Let Me Read A Quotation
“In proportion as men become worldly minded, provided they haven’t entirely lost the fear of God, do they begin to require “helps” to their devotion. That they could require such “helps” under a dark dispensation, where they were led into the use of symbolic rites, rather than being inwardly illuminated by God’s word and Spirit, is not at all astonishing. But to say that we need them (the helps), we who live in the full light of the gospel privileges, and enjoy God’s mercies and providence over us, is to say that we have no gratitude in our hearts, and that we are, in every way, unworthy of these benefits.”
Let me paraphrase that a bit, to make it a little easier to understand..
“Assuming that a person hasn’t totally lost their respect for God; In proportion to how worldly minded one has become, that is how much “artificial assistance”, or “help” that they will need in worshipping God. The fact that a person can be led into that situation, where they need “symbolic” things to help them worship, instead of simply being filled with the Spirit of God and His word, isn’t surprising . But to say that we do need these “artificial helps”, when we’ve already been blessed with the gospel of His word, and God’s mercy and His providence, is to say that we have no gratitude for all the things that God has given us, and it’s an indication that we are unworthy of all those blessings that we do have.”
Now let me tell you what these comments were in reference to, and then you’ll be able to understand them even more fully. These comments were made by a brother named J.B. Henshall, who was a well-known writer for a popular Christian publication. His comments were in response to these questions;
“What do you say, about instrumental music in our churches?” Shouldn’t the church have organs or other instruments, so that the great object of Psalmody (or the singing of the Psalms) might be made complete? Would not such instruments add greatly to the solemnity of worship, and cause the hearts of the saints to be raised to a higher state of devotion, while the deep toned organ would swell it’s notes? I think it is high time that we awaken to the importance of this subject. We are far behind the Protestants on the subject of church music. I hope therefore, that you will give your views in extension (in full length) on this much neglected subject.”
Even today, the subject of instrumental music in the church, is a matter of misunderstanding and division. However, the quotes that I just read, weren’t written very recently. They were written 166 years ago, in 1851. And I’m fairly confident that this will still be a timely subject, in another 166 years. Unless of course, everyone falls away from the bible, and adopts musical instruments in worship. Then there won’t be any debate anymore.
Two Questions Considered
Let’s consider the two basic questions that were asked. First; “Shouldn’t the church have organs, and other instruments, so that the singing of the Psalms could be “made complete”. The original word the man used was “consummated”.
In other words, since the Psalms were originally sung, along with the accompaniment of instruments, how can we sing them today, and think that we’re doing them “justice”, without using instruments. The singing of those Psalms, wouldn’t be “consummated”, if we don’t use instruments.
In Ancient Israel, king David often times played the harp, and also the lyre. A lyre is actually very similar to a harp. It’s shaped differently, and has fewer strings. A full harp has 47 strings, and a “pedal harp” has three foot pedals, to give three different sounds to each string. A lyre has only ten strings.
Listen to this Psalm of David; Psalm 33, verse 2; “Give thanks to the Lord with a lyre. Sing praises to Him with a harp of ten strings.”
How about this Psalm? Psalm 57, verses 7 thru 9; “My heart is steadfast, O God, my heart is steadfast. Awake my glory; Awake harp and lyre, I will awake the dawn! I will give thanks to Thee, O Lord, among the peoples; I will sing praises to Thee among the nations.”
And Psalm 81, verses 1 thru 3; “Sing for joy to God our strength. Shout joyfully to the God of Jacob. Raise a song, bring the timbrel (or, the tambourine), the psaltry with the pleasant harp. Blow the trumpet at the new moon, at the full moon on our feast day.” A psaltery is another stringed instrument. Some psalteries look like a forerunner of the mandolin or the fiddle or guitar.
Just one more Psalm. Psalm 149, verse 3; “Let them praise His name with dancing. Let them sing praises to Him with timbrel and lyre.”
Several instruments were used in Israel, along with the singing of psalms. Even dancing was common, and authorized.
