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James Dodson

OBJECTIONS CONSIDERED.

SCRIPTURE OUR ONLY RULE—COL. 3:16 CONSIDERED—DEMANDS ANSWERED—NEW MERCIES REQUIRE A NEW SONG—BOOK OF PSALMS ABROGATED—CANNOT BE SUNG IN TRUTH—MAY SING AS WELL AS PRAY IN OUR OWN WORDS—BOOK OF PSALMS OBSCURE—INADEQUATE—MODERN HYMNS MORE FAVOURABLE TO REVIVALS—MORE ELEGANT IN DICTION—WATTS HAD AS GOOD A RIGHT TO MAKE PSALMS AS DAVID—CURSING PSALMS—CHRIST NOT NAMED IN THEM.

DEAR BRETHREN:—That "the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments are the only rule to direct us how we may glorify God, and enjoy him for ever," is an article of the Protestant creed. In matters of faith and religious worship, to the law and to the testimony, our appeal is made. By the decision of the Holy Ghost, speaking in and by the Scriptures, is the claim of the Book of Psalms sustained, to its place in the Psalmody of our Zion. This is enough; it matters little what ingenuity may be displayed in order to set aside that decision; upon it the faith of the Christian should repose. Those who contend for its banishment, and the adoption of its rivals, can be justified only by "passages of Scripture which contain direct precept, plain undoubted example; or at least some established principle, from which their conclusion necessarily flows.—We cannot be contented with gratuitous assumptions, or ingenious analogies, which have nothing to support them but human authority. We must have a warrant, decided and clear; a warrant which would be indubitable and satisfactory, if all books, excepting the Bible, were banished from the church."[1] Such is the demand; such are the sentiments of a fine writer, when contending against the claims of Episcopacy. I adopt them as mine, when contending against the substitution of a human for an inspired system of religious songs. And I shall be satisfied with an express command of God, with an approved example, or with a conclusion which necessarily flows from an established principle, authorizing such substitution. But with less, no well-directed conscience can rest. Sophistry, however acute, and pretension, however arrogant, will not be satisfactory.[2] Whether a human system of psalms has a higher, claim than these can give, is now the subject of inquiry.

The following very extraordinary demands are made of the friends of Scripture Psalms in the church’s worship; and it seems to be admitted, that if these demands were satisfied, the claims of inspired songs would be at least probable. We shall hear the demands, examine them with candour, and satisfy them if possible.

To maintain, it is said, the claim of the Scripture Psalms, it should be shown that the word of Christ, of which the apostle speaks, Col. 3:16, was so peculiarly restricted to the Psalms of David, as to exclude from being any part of that word, what was spoken by himself and his apostles;—that it is usual for the apostle Paul to call the Psalms of David, psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs;—that our instructions, in these psalms and hymns, should be drawn, not from the discourses of the Saviour and his apostles, but from the Old Testament Psalms;—and that the whole worship of the Old Testament, songs of praise included, was expressly offered up to the Father, through Christ. But these things can never be proved. The very reverse of them is the truth.[3]

Such are the bulwarks by which the enemies of our sacred songs defend themselves. To the first of the above demands, I reply, that the restriction of the word of Christ, exclusively, to any part of divine revelation, is no article of our creed. As the Redeemer is the Prophet and Teacher of his church, and the Light of the world, we consider the whole discovery of thc divine will to man, to be made by him.[4] The Spirit of the Lord spake by me,[5] said the inspired minstrel of Israel, when about to leave the sanctuary below, and join in the song of the church of the first-born above. The Holy Ghost spake by the mouth of David,[6] says an apostle of Jesus. The Holy Ghost, who spoke by David and other inspired messengers of old, was the Spirit of Christ—The Spirit of Christ which was in them—testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow.[7] He who dictated the whole canon of Scripture, is the Spirit of Christ; and the sacred volume is the Saviour’s word. .The inspiring Spirit dwelt in the church’s Head; he actuated the prophets, he inspired the apostles; in all its ages, he acted under the economy of grace; at the head of that economy, in those ages, stood the Son of God, as our Mediator; his is the revelation in our Bible. It is the word of Christ. Let all who deny this take their future stand, at least with the semi-infidels of our day, and on that ground they shall be met. The songs of Scripture, whether found in the Old or New Testament, are the word of Christ. That this should be denied by any who have subscribed the following declaration, which every minister of the Presbyterian church has done, is only another, yet lamentable instance of the inconsistency of man: "Christ executeth the office of a prophet, in his revealing to the church, in all ages, by his Spirit and word, in divers ways of administration, the whole will of God."[8]—This supports what I have advanced, while it contradicts that on which I animadvert.

I reply to the second demand, that it is fair in us, if psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, be really found in the Bible, to conclude, that the apostle intended them, rather than the imperfect effusions of well designing men, had such then existed, but of which there is not a particle of proof; the thought of the then existence of such is a gratuitous assumption. Now, let the objectors tell us the specific qualities by which these compositions are distinguished, and we shall present them with specimens of each in the book of Psalms. Or, if they please, a reference to the original denominations of these songs, might probably afford satisfactory information,[9] It is not pleasant to call arguments, of the description now under consideration, by an appropriate name.

The reply to the third requisition in the objection, requiring us to show, "that our instructions, in these songs, should be drawn exclusively from the Old Testament Psalms"—is, in part, anticipated. I only remark further, that the whole word of God is profitable; the more extensive and correct our acquaintance with it is, the better will we be furnished for every good work. Let the word of Christ, whether found in the one Testament, or in the other, dwell richly in us, and our teaching and admonitions will be better directed and of course more efficient; and the better will be qualified, too, to sing with the understanding. Were the men who employ this style of objection, better acquainted with the lessons of the inspired volume, we should not hear from them language so very unguarded.

To the fourth demand I answer, that the whole worship of the church of God, since the revelation of the first promise of mercy to man, has been conducted through the mediation of Jesus Christ. The church of God, in every age, is one; the covenant of grace is one; the Mediator is one; and to the church of old he was as really revealed as he is to the church at this day; and was, by her believing members, as really confided in for salvation, as by the saints of New Testament times. The object of worship has always been the same, and the great medium of access, the Son of God, as Redeemer, has likewise been the same.—There is not salvation in any other. How then can it be denied that the "Old Testament worship was conducted in the name of the Lord Jesus"—or in truth be said—"the very reverse appears to be the truth"—and then asserted—"the Old Testament church had no access to God, but through priests and sacrifices?"[10] With the same degree of truth may it be said that the New Testament church has no access to God, but through ministers, and sacraments, &c. The ordinances of worship, under the old and new dispensations, are indeed not precisely the same; but whatever the rites of worship were, or now are, the medium of acceptance has been, and will ever be, the same. This was not unknown to the Israelitish saint. He was taught that sacrifice and offering God did not desire; these were at all times shown to be inadequate to the display of Jehovah’s grace and glory—The pious Jew understood his Saviour’s voice when he proclaimed, "Lo! I come: in the volume of the book it is written of me; I delight to do thy will, O my God."[11][12]

Whether or not the sentiments couched in, and expressed by, the language of the objection, be worthy of Christian regard, I leave to the Christian to decide; confident in the mean time that in the moment of serious reflection he will not contend that the word of Christ is, exclusively, restricted to the writings of the Hew Testament: that Psalms, and Hymns, and Spiritual Songs, are not to be found in the volume of inspiration; that the apostle enjoins it on all, or on any of the members of the church, to commence making hymns for her public worship; or, that there was some other way of access to God for Old Testament saints, than by his Son as Mediator.[13] Arguments of the following description cover the pages of the opposers of our Bible songs:

"Under every dispensation of God, new favours have demanded and obtained a new song of praise; as in the case of Israel at the Red Sea; that of Deborah and Barak, of David and the prophets, under the Old Testament; and under the New Testament, the instances of Zacharias, Elizabeth, Mary, Simeon, and Anna, are all in point. The special providences which passed over them, authorized a special song. We must follow their examples, or be destitute of appropriate matter of praise." Thus they declaim, and they call it argument. But will it bear examination? I submit the following remarks.

