An Examination of some of the Author’s Statements, in which he uses Language scarcely Reconcilable with the Inspiration of the Book of Psalms.
The present subject of inquiry is, Has the church a right to employ the evangelical compositions of uninspired men, in the celebration of God’s praise? Our venerable Father pleads, that in doing so, she has both “precept and precedent.” Could the christian community be satisfied on this point, all difficulty would be removed, and controversy on the subject of Psalmody would be at an end. We have endeavored to examine with candor and impartiality, the “precept and precedents,” which the author has brought forward, and we are constrained to say, that they are entirely unsatisfactory; that they do not in any degree remove the difficulty which lies in the way of the introduction of an uninspired Psalmody into the worship of God; and in so far as we are capable of understanding them, they leave the great point in dispute untouched, We call for a divine “precept,” to authorize uninspired men to compose psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, to be employed in the worship of God; and the venerable author produces an apostolic direction addressed to christians generally, to promote their mutual edification by singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs. We respectfully ask for an example, approved of God, in which the church has employed the compositions of uninspired men in the celebration of divine praise; and we are directed to “precedents,” in which individuals filled with the Holy Ghost, gave utterance to the gratitude of their hearts in a song of praise; and to examples in which the church celebrates the praise of her exalted King, in a song of inspiration. May we not then say, that if neither “precept nor precedents” more in point can be produced, the cause of an uninspired psalmody in the worship of God, is unsustained?
In so far as the great point in controversy is concerned, we might here close our Review. There is, however, one thing which has forcibly struck our mind, in perusing the publications which have appeared in defence of the cause which the author has espoused. From the days of Dr. Watts, down to the present time, those who have written in defence of an uninspired psalmody, have generally, as it appears to me, advanced principles which strike at the inspiration of the Scriptures. And though I know that my worthy Father venerates and loves the Bible, and though I am sure that he would abhor the idea of intentionally offering disrespect to the word of God, yet he must exercise a little patience, while with all respect and yet with all plainness, I inquire whether he has not said some things on this subject, which are hardly reconcilable with the doctrine of the plenary inspiration of the Scriptures.
On page 213, the author employs the following language: “When we say that all that is typical and local in the Psalms, is not suited to Gospel worship and praise, we yet cheerfully and unhesitatingly say, that whatever is devotional and preceptive, is highly suited to the praises of God.” The reader will observe, that according. to the venerable author, there are portions of the Psalms “highly suited to the praises of God;” but there are other portions, “not suited to Gospel worship and praise.” But are not these Psalms, the productions of the Holy Spirit? And are parts of them not suited to the end for which they were given? They are denominated by their divine author, Psalms, or songs of praise. In them the praises of God are set forth in such a manner as seemed proper to infinite wisdom. And shall man undertake to sit in judgment upon these divine hymns of praise, and say that some parts of them are highly suited to the praises of God, but other portions of them are not suited to the purpose of praising God now, under the Gospel dispensation? And how is the humble christian to know what parts of this divine book are suited to the purpose of praise? And where is the man who will take upon himself the responsible office, of saying to the worshippers of God, “Here, is a portion of this divine book, which you may properly sing; but there, is a part which is ‘local and typical,’ which is ‘not suited to Gospel worship and praise.’” Is it with the word of God, that man will presume to take such liberty? Are not “the words of the Lord pure words, as silver tried in a furnace of earth, purified seven times?” Do not all who are taught of the Lord, say with one heart and with one voice, “How sweet are thy words unto my taste! yea, sweeter than honey to my mouth.” “Thy word is very pure; therefore thy servant loveth it,” And yet shall it be said that parts of this book are well suited to the end for which they were given, but other parts are not?
