The Westminster Assembly & Instrumental Music In Public Worship

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Instrumental Music in Public Worship: History Surrounding the Westminster Assembly

FROM: “INSTRUMENTAL MUSIC IN THE PUBLIC WORSHIP OF THE CHURCH”

By John L. Girardeau (Still Waters Revival Books, [1888] 2000), pp. 132, 133.

Before the Westminster Assembly of Divines undertook the office of preparing a Directory of Worship, the Parliament had authoritatively adopted measures looking to the removal of organs, along with other remains of Popery, from the churches of England. On the 20th of May, 1644, the commissioners from Scotland wrote to the General Assembly of their church and made the following statement among others: “We cannot but admire the good hand of God in the great things done here already, particularly that the covenant, the foundation of the whole work, is taken, Prelacy and the whole train thereof extirpated, the service-book in many places forsaken, plain and powerful preaching set up, many colleges in Cambridge provided with such ministers as are most zealous of the best reformation, altars removed, the communion in some places given at the table with sitting, THE GREAT ORGANS AT PAUL’S AND PETER’S IN WESTMINSTER TAKEN DOWN (emphasis added), images and many other monuments of idolatry defaced and abolished, the Chapel Royal at Whitehall purged and reformed; and all by authority, in a quiet manner, at noon-day, without tumult.”1 So thorough was the work of removing organs that the “Encyclopaedia Britannica” says that “at the Revolution most of the organs in England had been destroyed.”2

When, therefore, the Assembly addressed itself to the task of framing a Directory for Worship, it found itself confronted by a condition of the churches of Great Britain in which the singing of psalms without instrumental accompaniment almost universally prevailed. In prescribing, consequently, the singing of psalms without making any allusion to the restoration of instrumental music, it must, in all fairness, be construed to specify the simple singing of praise as a part of public worship. The question, moreover, is settled by the consideration that had any debate occurred as to the propriety of allowing the use of instrumental music, the Scottish commissioners would have vehemently and uncompromisingly opposed that measure. But Lightfoot, who was a member of the Assembly, in his “Journal of its Proceedings”3 tells us: “This morning we fell upon the Directory for singing of psalms; and, in a short time, we finished it.” He says that the only point upon which the Scottish commissioners had some discussion was the reading of the Psalms line by line.

ENDNOTES:

1. Girardeau cites this quotation from the Acts of Assembly of the Church of Scotland, 1644.

2. Girardeau cites Art., Organ.

3. Girardeau cites Works, Vol. xiii., pp. 343, 344; London, 1825.

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