According to the spirit of this objection, as every new favour demands a new song, a psalm, whether of divine or human composition, can be only once appropriately used. This, however, our objecting friends do not act upon themselves; for they use the same hymn oftener than once; though no two circumstances be precisely the same. Consistency, on the principle of the exception, would lead to the preclusion of a psalm or hymn book altogether. Every day brings its new mercies, and of course should bring its new song. Nay, every individual has his special favours, and should produce his special hymn! But disorderly as Zion now is, still more disorderly would her assemblies be, were our brethren consistent with themselves.

The objectors should prove that such expressions of devout sensibility, as those of Zacharias, Mary, &c., were intended to be introduced as models, according to which our New Testament Zion should, in future times, be supplied with sacred songs. This has been said, and with confidence too; but it has not been proved. No person doubts that gratitude is due on the reception of divine mercies, or that this devout feeling should be suitably expressed; but certainly this proves nothing for a human system, or collection of songs in our public praise. Again, observe that

Those who composed the public songs of Zion were not only inspired, but also were under the special influence of the Spirit of inspiration, in that service. Their compositions were, accordingly, not only embodied with the sacred Scriptures, but were also distinctly collected into a book of Psalms. When our brethren shall have substantiated their claims to similar qualifications and appointments, it will be soon enough for us to confess the legitimacy of their productions to a place beside, or above the scripture songs. I demand a proof from the word of God, that, with divine approbation, a hymn of human composition was, under any dispensation of grace, admitted into the Psalmody of the church. Let the friends of innovation establish this, or tell us how they will free themselves from the charge of being advocates of will-worship. Again, it is thus objected:

"The Scripture Psalms are abrogated: they were adapted to the ceremonial rites, and so intimately connected with, and founded on them, that they have no being beyond the ceremonial institutions themselves. The fact, that the Old Testament church had a form of Psalmody adapted to her state, proves that we should have one suitable to the condition of the New Testament dispensation."

This objection, as Dr. Ridgely shows us in his System of Divinity, sets aside the reading of the book of Psalms in our day; for if it be unfit for us to sing it, it is no less so to read it. There is no essential difference between the dispositions of mind requisite to reading and singing. The same ends are, substantially, to be sought by one and the other. Nay, every part of Scripture, whether of Old or New Testament, that alludes to the peculiar forms of Israelitish worship, must be expunged as unprofitable. Jesus as the Lamb of God, and as the bread of life ; Christ as our passover, sacrificed for us; as our High Priest, having entered within the vail; and the representation of our devotions, as living sacrifices offered to God, must all be blotted out; because between them and ancient rites there is a connexion; or because they allude to modes that formally are practised no more. Whatever havoc this would make in the Book of God, it would be consistent with the spirit of the objection.[14]

It would not be improper to inquire what was the connexion between these sacred songs and the Mosaic rites, and what is the relation between the New Testament representations of the whole system of grace, and the authorized practices of the Jewish church. The result of such inquiry would show that the worship of that church contemplated the ETERNAL DEITY as the object of devotion; a Mediator, as making atonement for sin, the way of approaching this object; the piety of the heart, expressed in forms divinely prescribed, the only acceptable service; and that to those forms the scripture songs refer, chiefly, as the means of exhibiting these fundamental principles of real godliness. These are the great principles presented to man, in the writings of the New Testament; and, between their description in the one Testament, and delineation in the other, there exists a remarkable correspondence. They are two blazes of moral splendour combined, shedding their united beams on the extended system of grace, which could not be so fairly and impressively seen in the light of any one of them, should the other be extinguished. The plan of grace is one. Both Testaments embrace the same great principles of religion; the Old, as well as the New, testifies of Jesus.[15] It was of the Writings of Moses and the prophets he spoke, when he said, Search the Scriptures—they testify of me. How deeply must we deplore that any disciple of the Saviour should attempt to invalidate this testimony, or extinguish this light! Can you, ye friends of the Redeemer, devise no better way to serve your Lord? what but an insupportable cause could require such reasoning as this: "The church of God, in former times, had a system of Psalmody given by divine inspiration, adapted to her circumstances; but it is necessary that we should have a system of songs, adapted to the present circumstances of the church; therefore—what?—every poet has a right to make uninspired hymns for the use of the church!" This is really the argument; but who perceives not that it is a bad one? The premises do not authorize the conclusion.

The truth is, the Old Testament Psalms are perfectly suitable to our dispensation. God and his perfections are the same—in correspondence with which there is a permanence in the character and attributes of the saint, which lays a foundation for a stated system of Psalmody; the graces and exercises of the saint are substantially the same at all times; the description and expression of these, by the Spirit of God, we prefer to the paintings of uninspired men. If unsuitable, what pity that neither Jesus nor his apostles, at any time, gave the most distant hint of this fact; nor did they, so far as we know, attempt to supply the defect. Again, it is affirmed that

"We cannot sing these Psalms without contradiction and falsehood; for they describe not our case. We cannot sing in truth that we will offer burnt offerings; nor call upon one another, in our song, to employ the harp and the cymbal; while such offerings are not to be made, and such instruments not to be employed.—What have we to do with the deliverances of Israel, the victories of David, and the worship at Jerusalem?"

Verily this objection, like the rest, makes sweeping work. Have the objectors forgotten that ALL scripture is profitable? But the whole of the above argument is exceptionable; because, as has been shown, we may sing of what is not precisely our own case, otherwise all congregated singing must cease. In an assembly of a thousand persons, how many of that thousand are in circumstances, internal and external, exactly the same?—Comparatively few. What does the argument lead to in such a case? That every one must bring a psalm and a doctrine suitable, as he supposes, to his own case. Then, indeed, we would find a practice corresponding with the sentiments of our objecting brethren; but, at the same time, a practice condemned by apostolic rebuke—"How is it then, brethren, when ye come together, every one of you hath a psalm?" For our instruction we may sing the experience of others, though that be not precisely our own. Thus the congregation of Israel sung the deliverance of their fathers, and the experience of their inspired Psalmists, in ages after the existence of those events. In the spirit of modern objection it might have been impertinently inquired of our Lord, in the days of his sorrow, and those too with whom he united in the solemnities of worship, what they had to do with the victories of David, the deliverance from Egypt, the division of the sea, and the movements of the mountains. Messiah, however, united in those songs; in singing them he did not suspect any ground for charging him with uttering a falsehood to his God, or practising a contradiction. The sentiments of the objection are inadmissible,

Because they destroy correct views of the church of God, and tend to contract the hearts of her members. The church of Jesus is ONE ancient and extended association. She is an immortal moral person. Every friend of God, no matter how remote the age in which he lived, is confessed a member of this illustrious society. Every dispensation of goodness, every act of mercy to the humblest of her members, she recollects with gratitude. The victories they achieved, the blessings they obtained, the consolations bestowed upon them, and the means of their acquisition, she loves to recount, and, with pious emotion, blesses her God, in the use of those inspired songs in which they are recorded. Let the bigot, and the cold-blooded votary of selfishness, contract their views, and narrow their hearts to the little circles in which they move; but let no generous son of Zion act such an ungrateful part. The religion of his Bible is equally favourable to enlargement of intellect, and expansion of affection. Let him understand it well; and the sympathies of his heart will beat in unison with the joys and sorrows of the saint, whether he find him in the Arabian desert, on the sacred mountains of Israel, or under the willows by the rivers of Babylon. In the providences of former times, he will recognise a bearing on the existence, the faith, the consolations, the hopes and the practice of the church, in succeeding days; and, passing strange would it be indeed, if, in such a case, his heart should remain unmoved, and his lips be sealed in silence. And in what language would his heart desire to express its sensibilities, but in that of the Holy Ghost?

But the objection is unfounded: for the dispensations to the church, in the days of old, were the dispensation of Messiah. He who ascended on high, after his humiliation, was at Mount Sinai before it.[16] He it was who is characterized as the Angel of Jehovah’s presence that saved, redeemed, bare, and carried them all the days of old.[17] From the fall of man, the Son of God, as Mediator, has been the actual administrator of divine providence. His hand is visible in all that concerned, or does concern, his church. Though we do not bring, literally, a burnt-offering from the fold, or from the stall, yet we may, and surely ought to bring before God, a fervent zeal, and an ardent love; and in the exercise of an unfeigned faith, every believer really brings before his God the blood of that ineffably valuable victim, to which the devout worshipper was referred, by the sacrificial rites of Moses; and without reliance on which, he did not hope for acceptance. Since faith was first found on earth, these evangelical sentiments were well understood; hence God inquired, "Will I eat the flesh of bulls, or drink the blood of goats?" He taught his people that he would not "be pleased with thousands of rams, nor with ten thousand rivers of oil." Thus instructed, the penitent prophet could, while pouring forth the tears of grief, sing, "Thou delightest not in burnt-offering," as any atonement for sin. Could the Israelite, without falsehood and contradiction, sing these, and similar lines to God? With as easy an exposition, and as true an accommodation, can we sing that we will come into his house, and bring an offering with us.[18]

The cause, indeed, must be very bad, where determined advocates cannot find something to say. That what has no great plausibility, will often succeed in persuading a previously inclined mind, has been long remarked; and the remark will probably find an illustration in the remaining arguments, which I shall briefly review.