That we may see in a proper light the results to which such a principle naturally leads, let us for a moment apply it to some particular Psalms. I suppose it will be admitted that, there are verses of the 51st Psalm, “highly suited to the praises of God.” “Have mercy upon me, God, according- to thy loving-kindness: according unto the multitude of thy tender mercies, blot out my transgressions. Hide thy face from my sins, and blot out all mine iniquities. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise.” I suppose that the most determined opposers of what the venerable author styles a “Jewish Psalmody,” would admit that such language would be very suitable for a christian worshipper. But in the very midst of these verses we find the following: “Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean: wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. Then shalt thou be pleased with the sacrifices of righteousness, with burnt offering and whole burnt-offering: then shall they offer bullocks upon thine altar.” Here we have typical language, in which there is a direct reference to the ceremonies and sacrifices of the law. Now will anyone presume to say that these verses are not suited to gospel “worship and praise?” Will any mortal man venture to say in relation to this divine Psalm, that there are verses of it “highly suited to the praises of God;” but there are others, which are “not suited to gospel worship and praise?” Will any one collect the suitable portions of this song of inspiration, and leave out the rest, and give the song which he has thus prepared in an improved form, to the church, to be sung in the praise of God, instead of that which is the production of infinite wisdom? Will any one do this, did I say? It has already been done. And it grieves me to think that my venerable Father should use language which would seem to countenance, what I think must be regarded as a presumptuous undertaking. Dr. Watts, in his “Psalms of David imitated in the language of the New Testament,” has omitted the parts which he considered unsuitable for “gospel worship and praise;” and in the 7th verse, instead of employing the language of inspiration, he not only departs from it, but introduces a testimony with regard to the insufficiency of the rites and ceremonies of the law. The verse in question, as rendered in our metrical version, reads thus:
“Do thou with hyssop sprinkle me,
I shall be cleansed so:
Yea, wash thou me, and then I shall
Be whiter than the snow.”
But Watts gives us the following- improvement:
“No bleeding bird, nor bleeding beast,
Nor hyssop branch, nor sprinkling priest,
Nor running brook, nor flood, nor sea,
Can wash the dismal stain away.”
And to his improvement he subjoins the following note: “Since the Psalmist seems to refer to the branch of hyssop, sprinkling the blood of the bird, and the running water,—Lev. 14:51,—I have here enlarged upon the insufficiency of all those rites, for the cleansing of sin, which is the leprosy of the soul.” I will now appeal, not to the prejudices, but to the sober reflection of all God’s people, who regard the words of the Lord as pure words, while I ask, Does not that man cast an unbecoming imputation upon the Spirit of infinite wisdom, who presumes to set aside the language and sentiment of inspiration, and introduce in their stead, something which he regards as more suitable? The language of the inspired Psalm presents to us a prayer addressed to God. “Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean: wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.” But instead of a petition addressed to God for spiritual cleansing, Watts proposes to improve the original by turning it into a testimony in relation to the insufficiency of the rites of the law. It is not for the sprinkling of the priest, nor for the literal application of hyssop, that we are here taught by the Holy Spirit to pray. The language is manifestly figurative, and is just as suitable for the christian worshipper now, as it was for the believer in the days of David. And in employing the language of this petition now, those who are taught by the Spirit of God, use it in the very same sense in which it was employed from the beginning. We are here taught to praise God, by acknowledging our own sinfulness and our dependence on God for pardon of sin and purification from moral defilement; and by looking in the exercise of faith for spiritual cleansing through the blood of Jesus, applied by the Holy Spirit.
The unwarrantableness of the liberty thus taken with the word of God, will more clearly appear when it is considered that in another part of this very Psalm, the Holy Spirit has done in the way which he thought proper: the thing which Dr. Watts has done in this verse. “Thou desirest not sacrifice, else would I give it: thou delightest not in burnt-offerings.” Here is a divine testimony with regard to the insufficiency of the rites of the law. But this it seems was not sufficient. And Dr. Watts, in his improvement, has thought proper to introduce another testimony as to the insufficiency of the legal rites, where the Holy Spirit teaches us to look to God for spiritual cleansing. And I ask again, is not this, to cast an unworthy reflection on the Spirit of inspiration?
