THE Baptists of the Seventeenth Century were not entirely a songless people. Some few congregations were accustomed to sing the Psalms in the Authorized Version; but others, while not objecting altogether to singing as a part of Divine worship, manifested a strong dislike to metrical versions, and promiscuous, or congregational singing. The ground of their dislike was not the “barbarity and botching that everywhere occurs in the translation of Sternhold and Hopkins”*the only English metrical version then in existence. They would have had an equal objection to the most accurate and finished translation, if it had been in metre. All such versions were quaintly styled by them “human composures,” and as such were therefore deemed unsuitable for use in public worship. The strictness of their opinions on the subject of church-membership, and their disrelish for anything that seemed to ignore the difference between “the church” and “the world,” occasioned their reluctance to adopt congregational singing.
[* “In the reign of Edward. VI. the effects of the Reformation became visible in our poetry, by blending religious with poetical enthusiasm, or rather by substituting the one for the other. Then flourished Sternhold and Hopkins, who, with the best intentions and the worst taste, degraded the spirit of Hebrew psalmody by flat and homely phraseology; and mistaking vulgarity for simplicity, turned into bathos what they found sublime. Such was the love of versifying Holy Writ at that period, that the Acts of the Apostles were rhymed and set to music by Christopher’Tye.”Campbell’s Essay on English Poetry. The title of Tye’s book is as quaint as his rhymes are grotesque:”The Actes of the Apostles: translated into Englyshe metre, and dedicated to the Kynge’s moste excellent majesty. By Christopher Tye, doctor in music; with notes to each chapter, to syng and play upon the lute; very necessary for students after they studye to fijle. they witts, and also for all Christians that cannot synge, to read the goodlie storeys of the lives of Christ Hys Apostles. London, 1553.”]
A curious illustration of this occurs in one of the earliest references to Baptist opinion on the subject, found in the Broadmead Records. The circumstances were these: the two Baptists, the Independent, and the Presbyterian churches in Bristol were “under persecution” in the year 1675, and an attempt was made, apparently with a view of strengthening each other’s hands, to secure a united service. A preliminary meeting was held, attended by eighteen representatives from the four congregations. The Presbyterians”Mr. Week’s people”conscious of certain differences between their own customs and the customs of the three congregational churches, were afraid that this “joyning together soe near might widen and hurt” the sort of fellowship they had hitherto enjoyed, and damage their good opinion of one another. According to their view “the stick and obstruction” consisted in these four matters: (1) their habit of praying for magistrates, whether good or bad; (2) their custom of “singing Psalms with others besides the church;” (3) their opinion that none ought to preach but those who had been ordained by the Presbytery; and (4) their fear, lest the Baptists “should persuade some whom they deemed the best among them to be baptized.” The first and two last points were met in a frank and brotherly fashion. As to praying for magistrates, “they were all for it as a duty;” and although some of the expressions and titles used by the Presbyterians when praying for magistrates, they could scarcely adopt; yet, “they would bear with one another, if they could not say Amen in all things.” As to the question about preaching “they were all for an orderly ministry,” and would hear each other’s pastors when they came out of prison; but would be contented, meanwhile, to listen to such “gifted brethren, not ministerially called,” as were still left among them. It was, moreover, agreed “that in this meeting of union none should preach up baptism of believers, nor any other should preach against it.” So far all were agreed. But when they came to the question of singing, certain differences were discovered, which afford a singular revelation of the customs of the times. The representatives of Broadmead, of the Independents, and also part of those belonging to the second Baptist community, “Mr. Gifford’s people,” were willing “to sing Psalms with others besides the Church;” but some few of this second Baptist society “scrupled to sing in metre as they were translated, although all of them did hold that singing of Psalms.” The dissentients pleaded for permission to show their dislike of metrical versions and promiscuous singing “by keeping on their hats” during this part of the service, “or going forth;” but the rest were naturally unwilling that this public and disorderly method of showing displeasure should be adopted. It was, therefore, agreed, that if the united services should be held, those who sympathised with the dissentients, “if they would not keep off their hatts and sitt still, should be desired to stay away.” That the Broadmead church were accustomed to sing Psalms at most of their services is evident from the numerous references to this part of worship in their remarkable and invaluable Records. In fact, one of the earliest complaints made against them in 1671 by “old Mr. Wright, that had been sheriff,” was this”that he could hear them sing Psalms from their meeting-place at his house in Hauler’s Lane.” But the circumstance of the Presbyterians raising this question about congregational singing four years later, indicates that there was at that time a divided opinion among the Baptists on the subject; a supposition which was at once confirmed by the conduct of some of “Mr. Gifford’a people.” We have, however, no means of ascertaining how far these two Bristol churches represented the then prevalent opinion on singing in their section of the Baptist denomination.
Outwitting Persecutors by Singing Psalms
There is a smack of dry humour in the use to which the Broadmead church put their fondness for psalmody. They often sung Psalms in order to outwit their persecutors. Before their meetings began some particular Psalm was selected, in the event of what they called “trouble”that is, the sudden appearance of informers, or of the mayor and his officers, for the purpose of dispersing their assemblies or apprehending their preachers. In “Brother Gifford’s meeting” there was a trapdoor in the floor, on which the preacher stood, and “a company of tall brethren” surrounded the speaker, so that he could be instantly let down into the room below on the signal being given that an informer was at the door. But the Broadmead brethren, in similar emergencies, immediately struck up the Psalm they had previously agreed upon, and sung it in a slow and deliberate manner. They had also hit upon an ingenious contrivance for shielding the speaker from the eyes of any informers who might creep unawares into their assembly. The speaker stood behind a curtain, with a few well-known friends, and this enclosure was guarded from intrusion by a line of brethren “without the curtain,” who hindered any from going behind but persons of well-established repute among them. If the informers’ party in the street made a rush upstairs, they found their steps impeded by “the women and maides” purposely sitting on the stairs to hinder their too rapid progress. And when they entered the room the curtain was lifted up, and “all ye people began to sing a Psalme.” In this way the mayor and his officers were many times prevented from pouncing upon any one of the company as the ringleader: “when all were singing, he knew not who to take away more than another.” Of course the mayor was not pleased thus to be baffled in seizing his prey; but “brother Terrill tould him Singing of Psalms was not contrary to ye Liturgies of ye Church of England” for which ready speech brother Terrill was declared a ringleader, and threatened with imprisonment. On other occasions, when the mayor, or the bishop’s men came to disperse them, and commanded them, in the King’s name, to depart, “ye people singing, none heeded what they said, but sate still.” They thus tried to drown, to the ears of the rest of the congregation, the course and brutal language which some of the officers did not scruple to use to “grave gentlewomen,” and even “to sister Ellis, an elder.” When they called the first “confident jades,” and the second “old carrion,” “ye people kept singing all ye while.” On another occasion they thus defeated the whole posse of their persecutors”the mayor and his officers, and the bishop, with divers of his crew and men.” Mr. Hardcastle, their minister, had just been released from his second imprisonment. It was the first Lord’s-day after, “being ye 22nd of ye 6th month, August, 1765.” A larger company than usual had met together for religious worship. The mayor, hearing of the meeting, arranged his plans accordingly. On reaching the door, two sergeants were sent up to command them to disperse, one of them making the proclamation, “O, yes!” three times in a loud voice. The whole assembly struck up the Psalm selected, on receiving this signal that their persecutors were below, so that the sergeant’s voice was unheard save by the few that stood near him. The mayor now goes up himself, followed by his attendants, and repeats the command, in the King’s name, to depart. Still the singing went on,”every one looked into his owne book, and soe sung, and kept stopps one with another, and lifted up their voice together.” The mayor was puzzled, and “knew not what to do.” He did, in fact, the best thing he could do, under such circumstances: “he went downe again.” All this while the bishop himself was skulking “below att the door.” He also “was coming up,” but his courage failed him when he found that “the first paire of staires was somewhat dark.” Braggart as he was, he did not know but the second pair might be darker, and he therefore very prudently “drew back.” The whole company of persecutors being thus foiled at Broadmead, next tried “brother Gifford’s meeting,” where, “finding him in exercise [that is, preaching,] he was marched off to prison.”
