To those who do not measure the force of an argument by the number of words in which it is presented, the following comprehensive view of the principal arguments for the exclusive use of an inspired Psalmody, may not be unacceptable; especially if they justly appreciate the importance of the point at issue. At all events, it possesses this recommendation—that if it fail to convince or instruct, there will not be much time lost in its perusal.
In order to examine fairly, this important subject, it is necessary
I. To define accurately, the point at issue. And here let it be observed,
1. The question is not respecting any particular version of the Psalms—should this or that particular version (the Scottish, for example,) be used to the exclusion of other versions?—but respecting the Psalms themselves—should the Book of Psalms, either in the Original or in some version, constitute the exclusive Psalmody of the Church?
2. The question is not respecting the lawfulness of using the Book of Psalms in singing God’s praise—may the Psalms be lawfully sung in divine worship? for here there is no dispute: but respecting our obligation to exclude from the worship of God, all songs not contained in the Book of Psalms—should the songs contained in the Book of Psalms, be sung in divine worship, to the exclusion of all other songs?
3. The question, so far as this or that collection of uninspired hymns is concerned, is not respecting the purity of its sentiments—is the subject matter of its songs agreeable to the word of God? or respecting the application of the song’s which it contains, to secular uses—is it lawful to sing them for the purpose of learning music, &c.? but respecting the lawfulness of singing these songs in divine worship—is it lawful to sing them as songs of praise to God?
These things being premised, we are prepared
II. To state our position; and it is as follows.—The Book of Psalms ought to be used in singing God’s praise, to the entire exclusion of all other songs.
III. To offer a few arguments, in support of the position laid down; and 1, songs, to be suitable for the celebration of God’s praise, must be descriptive, not of anything human, but of the divine glory; for this belongs to the very nature of the ordinance of praise. "Oh that men would praise the Lord for his goodness, and for his wonderful works to the children of men!" Ps. 107:15. "Praise him for his mighty acts, praise him according to his excellent greatness." Ps. 150:2. Now men, however gifted, learned and godly, can never prepare songs conveying any adequate description of the divine glory; "for what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? even so, the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God." 1 Cor. 2:11. Therefore no song composed by man, can be fit for the celebration of Jehovah’s praise. The Psalms of the Bible, on the other hand, being prepared by God’s Omniscient Spirit, furnish a correct and full description of the divine glory. Some of these Psalms, it is true, are full of complaints and supplication, and many of them make large reference to the experience of God’s people; but all these complaints, supplications, &c., are introduced as illustrative of the glory of God’s compassion, of Christ’s sufferings, and of the Spirit’s work in the believer’s heart. The Psalms of inspiration are all descriptive of the glory of Eternal; and the description of his glory, which they present, can be relied on with infallible certainty, as being so full and true, that we can never, by offering these songs in the ordinance of praise, insult the Majesty of the heavens. It is certain, on the other hand, that any description of the divine glory, which can be given in any song or collection of songs, prepared by man, must, on account of the limited knowledge which men have of the deep things of God, be so meagre, lame and defective, as to render these songs unfit, to be sung as an expression of Jehovah’s praise.
2. All songs of praise composed by men, may have errors, and must have defects, since all men are fallible; but the psalms of the Bible can have neither the one nor the other, because their divine author cannot err. The latter should, then, be used in the ordinance of praise, to the exclusion of the former. For it is sinful to offer to God that which is, or may (for aught that we know) he imperfect, when we can as easily present that which we are sure is perfect. "But cursed be the deceiver, which hath in his flock a male, and voweth and sacrificeth to the Lord, a corrupt thing." Mal. 1:14. And it is wrong to incur a danger which can as easily be avoided. "Jesus saith unto him, It is written against, Thou shall not tempt the Lord thy God." Matt. 4:7.
3d. The use of human psalmody is found to be favorable to the propagation of error, and should therefore be avoided. In support of the premises, it is only necessary to refer to the alarming prevalence of Socinianism in New England, ever since the introduction of Watt’s Psalms and Hymns, into the New England churches, and to the great numbers brought up in those branches of the Presbyterian church in which human psalmody is used, who go off into more corupt churches, or into the world; and to the notorious fact that when new sects of heretics spring up, these are composed, not of those who sing the psalms of inspiration, but of those who sing in divine worship the effusions of the human mind. "Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit: but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit." Matt. 7:17.
