An Examination of the Author’s “Precedents,” authorizing the Use of an Uninspired Psalmody.
As one special object with me, in engaging in this controversy, is to endeavor, if possible, to have the point in dispute fairly and definitely brought before the view of the christian public, the reader’s indulgence is craved, if there should be occasionally a little repetition.
Permit me then to repeat, that, regardless of subordinate differences of opinion, there are on the subject of Psalmody, two conflicting views. According to one view, we have authority to use in the worship of God, those songs only which he has given us in his word. According to the other, we are at liberty to employ evangelical songs, composed by uninspired men. It is the latter view of this subject which the venerable author of the “Inquiry” maintains. It is indeed true that the direct object of some of his remarks, is, to show the propriety of using other songs of Scripture besides those which are contained in the book of Psalms. But this is not the leading design of the “Inquiry;” nor does the author in practice confine himself to the use of those songs which are contained in the Bible. If this were all for which he contends, though I might have differed from him in opinion in some degree, I should never have thought it necessary to write this Review. The grand design of the “Inquiry” is, to prove the propriety of using what the author calls a “Gospel Psalmody,” in contradistinction from what he styles a “Jewish Psalmody.” And in his own practice, he uses such songs as have been composed by uninspired men. The great question at issue, then, is plainly this: Have we authority to use in the worship of God, evangelical songs composed by uninspired men,—or have we not? The author of the “Inquiry” takes the affirmative, and pleads that we have both “precept and precedent,” as our authority. To the examination of his “examples” or “precedents,” we now proceed.
The first “precedents” to which the venerable author refers us, are, the songs of Mary and Zacharias. “In the first chapter of Luke,” he observes, “we have two songs of praise to God, one by Mary, the mother of Jesus, and the other by Zacharias, the father of John the Baptist, but which are not in the book of Psalms.” The reader will please to keep in mind what it is, for which we want a “precedent.” It is a “precedent” to prove that we may with propriety compose our songs of praise, drawing the matter of them from the New Testament. But what is the fact with regard to the examples to which we are referred? Have we here an example of an uninspired man composing a song of praise to be employed in the worship of God? Nothing like it! We here behold two individuals who, under a divine impulse, give expression to the gratitude of their hearts in a song of praise, “as the Spirit gave them utterance.” And I would respectfully ask,—Did Mary and Zacharias draw their songs of praise from the New Testament? Why, so far from being drawn from it—that is, so far from being composed of materials gathered out of the New Testament, these songs are a part of that sacred book.
These “precedents,” I admit, clearly prove, that any individual who is “filled with the Holy Ghost,” may give utterance to the sentiments of a grateful heart, in such terms as he may be directed by the Spirit of inspiration to employ. But what have such examples to do with the question at issue? We want a “precedent” which will warrant the conclusion, that an uninspired man may prepare songs of praise to be employed in the worship of God. But the “precedents” to which we are referred, are examples in which individuals, divinely inspired, spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost. I would then appeal to every intelligent reader, while I say that such “precedents” give no authority whatever to any man not endowed with the Spirit of inspiration, to take upon himself the office of composing songs of praise to he employed in the worship of God, no matter whether he draw his materials from the New or from the Old Testament.
Though, for the purpose of giving all the force to the author’s argument, which under the most favorable view can be claimed for it, and at the same time to show the inconclusiveness of his reasoning, I have, in conformity with his example, spoken of these devout effusions of Mary and Zacharias, as songs, yet, in reality they are not properly so denominated. These pious individuals were not engaged in singing praise to God. They are not represented as giving utterance to the emotions of a grateful heart in a song of praise. But deeply penetrated with a sense of the divine goodness and condescension, and prompted by the Holy Spirit they give expression to the joyful emotions of their hearts in appropriate language. Mary said, “My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Savior.” And, “Zacharias was filled with the Holy Ghost, and prophesied saying, Blessed be the Lord God of Israel for he hath visited and redeemed his people.” These are not songs of praise, and consequently have no bearing upon the question, whether an uninspired individual has authority to prepare a song of praise to be employed in the worship of God.
But there are other “precedents.” The venerable author adds—“There are in the book of Revelation, three songs of praise to God, the first of which has been sung by the church—the second most probably—and the third will be sung.” To this remark it might be sufficient to reply, as in the former case, that these “precedents” are of no avail in settling the point in dispute. We want authority to justify uninspired men in composing songs of praise to be employed in the worship of God. But do the “precedents” to which we are referred, furnish an example of any such thing? Nothing like it! The songs to which the venerable author calls our attention, were not composed by uninspired men, but are the productions of the Spirit of God. We call for authority to justify uninspired men in preparing songs of praise to be used in the worship of God, the matter of which is drawn from the New Testament; and the “precedents” to which we are referred, are songs of inspiration, not taken from the New Testament, but which constitute a portion of that divine volume. It will be admitted by all who regard the Bible as the word of God, that the songs which are recorded in the book of the Revelation are the productions of the Holy Spirit; or in other words, that John, who is the author of them, spake as he was moved by the divine Spirit. And no one, I suppose, will deny that he who is divinely inspired, may give utterance to the emotions of a joyful heart in such a song of praise as may he communicated to him by the Holy Spirit. And thus much, it is admitted, these “precedents” fairly prove. But we want a “precedent” which may be pleaded by a man who can lay no claim to the Spirit of inspiration, to authorize him to prepare songs of praise to be employed in the worship of God. We call for an example which will warrant a man, without a divine commission, to perform such a service—to furnish the church with songs of praise to be employed in the worship of God. And with regard to such authority or warrant, these “precedents” say nothing.
