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Against Musical Instruments in Public Worship
by R. L. Dabney
Transcribed and slightly edited by Chris Coldwell—forThe Blue Banner Web site, home of the Blue Banner Newsletter; The First Presbyterian Church of Rowlett, TX; and The Westminster Forum, moderated by Pastor Richard Bacon. This article is © 1996 by The Blue Banner.
- Letter to the editor, Watchman And Observer, Richmond VA, February 22, 1849.
- Review of Dr. John L. Girardeau'sInstrumental Music in Public Worship.
From the Watchman And Observer, Richmond VA
February 22, 1849, Volume IV, No. 28.
Mr. Editor.—I have been pleased to see in your paper, some discussion on the use of organs in church-music. This subject cannot be regarded as one, affecting the fundamentals of religious truth; but it has its importance, especially as a symptom of the spiritual state and opinions of our churches. And it is well that the views of Presbyterians should be digested and settled on some rational principles, before the silent tide of Fashion has swept them all into an imitation of a thing alien to their institutions.
It has always been common among the advocates of this Popish mode of worship, to meet the objections of simple minded Protestants to the organ, with the retort that their scruples were the relics of fanatical prejudice, and rustic ignorance. Such objections have been treated almost with levity and ridicule, as if they were contrary to taste, refinement and light, although the reading world knows, that they decided the minds of the wisest and most learned Reformers; the fathers of Protestantism. The sensible and just remarks of "Inquirer," in a late number of your paper, under the modest form of doubts, have presented objections to the organ, too solid, too rational, and pious to be thus lightly treated. They cannot fail of having some effect on every evangelical mind. It is not my purpose to attempt to do again, whatInquirer has done so well, by stating the scriptural and historical objections to the use of this instruments, in Protestant worship. But my object is to vindicate the great body of the Protestant church, and the Fathers of Protestantism, from the charge of ill taste, rudeness and blind prejudice, in their opposition. It is not strange that men, such as the present advocates of the organ in Presbyterian churches in America, should bring such a charge against such men; many of them educated amidst the richest specimens of the fine arts in the old world, their youth imbued with the spirit of a gorgeous and poetic age? Is it not rather queer, that the ephemeral aristocracy of our trading towns, whose high life took its rise between the stilts of the plough, or behind the tradesman's counter, only a generation or two back, who perhaps, never saw or heard an instrument that deserved to be called an organ, and whose taste would not suffice to distinguish a painting of the greatest masters, from the efforts of our peripatetic portrait-takers in these backwoods, or to discern between the eccentric voluntaries of one of our boarding-school misses, elevated into a temporary organist, and a symphony of Handel, should be charging rusticityon such men as the Reformers and founders of Protestant churches. Men educated amidst the splendors of the fine arts, in the Augustan age of Popery, and accomplished with all the polite learning of their age? My purpose is to retort the charge of bad taste on the advocates of organs, and to show that their introduction into Protestant worship is incongruous with its spirit, and contrary to the true principles of musical science, and musical taste.
The music of an organ may be appropriate to Popish worship, and may be in good taste in a Popish cathedral; and yet may be in wretchedly ill taste, when applied to Protestant worship. All will admit, that to imitate blindly, the fashions of the higher classes, without regard to those considerations of fitness, which render them appropriate and tasteful in those whom we follow, is the plainest mark of false taste and vulgarity. For example; we may be informed that Queen Victoria wears, with her evening dress, the thinnest slippers of white Satin. The young miss who should therefore conclude, that her feet would be appropriately arrayed in similar shoes, for a ride on horseback, through our country mud, to one of our country churches, would display a ludicrous instance of false taste. We may be told that Prince Albert sports no boots but those radiant with patent varnish, in St. James' Park. To adopt a similar article for hunting or walking boots, to traverse the mud of Virginia, would be a piece of vulgar imitation, unworthy of any one, above the sablebeaux, who, in the streets of Richmond, so successfully ape, and even out-do, the distinguishing characteristics of the "Distingues."
Now these are just illustrations of the false taste shown by the Protestant church, when she apes Popery, in the use of the organ. The instrument is appropriate to the spirit of papal worship; but there is an essential difference between that worship and ours, which makes our blind use of their favorite instrument, a most unfortunate instance of vulgar imitation. Popish worship is addressed to the senses, and the imagination through the senses. According to the Papists' own theory of his worship, the mass is a grand Action. It is all in an unknown tongue; but this matters not: he asserts that even though there were not an articulate word pronounced in any language, the solemn drama would convey its instructions to the heart, through the genuflections, the pantomime, the adoration of the priests, and the varying harmonies of the music. Their theory of church music is just the same. The hymns are in an unknown language: if the worshipper heard every syllable articulated, he would not understand the ideas that are sung, nor does it matter that he should. The sentiment of devotion is conveyed sufficiently, by the character of the music.