4. The use of uninspired psalmody is a sectarian practice. In this age of the world, it is impossible that all who profess Christianity should agree in their views of divine truth; and if they set about preparing systems of psalmody for themselves, they must be expected to disagree in this as in other things. Accordingly, we find an endless variety of hymn-books among those who use human psalmody: an O[ld] S[chool] Presbyterian hymn-book, a N[ew] S[chool] Presbyterian hymn-book, a Methodist Episcopal hymn-book, a Wesleyan hymn-hook, a Lutheran hymn-book, a Universalist hymn-book, &c. Now all this might easily be avoided, by all denominations confining themselves to the psalmody of the bible; a psalmody with which no bible believer can find fault. The celebration of the praise of God is the employment of the inhabitants of heaven: it is, therefore, peculiarly desirable, that in this part of God’s worship, there should be a uniformity in the practice of the church upon earth. And in this matter uniformity might be obtained without any compromise of principle. The use of the Book of Psalms, in praising God, is common ground, on which we may all unite. No other ground can be common; and therefore those who love the peace of Zion, and desire to promote the visible unity of the church of Christ, should not occupy any other. "Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offences, contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them." Rom. 16:17.
5. The purest of these churches, which use human composure in singing God’s praise, are perpetually changing their systems of psalmody. This shews, 1st. That the attempt to provide a system of uninspired psalmody satisfactory to the minds of Christian worshippers, has hitherto, proved a signal failure. 2d. That when any church adopts, as a part of her worship, the singing of human composition, her psalmody is liable to be corrupted to any extent, by designing men. 3d. That the head of the church looks with disapprobation, upon the use of human psalmody. "Meddle not with them that are given to change." Prov. 24:21. "Now that which decayeth, and waxeth old, is ready to vanish away." Heb. 8:13. The psalms of inspiration are as immutable as the eternal God.
6. The use, in divine worship, of songs of praise composed by men, is adverse to the use of the psalms of inspiration. In nearly every instance where human psalmody has been introduced into the church, it has banished from the altar of God, the Psalms of the Bible, or is gradually working that effect. It is believed, that if those who first opened the door of the church, for the admission of human psalmody, had foreseen this consequence, they would have pursued a very different course. Those who defend the use of human psalmody do not plead for the exclusion of the Book of Psalms from the psalmody of the church; and yet this is found to be the practical result of the operation of their principles. The songs of praise which God has made, and songs of praise composed by men, may both be used in the same denomination of Christians; hut very rarely are they both used—and scarcely ever, for any great length of time—in the same congregation, or in the same family. Now, it is obviously sinful to prefer human to divine composure; and that which is found to induce such a preference, cannot be right. "Thy word is very pure; therefore thy servant loveth it." Ps. 119:140.
7. There is in the word of God a plain warrant for using the Book of Psalms in singing God’s praise; but no warrant for applying to the same use any other songs. Therefore the Book of Psalms should constitute the whole psalmody of the church.
We have in the Bible, a book consisting of one hundred and fifty lyric poems, written at different periods, under the inspiration of the Holy Ghost, and collected and arranged by an inspired compiler. Many of these songs, not differing in their character from the rest, are in their titles inscribed "to the Chief Musician." They abound with ascriptions of praise to God. They were, in the days of inspiration, sung to God’s praise in the stated services of the Temple, and are, in the New Testament, styled "the Book of Psalms," that is, songs to be sung in divine worship. This certainly amounts to demonstrative proof, that the end for which God gave these psalms, was, that the singing of them might be a part of his worship. And we accordingly find that when the purity of divine worship was restored in the reformation under Hezekiah, this use of the Book of Psalms was expressly enjoined. "Moreover, Hezekiah, the king, and the princes, commanded the Levites to sing praise unto the Lord with the words of David and Asaph the Seer." 2 Chron. 29:10. "So the service of the house of the Lord was set in order." v. 36.
There are other songs interspersed throughout the inspired volume; some of which were sung to God, upon the occurrence of some extraordinary event or other, to which they relate. But these songs are presented to us, only in connexion with the record of the historical events to which they have reference, to complete and illustrate thc narrative,—were omitted by the inspired compiler of the Book of Psalms,—and were in the days of inspiration, excluded from the Temple worship. There is, therefore, no divine appointment authorizing the church to embody them in her psalmody. Besides, there are some songs in the book of Psalms, which are also found elsewhere in the Bible; and no good reason can be assigned why they should be inserted in the book of Psalms, unless this was done in order to complete, for the use of the church, a system of praise. There is, therefore, no divine appointment authorizing us to sing in divine worship, any song contained in the scriptures, except those comprised in the book of psalms. Much less are we authorised, by any divine appointment, to use in this way any song not contained in the Bible. And that cannot innocently be made a part of God’s worship, which is not made so by divine appointment, revealed in the word of God. "In vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men." Matt. 15:9.
