The Demon of the Singing

Colossians 3:16; James 5:13
       Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.
       Is any merry? Let him sing psalms.

E. PAXTON HOOD (1820-1885): It is quite remarkable that the prejudice against congregational singing was quite as great with many of our English Churches as amongst the Papists; among the Presbyterians especially, this prejudice obtained a considerable hold and lingered long.

MARTYN LLOYD-JONES (1899-1981): There was an expression which used to be heard frequently in my home country, Wales. It had reference not so much to choirs as to congregational singing; it was known as “the demon of the singing.” What it meant was that this question of singing cause more quarrelling and divisions in churches than practically anything else, that singing gave the devil more frequent opportunities of hindering and disrupting the work than any other activity in Church life.

E. PAXTON HOOD: It was [in 1690]—about the time that Isaac Watts came to London—that some of the assemblies of the saints were shaken by the innovation of [congregational] singing. The Baptists appear to have been most indisposed to the doubtful practice; and in the church of the well-known Benjamin Keach, of Southwark, the pastoral ancestor of Charles Spurgeon, when the pastor, after long argument and effort, established singing, a minority withdrew and “took refuge in a songless sanctuary,” in which the melody within the heart might be in no danger of disturbance from the perturbations of song.

RICHARD BAXTER (1615-1691): Let those that savour not melody leave others to their different appetites, and be content to be so far strangers to their delights.

C. H. MACKINTOSH (1820-1896): If singing be not vocal, what is it? When Paul and Silas sang praises unto God, was not that vocal? So also, in Hebrews 2:12, we have the words of Christ Himself, “In the midst of the assembly will I sing praise unto thee.” Is not this vocal?

AUGUSTUS TOPLADY (1713-1778): What absurdity is there for which some well-meaning people have not contended?

MARTYN LLOYD-JONES: In the same way many of them were opposed to the singing of anything but psalms.

JOHN KENNEDY (1819-1884): The singing of uninspired hymns even in moderation, as part of public worship, no one can prove to be scriptural.

C. H. MACKINTOSH: Are not “psalms and hymns and spiritual songs” divinely recognized? And, if so, for what are they designed? Is it not as a vehicle for the worship of Christians? We do not see how this can be called in question by any sober person.

J. C. PHILPOT (1802-1869): William Romaine used to object to the singing of hymns in public worship, as being mere human compositions.

WILLIAM ROMAINE (1714-1795): I want a name for that man who should pretend that he could make better hymns than the Holy Ghost! His collection is large enough: it wants no addition. It is perfect, as its Author, and not capable of any improvement. Why in such a case would any man in the world take it into his head to write hymns for the use of the Church? It is just the same as if he was to write a new Bible, not only better than the old, but so much better, that the old may be thrown aside. What a blasphemous attempt! And yet our hymn-mongers, inadvertently, I hope, have come very near to this blasphemy; for they shut out the Psalms, introduce their own verses into the Church, sing them with great delight, and as they fancy with great profit.

AUGUSTUS TOPLADY: But, by the same rule, it must equally unlawful to preach or publicly to pray, except in the very words of Scripture.

J. C. PHILPOT: With all our respect for Mr. Romaine, might we not ask him if his sermons were, not human compositions, and yet he preached them in the public worship of God; and were not the prayers that he read human compositions also? Nay, the very Psalms themselves, for which he so strongly pleaded, being versified by modern pens, were human compositions also―though the Psalms are Hebrew poetry, and were sung in the temple as poetical and musical compositions, they cannot, as translated into English prose, be sung now in our assemblies, for the form of poetry cannot be translated from one language to another by simple translation, but must be adapted to the peculiar shape such as meter and rhyme, which English verse requires. The Psalms cannot, therefore, be sung as they stand in our Bibles.

ISAAC WATTS (1674-1748): I am fully persuaded that the Jewish psalm-book was never designed to be the only Psalter for the Christian Church; and though we may borrow many parts of the prayers of Ezra, Job, and Daniel, as well as David, yet if we take them entire as they stand, and join nothing of the Gospel with them, I think there are few of them will found proper prayers for a Christian Church…Surely their prayers are not best for us, since we are commanded to ask everything in the name of Christ. Now, I know no reason why the glorious discoveries of the New Testament should not be mingled with our songs and praises, as well as with our prayers. I give solemn thanks to my Saviour, with all my soul, that He hath honoured me so far as to bring His name and Gospel in a more evident and express manner into Christian psalmody.

AUGUSTUS TOPLADY: The original difference, if any specific difference there originally was between psalms and hymns, seems to have lain in this; that anciently a psalm was actually set to instrumental music, and usually accompanied by it at the time of singing, Psalm 81:2. A similar or even the self-same composition simply sung without the aid of musical instruments was, perhaps, the primitive definition of an hymn, Matthew 16:30. By degrees the word “psalm” became appropriated for a respectful distinction’s sake to the inspired songs of David and others recorded in Scripture; while succeeding pieces formed on those elevated models, but written from time to time as occasion served by inferior believers, obtained the appellation of “hymns.”

J. C. PHILPOT: That singing hymns continued to be a standard practice in the church of God, after apostolic times, is plain from a remarkable heathen testimony―the letters of Pliny the younger, in which, writing to the Emperor Trajan, about the year AD 110, he says of the primitive Christians, “they repeat among themselves a hymn―literally, a song―to Christ as God.” That the practice of singing hymns was of late introduction to the Western Church is evident from a remarkable passage in the Confessions of Augustine, written about AD 420.

AUGUSTINE (354-430): Not long had the Church of Milan begun to employ this kind of consolation and exhortation, the brethren singing together with great earnestness of voice and heart…At this time it was instituted that, after the manner of the Eastern Church, hymns and psalms should be sung, lest the people should pine away in the tediousness of sorrow; which custom, retained from then till now, is imitated by many, yea, by almost all of the congregations throughout the rest of the world.

AUGUSTUS TOPLADY: Many of the best and greatest men that ever lived have both in ancient and modern times been hymn-writers; and that there is the strongest reason to believe that the best Christians in all ages have been hymn-singers. Moreover, the singing of hymns is an ordinance to which God has repeatedly set the seal of His own presence and power; and which He deigns eminently to bless at this very day. It has proved a converting ordinance to some of his people; a recovering ordinance to others; a comforting ordinance to them all; and one of the divinest mediums of communion with God which His gracious benignity has vouchsafed to His Church below.

J. C. PHILPOT: That the blessing of God has rested in a special manner upon hymns is unquestionable.

J. C. RYLE (1816-1900): Good hymns are an immense blessing to the Church of Christ. I believe the last day alone will show the world the real amount of good they have done.

J. C. PHILPOT: Hymns, then, as written by godly men, are to singing, as a part of the worship of God in our Christian assemblies, what the preaching of the servants of the Lord is to the proclaiming of the gospel; and, we may add, what prayer by men of God is to the worshipping of Him in spirit and truth.

C. H. MACKINTOSH: When you come together, instead of discussing the rightness of singing, seek to have your hearts in tune to sing.
Editor’s Note: In 1680, An Orthodox Catechism was published by the Baptist pastor Hercules Collins, (basically an edited version of the Heidleberg Catechism), to which he added a 12 page appendix entitled The Duty of Congregational Singing. His pastorate was during a period of great persecution, and in 1684, Collins was jailed for non-conformity. In 1689, he was one of the signers of the Baptist Confession of Faith.


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