Charles Spurgeon Differs from Today’s Baptists on Church Music

Though I have read and studied these matters many times, I found that I relied upon bible.ca as a lead for sources in this post. **Also, be surprised with what Charles Spurgeon had to say about baptism.

Baptist churches would not be so numerous if were not for Charles Spurgeon, but Spurgeon’s beliefs regarding the use of musical instruments in singing would not be well-received today. Most Baptist churches today conduct their Sunday assembled worship with the use of musical instruments in worship. Here are some of Spurgeon’s statements in his commentary on Psalms concerning the matter of music in worship:

“David appears to have had a peculiarly tender remembrance of the singing of the pilgrims, and assuredly it is the most delightful part of worship and that which comes nearest to the adoration of heaven. What a degradation to supplant the intelligent song of the whole congregation by the theatrical prettinesses of a quartette, the refined niceties of a choir, or the blowing off of wind from inanimate bellows and pipes! We might as well pray by machinery as praise by it” (Commentary on Psalm 42:4).

“‘Praise the Lord with harp.’ Men need all the help they can get to stir them up to praise. This is the lesson to be gathered from the use of musical instruments under the old dispensation. Israel was at school, and used childish things to help her to learn; but in these days, when Jesus gives us spiritual manhood, we can make melody without strings and pipes. We who do not believe these things to be expedient in worship, lest they should mar its simplicity, do not affirm them to be unlawful, and if any George Herbert or Martin Luther can worship God better by the aid of well-tuned instruments, who shall gainsay their right? We do not need them, they would hinder than help our praise but if others are otherwise minded, are they not living in gospel liberty? ‘Sing unto him.’ This is the sweetest and best of music. No instrument like the human voice. As a help to singing the instrument is alone to be tolerated, for keys and strings do not praise the Lord” (Commentary on Psalm 33:2).

Also, when asked why not to use musical instruments in worship, Spurgeon quoted 1st Corinthians 14:15. “I will pray with the spirit and I will pray with the understanding also; I will sing with the spirit, and I will sing with the understanding also.” He then declared: “I would as soon pray to God with machinery as to sing to God with machinery.” (Spurgeon preached to 20,000 people every Sunday for 20 years in the Metropolitan Baptist Tabernacle and never were mechanical instruments of music used in his services.)

Spurgeon was not the only like-minded Baptist. Note the words of these Baptist historians on the matter.

“In my earliest intercourse among this people, congregational singing generally prevailed among them…The Introduction Of The Organ Among The Baptist. This instrument, which from time immemorial has been associated with cathedral pomp and prelatical power, and has always been the peculiar favorite of great national churches, at length found its way into Baptist sanctuaries, and the first one ever employed by the denomination in this country, and probably in any other, might have been standing in the singing gallery of the Old Baptist meeting house in Pawtucket, about forty years ago, where I then officiated as pastor (1840)…Staunch old Baptists in former times would as soon tolerated the Pope of Rome in their pulpits as an organ in their galleries, and yet the instrument has gradually found its way among them…How far this modern organ fever will extend among our people, and whether it will on the whole work a RE- formation or DE- formation in their singing service, time will more fully develop.” (Benedict, Baptist historian, Fifty Years Among Baptist, page 204-207)

“In 1699 the Baptists received an invitation from Thomas Clayton, rector of Christ Church, to unite with the Church of England. They replied in a dignified manner, declining to do so unless he could prove, ‘that the Church of Christ under the New Testament may consist or…a mixed multitude and their seed, even all the members of a nation,…whether they are godly or ungodly,’ that ‘lords, archbishops, etc.,…are of divine institution and appointment,’ and that their vestments, liturgical services, use of mechanical instruments, infant baptism, sprinkling, “signing with the cross in baptism,” etc., are warranted by Scripture.’…It may be interesting to note that this church (First Baptist Church of Newport, organized in 1644 cf. p. 88) was one of the first to introduce instrumental music. The instrument was a bass viol and caused considerable commotion. This occurred early in the nineteenth century. (Albert Henry Newman, A History of the Baptist Churches in the United States, American Baptist Publication Society 1915, p. 207, 255)”

The Baptist Andrew Fuller presented the history of the music of the early church.