The reader will please to observe, that the question is not, whether the sentiment contained in Watts’ improvement is scriptural. It is doubtless the doctrine of the Bible, that the typical rites of the law could not make atonement for sin. They were not ordained for this purpose; and this was always understood by the church of God. But our objection is, that it was not the design of the Holy Spirit in this particular verse, to teach the sentiment contained in Watts’ improvement. And by leaving out the petition addressed to God for spiritual cleansing, and putting in its stead a declaration with regard to the insufficiency of the rites of the law, does he not practically declare, that the work of God needs to be mended? Here is a divine song—a song which is confessedly the production of the Spirit—in which the praises of God are set forth in such language and sentiments, as the Spirit of infinite wisdom thought proper to employ. And yet man, who is “of yesterday and knows nothing,” presumes to make out of it an improved song for the use of the church, in which some portions of the inspired psalm are left out, as not suited to gospel worship and praise; and other portions are changed, as to him seemed proper.
I have thus referred to Watt's Psalms, for the purpose of illustrating the practical bearing of our author’s remark, as I suppose we have here an exemplification of his principle. The principle is, that “all that is typical and local in the Psalms, is not suited to gospel worship and praise;” but there are other parts “highly suited to the praises of God.” And as the venerable author approves of and uses Watts’ Psalms, I think he will consider it perfectly fair, to examine the character and tendency of his principle, as it is exemplified by Watts. And I would again seriously ask the reader, is it not making free with the word of God? Is it not laying unhallowed hands upon that which is sacred, to take up a Psalm given by inspiration of God, and leave out parts of it as unsuited to gospel worship and praise, and change the meaning and design of other parts, and then give it to the church to be sung in the praise of God, instead of the songs of the Spirit? I protest against all ungenerous insinuations, with regard to the “proselyting effect” of what we write. I speak to those whose language is, “Thy word is very pure; therefore thy servant loveth it.” I speak as to wise men: judge ye what I say. Another example of the use of language on the part of the venerable author, which, I humbly conceive, tends to cast an unworthy reflection upon the Spirit of inspiration, is furnished by the application which he makes of the phrase, “a Judaizing Christianity.” On page 209, the author introduces the objection,—“The book of Psalms contains inspired songs; but hymns are the productions of uninspired men.” With regard to this objection, he remarks—“This objection, as stated, is plausible, and by its plausibility has done more to unhinge the minds of well-meaning but weak persons, and to enlist them under the standard of a Judaizing Christianity, than anything else that has been said or written.” And with my Father’s permission, I will add, that this objection will exert a powerful influence on the minds of the strong, as well as the “weak” so long as there remains in the church of God, enlightened reverence for the divine word. But our present concern is with the phrase, “a Judaizing Christianity.” What then is the import of the phrase?
In apostolic days the church was greatly troubled with Judaizing teachers, whose object was to incorporate Judaism and Christianity into one system; and thus they preached another Gospel. “They taught the brethren, Except ye be circumcised after the manner of Moses, ye cannot be saved.” The error of the Judaizing teachers was fundamental, and subverted the Gospel. It taught men to place the institutions of the law in the room of the atonement of Christ, and to rely on them for acceptance with God, instead of founding all their hopes upon the sacrifice of Christ.
A Judaizing Christianity, then, I understand to be such a system as the Judaizing teachers of old endeavored to introduce, which is at variance with the Gospel. This, I suppose, is the sense in which all will understand it. And if the venerable author does not use it in this sense, I think we have ground to complain, that he has employed without explanation, an opprobrious phrase, which, according to its ordinary meaning, casts a severe reflection on his brethren. Who are they, then, who are endeavoring “to enlist weak but well-meaning persons, under the standard of a Judaizing Christianity:” Not those who would incorporate the rites of Judaism with the institutions of the Gospel! Not those who would teach men to rely upon the sacrifices of the law, instead of the propitiation of Jesus Christ! But those who plead for the use of the psalms and hymns and spiritual songs which God has provided for his church, to the exclusion of the compositions of uninspired men. And is this not an unworthy imputation upon the word of God? Is it not virtually saying, that to use in the praise of God, the songs which he has himself provided, has a tendency to introduce a “Judaizing Christianity,” a system at variance with the Gospel? I appeal to the sober reflection, not of “the well-meaning but weak,” but of the intelligent christian, who loves God’s word and bows to its authority,—is not an indignity offered to the Spirit of inspiration, when the use of those sacred songs of which he is the author, is represented as having a tendency to promote a “Judaizing Christianity?”
