Standard Reformed Polemics Against The Use Of Musical Instruments In Worship

But all light into, all perceptions of, this glory, all experience of its power, were, amongst the most, lost in the world. I intend, in all these instances, the time of the Papal apostasy. Those who had the conduct of religion could discern no glory in these things, nor obtain any experience of their power. Be the worship what it will, they can see no glory in it, nor did it give any satisfaction to their minds; for, having no light to discern its glory, they could have no experience of its power and efficacy. What then shall they do? The notion must be retained, that divine worship is to be beautiful and glorious. But in the spiritual worship of the gospel they could see nothing thereof; wherefore they thought necessary to make a glory for it, or to dismiss it out of the world, and set up such an image of it as might appear beautiful unto their fleshly minds, and give them satisfaction. To this end they set their inventions on work, to find out ceremonies, vestments, gestures, ornaments, music, altars, images, paintings, with prescriptions of great bodily veneration. This pageantry they call “the beauty, the order, the glory of divine worship.” This is that which they see and feel, and which, as they judge, doth dispose their minds unto devotion; without it they know not how to pay any reverence unto God himself; and when it is wanting, whatever be the life, the power, the spirituality of the worship in the worshippers, whatever be its efficacy unto all the proper ends of it, however it be ordered according unto the prescription of the word, it is unto them empty, indecent; they can see neither beauty nor glory in it.

This light and experience being lost, the introduction of “beggarly elements” and carnal ceremonies in the worship of the church, with attempts to render it decorous and beautiful, by superstitious rites and observances, wherewith it hath been defiled and corrupted, as it was and is in the church of Rome, was nothing but the setting-up of a deformed image in the room of it; and this they are pleased withal. The beauty and glory which carving, and painting, and embroidered vestures, and musical incantations, and postures of veneration, do give unto divine service, they can see and feel; and, in their own imagination, are sensibly excited unto devotion by them.

But hereby, instead of representing the true glory of the worship of the gospel, wherein it excels that under the Old Testament, they have rendered it altogether inglorious in comparison of it; for all the ceremonies and ornaments which they have invented for that end, come unspeakably short, for beauty, order, and glory, of what was appointed by God himself in the temple, scarce equalling what was among the Pagans.

It will be said, that “the things whereunto we assign the glory of this worship are spiritual and invisible. Now this is not that which is inquired after; but that whose beauty we may behold, and be affected with.” And this may consist in the things which we decry, at least in some of them: though I must say, if there be glory in any of them, the more they are multiplied, the better it must needs be. But this is that which we plead: Men, being not able, by the light of faith, to discern the glory of things spiritual and invisible, do make images of them unto themselves, as gods that may go before them, and these they are affected withal; but the worship of the church is spiritual, and the glory of it is invisible unto eyes of flesh. So both our Saviour and the apostles do testify in the celebration of it: “We are come unto Mount Sion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the first-born, which are written in heaven, and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect, and to Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling, that speaketh better things than that of Abel.” ( Heb. xii. 22-24.) The glory of this assembly, though certainly above that of organs, and pipes, and crucifixes, and vestments, yet doth not appear unto the sense or imaginations of men.

That which I design here, is to obviate the meretricious allurements of the Roman worship, and the pretences of its efficacy to excite devotion and veneration by its beauty and decency. The whole of it is but a deformed image of that glory which they cannot behold. To obtain and preserve in our hearts an experience of the power and efficacy of that worship of God which is “in spirit and truth,” as unto all the real ends of divine worship, is that alone which will secure us. Whilst we do retain right notions of the proper object of gospel-worship, and of our immediate approach by it thereunto, of the way and manner of that approach through the mediation of Christ, and assistance of the Spirit; whilst we keep up faith and love unto their due exercise in it, wherein on our part the life of it doth consist, preserving an experience of the spiritual benefit and advantage which we receive thereby; we shall not easily be inveigled to relinquish them all, and to give up ourselves unto the embraces of this lifeless image.

Samuel Annesley | Volume III. Containing a continuation of morning-exercise questions and cases of conscience. The morning exercises at Cripplegate, St. Giles in the Fields, and in Southwark ed. James Nichols (London, Thomas Tegg, 1844), 222–223.


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  1. Dr, Clark,

    How are we to understand “gospel worship” in this citation. I doubt that Annesley means the worship of the gospel, since we do not worship the gospel, but the God who has given us the gospel. I only ask because I wonder if it is an idiom that was meant to speak to something specific that Reformed Christians would have understood clearly at the time that this was written.

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