Since, then, the bible shews divine appointment for the use of the book of Psalms in singing God’s praise, and does not shew any divine appointment for a similar use of songs not contained in the book of Psalms, the conclusion is unavoidable, that the book of Psalms is given to the church to constitute her whole psalmody. It remains
IV. To answer some of the most prominent objections to this doctrine. It is objected—
1. "That the singing of uninspired composition, in divine worship, is not forbidden in the word of God."
Answer.—Neither are we forbidden to observe seven sacraments. In determining whether or not this or that particular service should be made a part of God’s worship, the absence of divine appointment, amounts, in all cases, to a prohibition.
2. "That good men have composed hymns to be used in divine worship, and sing hymns of human composure."
Answer.—1. The best of men are liable to do things which will dishonor God, and injure the church. 2. There are many good men who would not dare, either to compose a song to be sung in divine worship, or to offer to God a song composed by man.
3. "That those who use human psalmody, are more numerous than those who use only the book of Psalms in singing God’s praise."
Answer.—1. It was not always so; and the time may yet come, when it will cease to be so. 2. The multitude are not always—nor have they hitherto commonly been right, in matters of faith, and religious practice.
4. "That we are allowed to compose our own prayers, and, by parity of reason, ought to be allowed to compose our own songs of praise."
Answer.—1. Right or wrong, it is a matter of fact, that most worshippers neither do nor can compose their own songs of praise. 2. God has given us, in the Bible, a book of Psalms, but no book of Prayers; and promised to the church a Spirit of prayer, but not a Spirit of psalmody. 3. In prayer we express our own wants; in praise we declare God’s glory. If we can frame a form of words, suitable for the former purpose, it by no means follows that we are equally competent to compose a form of words for the latter purpose. 4. The ordinance of prayer and praise differ in this,—that in the former the thoughts, suggest the words; and we should therefore use the word which they do suggest: whereas, in the latter the words are designed to suggest the thoughts and therefore we should use words, if such we can obtain, which can suggest none but appropriate thoughts, 5. Our wants are always changing; and, therefore, our prayers should vary: but the glory of God is ever the same; and therefore the same collection of songs will serve for the expression of his praise, from age to age.
5. "That there is, in the New Testament, authority for singing songs composed by men." First; we are referred to the fact that Christ and his disciples sung a hymn. Matt. 26:50. Answer.—1. Let it be proved that the hymn sung by our Saviour and the disciples, was not one or more of the Psalms of David. It is supposed by the best commentators, to have been the great hallel, consisting of the Psalms from the 113th to the 118th inclusive. 2. Our Saviour was better qualified, and had a better right to compose hymns than Dr. Watts, John Wesley, Philip Doddridge, &c. Second; It is argued that Paul enjoins the use of uninspired psalmody when he says, Col. 3:16, "Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another, in psalms and hymns, and spiritual songs; singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord." Some argue from the first clause of the verse, "Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom;" explaining the phrase, "the word of Christ," to mean either the whole Bible, or the New Testament; and alleging that the apostle enjoins the use of songs drawn from the whole word of God, or from the New Testament in particular. Answer.—1. Let it be proved that this expression means either the whole Bible, or the New Testament, and not simply, the principles of the gospel. 2. Let it be proved that the Apostle enjoins upon thc church, to compose songs, drawing of the matter of them; from what he denominates "the word of Christ."
Others reason from the use of the three terms, "psalms, and hymns, and spiritual songs" in the latter clause of the verse. Answer. 1. No good reason can be assigned, why any one of the psalms of inspiration might not, in reference to different aspects under which it may be viewed, he denominated a ‘psalm, hymn, and spiritual song.’ Such a use of language is not uncommon. God says, Ex. 34:7, "forgiving iniquity, and transgression, and sin." 2. If these three terms designate three distinct kinds of devotional poetry, let it be proved that the Book of Psalms does not comprise songs of these three different kinds. 3. The Jews applied the terms psalms, hymns, and songs, indiscriminately to the Book of Psalms.—See Josephus, Philo, &c.; and the same may have been done by Paul and the primitive christians. 4. In the Septuagint, which was the translation of the Old Testament in use in the days of Paul, some of the psalms are, in their titles, designated psalmos—a psalm; others, ode—a song; and others, alleluia; which last is a word borrowed from the Hebrew, and when used as a noun in the Greek language, is equivalent to hymnos—a hymn. Why may we not suppose the Apostle has allusion, in this verse, to these three terms used in the Septuagint version, as titles of different psalms?