The reader will please to observe, that I do not impute to my venerable Father, intentional disrespect to the word of God or to its author. Far from it! I believe that he reverences that word. But I am sorry that, in defence of the principle for which he contends, he finds it necessary to employ language which, according to its plain import, I must consider as inconsistent with a due regard for the Author of inspiration. If the use of the songs of inspiration in the worship of God, tends to promote the cause of a Judaizing Christianity, is not this virtually charging the word of God with a pernicious tendency? And when men have brought themselves to the conclusion, that the use of songs contained in the book of Psalms, tends to introduce a system subversive of the gospel, can they regard these songs as given by inspiration of God?
The reader is requested to attend to another remark of the venerable author, in relation to the book of Psalms, which does not seem to me to be consistent with that respect which is due to the productions of the Spirit of God. He observes,—page 203,—“We will add only on this point, that had the churches of the Reformation used the book of Psalms only, until this day, we would not have had any evidence that they are delivered from the dominant power of the Man of sin, as there is no Psalm in that collection which can be called, ‘the song of Moses and of the Lamb.’” If this remark is well founded, it would appear that the book of Psalms, as a collection of divine songs, is very defective; and that those churches which confine themselves to the use of these Psalms, can have no evidence of their deliverance from the domination of the Man of sin. And yet it is certain that God himself is the author of this precious collection of songs. In them the church is taught by the Spirit of love, of grace and of truth, how to celebrate the praises of her God. This, moreover, is the only book of Psalms which God has given to his church. And yet, according to our venerable author, if the church had confined herself to the use of these songs which God has provided for her, she would have had no evidence of her deliverance from the dominant power of the Man of sin! And why? Because “there is no Psalm in that collection that can be called the song of Moses and of the Lamb.” It would appear then, according to our author, that it cannot be known that the church is delivered from the power of the Man of sin, until she sings a song bearing the title, “the Song of Moses and of the Lamb.” The book of Psalms is full of such matter of praise, as is contained in this song; but it is admitted that there is not in this collection, a Psalm which is called “the song of Moses and of the Lamb.” Whether there are not many of the Psalms which, with propriety, may be called “the song of Moses and of the Lamb,” according to the true import of that phrase, is another question. What then is to be done? If there is not in all the book of Psalms, one song which can with propriety be called “the song of Moses and of the Lamb,” what is to be done to supply this deficiency? Dr. Watts has performed the important service, and has given to the church “the song of Moses and of the Lamb,” in his collection of Hymns, Book 1st, Hymn 56 The reader will please to turn aside for a moment and examine it. The first verse is in the following words:
“We sing the glories of thy love;
We sound the dreadful name;
The christian church unites the songs
Of Moses and the Lamb,”
Will the venerable author permit me, with all due respect, to ask the question, do you really believe that God ever appointed such a verse to be sung, as a part of “the song of Moses and of the Lamb?” Is it right for any man to presume to prefix the title, “the song of Moses and of the Lamb,” to such a verse?
But let us proceed in the examination of this hymn. The last two verses are the following:
Great Babylon, that rules the earth,
Drunk with the martyrs’ blood;
Her crimes shall speedily awake
The fury of our God.
The cup of wrath is ready mixed,
And she must drink the dregs:
Strong is the Lord, her sovereign Judge,
And shall fulfil the plagues.”
If the reader will compare these verses with the inspired “song of Moses and of the Lamb,” the contents of which are recorded in the 15th chapter of the Revelation, he will see that they must be set down under the head of human improvements. Watts’ “song of Moses and of the Lamb,” contains five verses. Three out of the five are not found in the song recorded in the Revelation. The other two leave out a very important clause of the song: “All nations shall come and worship before thee.” Whether these words were passed over, as not suited, in the judgment of the author, to Gospel worship and praise, it is not my province to determine.
