Many have attempted to render their song choices impervious to doctrinal accuracy by invoking the notion of artistic licence. It is thought that doctrine is the high and dry and abstract and irrelevant side of things, whereas ‘worship’ (mistakenly used in reference to the musical elements alone) is the emotional and truly spiritual side. Adherence to true doctrine, after all, is no guarantee of a living faith, which is granted by none other than our Lord Christ through the Holy Ghost. Now it has seemed good to the Holy Ghost to give to the Church, as an unerring standard of the faith, the holy Scriptures revealing both the law and the gospel. Though blasphemous men have attributed all kinds of ideas to the Holy Ghost, the test of Scripture shows that what they teach are not of God but of Antichrist.
But in the assemblies where these blasphemers have gained a hearing we have heard abominations. In the name of the Holy Spirit they have denied the divinity of Christ; they have claimed the mantle of the Holy Spirit for blessings to solemnize same-sex ‘domestic partnerships’; they have persecuted the orthodox with allegations of misconduct for daring to help congregations who were departing from their foul parody of the Christian faith. All these things and more have been done in the name of the Holy Spirit.
We as Protestants, however, believe there is no higher authority under the Sun than holy Scripture. No new revelations of the Montanist heretics, and no new discoveries of the Roman Magisterium, despite all their claims to the authority of the Holy Ghost – let all tremble before their authority! – can give us true doctrine that holy Scripture does not already contain. Measured against the righteousness of God, all our righteousness is like filthy rags; measured against the truth of God, all our thoughts are vapour. God tells us that his thoughts are not our thoughts, for they are as far above as the heavens are above the earth.
Knowing that we sinners create golden calves to worship instead of himself as he truly is, this holy God has seen fit in his Scripture to teach us how to worship him. The pages of Exodus and Leviticus are filled with instructions on how, and in no wise else, we may worship him; the Psalms, which are the longest book of the Bible, are songs of penitence, lament and praise that tune our hearts to sing God’s grace; and now Christ has sent his Holy Spirit into our hearts to make us his Temple, as the Apostle Peter says. The Colossians, when they adopted the inventions of man in place of the truth of God, were warned by the Apostle Paul lest they suffer everlasting damnation in giving up the gift of the Holy Spirit. The devices and desires of our own hearts are not the ways of God, so the Holy Ghost has given us the Scriptures outwardly and inwardly created obedient hearts. Having a standard of truth, which is the highest court of appeal in the Church, we are not licenced to worship God as we please and utter blasphemies under the name of worship.
Historically this has been borne out in the history of the Church. Nadab and Abihu were struck down for bringing strange fire onto the altar of incense, Uzzah for touching the Ark of the Covenant, Ananias and Sapphira for making a free-will offering according to a lie, some of the Corinthians for defiling the Lord’s Supper. Their physical deaths the Lord has made to us a warning against the everlasting death of the soul: we are to live by the truth, and we cannot be too careful to follow his commandments, for it is his commandments that show us what holy love is. The reprobate may fornicate and esteem it consecrated, but the elect are called by the Spirit of Christ to be pure and holy, not uniting themselves with Belial but devoting themselves in every thing to the word of God. Our sentiments toward heaven, judged according to Scripture, may turn out to be sentiments that pull our hearts toward hell; our highest aspirations may be unmasked as our lowest degradations. The Romanists say their Hail Mary with the intention to pray through her to God, yet is it not justly condemned as idolatry, as a trick of the Devil to dislodge the supremacy of Christ? It is by the standard of Scripture, and of the true doctrine given therein, that we judge it to be a blasphemous practice.
Has not the Spirit himself instructed us to guard against blasphemy and to hold to sound doctrine? Hereby know ye the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God: And every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God: and this is that spirit of antichrist, whereof ye have heard that it should come; and even now already is it in the world. Have we poetic licence to say in a hymn that God came disguised as a man, but he was only a spirit without flesh? Would the singing of such heresy not reek to high heaven? He who taught such things to the people, whether in sermon or in song, would be a false prophet; he who brazenly commended such things to be sung to God himself would be anathema.
If the biblical truth is not to reign here, then it is not to reign anywhere. If the revelation of God is not to be found in public worship, then it is not to be found anywhere. For it is first and foremost in worshipping God that we learn to love and serve him. If, then, we love and serve an idol in our public assemblies, we will do nothing else in our lives but serve an image inspired not by the Holy Ghost but by the Devil. Holiness will be forsaken. The Temple will be full of Baals. Jerusalem will be desolate. In a word, we will have taught ourselves to worship something that is not God, and judgement will come in among us when we are still perplexed by the writing on the wall.
Let us forsake false worship; let us seek Christ where he may be found. Today is the day of salvation, and today is the day when we will hear his voice: let us not harden our hearts.