« السابقةمتابعة »
of the ceremonial law which was to be abrogated, or yield to a higher dispensation, as a shadow only of good things to come. It was a step towards the introduction of a purer and more evangelical worship, and such an addition to the legal rites as God was pleased to appoint for the purpose of refining men's minds, and raising them to the contemplation of objects more sublime in their nature, and more spiritual in their character. And as it was subservient to the introduction of the evangelical state, so was it fit that it should continue under it, and become a standing and prominent part in the worship of the Christian church. For, as it appears to have been our blessed Saviour's design to have innovated as little as possible in the Jewish church, and to have established the Gospel rather as an improvement and enlargement, than as a total abrogation of the law, it was his practice, as well as that of the apostles, to conform as much as they consistently could to the then established service, and in many things he modelled the Christian after the pattern of the Jewish church.
With respect to that department of the temple-service, to which I am now more particularly directing your attention, church music, though in the unsettled state in which it at first existed, owing to the persecutions with which it had to struggle, no music could be introduced into the Christian assemblies similar in any degree to that which was established in the temple-service of the Jews, yet, we learn, that even in its very earliest years, vocal and instrumental music obtained in the first meetings of the primitive Christians, as far as was consistent with their then exposed and perilous condition. And hence we infer, how agreeable was this portion of public worship to what I may call the palmy or the best state of the Christian church, when the law of love and kindness reigned supreme in the worshippers' hearts, every affection of which was in beautiful harmony with those sweet sounds which proceeded from every lip; and how fit, therefore, it is, that it should constitute a part of every Christian service, and of every public meeting of Christ's disciples, of whom, would that what was said of the first Christians, could be said of all when met together, "Lo! how these Christians love each other."
Our blessed Saviour, though a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief, and from whom it might be thought, therefore, that an instance of this duty was least of all to be expected, yet sung a hymn, we are told, when he was instituting the sacrament of the bread and wine-an act by which he consecrated, as it were, the practice of singing, as well on the ordinary as on the more solemn meetings of such as profess to be his disciples. The example of our Divine Master is decisive on the point; and such a scriptural pattern must be all-eloquent in commendation of church music, of which frigid must be that taste that discerns not the beauty, and languid the spirit, and dull the heart, and low the piety, that feels not the uplifting and heaven-exciting aspirations: and I add, that just in proportion to the simplicity, and harmony, and order, with which this part of our church service shall be conducted, will be those aspirations in every well-disposed and well-organized mind. It was the design of Christ that this commemoration of himself should continue in his church until his second coming; and the nearer we approach to the simplicity, and the whole of the manner in which it was administered, the better. We never can err, by following, in the strictness of its letter and spirit, his conduct, in every particular of which the record has been transmitted; and I should say the more simple and the less ostentatious the form, the more likely is the mind to be impressed, and the affections to he bettered by the matter! If the voice of Christ was engaged in a hymn or song
of praise then, our voices should also in like manner be raised on that, and on every other occasion on which we meet for public worship; and we should borrow from the example of our dear Lord, on one particularly impressive occasion, an argument in favour of the general use and adoption of hymns and spiritual songs on all occasions on which we meet for public service.
The congregations of the primitive church, or the members of the first assemblies of Christians, uniformly followed the practice set by their Divine Master; and their meetings were always distinguished by the introduction and use of vocal music as a component part and inseparable accompaniment of public worship. Hence it is that the Apostle speaks of singing with the Spirit, and singing with the understanding also*, enjoining us to observe the one as well as the othert. "I will sing," says he, "with the spirit, and with the understanding also." Hence it is evident that the Spirit often excited men in an extraordinary manner to the performance of this duty, transported them with extacy, and without exercising that sober and chastised understanding, with which this, as well as all the other parts of the public ministrations of the temple should be conducted, to render them a service fit for the acceptation of a pure and an intelligent Being; and I confess that nothing has impressed me so much with what ought to be the manner in which this part of divine worship should be performed, as what I have witnessed and heard in the assemblies of our Protestant dissenting brethren. They all unite the whole congregation— in raising their voices, and joining in spiritual songs, and nothing can exceed the fervour and piety with which the praises of God are hymned; and I never left such an assembly of Christian worshippers without the wish that the spirit might be transfused, and the example be copied in our churches and chapels; in a few of which, indeed, I have heard vocal music of such exquisite taste and judgment, as was well adapted, by the harmony of its sweet sounds, to produce on the mind the same effects as were experienced from the harp of David, or the minstrelsy of Elisha.