I would then ask again, seriously and respectfully, Is not an unworthy reflection cast upon the Author of inspiration, by receiving such a hymn, as “the song of Moses and of the Lamb?”
The reader is now requested to examine this song of Moses and of the Lamb, as recorded by the pen of inspiration, and compare it with many of the divine songs contained in the book of Psalms, that he may see how exact is the coincidence between them, both in language and in sentiment. “Great and marvellous are thy works. Lord God Almighty; just and true are thy ways, thou King of saints. Who shall not fear thee, O Lord, and glorify thy name? for thou only art holy; for all nations shall come and worship before thee; for thy judgments are made manifest.” Such is the song of Moses and of the Lamb, as contained in the book of the Revelation. And it cannot be necessary for me to inform those who are in any degree familiar with the Bible, that the book of Psalms abounds with such language and such ascriptions of praise to God. Compare with the language of this song, the following examples, selected from a multitude which may be found in the book of Psalms: “Remember his marvellous works that he hath done; his wonders and the judgments of his mouth.” “He is the Lord our God: his judgments are in all the earth.” [Psalm 105:5, 7.] “Zion heard and was glad; and the daughters of Judah rejoiced, because of thy judgments, O Lord! Among the gods there is none like unto thee, O Lord; neither are there any works like unto thy works. All nations whom thou hast made, shall come and worship before thee, O Lord, and shall glorify thy name. For thou art great, and doest wondrous things: thou art God alone.” [Psalm 86:8-10.]
The reader will please to observe, that in these and similar examples which abound in the book of Psalms we have not only the sentiments, but to a remarkable extent, the identical expressions contained in the song of Moses and of the Lamb. And I would respectfully ask the author of the “Inquiry,” why are not the divine songs contained in the book of Psalms exactly adapted to the circumstances of the church, when called to celebrate the deliverance which God had wrought for her, since they employ the very language, as well as the sentiments, embraced in that song which she is represented as singing?
But it seems not a little remarkable, that an author so well informed, should attempt to build an argument of such importance upon figurative language, the precise import of which it may be difficult, if not impossible to determine. As he well knows, symbolical language is employed generally throughout the book of the Revelation. Whatever may be the precise reason for the peculiar designation of this song, “the song of Moses and of the Lamb,” it will I suppose be admitted on all hands, that the language is figurative. The venerable author might then with the same propriety argue, that we can have no evidence of the deliverance of the church from the dominant power of the Man of sin, until she is seen standing on a sea of glass, having the harps of God, while celebrating his praise, as to say that we could have no evidence of such a deliverance, until the church actually sings a song bearing the literal title, “the song of Moses and of the Lamb.” In truth, if any argument bearing upon the subject of Psalmody, can be drawn legitimately from this scriptural fact, it is entirely in our favor. The church here under the glories of the Gospel dispensation is represented as celebrating the praise of her exalted King in the very language employed by the church under the former dispensation. And as the church of God is one, under every dispensation,—as she has always had one and the same Lord and King,—those songs in which the Holy Spirit formerly taught the church to celebrate the praises of her God and Savior, will always be appropriate. He is the same yesterday, to-day, and forever, and so is his praise.
Another example of the use of what I must regard as improper language with regard to the book of Psalms, and which has a tendency to produce the impression that some of these sacred songs are not suited to the purpose for which they were given, is furnished by the author, when he speaks of certain “parts of the book of Psalms, which are typical.” “It is,” he observes, “something like an insult to the human understanding, in this age of the world, to say that those parts of the book of Psalms which are typical, are as well suited for praising God, as various portions of the New Testament. It is saying, that the type is as clear as the thing typified.” But, he adds, “It is well known that everything under the Jewish dispensation, is called the shadow of good things to come.” According to our author, then, it would seem to follow, that as “parts of the book of Psalms” are “typical,” these have vanished away since the substance has appeared; and consequently, such Psalms are no more proper to be used by the church of God now, than the types and ceremonies of the law!
