AFTER what we have seen of the general character of Mr. Morton’s profound work on Psalmody, we will not be expected to dwell at very great length upon all examination of the successive steps by which he pursues his course of argumentation. Indeed, it would savor not a little of presumption, for a man of ordinary size to make ally very lengthy strictures upon the statements, observations and conclusions of so able a writer, so powerful and at the same time so generous a disputant, and so deep a divine, as we have already seen our distinguished author to be. However, lest he should think himself slighted, we will not pass him by without making some reply to his labored arguments on the great question at issue between him and Dr. [John] Pressly.
To begin with his Preface:—He there informs us of the momentous occasion which induced him to enter upon the great work which he has in so masterly a manner performed. Nor was this information unneeded; for without it, his readers would undoubted have been much at a loss to know why any sane man would think of placing himself before the public in the extraordinary attitude which it has pleased Mr. M. to assume. He accounts for what he has done in the following words, p. iii: ‘It may not be improper to state the occasion which has led to the appearance of this work before the public. It is simply this: that in the discharge of his ministerial duties, the author was called to labor within the bounds of churches where the subject of Psalmody was much agitated by Psalmonites,—their ministers dwelling much upon it as a theme of public discussion; and with the usual aim of disturbing and making inroads upon the Presbyterian church.’ Yes, reader, incredible as it may appear to you, our author has actually found that in some neighborhoods where he has preached, the ministers of the Covenanter, Associate, and Associate Reformed Churches, had the daring effrontery to maintain from the pulpit that the one hundred and fifty Psalms which God has made, and embodied in the Bible, are superior to any that uninspired men can make; and even to insist at large upon this preposterous tenet! And that their bearers, instead of scouting a doctrine so preposterous, not only fell in with this absurd opinion, but were so fanatical as to defend it zealously in private controversy! After all, Mr. M. could probably have borne with them in this, had he not, upon looking into their hearts, perceived the baseness of their motives. But when he saw that all this was done ‘with the usual aim of disturbing and making inroads upon the Presbyterian church,’ he justly concluded that forbearance was no longer a virtue, and arose in his might to avert the fearful consequences of this unholy agitation. But there is another circumstance which must be taken into the account, (same page.) ‘It was found that Dr. Pressly’s work on Psalmody was in circulation, and constituted the principal armory of Psalmonites, from which they were furnished with weapons to assail the cause of truth, and do injury to the interests of our beloved Zion. In view of these circumstances, the author believed it would subserve the cause of truth to put into the hands of our people a plain and pointed review of the Doctor’s work, which might be used as a shield to protect them against the continual assaults to which they were exposed.’ The ‘Neodists,’ although far outnumbering the ‘Psalmonites,’ were among the latter ‘as lambs among wolves.’ The ‘Psalmonites,’ besides possessing the Bible and common sense, were armed cap a pie [i.e., head to foot] from ‘Pressly on Psalmody,’ while the ‘Neodists,’ although they too, as may be presumed, were endowed with common sense, had access to the Bible, and had, or might have had, ‘Baird’s Review of McMaster,’ ‘Ralston’s Inquiry,’& c., were nevertheless exposed defenceless to the deadly shafts of their ruthless assailants. In this extremity, our author comes to the rescue of his ‘Neodistic’ brethren, and casts over them a shield of triple adamant, in the form of a ‘Review of Pressly on Psalmody.’
A sight of the terrible suffering endured by the Neodists in the dreadful contests through which they had to pass, stirred, as might be expected, the deepest sympathies of Mr. M.’s benevolent heart. ‘In the prosecution, then, of this object,’ says he, ‘I have endeavored to write in a plain style, that the plainest people might understand. And that it might be especially advantageous to them, has been a prevailing desire in the preparation of this work. Because it is well known that they are much plagued and harassed on this subject by the continual interference of Psalmonites.’ Plagued, no doubt, with texts of Scripture, and harassed with unaaswerable arguments thrown in their way by unfeeling ‘Psalmonites,’ who make no scruple to interfere with them by propounding the most perplexing questions.—Cruel, hard-hearted Psalmonites,
‘How can you hope for mercy, rendering none?’
