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s SIXG TO THE HARP WITH A PSALM OF THANKSGIVING. PSALM XGVI1I. 6.
J. HESE words, like many others in the Psalms of David, assert and encourage the use of music, both vocal and instrumental, in the worship of God: the propriety and benefits of which will be evident from such an examination of the subject, as the present occasion may well admit of: and I hope the good affections of my hearers will be as ready to enter into a rational consideration of the nature and uses of music, as their ears are to be delighted with music. For this art is a great and worthy object to the understanding of man: it is wonderful in itself; and, in its proper and best use, it may be reckoned amongst the several means of grace, which God in his abundant goodness hath vouchsafed to his church; some to direct our course through this vale of tears, and some to cheer and support us under the trials and labours of it
Music will need no other recommendation to our attention as an important subject, when it shall be understood, as I mean to shew in the first place, that it derives its origin from God himself: whence it will follow, that so far as it is God*s work, it is his property, and may certainly be applied as such to his service. The question will be, whether it may be applied to any thing else.
What share soever man may seem to have in modifying, all that is found in this world to delight the senses, is primarily the work of God. Wine is prepared by human labour: but it is given to us in the grape by the Creator. The prismatic glass is the work of art; but the gloriqus colours which it exhibits to the eye are from him who said, Let there be light. Man is the contriver of musical instruments; but the principles of harmony are in the elements of nature; and the greatest of instruments, as we shall soon discover, was formed by the Creator himself. The element of air was as certainly ordained to give us harmonious sounds in due measure, as to give respiration to the lungs. This fluid is so constituted as to make thousands of pulses at an invariable rate, by means of which the proportions and coincidences of musical sounds are exactly preserved. The same wisdom which established the seven conspicuous lights of the firmament, which gave names to the periodical measure of time in a week; and which hath distinguished the seven primary colours in the element of light, hath given the same limits to the scale of musical degrees, all the varieties of which are comprehended within the number seven.
In the philosophical theory of musical sounds, we discover some certain laws which demonstrate that the divine wisdom hath had respect and made provision for the delight of our senses, by accommodating the nature of sounds to the degree of our perception. As this must be a pleasing consideration to the lovers of music, I shall beg leave to-enlarge upon it.
There is no such thing in music as a simple or solitary sound. Every musical note, whether from a string, a pipe, or a bell, is attended by other smaller notes which arise out of it. When a string sounds in its whole length, the parts also sound in such sections or divisions as have a certain proportion to the total sound. We find by calculation and experiment, that these measures are harmonious in the greater of them, but that in the lesser they run into discords. "Now herein is the wisdom and goodness of God manifest; that these sounds are so attempered to the sensibility of the human ear, that we feel all the pleasant without any part of the disagreeable effect. Were the ear more sensible, or these discords louder, all music would be spoiled.
There is another providential circumstance in the theory of sounds, that if a pipe is blown to give its proper note, a stronger blast will raise it to its octave (8 notes higher.) This is done by an instantaneous leap, which if it were done by procession from the one to the other, as bodies in motion rise or fall, not music, but a noise would be the consepuence, most disagreeable to the ear; to which nothmg is more offensive than a sound rising or falling by the way of the whole intermediate space, and not by just intervals; for that is a principle of noises as they differ from notes: and a curious principle it is, if this were a proper occasion for pursuing it. We find music as a work of God in the constitution of the air; which is made capable of proportionate vibrations to delight us; and in such degree and manner as to save the ear from offence and interruption.
Music may be farther traced as the work of God in the nature of man: for God hath undoubtedly made man to sing as well as to speak. The gift of speech we cannot but derive from the Creator; and the gift of singing is from the same Author. The faculty, by which the voice forms musical sounds, is as wonderful as the flexures of the organs of speech in the articulation of words. The human pipe is of a small diameter, and very short when compared with the pipes of an organ: yet it will distinctly give the same note with the pipe of an organ eight feet in length. The moveable operculum on the pipe of the human throat, which is imitated by the reed of the organ, has but a very small range: yet with the contraction and expansion of the throat, it will utter a scale of seventeen degrees, and divide every whole tone into an hundred parts; which is such a refinement on mechanism as exceeds all description.
But, more than this, man is an instrument of God in his whole frame. Besides the powers of the voice in forming, and of the ear in distinguishing musical sounds, there is a general sense, or sympathetic feeling, in the fibres and membranes of the body, which renders the whole frame susceptible of musical emotion. Every person strongly touched with music must be assured that its effect is not confined to the ear, but is felt all over the frame, and to the inmost affections of the heart; disposing us to joy and thankfulness on the one hand, or to penitential softness and devotion on the other. Whence it follows, that when words convey to the mind the same sense as the music does, and dispose us to the same affection, then the effect of music is greatest; which consideration at once gives to vocal the pre-minence above instrumental music.
It is a very observable experiment in music, that when one stringed instrument is struck, and another in tune with it is held upon the palm of the hand, it will be felt to tremble in all its solid parts: Thus doth the frame of man feel and answer to instruments of music, as one instrument answers to another.
Man is to be considered as a musical instrument of God's forming; he lias music in his voice, in his ear, and in his whole frame. Hence the Psalmist, when he calls upon the lute and harp to awake, hath rightly added, I myself, an instrument which God hath formed for his own use, will azvake right early: I will utter, and I will feel, such sounds as are worthy of a soul awakened to the praise and glory of God.
Now we have derived music from its proper origin, we are to consider the end which it is intended to answer. The mind of man is subject to certain emotions, which language alone is not sufficient to express; so it calls in the aid of bodily gestures and musical sounds, by which it attains to an higher kind of expression, more adequate to its inward feelings. In prayer, words alone are not adequate to the affections of the soul : so the eyes are lifted up to the everlasting hills, the knees are bent, and the body falls prostrate upon the dust, to denote the prostration of the mind. So naturally are the knees bended, and the hands folded together, when we are imploring the divine forgiveness, that the word supplication is taken from thence. In joy and thanksgiving, the tongue is not content with speaking; it must awale and utter a' song; while the feet are also disposed to dance to the measures of music; as was the custom in sacred celebrities of old among the people of God, before the world and its vanities had engrossed to themselves all the expressions of mirth and festivity. They have now left nothing of that kind to religion; which must sit by in gloomy solemnity, and see the world, the flesh, and the devil, assume to themselves the sole power of distributing social happiness. When the holy prophet David danced before the ark of God, Michal scorned him in her heart, as if he was exposing himself, and robbing the vain world of its tributary right: for which she was barren to the day 4