The typical rite of the Levitical economy was, by divine appointment, connected with the anti-type. The same vital truth, or religious principle, belongs to both; in the one in embryo, in the other developed. The type embodied the principle, and the record of the type, or a reference to it, directs the Christian mind to the religious principle which is common to the type and the anti-type. The light of the anti-type shining on the type causes it to be better understood than it could be without it. The type, too, has its light. The subject on which the lights of both the Old and New Testaments concentrate, must of necessity be more clearly seen than it would be in that of either in a state of separation. No science could advance or maintain its acquisitions did it not carry along its elementary principles. Thus it is in the life of the Christian and of the church, in their spiritual progress and acquisitions. The typical element and its anti-typical development cannot be separated. The vital religious principle that pervades, and is common to both, is that of which the soul takes hold, and with which it has to do. The book of Psalms is not typical, though it names and refers to the rites of a typical economy, as it does to the anti-types of the new dispensation. It is the sacred principle common to both that constitutes the life of its inspired songs.[19] To fix the mind and heart upon this religious principle is the aim of those who use this book in their Psalmody. Here the Old Testament saint and the New Testament worshipper meet upon a common ground, and in sweet communion. This view of the subject, with a levity, which it is hoped time—rather the grace of God—has corrected—the writer of "Strictures on the Apology," pronounced absurd, and more than intimated, that on that principle, that is, looking beyond the mere literal expression—the odes of a heathen poet, in praise of a heathen god, might as easily be turned into spiritual songs or be spiritually understood, as the typical references found in some of Zion’s inspired songs. That for Apollo, we could understand Christ; and by wine, mean religious joy! His own language is—"Dr. Watts thought that the moral odes of Horace might be altered, so as to make good spiritual songs; but Mr.——might very well sing them as they are: he could easily understand Apollo to mean Christ, and wine to be spiritual joy," p. 37. This admits of no remark, unless we should say that it is a part of the instrumentality by which so many are persuaded that, in the Psalmody of the church, a miserable imitation of a portion of the book of Psalms, is preferable to a full and faithful version of the book itself.

It is asked, "Since we, in prayer, employ our own compositions, why not do the same in our songs of praise?" I reply: Because the cases are not similar. Prayer and praise are distinct ordinances. There is not the same necessity for a liturgy of prayer, that there is for a system of sacred songs: we can have social prayer without a prescribed form, but not social singing of praise. Again, God has not seen meet to appoint, at any time, for the stated use of his church, a book of prayers; but he has given an inspired book of .Psalms, and Hymns, and Spiritual Songs. And, lastly, observe, that the Lord has promised his Spirit, as the Spirit of supplications, to help the infirmities of his sanctified ones, who neither know how to pray, nor for what to pray, as they ought; but on the page of inspiration there is no promise of aid from his Spirit, in the composition of a book of hymns, for the public service of his church. This seems to intimate, that to such a work he proposed not to call any of her sons.

Psalmody is an institution, like every other divine ordinance, agreeing with others in points, many but specifically distinguished from all others by something peculiar to itself. What then is specifically distinctive in Psalmody? Certainly not the object addressed, nor the religious state of the worshipper; neither is it the general spirit of religious worship. Among others we notice the following things: The musical ordering of the voice, to give melodious expression to the highly elevated affections of a sanctified heart, led on by a spiritual understanding illuminated by the truth of God, belongs to Psalmody. In prayer the form is a simple articulation, or, if individual, a mental address is all that is required; while the understanding, the affections, and circumstances of the supplicant, suggest the thought and the language to be employed. The intention of prayer is to bring our own and the case of others, as far as known, before the Almighty in direct expression of confession or supplication. In this the condition of our own hearts, under existing circumstances at the time, is to be laid open without reserve before the throne of mercy. God has not provided for us a liturgy of prayer, for it is not necessary; but he has given a general pattern, and in the doctrines, the promises, the commands, the institutes of the :Bible, and in the relative circumstances around us, he has furnished material for supplication; and withal he sends his Spirit, as the Spirit of grace, to direct in the whole duty, supplying that blessed influence which leads the soul to appropriate matter, and fit expressions, and which gives the intensity of heart requisite in this part of religious devotion. In all this our own hearts have occasion for the expression of all that is in and pertains to them. In Psalmody, too, the heart is engaged, but under another aspect. Its design is more general, and, as to matter, more exterior to the soul, and it contemplates, directly, what is of more import than the esoterics of the heart—the manifestations of Jehovah’s character, whether made in creation at large, in general providence, in his word, or in his more special acts of justice, truth, mercy, or love. In the subject of Psalmody may be found the matter of prayer; but specifically, as Psalmody, it is not prayer. In the former it is praise, melodiously expressed. We do not sing our prayers. The matter of our song becomes the matter or the occasion of our praise. In this God has not given to every one of us, as in the case of prayer, the promised aid of his Spirit, to make a new hymn, or hymn book; but he has furnished for our use the liturgy of sacred song dictated by his own Spirit. This was indispensably requisite. The nature of the church’s stated Psalmody is permanent,—prayer is more transient. In prayer the language used is prompted by the inward workings of the soul, under the influence of the grace of the Spirit; but in Psalmody, the language and the thought of the song, which are exterior things to the soul, is intended to awaken the devotional sentiment of the heart, and to lead the mind in the solemn exercise; and for this purpose the church’s blessed Head has given us the Book of sacred songs, inspired by the Holy Ghost; and with an energy unknown in the productions of uninspired men, infallibly unfolds the glories of the Godhead, as drawn in the divine plans, and indicated in the execution of those plans, in the works of creation, providence, and redemption. In Zion’s inspired hymns—her spiritual songs—there is no grace, no holy disposition of the saint, passed over in silence, no sorrow of a godly sort but is delineated, no fibre of celestial joy that is not finely touched; nor is there a revealed attribute of the Divinity that remains unsung in those odes of heavenly origin. Precisely what a liturgy of Psalmody ought to be. Permanent, because God whom it contemplates and addresses, is immutable; but prayer while addressed to the unchangeable God, is immediately conversant about the mutable condition and heart of man. Prayer and Psalmody are not the same. Provision for them is accordingly made.

The supposed obscurity of the Book of Psalms is alleged as a reason for the preference of the modern hymn book. In this argument there is undoubtedly some truth; yet it proves but little. The hymn book of the modern poet, however swelled it may be, has infinitely less meaning than the book of Psalms; it requires less intellect and industry to enter into its spirit; less acquaintance with the truths, providence, and grace of God, to understand it; and much less perfection to come up to its demands, than do the songs of inspiration. But this argument goes much too far. Whatever force it has in setting aside the book of Psalms, from its specific use, will operate no less powerfully against the whole Bible. One of our modern evangelizers might, perhaps, be found capable of furnishing the world with a system of divinity, theoretical and practical, much more easily understood than the writings of the Old and New Testaments; and, probably, by employing an ambiguous phraseology, and "a charitable latitude" of meaning, there might be little, if any thing, found in it contrary to the word of truth. What would be thought of substituting such a system in place of the Bible? This would, as in the case of the book of Psalms, supersede all the labours of exposition. Mr. Freeman [20] disapproves of lecturing upon an inspired Psalm, in order to sing it with understanding. He prefers those "psalms which carry the explication in themselves." "This explication is given," he says, "in the version (Imitation?) of Dr. Watts." If, then, an imitation of the Bible, of more easy comprehension than the Bible itself, can be found, why not adopt it in place of that mysterious and inspired book? If the above reason has any weight, it would lead the man who consistently pursues it, to the result now stated.[21]

