John Wesley’s Rules for Singing
John Wesley (1703-1791) was an Anglican clergyman who, along with his brother Charles, founded the Methodist movement. The Wesleys had a profound impact in proclaiming the message of Jesus in the 18th century. Charles Wesley authored over 6,500 hymn texts in his lifetime, including hymns we sing at church like Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus, Hark, the Herald Angels Sing, Jesus Christ is Risen Today, O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing and Love Divine, All Loves Excelling.
John Wesley's Directions for Singing was included as an appendage to Select Hymns: with Tunes Annext, a collection of hymn texts and tunes designed for congregational use in Methodist Churches.
Psalm 98:4 tells us to "Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth; break forth into joyous song and sing praises", and in the Ephesians 5:19, Paul exhorts Christians to "be filled with the Spirit, as you sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, singing and making melody to the Lord in your hearts."
As you read through Wesley's rules, think about how you participate in the worship and hymn singing on Sunday mornings, and know that God doesn't care about the quality of our voices, whether or not we are trained singers or can read music. He cares about our heart and attitude in our worship.
1. 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 a blessing.
2. 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 it being heard, then when you sing the songs of Satan.
3. Sing modestly. Do not bawl, 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.
4. Sing in time. Whatever time is sung, be sure to keep with it. Do not run before, nor stay behind it; but attend closely to the leading voices, and move therewith as exactly as you can. And take care you sing not too slow. This drawling way naturally steals on all who are lazy; and it is high time to drive it out from among us, and sing all our tunes just as quick as we did at first.
5. 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.