Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Spurgeon on Musical Instruments

CHARLES HADDON SPURGEON (1834-1892) English Baptist:

"We should like to see all the pipes of the organs in our Nonconformist places of worship either ripped open or compactly filled with concrete. The human voice is so transcendently superior to all that wind or strings can accomplish, that it is a shame to degrade its harmonies by association with blowing and scraping. It is not better music which we can get from organs and viols, but inferior sounds, which unsophisticated ears judge to be harsh and meaningless when compared with a melodious human voice. That the great Lord cares to be praised by bellows we very gravely question; we cannot see any connection between the glory of God and sounds produced by machinery. One broken note from a grateful heart must have more acceptable praise in it than all the wind which swept through whistling pipes. Instrumental music, with its flute, harp, sackbut, psaltery, dulcimer, and all kinds of noise makers, was no doubt well suited to the worship of the golden image which Nebuchadnezzar, the king, had set up, and harps and trumpets served well the infant estate of the Church under the law, but in the Gospel's spiritual domain these may well be let go with all the other beggarly elements.
"What a degradation to supplant the intelligent song of the whole congregation by the theatrical prettiness of a quartette, the refined niceties of a choir, or the blowing of wind from inanimate bellows and pipes. We might as well pray by machinery as praise by it."

Quoted from this booklet: http://www.cprf.co.uk/bookstore/voicepraise.htm


Anonymous said...

I am in agreement fully with Spurgeon. I wonder are all the PRC churches in the USA of this mind also as I understood that some used music and were not exclusive Psalmody either ?

Wiseguy said...

I import my blog to Facebook, and we had some discussion on this point there, maybe I will post some of that discussion here.

I agree with Spurgeon on the principles that he states here, but the principle that instruments are not an element of worship does not necessarily mean that they cannot be used as a circumstance to aid the singing in keeping the tune, etc.

This article by Rev. Cory Griess is useful to understand the PRC's official position in instruments: http://www.prca.org/prtj/apr2008.pdf.

However, my own personal sentiments while in full agreement with the PRC, would also be, "I see nothing wrong with the subtle use of an instrument to aid in keeping the singing in tune. This would be akin to a radiator keeping the congregation warm - a circumstance, not an element of worship. But in this there is a danger that such an instrument becomes treated as an element of worship... As is the case with every human tradition, it often ends up replacing or corrupted the true commands of God. How often have we heard musicians take up a lengthy instrumental in the middle of a song? Or how often do the instruments make the words difficult to understand? These things ought to be warnings at the very least."

My personal opinion is that a good deal of caution ought to be taken if they are being used. But I would not denounce it as sinful if only considered a circumstance. In practice the PRC use organs in their services, but only as a circumstance. I do question the wisdom of this, but I do not consider it at all an issue to upset our precious unity over.

Regarding exclusive Psalmody - the PRC have an almost exclusively exclusive psalmody position, but their church order does allow the singing of a few other songs, including the doxology and the apostle's creed. In practice they sing almost only Psalms; some churches sing the doxology, and very rarely do they sing other songs. The CPRC [Ballymena, NI] sing only Psalms (according to their slightly modified church order), and preach this, but they do not consider the PRC's position a significant enough reason to break their federation. And I agree wholeheartedly.

This can be understood better, when one considers that the PRC were not Psalm-singing churches that have weakened their position, but hymn-singing churches which have moved towards a more exclusive Psalm-singing position. In other words, they can be seen historically as moving towards greater purity rather than the other way around.

Nevertheless, I admit that it troubles me, and when I visit, if I have a choice I would prefer to not personally sing the doxology. I hope that in time their position will be more consistent.

I don't have any further comment on this, but if you would like to hear more, then I'd advise you to make contact personally with the PRC of USA and/or PRC of NI - although not anonymously, of course. However I would ask you to treat the subject with gentleness, delicacy, and grace. My own logs are too great to complain about any mote here.

God bless, Sam W.