be made, must have forgotten that, to the New Testament Church, those most solemn words of the Spirit have been addressed: “Wherefore, we receiving a kingdom which cannot be moved, let us have grace whereby we may serve God acceptably, with reverence and godly fear; for our God is a consuming fire.” To approach God by a mediator is the most solemn exercise in which the Church of Christ can be engaged, and, as the fear of God obliges her to ascertain, with the utmost care, by what law such approach is regulated in the scriptures of truth, so having once ascertained it, the same fear obliges her to be careful to walk by that rule. “For we are not without law to God, but are under law to Christ.”
Is there, then, in the New Testament Scriptures any such law to regulate the service of praise? For proof that there is such a law, and that, by it, instrumental music is excluded from Christian worship, I am at present content to rely upon one notable passage: “By Him, therefore [that is, by Christ], let us offer the sacrifice of praise continually, that is, the fruit of our lips (Heb 13:15). From this passage, it is not more plain that the addition of the words of praise to “sacrifice” excludes, from the New Testament Church, the bloody offerings of the old economy, than that the definition of the sacrifice of praise, as “ the fruit of our lips,” shuts out, from the new economy, all such instrumental accompaniments as characterised the temple sacrifices. And thus, so to say, by one stroke of the pen, the apostle, under the inspiration of the Holy Ghost, has forever swept instrumental music out of those churches that would obey God’s will in all things.
The fact that such an expression, as we are now considering, occurs in the Epistle to the Hebrews, attaches to it an importance of its own. For no one can carefully read this epistle without [seeing that] the New Testament Church is now to take the place of the Old Testament ritual.
Thus, we conclude that the fear of God should induce churches, that employ the aid of instruments in their worshipping of God, to submit to the purity and simplicity that He enjoins, and that this same motive should lead those churches, that have cast out these earthly aids, to adhere to the position they have already taken up. But gratitude also to the God of salvation, this “expulsive power of a new affection” would, we are convinced, if the reasons of it were attended to, lead to the same results; and if the love of Christ, in its constraining power, were felt nowadays as in the days of the apostles, it would, among other things, reintroduce among us purity of worship. For however trite this discussion of instrumental music may seem to many, it really touches the springs of some of the Church’s deepest emotions and joys. It is as believers offer a sacrifice of praise that they are spoken of as a priesthood. It is by Christ this sacrifice is offered, and when He thus, in the midst of the congregation, sings praise unto God and the Father, He is exercising a priestly function. Thus, we see that the discussion of the Church’s song of praise joins, at once and directly, to the priesthood of Christ.
Under the Mosaic constitution, Israel offered gifts and sacrifices that could not make him, that did the service, perfect, as pertaining to the conscience, by means of priests that were not suffered to continue by reason of death. But under the new dispensation, believers offer the sacrifice of praise by a great High Priest that is passed into the heavens: Jesus the son of God. What source of joy this change of priesthood has been to the Church need scarcely be pointed out to anyone. It is one of the most common subjects of the New Testament Scriptures.
- “Glad tidings of great joy” it is called.
- “The law made nothing perfect, but the bringing in of a better hope did.”
- “If the blood of bulls and of goats, and the ashes of an heifer sprinkling the unclean, sanctifieth to the purifying of the flesh, how much more shall the blood of Christ, who, through the Eternal Spirit, offered Himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?”
Indeed, and as we ourselves think of this change of priesthood, and of all the most blessed and glorious results that accompanied that change, how can we forbear saying [with the Psalmist]:
My mouth the praises of the Lord to publish cease shall never,
Let all flesh bless His holy name for ever and for ever.”
Now, be it observed that, with this “change of priesthood there is of necessity a change also of the law” (Heb. 7:17) – that is, not of the moral law, but of the law by which the worship of God was regulated; and it is here that the priesthood of Christ, and the change of law that it brought along with it, touches the subject we are now discussing.
If we look at the narrative in 2 Chron 29:25-28, we find the law with regard to the use of music at the Old Testament sacrifices:
And he [Hezekiah] set the Levites in the house of the LORD with cymbals, with psalteries, and with harps, according to the commandment of David, and of Gad the king’s seer, and Nathan the prophet: for so was the commandment of the LORD by his prophets. And the Levites stood with the instruments of David, and the priests with the trumpets… And when the burnt offering began, the song of the LORD began also with the trumpets, and with the instruments ordained by David king of Israel. . . .and all this continued until the burnt offering was finished.”
But “with the change of priesthood there is of necessity a change also of the law ” (Heb 7:12) – and what that law is, as to how the Church should now offer the sacrifice of praise, we have already pointed out; vis.: “By Him, therefore, let us offer the sacrifice of praise unto God continually, that is, the fruit of our lips.”
