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A Sermon Delivered in the Cathedral Church of Canterbury,
Concerning Church-musick

by John Reading

London: Printed by Thomas Newcomb, 1663.

2 KING. 3.15, 16.

--And it came to pass when the Minstrel played, that the hand of the Lord came upon him; And he said--

I Come to you this day (as Jacob to Padan-Aram) to remove the Stone and Rock of Offence taken at our Church-Musick, that the Flock may be watered. My endeavour shall be (by Gods assistance, and your wonted. patience) to shew why we use it, and you should joyn with us therein; and my desire is your serious attention, left the loss of one point beget a misunderstanding in others.

God mercifully indulgeth to mans infirmity, omitting no means to save him, as 'tis written--What could have been done more to my Vineyard, that I have not done in it? Whereas therefore mans innate affections bear a great part in good or evil, much byassing the Will and Understanding to either; God, not willing to destroy, but to correct the Affections, that they may be necessary hand-maids to Virtue, saith not, Thou shalt not hope, but, Hope thou in God: Neither, Thou shalt not fear, but, Thou shalt fear the Lord thy God: so,--Thou shalt love the Lord thy God: and Ye that love the Lord, hate evil: and Delight thy self also in the Lord, and he shall give thee the desires of thy heart.

The Holy Ghost, seeing mankinde hardly drawn to Virtue, and that Righteousness is less esteemed, by reason of our Affections proneness to that which delighteth; in his Wisdom, mingled Heavenly Mysteries with pleasing Melody, that by the Ear he might secretly convey the Treasure of Divine good into the Soul: To which purpose were those melodious Hymns and Psalms appointed for us, in God's service, that we might at once be both delighted, and profited.

To the words of the Text; It came so pass when the Minstrel played, Et suit secundumm modulari modulantem: Thus it came to pass by Gods Providence so appointing it. The LXX, give the Hebrew mng' in the Greek, by o yallwn, the Singer, or Musician: The word is of that which signifieth to sing or make musick; and here signifieth any kind of Musician skilfull in singing, or playing on Instruments, Lute, Harp; Organ, or other like: the fence is, When the Prophet heard the Musick, the hand of the Lord came upon him, that is, a Divine motion, or influence of Gods Spirit: and he said--or spake the words of the following Prophecy. Here are two Causes of the Effect following.


1. Subordinate, or minus principalis--it came to pass, when the Minstrel played.

2. Principal, chief, and supream, efficient, producing the effect; He said, Thus saith the Lord.

I. That such a Cause as a little Musick should open the Archives of Gods secret counsel, concerning things to come, in matters so dubious and unexpected, of such high consequence and concernment, as the saving of three Kings, and the lives of all the Israelites, and much other auxiliar Forces present; and by means so improbable to carnal wisdom, as filling that dry valley with water, to relieve them and their cattle, when neither wind should be perceived, nor rain seen; that such an occasion as Musick should come within the verge of Causes thereto subordinate, Could be by no other means, or others appointment but his, who by his unlimited power produceth the most difficult effects by what causes he pleaseth. He created this Universe of nothing praeexistent; Dixit & facta sunt. He appointed that Naamans leprosie should be cleansed by his washing seven times in Jordan; and that Jericho's deathfull Waters should be cured by casting into them a new cruse of salt; and that the Widows Oyl should increase in the barrel, by pouring out so long as there was a vessel to receive it; and that Israel should march into the Red Sea, to be saved; that it might be to them a type of Baptism, wherein the water toucheth the body, to cleanse body and soul from all sin, by the blood of Jesus Christ. 1 Joh. 1.7. He commanded Moses to smite the Rock at Horeb with his Rod, that the waters might flow, to relieve the numerous Hoste of Israel, with their herds and flocks: He, to supply the want of Wine at the Cana marriage, commanded the Waiters to fill their water-pots with water to the brim. It were too long to pursue the Examples of this kind, which demonstrate God the most free Agent, not bound to the use of any second causes, but producing what he will, how he will. Fear not whatever work or estate God assigns thee to; He is Almighty who provides for his Agents: Fear not thy abilities; but remember that thou art in Gods service, who by a sufficient measure will enable thee to that which he enjoyneth thee. Were it thine own work, thou mightest reasonably require probable and apparent means to warrant thy undertakings; but if God command thee, thy sufficiencie shall be of him; so that thou shall not need to say, with Gideon,--O my Lord, wherewith shall I save Israel? Behold, my family is poor in Manasseh, and I am the least in my fathers house: if God be with thee, who can be against thee? If there remained but wounded men, they should be enabled to do that which God will have done. Thou needest not say, as Moses, Send, I pray thee, by the hand of him whom thou wilt send: While he looked not toward the power of God, but his own abilities, diffident of the success, he said,--O my Lord, I am not eloquent--I am slow of speech: and Isaiah said, Wo is me, for I am undone, because I am a man of polluted lips; and Jeremy--Ah, Lord God, behold, I cannot speak, for I am a child: they remembred not, at present, that God could touch their lips, to enable whom, and to what he will. In Gods service, to forget his power is so dangerous, that Jonah will rather be miching toward Tarshish, then obey Gods command at Nineve: And good Ananias willing to decline the service, will say, Lord, I have heard by many of this man, how much evil he hath done to thy Saints at Jerusalem.