If I Lived In Israel
So then, if I lived in ancient Israel, I would have to agree with the man who asked the question; “Shouldn’t we use musical instruments, so that the great object of the singing of the psalms, might be consummated, or “made complete?” Yes, if I lived in ancient Israel, I think I wouldn’t have considered the singing of the psalms to be complete, without the harp or lyre, or the timbrel and psaltery, and even without dancing out of joy.
However, I don’t live in ancient Israel, and neither does anyone else. Therefore, we all need to heed the word of God, which He has left for all Christians, for today, and for all future times.
God tells us in Ephesians 5, verses 18 & 19; “..But be filled with the Spirit (be filled with the Spirit of GOD) speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, making melody in your HEART (not on a musical instrument, but in your heart).. making melody in your heart, to the Lord.”
To put it another way, listen to Colossians 3, verse 16; “Let the word of the Lord (or of Christ) dwell richly within you..” That’s exactly what it’s saying in Ephesians 5, verse 18, when it says; “But be filled with the Spirit”.
“Let the word of the Lord, dwell richly within you, with all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another, with psalms and hymns, and spiritual songs, SINGING, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.”
“..Singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God”, in Col 3:16, is the very same thing, as.. “..Making melody in your heart to God” , in Eph 5:18. When we have true thankfulness in our hearts to God, it’s like a sweet melody to God. It’s just like our heartfelt prayers, being likened to a sweet odor of incense, or a sweet aroma.
Listen to Revelation 5, verse 8; “And when He had taken the book, the four living creatures and the twenty four elders, fell down before the Lamb, having each one a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which ARE the prayers of the saints.”
Consider the Symbolism
So in this verse in Revelation, we have some symbolism. The bowls of incense, symbolize the prayers of the saints. Prayers of thanksgiving and prayers of joy. And along with the bowls of incense, we see that each one also had a harp. What do the harps symbolize? We’re told clearly that the incense represents the prayers of the saints, but we’re not told specifically what the harps represent. Could the harps, not represent the thankfulness in the hearts of the saints? Could they not represent the melody in the hearts of Christians? I think that’s exactly what those harps represent.
The very next verse, verse 9, says; “And they SANG a new song (they didn’t play a song on a harp. the harp is symbolic, just like the bowls of incense are symbolic). So, “They SANG a new song saying; Worthy art Thou to take the book, and to break it’s seals. For Thou wast slain, and didst purchase for God, with Thy blood, from every tribe and tongue and people and nation.” And verse 10 says; “And Thou hast made them to be a kingdom, and priests to our God, and they will reign upon the earth.”
Isn’t that something to be making “melody in your hearts” about? A kingdom of priests, reigning with Christ, in a spiritual kingdom.
The apostle Paul illustrates this desire to praise God, and to be thankful to God, in 1 Corinthians 14, verse 26; “What is the outcome then brethren? When you assemble, each one has a psalm, has a teaching, has a revelation, has a tongue, has an interpretation. Let ALL things be done for edification.”
Everyone wanted to participate. Each one wanted to show their desire to please God. They wanted to demonstrate their devotion to God’s word, and they wanted to show the “melody” in their hearts.
What about our Devotion?
That brings us to the next question that was asked concerning musical instruments in worship..
“Would not such instruments add greatly to the solemnity of worship, and cause the hearts of the saints to be raised to a higher state of devotion, while the deep toned organ would swell it’s notes?”
Does an musical instrument “add greatly to the solemnity of worship”? Do they cause the HEARTS of the saints, “to be raised to a higher state of devotion”? I for one, would have to answer both these questions with a definite NO! WHY would musical instruments “raise my devotion to God”? WHY would musical instruments add to the “solemnity of worship”?
Let’s talk about “solemnity of worship”. What is solemnity? Simply put; Solemnity is.. “the state or quality of being serious and dignified”. When you worship God, where does your solemnity come from? Does not your seriousness, and your dignity, come from the inner person, from your spirit. We would commonly say it comes from the heart. If I attach seriousness, or dignity to something, I do it from my heart. These are my heartfelt emotions. My inner feelings.
