Instrumental Music & Worship Part 2: The Scriptural Argument

Psalm 149:3; 150:4
       Let them praise his name in the dance; let them sing praises unto him with the timbrel and the harp.
       Praise him with the timbrel and dance.

MATTHEW HENRY (1662-1714): They who from hence urge the use of [instrumental] music in religious worship, must, by the same rule, introduce dancing, for they went together, as in David’s dancing before the ark, 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.

WILLIAM S. PLUMER (1802-1880): In our time, dancing has no such use, and cannot, therefore, in any wise be justified by pleading the practice of pious Jews of old.

JOHN TRAPP (1601-1699): These are ancient things and now out of date.

JOHN CALVIN (1509-1564): The musical instruments he mentions were peculiar to this infancy of the Church, nor should we foolishly imitate a practice which was intended only for God’s ancient people.

J. C. PHILPOT (1802-1869): For the believing Israelites, musical instruments were sanctioned in the temple, which are quite foreign to, and indeed inconsistent with our New Covenant dispensation, which requires the pure worship of the heart and lips, not the sounding brass, and tinkling symbol of lifeless instruments.

C. H. SPURGEON (1834-1892): Israel was at school, and used childish things to help her learn; but in these days, when Jesus gives us spiritual manhood, we can make melody without strings and pipes.

JOHN KENNEDY (1819-1884): No one will pretend that for instrumental music in the worship of God, there is any authority in New Testament Scripture. “The fruit of the lips” issuing from hearts that make “melody to the Lord,” is the only form of praise it sanctions.

JOHN L. GIRARDEAU (1825-1898): Let us pause a moment to notice the fact, supported by a mass of incontrovertible evidence, that the Christian church did not employ instrumental music in its public worship for 1200 years after Christ….It deserves serious consideration, moreover, that notwithstanding the ever-accelerated drift towards corruption in worship as well as in doctrine and government [in] the Roman Catholic Church, [she] did not adopt this corrupt practice until about the middle of the thirteenth century.

JOHN TRAPP: When the use of these musical instruments crept into the Christian churches great abuses crept in with it; the preaching of the word was changed into songs and anthems, little understood by those that sang them, and that grave and simple psalmody or singing of psalms (so much used of old and by this blessed Reformation restored to the church) was jostled out, or rather turned into [base idolatry] such as Nebuchanezzar made before his golden image, Daniel 3:1-7.

J. C. PHILPOT: We cannot see any sanction in the New Testament for the use of musical instruments in the worship of God…At the same time, we cannot say how far a single instrument may not be allowable, just to lead the tune where there is a deficiency in singing. But the groaning of bassoons, the squeaking of fiddles, and the thunders of violoncellos, seem as much out of place in the house of prayer as the bugle trumpet, or the big drum.*

ADAM CLARKE (1760-1832): But were it even evident, which it is not, either from this or any other place in the sacred writings, that instruments of music were prescribed by divine authority under the law, could this be adduced with any semblance of reason, that they ought to be used in Christian worship? No; the whole spirit, soul, and genius of the Christian religion are against this; and those who know the Church of God best, and what constitutes its genuine spiritual state, know that these things have been introduced as a substitute for the life and power of religion; and that where they prevail most, there is least of the power of Christianity.

C. H. SPURGEON: Praise the Lord with harp, sing unto him with psaltery and an instrument of ten strings,” Psalm 33:3. Men need all the help they can get to stir them up to praise. This is the lesson to be gathered from the use of musical instruments under the old dispensation…As a help to singing the instrument is alone to be tolerated, for keys and strings do not praise the Lord.

J. C. PHILPOT: How far a person who has already learned to play on a musical instrument may or may not use it in the service of God, must, we think, be left much to a person’s own conscience. That in itself there is no sin in playing on a musical instrument is clear from David’s example and David’s words: “Praise him with the sound of the trumpet: praise him with the psaltery and harp. Praise him with the timbrel and dance: praise him with stringed instruments and organs,” Psalm 150:3,4.

C. H. SPURGEON: We have here the three kinds of musical instruments: timbrels, which are struck, and strings, and pipes; let all be educated to praise the Lord. Nothing is common and unclean: all may be sanctified to highest uses. Many men, many minds, and these as different as strings and pipes; but there is only one God, and that one God all should worship.

J. C. PHILPOT: Luther was not only exceedingly fond of music, and composed tunes some of which are sung to this day, and in singing the praises of God or pouring out his complaints, he was accustomed to accompany himself on the lute.

MARTIN LUTHER (1483-1546): Music is to be praised as second only to the Word of God because by her are all the emotions swayed.

C. H. SPURGEON: We who do not believe these things to be expedient in [public congregational] worship, lest they should mar its simplicity, do not affirm them to be unlawful, and if any George Herbert or Martin Luther can worship God better by the aid of well-tuned instruments, who shall gainsay their right? We do not need them, they would hinder rather than help our praise, but if others are otherwise minded, are they not living in gospel liberty?

J. C. PHILPOT: Take the case of a Christian family where one or two of the daughters can play. Is there any objection on a Lord’s Day evening to the singing of a few hymns, and if accompanied on the piano, are they the worse?

MATTHEW HENRY: The gospel canon for Psalmody is to “sing with the spirit and with the understanding,” I Corinthians 14:15.

C. H. SPURGEON: Saints do not gather to amuse themselves with music―but to sing His praise.

GREGORY (of Nazianzum) (328-390): Lord, I am a musical instrument for Thee to touch, that I may sound forth Thy glory and praise.


*Editor’s Note: To J. C. Philpot’s list of musical instruments we believe are unsuitable to the congregational public worship of God, we would add band instruments such as electric guitars, harmonicas, and full drum sets, which are more suggestive, and more suitable to rock & roll concerts. Indeed, their usage in contemporary public worship has introduced an inappropriate entertainment style of music which makes much of so-called “Christian worship’ barely distinguishable from a rock concert stage performance, with the audience singing and swaying to the music. Regarding the use of an acoustic guitar―the modern equivalent to the Luther’s 16th century lute―we see no conscientious objection to its private use as an accompaniment to singing.


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