Grantham on “the Duty of Thanksgiving”
Three years after the dissension at Bristol on the subject of singing, Grantham published his elaborate treatise on Primitive Christianity. It is extremely improbable that he knew, even by. rumour, what had taken place at this private meeting of the representatives of the four congregations. It is, however, a fact worth repeating, that Grantham was regarded as the eloquent mouthpiece of the General Baptists of his own day. On both accounts, therefore, the independence of his testimony on the Baptist opinion about singing, and the position he held among his own people,his remarks in the chapter in Primitive Christianity on “the duty of thanksgiving,” possess a value all their own. Grantham begins by complaining that all parts of the Christian religion “have suffered great violence by the encroachment of human innovations,” and “this solemn part of God’s holy service hath suffered with the rest. So perverted are men’s views of the subject of thanksgiving, that it has become hard to bring them off from the mistakes into which they have fallen.” However, he will “do somewhat, as God shall assist him,” to shew these four things:”(1) That Psalms and Hymns, as recommended to us, or required to be performed as a part of public worship of God in the Christian Church, are to be sung there, by such as God hath fitted thereto by the help of His Spirit, for the edification of the Church; (2) That the matter of these Psalms is to accord with the Psalms and Hymns in the Scripture; and that the Primitive Church used no other manner of singing than such as that the Church may be edified by understanding the voyce of him that sung; (3) That the formalities now used generally in singing Psalms, &c., differ greatly from that which God hath ordained for this worship and service in that case; (4) Make manifest the sincerity of this service in praising God in Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual Songs in the Christian Church.” In touching upon the first point, Grantham contends that there are two ways of performing the service. The first is, “by meer art, as those doe who only speak what another puts into their mouths,” which, at its best is “no Christian ordinance,” but “counterfeit Psalmody,” and “an empty form of words.” The second is, “by the gift of God’s grace and Spirit.” He then proceeds to show that this was what the Apostle meant when he said, “How is it, brethren, every one of you hath a psalm, hath a doctrine,” &c. [1 Cor. 14:26] Each one had not a Psalm for edification, and therefore each one could not actually sing Psalms. Those who were thus gifted spoke for the profit and comfort of others, although even they might be refused, “if not according to the Word of God.” The Psalms of David could not be meant, since all had them, and even a child seven years old, could read or sing these Psalms; therefore, “having a Psalm,” indicated “something more than the ability to read or sing them out of a book.” Still further, “he who had the Psalm is required to sing the Psalm in the church, and none else; just as he that hath a doctrine was required to produce it, and not he that had it not.” And, lastly, the singing was to be “performed to edifying; consequently the church is to attend him, or to what he holds forth in the way of psalmody, that they may be taught and admonished by him, or have their hearts exhilarated or drawn up to praise the Lord in conjunction of their spirits with his.” This last point is also taught in the words, “Speaking to yourselves in psalms, and hymns, and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart unto the Lord.” [Eph. 5:19] Not that there was any great difference “as to the matter and manner” between psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs; they were various expressions for the same thing substantially, like prophesying, preaching, and teaching; nor yet that these words imply “that every man and woman must needs speak together, that the psalms, &c., were sung promiscuously of the whole congregation, any more that the Apostle Jude’s words, ‘Building up yourselves on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Ghost,’ &c., imply ‘that every man and woman is to preach and pray actually at the same moment in the church.” Moreover, the words, “Let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms, and hymns, and spiritual songs,” [Colossians 3:16] &c., indicate that this service is, after all, “a more difficult way of teaching than that of the common gift of exhortation;” and it has only to be mentioned to show “the unmeetness of the weakest youth or virgin in the church admonishing and teaching the pastor, as much as the pastor teacheth and admonisheth them” in the due performance of this duty. “This is to make all the body a mouth, and wholly to take away the use of the ear, whilst Psalms are thus being sung.” Much more could be urged “for all praying at once than for all singing at once. Prayer is the pouring out of our hearts to God, and not to one another; but in Psalms we speak to one another, and therefore, of necessity, some must hear.” Grantham next touches on the practice of “the Primitive Church in singing of Psalms;” and contends that “no other way” was in use except that already explained. The “singing at the Last Supper” is no proof to the contrary. To say nothing about the doubt as to the meaning of the word; whether, that is, the hymn was said or sung, there is no statement as to who said this hymn, or sung it, and there is no evidence what the hymn was. “In fact,” says Grantham, “there is nothing to justify such a confused singing as many use in these days, either in the account of the Last Supper in the Gospel, or in the description of this sacred ordinance given by Paul. The Apostle does speak (1 Cor. 10) of ‘the cup of blessing which we bless;’ but he gives us no account of the hymn or psalm used by our Saviour at that holy Manducation. Moreover, in the prison at Philippi, Paul and Silas did not pray together, neither did they sing together, but they both prayed and sang “by course.” So, in writing about “saying, Amen, at the giving of thanks,” the Apostle does not favour “promiscuous singing by many voices together, as in parochial assemblies, or other congregations of Christians;” but “quite overthrows it, since he makes it necessary that the voice that giveth thanks, or singeth, be intelligible to him that stands by, as much as it ought to be in prayer, that so the rest may be edified, and give their Amen to what is expressed in prayer or praises.” In the “noise” of promiscuous singing, “musick may please the ear,” but none can be edified. “Indeed,” says Grantham, “this new device of singing what is put in men’s mouths by a reader;” this singing, either “David’s Psalms, or their own composures, in a mixed multitude of voices;” this singing, not merely “in parochial assemblies, but by those that think themselves more happy, in that they have found out a way to compose hymns themselves, and set them out, that others may sing the same things with them,” is not only “wholly without any example from any of the Primitive Churches of Christ,” but is “foreign to the sincerity and simplicity of this holy service.” Once introduce the habit of “tying all to one man’s words, measures, and