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A Presbyterian Preacher and a Divine Principle

by James W. Adams
via Gospel Guardian, August 31, 1950

The Presbyterian Church is one of the oldest sects of protestant Christendom, and occupies a most honorable position among her sister denominations. In our day, she is noted for being one of the most austere, the coldest, and the most tenacious of all parties in clinging to her traditional positions. No people resist more sternly any alternation, modification, or substitution in the realm of their traditional beliefs and practices than do Presbyterians. Yet, it has not always been so. Even Presbyterianism has known remarkable changes accompanied by bitter struggles among its communicants.

Recently, a most interesting book has fallen into my hands. Its title is Instrumental Music in Public Worship. Its author was Professor John L. Girardeau of Columbia Theological Seminary, South Carolina. The date of publication was 1888. The book is an attempt on the part of Mr. Girardeau to stay the tide of corruption invading the Presbyterian Church of his day. His special attack is against the use of Instrumental Music in Public Worship. It is a well-authenticated, historical fact that instrumental music was introduced into the worship of practically all protestant denominations over the protest of their greatest men, but it is intensely interesting to read a treatise from a learned and prominent member of one of these parties setting forth the ground of his opposition to the practice. While I am certain that any gospel preacher of average ability today could offer stronger arguments against the practice, yet, Mr. Girardeau sets forth some principles that are fundamental. Had he made universal application of them in his religious belief and practice, he would most certainly have had to go back far beyond John Knox to Jerusalem and the church of the Lord as it existed in the days of the apostles. The basic principle upon which Mr. Girardeau founds his entire argument is irreproachable. It is the principle upon which the plea for a restoration of primitive, New Testament Christianity rests. Incidentally, it is a principle that many well-meaning brethren in the church of the Lord today need to commit to memory and practice. Your attention is called to certain statements from the book in question that seem particularly worthy of note coming as they do from the lips of a Presbyterian. Such comments as may seem necessary to give this article pertinency will be made.

Observation from the Preface

In the preface of his book, Mr. Girardeau makes some interesting observations concerning arguments that were being made in his day against the discussion of the music question.

"It will no doubt be said that the attempt to prove the unjustifiable employment of instrumental music in the public worship of the church is schismatical, since the practice is well-nigh universal; that it is trivial, inasmuch as it concerns a mere circumstantial in the services of religion; and that it is useless, as the tendency which is resisted is invincible, and is destined to triumph throughout Protestant Christendom."

It is remarkable that those who set themselves in opposition to the truth have been so alike in their approach to the issues in every age of the world. Only today, I read an article in one of the "gospel papers" on a live issue of our day in which the writer characterized those who contend for the very principle that is basic in Mr. Girardeau's argument as being

  1. schismatic;
  2. creating issues over trivialities;
  3. and glorying in the fact that in his mind his position is invincible as to its progress and destined to triumph throughout the brotherhood.

Mr. Girardeau's answer to his enemies is classic, an answer well adapted to our present situation in the church of the Lord concerning other issues.

"To all this one answer alone is offered, and it is sufficient, namely: that the attempt is grounded in truth. It involves a contest for a mighty and all-comprehending principle, by opposing one of the special forms in which it is now commonly transcended and violated. It is that principle, emphasized in the following remarks as scriptural and regulative, that lends importance to the discussion, and redeems it from the reproach of being narrow and trifling."

Mr. Girardeau's General Argument from Scripture

To me, Mr. Girardeau's "general argument from scripture" contains the cream of his treatise. All else that he says is but the embellishment and application of the principle set forth in his general argument. Which fact impresses upon us the need for inculcating in the hearts of all Christians the grand, fundamental principles governing man in his relationship to God. Too much of our preaching and writing is superficial. We deal with effects rather than causes, symptoms rather than diseases, superficialities rather than fundamentals. Fix in the mind of man the fundamental principles involved in his relationship to Jehovah and little fear need be entertained concerning his understanding and application of the word of the Lord, but let us note Mr. Girardeau's statement of his fundamental thesis:

"Attention at the outset is invoked to the considerations which serve to establish the following controlling principle: A divine warrant is necessary for every element of doctrine, government and worship in the church; that is, whatsoever in these spheres is not commanded in the scriptures, either expressly or by good and necessary consequence from their statements, is forbidden."