But to come to the intended point, we must necessarily consider the coherence of these words with the rest of this History. Moab, after the death of Ahab, rebelled; Jehoram his Son implored aid against them, of Jehoshaphat King of Judah; he consented; they agree to fetch a compass by the Desert of Edom; in seven days march they are distressed by want of water; they are enforced to consult the Lord by Elisha: they come to meet him; he sharply greeteth Jehoram; What have I to do with thee? get thee to the Prophets of thy Father, and to the Prophets of thy Mother. At his further presentation of their imminent destruction, the Prophet subjoyneth, As the Lord of Hosts liveth, before whom I stand, surely were it not that I regard the presence of Jehoshaphat the King of Judah, I would not look toward thee, nor see thee: But now bring me a minstrel; and it came to pass, when the minstrel played, that the hand of the Lord came upon him, and he said; that is, he prophesied.

It may here be demanded, Why Elisha, so great a Prophet of the Lord, being to prophesie, to so serious and so grave a work, would seem to require so youthfull an expedient, as a minstrel, and musick? Concerning which, here are several probable Reasons assigned.

1. It was necessary to lift up and comfort his mind, at present perplexed and troubled with bitterness of sudden passion, as indignation at the presence of the idolatrous Jehoram, so also for sorrow and sympathy in the distress of good Jehoshapat, and the people of Israel with him, in so evident a danger of destruction by the Enemies of God.

2. To revive and chear up his drooping spirit, that it might be enabled and fitted to prophesie; as also the hearts of the people to attend unto the same.

3. This Musician was probably a Levite, skilfull in singing Psalms and Hymns to Gods glory, and Services thereto appertinent, and playing them on Lute, Harp, Organ, Viol, or other like Instrument. So had the people of God, in those days, solemn Musick at their Sacrifices, to quicken them up to prayer and praises of God. So at that great Solemnity, 2 Chron. 7.6. performed by Solomon--The Priests waited on their offices, the Levites also with instruments of musick of the Lord, which David the king had made to praise the Lord, because his mercy endureth for ever; and the Priests sounded trumpets before them. So Hezekiah set the Levites in the house of the Lord, with Cymbals, with Psalteries and Harps, according to the commandement of David--for so was the commandement of the Lord by his Prophets. Now David having excellent skill in Divine Poetry and solemn Musick, knowing that both of these were accommodate and necessary for the service and House of God, left behind him many Psalms, and, as some learned Divines observe, was the Author of joyning Melody to Poesie in publick Prayer, for the raising up of mens hearts to attention (without which, he well knew, all our service would be but vain and fruitless) and also by vocal and instrumental musick, for the sweetning of humane affections towards God, that men might delight in the Worship of God. So the Church of Christ still reteineth these as an ornament in Gods service, and for an help to Devotion.

