The History of Instrumental Music in the Church

History of Instrumental Music in the Church

In our last post we saw how the Regulative Principle of Worship (RPW) is the standard by which we should approach the question of instrumental music in the corporate worship of the church. We demonstrated how instrumental music—as part of the ceremonial worship of the old covenant—has been abrogated and is no longer part of public worship in the new covenant. In this post we will confirm this biblical interpretation by the overwhelming witness of church history.

3. The History of Instrumental Music in the Christian Church.

The Christian Church rejected instrumental music in worship for most of church history except in two periods: the dark ages of Roman Catholicism in the 14th to the early 16th centuries (with a few isolated instances prior to that), and again in the 19th century to the present. It is not an overstatement to say that the legacy of the Church is largely against musical instruments in corporate worship. This fact is widely recognized by historians [1] and evident in the fact that the term a capella comes from Latin by way of Italian, meaning “in the style of the church [chapel].” [2] R. Scott Clark writes that “the early post-apostolic church sang only inspired songs without accompaniment…the patristic church, though in favor of the use of music in worship, was quite opposed to the use of instruments in worship.” [3] While the Western Latin Church introduced instrumental music in the late medieval period, the Eastern Orthodox Churches continued to sing praise a capella as they do to this day. [4] Clark continues,

“Gradually, over the course of the thousand years before the Reformation, the medieval church reinstituted progressively aspects of the Mosaic ceremonial cultus including the introduction of musical instruments which had been suppressed in churches until the tenth century. Their reintroduction was highly controversial…the introduction of instruments in worship accompanied the rise of sacerdotalism in medieval worship. The Reformation saw itself as recovering not only the biblical pattern of worship, but the praxis of the early post-apostolic church. The reformation of worship happened in stages. The first stage of the reformation of worship established the formal principle of the Reformation: sola scriptura. The Reformed churches applied the Scripture principle most thoroughly to the practice of worship.” [5]

Charles Spurgeon observed that musical instruments were “rejected and condemned by the whole army of Protestant divines” [6] from the Reformation onward, except for Lutherans and many Anglicans who reject the RPW. And this was the common practice up until the 19th century.

If the widespread testimony of the Christian Church is against instruments in worship, we should be very cautious about uncritically rejecting that view and thinking that modern practice to the contrary is more faithful. Especially considering how and why instrumentation was reintroduced, as Clark states, “When the use of musical instruments was re-introduced into the Reformed churches, it was not on the basis of biblical exegesis, principle, or confession but on the basis of expediency and pragmatism.” [7] We will cite many specific examples from church history below.

Although the known doctrine or practice of the early Church is not a sufficient ground on which to build our doctrine and practice, the available history of the early Church on instrumental music is a strong witness that should give us pause when approaching this topic. While we should be very cautious in our use of the early Church Fathers, the condemnation of the use of instrumental music in corporate worship is genuinely a ubiquitous and universal sentiment among them. And that for three main reasons, as John Price wrote:

1) They believed that musical instruments and other ceremonies of the Old Testament Temple were characteristic of the Church in its infancy, but now, with the coming of Christ, the Church had come to its maturity and they were no longer to be used; 2) They believed that the many references to musical instruments in the Old Testament should be interpreted figuratively; and 3) They considered musical instruments to be associated with pagan cults and immoral practices. This last objection seems to have been the most common among the Church Fathers and to have caused many of them to reject the use of musical instruments, not only in public worship, but also in private.” [8]

This article will simply quote, with little or no comment, Church witnesses through the centuries against instrumental music. Here we will not attempt to do more than present the historical material we have found relating to instrumental music in the public worship of the church. While we may not fully endorse every interpretive method or reason these witnesses give, these quotes demonstrate the unanimity and vehemence they had in their antagonism against instrumental music in worship. While considering the cloud of witnesses, Price entreats readers to remember the main principles for a capella worship:

1) The Old Testament Temple worship in all of its outward ceremonies and rituals has been abolished. 2) We must look to Christ and His apostles alone for the worship of the Church. 3) With no command, example, or any indication whatsoever from the Lord Jesus that He desires musical instruments to be used in His Church, we have no authority for their use. While we may not find these principles stated in these same words, it will become clear that they lie in the background and often form the theological basis of the rejection of musical instruments by the Church Fathers.” [9]

Historical Quotes.

Pseudo-Justin Martyr.

“The use of singing with instrumental music was not received in the Christian churches, as it was among the Jews in their infant state, but only the use of plain song.” (Pseudo-Justin Martyr, quoted in Bingham, Antiquities of the Christian Church, vol. 1, p. 189).

“Plain singing is not childish, but only the singing with lifeless organs, with dancing and cymbals, etc. Whence the use of such instruments and other things fit for children is laid aside, and plain singing only retained.” (Pseudo-Justin Martyr, Resp. ad Orthodox, q. 107).

Clement of Alexandria (ca. 150-215).

“The Spirit, distinguishing from such revelry the divine service, sings, Praise Him with the sound of trumpet; for with sound of trumpet He shall raise the dead. Praise Him on the psaltery; for the tongue is the psaltery of the Lord. And praise Him on the lyre. By the lyre is meant the mouth struck by the Spirit, as it were by a plectrum. Praise with the timbrel and the dance, refers to the Church meditating on the resurrection of the dead in the resounding skin. Praise Him on the chords and organ. Our body He calls an organ, and its nerves are the strings, by which it has received harmonious tension, and when struck by the Spirit, it gives forth human voices. Praise Him on the clashing cymbals. He calls the tongue the cymbal of the mouth, which resounds with the pulsation of the lips. Therefore He cried to humanity, Let every breath praise the Lord, because He cares for every breathing thing which He has made. For man is truly a pacific instrument; while other instruments, if you investigate, you will find to be warlike, inflaming to lusts, or kindling up amours, or rousing wrath…The one instrument of peace, the Word alone by which we honour God, is what we employ. We no longer employ the ancient psaltery, and trumpet, and timbrel, and flute…” (Clement of Alexandria, Paedagogus 2.4).

“In their wars, therefore, the Etruscans use the trumpet, the Arcadians the pipe, the Sicilians the pectides, the Cretans the lyre, the Lacedæmonians the flute, the Thracians the horn, the Egyptians the drum, and the Arabians the cymbal. The one instrument of peace, the Word alone by which we honour God, is what we employ. We no longer employ the ancient psaltery, and trumpet, and timbrel, and flute, which those expert in war and contemners of the fear of God were wont to make use of also in the choruses at their festive assemblies; that by such strains they might raise their dejected minds. But let our genial feeling in drinking be twofold, in accordance with the law. For if you shall love the Lord your God, and then your neighbour, let its first manifestation be towards God in thanksgiving and psalmody, and the second toward our neighbour in decorous fellowship. For says the apostle, Let the Word of the Lord dwell in you richly. [Colossians 3:16] And this Word suits and conforms Himself to seasons, to persons, to places.

“In the present instance He is a guest with us. For the apostle adds again, Teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, in psalms, and hymns, and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your heart to God. And again, Whatsoever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and His Father. This is our thankful revelry. And even if you wish to sing and play to the harp or lyre, there is no blame. You shall imitate the righteous Hebrew king in his thanksgiving to God. Rejoice in the Lord, you righteous; praise is comely to the upright, says the prophecy. Confess to the Lord on the harp; play to Him on the psaltery of ten strings. Sing to Him a new song. And does not the ten-stringed psaltery indicate the Word Jesus, who is manifested by the element of the decad? And as it is befitting, before partaking of food, that we should bless the Creator of all; so also in drinking it is suitable to praise Him on partaking of His creatures. For the psalm is a melodious and sober blessing. The apostle calls the psalm a spiritual song. [Ephesians 5:19; Colossians 3:16]” (Clement of Alexandria, Paedagogus 2.4).

Sibylline Oracles (ca. 170).