Third; it is inferred from 1 Cor. 14:26, that the Corinthians brought to their assemblies psalms composed by themselves, under a supernatural impulse of the Spirit, and of course not contained in the book of Psalms. Answer. Let it be proved that the Psalms, by the unseasonable utterance of which they disturbed their assemblies, were composed by themselves under an impulse of the Spirit, and not selected from the Book of Psalms.
6. "That the Book of Psalms is hard to understand."
Answer. 1. If there are some passages in the Psalms hard to understand, so are there in the other scriptures.—2 Pet. 3:16. 2. It is no harder to understand the psalms when we sing them than when we read them. 3. The more we use them, we will understand them the better. 4. We have a better opportunity of understanding them than Old Testament worshipers had: and we are sure the Book of Psalms was their psalmody. 5. If we are unable to understand the Psalms, much less are we able to compose songs which will supply their place. 6 If any man does not understand the Psalms, let him, under the direction of their divine Author, endeavor to ascertain their meaning. 7. The psalms are not, in general, hard to understand. There is, indeed, an unfathomable depth of meaning in them; but no man finds fault with a well on account of its depth, if the water rises to the surface. There can be mere divine truth, and true devotional sentiment found on the very face of the inspired Psalms, than can be obtained from those which are uninspired, when they are worn threadbare.
7. "That the Psalms are not adapted to New Testament worship."
Answer. 1. God never changes, and of course his praise is always the same. 2. The Spirit of God was better able, in the days of David, to prepare songs suited to New Testament worship, than men are now. 3. The Psalms everywhere speak most clearly of Christ and his Mediatorial work, kingdom and glory; and are, by the Apostles, copiously quoted in illustration of the way of salvation. 4. They make less reference to the peculiarities of the old dispensation, than some books of the New Testament do. 5. We have no Book of Psalms in the New Testament, and no command to prepare one.
8. "That the Psalms contain sentiments adverse to the spirit of the Gospel; abounding with sharp invectives against personal enemies, and being, in many instances, expressive of revenge, &c."
Answer. It is blasphemy.
9. "That the Psalms are not sufficiently copious to furnish a complete system of psalmody."
Answer. 1. God is no more glorious now than he was in Old Testament times; and if the Psalms were sufficient then for the expression of his praise, they are still sufficient. 2. It is too much fur any man to take upon himself to decide how copious a system of psalmody ought to be. 3. The Book of Psalms actually contains an incomparably greater abundance and variety of matter than all the hymns which were ever composed by men.
10. "That we have no good metrical translation of the Psalms."
Answer. 1.. Let those who think we have no good metrical translation of the Psalms, improve some of the versions in use, or make a better one. It is surely easier to make a good translation of God’s Psalms, than to compose songs better than those which He has made. 2. It is better to sing, in divine worship, an imperfect translation of those songs which God has composed, than to sing the best songs which men can make. 3. We have a good metrical translation of the Psalms. There are, in the Scottish version of the Psalms, it is true, some blemishes. It contains some uncouth forms of expression, and some words which are now obsolete; and its versification in many instances far from being smooth. But for the most part, both the phraseology and the versification are very good; and it must be allowed by those who have examined it, that its fidelity to the original Hebrew is not much, if at all, inferior to that of the prose translation of the Psalms, in our English Bible.
These few observations are submitted to the judgment of the candid and intelligent reader. Though they may not be blessed as a means of reclaiming any from the practice of using human psalmody, yet if they serve to establish some in their attachment to the Psalms of inspiration, the writer will not consider his labor lost. Christian worshipers will one day see eye to eye, on this, as on all other important points. In the mean time, all the fearers of God can, with confidence, commit the interest of Christ’s truth, so far as they are involved in this controversy, to the management of Him who brings order out of confusion, and light out of darkness; and praying, "Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven," rest assured that very soon, in songs appointed by Jehovah’s own high authority, the devout worshiper will everywhere "give to the LORD the glory due unto his name."
Praise ye the Lord; unto him sing
a new song; and his praise,
In the assembly of his saints,
in sweet Psalms do ye raise.
Let Isr’el in his Maker joy,
and to Him praises sing;
Let all that Zion’s children are,
be joyful in their KING.