As I certainly can have no motive to misrepresent my worthy Father, and as I hope that my object in this Review is not simply to endeavor to achieve a victory, but to defend what I regard as important truth, I would repeat, that one part of his design in referring to these “precedents,” is, to show that there are songs in Scripture which are not contained in the book of Psalms. And the conclusion which he would draw from this undisputed fact, is, that the other Scripture songs may be employed in the worship of God with the same propriety as those which are found in the book of Psalms. The validity of this conclusion, we propose in due time to examine. But the great design of the author is to prove that we have authority to use in the worship of God, songs composed by uninspired men, the matter of which has been drawn from the Bible, and in an especial manner, from the New Testament. And, as I understand him, the leading object of his “precept and precedents,” is to establish this position. If this is not his main design, I have misunderstood him, and will be corrected.
But how can there be any mistake with regard to this matter? No one will pretend that the three hundred and sixty-five hymns of Dr. Watts, or the greater number recently adopted by the General Assembly of the Presbyterian church, are contained in either the Old or New Testament. All that their most sanguine admirers will plead for, is, that the matter of these hymns has been taken from the Scriptures. I suppose my venerable Father would hardly venture even thus far. For example—is the following verse of the first hymn of the second book drawn from the New Testament?
“God builds and guards the British throne,
And makes it gracious like his own;
Makes our successive princes kind,
And gives our dangers to the wind.”
Will our venerable Father cite the chapter and verse from which this hymn is drawn? But the most that any will maintain, is, that the matter of these hymns has been taken from the Scriptures; the hymns themselves have been composed by uninspired men, who thus far have failed to show that the Head of the church ever gave them a commission to perform this service. And let it be particularly remarked, these hymns are not the word of God, but are a human exhibition of what is supposed to be taught in the word of God.
To satisfy the reader that I have not mistaken the author’s design, I would call his attention to what is said in relation to the songs recorded in the book of the Revelation. “A question naturally presents itself here, the correct answer to which goes far, we think, in deciding the disputed point, whence we are to draw our songs of praise to God. The question is, where did the church militant on earth, and the church triumphant in heaven, get the subject-matter of the preceding songs?” The reader is desired to notice particularly, that the question as propounded by my venerable Father, is not, where did the church get these songs? but, where did she get the “subject-matter” of these songs? The great point, then, for which the author contends, is not for the use of the songs of Scripture merely, but for the use of songs, the “subject-matter” of which is drawn from the Scriptures, and especially from the New Testament.
In reply to his own question, where did the church get the “subject-matter” of the songs referred to? the author gives the following answer: “Assuredly not from the book of Psalms; for Christ is nowhere represented in that book, as a Lamb slain, and redeeming his people by his blood; but from such expressions in the New Testament as these: ‘We have redemption through his blood,’” &c. With the venerable author I cordially concur in opinion, that the “correct answer” to this question, will “go far in deciding the disputed point.” I am even prepared to go further, and say, that the “correct answer” to this question, would completely terminate the controversy. But with all due deference, I must be permitted to doubt whether my Father has given the “correct answer.” The question is, “where did the church get the subject-matter of the songs” contained in the book of the Revelation? I answer,—the subject-matter of these songs was taken neither from the Old Testament nor from the New; but the songs themselves were given to the church by the Holy Spirit, and are a part of the sacred volume. And I suppose that when the Holy Spirit is pleased to communicate to his church, by the ministry of one of his servants, a song of praise to be employed in the worship of God, no one will deny that she may with propriety use it. But it is a very different thing for a man of his own accord, in the exercise of his own powers, to collect the “subject-matter” of a song- from the Scriptures, and give it to the church to be employed in the worship of God. That the Holy Spirit may give to the church a song of praise, whenever in his infinite wisdom he shall think proper, we certainly have no disposition to deny. But when a fallible and erring man, not “moved by the Holy Ghost,” undertakes to perform such a service, and thus, by implication at least, maintains that the psalms and hymns and songs of Infinite Wisdom are insufficient, we ask respectfully, “Who hath required this at your hands?” We call for divine authority.
Such then are the “precept and the precedents,” which the venerable author furnishes, as authority to justify uninspired men in composing hymns and songs to be employed in the worship of God. And after examining them with care, and we hope with a desire to come to a correct conclusion, we are constrained to pronounce them entirely unsatisfactory. The great, and to us insuperable difficulty in the way of employing in the worship of God, “psalms and hymns and spiritual songs,” composed by uninspired men, is the want of divine authority. One plain precept on this subject, would remove all our difficulty. The author gives us what he calls a plain precept; but when we have examined it, we are disappointed in finding that instead of a precept to uninspired men, to compose psalms and hymns and songs to be employed in the worship of God, it is a direction to christians generally, in relation to singing with grace in their hearts to the Lord. The author in the next place produces his “precedents.” But here again we are disappointed. The “precedents” referred to, are examples of persons filled with the Spirit, who gave expression to the joy of their hearts in a song of praise, as the Spirit gave them utterance. We want a “precedent,” which presents to our view an example of an uninspired person who, with divine approbation, prepared songs of praise to be employed by the church in the worship of God. It is not at all to the point, to refer us to such cases as those introduced by the author of the “Inquiry.” They are examples of persons under the Spirit of inspiration expressing their gratitude to God in songs of praise. To those then who, though they lay no claim to inspiration, yet take upon themselves the office of preparing songs to be employed by the church in the worship of God, we are constrained to say, “Who hath required this at your hands?”