tones, in so great an ordinance” as this, and you will “make a fair way for forms of prayer” to follow. Grantham finds no little satisfaction in the fact, “that many good men of antient and latter times have greatly disliked the musical way of singing Psalms;” and in the third section he quotes a few instances in point. There is Augustine, for example. “Very fierce am I sometimes,” says Augustine, “in the desire of having the melody of all pleasant music, (to which David’s Psalter is often sang), banished from mine own ears, and out of the whole church too; yea, the safer way, as it seemed to me, which I remember to have often told me, of Athanasius, Bishop of Alexandria, who caused the reader of the Psalm to sound it forth with little warbling of the voice, as that it was near to pronouncing than to singing.” Rabanus Maurice also declares that in the Primitive Church “singing was more like loud reading than a song.” Athanasus, moreover, so disliked “a confused way of psalmody that he utterly forbad it, since it raised both lightness and vanity in singers and hearers.” Erasmus, in his comment on 1 Cor. 10 points out how “in monasteries, cathedrals, and temples, almost generally” men dissent from Paul, for in “Paul’s time there was no singing, but saying only.” Theodosius Basil, also, in his Book of Relics, tells us of some strange innovations made by Pope Vatalian:”Being a lusty singer, and a fresh courageous musician himself, brought into the Church prick-song, descant, and all kinds of sweet and pleasant melody. And because nothing should want to delight the vain, foolish, and idle ears of fond and phantastical men, he joyned the organs to the curious musical. Thus was Paul’s preaching, and Peter’s praying, turned into vain singing and childish playing, unto the great loss of time, and to the utter undoing of Christian men’s souls, which live not by singing and piping, but by every word that cometh out of the mouth of God.” Church music was indeed introduced two centuries before, “though not with these curiosities.” And the “vanity thereof hath ever been censured by wise men, and particularly by Dr. Cornelius Agrippa. ‘Music,’ saith he, ‘is grown to such and so great licentiousness, that even in the ministration of the Holy Sacrament, all kinds of light, wanton, and trifling songs, with piping of organs, hath place. As for Common Prayer, it is so chanted and minced, and mangled by our costly hired musicians, that it may justly seem not to be a noise made by men, but rather a bleating of brute beasts; whiles the children neigh out a descant, as it were a sort of colts, others bark a counter tenor like a number of dogs. Some bellow out a tenor, like a company of oxen; and. others grunt out a bass, like a company of hogs, so that a very ill-favoured sound is made: but as for the words and sentences, nothing is understood but the authority and power of judgment from the ears and heart.'” This quotation seems to Grantham “to give fit occasion to show something of the vanities formerly in use in cathedral devotions, and now in common use in several places in this nation.” He, therefore, quotes one of the collects as generally sung, “and the manner thus”:”Almighty God, the fountain of all wisdom, of all wisdom; which knoweth our necessities before we ask, which knoweth our necessities before we ask, before, before we ask, before we ask; and our ignorance in asking, in asking, in asking. We beseech Thee, we beseech Thee, we beseech Thee, to have compassion, to have compassion, to have compassion, on our infirmities, on our infirmities, infirmities, our infirmities. And those things, those things, those things, which for our unworthiness, which for our unworthiness, unworthiness, our unworthiness, which for unworthiness, we dare not, we dare not, we dare not; and for our blindness, our blindness, for our blindness, we cannot ask, we cannot ask, we cannot ask: Vouchsafe to give us, vouchsafe to give us, for the worthiness, for the worthiness; of Thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord, of Thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord, Jesus Christ our Lord, of Thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen, Amen, Amen, Amen, Amen.” However much Grantham may have disliked these “vain repetitions,” or however greatly he may have admired the sharp things said about Church music by “some ancient and latter writers,” it is somewhat strange that one so well-informed did not notice the fact that congregational singing was destroyed by these innovations, not created; that the clerical Cantores took the singing entirely out of the mouth of the people generally; that later on, one of the signs of men being disciples of Huss and Luther was, that they sung Psalms together; and that many suppose this practice earned for the Lollards their distinctive name. In the fourth section Grantham discourses on what he deems “the sure way of praising God in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, according to the Scripture.” He dismisses the example of singing, accompanied by musical instruments, set forth in the Old Testament, as a concession to the “gross hearts of the Jews,” as belonging to what Calvin calls “the law of schooling, and now no more meet for setting forth God’s glory, than if a man should call again censing, lamps, and other shadows of the law. Foolishly, therefore, have the Papists borrowed these things from the Jews.” Since, then, “singing in tunes and measures by a company of singing men, or a confused multitude, will be found to be as much borrowed from the Jews, as the musical instruments themselves, . . . and the law of these ceremonies being peculiar to the Jewish Church, and in no ways transmitted to the Church of Christ by any part of Christ’s doctrine in the New Testament, … it remains that we stand fast in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free.” As to the matter of singing, in New Testament Churches, “it must be the Word of God, or that which is according to it, seated in the soul of the Christian, and not as it may be read to them out of a book only, and then repeated.” “David’s Psalms and other Divine hymns, contained in the Scriptures, are good presidents and guides to us in the performance of this duty; but to take these Psalms barely as they lie, and to sing them; or to translate them into metre, and then to sing them; or to take them as others have translated them into metre, and so to sing them, is that which we find not so much as one of the Primitive Christians to have done before us; and how we should suppose such things to be acceptable to God in His worship, I know not.” It is not “a bare recital of Sacred Scripture” that is implied; but “some part of the heavenly mystery, or mind of God contained therein, with a present capacity of fitness and spirit to sound forth His praise that giveth the Word, and to the profit of the Church.” But this is a gift not bestowed upon every one, any more than the ability to edify; yet “he that hath a Psalm, or gift to praise God in His Church, ought to sing there to edify others.” The same things are virtually repeated when speaking “of the manner how Christians are to sing praises to God in church assemblies,” only with greater detail. “The only certain and undoubted