We know, indeed, that our brethren who use and vindicate the use of the Imitation of the Psalms, and other hymns, would shrink from such a conclusion. Why, then, do they embrace premises from which that conclusion would necessarily flow? I am indeed afraid, that the fact on which this objection is founded, ignorance of the Bible, has a very extensive influence in the banishment of inspired odes from the Psalmody of the church. And, like most expedients, we may be pretty certain, that instead of remedying, the preference of an imitation, will increase the evil. Books, whose scope is to conduct their reader to the lively oracles of truth, may be useful; but those intended to supersede the appointed use of any portion of the word of God, must be of dangerous tendency.[22]

We have just turned from an argument, pleading the ignorance of New Testament worshippers, as a reason for setting aside the book of Psalms as the matter of the church’s song; we now meet another of an opposite cast. "Christian attainments, it seems, are of an order too high to be suited with the sober compositions of inspired men." How vain is man! How easily the soothing accents of flattery induce to self-deception! Tell us, ye trumpeters of your own graces, what are those attainments, and those exercises of grace, which the Spirit of your Redeemer has not described with infallible accuracy in the book of God?—yea, even in the book of Psalms? Till you find some not there described, we beg you to excuse a few of your fellow pilgrims in the journey of life, if they suspect your boasted acquisitions to be the illusions of the twilight of a partially instructed mind. We cannot highly admire that humility, which induced the author of the Imitation of the Psalms to set himself before all the prophets of the Israelitish church, [23] as to qualifications, for furnishing us with a system of evangelical psalms. To remedy such exhibitions of self-complacency, a more intimate acquaintance with the spirit which breathes in the scripture songs, may with confidence be recommended.

As an argument for human compositions in our Psalmody, we find it further urged, that "Old Testament songs are defective, and that the New Testament forms are few." If the poetic compositions of the New Testament be very limited, instead of taking the fact as an argument to justify the practice contended for, I would rather understand it as an admonition to us, to confine ourselves to those portions of the book of God, that, from their structure, evidently appear intended for the purpose of Psalmody. If he who has the residue of the Spirit, enlarged not the number of our sacred hymns, when finishing the canon of revelation, and settling, finally, the constitution of his church, we should proceed to the task with cautious steps. We should have his command. Let us, then, turn to the holy volume; and, before we fill his sanctuary with our own effusions, let the stores of inspiration be exhausted.

But, again, it is contended, that "The imitation, and the hymns of modern date, are better calculated to arouse, to warm, and elevate the affections, than are the productions of inspiration." So I know it has been said, and no doubt thought; but it is only hypothesis, or something worse; and by what evidence is the hypothesis supported? Affections may be awakened, and the passions thrown into tumult, where no piety exists. About religion there may be much elevation of heart, and yet no genuine devotion. Inattention to this fact has proved as auspicious to the progress of a raging enthusiasm, as it has been unpropitious to the cause of the religion of the Bible. That the lighter principles of our constitution may be more readily excited, and animal feeling more easily cast into commotion, by the flippant verbiage of man, than by the more deep and solemn delineations of the Holy Ghost, is not hard of belief. So Augustine informs us, that "the Donatists inflamed their minds with human compositions, and reproached the orthodox for singing, with sobriety, the divine songs of the prophets."—The character of that warmth which is produced by the words of man, rather than from the appointed use of those of God, is a just object of suspicion, and its consequences of dread. "Behold, all ye that kindle a fire, that compass yourselves about with sparks; walk in the light of your fire, and in the sparks that ye have kindled. This shall ye have of mine hand, ye shall lie down in sorrow."[24]

If an elevated devotion consist in an exercise of heart corresponding to the glories of the divine character, as these are displayed in the face of Jesus, and to our relation to him, as saved sinners, it may very reasonably be questioned, whether the productions of human ingenuity be better adapted to it than the words of God. Conjecture is no more admissible in true religion, than in genuine science; and, when admitted, is no less pernicious in the former, than it is injurious to tho latter.

Much has been ascribed to the influence of pious hymns, of human composition, in the religious movements of our days. But before any valid conclusion can be drawn from this, in their favour, two points must previously be settled: The first is, the character of these movements. Should what is most prominent in these excitements be of doubtful character, or, perhaps, condemnable at the bar of inspired truth, little commendation would be due to that influence by which they are effected. The next point to be ascertained, is, supposing the character of these movements sustained, as really gracious, was this character derived from the use of those hymns? Or did it proceed from the use of other means, divinely appointed, to effect a work of grace? Until the friends of modern hymn books shall have satisfactorily settled these inquiries, which are certainly fair ones, others will hold themselves excused in not giving that credit to the hypothesis—for it is no more than hypothesis—which its advocates claim.

It is most notorious, that those excitements called revivals of religion, which make the greatest noise, are effected where the most pernicious errors are habitually taught. That these, and modern hymns, have a great share in the production of those noisy but short-lived agitations, need not be doubted. Israel’s worship of the golden calf was marked by a greater excitement than the usual and approved worship of Jehovah. A visit to those favoured districts of revival, a few months after a magazine description, or ecclesiastical report has been given of the multitudes converted, would cast a shade of doubt, generally, on those fine narratives. And the man who considers that the embracing of truth, turning to God through a crucified and exalted Saviour, and living a life of practical godliness, are the best proofs of real conversion, wishes, sincerely, that things were published as they really are, and that our country furnished one journal, which would venture to tell all the truth.

The idea that the songs of inspiration are inadequate to the elevation of modern devotion, demands another remark. When we look to the Christian heroes of the Reformation; when we review the intellectual pre-eminence of those champions for truth, who flourished in the 16th and 17th centuries;—when we consider the ardour of their piety, and the fervour of their enlightened zeal; the firmness of their character, and the magnitude of their achievements; and compare with these the frivolity, the indifference to truth, the thoughtless rage for innovation, that characterized the ecclesiastics of the eighteenth century,—the comparison is as humbling to the character of the latter, as it is honourable to the former. Yet among those highly favoured men of God, whose devotion was of the loftiest kind, and whose deeds of valour, in the cause of God and man, are immortal;—whose experience in the life of godliness was deep and substantial, while their dangers were great and their sufferings extreme;—among the thousands of those martyrs, divinely ennobled as they were, not one was found to imagine, that the inspired Psalms were of a character too flat for his piety, unsuitable to a gospel day, or unfit for the various conditions of the Christian life. Such imaginations were unknown in those days, when God was seen among men, dispensing, in measures unusually large, the gifts of his Spirit. Complaints of the obscurity of the inspired page were left to exercise the blinded votaries of the Romish church; and, to regret their flatness, was a suitable employment for the raving devotees of John of Leyden. Robert Barclay, Isaac Watts, John Wesley, and their devotees, engaged in the same unholy work. Can the blessing of Heaven rest on such a course? Hear the opinion of the evangelical Romaine. "Experience," says he, "demonstrates, that God does bless the singing of Psalms in the church, and does not bless the singing of men’s hymns.—You may bring your poems into the church, and may be vastly delighted with performing them: so is the vainest creature at the opera. The pleasure, in both cases, arises from the same cause.—But there can be no more spiritual edification in the one than in the other; because neither of them is the ordinance of God."[25]

It is again contended, that "The poetic compositions in general use, particularly those of Dr. Watts, are more elegant in diction, and in sentiment more evangelical, than is any literal version of the Bible Psalms; and therefore demand a preference." Into the literary merits of these compositions, it is at present beside my design to inquire. Should all that is claimed for the orthodoxy of their sentiments, the correctness of their figures, and the elegance of their diction, be admitted, still they are but the productions of human ingenuity. They are not even imperfect versions; the best of them rise no higher than partial imitations. Whatever prettiness may belong to them, I must prefer the words of inspiration, even in a version of the humblest pretensions.

But this supposed excellence belongs not to the compositions of Dr. Watts. The fact, that so much labour has been employed upon the Imitation of the Psalms, proves the force of the conviction, that it was imperfect. This imperfection extended to the sentiment as well as to the phraseology.[26]

The idea of these compositions being of a character more evangelical than a literal version of an inspired Psalm, shall now claim no further notice. To hear the assertion from the reputed friends of the Bible, is an omen of no good.