Nor is it rarely that the Neodists are treated in this unworthy manner. The wicked Psalmonites seem to take a peculiar pleasure in tormenting the men that dwell on the earth. “In some sections of the country,” says our author, “they seem determined never to let the subject rest, and are watching every opportunity, which they think may be improved in any way for the promotion of their own interests. And hence, Presbyterians are under the necessity of defending their own principles and practice.” How obstinate and incorrigible are these same headstrong Psalmonites! Untouched by any feeling for the misery which they cause,—unawed by the opposition of the multitudes, they will persist in asserting and maintaining their principles! And then they are so unreasonable as to study the promotion of their own interests! And then see the pass to which it has come with Presbyterians. Who would have thought that they would ever have been reduced to the direful “necessity of defending their own principles and practice?”
Mr. M. does not seem to have at all designed his first chapter as any part of his argument upon Psalmody; but rather as a preparatory appeal so popular feeling.
On p. 6, he makes the following quotation from Pressly on Psalmody:—“when men, therefore, take this matter into their own hands, and undertake to determine how God shall be praised, or with what he shall be praised, do they not plainly arrogate to themselves that glory which Jehovah declares he will not give to another ?” Upon this passage he remarks as follows: “Now the question may well be asked, does the Doctor believe that Neodists are guilty of such an awful sin as this. The sin of arrogating to themselves the glory that belongs to Jehovah! The General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church authorized a book of Psalms and Hymns to be used in the worship of God. And does Dr. Pressly believe that the Ministers and Elders composing that Assembly arrogated to themselves the glory that belongs to Jehovah? Does he believe that there was a single man of them, who wished to have given to himself the glory that belongs to God? I presume he does not. And why then does he intimate that such is the case?” But where, Mr. Morton, ‘does he intimate that such is the case?’ Where has he mentioned the Ministers and Elders of whom you speak? and where does he speak of any one “wishing to have given to himself the glory which belongs to God?” And how can he intimate that certain men are guilty of a certain sin, without mentioning either the men or the sin? Dr. Pressly, indeed, has said that “those who undertake to determine how, or with what, God shall be praised, arrogates to themselves the glory which belongs to Jehovah;” but it is Mr. M. himself who intimates that the Ministers and Elders, composing the General Assembly which authorized the book of Psalms and Hymns, are the persons who undertake to determine how, or with what, God shall be praised. Dr. Pressly describes a character which every good christian is free to hold in utter abhorrence; Mr. M. points us to the Ministers and Elders composing a certain General Assembly, as the persons to whom that character belongs, and on that ground, attempts to hold up the Dr. to public odium and popular indignation. But let us hear what he has to say more: “Does he believe that such men as Dr. Alexander, and Dr. Hodge of Princeton, and Dr. Elliott and Dr. Herron of Pittsburgh, ‘arrogate to themselves that glory which Jehovah declares he will not give to another?’ Surely he does not so believe. Were the public to esteem him as thus believing, they could not for a moment consider him as possessing the spirit of a christian. And if the Doctor does not believe so, why does he represent them as thus guilty?”—(p. 7.) Now the discerning reader will see that all this is very politic; and when a disputant knows that he has not the truth on his side, and is conscious of the weakness of his arguments, nothing can be more in place than artifice, fraud and cunning; “Be ye wise as serpents.” Yes, Mr. Morton, it is very politic, in the opening of your discussion to represent Dr. Pressly as inveighing against some men whose praise is in all the churches. But is it true that Dr. P. has represented these men as thus guilty? Has he anywhere in his book so much as named Drs. Alexander, Hodge, Elliott and Herron? It is true he has said that “those who undertake to determine how, or with what, God shall be praised, plainly arrogate to themselves the glory which Jehovah has said he will not give to another;” and even Mr. M. will not be so mad as to deny the truth of this proposition:—but has he represented Drs. Alexander, Hodge, &c. as the persons who are thus guilty? And if not, why does Mr. M. charge him with having done so? And must no man write against any principle or practice which Mr. M. knows to be approved by Drs. Alexander, Hodge, Elliott and Herron? Must nothing be denounced as an error or a sin, if we know it to be countenanced by the practice of the leading men in the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church? This were indeed, a short method of settling controversies in the Church. In order to decide whether any practice is sinful or not, all that you will do, if you follow our author’s advice, will be to inquire whether or not it is followed by Drs. Alexander, Hodge, &c. If it has the sanction of their example, it cannot be wicked: and if not wicked it must be innocent. I am well aware that these men do not claim to be either impeccable or infallible; but no matter—both are claimed for them by Rev. George Morton, and that is enough.