But the theory of Protestant religious music is, or ought to be, essentially different. We appeal to the understanding and to those intelligent emotions, which are produced by the understanding on the heart. We sing articulate, intelligent words, in a familiar language, conveying to every hearer, instructive ideas and elevating sentiments. The articulation of words sung, is the very essence and soul of our musical worship. We recognize the music only as an accessory, to aid in impressing the ideas it accompanies; for we do not believe there is any more religion in the sensations of melody and harmony, separately considered, than in the posture of the declaimer. We conceive that it is only by accompanying intelligent religious ideas, that they can produce any religious effect. The scripture represents religious music as the vehicle of religious instruction, and imply the necessity of distinct articulation. "I will sing with the spirit, and I will sing with the understandingalso, else when thou shall bless with the spirit, how shall he that occupieth the room of the unlearned, say Amen at they giving of thanks—seeing he understandeth not what thou sayest:" lst Corinthians 14; 15 and 16. "Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishingone another in psalms, and hymns, and spiritual songs"—Col. 3:16. These passages fully sustain the assertion that religious music, to be scriptural,must contain intelligible articulate words, conveying some pious instruction or emotion.
Now then, we assert that this essential difference between the theory and spirit of Popish church music and Protestant, makes the organ an unfit and ill-judged accompaniment for our vocal religious songs: although it is appropriate and well chosen for the purpose of Papists. —Those who advocate the use of the organ must submit to the charge of blind, unscientific imitation; or they must adopt the kind of music which Rome uses, appealing only to the ear, inarticulate, and uninstructive, and utterly foreign to the intention of the scriptures. The latter thing is, indeed, partly done, in practice, in all Protestant churches, where this instrument is used.
To evince the justice of the charge of false taste, just made, it remains to point out, in what respects, the organ is inconsistent with the spirit and character of scriptural church music. And first; none who are familiar with the use of the organ, can be so hardy as to deny, that it is unfavorable to distinct articulation, which is the very essential of religious music. It is the most overpowering of all accompaniments to vocal music, and most effectually obliterates the distinctions of articulate sound. For himself the writer would affirm that he never, in a single instance, heard an organ used, when he could catch a single connected sentiment of what was sung, except so far as reading of the hymn before the singing, assisted his memory. And it may be fearlessly asserted, that the use of an organ utterly disappoints that, which is the grand purpose of religious music, the comprehension of the sentences sung, with the majority of hearers. Is not this a fatal objection to its use, with any man who values sense more than sound, the kernel more than the shell?
Second: The organ is incapable of accentuation. The alternate notes played upon it cannot receive any variety of ictus or force, as should be the case in all music. The rhythm of English poetry depends entirely on the occurrence of accented and unaccented syllables, in a certain order. In reading it, the emphasis, or ictus of the voice must fall on the alternate syllables, intended to receive it. To neglect this rule, and to pronounce the syllables indiscriminately with equal force, would convert the most spirited lines of Scott or Burns, into an intolerable drawl. Now, this rhythm is equally essential in poetry, when sung. The alternate notes, corresponding with the accented syllables of the metre, must receive a heavier or stronger tone. To neglect this, in singing, is as insufferable to a cultivated musical ear, as the neglect of the accentuation in reading poetry, would be to the elocutionists. These are assertions which no man can dare to dispute, without condemning himself, as the crudest of sciolists in musical knowledge. And it is equally undeniable, that the organ is utterly incapable of giving any expression to this ictus or accent; for the plain reason, that the force of the tone depends on the operations of the bellows-blower, or the character of thestop used, and not on the force of the performer's touch upon the key. Hence the music of an organ, although it may have a certain kind of solemnity, can never be spirited. It is only rescued from the character of drawling, by the power and fullness of its tones. To use it as an accompaniment to vocal music, is death to the spirit and expression of the poetry which is sung.
Third: The organ, like all other instruments with fixed stops to mark off the tones of the scale, gives those tones inaccurately; and when used along with that perfect instrument of God's own make, the human voice, must fail in producing a perfect accord, and perfect harmonies. This will be confirmed by any scientific organist.