manner is this:That such persons as God hath gifted to tell forth His mighty acts, and to recount His special Providences, and upon whose hearts God hath put a lively sense of present mercies, should have the liberty and convenient opportunity to celebrate the high praises of God, one by one;” that all this is “to be done with a pleasant and cheerful voice, that may serve to express the joys conceived in the heart of him that singeth, the better to affect the hearts of all the congregation with the wondrous works of God, and the continual goodness which He sheweth toward the children of men, and especially towards His people.” This method “of one only singing the praises of God is perhaps but rarely done in these days, at least not as it should be; yet I know not of any that deny the thing to be lawful.” It certainly requires “as great an ability, and as spiritual a mind, as any other service performed in the churches, and therefore calls for as great study, and holy waiting upon God for His help in the performance or ministerial part thereof.” But as for “plain song, prick-song, descant, or other poetical strains,” they are “men’s devices,” and “very much unlike the gravity of Christian worship.” “The very Papists deride the singing of David’s Psalms in a rhythmical way,” especially those translated by Beza, calling them “Geneva jiggs;” and the use of such Psalms, “though better translated than they are, as a part of our rational worship is thought by one writer to be as ridiculous as making our addresses to persons in authority by epistles and orations out of Tully.” To which Grantham rejoins: “But if David’s Psalms, though better translated than they are, will not pass in the judgment of this learned Protestant for a part of rational worship, I marvel how such as pretend to a higher pitch of reformation should think that their private poetisms should find acceptance in the churches of God. How much better is it to content ourselves where we are than to take up such fancies? “Musical singing with a multitude of voices together in rhime and metre is liable,” says Grantham, “to so many just exceptions, as may caution any good Christian to beware of it.” (1) The very founders and uses soon became disgusted with it. (2) The very novelty of it makes against it. (3) Instruction is prevented, “for when all speak, none can hear;” and “spiritual gifts are drowned by the voice of men and women who have no gifts at all.” (4) None so singing “can be confident they have done the will of God.” (5) Singing other men’s words “opens a gap for forms of prayer.” (6) It makes void the way of singing which is undoubtedly warranted. (7) Once permit the singing by art pleasant tunes, and you will bring music, and even instruments back again into public worship, and then, farewell all solemnity. (8) You even make this proposition truethat no Christian Church is complete in the order of God’s worship, without some skill in poetry and music. Grantham closes by saying, “I would not be understood to censure those that differ from me in understanding or practice in this particular, who have a pious mind in setting forth God’s praises in some of the modes opposed”a charity which was unfortunately not largely imitated, as we shall presently see. He however wishes that ” the baptized churches especially would more seriously consider this matter than hitherto, that this service might be better known to the glory of God and the good of the churches.”
Mr. Keach introduces Singing at Horselydown
The words of Grantham point to a change which was already beginning to creep slowly over some of the songless sanctuaries of the Baptists, at least of the other section, if not of his own. Among the persons ”who had found out a way to compose hymns, and set them out that others might sing the same things with them,” was Benjamin Keach, who had already been, at the time Grantham published his book, for ten years the devoted and exemplary pastor of Goat-street, Horselydown. Indeed, according to one complainant, Mr. Keach was the first minister who introduced singing in that church; but the only concession originally permitted was, that they should sing after the Lord’s Supper. To the great trouble of the unmusical brethren in the church, “many of the honest hearers, who stayed to see that holy administration, sung with them.” The next innovation was, singing on public thanksgiving days; but this was continued for a brief period, and is spoken of in 1691 as ceasing twelve or fourteen years previously. An attempt was made to revive it when a stranger occupied the pulpit, and apparently with some little success. The minister “had ended his exercise, when a hymn was given up to him, we know not,” say the songless few, “by whom, (except it were by Mr. Keach’s means,) which he read and sung, and the people with him; but this was not in the least by the appointment of the church, but was an imposition on them, and a surprise to the minister himself, and his great trouble, when he had considered of it, as he himself told many of us afterwards.”
Keach’s Defence of Singing
The dissentients at Horselydown found a valorous champion in Isaac Marlow, who had, in 1690, published a Discourse Concerningor rather againstSinging. Mr. Keach followed with his Breach Repaired in God’s Worship; or, Singing Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual Songs, proved to be a holy ordinance of Jesus Christ. Very gravely and very soberly does the good pastor set to work, in this book, to show “that there are various kinds of voices; namely, (1) a shouting noise of the tongue; (2) a crying noise; (3) a preaching voice, or noise made that way; (4) a praying, or praising voice; and, lastly, (5) a singing voice. All these,” says Mr. Reach, without a smile (in fact his face, judged from the portrait prefixed to one edition of his book, looks as if it could rarely smile), “are distinct from each other. Singing,” he declares, “is not a simple heart singing, or mental singing; but a musical melodious modulation, or tuning of the voice.” “Singing is a duty performed always with the voice, and cannot be done without the tongue.” The duty of singing is then enforced on various grounds. It is an ancient practice: “angels sang at the first creation.” “The devil hates it, is a great enemy of singing, and doth not love the Hosannas to Christ.” It is a moral duty. It is right to use the faculty we have for singing, since God creates nothing in vain. It is a part of natural religion. It has been practised by God’s people in all ages: before the giving of the Law, under the Law, under the Gospel, and after Apostolic times. Keach, according to Marlow, had twelve months before the publication of this book, “vehemently pressed forward” the duty of singing, at “the first and greatest Assembly” of Particular Baptists, challenged to dispute the matter, and had been accepted; but the Assembly “thought it not convenient to spend much time that way.” He also points out that Hercules Collins was the first to broach the assertion among the Particular Baptists that singing was “a public duty,” in his appendix to his Orthodox Catechism, published in 1680; and that Keach followed in the same strain both in his Tropes and Figures (1682), and his Treatise on Baptism, or Gold Refined (1689).