4.Thus the Prophets used to have Musick, when they were to prophesie. So Saul, according to the word of Samuel, met a company of Prophets with a Psaltery, and a Tabret, and a Pipe, and an Harp before them, and they prophesied, and Saul also prophesied with them. From all which it may appear, That

Musick (where it can be conveniently had) is of excellent use in relation to prophecy, and other parts of Gods service, publick or private.

Now Musick is either Instrumental, Vocal, or mixt of both. Concerning the First and Third of these, some School-men make scruple; Whether Instruments with Voices, in the Churches, and Gods publick service under the Gospel, be lawfull? Concerning vocal Musick, or singing Psalms, no sober Christian makes any question; we say, both Vocal and Instrumental are here, respectively, both lawfull and convenient: For which we offer these following Reasons.

1. Musick (whether vocal or mixed) is scientia benè modulandi; or, of high and low sounds a due proportionable disposition: Therefore they who acknowledge the one still necessary and lawfull, ought to shew cause, why the other is not; or in what part of Holy Scripture, that which all know was once commanded as necessary, is since forbidden, as no longer necessary, or unlawfull.

2. Mixt Musick is as an ancient in Gods service as the Temple, or Tabernacle, (whose Structure, Rites, and Services the Lord himself appointed) yea, before the Ceremonial Law was given, Moses and the people of God did sing unto him; and Miriam the Prophetess--took a timbrel in her hand, and all the women went out after her with timbrels, answering them--Sing ye to the Lord. Mixed Musick therefore, in Gods service and praises, seems not a branch of the Ceremonial Law, that it should thence be concluded abrogated, but, as subordinate to Gods service, and fitting mens minds thereto, of the ever-binding Moral Law, which saith in the Gospel, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God; wherein are comprehended all things thereto subordinate, and necessary for Gods service, as is all that which conduceth to edification in Christ.

3. As Musick was appointed by God, to praise him in his Tabernacle and Temple, to which Christ in the days of his flesh often resorted; so was it used by Christ, as at his last Supper, and institution of that great Mystery appointed by him to represent and shew his death and passion till he come; wherein Christ sung his pare with his Apostles, (for we may not think, that he sat by them onely to keep time, or as an Auditor.) Add hereto, that even under the Gospel, Musick is expresly commanded, for edification in Christ, and therefore must still be lawfull and necessary: of which the Apostle saith, Ephes. 5.19, 20--Be filled with the spirit; speaking to your selves in psalms and hymns, and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord: giving thanks always for all things unto God, and the father, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. So Colos. 3.16. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another, in psalm, and hymns, and spiritual songs: (this could be no Jewish ceremony;) How is it then, brethren? when ye come together, every one of you hath a psalm, hath a doctrine--Let all things be done unto edifying.

4. Musick hath such natural proportion with the reasonable soul, that some defined the soul it self by harmony. It is remarkable, that Solomon, the wisest of meer men, and the worlds greatest Philosopher, made a thousand and five Songs, wherein he excelled all the children of the East-countrey--as in that Song of Songs, Solomon in deep mysteries excelled Solomon. And David, the man after Gods own heart, and sweet Singer of Israel, composed many Psalms to divers musical Instruments, as may appear in the Titles of many of his Psalms, which have ever been in use in the Church of Christ, as to the matter and substance, though not always to the same manner and circumstances, which the Exigents and times of persecution could not at all times permit the Christian Churches not then constituted, as may appear in Plinies Epistle unto Trajan, reporting the custome of the Christians, then used to sing Hymnos antelucanos Christo.