The long drawn peals of harmony which proceed from this instrument echoing through lofty arches, and the fullness and volume of its sound, may render it suitable to the purpose of Popish ecclesiastical theatricals. But we assert, for the reasons above, that it is utterly unsuited, ill judged, and in ill taste, as an accompaniment for vocal music, intended to be articulate, and expressive of intelligible ideas. We assert it purely on principles of musical taste, apart from historical or theological objections. We retort the charge of rusticity on the advocates of organs in Protestant worship, and assert that this application of this accompaniment, regardless of the difference of circumstances, and the natural incongruities of the things, is the true breach of enlightened taste, and the true exhibition of prejudice.
There is a fact in the musical world, to which we can appeal for practical confirmation of the principles of taste laid down. The modern Opera is more of an Action and a Pantomime, than the religious music of Protestants was intended to be; though less so than the Mass. —The plot of the play is exhibited, partly by scenery and pantomimes, and partly by words set to music and sung articulately. Its nature is, therefore, not so totally foreign to that of the organ, as the nature of Protestant sacred music which depends wholly on articulation to convey its sentiments. And yet, although I would not claim as much familiarity with the theatricals as some of the admirers of organs in churches, I feel authorized to assert, that such a thing as an organ in the orchestra of an Opera, is never heard of; and that its introduction would be regarded by the whole musical world, as a ludicrous anomaly. All men of taste would feel, that the character of the instrument is unsuitable to the expression, emphasis, and flexibility of articulate, vocal music. The same principles of taste should expel it from our churches.
The manner in which this instrument is almost universally used in our Protestant churches, makes it doubly grievous to devotional feeling, and offensive to good taste. The organs obtained are frequently of inferior construction; and are out of tune, and ill-played. The volume of sound is often utterly disproportioned to the number of voices. Sometimes we see a little, feeble, starveling choir, to which the "accompaniment" has proved almost a fatal incubus, with a dozen voices, and an organ pouring forth tones strong enough to guide a thousand singers. In this connection, it may be remarked, that the use of organs in the Protestant churches of Holland, and in other places in Europe, where the congregational singing is noted as very fine, is no precedent whatever for the manner in which they are used in this country. There, the spirit of the people is generally imbued with a taste for music. All sing; and where a thousand voices are united in a song of praise, the peculiar faults of the instrument are hidden in the vast volume of sound; and its leading chords subserve some slightly useful purpose, in keeping the air up to the proper pitch. But in a church where the vocal music is confined to thirty or forty voices, the organ is dominant, and all its vices becomes glaring.
The testimony of all concurs in proving, that the use of organs in this country is unfavorable to congregational singing. Unless their introduction can be guarded from this ill effect, more effectually than it has hitherto, let them be kept out forever. Another effect equally general, is to render the choir weak and remiss. Not only do we never see spirited congregational singing in this part of the country in churches where there are organs, we do not often find, in such churches, good choir singing. And surely, it is no slight objection, that an inexperienced private individual must be employed as organist, or some teacher of music, or theatrical musician must be hired. And thus one of the most solemn parts of the worship of a spiritual God, is committed chiefly to the guidance of a professional hireling, commonly a wicked man!
One of the most outrageous sins against good taste and devotional feeling committed by these windy machines, consists of the preludes and symphonies, with which they usually introduce and intersperse the praise of God. These seem to be thrown in, by some arithmetical or mechanical rule, between every two verses, in utter disregard of taste and sense. The nature of scriptural singing should teach us, that there should be nothing of the sort. The only use of the musical sounds, is to accompany and enforce the words expressing pious sentiments. What religious use or sense is there then, in that part of the music which is accompanied by no words? None. It has no business in the church. Just as reasonably might the preacher preface each impressive paragraph with a minute or two of pantomimic gesture. And then, the symphonies are thrown in blindly, after every verse, whether the sentiment of the poetry justifies any pause or not. It may be, that the burning thoughts of the hymn would hurry the devout soul along, without pause, from verse to verse. It may be that the end of a verse leaves a sentence unfinished, the nominative in the former verse waiting for its verb in the latter. Good taste and good sense would dictate, that an unbroken tide of song should bear the wrapt soul along to the climax of the sentiment, before it is required to pause. But no: the glowing thought must hang in it mid flight, or the widowed subject must stand bereaved of its predicate, until the "Performer" has had time to distinguish himself to his hearts content in a "voluntary." But the most nauseating thing about the whole exhibition, is to see performers presuming to detain a whole congregation, with their "extemporized voluntaries," when their inventive talent does not extend far enough to justify them in undertaking an original nursery song, and their operative skill does not suffice to perform the air of a common hymn, with sufficient fluency and spirit. —The manner in which these wondrous performances are thrown off, would seem to indicate, sometimes, that they are intended to realize the description of the great English poet of
Of linked sweetness, long drawn out,
With wanton heed and giddy cunning,
The melting voice through mazes running,
Untwisting all the chains that tie
The hidden soul of harmony.
