John Wesley Instructs His Followers To Sing

This post was has been somewhat inspired by a post from a blogfriend about singing. John Wesley of course knew the long history and liturgical importance of hymn-singing. His brother Charles of course knew even better. Charles Wesley wrote a few thousand hymns including the hymn that has traditionally been the first hymn in every Methodist hymnal: O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing.

John Wesley also knew the importance of “orderly” singing. He saw that even in singing hymns our egos can be active. Here follow John Wesley’s directions for singing:

I. Learn these tunes before you learn any others; afterwards learn as many as you please.

II. 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.

III. 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.

IV. Sing lustily and with 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.

V. 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.

VI. 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.

VII. 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.

So you can see why the Methodist Church has often said that our hymnal is our centerpiece of theology. And I think Wesley’s directions are a decent guideline for church singing. After all, what’s the worst that could happen?


~ by crossingthebosporus on September 10, 2012.

9 Responses to “John Wesley Instructs His Followers To Sing”

  1. The worst that can happen? We make a joyful noise unto the Lord! and that’s not bad either πŸ™‚

  2. A gruesome lesson in the worst at the end, my friend – but what a good post, which underlines the importance of doing it for God, not ourselves :

  3. Just ran across this and thought you might find it appropriate, as well.

    β€œAlas for those that never sing, but die with all their music in them.” β€” Oliver Wendell Holmes

    • I’ll have to keep that in mind whenever my wife gets upset at me singing along to William Shatner!

      • I’d have to admit that William Shatner is an acquired taste, personally my favorite sing a-long piece is Lorne Greene’s “Ringo”. πŸ™‚

      • I consider finding really bad music a hobby. And by “bad,” I don’t mean the typical run-of-the-mill commercial schlock that is cranked out by the handful. I mean people like William Shatner or Lenoard Nimoy (Ballad of Bilbo Baggins) who really thought they had singing talent and really put their heart into the effort. It takes something to wholeheartedly be so completely awful and I tip my hat to these rarefied few, these happy band of artistes.

      • Those two may be the greatest examples of that art (lessness). I have no idea how one gets so in love with oneself to think that they actually have talent.

        Lorne Greene on the other hand, picked material that suied his talent, i’s actually pretty good.

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