5. The Soul much depending on the temper of the Body, it must needs be, that according to the right composure or distemper thereof, a man is more or less apt to Divine Offices; which the subtil Adversary well knowing, that he may hinder us from right performance of our Duties in the service of God, complieth with all second Causes, to discompose us by sundry passions and perturbations of mind, in whose storms we cannot steadily and duely perform our parts. Now solemn Musick, by reason of its native affinity with the Soul, excellently accommodates it, by calming and appeasing the boisterous storms and distempers thereof with a pleasing allay, gently drawing it to a sweet mediocrity, carrying it up for a time above it self in an holy rapture and extasie, as S. Paul into the third Heaven, to the contemplation of unutterable things: It excellently composeth distempered minds, which S. Basil and S. Ambrose seem to note, in Pythagoras commanding the Musicians Dorion canere, which changing the mood, S. Ambrose interpreteth by molliora canere. It draws out tears of Devotion, as Augustine confesseth of himself,--I often wept in the hymns and songs of thy sweet-sounding Church; the affections of piety thereby enflamed, my tears ran down. I could easily be perswaded, that those monstrous vails of morals, not contemptible, related hereto, concerning the strange effects of Terpander's Musick, so famous among the ancients; and Amphion's drawing stones together, to build the Walls of Thebes, by his Musick; and Orpheus, charming wilde beasts and pale ghosts with his Harp; Arion carried on a Dolphins back; Herodutus, &c. Doubtless melody doth admirably compose the distracted mind, which it formeth to holy attention, as hath been seen in the sudden lucid intervals, and abundant tears of mad-men, hearkening a while to the Churches solemn Chores. Neither need this seem strange to any that reade Saul's History,--When the evil spirit came upon Saul, David took an harp, and played with his hand, and Saul was refreshed and eased, for the evil spirit departed from him. Not that Musick of it self hath such vertue to drive away soul spirits; but it came thus to pass then, by Gods providence, forelaying all the consequences hereof relating to David: yet I doubt not, but that Satan (making use of all advantages to destroy men, by hindering them in holy Duties (as Preaching, Hearing, Praying, and Thanksgiving, and praising God) hath less power to hurt, by how much more the Body and Soul of Man are freed from turbulent obstructions thereto. Nor can I wonder that solemn Musick should put moody Saul's Devil to flight, when. I consider,

1. That the same now drives so many Congregation-men from our Church.

2. That all that which tendeth to edification and praise of God, is destructive to Satan's Kingdom, whose Fortifications (like the Walls of the beleaguered Jericho) fall down at the sounding of the sacred Trumpets, whereof he saith, Cry aloud, spare not, lift up thy voice like a trumpet, and shew my people their transgressions, and the house of Jacob their sins. Indeed when Christ's seventy Disciples preached the Gospel, Satan like lightning fell from Heaven.

3. Considering the Tempters amusical disposition, whose usual descant is impious discord, and setting division amongst Brethren, and his whole endeavour to afflict mans soul, and to barr it from all comfortable help to devotion, and assistance in the service of God; therefore although he hath sometimes been transformed into an Angel of Light, yet we reade not that he did ever sing, or play upon any musical Instrument, except in the obscene lips of Catamites and impious Libertines; and once in the Pope's Chore, when (as Cyprian de Valera, a grave Author, writeth) he got into the Organ, and roared out so prodigious a Diapason, that it made the earth tremble under them.

6. The Custome of God's Church (in S. Paul's Logick, thus disputing, 1 Cor. 11.16.--We have no such custome, neither the Churches of God) is very considerable. It was S. Ambrose Rule,

To whatsoever Church (of Christ) ye shall come, observe the Custom thereof, if you will neither take, nor give offence. S. Augustine gives the Reason; In those things concerning which Divine Scripture determineth nothing certain, the Custom of Gods people, or determinations of our Ancestors, are to be held for a Law. Therefore, we must beware, lest by the storm of contention (about matters less then Fundamental) the calm or serenity of Charity be clouded.

Now concerning the Custom of Gods Church herein, David saith, They have seen thy goings, O God, even the goings of my God, my King, in the sanctuary. The singers went before, the players on instruments followed after; among them were the damsels playing with timbrels, bless ye God in the congregations. Therefore did Moses write that Song, Deut. 31.19, 30. for Israel and their posterities. And David composing many Psalms, appointed singers and players on instruments in the sanctuary, to prophesie with harp, with psalteries, and with cymbals.

