R.J. George, “Is the Use of Instrumental Music in the Worship of God Authorized?”


Lecture XV
Is the Use of Instrumental Music in the Worship of God Authorized?

I. That Which Is Not Commanded in the Worship of God Is Forbidden.

1. This is the teaching of Scripture.

It would be strange indeed if the God who will not give His glory to another, nor His praise to graven images, should have left to ignorant and sinful men to invent the manner of His worship; or that having Himself instituted the ordinances of praise, He should permit men to mix the imaginations of their own corrupt hearts with those divine appointments. Such a supposition is unreasonable.

But God has not left Himself without a witness on this subject. Number 15:39, 40: “Remember all the commandments of the Lord, and do them; and that ye seek not after your own heart and your own eyes, after which ye use to go a whoring: that ye may remember and do all my commandments.” Ex. 25:40: “And look that thou make them after their pattern, which was showed thee in the mount.” Compare this with Heb. 8:5: “Who serve unto the example and shadow of heavenly things, as Moses was admonished of God when he was about to make the tabernacle; for, See, saith he, that thou make all things according to the pattern showed to thee in the mount.”

This divine command extended to the most minute particulars in the construction of the tabernacle; the pins, and loops, and taches, and tenons, and sockets. Nothing was left to human invention. The garments of the priests who were to offer; the very ingredients of which the incense was to be compounded, and every particular as to the sacrificial offerings from the horns and hoofts to “the fat tail,” as the Revision has it, and from the skin without to the caul that is above the liver, within: everything was appointed, and the penalty for any departure from the divine order was that the offender should be “cut off from among his people.”

Such was the Old Testament worship and God is no less jealous over the New. Matt. 28:19, 20: “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: teaching them to observe all thingswhatsoever I have commanded you.

2. This principle is confirmed by striking examples.

(1) By the death of Nadab and Abihu for offering strange fire.

Lev. 10:1-3: “And Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, took either of them his censer, and put fire therein, and put incense thereon, and offered strange fire before the Lord, which He commanded them not.” The Revision makes it plainer. It reads: “Which He had not commanded them.

That which is not commanded is forbidden: “And there went out fire from the Lord, and devoured them, and they died before the Lord. Then Moses said unto Aaron, This is it that the Lord spake, saying, I will be sanctified in them that come nigh me, and before all the people I will be glorified. And Aaron held his peace.

(2) By the death of Uzza for touching the ark.

That Uzza should be struck dead for touching the ark to steady it when “the oxen shook it,” seems like a fearful punishment for an unintentional offense. The only explanation offered is: “The Lord our God made a breach upon us for that we sought Him not after the due order.” See also, Numbers 16: Korah, Dathan, and Abiram; 1 Samuel 13: Saul offering sacrifice at Gilgal; 2 Chron. 26:16-21: Uzziah officiating as priest.

3. This was a fundamental principle of the Calvinistic Reformation.

Your study of Church history will make you familiar with the distinction between Luther and Calvin on this point. Luther held that whatever is not forbidden in the Word of God, is permitted. Hence he allowed the use of images, pictures, organs, and many ritualistic observances. Calvin taught that it is not a sufficient warrant for introducing anything into the worship of God, to say that the Bible does not forbid it. It must have the appointment of the Divine Word. This principle was accepted by all the churches which adopted the Reformation in the Calvinistic form. This makes a wide distinction, as to purity of worship, between the Lutheran and the Reformed Churches.

4. This is the doctrine of the Westminster Standards.

Larger Catechism, Quest. 108: “The duties required in the second commandment are the receiving, observing, and keeping pure and entire all such religious worship and ordinances as God hath instituted in His Word. . . . Also the disapproving, detesting, opposing, all false worship; and, according to each one’s place and calling, removing it.”

Quest. 109: “The sins forbidden in the second commandment are all devising, counselling, commanding, using, and in any wise approving any religious worship not instituted by God Himself. . . . All superstitious devices, corrupting the worship of God, adding to it or taking from it, whether invented and taken up of ourselves or received by tradition from others, though under the title of antiquity, custom, devotion, good intent, or any other pretense whatever. . . . All neglect, contempt, hindering, or opposing the worship and ordinances which God hath appointed.”

Shorter Catechism, Quest. 51: “The second commandment forbiddeth the worshipping of God by images, or any other way not appointed in His Word.”

Speaking of this the late Professor Girardeau said: “But whatever others may think or do, Presbyterians cannot forsake this principle without the guilt of defection from their own venerable standards and from the testimonies sealed by the blood of their fathers. Among the principles that the Reformers extracted from the rubbish of corruption and held up to the light again, none was more comprehensive, far-reaching and profoundly reforming than this. It struck at the root of every false doctrine and practice, and demanded the restoration of the true. Germany has been infinitely the worse because of Luther’s failure to apply it to the full. Calvin enforced it more fully. . . . John Knox stamped it upon the heart of the Scottish Reformation and it constituted the glory of the English Puritans. Alas! that it is passing into decadence in the Presbyterian churches of England, Scotland and America. What remains but that those who still see it and cling to it as something dearer than life itself should continue to utter, however feebly, their unchanging testimony to its truth. It is the acropolis of the Church’s liberties; the palladium of her purity. That gone, nothing will be left but to strain its gaze toward the dawn of the millennial day. Then we are entitled to expect that a more thorough-going and glorious reformation will be effected than that which has blessed the Church and the world since the magnificent propagation of Christianity by the labors of the inspired apostles themselves.”