“The Leader of the Opposition”Isaac Marlow
The controversy once opened, was carried on with great eagerness on both sides for the next eight or ten years. Marlow followed Keach’s Breach Repaired, by a treatise entitled The Truth Soberly Defended (1692). Singing is therein designated “false worship,” “error,” “dangerous and destructive to the peace and well-being of our churches, and to the pure worship of God therein,” a practice from which he hopes all “sober, impartial, and inquiring Christians, may keep themselves undented.” Hanserd Knollys had printed a sheet for singing, often quoted against Marlow; but Marlow thinks, that the strictures in that on himself are to be charitably judged as arising ”through the failure of Knollys’ intellects, he being then between ninety-two and ninety-three years of age.” As for Joseph Wright’s book, Folly Detected, animadverting on Marlow’s first publication, “it showeth folly in the face of it, wherein there is neither spiritual savour, nor common civility; but in divers parts of it a breathing forth of passion, anger, and great contempt.” Hard words, with a vengeance: but in this singing controversy a good many hard words were uttered, and men’s passions ran high. Even Mr. Keach has dealt out to him a fair share of rebuke. Marlow complains of being styled by both Wright and Keach, “a person not fit to meddle with divine things,” a man “that plays the part of a sophister,” “justifying Quaker’s silent meetings,” “little better than an enthusiast,” “a mischievous person who fires his neighbour’s house, and burns down his own,” “a ridiculous scribbler,” “a brazen forehead,” “a non-churcher,” “a ranter,” “a novice,” “an ignoramus,” and other equally contemptuous terms. “By this way,” says Marlow, “they have laboured to aliene the minds of Christians from me.” There is a good deal of querulous complaint in Marlow’s book; but these expressions show how much occasion had been given for his reference to Mr. Keach’s “hot spirit.” The singing every Lord’s-day at Horselydown, which was the third innovation, had, in Marlow’s judgment, been smuggled in by unfair means. “A church-meeting was called on Sunday evening after the public worship was over.” Mr. Keach obtained a majority of votes; but, adds Marlow, “a major vote is no proof of truth.” Unquestionably: but the point to be decided then was, not “the truth,” but the adoption of singing after every service on the Sunday. The majority carried the day; but the dissentients soon after seceded from Horselydown, formed themselves into a fresh community, and established the church-meeting at Maze Pond. [They continued to adhere steadfastly to the principle of the original constitution till after the death of their second minister, Rev. Edward “Wallen; but Abraham West, in 1739, made it a condition of his accepting the pastoral office, that singing should be introduced into public worship.”Wilsons Dissenting Churches.] The hearty personalities of several pamphlets published at this time on the singing controversy, led the Particular Baptist General Assembly, for the credit of the denomination, to take up the matter. Seven brethren were appointed to examine certain pamphlets, and report thereon, the offenders agreeing to abide by their decision. Marlow was not among them. The committee sharply reproved the pamphleteers for “their uncharitable, unsavoury censures, reflections, and reproaches.” The books were desired to be brought in, and left at the disposal of the Assembly. The writers were warned, that if they repeated their offences, “they will be remarked;” but they are entreated by the committee, “on their knees, to keep the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace.” The members of the churches were besought neither “to buy, sell, give, or disperse,” certain pamphlets named, among which was Marlow’s Truth Soberly Defended. Crosby is evidently in error when he says that “a stop was thus put to the troubles that threatened the baptized churches upon this controversy;” although it may be quite true that “many of them from that time sung the praises of God in their public assemblies who had not used that practice before.” [Crosby, vol. iii. 271.] Marlow’s Controversy of Singing brought to an end was issued a few years subsequently; and instead of ending the debate, gave it a fresh impetus. In this book Marlow thus states the difference between himself and his opponents:”The question between us and our brethren is not, whether any such thing as vocal melodious singing is exhorted unto in the New Testament, for this we freely own; but the controversie lyes herein, viz.: (1) Whether the saints were moved to the exercise of it in the Apostle’s time, only as an extraordinary spiritual gift, depending on divine inspiration as some other gifts did; or, that it was appointed as a constant gospel ordinance in the church in an ordinary administration also. (2) In what external manner it was thus exercised; whether, in a prestinted form of words, made in artificial rhimes; or, as the Spirit, by His more immediate dictates, gave them utterance. And (3) Who was it that sang? Whether the minister sang alone; or with him a promiscuous assembly of professors, and profane men and women, with united voices together.”
Marlow’s Strictures on Alien’s Essay
Another singing brother had entered the lists in place of Mr. KeachMr. Richard Alien. This worthy minister had shown his willingness to suffer for the truth during the times of persecution. He had been pastor of the church at Turners’ Hall for many years, and was now minister at Barbican. During his previous pastorate he had been fined, and had lain for some weeks in Newgate. On one occasion, whilst preaching at the early hour of five o’clock in the morning, some troopers surprised the congregation, abused the people, and from being incensed against the preacher, threw one of the forms at him as he stood in the pulpit. Although regarded as a General Baptist in sentiment, his chief friends were among the Particular Baptist ministers. Sympathising with Mr. Keach’s opinions on singing, he had published An Essay to Prove Singing of Psalms with Conjoint Voices, a Christian Duty. Marlow now turns his facile sword to meet the new comer. Mr. Alien had urged, in his Essay, that as men had the faculty not only for praising God in their hearts, but also in their mouths, it was therefore their moral duty to use both faculties. “Is it?” says Marlow. “Then why not all other faculties toodancing, laughing, shouting, whistling, since these are as much faculties as singing?” Mr. Alien thinks men may use a Scriptural form of sound words in prayer. But it follows not, therefore, that there is any ground for men of a failable [fallible] spirit to compose a form of prayer in their own words, and impose it upon others. “Exactly so,” adds Marlow, “and we have the same dislike to stinted forms of hymns made by Mr. Alien and his fellow-singers, unless he would have us believe him and them to be infailable penmen of hymns for Gospel worship.” Nay, even “the utterance of David’s words, ‘As the hart panteth after the waterbrooks,’ is to teach people hypocrisy.” Mr. Alien does not think, on the other hand, “that there is anything in the Psalms but what every Christian, by the gracious illumination and influence of the Holy Spirit, may sing with a truly Christian spirit, and with much comfort and edification to themselves;” in which opinion he will now be supported by thousands of godly men. But Marlow makes merry over this statement, and asks, “Whether they can so sing for their comfort and edification, ‘I have more understanding than all my teachers, I understand more than the ancients;’ but if every one, or any, of Mr. Alien’s church should tell him so, in the common way of speaking, I query if he would not think them wise in their own conceits.” As to Mr. Alien’s assertion, that some of the Psalms were written in rhyme, “it shows that he is no Hebrew scholar;” “the rhyming at the end” of the Psalms he quotes “only happen so;” and “several Jews,” to whom Marlow had appealed, declared “that there were no rhymes in the Hebrew.” The taste for congregational singing had evidently spread in London since the controversy began, from the fact that Marlow now “grieves that so many of our London elders and ministers are blemished with such rotten notions,” and that “our holy profession and reformation is stained with so great a faction as they have raised.” The practice of congregational singing will, in his opinion, lead to “baptism, and all upholders of it, being contemned and frowned at,” whatever expenditure there may be of labour and men “to stop the gap that is opening.” At the thought of his own efforts, Marlow grows prophetic:”Whether our singing elders and fellow Christians will hear, or whether they will forbear; I believe that my testimony to the truth will outlive them, and their folly, committed in God’s Israel, whatever may become of me.” But “where, with your innovations,” says Marlow, “do you design to stop?” “You have introduced this ‘piece of false worship:’ what will be the next?” As to the men whose names were put to A Sober Reply to Mr. R. Steed’s Epistles, they have thereby proclaimed themselves the ringleaders in this innovation; forgetting that “since the yoak of persecution has been taken from off our necks there has been woful demonstrations of decay, of true godliness, and such troubles and disorders as I have never heard of among us before, the occasion whereof in part has arisen from this piece of false worship which they have appeared for, and so have endeavoured to introduce into our churches.” “Even Mr. Keach’s failure to get the sanction of the General Assembly to his love of singing, did not deter one of your