Whether the Heavenly Orbs (in their regular motions, the certain measures of time) do make a melodious harmony, I leave to others disputes; sure I am, that the Heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament sheweth his handy-work; and that we reade of heavenly Citharists and Harpers, and of holy Angels and happy Spirits, singing their Hallelujahs and praises to Christ, Rev. 5.8, &c. Rev. 14.2, 3. & 15.2, 3. For the better understanding whereof, consider with me, what he, who had a divine rapt into heaven, saith, Hebr. 10.1. The Law had a shadow of good things to come. Now you know, that the shadow holdeth a proportion to the body that casts it. And again he saith, Hebr. 8.5. that the Priests that offer gifts according to the Law, serve unto the example and shadow of heavenly things,--what things? 'tis presently expressed--as Moses was admonished of God, when he was about to make the Tabernacle--See, saith he, that thou make all things according to the pattern shewed to thee in the mount.

These Reasons laid down, I hope will, in this controversie, satisfie the moderate: If we cannot gain others to our party, who, like that Gadaren Herd, are violently carried with spirits of contention unto that desperate precipice of Schism, it shall not be my labour lost, if it shall confirm our own: Could we bring an hundred Arguments more from Heaven, yet some would dislike Church-Musick.

1. Because, say they, we cannot edifie by it, 'tis a scandal to us, irksom and odious also. I answer, So doth the Feverish Palate distaste sweet and wholsom meats: where must the Cure be made? in some contrary season of those Meats, or the disaffected Palate? The sacred Word of God, (unto holy David, sweeter then honey) is a savour of death to death unto the wicked; they find no comfort in it, but are embittered thereby to the death of those who preach it to them. I hate him, said Ahab, he prophesieth no good, but evil to me. That sweet Oyntment should kill Vultures and Scarabes (which delight in carrion and filthy stench) it must needs be in the indisposition of the receivers; for good savours are very pleasant and comfortable to others

2. They are offended because we sing some Prayers. And are not many parts of David's Psalms excellent Forms of Petitions to God? and did not he, and the Church of God, with, and after him, in every Age since, sing the same? Was it then lawfull and expedient to sing holy Elegies, solemn Prayers, and Doxologies to God? If so, how cometh it since to be unlawfull?

3. They say, they cannot understand what is sung. On whom is their not understanding to be charged? Aquinas, after S. Augustine, answereth hereto--

All the affections of our souls, as they are divers, have their proper Moods in the voice and singing, by whose secret familiarity they are stirred up: so in hearers, among whom, though some understand not those things which are sung (by others) yet they understand why they are sung, to wit, to the praise of God; and this (saith he) is enough to stir up devotion.

Give me leave to doubt, whether if these pretenders to so much knowledge were presently taken up into Paradise, as S. Paul was, and admitted to hear those ineffable words there sounding, they would understand, &c. though, &c. all to the praise of God, &c.