To such reasoning I would reply, that granting the premises to be correct, the conclusion would follow, if any of the Psalms, or parts of them, are among the types of the legal dispensation, then, beyond controversy, they have vanished away with the rest of those rites which were the shadow of good things to come. But is it true that any of the Psalms, or parts of them, are types? Is it consistent with the word of God to represent the Psalms, or parts of them, as being included among those typical things under the Jewish dispensation, which are called “the shadow of things to come?” Typical expressions are doubtless frequently employed in these divine songs; but the Psalms are not types. Language abounds in the book of Psalms, which conveys an allusion to the rites and ceremonies of the law, but will anyone pretend to say, that any of the Psalms themselves are among “the shadows of good things to come?”
With all due respect for the venerable author, I must be permitted to say that, in this instance, there is a strange confounding of things essentially distinct. Types and typical expressions are regarded as the same thing, whereas there is between them an obvious and important distinction. After the types have vanished away, and those typical institutions which were the shadow of good things to come, have no longer a place among the ordinances of the church, typical language, which conveys an allusion to them, may properly be used. And accordingly, even in the New Testament, typical language is often employed in communicating instruction with regard to the worship of God. A pertinent example is furnished by a passage of Scripture, which the author himself has introduced, and which he seems to think it strange that we have not already noticed: “Having boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way, which he hath consecrated for us through the vail, that is to say, his flesh; and having an high priest over the House of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water.” In this single portion of the New Testament we have a variety of typical expressions. Christians are represented as enjoying the privilege of entering into the holiest; as entering through the vail, which separated the holy place from the holy of holies; as having a high priest over the house of God; and they are exhorted to draw near, with bodies washed with pure water. Here then we have typical language; but no one who understands what he says, will maintain that the apostle employs types which are “a shadow of good things to come.” If then it is valid reasoning to say that, because in some of the Psalms we find typical expressions, therefore they are not suited to Gospel worship and praise, for the very same reason some parts of the New Testament are not suited to Gospel worship and praise, because they employ typical language! And hence we would be brought to the conclusion, that this passage of the epistle to the Hebrews, which our author considers explanatory of the 66th Psalm, and which, if correctly versified, he thinks might be sung more to edification than that Psalm, would itself need an explanation before it would be adapted to Gospel worship and praise.
The truth is, that while no one ever thought of denying that the plan of redemption is more clearly and fully developed in the New than it is in the Old Testament, it is just as true, that much that is contained in the former would be unintelligible, without the aid of the light which is reflected upon it by the latter. And as the way of access to God for sinful man has always been the same, the language which was proper for the church in celebrating the praise of God formerly, will be as well adapted to that purpose to the end of time, as it was in the beginning. When the true worshipper, under the legal dispensation, approached God with such language as occurs in the 66th Psalm, “I will offer unto thee burnt sacrifices of fatlings, with the incense of rams; I will offer bullocks with goats;” what meaning did he attach to such language? Did he expect to find acceptance with God, through such animal sacrifices? Most assuredly he did not. By faith he looked beyond these types, to the great Sacrifice which they represented. That same divine Spirit which put such expressions in his mouth while praising God, taught him likewise the insufficiency of these rites, and instructed him to say, “Sacrifice and offering, thou didst not desire; burnt offering and sin offering hast thou not required.” The spiritual worshipper under the law, looked for acceptance with God, not through the rites and ceremonies of the legal dispensation, but through that divine propitiation for sin which they all prefigured. Since then the great object of the believer’s faith, under every dispensation, is the same; and since the typical expressions contained in the ancient songs of the church, were from the beginning understood in a figurative sense, as referring to Him who is the way, the truth, and the life; are they not as well adapted to the edification of the church now, as they were in the beginning? In their spiritual meaning, they signify the same thing now as they did formerly; and with the help of the light derived from the New Testament, they are now even more intelligible than they were formerly. And consequently, if the Psalms which contain the typical expressions, were adapted to the edification of the church under the legal dispensation, much more may they promote the edification of the church now, since with the aid of the light of the Gospel, they may be better understood.