He treats with equal candor, the Dr.’s remarks upon the sin of Nadab and Abihu.—“What the Dr. next brings forward as an argument, is the case of Nadab and Abihu, sons of Aaron, who ‘offered strange fire before the Lord, which he commanded them not. And there went out fire from the Lord, and devoured them, and they died before the Lord.’”—(p. 9.) It will be seen by reference to Dr. Pressly’s work on Psalmody, that his reference to the history of Nadab and Abihu, is to prove, not that the use of uninspired Psalmody is without divine appointment, but that whatever is without divine appointment in the worship of God, is displeasing to him; and, by consequence, if the use of uninspired Psalmody is without divine appointment, it is displeasing to God. For the subject under discussion, in that chapter in which he refers to the sin of Nadab and Abihu, is simply, “the importance of regarding divine appointment in the worship of God.”—(Pressly on Psal[mody] p. 7.)
Mr. M. however, resents this allusion to the sin and punishment of those who offered strange fire before the Lord, as an intolerable wrong done to those, who, like himself, sing human Psalmody; “thus he attempts,” says our author, (p. 9,) “to range a large portion of the Christian Church in company with Nadab and Abihu, as partaking of their sin and exposed to their punishment.” Not so, brother Morton; if it be true that “a large portion of the Christian Church,” use a Psalmody which has not the sanction of divine appointment, they range themselves in company with Nadab and Abihu; if it be not true, then Dr. Pressly’s remarks about the sin of Nadab and Abihu, have no application to them. Yet the Dr.’s mention of the sin and punishment of those ancient corrupters of God’s worship, seems to stir Mr. M.’s indignation from its lowest depths. He says, p. 13, “He (Dr. P.,) knew full well that what is perfectly harmless in itself, may have a violent prejudice awakened against it, by giving it a bad name, and classing it with that which is known to be detestable; and this is that stealthy, creeping kind of argumentation which runs through the whole of his remarks concerning men ‘arrogating to themselves the glory that belongs to Jehovah,’ and ‘Nadab and Abihu offering strange fire:’ and about ‘building alters,’ and ‘offering in sacrifice pigs and kids.’”
Why does our author fly into so great a passion on this occasion? Is it because Dr. Pressly maintains “the importance of regarding divine appointment in divine worship?” There is surely nothing in this to awaken the indignation of any honest Presbyterian. Is it because that, in order to show “the importance of regarding divine appointment in divine worship,” the Dr. has made allusion to the history of Nadab and Abihu, to the restrictions about the building of altars, and to the laws relating to sacrifice, &c.? Surely Mr. M. is not opposed to the use of Scripture in religious controversy. Is it because Dr. Pressly assumes, at the outset, that Neodism is like the sin of Nadab and Abihu, like offering pigs instead of kids, &c.? This cannot be; for it is not true that the Dr. has made any such assumption;—this being the very point which, throughout his whole work, he labors, and as some think, labors successfully, to prove. May we not, without any breach of charity, suppose that the true secret of Mr. M.’s rage against Dr. Pressly, for mentioning Nadab and Abihu, lies in the fact that our author is conscious of having offered strange fire to the Lord, ever since, in violation of solemn vows, he abandoned the faith of his fathers, and apostatized from the Reformed Presbyterian Church. We all know that those who apostatize from the truth, are its bitterest enemies. At all events, it is a significant fact that, (whatever be his reasons for it,) he has conceived a peculiar dislike to that part of Dr. Pressly’s work on Psalmody, in which that author argues “the importance of regarding divine appointment in divine worship.”
His vindication of the Neodistic Brotherhood from the charge of offering strange fire, is highly amusing. He says, pp. 10, 11, “Where has there ever been an individual, or a congregation, consumed with fire for praising God in a song not taken from the Book of Psalms? And if the Lord has not shown his displeasure, by sending temporal judgments, has he done it by sending spiritual judgments? The church of Rome corrupted the worship of God, and he manifested his sore displeasure by withholding from her the influences of his spirit; ‘by sending strong delusions that they may believe a lie;’ and by leaving her to the control of the Devil, and men of corrupt minds; until she is now become a synagogue of Satan. But the Lord has not dealt so with Neodistic Churches.”—By the way, did not our author reflect that the church of Rome is “Neodistic?”—But let us follow him a little farther: “As to the evidences of the divine presence among them, they will very honorably compare with those we call Psalmonistic churches.” And farther on, “In the former class, there is undoubtedly as much vital piety and true godliness as in the latter.” And again; “They seem to be the special objects of Divine regard, when compared with Psalmonites.”