II. Instrumental Music Was Divinely Appointed to Be Used in Connection with the Sacrificial Offerings in the Temple.

We have established the principle that whatever is not commanded in the worship of God is forbidden. It follows from this that it is a sin to bring into divine worship anything that it would not be a sin to leave out. It is agreed by all that instrumental music was used in connection with the temple services. It was introduced by such a distinct authority of God that the failure to employ it would have been an act of disobedience to God. On this point Professor Girardeau says: “Although David was a lover of instrumental music and himself performed on the hapr, it was not until some time after his reign had begun that this order of things was changed; and, as we shall see, changed by divine command. 1 Chron. 28:11-13, 19: ‘Then David gave to Solomon his son the pattern of the porch, and of the houses thereof, and of the treasuries thereof, and of the upper chambers thereof, and of the inner parlors thereof, and of the place of the mercy seat, and the pattern of all that he had by the Spirit, of the courts of the house of the Lord, and of all the chambers round about, . . . also for the courses of the priests and the Levites, and for all the work of the service of the house of the Lord, and for all the vessels of the service in the house of the Lord. . . . All this, said David, the Lord made me to understand in writing by His hand upon me, even all the works of this pattern.” Compare with this:

2 Chron. 29:25-30: “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 byHis prophets. . . . 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 ordained by David, King of Israel. And all the congregation worshiped, and the singers sang and the trumpeters sounded; and all this continued until the burnt offering was finished. And when they had made an end of offering, the King and all that were present with him bowed themselves and worshiped. Moreover Hezekiah the King and the princes commanded the Levites to sing praise unto the Lord with the words of David, and of Asaph the seer. And they sang praises with gladness, and they bowed their heads and worshiped.”

From a comparison of these passages Professor Girardeau draws the following conclusions, which seem to be warranted:

1. Instrumental music never was divinely warranted as an element in the tabernacle worship until David received inspired instructions to introduce it as preparatory to the transition which was about to be effected to the more elaborate ritual of the temple.

2. When the temple was to be built and its order of worship to be instituted, David received a divine revelation in regard to it, just as Moses had, concerning the tabernacle with its ordinances.

3. This direct revelation to David was enforced upon Solomon and upon the priests and Levites by inspired communications, touching the same subject, from the prophets Gad and Nathan.

4. Instrumental music would not have been constituted an element in the temple worship had not God expressly authorized it by His command.

“The public worship of the tabernacle, up to the time when it was to be merged into the temple, had been a stranger to it; and so great an innovation could have been accomplished only by divine authority. God’s positive enactment grounded the propriety of the change.”

III. There Is No Divine Warrant for Instrumental Music, Except in Connection with the Typical Services of the Temple.

1. There are two kinds of services mentioned in the Old Testament.

(1) The typical and temporary ceremonies.

(2) The permanent services of worship.

2. The instruments of music were employed only in connection with the typical and temporary services of the temple.

1 Chron. 23:3-5, 30, 31: “Now the Levites were numbered from the age of thirty years and upward: and their number by their polls, man by man, was thirty and eight thousand, of which twenty and four thousand were to set forward the work of the house of the Lord; and six thousand were officers and judges. Moreover, four thousand were porters; and four thousand praised the Lord with the instruments which I made, said David, to praise therewith. . . . And to stand every morning to thank and praise the Lord, and likewise at even” — (very evidently this was in connection with the morning and evening sacrifices). “And to offer all burnt sacrifices unto the Lord in the sabbaths, in the new moons, and on the set feasts, by number, according to the order commanded unto them, continually before the Lord.” 2 Chron. 29:27, 28: “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 the congregation worshiped, and the singers sang, and the trumpeters sounded; and all this continued until the burnt offering was finished.” See also, 2 Chron. 5:11-14. It cannot be shown that the instruments were ever employed in the temple, except in connection with these temporary and typical services.

3. The services of the synagogue were neither typical nor temporary: and in these no instruments of music were employed.

We cannot stop to trace the history of the synagogue worship. Nor is this necessary, because it is universally admitted that it consisted of reading and expounding the Scriptures, singing of psalms and prayers, not one of which services is, in its nature, either typical or temporary. No advocate of instrumental music is bold enough to claim that it had a place in the ancient synagogue.