4. They say, Musick is abused to superstition, and corruption of good manners. I answer, so have the best things been; meat, drink, and the spiritual food of souls, Gods holy Word and Sacraments not excepted. Can you reasonably think, that impious abuse by some, concludes a necessary abolition of an holy use of these, to all others? I say, of things so excellently serving to our necessary use in the worship and praise of God, keying and tuning of holy Chores, so much approved by the Prophets, Apostles, and Martyrs, the wisest and best of the sons of men; as also by the continual practice of heavenly Chores of Saints and holy Angels; above all, by Jesus Christ, daily hearing therewith their Prayers, and accepting the same as sweet odours of incense? what, is this lawfull in Heaven, but not in Christ's Church on earth? May we not, in imitation of such patterns of sanctity, with sacred musick, heighten our dull minds to speak, hear, pray; and,in the praises of God, as it were, tune at the door, until we be admitted into the full Chore in the Church triumphant? Doth not our Saviour Christ teach us to say, and do we not accordingly say--Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven? Must we pray to be enabled to do that which (however enabled) we may not do? Let the most bitter-spirited Antagonist ingenuously say, Is not the whole Book of Psalms (so often avowed, cited, and used by Christ) Sepher-Tehillim, a Book of Praises, composed for the Churches use unto the end of time? or think you that this so excellent a part of Scripture was written, onely to inform us what the Saints of God did before us, but not what we also must do by their example? As for the abuse of Musick, we abominate it; but affirm, that holy melody is accommodate to every estate and condition; the Apostle saying without exception, Is any merry? let him sing. There may here be a fault in defect: for some, like those curious Solar instruments, make sweet musick, and bless the Lord, so long as the Sun of prosperity shines on them; but no sooner is that clouded, but they are silent, and then Musick is to them as--the Lords Song in a strange land: But David, in his affliction, called to remembrance his song in the night: And Paul and Silas, laden with stripes, and in strict durance, did sing and pray at midnight, with admirable effect, to their own comfort and others. It is above all dispute, that we have as much need to have our minds and affections calmed and lifted up from worldly thoughts, deviations, and distractions in God's service now, as his Israel had of old time, when he prescribed them both singing and instrumental Musick, to prepare and fit them to his Worship; and why we may not now use the means thereto expedient and formally commanded, I challenge all gain-sayers to shew us any good Reason.

So come I to the Principal Cause of the specified Effect,--The hand of the Lord came upon him; that is, the power and influence of Gods Spirit; which Metonymical manner of speaking is frequent in Scripture: as Ezek. 3.22. The hand of the Lord was there upon me. Judg. 6.34. The Spirit of the Lord came upon Gideon. So on Jephtah; so on Sampson: So Elisha said to Elijah, I pray thee, let a double portion of thy spirit be upon me; that is, of Gods Spirit, wherewith thou hast been assisted. The sum of all amounteth to thus much;

The Spirit of the Lord enableth his servants to prophesie: Holy men of God spake, as they were moved by the Holy Ghost. His hand and power is still upon them in their Ministration, as 'tis written--The spirits of the Prophets are subject to the Prophets. And our Saviour Christ saith to his Apostles,--I am with you alwayes, even unto the end of the world: and--He that heareth you, heareth me.

And now the time admonisheth me, that the remainder of this Discourse be like a natural motion, swiftest near the end: I must tell you therefore, that the Apostle makes our Application, 1 Thes. 5. 20. Despise not prophesyings. He gave the reason before, 1 Thes. 4. 8. He that despiseth, despiseth not man, but God, who hath also given unto us his holy Spirit: and--He that despiseth you, despiseth me.

Let the Grecians, in their profane levity, account Preaching of the Gospel foolishness, and the Pharisees reject the counsel of God against themselves; they shall once (though too late) know, who now neglect so great means of salvation, undervaluing this Heavenly Treasure, because we have it in earthen vessels, that it is the power of God to salvation, to every one that believeth.

Consider therefore, before it be too late, That he that despised Moses Law, died without mercy, under two or three witnesses; of how much sorer punishment, suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy, who hath trodden under foot the Son of God--and hath done despite to the Spirit of Grace? Which secure sinners do, when they undervalue the Word and Ordinance of God. If thou so do, there will be, in thine own Conscience, not onely two or three, but a thousand unavoidable Witnesses, which can neither be withdrawn by favour, nor silenced by reward: If thou hast been a careless or negligent Hearer, yet seriously repent thee, and henceforth more diligently frequent holy Assemblies, and more attentively hear the Word of God: It is as the Eastern Star, to lead Wise-men to Christ; as 'tis also written--Psal. 107.43. Who so is wise, and will observe those things, even they shall understand the loving kindness of the Lord.

O Lord God, who hast the Key of David, which opens, and none shutteth, open our Hearts and Affections; lift up these everlasting doors, that the King of Glory may come in, and cause us to understand thy loving kindness in Christ: breathe into our divided parts the Spirit of Life and Peace, that we may live to Thee in this world, and live with Thee in the world to come, through Jesus Christ our Lord and Saviour. AMEN.


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