And doesn’t the same thing hold true for devotion? If I’m devoted to something, it’s because I feel it in my heart. It’s my spirit that’s given to devotion. Do external sources, like musical instruments, account for my level of seriousness, and my level of dignity, and my level of devotion to God?
So then you arrive at worship services, with a certain degree of seriousness and devotion to God, born out of your inner feelings and beliefs. But, so that we can be perfectly honest, let’s ask ourselves; Would a beautiful sounding organ or harp, or anything else, ADD to that degree of devotion that we bring with us? Well, many people would say; Oh yes, of course it would. Think about all those beautiful sounds!
But since we’re trying to be honest, do beautiful SOUNDS, really make us more devoted to God. Do SOUNDS make us more serious in our spirits? And do they create more dignity in our soul, during our worship of God?
The honest answer is NO! No they do not. What these beautiful sounds really do, is please our ears. Just like food pleases our sense of taste, these instrumental sounds, please our sense of hearing. Musical instruments please us sensually. They please our senses. But do they please God’s sense? That’s what we need to worry about. What do musical instruments sound like, to God?
The Sound of Prayer
Think about our prayers again for a minute. Our prayers, if they’re from the heart, are a sweet odor, or fragrance to God, rising up to Him in heaven. I can find a few stipulations concerning prayer, in the bible. But how our prayers sound to us, isn’t one of those stipulations.
Prayers said with humility, are approved of by God. Just like the tax-gatherer prayed in Luke 18, verse 13, saying; “God be merciful to me, the sinner.”
Prayers said in faith, are approved of by God. Just like James said in James 1, verse 6; “But let him ask in faith, without any doubting..”
Prayers addressed to the Father, and through Jesus, are approved of by God. We read in Colossians 3, verse 17; “And whatever you do, in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him, to God the Father.”
The point is, there are stipulations set by God, for our prayers to be accepted. But nowhere in the bible does it say that our prayers need to be the best sounding, to our ears. God doesn’t care if we can talk pretty, or whether we can phrase things eloquently. He says that our prayers have to be in accordance with His will. And He says they have to be from the heart. Then they ascend up to God as a sweet aroma.
Some people have the ability to phrase their public prayers in a fashion that’s very impressive to the listeners. But you know what? That doesn’t mean those prayers are from the heart. Any of you could memorize certain lines, and phrases, and use them again and again, and they would sound so beautiful each time. But how do they sound to God. How do they sound to the God who knows the hearts of each and every one of us?
Sing With the Spirit
Well, that’s exactly the way it is with our singing also. Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 14, and verse 15; “What is the outcome then? I shall pray with the spirit, and I shall pray with the mind also. I shall sing with the spirit, and I shall sing with the mind also.” But he doesn’t say anything about singing with the harp, or the lyre, or the psaltery, or the timbrel.
How would you like to be a member of the congregation of the Lord’s church, that has the distinction of being the very first congregation on record, in the whole United States, who officially announced their acceptance of a musical instrument, in their worship assemblies?
There was a congregation, who had that rather dubious distinction. And that congregation was the one located at Midway, Kentucky, in 1851. The first congregation to openly advocate the propriety of using instruments of music, in their worship.
The instrument that they first began using was a melodeon. And do you know WHY they decided to use it? This is a true story. They began using the melodeon, because their congregational singing, sounded so bad! But the melodious sound of that instrument, was such a “help” to their singing.
Do you remember the quote that I opened this lesson with? Here it is; “In proportion as men become worldly-minded, provided they have not entirely lost the fear of God, do they begin to require “helps” to their devotion.”
If any of us needs extra “help”, in our devotion to God, beyond that which God’s word has already given us, considering His divine instructions, and His mercies, and His providence; Then possibly the man I quoted was correct. Maybe we don’t have enough gratitude in our hearts for what God has given us. And maybe he was also correct, when he said; If we need even MORE help.. “We may be unworthy of those benefits.”
Let’s never be unworthy of the benefits of God. If we are truly devoted to God, we’ll do exactly as He has instructed us to do. And if we’re truly serious about our salvation, we’ll do exactly as He has instructed us to do. Let’s make sure that we have thankfulness, and melody in our hearts to God.