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´╗┐Title: On Singing and Music
Author: Society of Friends
Language: English
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                           SINGING AND MUSIC.

                   TO BE HAD AT FRIENDS' BOOK STORE,

                   No. 304 Arch Street, Philadelphia.


    At a Yearly Meeting of Friends held in Philadelphia from the 20th of
    the Fourth Month to the 24th of the same, inclusive, 1885.

    An Essay on Singing and Music contained in the Minutes of the
    Meeting for Sufferings was now read, setting forth the spiritual
    nature of true worship, the danger of depending on outward forms in
    religious meetings, and the disadvantages connected with the
    practice of singing and music as an amusement. Much unity was
    expressed with the essay, and it was concluded that it should be
    published and distributed for information and warning to our own
    members and others. Desires were felt that in thus issuing a renewed
    testimony to the principles of our Society, we may be individually
    aroused to the necessity of so living in communion with the Father
    of Spirits, and in subjection to the revelations of his Light in our
    hearts, that our meetings may truly be held under the overshadowing
    of the Divine Power.

    Taken from the Minutes.

                                                 JOSEPH WALTON, _Clerk_.

On Singing and Music.

We have been brought under a feeling of religious concern that the
ancient testimony of the Society of Friends to the true nature of
spiritual worship may be fully maintained by all who claim that name;
and that they may be watchful against the introduction of practices
which will undermine the support of this testimony, and thus lead
those who profess to be the children of the Light, back into a
dependence upon forms, out of which their forefathers in the Truth
were brought by that remarkable outpouring of grace and spiritual
power which marked the rise of Friends as a distinct people.

The fundamental doctrine declared by our Saviour, when He said, "It is
the Spirit that quickeneth, the flesh profiteth nothing," was steadily
kept in view by George Fox and his fellow laborers. They clearly saw
that Christ had ended the Jewish law, with its outward and ceremonial
observances, and had introduced a spiritual dispensation, under which
He, by his heavenly and eternal Light or Spirit, was to be the Leader,
Guide and Helper of his people; that all was now to be done in and by
Him; and that this was especially true of religious worship, which
depends upon the enlightening, quickening power of his Holy Spirit.

All confidence in the flesh,--in the natural abilities of man,--was
removed; and they were taught to distinguish between that which is of
man and that which is of God,--between that stirring up of the natural
such as music, pictorial representations and architectural grace and
grandeur; and that solemn covering of the heart which is a fruit and
an evidence of the extension of Divine help and power.

Hence these divinely enlightened men and women laid aside the forms in
which they had been educated, and which many of them had sincerely and
zealously practised, and, in their private retirements before the
Lord, and when they assembled for the performance of public worship,
they sat in silence before Him, seeking to draw near in spirit, in
living exercise of mind, that they might feel the arising of his
power, and be enabled to offer acceptable worship.

As that power arose in any, and under its influence, they were led to
utter words of prayer or praise to the Almighty, or exhortation to
their fellow believers; they were comforted or edified in proportion
as they could feel the Spirit bearing witness to the life that
accompanied the vocal expressions. Thus their dependence was not
placed on man, but on the Spirit that quickeneth.

There was no desire to limit the operation of the Spirit, or to lay
down any rule which would prohibit in times of worship any act which
truly proceeded from its motions; but there was a jealous care that
none of these outward things should be done as formal matters; that
people should not look upon them as essential to the holding of
meetings for worship, and that they should not in any manner be led
away from their dependence on the fresh extension of Divine life and
light to their souls, as the very foundation of true worship. The
writings of the early members of our Society abound in evidences of
their watchful care in this respect.

Among them, one of the most earnest and effective laborers for the
spread of the Gospel, was Edward Burrough, whose efforts in London
were blessed to a large number. Over the converts in that city he
watched with anxious love; and, when absent in the service of his
Master in other parts, frequently visited them by epistles, in which
he gave much sound and practical advice. From these epistles are taken
the following passages, referring to the manner in which these
meetings for worship were to be held.

    "We charge and command you in the presence of the Lord, whose power
    is dreadful, that you meet together in silence, and wait, and none
    to speak a word but what he is moved to speak, a word from the
    Lord."--_E. Burrough's Works, Ed. 1672, p. 70._

    "We charge by the Lord that none speak without eternal [Divine]
    motion; for if you do, the false prophet speaks, and his words eat
    as a canker, and darken and vail them that hearken to it."--_Id.,
    p. 71._

The nature of this spiritual worship is clearly portrayed by Robert
Barclay; see the 11th Proposition of his Apology, particularly in
Sections 6 and 7, to which we desire the reader to refer.