“Wherefore we, sprung of the holy race of Christ…
Never are we allowed to approach the inner shrines of temples,
Or pour libations to images, or honor them with prayers,
Or with the manifold fragrance of flowers or with the gleam
Of torches, nor yet to furnish them with offerings of loaves;
Nor to send up the flame of the altar with vapors of incense,
Nor upon libations of bull-sacrifice to send the blood of slaughtered sheep…
But with holy understandings, rejoicing with merry heart,
With abundant love and with generous hands,
In gracious psalms and songs meet for God
To hymn thee the immortal and faithful are we bidden.”
(VIII., 483-499).

Origen (ca. 185-254).

“The kithara [lyre] is the active soul being moved by the commandments of God, the psalterion [harp] is the pure mind being moved by spiritual knowledge. The musical instruments of the Old Covenant understood spiritually are applicable to us. The kithara, speaking figuratively, is the body, the psalterion the spirit. These are in tune for the wise man who employs the members of the body and powers of the soul as strings. He who makes melody [psallon] with the mind makes melody [psallei] well, speaking spiritual songs and singing in his heart to God [Eph. 5:19].” (Origen on Psalm 33:2; Patrologia Graeca 12:1304 B-C; trans. Everett Ferguson).

“Those who put to death their members upon the earth and take the principalities and powers up to the cross to be crucified with Christ make melody [psallousi] on the timbrel to God. Those who are whole and harmonious do so on the psalterion, the spirit.” (Origen, on Psalm 149:3; Patrologia Graeca 12:1680C).

Pseudo-Clementine Literature.

“But in process of time, the worship of God and righteousness were corrupted by the unbelieving and the wicked, as we shall show more fully by and by. Moreover, perverse and erratic religions were introduced, to which the greater part of men gave themselves up, by occasion of holidays and solemnities, instituting drinking and banquets, following pipes, and flutes, and harps, and diverse kinds of musical instruments, and indulging themselves in all kinds of drunkenness and luxury. Hence every kind of error took its rise.” (Pseudo-Clement, Recognitions of Clement IV.xiii; ANF 8, p. 137).

Eusebius of Caesarea (263-339).

“Of old, at the time those of the circumcision were worshipping with symbols and types, it was not inappropriate to send up hymns to God with the psalterion and cithara and to do this on Sabbath days… But we in an inward manner keep the part of the Jew, according to the saying of the apostle… (Rom. 2:28f.) We render our hymn with a living psalterion and a living cithara with spiritual songs. The unison voices of Christians would be more acceptable to God than any musical instrument. Accordingly in all the churches of God, united in soul and attitude, with one mind and in agreement of faith and piety, we send up a unison melody in the words of the Psalms. We are accustomed to employ such psalmodies and spiritual citharas because the apostle teaches this saying, “in psalms and odes and spiritual hymns.” [Eph. 5:19] Otherwise the kithara might be the whole body, through whose movements and deeds the soul renders a fitting hymn to God. The ten-stringed psalterion might be the worship performed by the Holy Spirit through the five senses of the body (equaling the five powers of the soul).” (Eusebius, Commentary on the Psalms, 91:2-3; Patrologia Graeca 23:1172D-1173 A).

Athanasius (ca. 293-373).

“’Praise him with the sound of the trumpet,’ by his preaching. ‘Praise him with psalterion and kithara.‘ Hymning him by the grace of the Holy Spirit with heart, tongue, and your lips. ‘Praise him with timbrel and dance.‘ Hymn him by putting to death your entire body. ‘Praise him with strings and organ.‘ Strings, I think, are nerves. When these are dead, and attached to a certain piece of wood, and played by a musician, they make a sound. The organ is pipes which are brought together and share with one another the melody blown by the breath when someone plays on them. Praise him then in the light commandments and the hard – in those things which are lacking by the mortification of the body and in the love which is effected by the Holy Spirit…. ‘Praise him with pleasant cymbals.‘ Hymn him with the lips of your body. (Athanasius, On the Titles of the Psalms 150; Patrologia Graeca 27:1341B-D).

Gregory of Nazianzus (329-390).

“Gregory of Nazianzus, Oration V, Against Julian II, speaks of things Christians have in contrast to pagan practices and says: “Let us take up hymns instead of timbrels, psalmody instead of lewd dances and songs, thankful acclamation instead of theatrical clapping…” (Patrologia Graeca 35:709B). His Epistle 232 (193) opposes the mixing of “bishops with laughter, prayers with applause, and psalmody with instrumental accompaniment” at weddings (Patrologia Graeca 37:376A).” (Everette Ferguson, A Cappella Music in the Public Worship of the Church).

Nicetas of Remesiana (335-414).

“It is time to turn to the New Testament to confirm what is said in the Old, and, particularly, to point out that the office of psalmody is not to be considered abolished merely because many other observances of the Old Law have fallen into desuetude. Only the corporal institutions have been rejected, like circumcision, the sabbath, sacrifices, discrimination in foods. So, too, the trumpets, harps, cymbals and timbrels. For the sound of these we now have a better substitute in the music from the mouths of men. The daily ablutions, the new-moon observances, the careful inspection of leprosy are completely past and gone, along with whatever else was necessary only for a time—as it were, for children. Of course, what was spiritual in the Old Testament, for example, faith, piety, prayer, fasting, patience, chastity, psalm singing—all this has been increased in the New Testament rather than diminished.” (Nicetas of Remesiana (335-414), On the Utility of Hymn Singing; trans. Gerald Walsh, Fathers of the Church, vol. 7, p. 71).

Ambrose of Milan (ca. 340-397).

“And so it is justly said, ‘Woe unto them that rise up early in the morning and follow strong drink,’ when they ought to be rendering praises to God; for this they should rise before the dawn and run to meet the Sun of righteousness, who visits his own and arises upon us if we have bestirred ourselves for the sake of Christ and not of wine and luxury. They are singing hymns—will you cling to your harp? They are singing psalms; what business have you with a psaltery and a drum? Woe indeed to you for abandoning your salvation and choosing death.” (Patrologia Latina 14:717).

Jerome (347-420).

Jerome defined “cantare” in Scripture as “sing meditatively, that is, to think about the mystery and the sense of divine Scripture. ‘Psallere,’ on the other hand, implies the chanting of praise to God through a good work: for example, that the sense of hearing offers its service, and likewise the mouth, and the eyes, and the hands, all the members of the body harmonize, as it were, and thereby pluck the chords of the psaltery in noble acts.” (Jerome, Homily 7 On Psalm 67 [68]; Homilies of St. Jerome, vol. 1, p. 51).

“‘With ten-stringed instrument and lyre, with melody upon the harp,’ I shall paraphrase this in simple language: Whenever we lift up pure hands in prayer, without deliberate distractions and contention, we are playing to the Lord with a ten-stringed instrument….Our body and soul and spirit—our harp—are all in harmony, all their strings in tune.” (Jerome, Homily On Psalm 91 [92]; ibid., p. 166).

Augustine of Hippo (354-430).

“‘Praise the Lord with harp; sing unto Him with the psaltery of ten strings,’ For this even now we sang, this expressing with one mouth, we instructed your hearts. Hath not the institution of these Vigils in the name of Christ brought it to pass that harps should be banished out of this place? And lo, the same are bid to sound, ‘Praise the Lord,’ saith he, ‘with harp; sing unto him with the psaltery of ten strings.’ Let none turn his heart to instruments of the theater.” (Augustine, Exposition on the Book of Psalms (Psalms 1-36), p. 311).

Augustine allegorically applied the allusions to instrumental music in the Psalms to the good works of Christians: “‘Praise the Lord with harp:’ praise the Lord, presenting unto Him your bodies a living sacrifice. ‘Sing unto Him with the psaltery of ten strings:’ let your members be servants to the love of God, and of your neighbour, in which are kept both the three and the seven commandments [i.e. the first and second table].” (on Psalm 33; NPNF 1.8, p. 71). On Psalm 92, the psaltery of ten strings is the ten commandments, “song” and “harp” are words and deeds: “If thou speakest words alone, thou hast, as it were, the song only, and not the harp: if thou workest, and speakest not, thou hast the harp only. On this account both speak well and do well, if thou wouldest have the song together with the harp.” (on Psalm 92; NPNF 1.8, p. 453).