But their afflicted hearers doubtless found about as much resemblance between their effusions and the conceptions of a true master, as you, Mr. Editor, would discover between the eccentric bombast of an Arkansas stump orator, and the speeches of Demosthenes. Long may it be, ere I am again subjected to such inflictions. Give me rather, for ever more, the hearty singing of the whole congregation, uniting their voices in some of those solemn strains, sung by sainted parents over our cradles, and linked with all the sweet and solemn recollections of the dreamy past! When all together rise up, "making melody in their hearts unto God," and mingling their voices in one tide of expressive, living, gushing melody, how does the delicious horror send the blood thrilling through the heart? How does the billowy harmony bear the enraptured soul towards heaven? Such were the strains with which the Presbyterian church in our land honored God in earlier days. Such was the songs that swept on the wailing winds, over the moors of Scotland, when the purest of God's people there, braved death to worship him. Such were the strains with which the Republicans of England shook the hearts of their foes, when they drew nigh to the battle, with "the high praises of God in their mouths, and a two edged sword in their hands," to execute vengeance upon the heath and judgments upon the people." Such we believe were the songs of praise sent up to God from that upper chamber, where the primitive church met to worship. —And wherever they shall be heard, they will elevate the devout, convince the sinful, and make the careless solemn, more effectually than any of the borrowed artifices of a worldly church.
There is one fact connected with the introduction of organs into those of our churches which have adopted them, which is exceedingly distressful. It is the reason which we always hear assigned, among other reasons, for their introduction, and which we believe has been in every case the most operative one. It is always urged: "we must have an organ to keep pace with other churches in attracting a congregation, and in retaining the young and thoughtless." Has it come then to this, that the chaste spouse of Christ is reduced to borrow the meretricious adornment of the "scarlet whore," in order to catch the unholy admiration of the ungodly? Not thus did the Apostles devise to bring sinners to the church. They were taught to go after them, into the highways and hedges, with the wooings of mercy and love; to allure them by the beauty of holiness; to urge them by the terrors of the law. If we are authorized to add to God's worship, forms purely of human device, in order to make it more palatable to sinners, to what corruptions shall we not give entrance? The Popish church of South America attracts multitudes of worshippers, by gross theatrical representations. According to this mode of operations, which has introduced organs into our churches, a Presbyterian Church in South American might find it necessary to imitate idolatrous Papists, and convert God's house into a play-house. An excuse which will justify such an enormity as this under different circumstances, is surely no valid excuse for any thing. We believe that all such artifices, of human device, to catch popularity, are inconsistent with the genius of the Presbyterian Church, derogatory of her honor, and blasting to her interests. It was her glory and her strength, that she aimed to commend herself by her firm devotion to truth, by the purity of her discipline, the pre-eminence of her ministry, and the justice of her polity. If she will cleave to these traits and rest upon them in humble faith in her divine Head, she will prosper. But when once she descends from the high vantage ground of intellectual, theological, and moral superiority, to chaffer [barter] for popularity by human devices, and doubtful arts, her prestige will be gone. Other churches are better adapted to win in that race, and will surely outrun her.
Chorepiscopus. [Robert L. Dabney]
Instrumental Music in the Public Worship of the Church. By John L. Girardeau, D. D., LL.D., Professor in Columbia Theological Seminary, South Carolina. Richmond: Whittet & Shepperson. 1888. The Presbyterian Quarterly, July 1889.
The author in his eloquent conclusion anticipates that some will meet his arguments with sneers rather than serious discussion, which he proposes to endure with Christian composure. It is a reproach to our church, which fills us with grief, to find this prediction fulfilled in some quarters. Surely persons calling themselves Presbyterians should remember that the truths they profess to hold sacred have usually been in small minorities sneered at by the arrogant majorities. So it was in the days of the Reformers, of Athanasius, of the Apostles, and of Jesus himself.
The resort to this species of reply appears the more ill-considered, when we remember that Dr. Girardeau is supporting the identical position held by all the early fathers, by all the Presbyterian reformers, by a Chalmers, a Mason, a Breckinridge, a Thornwell, and by a Spurgeon. Why is not the position as respectable in our author as in all this noble galaxy of true Presbyterians? Will the innovators claim that all these great men are so inferior to themselves? The ideal seems to be that the opposition of all these great men to organs arose simply out of their ignorant old-fogyism and lack of culture; while our advocacy of the change is the result of our superior intelligence, learning and refinement. The ignorance of this overweening conceit makes it simply vulgar. These great men surpassed all who have succeeded them in elegant classical scholarship, in logical ability, and in theological learning. Their deprecators should know that they surpassed them just as far in all elegant culture. The era of the Reformation was the Augustan age of church art in architecture, painting and music. These reformed divines were graduates of the first Universities, most of them gentlemen by birth, many of them noblemen, denizens of courts, of elegant accomplishments and manners, not a few of them exquisite poets and musicians. But they unanimously rejected the Popish Church music; not because they were fusty old pedants without taste, but because a refined taste concurred with their learning and logic to condemn it.