The Rev. R. J. Breckenridge, of the Presbyterian Church, one of the most renowned theologians of his day, in an article written in 1856, in opposition to the introduction of instruments into the worship of the Presbyterian Church, says: “As to the synagogue system, that system after which, both in its model and in its objects, the Christian Church was confessedly and undeniably formed, it allowed no instrumental music. Probably in the tens of thousands of Jewish synagogues which have covered the earth during the whole of the career of that wonderful people, not one can be found in which a congregation of enlightened Jews who adhered to the institutions of their religion and their race allowed any instruments of music, much less an organ, to form any part of their system of the public worship of God.” The phrase “much less an organ,” is eloquent of the writer’s feeling.

Professor J. R. W. Sloane, than whom we have had no man of broader or more accurate scholarship, in an article published in Our Banner, 1880, p. 265ff., says: “The New Testament worship was modeled on the synagogue worship, and in that worship instruments were not used: At all events this is the opinion of the very highest authorities we have. I know of no authority affirming that they were, and I do not believe that it is a point that admits of any argument even.”

Professor Girardeau says: “The writers who have most carefully investigated Jewish antiquities and have written learnedly and elaborately in regard to the synagogue, concur in showing that its worship was destitute of instrumental music.”

The conclusion is inevitable that instrumental music was introduced by the authority of God in connection with the typical and temporary services of the temple, and never was used in the worship of the synagogue at all.

IV. There Is No Scriptural Authority for the Introduction of Instrumental Music into the Worship of the New Testament Church.

1. The typical temple service with which it was connected was completely abolished.

We have seen that the divine warrant for instrumental music was clear and definite, but its use was restricted to this part of the temple service. If anything is made explicit beyond all controversy it is that the whole service with which the use of instruments was connected has been abolished.

And not only was it abolished by the teaching of the New Testament, but God in His providence put an end to it by razing the temple until “not one stone was left upon another,” and by preventing its rebuilding. The divine authority in abolishing that whole ceremonial service of which the use of instruments in worship was a part, is as clear and explicit as the divine authority instituting that worship.

2. The New Testament worship was patterned after the synagogue worship.

This is a point on which there is no difference of opinion. The services consisted of prayer, reading the Scriptures, exposition of the Scriptures, and the singing of psalms. No church historian, so far as I know, suggests even the probability of the use of instruments, either in the synagogue or in the New Testament apostolic church. Fisher’s History of the Christian Church, p. 65; Schaff’s History of the Apostolic Church, pp. 560-565; Kurtz’History of the Christian Church, p. 70, vol. I.

3. The New Testament contains not one word authorizing their introduction.

As the authority under which they were introduced in the temple worship has expired by its own limitation, if they are to find a place in the New Testament worship it must be by a divine re-appointment. No such warrant can be found in the New Testament.

4. The use of such instruments is wholly out of harmony with the nature of New Testament worship.

Man dwelling in the flesh has always felt the need of something tangible as a means of approach to God, who is a pure Spirit. Hence the disposition to worship God through images. To meet this necessity until Christ came, God instituted material forms of worship. He appointed a holy place, the temple at Jerusalem; a priesthood to come between the people and God; holy sacrifices to be offered by holy men in the holy place. And as a suitable accompaniment to all this materialistic and carnal worship, God appointed the use of instrumental music. It had a relation to such a service that it could not have to a purely spiritual worship.

Now all this is changed. The antitype has come. Christ, the substance, has been exhibited. Man’s need for something on which the mind can stay itself in its approach to God has been supplied. All these material objects which stood between the worshiper and God have been swept aside and the whole infinite distance between man and God is filled by the one mediator, Christ. There is room for no other. Bishop Pyle says: “To bring into the Christian church, holy places, sanctuaries, altars, priests, sacrifices, gorgeous vestments, and the like, is to dig up that which has long been buried, and to turn to candles for light under the noonday sun.”

5. The use of instrumental music is a corruption of the spiritual worship of the New Testament.

It is not enough to say it is out of harmony with it. It is a positive hindrance, and destroys its purity.

(1) Because it breaks through the limitation which God placed upon its use.

The word “corruption” means “to break apart.” When instrumental music was confined within the limits of its divine appointment as a part of a ceremonial, typical, materialistic dispensation, the worship was pure and acceptable to God. But when it breaks through these limitations and thrusts itself into the spiritual worship of the new dispensation, then indeed it becomes “corruption.”

(2) Because it tends to draw the mind of the worshiper away from God, who is the object of worship, and from Christ, who is the only way of approach to God.

Before Christ came, the temple, the sacrifices, the ritualistic worship assisted the worshiper by directing his mind toward Christ, of whom all these things were types and shadows. But since Christ, the substance, was exhibited, the very same things which in a former dispensation led to Him, now lead the mind of the worshiper away from Him.

For instance, the priest, the altar, and the sacrifice aided the Old Testament worshiper to see Christ by faith; but now, when the Church of Rome thrusts the priest, and the altar, and the sacrifice of the mass between the worshiper and God, she shuts out from him the true vision of Christ. So when instrumental music, which was an aid to the sensuous worship of the Old Testament, with which it has no harmony and to the very spirit of which it is antagonistic, it draws the mind away from Christ and corrupts the worship of God.


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