                   *       *       *       *       *

We have viewed with much concern the gradual creeping into the
meetings of Friends, in some parts of the country, of latter years, of
reading the Scriptures, and of singing, practices which, until within
a few years, were almost unknown amongst us.

We believe that these changes are an evidence of a departure from that
dependence on the Lord for ability to worship Him aright, which was
so conspicuous a testimony of this Society; and that they are
connected with a shrinking from patient waiting upon the Lord, and
from the humbling exercise of mind which is often felt in endeavoring
to draw near in spirit to Him.

Friends do not assemble in their meetings for Divine worship for the
sake of listening to any outward performances. If this principle is
once departed from, there is no tenable ground to prevent a gradual
lapse into a full adoption of those forms out of which our Society was
brought in the beginning. If the Scriptures are to be read in our
meetings, how easy is it to conclude that a careful selection, such as
is provided in the liturgies of some religious bodies, would be
preferable to the choice likely to be made by persons of less
education, or who have given less time and thought to the subject. If
singing by tune is to be practised, why should not the highest style
of art, aided by musical instruments, be made use of, so as more
effectively to stimulate the emotions of the listeners? If preaching
is essential to the proper holding of a meeting, it may be asked,
would it not be better to employ persons of marked ability, who have
been regularly trained to such an employment, and who may reasonably
be supposed to be better prepared than others to interest and instruct
an audience? If vocal prayer is always in place, without regard to the
immediate promptings of Him who only knows the conditions and needs of
those assembled, it might be asked, why not use some of those
beautiful and comprehensive forms which are found in the prayer-books
of other societies?

Thus, there is reason to fear, the language of the prophet might
become applicable to our Society. "I had planted thee a noble vine,
wholly a right seed; how then art thou turned into the degenerate
plant of a strange vine unto me?"

                   *       *       *       *       *

We think the danger we have endeavored to point out is peculiarly
great as respects music and singing, owing to the power over the
natural sensibilities, which sweet sounds possess; and it is easy to
mistake the emotions thus produced for the tenderness of mind and the
softening influence of "the Spirit that quickeneth."

The distinction between these is very clearly pointed out by the late
Thomas Chalmers, a distinguished clergyman of the Presbyterian Church
of Scotland, a man eminent for his abilities, and whose position gave
him abundant opportunities for observing that of which he speaks. He

    "You easily understand how a taste for music is one thing, and a
    real submission to the influence of religion is another; how the ear
    may be regaled by the melody of sound, and the heart may utterly
    refuse the proper impression of the sense that is conveyed by it;
    how the sons and daughters of the world may, with their every
    affection devoted to its perishable vanities, inhale all the
    delights of enthusiasm, as they sit in crowded assemblage, around
    the deep and solemn oratorio." "It is a very possible thing, that
    the moral and the rational and the active man, may have given no
    entrance into his bosom for any of the sentiments, and yet so
    overpowered may he be by the charm of vocal conveyance through which
    they are addressed to him, that he may be made to feel with such an
    emotion, and to weep with such a tenderness, and to kindle with such
    a transport, and to glow with such an elevation, as may one and all
    carry upon them the semblance of sacredness."--_Chalmers' Works,
    Phila., 1830, p. 107-8._

    In speaking of the connection between music and worship, another
    person, not a member of the Society of Friends, observes: "I firmly
    believe" "that if we seek to affect the mind by the aid of
    architecture, painting or music, the impression produced by these
    adjuncts is just so much subtracted from the worship of the unseen
    Jehovah. If the outward eye is taken up with material splendor, or
    forms of external beauty, the mind sees but little of Him who is
    invisible; the ear that is entranced with the melody of sweet
    sounds, listens not to the still small voice by which the Lord makes
    his presence known."

    "True spiritual access unto God," says another writer, "is not at
    all furthered by the excitement of the animal or intellectual frame.
    It is most commonly known, where in abstraction from outward things,
    the mind, in awful quietude, finds itself gathered into a sense of
    the presence of Infinite Purity."

    "By the power of imagination; by the influence of eloquent words; by
    a stirring swell of elevated music, the mind may be excited; the
    feelings may be tendered, and we may pour forth verbal supplication,
    whilst the heart is unchanged."

Edward Burrough thus instructively describes the changes which
followed the declension of the primitive church from its original
state of life and purity.

