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CHAPTER VII.

Database

CHAPTER VII.

James Dodson

Continuation of the Subject—No Book of Psalms in the New Testament, nor any Appointment Given to any Man to Prepare one.

 

We have already seen, that while it is the duty of the church to sing psalms, God has provided for her a book of Psalms, in the use of which she may celebrate his praise, “in the words which the Holy Ghost teacheth.” The name which its divine Author has given to this collection of sacred hymns, the matter of them, and the use which the church, by divine direction, originally made of them, all concur in establishing the conclusion, that it is the will of God that the songs contained in the book of psalms should be sung in his worship, both public and private. This conclusion is further confirmed by the consideration—

2d. That there is no book of Psalms in the New Testament. The duty of singing God’s praise is very distinctly recognised in the New Testament. “By him,” says the Apostle to the Hebrews, “let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to his name.” [Heb. 13:15.] And again: “Is any merry? Let him sing psalms.” [James 5:13.] At the close of the last Passover, our Lord and his disciples sung an hymn. And in the gloomy precincts of a dungeon, Paul and Silas, at the hour of midnight, “prayed and sang praises unto God.” But, while we are exhorted to offer unto God, the sacrifice of praise, and have the example of our Lord and of his Apostles to excite us to engage in this delightful exercise, we find no collection of psalms, and hymns, and songs, in the New Testament. In what sense is it reasonable to suppose, that the primitive christians would understand the apostolic direction, “Is any merry? Let him sing psalms?” To assist the plain christian in determining what is the proper answer to this inquiry, let me propose another question. When our Lord said to his hearers, “Search the Scriptures;” in what sense is it to be supposed, that this direction would be understood? No one will pretend that our Lord designed that his hearers should understand him as instructing them to prepare writings, the matter of which was to be taken from the Bible, which they might consult for their improvement, instead of searching the Holy Scriptures for their edification. Equally unreasonable would it be to suppose, that the apostolic direction, with regard to singing psalms, could be understood by the primitive christians, as authorizing them to prepare psalms to be used in the worship of God, instead of those which he himself had provided in his word. As the command of Christ, “Search the Scriptures,” supposes that there were in existence sacred writings, with which those to whom the command was addressed, were acquainted, so the apostolic direction, “sing psalms,” supposes that there were psalms in existence, which those, to whom the direction was given, were to use. Those christians to whom the words of the Apostle James were originally addressed, knew full well, that among the sacred writings which God had given to his church, there was a “book of Psalms.” And the exhortation to sing psalms would naturally be understood by them as a direction to make use of the psalms which the Spirit of infinite wisdom had already provided. And in what sense would the Hebrew christians understand the words of the Apostle, when he exhorted them to offer continually the sacrifice of praise to God? These Hebrews knew full well, how important it was that in all their offerings, those things only should be presented on the altar which God himself had appointed. They knew, moreover, that God himself had prepared and given to his church, a divine collection of psalms and hymns and songs, to be employed in singing his praise. And knowing these things, can it be supposed, that they would feel at liberty to lay aside those songs which God had prepared, and undertake to provide others more suitable for themselves? Can we for a moment entertain the thought, that they could understand the Apostle as authorizing them to disregard the lamb which God had provided as an offering for himself, and to come before the Lord with the blind, the halt and the lame? Had they presumed to do so, would they not have had cause to apprehend the execution of the sentence, “Cursed be the deceiver, which hath in his flock a male, and voweth and sacrificeth to the Lord a corrupt thing?” [Malachi 1:14.]

And in addition to this consideration, it deserves to be particularly noticed, that while there is no book of Psalms in the New Testament, there is no intimation whatever that one was needed; nor is there either a direction given to any man to furnish such a book, nor a single promise of the influences of the Holy Spirit to assist any man in preparing one. Under the former dispensation, God raised up a “sweet Psalmist of Israel,” whom he endowed with the gifts of the Holy Spirit, and eminently qualified for the important service. And by the instrumentality of a man, whom God called to the work and fitted for it, a collection of sacred songs, has been communicated to the church, which christians all over the world, in every age, have found from comfortable experience, to be admirably adapted to the end for which it was given. And when our glorious Lord, with whom is the residue of the Spirit, arose from the dead and ascended up far above all heavens that he might fill all things; and gave some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints, for the edifying of the body of Christ; if it had been necessary for the edification of his church, is it not reasonable to suppose that among other gifts, he would have conferred the Spirit of Psalmody? But among the various services to which different individuals were called by the Head of the Church, and for which he qualified them, by imparting to them the gifts of the Holy Spirit, the preparation of a system of psalmody, for the edifying of the body of Christ, is never mentioned. Though with him is the residue of the Spirit, it was not his pleasure to raise up and anoint a “sweet Psalmist of Israel,” under the New Testament dispensation. And why was no one called to this important office? The only rational answer which can be given, is, that He in whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge, did not consider it necessary. However liberal he may be in the distribution of his gifts, he bestows none that are unnecessary. And, having already made provision for the edification of his church, by furnishing her with a book of Psalms, he did not call any of those, whom after his ascension, he endowed with the gifts of the Spirit, to provide another. Since, then, we are in the New Testament commanded to sing psalms, but never directed to make psalms, we come to the conclusion, that Ave have the sanction of the King of Zion, authorizing the use of the psalms and hymns and songs, which had already been furnished, for the edifying of the body of Christ.