number, Mr. Thomas Whinnel, from attempting, at the last meeting, craftily and surreptitiously, in combination with others, on the last day of the Assembly, when most of the country messengers were gone home, and many of the messengers of the churches in the city were absent, a time intended only for them that remained to put in order what had been agreed on in the former days of their Assembly that it might be presented to the churchesdid then present something to be debated concerning persons retaining their communion with a church whereof they were members, though the practice of common singing were contrary to their common judgment and consciences set up in it; but being then so unseasonably presented in the absence of the greater part of the Assembly, it was witnessed against by many then present, as that which was not fit to be debated at that time; it savouring more of a political contrivance, than of honesty and candour.” These queries of Marlow, addressed to the same persons, read strangely enough in our day: “(1) Whether you believe it lawful, by the command of God, for you that are members of a separate baptized church, to have full communion at the Lord’s table, with a church of the Independent profession, who are not baptized on a profession of faith, but only sprinkled in their infancy? (2) Whether you count it lawful for you to have such full communion with those Independent brethren, and can sing with them, as they do in public worship, that then you have any ground to make it a case of conscience to maintain a separate church state from them?” Marlow singles out, among the special advocates for congregational singing who deserve his censure, William Kiffin, Robert Steed, George Barrat, and E. Man. They are all charged, like Keach, with “vehemently and frequently pressing the question” on the attention of various Assemblies, with preaching this “common set-form of singing,” and “with inserting in print in the view of all men “their opinions thereon. For his own part, he is full of fear about this “piece of human art, introduced for a piece of gospel worship.” “Trouble and distraction” have already come as the consequence; and “unless the churches themselves use great care and faithfulness in preserving the purity of those congregations that are better principled than their elders, or some of their ministers, a few years will produce a great alteration in divers of our churches about London.” To such an extent had “the infection” of “set-form singing” spread, that, in Marlowe’s opinion, there were in 1696 but few churches in the metropolis, “but what have either their elders or their ministers” under its poison. “When the better principled are removed by death, these men will step into their places; and then, with their removal, and the wearing away of the ancient members,what may we expect? It will be, as Dr. Owen says, ‘Like priest, like people.'”
E. H.’s “Scripture Proof”
The same year that Marlow published his last book (1696), a certain “E. H.” issued a book, entitled, Scripture Proof for Singing of Scripture Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual Songs. Or, an Answer to several Queries and Objections frequently made use of to stumble and turn aside young Christians from their duty to God in singing Psalms gathered out of Scripture Truth. To which is added, the Testimony of some Learned Men to Prove that Scripture Psalms are intended by all those three words, Psalms, Hymns, and Songs, used by the ApostlesEph. 5:19; Col. 3:16.” The book was prefaced by “an Epistle,” signed by Nathaniel Mather and Edward Chauncy, which runs as follows: “The author is by face wholly unknown to us; but we have, with much satisfaction and delight, perused his ensuing treatise, finding it to be solid and judicious, and full of Scripture light and strength, and singularly adapted and suited to enlighten and establish plain Christians, whose consciences are determined by, and faith bottomed in, the Scriptures. As to his opinion, that nothing should be sung in public worship but Scripture Psalms, and Hymns, and Spiritual Songs, thereby excluding the hymns of human composure, by a private gift, which some sing in their solemn assemblies, we do freely concur with him; and heartily wish that those who practice otherwise would a little better consider what they do. We know not anything that such can allege for their way, seeing God hath furnished us with such full supply of spiritual songs of His own inditing, and seeing there is not any intimation in the Scriptures that it was ever practised among the people of God of old.”
Dr. Russell on Alien’s Essay
Yet another pamphlet appeared in this somewhat prolific year of the singing controversy, 1696. This time our valiant old friend. Dr. Russell, breaks a lance with Mr. Richard Alien. He styles his book, Some Brief Animadversions on Mr. Alien’s Essay. Mr. Alien had argued that “the common practice of singing with rhime, and conjoint voices was a Christian duty,” and Dr. Russell, being one of the old fashioned General Baptists, who disbelieved in such singing altogether, undertakes to “examine” Mr. Alien’s arguments and “refute” them. The book is valuable, if only for the side-lights thrown on Baptists of that time, apart from the special subject on which it treats. Like Marlow, Russell grieves over “the late troublers of the denomination, who have introduced this new human invention of singing David’s Psalms in rhime and metre, with conjoint voices;” and also, like Marlow, he hopes the words he addresses “to the messengers, elders, and brethren of the baptized” churches, may be the means of restoring union and peace. He points out the fact, that some of the ministers who endorsed Mr. Alien’s Essay, “and fixed their names to it by way of approbation, omit to practice singing in their own congregations;” and declares that “Mr. Keach’s, and some other congregations are the sole representatives of the modern innovation.” It is also a source of grief that these innovators “have corrupted some of our young men with this notion of theirs about singing,” especially singling out one of them by name”that hopeful young branch, Mr. Thomas Harrison.” The defection is the more painful to Dr. Russell, since “his (Mr. Harrison’s) father was once a parish minister, had his eyes opened about singing in the art of singing, and regarded the common way of singing as will-worship, as much as Common Prayer or infant’s sprinkling;” and this “indiscreet action” does not “bespeak that respect for his father’s memory which he ought to show.” Before this “hopeful young branch had endorsed Mr. Alien’s Essay,” he ought to have been able to answer the grounds of his father’s opinion to the contrary. Yet, he “does not blame him so much as others; and, notwithstanding this slip, he has more honourable thoughts of him than it is proper here to express.” We shall see presently how “young Mr. T. H.” answers Dr. Russell’s public appeal to him. There is also another challenge to his opponents of harsh treatment, or at any rate, “of unkindness to their old servant who wrote the Queries, since they have turned him out of his house, and taken all his salary from him, notwithstanding he was one of their own members, and had served them faithfully, even to old age, and is yet in communion with them.” This is also answered by-and-bye. Russell waxes very indignant as he thinks of the singing of “rhimes by a set-form,” in baptized congregations, and “that by all the people together, whether saints or sinners, members or no members, whether they are young or old, understand or not understand, what is sung.” It is a “mere human invention of ballad singing!” cries out the irate doctor. “Why, it first began with Clement Marot, the groom of the bedchamber of the French King, Francis 1st. He used to make songs for the king; and was at last prevailed upon by Fr. Vetablus, to relinquish his trifling doggrel, and to turn David’s Psalms into French metre; that he did thus translate the first thirty; and the king sang them, as he had done the former ballads. After this, Beza and Calvin encouraged Marot, when at Geneva, to turn more of them into rhime; and they were then brought into use in their Assemblies.” If Mr. Alien cannot bring another instance of David’s Psalms being translated into metre in any language before this attempt of Marot’s, “let him forbear thus fooling with his new method of ballad-singing; for it is no better.” Even self-interest might have some weight. “Your ballad-singing hath a tendency to your ruin, having begun already to diminish your numbers, and two congregations are obliged to unite into one to keep up their reputation, and supply that deficiency singing in rhime hath made in the loss of their members. A greater part of your members that remain are so dissatisfied, that so soon as you begin to tune your pipes, they immediately depart, like men affrighted.” After declaring, like Marlow, that there was no rhime in Hebrew; and if the Jews sang, their customs are not binding upon us, Dr. Russell bursts out into the following rhetorical passage:”The king’s daughter now is all glorious within, endowed with the gifts and graces of the Holy Spirit, and is to act all her duties from a principle of grace and holiness. She needs no instruments of music to stir her affections, nor any flesh-pleasing tunes, or musical rhimes, to make her merry; for the Spirit fills her with joy and peace through believing; and when He hath a mind to glorify Himself by any outward melody, He will not want the assistance of our singers to dictate tunes to express it by. And, indeed, it is strange they should think that no praise offered up to God, in and through His Son, should please Him so well as the rhimes of Hopkins, Sternhold, and others.”
