As the vindication of the ordinances of Praise in the foregoing form, may be considered merely the action of a prejudiced mind, or at best, the opinion of a few antiquated Presbyterians, I subjoin the views of the Rev. Wm. Romaine, of the Church of England, author of the “Life, Walk, and Triumph of Faith.” He writes with an earnestness and warmth befitting the subject; and no-one acquainted with his life and writings will suppose that he was actuated by any other motive than zeal for the glory of God and the purity of the church.
“THERE is another thing relating to the Psalms I cannot call it an abuse, for it is a total neglect of them. They are quite rejected in many congregations, as if there were no such hymns given by inspiration of God, and as if they were not left for the use of the church and to be sung in the congregation. Human compositions are preferred to divine. Man's poetry is exalted above the poetry of the Holy Ghost. Is this right? The hymns which He revealed for the use of the church, that we might have words suitable to the praises of Immanuel, are quite set aside: by which means the word of man has got a preference in the church above the word of God; yea, so far as to exclude it entirely from public worship. It is not difficult to account for this strange practice. Our people had lost sight of the meaning of the Psalms. They did not see their relation to Jesus Christ. This happened when vital religion began to decay among us, more than a century ago.
My complaint is against preferring men’s poems to the good word of God, and preferring them to it in the church. I have no quarrel with Dr. Watts, or any living or dead versifier. I would not wish all their poems burnt. My concern is to see Christian congregations shut out divinely inspired Psalms, and take in Dr. Watts’s flights of fancy; as if the words of a poet were better that the words of a prophet, or as if the wit of man was to be preferred to the wisdom of God. When the church is met together in one place, the Lord God has made a provision for their songs of praise a large collection and great variety and why should not these be used in the church according to God’s express appointment? I speak not of private people or private singing, but of the church in its public service. Why should the provision God has made be so far despised as to become quite out of use? Why should Or. Watts, or any other hymn maker, not only take the precedence of the Holy Ghost, but also thrust him entirely out of the church? Insomuch that the rhymes of a man are magnified above the word of God, even to the annihilation of it in many congregations. If this be right, men and brethren, judge ye.
What poetry is to be compared with the Psalms of God? Who can make the singing of any human verses an ordinance, or give a blessing to them, such as is promised, and is given to the singing of Psalms? For what reason, then, are they set aside in the church? Why are the words of man's genius preferred to the words of inspiration? Singing of psalms is commanded by divine authority, and commanded as a part of divine worship; not left to man's wisdom how to provide for it, but is expressly provided for in the good word of God. And is not great contempt put upon this infinitely wise provision, when it is quite disused in the church, and man's word is preferred to it?
What would you think of them who should throw aside all the Scripture, and never read it all in the congregation? And is it not an offence of the like nature, totally to neglect a part, a chief part of it, which was recorded for the use of the church, and in which its members were to sing the high praises of their God? It is hereby treated as useless and good for nothing. A very gross affront is put upon the love and wisdom which revealed this divine collection of hymns, and the church is deprived of the blessing promised to the singing of them, whereby it is robbed of one of its choicest treasures. If any thing be sacrilege, this is. The Psalms are stolen out of the church, and thereby the members are deprived of the blessings promised to the singing of them; for God will not give you the end if you neglect the means. Frequent are his commands in the Old Testament to sing psalms, and we have several in the New. for instance, let the word (not something beside it, but the word) of Christ itself dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms, and hymns, and spiritual songs. These are not different things, but different names for the same collection of Psalms, as they treat of different subjects.
We know from very clear testimony that the Psalms were sung in the Temple until its final destruction. We are certain that Christ made use of the Psalms. His apostles followed his example. The churches of Corinth, and Ephesus, and Colosse, made the singing of Psalms part of their public worship. Such of the twelve tribes as were scattered abroad, being persecuted for Christ’s sake, did sing psalms when they were in a happy frame; for they were commanded to do it by the apostle James. The church history affords abundant evidence of the use of psalms in every country converted to the faith, and of their being sung in the church as a part of public worship. This has been the case in every age, without any interruption. The primitive Christians sung in all their church meetings. Eusebius says, in the second century, they sung psalms in praise of Christ and his deity. In the time of Justin Martyr, instrumental music was abolished, and he highly commends singing with the voice, because, says he, psalms, with organs and cymbals, are fitter to please children, than to instruct the church. In the third century, we read much of psalm singing. Arius was complained of as a perverter of this ordinance. St. Augustine makes it a high crime, in certain heretics, that they sung hymns composed by human wit. The sense in which the church of Christ understood this subject, has been, till of late years, always one and uniform. Now we leave the ancient beaten path. But why? Have we found a better? How came we to be wiser than the prophets, than Christ, than his apostles, and the primitive Christians, yea, the whole church of God? They, with one consent have sung psalms in every age. Here I leave the reader to his own reflections. There is one plain inference to be made from hence; none can easily mistake it. May he see it in his judgment, and follow it in his practice.
What, say some, is it unlawful to sing human compositions in the church? How can that be? Why, they sing them at such a place, and such a place: great men, and good men, aye, and lively ministers too, sing them: will you set up your judgment against theirs?
It is an odious thing to speak of one's self, except it be to magnify the grace of God. What is my private judgment? I set it up against nobody in indifferent things: I wish to yield to every man's infirmity: for I want the same indulgence myself. But, in the present case, the Scripture, which is our only rule of judgment, has not left the matter indifferent. God has given us a large collection of hymns, and has commanded them to be sung in the church, and has promised his blessing to the singing of them. No respect here must be paid to names or authorities, though they be the greatest on earth; because no one can dispense with the command of God, and no one by his wit can compose hymns to be compared with the Psalms of God. I want a name for that man who should pretend that he could make better hymns than the Holy Ghost. His collection is large enough; it wants no addition. It is perfect as its Author, and not capable of any improvement. Why, in such a case, would any man in the world take it into his head to sit down and write hymns for the use of the church? It is just the same as if he was to write a new Bible, not only better than the old, but so much better that the old may be thrown aside. What a blasphemous attempt! And yet our hymnmongers, inadvertently, I hope, have come very near to this blasphemy; for they shut out the Psalms, introduce their own verses into the church, sing them with great delight, and, as they fancy, with great profit; although the whole practice be in direct opposition to the command of God, and, therefore cannot possibly be accompanied with the blessing of God.”
“The words of God are pure words.” Psa. 12:6.