2, Chron. v.13, 14. "It came even to pass, as the trumpeters and singers were as one, to make one sound to be heard in praising and thanking the Lord; and when they lifted up their voice with Be trumpets and cymbals and instruments of music, and praised the Lord, saying, For he is good, for his mercy endureth for ever: that then the borne was filled with a cloud, even the house of the Lord, so that the priests could not stand to minister by reason of the cloud; for the glory of the Lord had filled the house of God."
NEVER perhaps, within the memory of man, was there erected a more sumptuous and magnificent pile, than the temple which, in obedience to divine commandment, was constructed by Solomon for the especial residence and service of Jehovah. Never certainly at least was there one upon which was lavished more of heavenly wisdom, and more of human skill and industry and wealth. But after all, though "all the work that Solomon made for the house of the Lord was finished, and Solomon had brought in all the things that David his father had dedicated; and had put the silver and the gold and all the instruments among the treasures of the house of God;" and though " the ark and the tabernacle of the congregation, and all the holy vessels that were in the tabernacle" had been brought up in much solemnity by the monarch himself, and by the assembled priests and levites and people, and rested at length in the magnificent house appointed for it beneath the wings of the cherubims overlaid with gold: there seemed nevertheless to be wanting that, which of all was mast important. There was an emptiness and a dreariness amidst those sumptuous courts. For the house was still without its inhabitant. And there seemed to be a solemn pause in the proceedings of that memorable day. For neither the gold, nor the silver, nor the precious stones, nor the costly purple of Tyre, nor the stately cedars of Lebanon, availed to bring down the High and Holy One who inhabiteth eternity to visit His earthly temple, Haggai ii. 8, "The silver is mine, and the gold is mine, saith the Lord of hosts." Nor was it likely that the glittering array of an earthly temple, however magnificent in the eyes of earth's inhabitants, would have any charm for Him "whom heaven and the heaven of heavens cannot contain." But there is an avenue nevertheless, by which even [1/2] the Most Highest can be approached. There is on earth a string which, when touched by a firm and faithful hand, never fails of vibrating through the boundless courts of heaven. And though in vain the gold glittered on the fretted cieling of the holy of holies, and in vain also on the wings of the Cherubim outstretched to welcome the expected visitor, the "one" sound of praise described in the text was not unnoticed. "It came even to pass, as the trumpeters and singers were as one, to make one sound to be heard in praising and thanking the Lord, and when they lifted up their voice with the trumpets and cymbals and instruments of music, and praised the Lord, saying, For be is good, for his mercy endureth for ever: that then the house was filled with a cloud, even the horse of the Lord, so that the priests could not stand to minister by reason of the cloud, for the glory of the Lord had filled the house of God."
Now, over and above the condescension, which must be at once manifest in God vouchsafing any answer at all to the overtures of His creatures, it has always seemed to me a remarkable circumstance that, as is recorded in this passage of the Book of Chronicles, which may be considered as supplementary to the parallel passage in 1 Kings vii. 10, 11, the Lord took possession of His temple by the cloud and the glory, at the moment when with one consent the praises of His everlasting goodness and mercy were being pouted forth in song. It was not, as we might have well expected, at the moment when the last stone was triumphantly placed upon the highest summit of the magnificent temple, prepared for His service, that the great God of heaven vouchsafed to make it manifest that He was pleased to accept that temple as His own. Neither was it when, midst the sacrifices of countless victims, the ark of the covenant was carried within those stately walls. Nor yet was it in answer to the prayers of the assembled nation. Bat it was when " the trumpeters and singers were as one, to make one sound to be beard in praising and thanking the Lord," then, and not till then, "the house was filled with a cloud, even the