Of course, Mr. Alien very soon followed Dr. Russell’s Animadversions, with A Brief Vindication of an Essay to prove Singing of Psalms, &c., from Dr. Russell’s Animadversions, and Mr. Marloic’s Remarks, &c. In fact, the three pamphlets all appeared in the same year. Mr. Alien hopes, in his “Address to the Christian reader,” “if he is a little sharp, it will be admitted with a candid interpretation, considering the temper of the man with whom he has to deal;” and “the five champions,” as Russell called the men who endorsed Mr. Alien’s previous book (Joseph Maisters, William Collins, Joseph Stennett, John Pigott, and Thomas Harrison) have also their “address to the reader.” They “see no reason to retract their words of praise.” They are “not convinced by the animadverter, whatever swelling words he may use against Mr. Alien.” They would seriously ask him, “Whether he has used his pen as became a Christian, nay, as became a man of good sense and temper; whether a charitable disposition of mind would not set him off to better advantage than all these big pretences to a great stock of reason and learning, the vain and empty conceit of which, while it prompts him to look down upon others with a supercilious scorn, renders him, in reality, an object of pity than the envy of those that are truly learned and ingenious.” Again, we say, these are hard words; but harder follow. The “five champions” wish Dr. Russell “ballast with sail, and that his heart may be as well furnished as his head.” They are “troubled that he could not satisfy his resentment, and blunt the edge of his passion in striking at their little names, without profanely ridiculing an ordinance of God; and hope he will beware of unsavoury jests in the future.” That there was really some ground for these strictures, Mr. Alien proceeds to show. Dr. Russell had declared that Mr. Alien and his friends were “guilty of adding to the Word of God,” of “detracting from it,” of “dealing deceitfully with it,” of “using strategems to beguile the ignorant and the unstable souls,” of “cheating English readers,” of “wilfully or ignorantly opposing against the truth,” of “belieing the Son of God,” and ” f bringing a dreadful curse upon themselves.” As for Beza, “he was an old friend and merry companion,” “a buffoon, and common ballad maker;” and as for Mr. Alien, and his friends, “they were ballad-singers, and made a noise like madmen.” Mr. Alien then proceeds to note some of the misconceptions of Dr. Russell as to his own view of the question in dispute. He certainly thinks that “it is lawful for one voice alone to sing the praises of God; but, in a public assembly, it is much more warrantable for the whole congregation to sing together with conjoint voices, than for one person to sing there alone;” that he and his friends “sing psalms in rhime, not as the only way, but as the most facile way to sing them harmoniously;” that even “rhime and metre” are not absolutely necessary to singing praises to God in a proper sense, “but the use of the voice” is necessary. As for the doctor’s remarks about Hebrew, he has a good deal to say, and quotes various passages to show his assertions were not without warrant, among others the song of Miriam. He could also justify the same inequality of lines from Cowley’s Ode on the Passion of Christ,” and then breaks out into a little ode of his own:
“Alas! great Cowley! famous in thy time!
It now appears thou’st neither verge nor rhime,
In these unequal lines, which lamely go
Silence!the Cambridge doctor says ’tis so.”
As to the slander about “the Querist” being turned out of his house, Alien remarks, “whereas his place is conferred upon a person as much different from us in the point of singing as himself; and the author of the Queries well knows that it was not me, but one nearer to himself, that was the cause of his being desired to quit his lodgings, of which I suppose the doctor could not be ignorant.” Thomas Harrison adds a postscript to Alien’s pamphlet; in which he declares, that “it cannot but touch me to my quick to be charged with disrespect to my father’s memory. I never knew that a son’s being of a judgment different from his father, and publishing it to the world, was inconsistent to his father’s memory. I was but just entered upon the sixth year of my age when my honoured father exchanged this life for a better; so that it is not very probable that I should remember his instructions about singing, if he gave any; and seeing that he never wrote upon the subject, I must needs be unacquainted with them.” As to his name appearing with the other four to Mr. Alien’s pamphlet, “no man asked me but Mr. Alien. I did not speak with the others about it. I needed no persuasion; but subscribed freely, and see now no cause to repent.” Alien adds a second postscript, in which, after showing that he also went to the same Jews as Marlow, and got a somewhat different answer, they contending for equal feet as rhyme, and he that it meant like sounds at the end of the lines; and firing a farewell shot at Dr. Russell, as agreeing with “Julian, the apostate, who was the only opposer among the ancients of the statement about the Psalms rhyming,” he concludes, with words of charity and hope: “As we believe our brethren that neglect singing the praise of God live (through mistake), in the omission of that which is to us an undoubted duty, yet we are willing to bear lovingly with them till they are further enlightened; so we hope, notwithstanding Mr. Marlow’s suggestion about the ejection of all such ministers, that they will also walk lovingly and peaceably with us as brethren.” There is a third postscript from W. Collins, “to the Christian reader.” This explains how a passage which had been falsely translated, came to appear. Collins lays the blame on the printer’s overseer, who altered the translation himself, on his own responsibility; and Collins demanding that the leaf on which the misrendering occurs should be reprinted and inserted in the end. Marlow still repeated his charge, and Collins brought the matter before an Assembly of elders and messengers of the Devonshire-square meeting, when, Marlow having nothing to say in defence, was condemned. Dr. Russell is also charged with repeating the slander, since Marlow’s discomfiture; “but,” says Collins, with some heat, “a man that favours his (Russell’s) notions, although a vile blasphemer, as Servetus, or a popishly-affected doctor (Wilson), shall have his high enconiums; but he that opposeth him, in the least degree, must expect a dose of his most churlish physick. The Lord forgive him, and such as walk in his steps.”