Dr. Girardeau has defended the old usage of our church with a moral courage, loyalty to truth, clearness of reasoning and wealth of learning which should make every true Presbyterian proud of him, whether he adopts his conclusions or not. The framework of his arguments is this: it begins with that vital truth which no Presbyterian can discard without a square desertion of our principles. The man who contests this first premise had better set out at once for Rome: God is to be worshipped only in the ways appointed in his word. Every act of public cultus not positively enjoined by him is thereby forbidden. Christ and his apostles ordained the musical worship of the New Dispensation without any sort of musical instrument, enjoining only the singing with the voice of psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. Hence such instruments are excluded from Christian worship. Such has been the creed of all churches, and in all ages, except of the Popish communion after it had reached the nadir of its corruption at the end of the thirteenth century, and of its prelatic imitators. But the pretext is raised that instrumental music was authorized by Scripture in the Old Testament. This evasion dr. Girardeau ruins by showing that God set up in the Hebrew Church two distinct forms of worship; the one moral, didactic, spiritual and universal, and therefore perpetual in all places and ages that of the synagogues; the other peculiar, local, typical, foreshadowing in outward forms the more spiritual dispensation, and therefore destined to be utterly abrogated by Christ's coming. Now we find instrumental music, like human priests and their vestments, show-bread, incense, and bloody sacrifice, absolutely limited to this local and temporary worship. But the Christian churches were modeled upon the synagogues and inherited their form of government and worship because it was permanently didactic, moral and spiritual, and included nothing typical. This reply is impregnably fortified by the word of God himself: that when the Antitype has come the types must be abolished. For as the temple-priests and animal sacrifices typified Christ and his sacrifice on Calvary, so the musical instruments of David in the temple-service only typified the joy of the Holy Ghost in his pentecostal effusions.
Hence when the advocates of innovation quote such words as those of the Psalmist, "Praise the Lord with the harp," etc., these shallow reasoners are reminded that the same sort of plea would draw back human priests and bloody sacrifices into our Christian churches. For these Psalms exclaim with the same emphasis, "Bind your sacrifice with cords, even unto the horns of the altar." Why do not our Christian æsthetics feel equally authorized and bound to build altars in front of their pulpits, and to drag the struggling lambs up their nicely carpeted aisles, and have their throats cut there for the edification of the refined audience? "Oh, the sacrifices, being types and peculiar to the temple service, were necessarily abolished by the coming of the Antitype." Very good. So were the horns, cymbals, harps and organs only peculiar to the temple-service, a part of its types, and so necessarily abolished when the temple was removed.
If any addition can be made to this perfectly compact argument, it is contained in this suggestion of an undoubted historical truth: that the temple-worship had a national theocratic quality about it, which cannot now be realized in Christ's purely spiritual kingdom. Israel was both a commonwealth and a church. Her political government was a theocracy. Her human king was the viceroy representing on earth her true sovereign, God. Hence, in the special acts of worship in the temple, in which the high priest, Messiah's type, and the king, God's viceroy, combined, they represented the State Church, the collective nation in a national act of homage. This species of worship could not lawfully exist except at one place; only one set of officials could celebrate it. It was representatively the nation's act. It is to be noted that, when at last musical instruments were attached to those national acts of homage to Israel's political king, Jehovah, it was not by the authority or intervention of the high priest, the religious head of the nation, but by that of the political viceroy. David's horns, harps and organs were therefore the appointed instruments of the national acts of homage to Jehovah. The church now is not a nation, but purely a spiritual kingdom, which is not of this world. Hence there is no longer room in her worship for the horns, harps and organs, any more than for swords and stonings in her government, or human kings and high priests in her institutions.
Let the true inference from this partial use of instruments of music in the typical, national worship be fairly and perspicuously stated. It is but this: since God saw fit to ordain such an adjunct to divine worship for a special object, it proves the use of it not to be sin per se, like lying or theft, for a holy God would not ordain an unholy expedient for any object, however temporary. The same argument shows that incense, show-bread and bloody sacrifices in worship cannot be sin per se. But how far short is this admission from justifying the use of any of them in worship now? Just here is the pitiable confusion of thought. It is not enough for the advocate of a given member of the church's cultus to show that it is not essentially criminal. He must show that God ordained it positively for our dispensation.