We may collect from one of the many elegant letters of Pliny to his imperial correspondent, Trajan, what was the practice in the first congregations of Christian worshippers, with respect to this part of their service; and an incidental allusion or account of this kind from such a quarter is invaluable. At the time at which he wrote his epistle to the emperor, the name of the sect had been generally diffused, and the progress of the Christian religion had, in all probability, become a matter of speculation and interest; and this I think may be collected from this well known letter of the accomplished Pliny. He commences it by what he calls his ordinary or yearly custom of acquainting him with all that had occurred, and then adverts to the Christians, their peculiar character and particular habits; and in writing of the mode in which their public, or rather their private services for the worship of God (as they were then compelled to be) were conducted, he tells the emperor, that all that he found they did at these meetings was, to sing to Christ as God, and to bind themselves with a sacrament not to be guilty of any degree of wickedness whatsoever an honourable testimony to the professional faith and consistent practices of the early Christians!
1 Cor. xiv. 15.
† See Dionys. Areop. p. 282.
I have my Pliny before me, and the following are his words:-Carmen que Christe, quasi Deo, dicere secum invicem ; seque sacrimento non scelus aliquod obstringere, sed ne faria, &c. &c.-Lib. x. Epist. xcvii.
It might be thought, that at a period in which the Christian Church was exposed to so many enemies, and was enduring so much persecution, music, instrumental especially, would have been banished from her services, more particularly as the introduction of it would have been the most likely means of discovering the place of their meetings, and the times of their prayers, to their enraged and relentless persecutors. But, nothing dismayed, they chaunted forth their carmina Christo-their hymns to Christ. They might weep indeed, at the waters of Babylon; but no harps were hung upon the willows, or in other words, they ceased not at their public meetings to sing, whatever dangers threatened, or whatever terrors were suspended over them. Among the many who suffered under the persecution to which the Christians were exposed under Trajan, was Ignatius, of whom the ecclesiastical historian, Socrates, records*, that he divided the choir established at the church of Antioch, and taught them the antiphonal mode of singing by parts or responses; and this practice, it is said, he adapted from some revelation or vision which had been communicated to him from above-as the mode in which the music of the angels in heaven was conducted. From the same authority we learn, that this practice was afterwards introduced by Damasus, at Rome, and was adopted in all the churches in the west, as from the example of Ignatius, at Antioch, it universally had spread and obtained in all the churches in the east. So important a part of divine worship was music esteemed at this early period of the Christian church, that the regulation and improvement of it were not considered as beneath the dignity, nor undeserving the attention of some of its brightest and holiest martyrs and saints.
It is needless to adduce further proofs of the early introduction of music into the assemblies of the faithful. The facts above mentioned, viz., its adoption in the time of Pliny, and its regulation by Ignatius, and its universal introduction into all the Eastern and Western churches, are amply sufficient. Those which have been mentioned are the standard of the Christian church, and the best pattern after which every particular community, and every congregation of Christian worshippers can copy; and the nearer we approach to the original, the more likely are we to "sing with grace in our hearts to the Lord"—the more likely is this department of congregational service to be well pleasing to his ear, and acceptable to his sight. Now this is a point to which I would draw the special attention of those who take the lead in this part of the public service in our church, and I will offer such suggestions as I apprehend, if taken in the spirit in which they are made, will be of service to themselves, and of benefit to others.
It is desirable, for this purpose, to inquire why vocal and instrumental music should be introduced as a part of our services? For this, and no other object, but simply the praise and honour of God. Then, the next consideration is, how can it be so conducted as that that object can best be attained; how can the vocal and instrumental performers best discharge their duty to God and themselves? I take it for granted that they have this feeling impressed upon their minds, that when here they are, quite as much as others of the congregation, worshippers of the living God; quite as much reason as have others for the offering up of prayer, and the joining in of every part, and of responding to every petition, which occurs in the public service; that they have the same suit to be urged, the same wants to be supplied, and in a word, the same Eccl. Hist., lib. 6, c. 8.-Platina in vitâ Damasi.
pardon for sin to be asked, the same God and the same Saviour to be importuned, and supplicated, and approached. Now where this feeling does exist, there in that man's breast is enkindled a blaze of holy desires to do this part of the Lord's service acceptably-not with eye, nor with ear-service as men-pleasers, but as the servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart." This passage of Scripture contains an admirable rule; and, when its spirit has been thoroughly imbibed, it will be found invariably to influence the practice, and to lead the singers to render this part of the public service as reasonable and as improving as possible. For this purpose, they will endeavour to perfect themselves as much as they can in the tunes selected to be sung, in order that no discordant sounds may be heard, no inharmonious notes be produced, nor any serious disappointment be incurred. To avoid such effects, which defeat the very end for which vocal and instrumental music is introduced, they should meet together previously, either at some early hour before the service is commenced, or on some previous day in the week, when their several parts may be duly arranged, and, to perfect themselves, be frequently rehearsed. No person, however gifted his powers, and transcendant his musical attainments, ever dreams of appearing in public without a previous study and a frequent rehearsal of the part which he has undertaken; and if this be the practice with persons of the first-rate vocal or instrumental talent, it surely is one which ought to be invariably followed by the vocal and instrumental performers in our rural churches more particularly, whose opportunities of acquiring the knowledge and science of music cannot be supposed to be great, or such as are possessed by them who have studied it as an art, and have adopted it as a profession. This, then, is an additional reason for the observance of this practice; and more especially so when the place is considered in which their performances are to be exhibited, or this their duty is to be discharged.