“What is the meaning of “praising on the harp,” and praising on the psaltery?…When we do anything according to God’s commandments, obeying His commands and hearkening to Him, that we may fulfill His injunctions, when we are active and not passive, it is the psaltery that is playing. For so also do the Angels; for they have nothing to suffer. But when we suffer anything of tribulation, of trials, of offences on this earth (as we suffer from the inferior part of ourselves; i.e., from the fact that we are mortal, that we owe somewhat of tribulation to our original cause, and also from the fact of our suffering much from those who are not “above”); this is “the harp.” For there rises a sweet strain from that part of us which is “below”: we “suffer,” and we strike the psaltery or shall I rather say we sing and we strike the harp.” (on Psalm 43; NPNF 1.8, p. 139).

Theodoret of Cyrrhus (ca. 393-457).

“‘Praise him with psaltery and harp…’ These instruments the Levites formerly used when praising God in the temple. It was not because God enjoyed their sound, but because he accepted the purpose of their worship. For to show that God does not find pleasure in songs nor in the notes of instruments we hear him saying to the Jews: ‘Take thou away from me the noise of thy songs, for I will not hear the melody of thy instruments’ (Amos 5:23). He allowed these things to be done for the reason that he wished to free them from the deception of idols. For since some of them were fond of play and laughter, and all these things were done in the temples of idols, he allowed these things in order to entice them. He used the lesser evil in order to forbid the greater, and used what was imperfect to teach what was perfect.” (Theodoret, on Psalm 150:4; Patrologia Graeca 80:1996).

“So it was not in any need of victims or craving odors that God commanded them to sacrifice, but that he might heal the sufferings of those who were sick. So he also allowed the use of instrumental music, not that he was delighted by the harmony, but that he might little by little end the deception of idols. For if he had offered them perfect laws immediately after their deliverance from Egypt, they would have been rebellious and thrust away from the bridle, and would have hastened back to their former ruin.” (Theodoret, On the Healing of Greek Afflictions 7.16; Patrologia Graeca 83:997B)

“Q: If songs were invented by unbelievers with a design of deceiving, and were appointed for those under the law, because of the childishness of their minds, why do they who have received the perfect instructions of grace, which are most contrary to the aforesaid customs, nevertheless sing in the churches just as they did who were children under the law?

A: Plain singing is not childish, but only the singing with lifeless organs, with dancing and cymbals, etc. Whence the use of such instruments and other things fit for children is laid aside, and plain singing only retained.” (Theodoret, Quaestiones et Responsiones ad Orthodoxos 107; Patrologia Graeca 6.1353, trans. James McKinnon).

Evagrius Ponticus (346-399).

“Praise the Lord on the cithara, sing to him on the psaltery of ten strings, etc. The cithara is the practical soul set in motion by the commandments of God; the psaltery is the pure mind set in motion by spiritual knowledge. The musical instruments of the Old Testament are not unsuitable for us if understood spiritually; figuratively the body can be called a cithara and the soul a psaltery, which are likened musically to the wise man who fittingly employs the limbs of the body and the powers of the soul as strings. Sweetly sings he who sings in the mind, uttering spiritual songs, singing in his heart to God [Eph. 5:19].” (Evagrius Ponticus (346-399), Selecta in Psalmos, 32.2-3, PG 12.1304, trans. James McKinnon).

Chrysostom (347-407).

“David formerly sang songs, also today we sing hymns. He had a lyre with lifeless strings, the church has a lyre with living strings. Our tongues are the strings of the lyre with a different tone indeed but much more in accordance with piety. Here there is no need for the cithara, or for stretched strings, or for the plectrum, or for art, or for any instrument; but, if you like, you may yourself become a cithara, mortifying the members of the flesh and making a full harmony of mind and body. For when the flesh no longer lusts against the Spirit, but has submitted to its orders and has been led at length into the best and most admirable path, then will you create a spiritual melody.” (Chrysostom, Exposition of Psalm 41, Source Readings in Music History, ed. O. Strunk, W. W. Norton and Co.: New York (1950), p. 70).

“If one enters the sacred chorus of God, there is no need of a musical instrument… It is possible in every place and at every time to sing [psallein] according to the understanding… If you are a craftsman, you are able to sing [psallein] while seated at your place of work and while working… It is possible without voice to make melody [psallein] with the inner mind. For we do not make melody [psallomen] to men, but to God who is able to hear the heart.” (Chrysostom, Exposition on the Psalms, 42.2-3; Patrologia Graeca 55:158-159).

“As the Jews praised God with all kind of instruments; so we are commanded to praise him with all the members of our bodies, our eyes, etc.” (Chrysostom on Ps. 40; Ridgley, Body of Divinity, vol. 4, p. 85).

“Many people take the mention of these instruments allegorically and say that the timbrel required the putting to death of our flesh, and that the psaltery requires us to look up to heaven (for this instrument resounds from above, not from below like the lyre). But I would say this, that in olden times they were thus led by these instruments because of the dullness of their understanding and their recent deliverance from idols. Just as God allowed animal sacrifices, so also he let them have these instruments, condescending to help their weakness.” (Chrysostom, on Ps. 150; Patrologia Graeca 55:494).

“It was only permitted to the Jews, as sacrifice was, for the heaviness and grossness of their souls. God condescended to their weakness, because they were lately drawn off from idols: but now instead of organs, we may use our own bodies to praise him withal.” (Chrysostom, on Ps. 149. Tom. iii. p. 634; quoted in Spurgeon on Ps. 33:2, Treasury of David, vol. 1, part 2, 111; Bingham, Antiquities of the Christian Church, vol. 1, p. 189).

“David at that time was singing in the Psalms, and we today with David. He had a kithara of lifeless strings; the church has a kithara arranged of living strings. Our tongues are the strings of our kithara, putting forth a different sound yet a godly harmony. For indeed women and men, old and young, have different voices but they do not differ in the word of hymnody for the Spirit blends the voice of each and effects one melody in all… The soul is an excellent musician, an artist; the body is an instrument, holding the place of the kithara and aulos and lyre… Since it is necessary to pray unceasingly, the instrument is always with the artist unceasingly.” (Chrysostom, Homily on Psalm 146.2-3 in Patrologia Graeca 55:521-2).

Isidore of Pelusium (ca. 370-449).

“Isidore of Pelusium, who lived since Basil, held music was allowed the Jews by God in a way of condescension to their childishness: ‘If God,’ says he, ‘bore with bloody sacrifices, because of men’s childishness at that time, why should you wonder he bore with the music of a harp and a psaltery?’” (Ridgley, Body of Divinity, vol. 4, p. 86; Lib. 2, Epistle 176).

“If God allowed bloody sacrifices on account of the childhood of men, why do you marvel if also the music of the kithara and psalterion was played?” (Isidore, Epistles II.176; Patrologia Graeca 78:628C).

Apostolic Constitutions (375).

“If any, belonging to the theater, come to the mystery of godliness, being a player upon a pipe, a lute, or an harp, let him leave it off, or be rejected.” (Apostolic Constitutions 8.32; ANF 7, p. 495).

Council of Carthage.

Suicerus “cites a canon of one of the Councils of Carthage to this effect: ‘On the Lord’s Day, let all instruments of music be silenced;’ and remarks that but a few in his own time favored the use of instruments in the church.” (Girardeau, ibid., p. 49; citing Johann Caspar Suicerus, Ecclesiastical Dictionary, on the word ‘oργανον’, p. 501).

Hesychius of Jerusalem (died c. 450).

“The church now promises to offer not only the praise which it has in common with the physical creation, but to give glory with song, which is to offer the spiritual and intellectual hymnody. This is to sing to God properly…. Rational [λογικὴν] praise pleases God more than worship according to the law.” (Fragments on the Psalms 98:30, 31 in Patrologia Graeca 93:1232C).