Thus, we see that this change of law, by which New Testament worship is regulated, leads our thoughts, at once, to the change of priesthood that brought it about, and thus profoundest gratitude for that change renders the law, regulating our approach to the Most High by this Eternal Priest, a perfect law of liberty. Gratitude, we say, renders Christ’s yoke easy and His burden light. Surely, it was under the influence of an impulse such as this, for not only in the days of the apostles did the Church put on that purity and simplicity in worship, which is so well-known to have characterised that period, but for at least six centuries thereafter instrumental music, which was cast-out in the days of the apostles, continued unknown in the Christian Church. How can we explain, especially among a people accustomed in their temple service to instrumental music, such a sudden and complete change, save by the consideration that in this, the churches were moved, at once, by profoundest fear of the Most High, and by deepest gratitude to the God of their salvation?
It is important also to notice that, while it was during that period, when the real nature of Christ’s priesthood was lost sight of, that instrumental music first found a place in Christian Churches. Conversely, no sooner did the true idea of Christ’s priesthood dawn upon the Church at the Reformation, than the same motives of the fear of God and love of Christ, led the Church anew to delight in the change of law, which, as we have seen from Heb 13:15, followed the change of priesthood.
- Luther, we are told, reckoned organs among the ensigns of Baal.
- Calvin declares “that instrumental music is not fitter to be adopted into the public worship of the Christian Church, than the incense, the candlesticks, and the other shadows of the Mosaic Law.”
The opinion of John Knox, as is well known, was similar, and largely through the blessing of God upon his labours was the Church of Scotland, Reformation Churches-
All other realms, however sincere, that ever the doctrine that by some is taught, retain in their Churches and the ministry thereof some footsteps of Antichrist, and some dregs of Popery; but we (all praise to God above), have nothing within our Churches that ever flowed from the Man of Sin. And this we acknowledge to be the strength given us by God, because we esteemed not ourselves wise in our own eyes, but understanding our whole wisdom to be foolishness before the Lord our God, laid it aside and followed only that which we found approved by Himself. In this point could never our enemies cause us to faint, for our first petition was ‘that the revered face of the primitive and apostolic Church’ should be reduced again to the eyes and knowledge of men.” (Knox’s History of the Reformation)
Of how many of the churches of Scotland, one may well ask, would John Knox now certify that they have nothing within them that ever flowed from the Man of Sin?
And as the fear of God, who has enjoined upon his people an explicit law in the matter of their sacrifice of praise, and the love Christ, who has made this yoke a pleasure and a delight, ought to lead the churches to exclude instrumental music from their worship, so we think the signs of the times ought to lead the churches to be most careful to keep it excluded. We have already pointed out that it was only when with the appearance of the Man of Sin, that the impulse, which had moved the Church at the beginning to throw away the beggarly elements of the Mosaic ritual, had been forgotten, that instrumental music began first of all to be used in Christian churches. At the Reformation, the Beast (Revelation 13, which we understand to be none other than the Man of Sin and Popery) was wounded with a deadly wound by the sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God. But among the many things which, in the Book of Revelation, we are told “must shortly come to pass,” one is this: the deadly wound must be healed. And when that wound is healed, “all that dwell upon the earth shall worship him, whose names are not written in the Book of Life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world” (Rev 13:8). “If any man have an ear, let him hear” (Rev 13:9).
And blind indeed are those who cannot observe that that healing process is rapidly progressing in these days. Space forbids reference to the many evidences there are of this. Very solemn as well as sad, in connection with this fulfilling of the Scriptures, does the reflection appear that, humanly speaking, it was through the influence of churches that were only half reformed from the beginning, that this healing of the wound has been rendered possible. For the dregs of Popery, retained in half [of the] reformed churches at the Reformation, have, as leaven, tended ever since to make those half-reformed churches more and more like Rome. And further: churches which, to begin with, were pure have been ready to imitate [the] half reformed churches, and thereby to fall away from that apostolic purity they had attained to; while, in all likelihood, if those dregs of Popery had been confined to the Church of Rome, wholly reformed churches would never have the daring thus far to imitate the latter. But the leaven will work until the deadly wound is healed, for the Scripture must be fulfilled. Only those that are written in the Book of Life of the Lamb, slain from the foundation of the world, shall not worship the Beast or receive his mark on their forehead. And as we should be anxious that, so far as we can help it, that wound may always be not a healed, but an open wound, so ought we to be careful not to receive any of the characteristics of the Beast; and that such is instrumental music in the worship of God, we have shown.