    "When the gift of the ministry through the Holy Ghost was lost and
    no more received, men began to make ministers by learning arts and
    languages and human policy. They began to study from books and
    writings what to preach, not having the Holy Ghost, without which
    none are the ministers of Christ." "Having lost the sense of God's
    true worship, which is in spirit and in truth, they began to worship
    in outward observances, which is not the worship of God, but
    superstitious and idolatrous." "When singing in the spirit and with
    the understanding ceased, then people began to introduce the form of
    singing David's experiences, in rhyme and metre; and thus, in the
    apostacy, the form grew as a substitute for that which the saints
    had enjoyed in power; shadows were set up instead of the substance,
    and death instead of life."

The same writer in an appeal to the professors of his day to test
their religious profession by the Scriptures, says:

    "Likewise you sing and give to sing David's psalms in rhyme and
    metre, professing it is to the glory and honor of God. Ye practise
    this as an ordinance of God, as a part of his worship, and as a part
    of your religion; but this practice and profession also are manifest
    not to be according to the Scriptures; because it was never
    commanded; neither is there any precedent for this practice in the
    Scriptures in gospel times."

Robert Barclay says, "We confess this [singing of Psalms] to be a part
of God's worship, and very sweet and refreshing when it proceeds from
a true sense of God's love in the heart, and arises from the Divine
influence of the spirit." But he condemns "the formal, customary way
of singing," which was practised by professors in his day, and has
been continued down to the present time, as having "no foundation in
Scripture, nor any ground in true Christianity." He concludes his
remarks on this subject in the following words: "As to their
artificial music, either by organs or other instruments, or voice, we
have neither example nor precept for it in the New Testament."

                   *       *       *       *       *

Independently of that harmony of sound which is the result of musical
skill, there is a modulation of the voice which is an index of the
feelings of the mind. Where the heart is melted under a sense of
Divine goodness and love, and thanksgiving to the Author of all our
blessings flows from it, true melody is often shown in the tones of
the voice; and this is sometimes apparent even when no words are
distinctly uttered. It is to such a state of mind we understand the
Apostle Paul to refer when he speaks to the Ephesians, of "making
melody in your heart to the Lord." When an outward harmony, depending
upon "invented tunes, such as please the carnal mind," and upon words
which have been committed to memory in order to be sung therewith,
takes the place of that expression which comes from the heart and is
uttered under a sense of the Divine requiring, then those who take
part therein fall into that "formal," "customary," "artificial" way of
singing, against which the Society of Friends has borne a steady
testimony from its rise.

                   *       *       *       *       *

These observations apply to vocal religious exercises in the family as
well as in more public gatherings.

                   *       *       *       *       *

We believe the tendency of this artificial music on the mind, even
when attuned to the expression of religious sentiment, and accompanied
by the language of Divine worship, is to "lead the soul almost
insensibly to substitute a pleasing emotion which ends in self, for
those spiritual sacrifices which are acceptable to God by Jesus
Christ, even a broken and contrite heart, and that communion with the
Father and the Son which results from loving God and keeping his

                   *       *       *       *       *

In congregational singing, there is an added inconsistency. For, it is
in the highest degree improbable that those assembled on such
occasions will be in such a frame of mind as will fit them properly
and truthfully to join in the offering of the prayers or praises
expressed in the hymns which may be given out to be sung. This
objection is pointed out by Barclay in his Apology, where, after
stating that "the formal customary way of singing hath no foundation
in Scripture, nor any ground in true Christianity," he adds, "all
manner of wicked, profane persons take upon them to personate the
experiences and conditions of blessed David; which are not only false
as to them, but also to some of more sobriety, who utter them forth."
"Such singing doth more please the carnal ears of men, than the pure
ears of the Lord, who abhors all lying and hypocrisy." (_Prop. XI,
sect. 26._)

This difficulty has been felt by many sincere persons who were not
members of our Society, and has prevented some of them from joining in
such performances. John Spalding, while still a member of the
established Church of England, was so convinced of its inconsistency,
that he addressed a letter to those who met at the place of worship
which he was accustomed to attend, in which he says:

    "I appeal to the witness of God in every heart, considering the
    variety of conditions, the different subjects of praise, adoration,
    confession, petitioning, &c., contained in every collection of
    hymns, whether in the fear of the Lord any one, in whatever state or
    condition he may be at the time, can with propriety be ready to sing
    whatever may be given out."