Cassiodorus (485-585).

“What a marvelous beauty flows from them [the psalms] into our singing. They rival the sweet-sounding organ with human voices, they render the sound of the trumpet with mighty shouts, they construct a vocal kithara by combining living strings, and whatever instruments seemed to do formerly, now can be witnessed and demonstrated in rational beings.” (Cassiodorus, Expositio Psalmorum).

Amalarius (780-850).

“Our own cantors grasp neither cymbals, nor lyre, nor kithara nor any other kind of musical instrument in their hands, but rather in their hearts. For in so far as the heart is superior to the body, to that extent does what takes place in the heart better manifest devotion to God, than what is done by the body. These very cantors are the trumpet, they are the psalterium, they the kithara, they the tympana, they the chorus, they the strings and the body of the instrument, they the cymbals. Wherefore Augustine said of the last psalm in his book on the psalms. . .” (Amalarius, De Ecclesiasticis Officiis, Libri IV).

Midrash Tehillim (900-1000) – Jewish.

“The Rabbis gave definite expression to the view that vocal music was superior to instrumental. ‘The Holy One, blessed be He, will say to them: Even though you praise Me with psalteries and with harps, your praise is not sweet to Me until it comes from your mouths’ (Midrash Tehillim On Psalms 149, 5). And again, ‘The Holy One, blessed be He, said, I desire from Israel not music of the harp but the solemn utterance of their mouth’ (On Psalms 92, 7).” (Everett Ferguson, A Cappella Music in the Public Worship of the Church (2013)).

Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274).

“Our church does not use musical instruments, as harps and psalteries, to praise God withal, that she may not seem to Judaize.” (Thomas Aquinas, Bingham’s Antiquities, vol. 3, p. 137).

“Instruments of this sort more move the mind to delight, than form internally a good disposition. Under the Old Testament, however, there was some utility in such instruments, both because the people were more hard and carnal, and needed to be stirred up by instruments of this kind as by promises of earthly good, and also because material instruments of this sort figured something.” (Aquinas, Summa Theologica II.ii.2, xci., A. ii., 4 et conclusio).

Cardinal Cajetan (1469-1534) – Roman Catholic.

Referencing Aquinas’ remarks on instrumental music, Cardinal Cajetan gives this comment: “Tis to be observed, the Church did not use organs in Thomas’s time. Whence, even to this day, the Church of Rome does not use them in the Pope’s presence. And truly it will appear, that musical instruments are not to be suffered in the ecclesiastical offices we meet together to perform, for the sake of receiving internal instruction from God; and so much the rather are they to be excluded, because God’s internal discipline exceeds all human disciplines, which rejected these kind of instruments.” (Cardinal Cajetan, Cit. Hottm. Lex. voce Musica). Ridgley, Body of Divinity, vol. 4, p. 87.

Erasmus of Rotterdam (1466-1536) – Roman Catholic.

Erasmus, lamenting instrumental music in the church, wrote, “We have brought into our churches certain operatic and theatrical music; such a confused, disorderly chattering of some words as I hardly think was ever in any of the Grecian or Roman theatres. The church rings with the noise of trumpets, pipes, and dulcimers; and human voices strive to bear their part with them. Men run to church as to a theatre, to have their ears tickled. And for this end organ makers are hired with great salaries, and a company of boys, who waste all their time learning these whining tones.” (Erasmus, Commentary on 1 Cor. 14:19).

“I make no question but all that kind of music was a part of the legal pedagogy. In the solemn worship of God, I do not judge it more suitable than if we should recall the incense, tapers, and other shadows of the law into use. I say again, to go beyond what we are taught is most wicked perversity.” (William Ames quoting Erasmus, A Fresh Suit Against Human Ceremonies in God’s Worship, pp. 405-6).

Andreas Bodenstein von Carlstadt (1480-1541) – Lutheran.

Andreas Bodenstein von Carlstadt (1480-1541), condemned as a heretic in 1520 along with Martin Luther, wrote a “Disputation on Gregorian Chant” in which he criticized not just Gregorian chanting—”because it had become an unintelligible mumbling of words” (John Price, Old Light on New Worship, p. 88), and was therefore unedifying—but also instrumental music in public worship. He argued that “the concentration required to play a musical instrument rendered the worship of the instrumentalist psychologically impossible” (Price, ibid., p. 88). He also wrote, “On the grounds that it is everywhere a hindrance to devotion, we completely reject the measured chant from the church. Therefore, together with it and the organ, we relegate trumpets and flutes to the theatre of entertainments and the halls of princes.” (quoted in Charles Garside, Zwingli and the Arts, p. 46). Carlstadt implemented many reforms in worship in Luther’s absence, but they were eventually so unpopular in Wittenberg that they were reversed.

Peter Martyr Vermigli (1499-1562).

“Musical organs pertain to the Jewish ceremonies and agree no more to us than circumcision.” (Peter Martyr Vermigli, quoted in Ames, Fresh Suit…, p. 405).

Heinrich Bullinger (1504-1575).

“Since they also are not in accord with the apostle’s teaching in 1 Corinthians 14, the organs in the great cathedral of Zurich were demolished on the 9th of December in this year of 1527.” (Heinrich Bullinger, Reformationsgechichte, vol. 1, p. 418).

John Calvin (1509-1564).

It is evident that the Psalmist here expresses the vehement and ardent affection which the faithful ought to have in praising God, when he enjoins musical instruments to be employed for this purpose. He would have nothing omitted by believers which tends to animate the minds and feelings of men in singing God’s praises. The name of God, no doubt, can, properly speaking, be celebrated only by the articulate voice; but it is not without reason that David adds to this those aids by which believers were wont to stimulate themselves the more to this exercise; especially considering that he was speaking to God’s ancient people. There is a distinction, however, to be observed here, that we may not indiscriminately consider as applicable to ourselves, every thing which was formerly enjoined upon the Jews. I have no doubt that playing upon cymbals, touching the harp and the viol, and all that kind of music, which is so frequently mentioned in the Psalms, was a part of the education; that is to say, the puerile instruction of the law: I speak of the stated service of the temple. For even now, if believers choose to cheer themselves with musical instruments, they should, I think, make it their object not to dissever their cheerfulness from the praises of God. But when they frequent their sacred assemblies, musical instruments in celebrating the praises of God would be no more suitable than the burning of incense, the lighting up of lamps, and the restoration of the other shadows of the law. The Papists, therefore, have foolishly borrowed this, as well as many other things, from the Jews. Men who are fond of outward pomp may delight in that noise; but the simplicity which God recommends to us by the apostle is far more pleasing to him. Paul allows us to bless God in the public assembly of the saints only in a known tongue (1 Cor. 14:16). The voice of man, although not understood by the generality, assuredly excels all inanimate instruments of music; and yet we see what St Paul determines concerning speaking in an unknown tongue.” (John Calvin on Psalm 33:2).

“In speaking of employing the psaltery and the harp in this exercise, he alludes to the generally prevailing custom of that time. To sing the praises of God upon the harp and psaltery unquestionably formed a part of the training of the law, and of the service of God under that dispensation of shadows and figures; but they are not now to be used in public thanksgiving. We are not, indeed, forbidden to use, in private, musical instruments, but they are banished out of the churches by the plain command of the Holy Spirit, when Paul, in 1 Corinthians 14:13, lays it down as an invariable rule, that we must praise God, and pray to him only in a known tongue.” (Calvin on Psalm 71:22).

“With respect to the tabret, harp, and psaltery, we have formerly observed, and will find it necessary afterwards to repeat the same remark, that the Levites, under the law, were justified in making use of instrumental music in the worship of God; it having been his will to train his people, while they were as yet tender and like children, by such rudiments, until the coming of Christ. But now when the clear light of the gospel has dissipated the shadows of the law, and taught us that God is to be served in a simpler form, it would be to act a foolish and mistaken part to imitate that which the prophet enjoined only upon those of his own time. From this, it is apparent that the Papists have shown themselves to be very apes in transferring this to themselves.” (Calvin on Psalm 81:2).