house of the Lord, and the glory of the Lord filled the house of God." Now I do think that, even if the rest of the Scriptures were wholly silent on the subject, we could hardly avoid recognizing in this very remarkable and memorable transaction, a peculiar mark of honour set upon singing the praises of God. And though we were this moment to expunge from the contents of the Holy Volume those overflowings of gratitude, which, chaunted forth by the once stripling shepherd-boy, as he swept [2/3] with hand inspired, his holy harp, had power to make the evil spirit depart from the troubled soul of Israel's king--and though we knew nothing of the triumphant songs with which Moses and Deborah celebrated the defeat of the Lord's enemies, and Mary and Simeon hailed the appearance of the Lord himself--and though the Saviour had never been heard to sing a hymn, or one apostle to urge his followers thus to give expression to their mirth, or another been privileged to afford us a glimpse of angels and archangels themselves also rejoicing in this happy exercise--yet in this one single memorable circumstance which my text records, we should have sufficient warranty not only for allotting to music a conspicuous place in our public services, but for taking care that the music be, as everything offered to God ought to be, the very best which circumstances allow of. For no one who reads attentively the description of the text can have any doubt but that the music on the occasion referred to was on a grand scale and perfect of its kind. There were trumpeters and singers, trumpets, cymbals and instruments of music, an orchestra and a choir evidently proportioned to the grandeur of the place and the magnitude of the occasion. And so perfect was the harmony, that numerous as they were, the performers were as one, to make one sound. At the same time, it must not be forgotten, that the one sound made by this noble orchestra was made in "praising and thanking the Lord;" in rehearsing "For He is good, for His mercy endureth for ever." It is the Lord's mercy and goodness which must be the subject of our song. Thrilling may be the strains poured forth from the instruments of music. Loud may be the chorus of voices joining together as one in making one harmonious sound. And yet, if we are taking part in these things as a mere professional business, or intellectual pleasure, by which the sense is gratified, but in which the heart is not concerned; if it be the music itself, and not the great Being who ought to be the subject of it, in which we are taking delight; if we are singing our own praises rather than those of Him who is "good, for His mercy endureth for ever," we must not be surprised if the glory of the Lord does not fill the house of God.
Applying then what has now been said to the choral services of our Cathedral Churches, it is quite clear, I think, that neither those who first founded these, nor the Reformers who continued them, nor we who in these our days not only perpetuate and improve but even multiply them, for we have had two new Cathedrals established within [3/4] a few years past, have acted unscripturally, or without a well-founded hope of a blessing upon our work. If in the time of King Solomon "it came even to pass, as the trumpeters and singers were as one, to make one sound to be heard in praising and thanking the Lord, and when they lifted up their voice with the trumpets and cymbals and instruments of music, and praised the Lord, saying, For he is good, for his mercy endureth for ever: that then the house was filled with a cloud, even the house of the Lord, so that the priests could not stand to minister by reason of the cloud; for the glory of the Lord had filled the house of God;" there is no reason why we may not hope for the same blessing upon our own magnificent choral Cathedral services. It is of no avail to object, that these are not congregational. For no one in his senses, I imagine, will contend, that the service referred to in the text was congregational: It was a grand choral service in a grand temple. And God in a most marked manner signified His approbation of the service, by coming down to take possession of the temple at the very moment when the service was offered up. There is clearly therefore nothing unscriptural in a choral service. There is nothing unscriptural in dedicating music, any more than architecture or eloquence, or any other of God's manifold gifts, to the honour and glory of the Almighty Giver.