Dr. Girardeau's opponents stubbornly forget that the burden of proof rests on them; he is not bound to prove that these instruments are per se criminal or that they are mischievous or dangerous, although he is abundantly able to prove the latter. It is they who must prove affirmatively that God has appointed and required their use in his New Testament worship, or they are transgressors. Doubtless the objection in every opponent's mind is this: That, after all, Dr. Girardeau is making a conscientious point on too trivial and non-essential a matter. I am not surprised to meet this impression in the popular mind, aware as I am that this age of universal education is really a very ignorant one. But it is a matter of grief to find ministers so oblivious of the first lessons of their church history. They seem totally blind to the historical fact that it was just thus every damnable corruption which has cursed the church took its beginning; in the addition to the modes of worship ordained by Christ for the New dispensation, of human devices, which seemed ever so pretty and appropriate, made by the best of men and women and ministers with the very best of motives, and borrowed mostly from the temple cultus of the Jews. Thus came vestments, pictures in churches, incense, the observances of the martyrs' anniversary days in a word, that whole apparatus of will-worship and superstition which bloomed into popery and idolatry. "Why, all these pretty inventions were innocent. The very best of people used them. They were so appropriate, so æsthetic! Where could the harm be?" History answers the question: They disobeyed God and introduced popery, a result quite unforeseen by the good souls who began the mischief! Yes, but those who have begun the parallel mischief in our Presbyterian Church cannot plead the same excuse, for they are forewarned by a tremendous history, and prefer Mrs. Grundy's taste to the convincing light of experience. [Mrs. Grundy, The surname of an imaginary personage who is proverbially referred to as a personification of the tyranny of social opinion in matters of conventional propriety. OED]
That a denomination, professing like ours to be anti-prelatic and anti-ritualistic, should throw down the bulwarks of their argument against these errors by this recent innovation appears little short of lunacy. Prelatists undertake every step of the argument which these Presbyterians use for their organ, and advance them in a parallel manner to defend the re-introduction of the Passover or Easter, of Whitsuntide, of human priests and priestly vestments, and of chrism, into the gospel church. "God's appointment of them in the Old Dispensation proves them to be innocent. Christians have a right to add to the cultus ordained for the New Testament whatever they think appropriate, provided it is innocent; and especially are such additions lawful if borrowed from the Old Dispensation." I should like to see the Presbyterian who has refuted Dr. Girardeau in argument meet a prelatist, who justifies these other additions by that Presbyterian's own logic. Would not his consistency be something like that pictured by the old proverb of "Satan reproving sin"? Again, if the New Testament church has priests, these priests must have sacrifice. Thus, consistency will finally lead that Presbyterian to the real corporeal presence and the mass.
To rebut further the charge that Dr. Girardeau is stickling for an unimportant point, I shall now proceed to assert the prudential and the doctrino-psychological arguments against the present organ worship.
1st. Sound prudence and discretion decide against it. The money cost of these instruments, with the damaging debts incurred for them, is a sufficient objection. The money they cost, if expended in mission work, would do infinitely more good to souls and honor to God. In our poor church, how many congregations are there which are today mocking Dr. Craig with a merely nominal contribution to missions on the plea of an organ debt of $1,800 to $3,600! This latter says it is able to spare $3,600 for a Christian's use (or does it propose to cheat the organ builder?). I ask solemnly, Is it right to expend so much of God's money, which is needed to rescue perishing souls, upon an object merely non-essential, at best only a luxury? Does the Christian conscience, in measuring the worth of souls and God's glory, deliberately prefer the little to the much?
Again, instruments in churches are integral parts of a system which is fruitful of choir quarrels and church feuds. How many pastoral relations have they helped to disrupt? They tend usually to choke congregational singing, and thus to rob the body of God's people of their God-given right to praise him in his sanctuary. They almost always help to foster anti-scriptural styles of church music, debauching to the taste, and obstructive, instead of assisting, to true devotional feelings. Whereas the advocates of organs usually defend them on grounds of musical culture and æsthetic refinement, I now attack them on those very grounds. I assert that the organ is peculiarly inimical to lyrical taste, good music, and every result which a cultivated taste pursues, apart from conscientious regard for God. The instrument, by its very structure, is incapable of adaptation to the true purposes of lyrical music. It cannot have any arsis or thesis, any rhythm or expression of emphasis, such as the pulsatile instruments have. Its tones are too loud, brassy and dominant; all syllabication is drowned. Thus the church music is degraded from that didactic, lyrical eloquence, which is its scriptural conception , to those senseless sounds expressly condemned by the apostle in 1 Corinthians 12-14. In truth, the selection of this particular instrument as the preferred accompaniment of our lyrical worship betrays artistic ignorance in Protestants, or else a species of superfluity of naughtiness in choosing precisely the instrument specially suited to popish worship.