“In the fourth verse, he more immediately addresses the Levites, who were appointed to the office of singers, and calls upon them to employ their instruments of music — not as if this were in itself necessary, only it was useful as an elementary aid to the people of God in these ancient times. We are not to conceive that God enjoined the harp as feeling a delight like ourselves in mere melody of sounds; but the Jews, who were yet under age, were astricted to the use of such childish elements. The intention of them was to stimulate the worshippers, and stir them up more actively to the celebration of the praise of God with the heart. We are to remember that the worship of God was never understood to consist in such outward services, which were only necessary to help forward a people, as yet weak and rude in knowledge, in the spiritual worship of God. A difference is to be observed in this respect between his people under the Old and under the New Testament; for now that Christ has appeared, and the Church has reached full age, it were only to bury the light of the Gospel, should we introduce the shadows of a departed dispensation. From this, it appears that the Papists, as I shall have occasion to show elsewhere, in employing instrumental music, cannot be said so much to imitate the practice of God’s ancient people, as to ape it in a senseless and absurd manner, exhibiting a silly delight in that worship of the Old Testament which was figurative, and terminated with the Gospel.” (Calvin on Psalm 92:4).

John Marbeck (1510-1585).

Convinced by Calvin’s arguments, John Marbeck, former organist of St. George’s Chapel, Windsor, wrote in 1550, “But when they haunt their holy assemblies, I think that musical instruments are no more meet for the setting forth of God’s praises, than if a man shall call again censing and lamps, and such other shadows of the law. Foolishly therefore have the Papists borrowed this and many other things of the Jews. Men that are given to outward pomps delight in such noise, but God liketh better the simplicity which he commendeth to us by his Apostle…” (A Book of Notes and Common Places (1550), pp. 754-755).

Theodore Beza (1519-1605).

“If the apostle justly prohibits the use of unknown tongues in the church, much less would he have tolerated these artificial musical performances which are addressed to the ear alone, and seldom strike the understanding even of the performers themselves.” (Theodore Beza, quoted in Girardeau’s Instrumental Music, p. 166)

David Pareus (1548-1622).

“In the Christian church the mind must be incited to spiritual joy, not by pipes and trumpets and timbrels, with which God formerly indulged his ancient people on account of the hardness of their hearts, but by psalms and hymns and spiritual songs.” (David Pareus (1548-1622), com. 1 Cor. 14:7).

Robert Bellarmine (1542-1621) – Roman Catholic.

“The second ceremony are the musical instruments, which began to be used in the service of the Church in the time of Pope Vitalian about the year 660, as Platinu relates out of the Pontifical, or as Aimonius rather thinks, after the year 820 in the time of Lewis the Pious.” (Robert Bellarmine, De Missa 2.15 item de bon. Oper. 1.17).

“Justinus saith that the use of instruments was granted to the Jews for their imperfection, and that therefore such instruments have no place in the church. We confess indeed that the use of musical instruments agreeth not alike with the perfect and with the imperfect, and that therefore they began but of late to be admitted into the church.” (Robert Bellarmine, de bon. Operibus 1.17).

Hungarian Confessio Catholica (1562).

“Concerning Musical Organs. It is certain that in the ancient church and in Solomon’s temple, the use of musical instruments was accepted. Now that Christ has come, and together with the ancient priesthood and sacrifice and the representation appertaining to the Law, the use of instruments in churches has vanished like a shadow. For the various instruments of the musicians symbolized the parts and members of the elect, i.e., that the elect must worship the Lord with heart, soul, word and in every way. Thus David mentions every kind of instrument so that man may glorify God with all his strength, mind and members. He must speak and sing in the assembly with delight from the soul. For Paul would not only disapprove of the use of crude instruments, but does not permit in the church incomprehensible human words and singing that lacks edifying force; indeed, he calls them mindless that teach and sing in the assembly like barbarians in unfamiliar languages (1 Cor. 14). The fathers teach the same. There is not so much as a reference to the organ in the New Testament, nor of its introduction into the purer church; but it was only introduced in theatrical Masses, as if in obscene sport, by immoral priests to make clowns cut capers. The papal chronicles attribute its introduction to Pope Vitalian. The resolutions of the councils, together with Jerome, condemn the stentorian noise in churches of persons shouting in theatrical fashion (Amos 5, 6). In the prophets, the Lord prohibits the playing of the harp and organs, and commands that teaching be done with the human voice, not with shadows and tricks. Therefore, they do wrong that mumble foolishly before God the canonical hours as if superstitiously chattering to themselves something of merit in the process, and who keep an organ in the sacred assembly like papists and others. What my father has not planted will be rooted out (Matt. 15:13). But to say seven times “glory to God” means that we worship God constantly in Spirit and in truth because seven times means many times—without end (Matt. 18; Luke 17; Jerome, Augustine, and Hilary on these passages).” (Hungarian Confessio Catholica (1562); 16th & 17th Century Reformed Confessions, vol. 2, pp. 565-566).

Debrecen Synod (1567).

“The musical instruments, however, adopted for the pantomime (saltatrici) Mass of Antichrist, together with images, we abhor. There is no use for them in the church, and indeed they are marks and occasions of idolatry.” (Documents of the Debrecen Synod (1567), vol. 3, p. 111).

Provincial Synod of the Churches of Holland and Zeeland (1574).

“50. As to the playing of organs in the church, it is maintained that this should be completely discontinued in accordance with the teaching of Paul in 1 Corinthians 14:19. And although some of these churches still use it at the end of the preaching as the people are leaving, it nevertheless generally causes the people to forget what was previously heard. There is also concern that organ playing will lead to superstition as it now does to levity. If organ playing would be discontinued, then it would be more appropriate to collect the alms at the doors as the people are leaving rather than in the middle of the service which hinders the worship of God.” (Provincial Synod of the Churches of Holland and Zeeland, Acts and Decisions of the Provincial Synod of the Churches of Holland and Zeeland held in Dordrecht Beginning on 16 June and ending on the 28th June 1574 in The Church Orders of the 16th Century Reformed Churches of the Netherlands Together with their Social, Political, and Ecclesiastical Context, trans. and collated by Richard R. Ridder with the assistance of Rev. Peter H. Jonker and Rev. Leonard Verduin (Grand Rapids: Calvin Theological Seminary, 1987), p. 159).

[R. Scott Clark on the reference to 1 Cor. 14:19: “They are applying this verse to the question of instruments by equating “strange tongues” with musical instruments on analogy with 1 Cor 14:7 “Moreover things without life which give a sound, whether it be a pipe or an harp, except they make a distinction in the sounds, how shall it be known what is piped or harped?” Synod is saying that organ is a strange tongue. Better to hear God’s people singing God’s Word than to have a strange tongue (organ).”]

Nassau Confession (1578).

“Latin songs, as well as organs (first introduced into the churches by Pope Vitellianus about 665) are for the most part abolished in the churches of this land.” (Nassau Confession (1578), vol. 3, p. 515). 

National Synod of the Netherlands, German, and Walloon Churches (1578).

77. We do not consider the use of organs in the churches to be good especially for the preaching (services). Therefore, we judged that ministers should labor, even though organs are tolerated for a time, that they be removed at the earliest and most suitable time.” (National Synod of the Netherlands, German, and Walloon Churches…held at Dordrecht (1578), ibid., p. 220).

William Perkins (1558-1602).

“To these [‘popish superstitions’] may be added consort in music in divine service, feeding the ears, not edifying the mind. (1 Corinthians 14:15) ‘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.‘ Justin Martyr in his book of Christian Questions and Answers 107, ‘It is not the custom of the Churches, to sing their meters with any such kind of instruments, etc. but their manner is to use plain song.‘” (William Perkins, A Golden Chain (1597), p. 69).