With full as much confidence as candour, it is asserted that Dr. Watts had as good a right to make, or translate psalms, as Mr. Rouse. The equality of the right is not denied; but the assertion is calculated to deceive the unthinking. It assumes the fact, that the production of Watts is a version, which is not true. It was designed as a substitute for every fair translation; and one of its excellencies is said to be its remoteness from the original. That called Rouse’s paraphrase, is intended as, and really is, a fair version; though not so perfect as to preclude improvement. Let it, however, be kept in mind, that a greater departure from the thought and language of the Holy Ghost, would constitute no part of this improvement. It must be again repeated, that the contest is not between version and version; but between translation and imitation; between inspired songs and those of human composition. The assertion of the disputer is this: Dr. Watts had as good a right to imitate the book of Psalms, as Mr. Rouse had to translate it; and we have the same right to employ, in the worship of God, the imitation, that others have to use the translation. The argument is of the same species as this: The British divines, in the reign of James I. made a version of the Bible; therefore, Ethan Allen had as good a right to make HIS Bible; and those who choose it, have as good a right to employ it, as others have to use the translation, for the rule of their faith and manners! The value of the argument, thus applied, every Christian can appreciate.

Upon the declaration, so frequently made, that Dr. Watts had as good a right to furnish us with a book of Psalms, as had the inspired prophet David, I make no additional remarks. The causes which have led to such an assertion must be deplored, and the consequences must be feared. The existence of such a sentiment among professors at this day, is sufficient to justify the present attempt to turn your attention to the subject. Let the members of every church he told, let them be made to understand, that no production of the human mind, however high its rank, can compare with any page of the inspired volume.

There is one objection which, were it not so frequently adduced, for the sake of the objectors I would willingly conceal—It is substantially expressed by Dr. W. "Some Psalms are so full of cursings, that they hardly become the tongue of a follower of the blessed Jesus!!!"

The objectors certainly forget, that these Psalms were given by the inspiration of the Holy Ghost. Those usually specified as objectionable, are expressly quoted by the apostle Peter, as the words of the divine Spirit.[27] May not then a follower of the blessed Saviour use those words which the Holy Spirit of that Saviour has dictated for his instruction?—Might it not be well for the objectors to pause, and consider whether such language as they employ, approaches not towards a blaspheming of that Spirit, who, through the instrumentality of his Word, sanctifies the soul? But this objection proceeds from a false view of the Divine character. God is just as well as merciful; and he instructs his church to "sing both of mercy and judgment."[28][29]

Psal. 2:9. "This view of the Messiah as a destroyer is in perfect keeping with the New Testament doctrine, that those who reject Christ will incur an aggravated doom, and that Christ himself is in some sense the destroyer of those who will not let him be their Saviour, Luke 19:27."—Psal. 35:5. "The Psalmist desires the destruction of those sinners precisely as God wills it; nor is it any harder to reconcile such wishes with the highest degree of human goodness than it is to reconcile the certain fact that God allows some men to perish with his infinite benevolence." Psal. 19:22. "The general doctrine of providential retribution, far from being confined to the Old Testament, is distinctly taught in every one of our Saviour’s parables, Matt. 21:41; 22:7; 24:51."[30]

Listen to another distinguished minister who, in the discharge of his public trust, administered a scathing rebuke to the irreverent and demoralizing declarations of those who reproached the book of Psalms, as unevangelical in character. This is his language: "He is not a Christian who does not possess the same spirit these Psalms express. So far is it from being opposed to the spirit of the gospel, that we are willing to give those Psalms their broadest meaning, despising the shrinking interpretation of those who would make them mere predictions. If they are fit for God to utter and execute, they are fit for man to use in prayer, and in view of their execution, or when executed, to sing in praise:"—one who, though dead, thus continues to speak, and who, while living, never spoke to an inattentive audience. And another minister of justly high reputation in the Presbyterian church, being asked—"May all the songs in the book of Psalms be sung in the worship of God?" replied in the affirmative; and, in his own impressive manner, added—"The fastidiousness of ignorance alone can doubt it."

These mistaken views of Dr. Watts, as to tho character of the book of Psalms, greatly contributed to the relaxation of a sense of the claims of righteousness on the public mind. The authority of law and demands of right, were made to yield to a spurious cry of an ill-defined benevolence. Private revenge, which is wrong, became confounded with public justice, which is right.

Another objection: "The name of Christ, it is alleged, is not found in the book of Psalms. The name of the blessed Jesus ought to be in our psalm book." That the blessed Redeemer should have in our Psalmody a prominent place is admitted by all. And has he not a commanding place in the book of Psalms? Is it true that the NAME of Christ, literally, is not there? Is not Messiah found in the original, and in our version—The Anointed? Do we not find in various forms of expression—"The Saviour God?" "God of salvation?" etc. Turn them into Greek, and we shall then literally have Christ, and Jesus God. We bow at the NAME of Jesus, but we know no evangelical charm in mere Greek sounds, whatever they may have of literary fascination to the educated ear. We are unwilling to identify the spirit of the objector and of his objection, with that of the superstition which always bows at the name of Jesus, while knowing little of, and caring as little for, the glorious Person and character of the Anointed Saviour. But to meet the objection: It is not true that these names of the divine Redeemer are not in the book of Psalms. Will the objector venture to say, that Christ is not in the Psalms of inspiration?—that they are Christless Psalms! If not, then is not the objection a trifling play on words, not becoming the good man, when treating a serious subject? Or is it so that the church—at least the whole Presbyterian church,—till a very late day, had nothing but a Christless Psalmody?—That those hundreds, or thousands of churches in Europe and America, who use the scripture songs, have nothing but a Christless Psalmody? This will not in so many words be said; and yet if the objection has any meaning, such is its import, But Christ Jesus is in those sacred compositions—his NAME, his character—is there delineated. There the pious worshipper finds him, confides in him, and celebrates his praise. May it not be hoped that the excellent translation and notes of Professor Alexander will soon silence in the church, and in the country, the ill-advised language and unhappy thought of the objector?[31]

But to notice every cavil would be endless, as it would be useless. Collateral subjects of disputation I purposely avoid, that the main one may, as much as possible, be brought unembarrassed and fairly before my reader. How far I have succeeded in a lucid statement of my subject, shall be left to others to decide. I can only say, that I intended well. But whatever may be thought of me or my work, I am not without confidence, that a scriptural Psalmody shall ultimately prevail. Public opinion is fluctuating; and mere party spirit will, in time, yield to the dictates of divine authority. The period is coming when men will believe, with an elegant writer of the last age, that "when mortals converse with their Creator, they cannot do it in so proper a style as in that of the Holy Scriptures."[32] The ascendency of the Bible, at this day, gives ground of assurance, that we have not to look through the vista of ages, to see its triumph completed. Its triumph is at hand. Yet I am not insensible of the points from which opposition to a reform may be expected. Where men of high standing have pledged themselves, the usual share of intelligence and integrity that falls to the citizens of Zion, is not always sufficient to induce a retraction of incorrect sentiment, and a retracing of their devious steps. The habit, too, formed by the prevailing practice of several generations is not easily changed. Ill-defined views and floating ideas upon the general subject, and an unsettled judgment as to the preferable form of a better course, have their influence in retarding a desirable change.

Still I am not without hope, that among those who now employ an imitation of sacred songs, instead of the inspired odes themselves, many, rising above the little spirit of faction, and asserting an independency of party names, will lift the voice in a testimony against the reproach attempted to be cast on the book of Psalms. Such will bear in mind, that the contest is not for Old Testament in preference to New Testament doctrine and language. They will recognise the impression of the Holy Ghost upon the language and doctrine of both the Testaments; and they will prefer that which God hath given, to any thing that man would substitute in its place. A moment’s thought will show them, that the book of Psalms is "the Bible in miniature;" precisely what an evangelical Psalm book should be, that is, a compressed exhibition of Jehovah’s character, grace, and providence; of man’s state, experience and prospects. They will not be amused by the idle talk of some scripture songs being incapable of personal application to the precise case of the individual; for they are taught by that Spirit, who is their Sanctifier and Comforter, that "all Scripture is profitable for instruction." This instruction in righteousness they can derive from inspired delineations of the perfections, works, and grace of God; and from similar descriptions of the experience of the elder children of their heavenly Father, who have travelled before them the paths of sorrow, of holy joy, and of life. To them, after all the specious declamation, which has no bearing on it, shall have been heard, the question will still recur: Whether are more excellent, those sacred "psalms, and hymns, and spiritual songs," recommended by their inspiration, and by the experience of the children of grace, in every age; or those necessarily defective effusions, which can claim no higher origin than the ingenuity of man? This is, indeed, the question. May I not hope that it will receive a candid consideration?