A plainer statement of the basic principle involved in the restoration of New Testament Christianity could not be framed. This is unquestionably the fundamental consideration in every issue that confronts the church of God relative to its practice as such. Establish this principle in the hearts of Christians, let it become the guiding rule in their practice, and all will be well. It is also interesting to note the manner in which Mr. Girardeau establishes his proposition. His arguments somewhat abridged follow:

Argument 1:

"This principle is deducible by logical inference from the great truth—confessed by Protestants —that the scriptures are an infallible rule of faith and practice, and therefore supreme, perfect and sufficient for all the needs of the church. "All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works." This truth operates positively to the inclusion of everything in the doctrine, government and worship of the church which is commanded, explicitly or implicitly, in the scriptures, and negatively to the exclusion of everything which is not so commanded."

Mr. Girardeau enunciates here the principle which demands a respect on our part for the silence of the scriptures by invoking the law of exclusion. Too many in religion operate on the principle that "where the scriptures are silent, we may use our own judgment" or as the digressive element in the church used to say sixty years ago, "We may use our sanctified common sense." Too much human wisdom under the guise of "sanctified common sense" is now being injected into the practice of the church in other realms than worship.

Argument 2:

"This principle of the necessity of divine warrant for everything in the faith and practice of the church is proved by didactic statements of scripture. Numbers 15:39-40; Exodus 25:40; Hebrews 8:5; Deuteronomy 12:32; Proverbs 30:5-6; Isaiah 7:20; Daniel 2:44; Matthew 15:6; 28:19-2020; Colossians 2:20-23; II Timothy 3:16-17; Revelation 22:18-19. These solemn statements and awful warnings teach us the lesson, that to introduce any devices and inventions of our own into the doctrine, government and worship of the church is to add to the word of God."

Argument 3:

"There are concrete instances recorded in the scriptures which graphically illustrate the same great principle.

  1. Genesis 4: Cain and his offering;
  2. Leviticus 10:1-3: Nadab and Abihu;
  3. Numbers 16: Korah, Dathan, and Abiram;
  4. Numbers 20: Moses smiting the rock;
  5. I Samuel 13: Saul offering a burnt offering at Gilgal;
  6. I Chronicles 13:7, 8; 15:11-15: Uzza and the Ark and David's subsequent obedience
  7. II Chronicles 26:16-21: King Uzziah officiating as a priest;
  8. The jealousy of God for the principle of a divine warrant for everything in His worship is most conspicuously illustrated in New Testament times, by the tremendous judgments which befell the Jewish people for perpetuating without such warrant the typical ritual of the temple service."

No better conclusion could be written to this article than some of the observations made by Mr. Girardeau in the summation of his "general argument from scripture. He says:

"The mighty principle has thus been established, by an appeal to the didactic statements of God's Word, and to special instances recorded in scriptural history, that a divine warrant is required for everything in the faith and practice of the church, that whatsoever is not in the scriptures commanded, either explicitly or by good and necessary consequence, is forbidden."

"The principle that has been emphasized is in direct opposition to that maintained by Romanists and Prelatists, and I regret to say by lax Presbyterians (and I could add, by my own brethren J. W. A.), that what is not forbidden in the scriptures is permitted. —The principle of the discretionary power of the church in regard to things not commanded by Christ in His Word, was the chief fountain from which flowed the gradually increasing tide of corruptions that swept the Latin church into apostasy from the gospel of God's grace. And as surely as causes produce their appropriate effects, and history repeats itself in obedience to that law, any Protestant church which embodies that principle in its creed is destined, sooner or later, to experience a similar fate. The same, too, may be affirmed of a church which formally rejects it and practically conforms to it. The reason is plain. The only bridle that checks the degenerating tendency of the church—a tendency manifested in all ages—is the Word of God. If this restraint be discarded, the downward lapse is sure."

There are two prevalent conditions among members of the Lord's church today that are literally pregnant with danger. They are:

  1. an alarming ignorance of the teaching of the Word of God. H. Leo Boles used to say, "There is ninety percent more preaching today than fifty years ago and ten percent of the Bible knowledge."
  2. a growing disrespect for the silence of the scriptures. May God grant unto us a renewal of knowledge and a rededication of ourselves to the principle of "speaking where the Bible speaks and remaining silent where the Bible is silent."