Neither, as far as I can see, in a Cathedral is there anything inexpedient in such a service. In a parish church, at which every parishioner has a right of attendance, it must in my opinion always be more or less inexpedient to introduce a kind of service, by which only a few probably can feel that they are edified. Moreover, there is seldom, if ever, a sufficient fund at the command of parish churches, to secure a choral service being efficiently performed; whereas any want of efficiency is sure to interfere with devotional feeling, the maintenance of which depends much upon the service being performed without any effort, and running smoothly on without jar or discord. But a Cathedral stands on a totally different footing from a parish church. No one need attend the service of a Cathedral except he likes it, nor, if he does not like the service, can any one complain that by the adoption of that particular service he is virtually excluded from a place of worship in which he has a vested right. Moreover, the funds at the disposal of a Cathedral are ample for the maintenance of a choral service in the fullest efficiency, and were in most cases actually left for that very purpose and no other. Men's minds are constituted with wonderful variety. That which is productive of the very reverse in [4/5] the mind of one man, is best calculated or almost necessary perhaps, to create devotional feeling in the mind of another man, and it can hardly fail, but that in a Diocese or a Cathedral City, there will be many persons in whose minds devotional feeling cannot by any other means be so effectively raised as by the grandeur of a choral service. I do not say whether or not I individually sympathize in that habit of mind. That however is nothing to the purpose. All I say is, that the habit of mind exists, is allowable, reasonable, and if my text he not a fable, not unscriptural. It is well that the Church of England is not so strait-laced, as with Procrustean tyranny to force all her members to worship in one particular way, without the slightest variation. It is well that she partakes rather of the liberal, accommodating, comprehensive spirit of her heavenly master, when He said, Matt. xi. 17, "We have piped unto you and ye have not danced: we have mourned unto you and ye have not lamented." And her "wisdom" is abundantly "justified " in her providing a plain service in her parish churches, to which all have right of access, and yet in her Cathedrals, in which no vested right is prejudiced by so doing, not witholding a choral service from those to whom it is edifying.
It may be objected, that the enlargement of a Cathedral may have a tendency to empty parish churches. In an age when, "provide more church room for the masses," is the universal cry and effort; when the opening of the naves of St. Paul's and Westminster Abbey, has not only filled those noble structures themselves, but all the neighbouring churches also; when Exeter Hall, and Circuses, and other such places of public amusement have been used as churches; when even for want of covered room, the open air in every part of the country almost, as for instance, on Clifton Down, has been successfully resorted to for the preaching of the everlasting gospel; it is strange indeed, if the noble Cathedrals, reared by the munificent piety of our ancestors, cannot, without exciting a feeling of jealousy, be thrown more widely open for the accommodation of the thousands who can find no room in our already overcrowded parish churches. Nor is there any more force in the objection, that it is the music of a Cathedral which attracts the congregation. This is far from being ordinarily the case. There are very many for example, I am sure and speak from actual knowledge, in this congregation, to whom the music, (I mean of course as a mere gratification of the ear,) forms the least part of the attraction; whose constraining motive for coming hither has been a sincere desire to unite [5/6] in prayer to Gad, and in the praise of His holy name, and to hear His holy word read and preached. My ministry has been exercised in various spheres; in a large parish church filled chiefly with colliers, in the north of England; in another in the heart of this ancient city; lately, in a small agricultural village church; and at stated intervals in this beautiful Cathedral, with its somewhat stately ceremonial and choral service. And I take God to witness, that in no one of the other spheres of duty above-mentioned, have I witnessed more real devotion during the prayers, more deep attention during the sermon than here I should be doing scant justice if I did not publicly avow so much. Those who speak of a congregation frequenting the Cathedral for the music alone, must be speaking of a matter of which they have little or no personal experience. But grant, as I am quite ready to grant, that the music in a Cathedral is to some, or even to many, the chief attraction, are none, I ask, induced to frequent parish churches, except by right and proper motives? Are there none whose attendance may be traced to such motives as are implied in those words of St. Paul, 1, Cor. iii. 4, "One saith, I am of Paul, and another, I am of Apollos?" Are there none in short who frequent our parish churches for objects of a much more "carnal" nature than that of listening to a good chant or anthem? Would God there were any real ground for thinking so! We must not, I fear, scan too curiously the motives of those who attend any place of public worship whether Cathedrals or parish churches. Glad we maybe when, whatever be the motive, men do so attend. Glad we may he when the tongue is found there, where it may have an opportunity of joining in prayer and praise; and the ear there, where it can hardly fail of hearing either in the lesson, or the sermon, or the anthem, the truth as it is in Jesus. It was when "the trumpeters and singers were as one, to make one sound to be heard in praising and thanking the Lord," that the glory of the Lord filled the house of God. And when the marvellous variety of the constitution of men's minds, and of the instrumentalities by which God works upon them is taken into account who shall presume to determine, into the hearts of how many or how few in this Cathedral the Lord Jesus Christ has first found access, through the thrilling strains of sacred music, which, while they fall powerless on the ears of some, may by Almighty power be easily directed to produce on others the most irresistible effect?