“God’s kingdom is the place of joy (Rom. 14:17). Rejoicing belongs to the people of God (Pss. 68:3; 106:5). The music of the temple was typical, and figured the joy of the catholic church, where is the assurance of remission of sins and life eternal.” (William Perkins, Commentary on Galatians (1617), Works II, p. 312).

Geneva Bible (1599).

“Exhorting the people only to rejoice in praising God, he maketh mention of those instruments which by God’s commandment were appointed in the old Law, but under Christ the use thereof is abolished.” (Geneva Bible (1599) note on Ps. 150:3).

David Calderwood (1575-1650).

“The Pastor loveth no music in the house of God but such as edifieth, and stoppeth his ears at instrumental music, as serving for the pedagogy of the untoward Jews under the law, and being figurative of that spiritual joy whereunto our hearts should be opened under the gospel. The Prelate loveth carnal and curious singing to the ear, more than the spiritual melody of the gospel, and therefore would have antiphony and organs in the cathedral kirks, upon no greater reason than other shadows of the law of Moses; or lesser instruments, as lutes, citherus and pipes might be [to be] used in other kirks.” (David Calderwood, The Pastor and the Prelate (1628), p. 9).

David Dickson (c. 1583-1663).

“There is no exercise whereunto we have more need to be stirred up, than to praise; such is our dullness, and such is the excellency and necessity of the work, as the ceremonial use of musical instruments in the pedagogy of Moses, did signify and import; the religious use whereof, albeit it be taken away with the rest of the Ceremonial Law (the natural or civil use thereof remaining still the same, both before the Ceremonial Law and after it), yet the thing signified, which is the bending all the powers of our soul and body to praise God, is not taken away.” (David Dickson, com. Psalm 33:2-3).

John Bunyan (1628-1688).

“These songs were sung with harps, psalteries, cymbals, and trumpets; a type of our singing with spiritual joy, from grace in our hearts (1 Chron. 25:6; 2 Chron. 29:26-28; Col. 3:16).” (John Bunyan, Works vol. 3, p. 496).

Gisbertius Voetius (1589-1676).

Voetius argues that instrumental music “savors of Judaism, or a worship suited to a childish condition under the Old Testament economy; and there might with equal justice be introduced into the churches of the New Testament the bells of Aaron, the silver trumpets of the priests, the horns of the Jubilee, harps, psalteries and cymbals, with Levitical singers, and so the whole cultus of that economy, or the beggarly elements of the world, according to the words of the apostle in the fourth chapter of Galatians.” (Voetius, Ecclesiastical Polity, 2.2.3).

(In this work, an entire section ‘De Organis et cantu Organico in Sacris‘ addresses the question of instrumental music in the public worship of God, and defends the historic Reformed doctrine and practice of unaccompanied praise).

Wilhelm Zepperus (1550-1607).

“Instrumental music in the religious worship of the Jews, belonged to the ceremonial law, which is now abolished.” (Wilhelm Zepperus (1550-1607), De Lege Mosaica, lib. iv).

Johann Heinrich Alting (1583-1644).

“1.  Whatsoever in the Divine service of the people of the Jews was ceremonial, all that is abolished. Instrumental musick in the Divine service of the people of the Jews was ceremonial; as is abundantly evident by comparing the Old Testament church with the New. Therefore, &c.

“2. The design and end of Church Assemblies ought to be edification and instruction, 1 Cor. 14:19, 26. By organs, or musical instruments, there is not edification or instruction; for if unknown tongues be unprofitable for that end, much more these confusedly sounding instruments. Therefore, &c.

“3. Organs were first invented, and brought into the Christian Church, by Pope Vitalian, while Superstition did prevail, about the year of Christ 770. Therefore they should be hateful to us; and are again by us deservedly thrown out of the churches.” (Syllab. Controver. p. 160).

Abraham Van de Velde (1614-1677).

“The Synods of Dordt, 1578, art. 77; of Middelburg, 1581; of Gelderland, 1640, art. 3, have all dealt with terminating, when determining the place of the organ in the Church. The statement made by the Synod of Dordt, 1574, art. 50, needs our special attention; we read, ‘Concerning the use of Organs in the Congregation, we hold that according to 1 Cor. 14: 19, it should not have a place in the Church; and where it is still used when people leave the church, it is of no use but to forget what was heard before.

“They witness that it is nothing but frivolity. It is also remarkable that lord Rivet, contending against the papists, mentions several of their authors, who condemn the novelty of the Organ, and point out that it is without profit. (André Rivet, Catholicus Orthodoxus Oppositus Catholico Papistae, tom. 1, p. 561).

“To know the reason why Organs should be kept out of the Church, read our learned theologians and their polemics about Organs against the Lutherans and Papists; see Faukee, about Psalm 45, p. 20. Also Lodoc. Larenus, in cap. 12 Esa, p. 47, where we find the story of the duty of Middelburg’s consistory to do away with the Organ; Hoornbeek disput. 2, de Psalmodia. thes 7; Rivet, in Exod. cap. 15 vs 12. Imprimis Gisb. Voetii. Polit. Eccl. part. 1, p. 548. Hospiniamus de Templis, p. 309. It would be better if this and other novelties were not mentioned.” (Van de Velde, The Wonders of the Most High: A 125 Year History of the United Netherlands 1550-1675).

Matthew Henry (1662-1714).

“Let God be praised in the dance with timbrel and harp, according to the usage of the Old Testament church very early (Exod. 15:20), where we find God praised with timbrels and dances. Those who from this urge the use of music in religious worship must by the same rule introduce dancing, for they went together, as in David’s dancing before the ark, and Judges 21:21. But, whereas many scriptures in the New Testament keep up singing as a gospel-ordinance, none provide for the keeping up of music and dancing; the gospel-canon for psalmody is to sing with the spirit and with the understanding.” (Matthew Henry, com. Psalm 149:3).

Henry Ainsworth (1571–1622).

“The manner of singing, is to be holy, reverent, grace, orderly, with understanding, feeling, and comfort, to the edification of the church…Instruments of music were so annexed to the songs in the Temple, as incense to the prayers (2 Chron. 29). Such shadows are ceased, but the substance remaineth.” (Henry Ainsworth, Orthodox Foundation of Religion (1653), pp. 405-406).

William Ames (1576-1633).

“It would be too tedious if I should reckon up all that have assented to these [i.e. Reformers who agreed with those he quoted rejecting musical instrumentation]. I will add only the two and thirty grave learned men, which were chosen in King Edwards days, to reform Ecclesiastical laws, and observances they judged this law fitting, ‘It likes us well to have this tedious kind of musicke taken away.’” (Ames, A Fresh Suit Against Human Ceremonies in God’s Worship, p. 405).

John Cotton (1584-1652).

“Instrumental music found in the ancient Jewish Temple is merely a type or shadow of the edifying and untheatrical singing with the heart and voice approved and practiced in the New Testament.” (John Cotton, Singing of Psalms a Gospel Ordinance).

Oliver Cromwell (1599-1658).

“Many organs (especially in parish churches) were removed by the 1580s, including those in some university college chapels like King’s College, Cambridge. From the later 1590s organs were re-instated, especially in choral foundations. However, many churches which had organs before the Reformation or up to the 1570s did not replace them until the eighteenth or even the nineteenth century… From the 1640s, when Parliament was dominant, choirs were disbanded, organs removed, cathedrals eventually dissolved.
. . .
An apparent dearth of organ music from c. 1640 to the Restoration is all to easily put down to the Puritanical attacks on instruments during the Civil War and Commonwealth. The ordinances issued by Parliament on 9 May 1644, ordering the demolition of all organs, images, and other monuments regarded as being superstitious, paint a bleak picture. Despite this, it was possible for John Evelyn to hear Christopher Gibbons performing at the organ of Magdalen College, Oxford, on 12 July 1654. The preservation of an organ in church was unusual and in his diary Evelyn acknowledges that most organs had been removed from churches. However, although Oliver Cromwell and the Puritans objected to the liturgical use of the organ, this is not to say that they objected to its secular use. Crowmwell moved the organ on which Gibbons played from Magdalen College to Hampton Court for his own use during the Commonwealth, where it was erected in the Great Gallery. Just as the royal court had its own appointed organists, so Cromwell employed John Hingston, who was also charged with the musical education of his daughters…Cromwell did not object to music—not even Latin motets—provided that it played no part in church worship.” (John Harper, Changes in the Fortunes and Use of the Organ in Church, 1500-1800, Studies in English Organ Music, ed. Iain Quinn, 2018).

