John Wesley – Rules for Singing

Probably one of the best things we saw today at the conference was found in a very unexpected place. We have been hearing all day about connecting generations, not discarding the past. That’s a huge topic, and something that I’ll need to spend time pondering.

But, while we were sitting in the auditorium waiting for tonight’s concert to start, I just happened to grab the hymnal right in front of me. The conference is being held at an UMC Church, so I have never seen this hymnal before.

As I started to page through it, I came across this document on page vii. I’ll post it here, just so you can see how things have changed since 1791, and how much things have stayed the same.

These are Rules for Singing that are in the front of each hymal, written by John Wesley:


Rules for Singing

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

2. 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.

3. 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.

4. Sing modestly. Do not bawl, so as to be heard above or distinct from the rest of the congregation, that you may not destroy harmony, but strive to unite your voices together, so as to make one clear melodious sound.

5. 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.

6. 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.

John Wesley, 1791.


Wow – what a statement regarding singing! Again, this is close to the front page in every hymnal in the curch. Our team really had a good time reading it! Thoughts?

Published by

Barry Westman

Barry Westman is the Worship Pastor at Bethel Church in Janesville, WI. He is also the Editor In Chief and Event Manager at Worship Team Training and Worship Team Training University. He is married to Tina, and has 3 rapidly growing children. 

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