VOCAL AND INSTRUMENTAL MUSIC IN WORSHIP ACCORDING TO GOD’S WORD
H. B. Musselman
“And these are they whom David set over the service of SONG in the house of the LORD, after
that the ark had rest. And they ministered before the dwelling place of the tabernacle of the
congregation with SINGING, until Solomon had built the house of the LORD in Jerusalem; and
then they waited on their office according to their order” (I Chron. 6:31, 32).
David was raised up on high to be the sweet Psalmist of Israel (see II Sam. 23:1); not only to pen psalms, but to appoint the singing of them in the House of the Lord, and this he did after the ark had rest. These appointed singers kept up that service in the tabernacle till the Temple was built, and then they waited on their office there (see I Chron. 6:32). In I Chronicles 6, we have an account of the three great masters who were employed in the service of the sacred song, each with their respective families, for they “waited with their children,” that is such as descended from them, or were allied to them (see vs. 33).
In I Chronicles 9:33, we read, “And these are the SINGERS, chief of the fathers of the Levites, who remaining in the chambers were free: for they were employed in that work day and night.” It would seem that these were continually employed in SINGING His praises. Thus was God continually praised, as it is fit He should be, who is continually doing good. Thus devout people might at any hour have assistance in their devotion. No doubt this also prefigured the Heavenly Temple, where they rest not night and day from praising God (see Rev. 4:8).
Thus singing as a prominent part of worship is brought before us in the New Testament. “Saying, I will declare thy name unto my brethren, in the midst of the church will I SING praise unto Thee” (Heb. 2:12). “Wherefore be ye not unwise, but understanding what the will of the Lord is. And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit; speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, SINGING and MAKING MELODY in your heart to the Lord; giving thanks always for all things unto God and the Father, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Eph. 5 :17-20).
Drunkards are wont to sing obscene and profane songs. The heathen in their Bacchanals, we are told, used to sing hymns to Bacchus, whom they called the god of wine. Thus they expressed their joy, but the Christian’s joy should express itself in songs of praise to his God. In these they should speak to themselves in their assemblies and meetings together for mutual edification. “Singing and making melody in your heart” – the heart always going with the lips, for “out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaketh.” It is a shocking profanation of Divine worship to draw nigh unto God with the lips, while the heart is far from Him. True worship in prayer or singing must be according to the will of God. “What is it then? I will pray with the spirit, and I will pray with the understanding also: I will sing with the spirit, and I will
sing with the understanding also” (I Cor. 14:15). “Of all the liberal arts surely music is the least useful, however ornamental it may be” (Clarke).
Spiritual singing is commanded in God’s Word. Over one hundred and seventy times we find singing referred to in the Word of God. We are told to “let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord. All true worship must come from the heart, and must not be brought forth mechanically. Thus we see that singing takes a
prominent part in the worship of God, as taught in His Word. Who can tell the difference between the heathen’s prayer in using the prayer-wheel, or the Christian’s worship in using wooden or metal instruments that have no life.
The history of music, or its origin does not commend their use in spiritual worship.
The history is brief in this: Unto Adam and Eve were born Cain, Seth and Abel. The sad history of Abel is well known. Of Seth’s descendants it was early said: “Then began men to call upon the Lord.” But of Cain, a murderer, a fugitive and vagabond, it is said: “He went from the presence of the Lord.” Of Cain’s descendants we have Lamech, who invented polygamy, and Jubal, the father and inventor of the harp and organ. To be consistent in Bible teaching, we must admit that Cain’s course with that of his descendants was the course of the flesh.
It has been said that David, of whom it is said that he was a man after God’s own heart, used musical instruments, and therefore their use should commend itself to the Christian worship also. Let us remember that not all of David’s acts commend themselves for our imitation, but rather serve us as a warning, to guard against falling into the same sins.
Let us briefly refer to this matter of David with reference to his introducing musical instruments for worship. Of course God’s Word is the only safe guide in all such matters:
In I Chronicles 23:5, we read that “Moreover four thousand were porters; and four thousand praised the Lord with the instruments of music, WHICH I MADE, said David, to praise therewith.” David made this distribution according to his own judgment, from the dictates of his own mind, and it does not appear that he had any Divine authority for any such arrangements.
As to the instruments of music which he made, they are condemned in plain language elsewhere (see Amos 6:5).
Again read II Chronicles 29:27, with reference to this matter: “And Hezekiah commanded to offer the burnt offering upon the altar. And when the burnt offering began, the song of the Lord began also with the trumpets, and with the instruments of music ORDAINED BY DAVID, King of Israel.” As to the trumpets (see Num. 10:2); the necessity of such instruments will at once appear, when the amazing extent of this numerous army is considered, and how even the sound of two trumpets could reach them all is difficult to conceive. As the trumpets
were to be blown by the priests only, the sons of Aaron, there were only two such persons to use them at this time, Eleazar and Ithamar. In the time of Joshua there were seven trumpets used by the priests, but these were made of rams’ horns (see Josh. 6:4). In the time of Solomon, when the priests were greatly increased, there were one hundred twenty priests sounding with trumpets
(see II Chron. 5:12). Read what Dr. Adam Clarke says on this:
“It was by the hand or commandment of the Lord and his prophets that the Levites should praise the Lord; for so the Hebrew term 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 be 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 Christianity. Away with such portentous baubles 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.”
Now turn to Ezra 3:10, “And when the builders laid the foundation of the Temple of the Lord, they set the priests in their apparel with trumpets, and the Levites the sons of Asaph with cymbals, to praise the Lord, AFTER THE ORDINANCE OF DAVID, King of Israel.”
Lastly, read Amos 6:1-5: “WOE TO THEM that are at ease in Zion, * * that put far away the evil day, and cause the seat of violence to come near; that lie upon beds of ivory, and stretch themselves upon their couches, and eat the lambs out of the flock, and the calves out of the midst of the stall; that chant to the sound of the viol, and INVENT TO THEMSELVES INSTRUMENT S OF MUSICK, LIKE DAVID.”
I shall close with further submitting the words spoken by Dr. Adam Clarke, the noted commentator, on this Scripture text, which are indeed worthy of our prayerful pondering:
“I believe that David was not authorized by the Lord to introduce that multitude of musical instruments into the Divine worship of which we read; and I am satisfied that his conduct in this respect is most solemnly reprehended by this Prophet; and I further believe that the use of such instruments of music in the Christian church, is WITHOUT the SANCTION and AGAINST the WILL Of God; that they are subversive of the spirit of true devotion, and that they are SINFUL. If there was a WOE to THEM who INVENTED instruments of music, as did David under the Law, is there NO WOE, NO CURSE to them who invent them, and introduce them into the worship of God in the Christian Church? I am an old man, and an old minister; and I here declare that I never knew them productive of any good in the worship of God; and have had reason to believe that they were productive of much evil. Music, as a SCIENCE, I esteem and admire: but instruments of music IN THE HOUSE OF GOD I abominate and abhor. This is the abuse of music; and here I register my protest against all such corruptions in the Worship of the Author of Christianity. The late venerable and most eminent divine, the Rev. JOHN WESLEY, who was a LOVER OF MUSIC, and an ELEGANT POET, when asked his opinion of instruments of music being introduced into the chapels of the Methodists, said, in his terse and powerful manner, ‘I have no objection to instruments of music in our chapels, provided they are neither HEARD NOR SEEN.’ I say the same, though I think the expense of purchase had better be spared.”