“The history of the church during the first three centuries affords many instances of primitive Christians engaging in singing, but no mention, (that I recollect) is made of instruments. (If my memory does not deceive me) it originated in the dark ages of popery, when almost every other superstition was introduced. At present, it is most used and where the least regard is paid to primitive simplicity.” (Andrew Fuller, Baptist, Complete works of Andre Fuller, Vol 3, P. 520, 1843)

The Baptist sect is not the only sect to differ from its past. Regarding all Calvinists, John Calvin said,

“Musical instruments in celebrating the praises of God would be no more suitable than the burning of incense, the lighting of lamps, and the restoration of the other shadows of the law. The Papists therefore, have foolishly borrowed, this, as well as many other things, from the Jews. Men who are fond of outward pomp may delight in that noise; but the simplicity which God recommends to us by the apostles is far more pleasing to him. Paul allows us to bless God in the public assembly of the saints, only in a known tongue (I Cor. 14:16) What shall we then say of chanting, which fills the ears with nothing but an empty sound?” (John Calvin, Commentary on Psalm 33).

Read more quotes here.

It is strange how times have changed. To think that the use of instruments of music to worship God was opposed by all Protestants just over 200 years ago. Why did these men believe that it was so wrong? Why do most believe that it is so right today? This is a subject that all should reconsider. What is the ideal music that God desires and pleases Him? What do the New Testament Scriptures present as pleasing Him?

About Scott Shifferd Jr.

Minister, church of Christ in Jacksonville, FL. Husband and father of four. Email: ScottJon82[at]yahoo.com
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24 Responses to Charles Spurgeon Differs from Today’s Baptists on Church Music

  1. Pingback: Baptist Founder Differs from Today’s Baptists about Baptism, Church, and Worship | Seeing God's Breath

  2. By ability, I mean those who are of the Father will listen to the Son, and yes you are right this is by one’s will. I thank you for your kind correction.

    Regarding Revelation, instruments are a symbol like that of burning incense taken from the types of the OT. Revelation makes clear that these were not literal. Revelation 5 mentions of the four creatures and the 24 elders “each having a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints” and these harps are not mentioned to be played but there is mention of verbal praise, which harps are fitting type as incense are of prayers. The most relied upon reference to instruments is Revelation 14:1-2, which is filled with figures, “Then I looked, and behold, a Lamb [literal?] standing on Mount Zion, and with Him one hundred and forty-four thousand [literal?], having His Father’s name written on their foreheads [literal?]. And I heard a voice from heaven, like the voice of many waters, and like the voice of loud thunder. And I heard the sound of harpists playing their harps [literal?].” Verse 3 says the 144,ooo, who are believers of the tribes of Israel, were ones who played and sang but no one else could learn. Again this is figurative language using Old Testament Israelite/Jewish types. [On top of all of this, worship on earth may not be like worship in heaven for we know there will be differences. For instance, there will be giving or taking in marriage (Matt. 22).]

    Using Jewish types in Revelation to authorize praise contrary to the principles of 1 Corinthians 14 does not make sense. It is very misleading and based in a bias. I can honestly say that I personally have no preference for instruments to acapella. If Christ’s words through the Apostles and prophets did not instruct regarding music being singing, then we would be free to choose as in the OT, but the words of Christ are perfect and complete, who could we dare consider adding to them.

    Regarding 1 Cor. 14, it is verse 15 that is key to understand. Yes, 1 Cor. 14 is about order but also about decency (1 Cor. 14:40). Here, this congregation took a gift from God and misused the ability to speak in foreign language, which was for evangelism (1 Cor. 14:21-22). Words are essential to worship as 1 Cor. 14:9 says, “So likewise you, unless you utter by the tongue words easy to understand, how will it be known what is spoken? For you will be speaking into the air.” In fact, the only edification that instruments offer are referred to in verses 7-8. Concentrate on verses 9-19.

    Therefore, Spurgeon’s points are right. “We do not need them [instruments], they would hinder than help our praise but if others are otherwise minded, are they not living in gospel liberty? ‘Sing unto him.’ This is the sweetest and best of music. No instrument like the human voice.” This is true as 1 Cor. 14 teaches. “We might as well pray by machinery as praise by it”. This is true that the principles for understanding includes speaking, praying, and singing, and thus things lacking words are excluded.