Cuthbert Sydenham (1622–1654).

“The great abuses of the Roman and Episcopal Church about this ordinance…1. The introducing musical instruments together with, as organs, harps, viols, etc. where in the New Testament God requires the voice as the only organ of the heart in worship. No musical instruments are associated with the New Testament singing of psalms, hymns and songs. The New Testament church is patterned after the synagogue and not the temple. The synagogue did not have musical instruments, and when the temple was destroyed, the Old Testament use in outward observance was done away with. The synagogue remained.” (Cuthbert Sydenham, A Gospel Ordinance Concerning the Singing of Scripture Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual Songs).

Henry Hickman (1629-1692).

“[Musical instruments] are laid aside by most of the reformed churches; nor would they be retained among the Lutherans, unless they had forsaken their own Luther, who, by the confession of Eckard, reckoned organs among the ensign of Baal. That they still continue in some of the Dutch churches, is against the minds of the Pastors. For in the National Synod at Middelburg in the year 1581, and in the Synod of Holland and Zealand, in the year 1594, it was resolved. That they would endeavour to obtain of the magistrate the laying aside of organs, and the singing with them in the churches, even out of the time of worship, either before or after sermons: so far are those Synods from bearing with them in the worship itself.” (Mr. Hickman, Apot. p. 139; cited in Ridgley, Body of Divinity, vol. 4, p. 87).

Anonymous (1698).

“Harps, organs, or any other sort of musical instruments used in celebrating the divine praises is no part, nor ever was, of immediate worship; instrumental music indeed was a part of mediate worship; which ceremonies may be, when once they have the stamp of divine authority put upon them, to warrant their use as sacred. So that it is evident the singing of Psalms with the voice, is a substantial part of worship; it is a rational act and expresseth in a melodious manner the conceptions of the mind. But instrumental music is only ceremonial, for it is no rational act, neither does it articulately express the affections, and serious conceptions of the soul.” (Anonymous, A Letter to a Friend in the Country Concerning the Use of Instrumental Music in the Worship of God (London, 1698), pp. 16-17). [Musical instruments are “things without life” (1 Cor. 14:7)]

John Brown of Haddington (1722-1787).

“Though instrumental music was much in use in the temple service as regulated by David and Solomon, yet we have no notice of its being employed in divine worship in either the antediluvian, the patriarchal, or the Mosaic periods of the church, with the exception of the chorus which Miriam and her fellow-women subjoined to the triumphal song of Moses and the Israelites on the overthrow of Pharaoh and his army in the Red Sea. This is the more worthy of notice as regards the Mosaic dispensation, when we take into account the fullness and minuteness of the instructions which the great legislator gave as to religious observances under that economy.

“In the N. T. there is no reference to instrumental music as in use among the Christians of apostolic times. It is simply vocal music that is ever mentioned…These passages [John 4:24; 1 Cor. 14:16; Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16; James 5:18] might be proof enough that instrumental music was not in use among Christians in apostolic times; and this is conclusively confirmed by the fact, that it was not introduced into the church until ages after…

“Now, when we combine together these two facts, that there is no authority in the N. T. for the use of instrumental music in religious worship, and that it was not in use in the church until centuries after, this may be held to be conclusive proof that it was not in use in the apostolic churches; for though the practice of the apostolic churches might in many cases be laid aside as the church grew more corrupt, it is utterly unlikely that instrumental music, had it been in use in them, would be laid aside as the church advanced in corruption, for it is just one of those usages which are congenial to the corrupt nature of man, and which we accordingly find was brought in in the darkest age of popery.

“There is thus no room to say that instrumental music in Christian churches is of divine authority. There is no room to doubt that it is of human invention—an act of will worship—an attempt of man to improve or mend the work of God, as if he knew better than God what was best fitted to cherish devotional feelings in the human breast, and what would be most acceptable to himself as an act of worship…

“Instrumental music is often introduced into public worship under the plea that it will promote the devotional feelings of the worshipers; but we suspect the contrary of this is more commonly the result. Their minds are so apt to be taken up with and carried away by the music that devotional feelings are entirely for gotten. It often appears to degenerate into musical performances—we might even say into musical entertainments.” (John Brown of Haddington (1722-1787), Dictionary of the Bible, on “praise,” pp. 452-454).

John Gill (1697-1771) – Particular Baptist.

“It is observed, that David’s psalms were sung formerly with musical instruments, as the harp, timbrel, and cymbal, and organs; and why not with these now? If these are to be disused, why not singing itself? I answer, these are not essential to singing, and so may be laid aside, and that continue; it was usual to burn incense at the time of prayer, typical of Christ’s mediation, and of the acceptance of prayer through it; that is now disused; but prayer being a moral duty, still remains: the above instruments were used only when the church was in its infant-state, and what is showy, gaudy, and pompous, are pleasing to children; and as an ancient writer observes, ‘these were fit for babes, but in the churches (under the gospel-dispensation, which is more manly) the use of these, fit for babes, is taken away, and bare or plain singing is left.’ As for organs…were first introduced by a pope of Rome, Vitalianus, and that in the seventh century, and not before.” (John Gill, A Complete Body of Doctrinal and Practical Divinity, Vol. 3, ‘Of Singing Psalms As A Part of Public Worship’ (1796), p. 384).

“…these [instruments] were used in the times of the Old Testament, and were typical of the spiritual joy and melody in the heart, expressed by vocal singing under the New Testament.” (John Gill, com. Psalm 81:2).

Philip Schaff – Anglican.

“The use of organs in churches is ascribed to Pope Vitalian (657-672). Constantine Copronymos sent an organ with other presents to King Pepin of France in 767. Charlemagne received one as a present from the Caliph Haroun al Rashid, and had it put up in the cathedral of Aixia Chapelle… The attitude of the churches toward the organ varies. It shared, to some extent, the fate of images, except that it never was an object of worship… The Greek church disapproved the use of organs. The Latin church introduced it pretty generally, but not without the protest of eminent men, so that even in the Council of Trent a motion was made, though not carried, to prohibit the organ at least in the mass.” (Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church (1858), Vol. 4, p. 439).

“The custom of organ accompaniment did not become general among Protestants until the eighteenth century.” (Schaff-Herzogg Encyclopedia (1853–1868), Vol 10, p. 257)

PCUSA (1842).

“Question 6. Is there any authority for instrumental music in the worship of God under the present dispensation? Answer. Not the least, only the singing of psalms and hymns and spiritual songs was appointed by the apostles; not a syllable is said in the New Testament in favor of instrumental music nor was it ever introduced into the Church until after the eighth century, after the Catholics had corrupted the simplicity of the gospel by their carnal inventions. It was not allowed in the Synagogues, the parish churches of the Jews, but was confined to the Temple service and was abolished with the rites of that dispensation.” (Questions on the Confession of Faith and Form of Government of The Presbyterian Church in the United States of America, published by the Presbyterian Board of Publications, Philadelphia, PA (1842), p. 55)

Alexander Hislop (1807-1865).