Claridge’s Reply to Alien
The following year, Richard Claridge, a new combatant enters the arena. Claridge was once rector of Poppleton, Warwickshire; and, adopting Baptist sentiments, was baptized in 1691, at Bromsgrove. He settled in London as the pastor of Bagnio-court church, afterwards removed to Currier’s Hall, better known as the Cripplegate meeting. He was a man of considerable learning, as his pamphlet shows. After a short time Claridge became a Quaker. His Answer to Richard Alien’s Essay, Vindication, and Appendix was at first approved by Steed and Marlow; but greatly altering “the copy” before it appeared, these unmusical brethren withdrew their endorsement, and as a consequence only eight sheets out of the twenty were printed. A single citation, his objection to angels singing, is all we can find space to give:”This is a dark region our souls are now in; and we know but very little of the state and employment of the heavenly angels. That they are glorious spirits, and do continually adore and magnify God, the Holy Scriptures inform us; but that they praise Him with vocal singing, the Sacred Records are not only silent, but it is also work incompetent to spirits, as such, who are incorporeal beings, and so incapable, through the defects of proper external organs, of a vocal celebration of His adorable perfections.” How many other pamphlets on the subject of singing were issued after this period, it is not easy to discover. But the practice of congregational singing was still advocated by many ministers long before the churches were willing to adopt it. William Collins tried hard to introduce it into the church at Petty France, in 1698, but without effect; yet after Mr. Collins’ death, in 1702, the attempt was renewed by his successor with better success; although a division was occasioned by it, and the secedera went off to Turner’s Hall, and invited Ebenezer Wilson, from Bristol, to be their minister. This is the history of other churches in London, and elsewhere, at least among the Particular Baptists; but the records of many of these struggles have not been preserved.
[A pious and aged woman once visited Dr. Gill, to relieve her mind of her great trouble. It came out that her grief arose from a new tune which the clerk of Carterlane had just introduced. “Sister,” asked Dr. Gill, “do you understand singing?” “No, sir.” “What? can’t you sing?” “No, sir.” The doctor, dealing gently with her on account of her age, rejoined, “Sister, what tunes should you like to sing?” “Why, sir, I should very much like to sing David’s tunes.” “Well,” said Dr. Gill, “if you can get David’s tunes, we will try to sing them!”]
General Baptists and Singing
The General Baptists continued to oppose congregational singing for a still longer period than their Calvinistic brethren, Grantham’s opinions and influence were still predominant until so late as 1733. Before the controversy fairly began among the Particular Baptists, it was thought needful by the General Baptist Assembly in 1689 “to consider the question of promiscuous singing Psalms, either the whole together, or they in conjunction with those who were not of their communion.” The record of the case is very curious, and throws some little further light on the matter. “The persons holding the affirmative in this question were desired to show the Assembly what Psalms they made use of for the matter, and what rules they did settle upon, for the manner.” There was thereupon produced, “not the metres composed by Messrs. Sternhold and Hopkins, but a book of metres composed by one Mr. Barton, and the rules produced to sing these Psalms as set down secundem artem; viz., as the musicians do sing according to their gamut,Sol, fa, la, my, ray, &c., &c.; which appeared so strangely foreign to the evangelical worship that it was not conceived anywise safe for the churches to admit such carnal formalities; but to rest satisfied in this, till we can see something more perfect in this case, that as prayer of one in the church is the prayer of the whole, as a church, so the singing of one in the church is the singing of the whole church; and as he that prayeth in the church is to perform the service as of the ability which God giveth, even so, he that singing praises in the church ought to perform that service as of the ability received of God; that as a mournful voice becomes the duty of prayer, so a joyful voice, “with gravity, becomes the duty of praising God with a song in the Church of God.” This opinion was endorsed “with the general approbation of the Assembly.” Nearly fifty years after this, that is, in 1733, a case was presented to the General Assembly of the General Baptists from Northamptonshire, complaining “that some churches in their district among the General Baptists had fallen into the way of singing the Psalms of David, or other men’s composures, with tunable notes, and a mixed multitude; which way of singing,” say the complainants, “appears to us wholly unwarrantable from the Word of God.” The Northamptonshire Association want to know whether the General Assembly look upon this as “a thing indifferent,” or whether they “disapprove of it, and use any means to bring men off from it.” To them it appears “an innovation.” The Assembly confessed, “that though some very few practise singing in a manner different from us in the general,” yet that that was not a sufficient reason for their exclusion. There did not appear, in the Assembly’s judgment, any clear statement in Scripture about the manner of singing, although singing itself is frequently mentioned. They would that all were of one mind; “but as the weakness of human understanding is such that things appear in different lights to different persons, such a concord is rather to be desired than expected in this world.” They were, therefore, unwilling, either to dispute the question, or to impose their opinion and practise upon others. On the commencement of the Eighteenth Century congregational singing was at a low ebb in this country, even in the Establishment. One writer declares that many church choirs had only half a dozen tunes, or fewer, from which to select; and as for “our quality and gentry,” says Nathaniel Tate, “you may hear them in the responses, and reading-psalms; but the giving out of a singing-psalm seems to strick them dumb.” A better version of the Psalms,* and a larger and more varied stock of tunes, soon led to a change in this matter. Nor were the Dissenters unaffected by these improvements. Men were everywhere asking “whether harmony in their voices would fright grace from their hearts? or whether singing out of tune was making melody unto the Lord?” The answer was found in the increasing attention which was everywhere paid to psalmody, and in the ready acceptance, by Baptists among the rest, of the excellent hymns written by men of different churches, which very soon became the common property of Christians of every name.
[* The following story illustrates the prejudice of the illiterate against any New Versions. The Bishop of Ely told Mr. Tate that on first using Dr. Patrick’s New Version [of tunes for the Psalms] at family worship, he observed that a servant maid, who possessed a musical voice, was silent for several days together. He asked her the reason; whether she were not well, or had a cold? adding, that he was much delighted to hear her, because she sung so sweetly, and kept the rest in tune. “I am well enough in health,” she answered, “and have no cold. But if you must needs know the plain truth of the matter, as long as you sing Jesus Christ’s Psalms I sung along with ye; but now you sing Psalms of your own invention, you may sing by yourselves!”]