    These are my concluding words. I hope you will seriously consider these words, don’t forget them, and remember how words alone are essential to meaningful worship. Take care.

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  3. Rodney says:

    I’m very interested in this. Of course among the Baptists and christains in general this has always been a point of contention. I studied this awhile ago, but after my pastor’s preaching last night, I wanted to revisit the subject and I came across this page.

    I’ve only recently started reading Spurgeon and by recently I mean I’ve read one of his books and about 8 of his sermons. Interesting to see what he says on Instruments in church. The only thing that is biblically clear about music is the Psalms. All other passages or texts that people use for teaching about music, in my opinion, is obscure. When David says to use those instruments in the worship of God, and the Spurgeon comes around and says that instruments are for Immature christians, I don’t know what to think. Because what he is saying here is that a portion of the bible is for immature christians and not for those in “manhood”.

    I really don’t know what to think about someone speaking out against written scripture.

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    • Animal offerings are mentioned in Psalms too and we speak against them by the New Testament, Christ’s covenant. We must see the OT is a ministry of death (2 Cor. 3:7ff), that it is obsolete (Heb. 8:13), and fulfilled by Christ.

      Christians today lack the ability [by]or will to understand 1 Corinthians 14, which speaks of worship in the Assembly. This chapter instructs that speaking, praying, and singing in the Assembly was consist of understandable language (1 Cor. 14:15). Only by understandable words do Christians worship as God instructed and thus musical instruments are contrary. Those who strive for the edification of knowledge were immature (1 Cor. 14:20).

      About 200 years ago, all Christians opposed the use of musical instruments for worship since these are not in the NT, but are a part of Judaism, a law not fulfilled in Christ, and this was practiced by the Catholics. Christians once rejected praying by incense and such unscriptural ritual worship because these were not in the New Testament. They considered the words of Christ given through His Apostles and prophets to be perfect and needed no additions, and with no mentions of instruments in the NT, they opposed adding to the worship that Christ had already made perfect and complete.

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      • Rodney says:

        Wow, thanks for replying. I know this article was written awhile ago and I wasn’t sure I would get an response. I’ll start off saying that I’m not a new Christian but I have surrendered to preach and I’m in bible school, so I’m no where near a “scholar”.

        I read and re-read that chapter looking for what you’re saying but all I get from it is the importance of order or structure in the church. To me it’s still not as clear as David makes it about using instruments to worship God. I do understand that some things of the OT are covered by the New Convenant like we’re not still commanded to stone disobedient children . We know there are instruments in heaven according to Revelations and we also know that much worship goes on in heaven. I’m truly not trying to be hard headed or thick skulled. I’m honestly seeking truth in this. But also truth I can understand and defend especially in this matter where it is controversial.

        Lastly, I say this in love and as a brother in Christ. Be careful when you say Christians lack the ability to understand something in God’s word. The Catholic church says the same thing. I prefer the second part where you said Christians lack the will. A true Christian will understand the Bible as it is revealed to him, and what takes one Christian two seconds to understand, might take another his entire life.

        Again, I mean no disrespect on anything like that. I admit I’m not the smartest guy and I’m seeking more truth to prepare myself for what God has for me. Thank you for your time Sir.

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  4. Andre says:

    Sorry guys, I am unable to argue at your intellectual level, but would like to comment in any case.
    While one may be arguing the various positions, it seems to me that, although concern over what type of instruments should be used may seem fairly “ultra conservative”, it may be that one may be driving the thin edge of the wedge.
    I noticed in our church that not only do they now allow Freddy Mercury during a church service, but there is continuous pressure to present more”jazzed up” versions of even old hymns – because “God created music”. So we are moving further and further away from being “seperate” and becoming more like the world, and it saddens me.
    I have just read an item from Spurgeon on the theatre and it may seem “narrow minded”, a look at what is presented as “art” in theatres are often quite disgusting -suggesting what seems to be fairly innocent at first, leads to further and further regression. See http://www.middletownbiblechurch.org/christia/spurgeon.htm

    So it is with music. What may have started off as an innocent move to get “in line with the times” has now delivered really ugly fruit and is bound to get worse.
    The quote of CS Lewis comes to mind :The safest road to hell is the gradual one – the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts.

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