John Wesley's Directions for Singing

John Wesley’s Directions for Singing are found on page vii of the United Methodist Hymnal (UMH).

WORDS:

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 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.

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.

BACKGROUND

It’s hard to imagine hymns as something new, but Isaac Watts wrote his first hymn at the age of 16, in 1690, thirteen years before John Wesley’s birth. Here’s the story from Wikipedia: The earlier English writers tended to paraphrase biblical texts, particularly PsalmsIsaac Watts followed this tradition, but is also credited as having written the first English hymn which was not a direct paraphrase of Scripture. Watts (1674–1748), whose father was an Elder of a dissenter congregation, complained at age 16, that when allowed only psalms to sing, the faithful could not even sing about their Lord, Christ Jesus. His father invited him to see what he could do about it; the result was Watts’ first hymn, “Behold the glories of the Lamb”… Relying heavily on Scripture, Watts wrote metered texts based on New Testament passages that brought the Christian faith into the songs of the church. Isaac Watts has been called “the father of English hymnody”, but Erik Routley sees him more as “the liberator of English hymnody”, because his hymns, and hymns like them, moved worshipers beyond singing only Old Testament psalms, inspiring congregations and revitalizing worship…. Charles Wesley‘s hymns spread Methodist theology, not only within Methodism, but in most Protestant churches. He developed a new focus: expressing one’s personal feelings in the relationship with God as well as the simple worship seen in older hymns. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hymnody) I think I’m on safe historical ground to say that hymns were very common and popular following the Methodist Revival, and not as common in the typical Church of England parish prior to the birth of John Wesley in 1703. John Wesley’s Directions for Singing helped shape the use of this tool for spiritual formation.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

What characteristic United Methodist belief statements do you find in Wesley’s Directions for Singing?

What phrase really speaks to your mind or heart as very important for us to understand and remember?

What would change in the worship services at your church if these directions were followed? What would change in your personal experience of worship if these directions  were followed? With this in mind, do you agree or disagree with any of these directions?

RESOURCES

The Directions for Singing printed here are from http://www.cai.org/bible-studies/john-wesleys-instructions-singing-1761

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