This hope is encouraged by the very general persuasion of intelligent and serious Christians, who think of it, that the Psalmody of the church is, practically, in a very wretched state; and by the extent of the dissatisfaction with its material, as evinced in the repeated attempts to make it better, and the ill success of those attempts. When it is considered that the most orthodox and able portion of those who use the Imitation, instead of inspired songs, in Psalmody, have given it but a quasi sanction, their relation to that innovation will not appear to be well established. We have already seen that, in the Presbyterian church, it crept into use by a species of stealth—by a mere tolerance, without any thing deserving the name of ecclesiastical inquiry or authoritative judicative decision—and this introduction did not originate from a radical Presbyterian root. Present popularity does not give security for its permanence. "The Plan of Union" had its day of popularity in the Presbyterian church, equal to that of the Imitation of the Psalms; but when found to be unpresbyterian it was repudiated. So will the other be repudiated, as soon as that department of the church shall be brought to see the subject in its nature, bearing, and results.

Before closing these remarks we embrace the opportunity of offering a brief word in reply to the inquiry:—How shall the evil complained of be remedied? The inquiry is reasonable; and to it our response is:—

1. In a faithful version, and with as much elegance as is possible, consistent with fidelity, in prose to be chanted; or in metrical language—tasteful poetry—to be otherwise sung, restore, in its entireness, to the Psalmody of the church, the book of Psalms.

2. If the church authorize it, collect from the books of inspiration at large, a volume or volumes, of inspired poetic matter, in prose or verse, leaving her ministers and people to use, or not to use, at pleasure, such collection or collections.

3. When the sources of inspired poetry are exhausted, if any enlightened and sanctified minds wish for more, which is not probable, let the church, duly impressed with the solemnity of the inquiry, and with the hazard of the undertaking to meet that wish, in council endeavour to ascertain what it may, in the case, be necessary, safe, or advisable to do; and thus, by a common consent, settle the what and the how of the subject of inquiry.

The version of the Scripture Psalmody, like that of the entire Bible at large, ought not to be a party or a mere sectional affair. It is a matter of general interest, and as such should be viewed and treated.[33]

Desirable and important as an enlightened harmony on this subject may be deemed to be, and however confident we are of its ultimate attainment, the hope of its very immediate acquisition is not authorized by the character of this age. The activity of our time is, indeed, imposing, and in it there is much to praise; but the most conspicuous portion of it requires little of that self-denial which distinguishes true religion; and, alas! that charity whose pretensions are highest, rejoices but little in the truth. The semblance of love, the treacherous salutation, may betray the truth; and, without suspecting it, an ill-directed zeal, about something pertaining to religion, may, in its associations, recommend the most fatal error. And where is the man whose guards are so skilfully placed as to be out of danger from the enemy at every point? This consideration instructs us, not in a foolish self-gratulation, but in an humble vigilance.

While, therefore, we should guard against the impostures of that empty charity, whose gifts are so few; and not be deceived by that love of noisy pretensions, which never gives of its own; we should, with equal care, keep a watchful eye on that orthodoxy, and that zeal, which are separated from obedience to God, and good-will to man. There may be a cold-blooded orthodoxy of opinion, that has no alliance with the living truth of Jesus; and there may be a consuming zeal for names and forms, that sits enthroned in an unfeeling heart. That soundness of mind, and expansion of affection, which are the offspring of the transforming grace of God, are equidistant from each of these extremes. With this mind, and this affection, should the Christian enter the field of controversy. By these will he be saved from that tameness that disqualifies to vindicate, with becoming spirit, the cause of righteousness; and from that cruelty which betrays a callous heart.

That this safe and middle way has been undeviatingly pursued in these pages, the writer will not venture to affirm. Any deviations from it, however, which he may discover, will furnish matter of sincere regret; for his cause authorizes nothing but what combines all that is manly with whatever is divine. In this discussion, personal animosity can have no place: to the unkind emotions of our imperfect nature, there is no temptation. Whatever of frowning aspect may have appeared upon his page, is altogether on a public ground; and, it is believed, a style of remark still more severe than any employed, would have been justified by the sentiments which have passed in review. But asperity of remark, however well merited, can only be pleasant to the heartless censor: to recognise the worth of talent, to honour distinguished virtue, to rejoice in the testimonials of unaffected piety, wherever found, are employments much more congenial with the habitual temper of a well-constructed mind. In such exercises, it is hoped, we shall often find advantage united with pleasure. And although we must now contemplate our sky still darkened with thick clouds of lamentable mistakes; yet the morning of a brighter day, to the church of God, than she has long enjoyed, we hope, is about to dawn. May the rising glories of that long-wished-for day, speedily bless our world: then the promise shall be fully realized—"Thy watchmen shall lift up the voice; with the voice together shall they sing: for they shall see eye to eye, when the Lord shall bring again Zion."

With affectionate regard, dear Brethren,

I bid you farewell,

GILBERT M’MASTER.

[go to APPENDICES.]


Footnotes:


[1] Miller’s Letters.

[2] It is affirmed, that in Col. 3:16, and in the parallel scriptures, we have indubitable evidence of the divine right of psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, of human composition. The word of Christ, that is, according to a very lame exposition, the gospel, or writings of the New Testament, exclusively, must dwell in us richly, and that with a reference to our mutual improvement; which is effected by teaching one another, in the singing of psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs; which compositions not being found in the Old Testament, must be drawn from, and formed according to the doctrines of the gospel, found in the New Testament; for there alone, "the word of Christ," which is to constitute the great matter of these compositions, is to be found, being expressly distinguished by the apostle, in writing to the Hebrews, from all former revelations.[a]

To these assertions I make the following replies:—You will justify me in remarking, in the first place, that it is not true, that the "word of Christ," or the gospel, is confined, exclusively, to the writings of the New Testament. One who well understood what the gospel is, informs us, that it was preached unto Abraham;[b] and that to the Antediluvians the righteousness of faith, of which Noah was both an heir and a preacher, was made known. To them Christ by his Spirit preached in the day of forbearance, though now they occupy the place of imprisoned spirits.[c] If the Spirit of Christ preached to them, one would reasonably conclude, they enjoyed the revelation of the word of Christ. We are also certified, that the gospel was preached to the Israelites in the wilderness.—Unto us was the gospel preached as well as unto them.[d] How could these writers presume to assert, that "where the apostle writes immediately to the Jews themselves, he expressly distinguishes the word of Christ from all former revelations, made by Moses and the prophets,"—"distinguishes the gospel from all the revelations of the divine will, in the Old Testament,"—when that apostle informs those very people, and in that same epistle, that the gospel, in "the revelation of the divine will in the Old Testament," was preached to their fathers? May not a suspicion, without illiberality, exist, that men who write and talk at this rate, are novices in the knowledge of what the gospel is? But, in every age of the church, teachers have been found, understanding neither what they said, nor whereof they affirmed.

My second remark is this:—It is gratuitous to assert, that in the Old Testament scriptures, psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, are not to be found. Is not this a pitiful play on words? Does it become men of sense thus to write? (See a following note on this subject.)

My third remark is on the text, Col. 3:16.—It appears to be both misunderstood and misapplied. Duties highly important, and the manner of performing them, are enjoined. They are three: An intimate and extensive acquaintance with the doctrine of Christ: Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly—Wisely promoting each other’s edification: In all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another—Praising God, with proper dispositions of heart, in the use of psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs: In psalms, and hymns, and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your heart to the Lord. The celebration of the divine perfections, in suitable songs, wisely teaching and admonishing one another, are duties demanded by God; and that to discharge these duties aright, requires an extensive acquaintance with the inspired page, our apostle teaches, and the Christian readily acknowledges; but the scripture under consideration neither requires the members of the church to commence making hymns, nor authorizes the use of such, in the church, when made. Psalms, and hymns, and spiritual songs, are, indeed, to be sung; but these are found in this inspired Book. The attempt to justify the expulsion of the Book of Psalms, and the introduction of uninspired hymns, from these injunctions of the sacred writer, argues a remarkable obliquity of intellect, not excused, even by the unhappy punctuation of our version. I have said, unhappy punctuation; for "through bad pointing this verse is not very intelligible; the several members of it should be distinguished thus: Let the doctrine of Christ dwell richly among you; teaching and admonishing each other in all wisdom; singing, with grace in your hearts unto the Lord, in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. This arrangement the original will not only bear, but it absolutely requires it, and it is not sense without it."[e] Still, it must be seen, that no pointing, however bad, can give any countenance to a human, in preference to an inspired system of psalms. Whether the argument upon which I have animadverted, merits a better character than "gratuitous assumption," I leave to my reader to decide.