    John Spalding further testifies as to the effect of formal singing
    in worship. "From my own experience I can say it has a tendency to
    divert the mind from solemn, serious reflections. I am now speaking
    more particularly concerning those, who have attained to a measure
    of the grace of God. Ask yourselves, is outward singing intended or
    calculated to please the carnal ears of men, or a holy God? Why such
    anxiety about tunes, voices, and music? Is the Lord to be pleased
    with such poor things? Oh, no, you cannot suppose it. Consider from
    what root it springs; from the old man or the new; and remember the
    axe is laid to the root to destroy all that is of the earth, of our
    fleshly nature. I have considered those passages in the New
    Testament where the subject is mentioned, and am confirmed by them
    in my opinion of the inconsistency of public singing. The apostle
    speaks of singing with grace in the heart; of making melody in the
    heart to the Lord, not making a noise with the tongue, unless that
    proceeds from the heart."

In a Memorial concerning Edward Cobb of Maine, issued by Falmouth
Monthly Meeting, there is preserved some account of his religious
experience before he became a member of the Society of Friends, which
took place in 1797. In this he states:

    "When quite young, I learned the rules and was very fond of what is
    called sacred music, sparing no pains to attend schools for that
    purpose; and the prayer of my heart to be directed aright regarding
    worship, seemed to receive the first intelligible answer by the way
    of reproof in this exercise; and when, at the head of a choir of
    singers, words have occurred that, through the enlightening
    influence of heavenly goodness, (which had long been operating on my
    mind), appeared evidently inconsistent with my own state, I have
    often, to be unobserved by the company, kept the tune along; while I
    feared that taking the words into my mouth, and uttering them as
    worship to Him who requires worship of his creature man in spirit
    and in truth, could be nothing short of solemn mockery from that
    mind which had been so far enlightened as to believe that nothing
    could be acceptable worship to Almighty God but what came from Him,
    and, through the medium of his own Spirit, was breathed out to Him
    again as that Spirit should dictate, whether in prayer or in praises
    to his great name."

In confirmation of the fact that those who were convinced of the
principles of Friends, when they joined in membership, were
constrained to lay aside their former practices of reading and singing
in meetings for Divine worship, it may be mentioned, that although the
writings of those who were mainly instrumental in gathering the
Society at the time of its rise, contain many advices, cautions and
encouragements to its members, as to the exercise of the ministry, and
as to worship, yet they are almost totally silent as to these

                   *       *       *       *       *

In expressing these views, our object is to guard our own members from
sliding into the adoption of views and practices which are
inconsistent with, and lead away from the standard of spiritual
religion and worship believed in by us, and thus cause us to lose that
post in his militant church which was assigned us by its Holy Head.

                   *       *       *       *       *

We have been concerned also at the increase of instruments of music
and the practice of singing in the families of our members, as a means
of amusement. Even under the Jewish dispensation a woe was pronounced
upon those who in a wanton and unconcerned state of mind invented unto
themselves instruments of music like David, but who were not grieved
for the afflictions of Joseph--that is, for the exercises and
sufferings of the righteous seed.

George Fox declares that he was led to cry out against all sorts of
music; and the advices of our Society down to modern times have been
uniformly in the same direction. It has been felt that the time
required to become a proficient in its practice was improperly taken
from more important uses; that the emotions it produces have no
tendency to strengthen the intellectual or moral character; that the
most melodious sounds that human instruments can make have no power to
implant principles, give strength to resist temptation or eradicate
selfishness; that the love of music often leads into associations
which are corrupting in their character, as is shown by its use in
promoting the frivolity of the ball-room, and the dissipation of the
drinking-saloon, and especially in exciting the passions and drowning
the sensibilities of those engaged in the awful conflicts of the
battle-field; and that it is often resorted to to dispel the feelings
of sadness and inquietude which are spread over the mind at times by
the Holy Spirit, and are the merciful visitations of our compassionate
Redeemer, designed to draw the thoughts away from earthly things, and
to fix them upon the alone Source of never ending happiness. Instead
of quietly and patiently abiding under these dispensations, with the
mind stayed on the Lord, in order to experience their full benefit, if
any of these visited ones should resort to instruments of music and
other means of dissipating the impressions on their minds, it will be
likely to mar the blessing designed by this extension of the mercy of
God to their souls.

The same kind of reasoning, which would defend the use of music and
singing as amusements, may also be urged in support of dancing,
attending theatrical exhibitions, and other indulgences, which, in the
aggregate, distinguish the man of the world from the self-denying
follower of Christ.

We desire, therefore, renewedly to call the attention of Friends to
this subject; and to caution them against indulging themselves or
their families in any practice, however pleasing to the natural taste,
which will weaken their hands in supporting in its purity our ancient
testimony to the nature of spiritual worship; or which will have the
effect of retarding their own progress in the self-denying path that
leads to the kingdom of heaven.

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