And which are the Neodistic churches? The O[ld] and N[ew] S[chool], Free and Cumberland Presbyterians; Lutheran and German Reformed; Calvinistic, Freewill, Seventh-day, Dunkard and Campbellite Baptists; Methodists North and South, Episcopal and Wesleyan; Congregational and Episcopal Churches: together with Romanists, Unitarians, Swedenborgians, Universalists, and some other denominations of less consequence. In this list, it is true, there are enumerated some societies which are, in reality, Synagogues of Satan, and Churches only in name, but their example is not, on that account, the more worthy of imitation; and they are all Neodistic.—And what churches, on the other hand, are they which our author denominates Psalmonistic? The Reformed, Associate, and Associate Reformed Presbyterian, and the United Presbyterian Church of Ireland, with some smaller Societies.
Now, let any decent Presbyterian look at the average condition of the churches of the former class, and the average condition of those of the latter class, and decide whether or not it is true the Neodistic churches have fully as much evidence of the divine favor, as those which are Psalmonistic; and that “the former, compared with the latter, seem to be the special objects of the divine regard.”
Is it an evidence of the divine presence with those churches, and of the divine regard for them, that they entertain the utmost diversity and contrariety of views on every religious subject? If so, then our author is assuredly right; for among that class of churches which he denominates Neodistic, are to be found those who hold Calvinistic, and those who maintain Arminian views, respecting the way of salvation—those who believe that there are three divine Persons, and those who assert there is only one—those who regard Christ as God equal with the Father, and those who say that he is only a mere man—those who practice and defend the worship of images, pictures, saints and angels, and those who denounce all such worship as gross idolatry—those who claim for infants the right to the ordinance of baptism, and those who refuse them that privilege—the advocates of Congregational, Presbyterian, and Episcopal forms of church-government—those who maintain that there is a heaven but no hell, those who hold that there is both a heaven and a hell, and those who assert that there is not only a heaven and a hell, but also a purgatory, for departed souls. It is, doubtless, a strong and incontestible evidence of the divine favor to churches of this class, that they comprise persons believing in every doctrine which has ever been maintained, every doctrine which has ever been doubted, and every doctrine which has ever been denied on earth.
Is it an evidence of God’s favor to Neodistic churches, that family worship [1.] in their fellowship there are thousands of habitual profane swearers, slaveholders, and open Sabbath-breakers? Alas, for the Psalmonistic churches! They have never yet been endowed with such a spirit of liberality, as to open their doors alike to the “precious and the vile.”
Is it an evidence of the divine presence with those churches, that a vast majority of those who pretend to be converted at those seasons of excitement which are so frequent in some of them, give no evidence afterwards of being really under the influence of divine grace? If so, then those churches which our author calls Psalmonistic, are behind; for though the spirit moves upon them silently and constantly like “the waters of Shiloah, which go softly,” yet they cannot boast of their camp-meetings, protracted meetings, and noisy ‘revivals,’ like some other churches. Yet there are some so old-fashioned, that they think of churches as they do of individuals;—that it is better they should exhibit a habitual and uniform compliance with the requirements of the gospel, than that they should be religious by ‘fits and starts.’
And, to go no farther, is it a mark of the divine favor to Neodistic churches, and a mark of God’s gracious presence with them, that no two of them can agree upon a system of Songs, for the celebration of God’s praise, but that every church must have its own Hymn Book? Go into a Presbyterian family, and you will find on the stand a Presbyterian hymn-book; enter the house of a Methodist, and you will find a Methodist hymn-book; the Baptist carries to church a Baptist hymn-book; the Unitarians have a Unitarian hymn-book; the Universalist has a hymn-book for his own special use, &c. &c. This may be to Mr. M. a very satisfactory evidence of the divine presence enjoyed by Neodistic churches; but to me, I must confess, it seems to be sectarianism in its worst and most inexcusable form. Whether this state of things be desirable or undesirable, there is nothing of the kind in Psalmonistic churches. You would search in vain for a Reformed Presbyterian Hymn-book, an Associate Presbyterian Hymn-book, or an Associate Reformed Hymn-book. These churches all “lift up the voice together;” they offer to God the same songs; they all, with one consent, use in divine worship God’s Hymn-book, embodied in the Volume of Divine Revelation.
[1.] It must be acknowledged that in some of those churches which confine themselves to the Psalms of inspiration, family worship is in some places lamentably neglected; but it is well known that the neglect of this duty is incomparably more common in those churches which Mr. M. calls Neodistic; and that in those parts of churches of the former class, where this duty is much neglected, there is a proportionate want of zeal and tenacity for the exclusive use of David’s Psalms.