[3] Discourse on Psalmody, Pref. vi. vii.

[4] John 1:18.

[5] 2 Sam. 23:2.

[6] Acts 1:16.

[7] 1 Pet. 1:11.

[8] Larger Cat. Q. 43.

[9] Psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs.—Rarely has it been found, that writers have presumed more on the ignorance and credulity of their readers, than in the confidence with which it is assumed, that when the Scripture makes mention of hymns and spiritual songs, human compositions, and not those of divine inspiration, must be intended. These teachers should have shown, that among the songs of the Bible, none corresponding to the denomination of hymns, and spiritual songs, could be found. A more summary mode has been adopted; simple assertion, which, if not so satisfactory, is undoubtedly more easy.

Although, in the exposition of these terms, among reputable writers, there are some faint shades of difference, yet all unite in opposition to the idea, that a hymn, and spiritual song, must mean uninspired compositions. It may be gratifying to my reader to have the sentiments of a few characters, of literary reputation, on the subject.

Hear, in the first place, the sentiments of Calvin: "A psalm, (says he) is that species of composition, in the singing of which, a musical instrument besides the tongue was employed. Hymns are songs of praise, sung either with a voice elevated or low. Spiritual songs are such psalms as contain not only praises, but also exhortations, and other arguments."[f]

Mr. Brown, of Haddington, says, "When psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, are mentioned together, psalms may denote such as were sung on instruments; hymns such as contain only matter of praise; and spiritual songs, such as contain doctrines, history, and prophecy, for men’s instruction."[g]

Dr. Lowth observes, that "the Greek translators might very properly have given the title of HYMNS to the book of Psalms, as that word agrees much more exactly with the Hebrew title תהלים, TEHILLIM, than that which they have adopted."[h] As specimens of the idyllium, or hymn, of the Hebrew poetry, he selects Psalms 78, 104, 105, 106, 107, 136, and 139.—On the Hebrew word, שיר, SHIR, and the Greek word, ΩΔΗ, ODE, the Doctor also remarks: "Both these words have exactly the same power and signification." Ωδη, ODE, which we render by the word song, is that employed by the apostle, Col. 3:16. As specimens of the Hebrew ode, or song, he refers to Psalms 2, 3, 77, 91, 133, and others. In the תהלים, TEHILLIM, and שירים, SHIRIM, of the Hebrews, Dr. Lowth could readily find the hymn and song; though men of more noisy pretensions could discover neither the one nor the other.

Dr. Blair, when treating of the different denominations of odes, observes: "First, sacred odes; hymns addressed to God, or composed on religious subjects. Of this nature are the Psalms of David, which exhibit to us this species of lyric poetry in its highest degree of perfection."[i] Again, says he, "Asaph, Heman, and Jeduthun, were the chief directors of the music; and from the titles of some Psalms, it would appear that they were also eminent composers of hymns, or sacred poems."[j] He further says—"The sacred poetry is distinguished by the highest beauties of strong, concise, bold, and figurative expression." To disrelish its imagery is indeed "the effect of false delicacy."—"The style of the poetical books of the Old Testament is, beyond the style of all other poetical works, fervid, bold, and animated. It is the burst of inspiration. The whole book of Psalms is to be considered as a collection of sacred odes."[k]

May not the Hebrew distinction of the sacred songs, correspond with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs? תהלים, TEHILLIM, praises—the title of the book of Psalms, which, as Dr. Lowth observes, might be properly translated Hymns. מװמורים, MISMORIM, poems: "A poem is called in Hebrew, מזמור, MIZMOR, as Ps. 3:1.—It is thus called in reference to the verse and number." שירים, SHIRIM, songs, as Psalms 190, 121, &c. Here are Hebrew denominations of the sacred poetry, exactly corresponding to the hymns, poems, or psalms and songs, of the New Testament. Why they are designated spiritual, is easy to know from their contents. The subject matter is spiritual; the glory and works of God, the graces and exercises of the soul. But on this subject, among men of sense, whose minds are superior to the littleness of a trick, there is no dispute.

[10] Discourse on Psalmody, Pref. p. vii.

[11] Ps. 40:6,7,8; Heb. 10:5-9.

[12] Hear, on this subject, the language and doctrine of all the Presbyterian churches: "Religious worship is to be given to God, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost;—and, since the fall, not without a Mediator; nor in the mediation of any other, but of Christ alone."[l] Those who subscribe this "form of sound words" ought to understand it; and understanding it, they ought not to contradict it. The attempt to puzzle, for a moment, an opponent, will not justify us in teaching that there has been, for sinners, a way of access to God, beside Jesus Christ; and, more especially, when it is considered that such doctrine contradicts, in no very courtly manner, both the express word of God, and the symbol to which we have pledged our vow.

[13] Before I dismiss this subject, I would once more call the reader’s attention to this point, on which the advocates of our little hymn books expend no small portion of their zeal. It is thus expressed by Mr. Freeman; "There is no Psalm of David, in which we are directed to approach God in the duty of praise and thanksgiving, for the peculiar blessings of the gospel, in the name of Jesus Christ."[m] What are the peculiar blessings of the gospel? Are they not the redemption of the soul, a new heart, pardon of sin, communion with God, and assurance of a blessed immortality? He must indeed be very slightly acquainted with the book of Psalms, who cannot find these subjects in its pages. It may be worth while to ask some of our friends, who chime so frequently and so long on the words, "offering praise in the name of Christ," what they precisely intend by the expression. Is it that from a sense of our unworthiness, and out of gratitude to God for all his benefits, we approach his throne through the mediation of the Saviour: and viewing that Saviour, as placed at the head of the economy of salvation, out of regard to his authority, receive and observe his institutions; thus exercising, in all our deportment, an habitual reliance upon him for acceptance before the Father, as he sustains the claims of the Godhead? Views and exercises such as these, run through and constitute the spirit of the book of Psalms. Nothing less would be consistent with the system of grace; the Holy Ghost, who operated upon the hearts of the subjects of grace, and indited those spiritual songs, understood well the scheme of mercy; and on no other scheme could he direct them to God. But will it be contended that the express words and letters, constituting the sounds, in the name of Jesus, or, for Christ’s sake, are necessary to evangelical songs of praise? How many, I demand, of those imitations and hymns, which have succeeded in banishing the inspired Psalms because of this supposed defect, have supplied it? Count the number, and tell us how many; then atone for the quibble by at least a secret blush of generous shame.

[14] In his Cases of Conscience, Mr. Baxter proposes this question: "Is it lawful to use David’s Psalms in our assemblies?" He replies in the affirmative, and assigns four reasons for the assertion. He concludes by saying, "If it be lawful to sing psalms of our own, or our neighbour’s making, much more of God’s making, by his Spirit in his prophets." He then states the objection which has, with so little thought, been urged so often since: "They are not suitable to all our cases, nor to all the assembly."' To this he replies in three remarks, of such solidity as must be felt by every candid mind; and dismisses the subject in these words: "The sectarian objections against singing David’s Psalms are so frivolous that I will not tire the reader with any more." Mr. Baxter was no bigot; in some speculations he was indeed mistaken; but for truth he was a sufferer, and to its power, in the life of godliness, he was no stranger.

[15] John 5:39.

[16] Ps. 68:17,18; Eph. 4:8.

[17] Isa. 63:9.