“The scriptural argument in regard to the identification of the instrumental music in the Old Testament dispensation with the temple worship, stands thus: We find an express appointment by Divine authority of the use of musical instruments for the Temple service, and in connection with the offering of sacrifice (Numbers 10:10; 1 Chronicles 15:16, and 16:4-6), the very families being specifically named that could alone use these musical instruments (1 Chronicles 25 ff.). We find no appointment, or the least hint of the appointment, of any such instrumental music in the service of God anywhere else. In accordance, therefore, with the principle of the text, “What thing soever I command you, observe to do it; thou shalt not add thereto,” the use of instrumental music in worship, except in the Temple service was excluded. Hence the significant fact already adverted to, that since the period of the destruction of the Jewish Temple, till lately, instrumental music had been universally regarded by the Jews as unlawful in the worship of God. Since the ploughshare had passed over the ruins of that Temple, it was universally felt by them that there was no place where, in God’s worship, the loud cymbals, and cornets, and harps, could be lawfully used, any more than there was a place where an altar, for burnt offering could be reared, or sacrifice could be offered.” (Alexander Hislop, The Scriptural Principles of the Solemn League and Covenant (1858)).

Adam Clarke (1762-1832) – Methodist.

“I am an old man, and I here declare that I never knew them to be productive of any good in the worship of God, and have reason to believe that they are productive of much evil. Music as a science I esteem and admire, but instrumental music in the house of God I abominate and abhor. This is the abuse of music, and I here register my protest against all such corruption of the worship of the author of Christianity. The late and 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 objections to instruments of music in our chapels, provided they are neither heard nor seen.‘ I say the same.” (Adam Clark, Clarke’s Commentary, Vol. 4, p. 684.)

Charles Haddon Spurgeon (1834-1892) – Particular Baptist.

Charles Spurgeon states that musical instruments were “rejected and condemned by the whole army of Protestant divines” (Works vol. 2, pt. 1, p. 223).

“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 off of wind from inanimate bellows and pipes! We might as well pray by machinery as praise by it.” (Spurgeon, Treasury of David, on Psalm 42:4).

Old School” Southern Presbyterians (19th century).

John L. Girardeau (1825-1898) wrote the well known definitive treatise against instruments in the church, Instrumental Music in the Public Worship of the Church (1888). Robert Louis Dabney (1820-1898) wrote a glowing review of Dr. Girardeau’s Instrumental Music in Public Worship for The Presbyterian Quarterly, July 1889. He was also an architect who intentionally designed church buildings so that church organs could not fit inside of them (cf. Architect of Orthodoxy). Girardeau also states that the Presbyterian churches had only recently in his own day begun incorporating instrumental music, and then rhetorically asks:

“How is it that such men as Breckinridge and Thornwell, in the American Presbyterian Church, were hardly cold in their graves before, in the very places where they had thundered forth their contentions for the mighty principle which demands a divine warrant for every element of doctrine, government and worship, and where they had, in obedience to that principle, utterly refused to admit instrumental music into the church, the organ pealed forth its triumphs over their views? … What would Gillespie and Calderwood now say, what Chalmers and Candlish, Cunningham and Begg, what Mason, Breckinridge and Thornwell—what would they say, were they permitted to rise from their graves, and revisit the scenes of their labors—the churches for which they toiled and prayed? ” (p. 158 & 161).

Catholic Encyclopedia (1907).

“Although Josephus tells of the wonderful effects produced in the Temple by the use of instruments, the first Christians were of too spiritual a fibre to substitute lifeless instruments for or to use them to accompany the human voice. Clement of Alexandria severely condemns the use of instruments even at Christian banquets. St. Chrysostom sharply contrasts the customs of the Christians when they had full freedom with those of the Jews of the Old Testament.” (Catholic Encyclopedia, Vol. 10, pp. 648-652; March 1907).

Martyn Lloyd-Jones (1899-1981).

“Nothing is needed more urgently than an analysis of the innovations in the realm of religious worship in the nineteenth century—to me in this respect a devastating century. The sooner we forget the nineteenth century end go back to the eighteenth, and even further to the seventeenth and sixteenth, the better. The nineteenth century and its mentality and outlook is responsible for most of our troubles and problems today. It was then that a fatal turn took place in so many respects, as we have been seeing, and very prominent among the changes introduced was the place given to music in various forms. Quite frequently, and especially in the non-episcopal churches, they did not even have an organ before that time. Many of the leaders were actively opposed to organs and tried to justify their attitude from Scripture; in the same way many of them were opposed to the singing of anything but psalms. I am not concerned to evaluate the rival interpretations of the relevant scriptures, or to argue as to the antiquity of hymn singing; my point is that while hymn singing became popular at the end of the seventeenth and particularly in the eighteenth century, that the entirely new emphasis on music which came in about the middle of the last century was a part of that respectability, and pseudo-intellectualism which I have already described.” (Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Preaching and Preachers (1971), pp. 265-6).

Reformed Music Journal (1997).

“Powerful and moving the psalms resounded in the purified church buildings. In ‘spirit and truth‘ the Dutch Calvinists sang their praise as ‘with one voice,‘ but the organs were silent. Silent because the 16th century organ was incapable of accompanying congregational singing. Besides, congregational singing of this magnitude was new and the custom of supporting it with organ sounds was unknown.
. . .
The organ’s use in the Roman liturgy made it suspect. It was a ‘popish instrument,‘ ‘an invention of the prince of darkness,‘ with ‘seductive siren voices,‘ and ‘the same as iconolatry and idolatry.‘ The entertainment provided by the large organ drew the ire of Roman Catholics and Protestants alike. They fought against the use of ‘scandalous, lewd, and vulgar‘ songs—which ‘brought dishonour to the art,‘ and ‘were hated by intelligent people.‘ Erasmus found this king of music so disgusting that he refers to it in terms of the world’s oldest profession. ‘There can be more faith in a miller lad than in…all the Popes and monks with their organs,‘ Luther remarked. And according to Calvin ‘the human voice…is better than all the dead organs.’” (Norma Kobald, The Psalms, the Organ, and Sweelinck, Reformed Music Journal vol. 9, no. 2, (1997)).

Everett Ferguson (2013).

“Most of the statements commenting on the non-use of instruments in the church occur in contrasts of Old Testament with Christian practice. In commenting on the passages in the Old Testament which refer to worshiping God with an instrument, Christian authors had to offer an explanation. The Psalms especially offered a problem, for they were used in Christian worship. One approach is that taken by John Chrysostom and other writers of the Antiochian school of interpretation. God allowed the Jews to use instrumental music, even as he allowed animal sacrifice, not because that was what he desired, but as a transitional practice in leading people from idolatry to true spiritual worship.” (Everett Ferguson, A Cappella Music in the Public Worship of the Church (2013)).

[1] cf. David W. Music, Instruments In Church: A Collection of Source Documents (Studies in Liturgical Musicology) (1998); James McKinnon, Music in Early Christian Literature (Cambridge Readings in the Literature of Music) (1989); Everett Ferguson, A Cappella Music in the Public Worship of the Church (2013).

[2] William C. Holmes, Oxford Music Online.

[3] R. Scott Clark, Recovering the Reformed Confession, p. 246; citing David W. Music, “Instruments in the Church: A Collection of Source Documents,” p. 27. Clark footnotes that this scholar’s “account of patristic worship is interesting because he has no personal interest in appealing to the fathers in support of the RPW.” Clark also cites Johannes Quasten, “Music and Worship in Pagan and Christian Antiquity,” pp. 60, 72-75.

[4] cf. Egon Wellesz, History of Byzantine Music and Hymnography (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1961). Constantine Cavarnos, Byzantine Sacred Music: The Traditional Music of the Orthodox Church (1956). “In the Orthodox Church today, as in the early Church, singing is unaccompanied and instrumental music is not found, except among certain Orthodox in America—particularly the Greeks—who are now showing a penchant for the organ or the harmonium.” (Bishop Kallistos Ware of Diokleia, The Orthodox Church (1997), p. 268).

[5] Clark, ibid., pp. 246-7; citing Music, ibid., p. 43, 47-51, and Hughes Oliphant Old, The Patristic Roots of Reformed Worship.

[6] Spurgeon, Works vol. 2, pt. 1, p. 223.

[7] Clark, Is the Organ God’s Gift to Worship?

[8] John Price, Old Light on New Worship: Musical Instruments and the Worship of God, a Theological, Historical, and Psychological Study, p. 68.

[9] Price, ibid., p. 70.


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