It so happens that the artistic world has an amusement the Italian opera whose aim is very non-religious indeed, but whose art-theory and method are precisely the same with those of scriptural church music. Both are strictly lyrical. The whole conception in each is this: to use articulate, rational words and sentences as vehicles for intelligible thoughts, by which the sentiments are to be affected, and to give them the aid of metre, rhythm and musical sounds to make the thoughts impressive. Therefore, all the world's artists select, for the opera-orchestras, only the pulsatile and chiefly the stringed instruments.
An organ has never been seen in a theater in Europe; only those instruments are admitted which can express arsis and thesis. I presume the proposal to introduce an organ into the Italian opera would be received by every musical artist in Europe as a piece of bad taste, which would produce a guffaw of contempt. This machine, thus fatally unfit for all the true purposes of musical worship and lyrical expression, has, indeed, a special adaptation to the idolatrous purposes of Rome, to which purposes all Protestants profess to be expressly hostile. So that, in selecting so regularly Rome's special instrument of idolatry, these Protestants either countenance their own enemies or betray an artistic ignorance positively vulgar. Consequently, one is not surprised to find this incorrect taste offending every cultivated Christian ear by every imaginable perversity, under the pretext of divine worship. The selections made are the most bizarre and unsuitable. The execution is over-loud, inarticulate, brassy, fitted only "to split the ears of the groundlings, capable, for the most part, of naught but inexplicable noise and dumb shows." The pious taste is outraged by the monopolizing of sacred time, and the indecent thrusting aside of God's holy worship to make room for "solos," which are unfit in composition, and still more so in execution, where the accompaniment is so hopelessly out of relation to the voice that if the one had the small-pox (as apparently it often has St. Vitus' dance) the other would be in no danger of catching the disease, and the words, probably senseless at best, are so mouthed as to convey no more ideas to the hearers than the noise of Chinese tom-toms. Worshippers of true taste and intelligence, who know what the finest music in Europe really is, are so wearied by these impertinences that they almost shiver at the thought of the infliction. The holy places of our God are practically turned into fifth-rate Sunday theaters.
I shall be reminded that there are some Presbyterian churches with organs where these abuses do not follow. "They need not follow in any." I reply that they are the customary result of the unscriptural plans. If there should be some sedate boys who are allowed to play with fire-arms, but do not shoo their little sisters through the brain, yet that result follows so often as to ground the rule that no parent should allow this species of plaything to his children. The innovation is in itself unhealthy; and hence, when committed to the management of young people, who have but a slim modicum of cultivation, such as prevails in this country at large, has a regular tendency to all these offensive abuses.
2nd. I find a still more serious objection to instrumental music in churches, when I connect the doctrine of God's word concerning worship with the facts of human psychology. Worship must be an act of personal homage to God, or it is a hypocrisy and offense. The rule is that we must "glorify God in our bodies and spirits, which are his." The whole human person, with all its faculties, appropriately takes part in this worship; for they are all redeemed by him and consecrated to him. Hence our voices should, at suitable times, accompany our minds and hearts. Again, all true worship is rational. The truth intelligently known and intelligibly uttered is the only instrument and language of true worship. Hence all social public worship must be didactic. The apostle has settled this beyond possible dispute in 1st Corinthians. Speaking in an unknown tongue, when there is not one to interpret, he declares can have no possible religious use, except to be a testimony for converting pagan unbelievers. If none such are present, Paul expressly orders the speaker in unknown tongues to be silent in the congregations; and this although the speaker could correctly claim theafflatus of the Holy Ghost. This strict prohibition Paul grounds on the fact that such a tongue, even though a miraculous charism, was not an articulate vehicle of sanctifying truth. And, as though he designed to clinch the application of this rule upon these very instruments of music, he selects them as the illustration of what he means. I beg the reader to examine 1 Corinthians 14:7-9.