[18] The truth is, no well-informed Christian ever felt his devotion embarrassed by such a phraseology. When intending to cavil or to cover a retreat, to offer such objections may serve a temporary purpose; but withal it is still below a man of sense, and much more unworthy a man of piety. Equally trivial is the exception, respecting the mention of the musical instruments of the temple worship. Though we do not employ the cymbal or the harp, in chanting our solemn song, the naming of them is neither impertinent nor vain. The ancient use of such instruments instructs us that, in celebrating the praises of God, we should call forth the voice of melody, as expressive of affections well attuned to the delightful exercise. And may not the Christian as consistently sing these portions of holy song, as the Jew did in his synagogue, where an instrument of music was not employed; or as the Israelite in his dwelling, who never owned an organ, and whose hand never touched the strings of a harp? And, at any rate, this objection comes with no very great degree of consistency, from our Presbyterian friends, who direct the music of their beloved hymns with the bass violin and German flute, or the organ. Nay, though they possess no harp, and recognise no altar, yet their imitation of the 43d Psalm teaches the worshipper to sing,

Before thine altar, Lord, 
My harp and song shall sound
The glories of thy word.

Comparatively few of the Psalms of inspiration speak in the typical language of the Old Testament institutions; and that language, in those few, by no means renders them obscure to the Christian, who is duly conversant with his Bible. The truth is, "the writers of the New Testament wrote in the idiom of the synagogue."[n] The phraseology is that of the Israelitish nation, clothed in Greek words. "The figure in the Psalms is that which is peculiar to the Hebrew language, in which the figure gives its meaning with as much perspicuity as the plainest speech."[o]

[19] See, on this subject, Fairbairn’s Typology.

[20] Discourse, p. 23.

[21] It is not well to say, that to sing a paraphrase is preferable to singing an inspired song, after making upon it an expository lecture. The lecturer or paraphrast, whether he communicates his exposition from the pulpit or the press, may err, may mistake the spirit of the text, may only communicate a part of its meaning; and at best can only profess to aid in understanding it. Is it not then better still to retain the text? It is uncorrupt, still retains its spirit and plenitude of meaning, and from it the saint will derive what no exposition can give. What is now said might be exemplified from every page of Watts’ Imitation. In former editions several examples were given of incorrectness and lameness in the Imitation. These are omitted at present, not because the criticisms are deemed unsound, but because they are not considered as essential to our argument. None will say that the Imitation is the book of Psalms—that it is scripture; and most who are competent to judge, were it not in the place where it is, would say, it is a poor thing; or in the strong language of a strong man, before quoted—it is a "miserable attempt."

[22] The writer of a very temperate and well written article in the Presbyterian Magazine for July, 1822, among several remarks, the propriety of which some might doubt, says much that is valuable. He regrets "the disrelish" into which the book of Psalms has fallen with many. In accounting for this, while he admits that with some and to some degree the want of a faithful version in a more tasteful style may have its effect, yet "it is not the chief reason." He sets this unhappy disrelish down to the account of ignorance and defect in Christian experience. Hearken to what he says: "The very excellence of the book of Psalms has—in this—its effect. Their depth of matter, their spirituality, their sublimity, their transcendent elevation of devotion, raise them above the comprehension, and above the standard of devotional feeling of ordinary Christians. It is a fact that Christians of deficient attainments often find themselves more edified in reading other books than the Bible, and really relish them more. But the higher Christians rise in gracious experience, the higher is their esteem for the pure word of God, until at length, every human production becomes insipid in comparison therewith. As it certainly can have no good effect to promote in the public mind, a preference of other books, to the Bible, so it is conceived there can no good effects arise from promoting in the public taste a preference of other compositions to the Psalms the Holy Spirit hath inspired."

The picture drawn by the excellent writer is far from flattering. There is reason to fear, however, that it is too true to the life. Whether in accommodation to the ignorance and defect of grace in the church, it be advisable statedly to give her and her children some more diluted thing than the living, and the life-giving, inspired truth of God, in place of it, we leave to our readers to decide.

[23] "Nor is the attempt (of making a new psalm book) vainglorious, or presuming; for, in respect of clear evangelic knowledge, the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than all the Jewish prophets."—Watts’ Pref. p. 6.

There is a sense in which the New Testament ministry is superior to that of the Old Testament;—that which to the one was matter of promise, is to the other matter of history, or of existing fact. Both the promise and the historical fact, contemplate the same objects. But was Dr. W. as well qualified to make a book of Psalms, as were David and other prophets? The Doctor has intimated that he was better qualified, and his friends agree with him; for they take his, and reject and vilify that of the others. We must nevertheless demur; because we know, that to supply a system of Psalms, David—and others—were inspired. We do not believe this of Dr. W. It requires the madness of this enthusiasm to go only a little farther, and we shall have the whole Old Testament rejected, in order to substitute the superior illusions of some modern illuminati.

[24] Isaiah 50:11.

[25] Works, vol. 8.

[26] We know, indeed, that to intimate this is unsafe, even in men of eminence. The character of the late Dr. Dwight, as a man of literature and taste, is deservedly high in our country; yet such was the strength of the torrent of public opinion amongst us, in favour of the Imitation, errors and all, that even the President of Yale College dared to correct only a part of these. Dr. Watts, he says, "was not distinguished as a correct writer." Thus, still the imperfections of the work are proclaimed.—These are not denied by such of its friends as are capable of judging in the case. Criticism is therefore precluded. Were these imperfections confined to style or composition, the matter would be of comparatively small importance; but they extend to the expression of erroneous sentiments, unwarrantable omissions, and change of subject; to derangement of inspired order, rejection of scriptural metaphors, as well as to violations of the canons of composition.

[27] Acts 1:16,20; Ps. 69:25; and 109:8.

[28] Ps. 101:1.

[29] God has threatened his and his people’s implacable enemies with ruin. This overthrow is a promise to his church; and every time she prays, Thy will be done, she really employs the language which is said to be unfit for a follower of the blessed Jesus. God’s Spirit never dictated, or approved of private personal vengeance; but he teaches to pray for the accomplishment of every promise, and to approve of the decisions of unwavering justice.

[30] J.A. Alexander, D.D., on the Psalms.

[31] In the Princeton "Repertory," for October, 1850, we find the following statement: "There are thousands of Presbyterian worshippers who to this very day content themselves with the rough, bald, and scarcely metrical prose of Rouse; and some, though their number is happily decreasing, who think it a sin against God to use any praises in his worship which contain the name of Jesus." This language of small ware men, we did not expect to find in this Journal. The tens of thousands of Presbyterians referred to, can form of it a proper estimate. Upon it we make no remark, but leave the truth, the spirit, and character of this hit or fling, or whatever it is, to the reflections of the writer, to yield him such amount of reputation and enjoyment as he may draw from it. The article in which it is found gives us an interesting compend of the history of the religious poetry of the Germans. The writer seems to regret that England and Scotland, instead of going in the German track of a multiplied hymnology, for 200 years satisfied themselves with plain and faithful versions of the book of Psalms, in their Psalmody. He speaks with approbation of the breaking in upon this uniformity by Watts, Wesley, and others, bringing us more near to the neighbourhood of the German practice. What has been the effect of this practice upon sound doctrine and religious character? Where are heresies found? Has orthodoxy its home with the great body of the German, the Watts, and the Wesley schools? Or does it continue peacefully to dwell in the abodes of the contemned Bible Psalmody? This history teaches a useful lesson; and, in a moment of better temper, this writer is capable of deducing from it the legitimate inference.

[32] Spectator, Vol. 6, No. 405.

[33] The committee on Psalmody, appointed by the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church of 1820, had in view a version of the book of Psalms, by selection or direct translation. The venerable and excellent member who was the second chairman of that committee, at the time of his decease, had, in a first draft, made an original version of about one-third of the book of Psalms. The purpose was to versify the whole, print, and lay it in overture before the Presbyteries—send copies to the other departments of the Reformed church, for their revision, remarks, and improvements; and, if possible, to have a Psalm book with the sanction of at least the whole Presbyterian family. Such was the aim of leading men in the Presbyterian church, thirty years ago.


[a] Discourse on Psalmody, pp. 19-23.

[b] Heb. 11:7, and 1 Pet. 3:18-20; 2 Pet. 2:5.

[c] Gal. 3:8.

[d] Heb. 4:2.

[e] Vide Dr. Clarke’s note on the place.

[f] Comment. on the Epistles, p. 708.

[g] Dict. of the Bible.

[h] Lectures on Sacred Poetry, p. 402.

[i] Lect. on Rhet. vol. 2, p. 272.

[j] Ibid. p. 209.

[k] Ibid. pp. 302-311.

[l] Conf. of Faith, chap. 21, sec. 2.

[m] Freeman’s Discourse, p. 6, and Latta’s Pref. p. vii.

[n] Campbell.

[o] Horsley.