Monday, January 07, 2008

John Wesley on Congregational Singing

My wife and I spent our Christmas holiday in Georgia. While there we attended a children's program on Christmas night. As is often the case, I got a little antsy waiting for the service to begin, so I picked up the hymnal in the pew rack. It was called The United Methodist Hymnal and on page vii it had these words from John Wesley about singing in the church:

Directions for Singing
  1. Learn these tunes before you learn any others; afterwards learn as many as you please.
  2. Sing them exactly as they are printed here, without altering or mending them at all; and if you have learned to sing them otherwise, unlearn it as soon as you can.
  3. Sing all. See that you join with the congregation as frequently as you can. Let not a slight degree of weakness or weariness hinder you. If it is a cross to you, take it up, and you will find it a blessing.
  4. Sing lustily and with a good courage. Beware of singing as if you were half dead, or half asleep; but lift up your voice with strength. Be no more afraid of your voice now, nor more ashamed of its being heard, than when you sung the songs of Satan.
  5. Sing modestly. Do not bawl, so as to be heard above or distinct from the rest of the congregation, that you may not destroy the harmony; but strive to unite your voices together, so as to make one clear melodious sound.
  6. Sing in time. Whatever time is sung be sure to keep with it. Do not run before nor stay behind it; but attend close to the leading voices, and move therewith as exactly as you can; and take care not to sing too slow. This drawling way naturally steals on all who are lazy; and it is high time to drive it out from us, and sing all our tunes just as quick as we did at first.
  7. Above all sing spiritually. Have an eye to God in every word you sing. Aim at pleasing him more than yourself, or any other creature. In order to do this attend strictly to the sense of what you sing, and see that your heart is not carried away with the sound, but offered to God continually; so shall your singing be such as the Lord will approve here, and reward you when he cometh in the clouds of heaven.

I particularly like rules for and five. Trying to figure out the balance of these two has always been my problem!

Which of these directions do you like best?


Anonymous said...

I like the word "lustily" but I'm trying to figure out when I ever sung the songs of Satan.

J. Matthew Barnes said...

Dang those pietists with their absolute disdain for all that is "wordly"!