Once more: man's animal nature is sensitive, through the ear, to certain sensuous, æsthetic impressions from melody, harmony and rhythm. There is, on the one hand, a certain analogy between the sensuous excitements of the acoustic nerves and sensorium and the rational sensibilities of the soul. (It is precisely this psychologic fact which grounds the whole power and pleasure of lyrical compositions.) Now, the critical points are these: That, while these sensuous excitements are purely animal and are no more essentially promotive of faith, holiness, or light in the conscience than the quiver of the fox-hunting horses' ears at the sound of the bugle or the howl of the hound whelp at the sound of his master's piano, sinful men, fallen and blinded, are ever ready to abuse this faint analogy by mistaking the sensuous impressions for, and confounding them with, spiritual affections. Blinded men are ever prone to imagine that they have religious feelings, because they have sensuous, animal feelings, in accidental juxtaposition with religious places, words, or sights. This the pernicious mistake which has sealed up millions of self-deceived souls for hell.
Rome encourages the delusion continually. She does this with a certain consistency between her policy and her false creed. She holds that, no matter by what motive men are induced to receive her sacraments, these convey saving grace, ex opere operato. Hence she consistently seduces men, in every way she can, to receive her sacraments by any spectacular arts or sensuous thrills of harmony. Now, Protestants ought to know that (as the apostle says) there is no more spiritual affection in these excitements of the sensorium than in sounding brass or in tinkling cymbal.
Protestants cannot plead the miserable consistency of Rome in aiding men to befool themselves to their own perdition by these confusions, for they profess to reject all opus operatum effects of sacraments, and to recognize no other instrument of sanctification than the one Christ assigned, THE TRUTH. But these organ-grinding Protestant churches are aiding and encouraging tens of thousands of their members to adopt this pagan mistake. Like the besotted Papist, they are deluded into the fancy that their hearts are better because certain sensuous, animal emotions are aroused by a mechanical machine, in a place called a church, and in a proceeding called worship.
Here, then, is the rationale of God's policy in limiting his musical worship to melodies of the human voice. It is a faculty of the redeemed person, and not the noise of a dead machine. The human voice, while it can produce melodious tones, can also articulate the words which are intelligible vehicles of divine truths. The hymns sung by the human voice can utter didactic truth with the impressiveness of right articulation and emphasis, and thus the pious singers can do what God commands teach one another in psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. For his Christian church, the non-appointment of mechanical accompaniment was its prohibition.Time will prove, we fear by a second corruption of evangelical religion and by the ruin of myriads more of nominally Christian souls, how much wiser is the psychology of the Bible than that of Mrs. Grundy.
The reader has by this time seen that I ascribe this recent departure of our Presbyterian churches from the rule of their fathers in no degree to more liberal views or enlightened spirit. I know, by an intuition which I believe every sensible observer shares, that the innovation is merely the result of an advancing wave of worldliness and ritualism in the evangelical bodies. These Christians are not wiser but simply more flesh-pleasing and fashionable. That is exactly the dimension of the strange problem. Other ritualistic adjuncts concur from time to time. Nothing is needed but the lapse of years enough for this drift, of which this music is a part, to send back great masses of our people, a material well prepared for the delusion, into the bosom of Rome and her kindred connections.
This melancholy opinion is combined, in our minds, with a full belief in the piety, good intentions and general soundness of many ministers and laymen who are now aiding the innovations. No doubt the advocates of instrumental music regard this as the sting of Dr. Girardeau's argument, that it seems to claim all the fidelity and piety for the anti-organ party. No doubt many hearts are now exclaiming, "This unjust, and thousands of our saintliest women are in the organ loft; our soundest ministers have organs," etc., etc. All this is perfectly true. It simply means that the best of people err and unintentionally do mischief when they begin to lean to their own understandings. The first organ I ever knew of in a Virginian Presbyterian church was introduced by one of the wisest and most saintly of pastors, a paragon of old school doctrinal rigor. But he avowedly introduced it on an argument the most unsound and perilous possible for a good man to adopt that it would be advantageous to prevent his young people from leaving his church to run after the Episcopal organ in the city. Of course such an argument would equally justify every other sensational and spectacular adjunct to God's ordinances, which is not criminal per se. Now this father's general soundness prevented his carrying out the pernicious argument to other applications. A very bad organ remained the only unscriptural feature in a church otherwise well-ordered. But after the church authorizes such policy, what guarantee remains that one and another less sound and staid will not carry the improper principle to disastrous results? The conclusion of this matter is, then, that neither the piety nor the good intention of our respectable opponents is disparaged by us; but that the teachers and rulers of our church, learning from the great reformers and the warning lights of church history, should take the safer position alongside of Dr. Girardeau. Their united advice would easily and pleasantly lead back to the Bible ground all the zealous and pious laymen and the saintly ladies who have been misled by fashion and incipient ritualism.
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Copyright © 2001 by Phillip R. Johnson. All rights reserved. hits