And there is another rule which I would strongly recommend for their invariable adoption-never to select any tunes but such as are plain and simple, nor any psalms or hymns but such as are well known to the congregation at large, upon every member of which the duty is equally obligatory and binding to take a part in this portion of the public service. This is the practice, of which I have spoken in terms of commendation in a former part of this sermon, and it is one of which-and I avow the sentiment without the slightest meaning to give pain or offence in any quarter-I confess I should like to witness, or hear of the introduction in all of our national churches-that all and every one of the members, of whom each is composed, should unite with one accord, and join as with one voice, in singing to the praise and glory of God. And I do think, where this is done devoutly and universally, it gives to my mind more the image of what takes place daily and hourly in the heavenly courts above, than any thing besides that is to be met with and heard in any of the musical assemblies frequented on earth.
Never can I forget the impressions produced when first I heard this congregational singing, or in other words, all the people assembled raising their voices to heaven, as one, and singing, though "lustily, yet with the understanding unto the Lord." They will never be erased from my recollection. It was in one of our suburban parish churches near London, where I had to preach for a public institution: all sang-not a jarring note was heard, nor a voice scarcely out of tune or place; and never did I enter the pulpit with such devo
tional feelings, never performed my humble portion of the service with more animation and feeling. St. Austin records of himself, that when he was an attendant on the preaching of St. Ambrose in the church of Milan, the singing of the whole congregation affected him to that degree that he ever seemed still to be ravished at the remembrance of the excellent things that were so endeared to his mind *; and he makes another confession respecting the effects produced by the power of congregational music on his heart. In younger days he was a heathen, and was in the habit of giving an unbridled indulgence to his passions. While living in riot and extravagance, the fame of the eloquence of St. Ambrose, the father above mentioned, reached his ear; and inpower and, attracted by curiosity, he went to hear a preacher, of whose fluence so much was said. He acknowledges that the object for which he went was simply to hear the preacher, but not to regard the doctrine. He was not deceived as to the eloquence of St. Ambrose, but found that it surpassed even the representations he had received; but the effect which the excellence of the matter wrought on his mind was superior to what the eloquence of the manner of the preacher had produced. He admired the doctrine, and he left the church a Christian, and so conformed in his belief by subsequent intercourse and communion with Ambrose, that he afterwards became the greatest champion for the faith, and the most glorious light of the western world. He records that at the time at which he first attended the ministry of St. Ambrose, the music of the church was so ravishing that he could not restrain from melting into tears, particularly by the congregation singing a hymn composed by St. Ambrose-probably that still retained in our church after the first lesson, the Te Deum laudamus; and he adds, the melody of the voices conveyed the matter deep into his soul, and that every remembrance revived the impressions with which it was originally heard.
Seeing, then, that singing has power to produce such effects, let us all ever join in this duty with grace in our hearts, and with an inflamed and affectionate soul lift up your voices to the Lord. This is the life and spirit of this heavenly exercise, that which renders it acceptable to God, and that without which the utmost melody of voice and instrument will be but as sounding brass, and a tinkling cymbal. If the devotion of the heart go not along with the harmony of sweet sounds-if the zeal and inward motions of the mind be not spiritualized and raised, together with the music of the voice and the melody of the instruments, we cannot be said to sing unto the Lord; for he takes no pleasure in the one, if the other be wanting. It is the grace in our hearts-the melody and concert of our souls that constitutes the music in God's ear: and the perfection of our singing will only then charm him, when it inflames us with holy raptures, and carries our thoughts with greater life, and intenser ardency to heaven. Then the Word of Christ dwells in us richly indeed, and we enter into the dispositions and employments of angels-then we echo to the choir above, and to the church triumphant, and the assembly of the first-born. And blessed are they who so sing to the Lord, for then they shall sing at the marriage-supper of the Lamb, and shall have a place in the new Jerusalem, and sing to eternal ages "Halleluia, salvation, and glory, and honour, and power unto the Lord our God!"
• Confess. lib. 1. cap. 13.
Almost all the hymns used in the church of Milan, were after St. Ambrose called Ambrosiani, on account of his having introduced them into the service of that church.