I hail then the accommodating the vast areas of our Cathedrals to the purpose of public worship, as a great missionary work. I rejoice in [6/7] the prospect that the large numbers who are regular attendants here, and to whom the choral service is a source of edification, instead of being as now most improperly crowded, are likely before long to have room to sit comfortably and kneel reverentially. I rejoice in the prospect that there will be space for a large additional number of worshippers. And I believe that the area so opened, however large, will be speedily filled, and that too by many who for want of room within, now loiter in the nave and go away after the anthem is over, because they can neither join in the prayers nor hear the sermon. I believe also that a Cathedral is a kind of neutral ground, where may be found many who dissent from our communion, and who would not be found in a parish church. I am glad that it is so. I am not of course so short sighted as to expect that there will be none amongst those who come here who have not been brought hither by motives other than one could wish. I shall rest quite content however, if there are none, whose attendance may be traced to a worse motive than that of hearing fine sacred music, always a refining, and not unfrequently, with God's blessing, a sanctifying instrumentality. And if, as was the case in our evening advent services here last year, and as has been notoriously the case in St. Paul's and Westminster Abbey, many a wayfaring and many a labouring man, and many a one who seldom enters a house of prayer at all, should hereafter form a portion of our Sunday congregation in our extended area, I for one shall not be so curious as to the motive by which he was brought hither, as I shall be anxious that while here, the glory of the Lord, which in Solomon's time filled the house of God, shall, I care not through what instrumentality, find an access to Ms heart. In a true missionary spirit we are prepared to give a hearty welcome to all who come, hoping that with God's blessing we may "by all means save some," and content if in the end with St. Paul, we shall have it in our power to say, "being crafty I caught you with guile." And therefore we, who hold this Cathedral Church in trust for the glory of God and the public good, earnestly hope, that we shall speedily obtain such public support as may enable us, on a scale consistent with the wealth and population of this diocese and city, to make it the largest and finest area in Bristol, for the worship of God, and the holding up of Jesus to perishing sinners.
Only of course we, who take a public and official part in the service of this Cathedral, whether ordained ministers, or musicians, or lay clerks, or choristers, must bear in mind, that any enlargement of this house of [7/8] prayer, devolves upon us a larger amount of responsibility. The wider the area and the larger the congregation in which we officiate, the greater will be our influence either for good or evil, and of course the more serious the results of any negligence or absence of zeal or real devotion on our part.
Do we then officiate as mere hirelings? Do we pray as mere machines? Do we sing as mere professional men? Do we preach coldly, listlessly, carelessly, as paid watchmen, instead of with the earnestness of the shepherd whose the sheep are? Is our choral service in consequence mere lip-service? Is the one sound which we make, to be heard in praising ourselves, rather than in praising and thanking the Lord? Are we taking part in the beautiful service of this sanctuary as in a final object, rather than as in a grand but still merely outward instrumentality for sounding forth the praise of the Lord, saying, "For he is good, for his mercy endureth for ever?"--I would fain hope and believe far otherwise.--If however we are weak and wicked enough thus to betray the sacred trust reposed in us, at our hands, we cannot conceal from ourselves, will it be required, if in consequence "the glory of the Lord does not fill the house of God." God grant that every one of us who are officially connected with this Cathedral, may be deeply impressed with a sense of our great responsibility, and earnestly endeavour to rise to a diligent and faithful discharge of our duty!
The proceeds of this sermon will be given by the publisher to the Bristol Cathedral Alteration Fund.