It may, however, be said, that these considerations, at most, prove nothing more than that we should employ the songs of scripture in the worship of God; but will not establish the position, that the church should be confined to the use of those songs which are contained in the book of Psalms. I proceed then to remark,—

3d. In the last place, that from the fact that God has given his church a book of Psalms, it would appear to be the divine will that this should be used to the exclusion of all others. We have already had occasion to remark, that in ancient days, on various occasions, individuals, under the influence of the Spirit of inspiration, gave expression to the gratitude of their hearts, in a song of praise. Such songs of praise are found in various parts of the Bible. But, in process of time, a great variety of songs, composed by different men on various occasions, were collected together into one book, which not only has a place in the volume of inspiration, but to which God himself has given a peculiar title, “The book of Psalms,” or songs of praise. The peculiar tide of the book designates the end for which it was specially intended. And it is a fact which deserves particular notice, that some of the songs contained in the Book of Psalms, are found likewise in other parts of the Bible. The eighteenth psalm is found in the second book of Samuel, and the ninety-sixth, and parts of some other psalms, are found in the second book of Chronicles. Other songs, such as the song of Moses at the Red Sea, the song of Deborah and Barak and others, found in different parts of the Bible, are not transferred to the book of Psalms. And the question naturally arises, Why is this distinction made? Why are some of those songs, which are found in other parts of the Bible, introduced likewise, into the book of Psalms, while others have no place in that collection? I can conceive of no answer so satisfactory as this; that the book of Psalms being designed for permanent use in the worship of God, those songs have a place in this book, which, in the estimation of infinite wisdom, were best adapted to the edification of the church in all ages.

But, though the fact that God has provided for his church a collection of sacred songs, which he himself has denominated, “The book of Psalms,” is with me a conclusive reason, why these songs should be used in the worship of God, to the exclusion of all others, yet, as I have already said, between those on the one hand, who plead for the exclusive use of the book of Psalms, and those on the other, who admit the propriety of using in the worship of God, any song of praise contained in the Bible, the difference of opinion is not of such a nature as should disturb, the peace of the church of God. Such a difference should, I believe, be made a matter of forbearance among brethren. Let the principle be explicitly recognized, that no songs of praise shall be used in the worship of God, but those which are given by inspiration of God, and then the peace and harmony of the christian world are not likely to be interrupted by controversy on this subject. Let the principle prevail, that an inspired psalmody exclusively shall be used, and I doubt not that experience would soon demonstrate that the church would have no disposition to search beyond the limits of the book of Psalms, for matter suitable for praise. If all the songs of praise, found throughout the different parts of the Bible, were examined with care, I believe it would be seen, that there is not an idea expressed in any one of them, which is not exhibited in nearly the same identical words, in some part of the book of Psalms. What, then, would be gained, in so far as the wants of the church are concerned, were all the songs throughout the Bible added to those contained in this divine collection? God has not only provided for his church, songs of praise, but he has given her a book of Psalms. This book is the workmanship of God, the production of infinite wisdom. It is perfect, not only in its parts, but as a system of praise, and it needs no addition.

It appears then, that in the Old Testament, the duty of praising God, by singing psalms or songs, is distinctly recognised: on various occasions men who were moved by the Holy Ghost, furnished songs of praise appropriate to the circumstances of the church of God. Among those whom God was pleased to employ in this service, David, the royal prophet, stands pre-eminently distinguished as the sweet Psalmist of Israel. In process of time, a choice and varied collection of sacred songs, composed by different inspired men, on a variety of occasions, was given to the church by the God of Israel; to which collection of divine songs, he himself has appended the tide, THE BOOK OF PSALMS. These songs are not the effusions of pious, well-meaning, but fallible men; they are the productions of the Holy Spirit, who spake by the mouth of his servants, the prophets. In these sacred hymns, we have not an exhibition of human views of divine truth, which may be correct or may be erroneous; but we have the word of God itself, which is pure as silver tried in a furnace of earth, purified seven times. The praises of God are exhibited in these divine songs, not in words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth. That God will accept the ascriptions of praise which are given to him in these psalms, we are absolutely certain; because in them his Spirit has taught us to ascribe to him, the glory which is due unto his name.

We pass on to the New Testament, and we find our Lord and his Apostles not only recognising the duty, but setting an example of praising God. What particular psalms and hymns they used, we are not expressly told; but every part of the New Testament furnishes evidence of their familiarity with the book of Psalms. And that he in whom dwelt all the fullness of the Godhead bodily, and his Apostles who were endued with power from on high, did not use the effusions of uninspired men in the worship of God, is certain. In an interview with the Apostles, after his resurrection, our Lord addressed them in the following words: “These are the words that I spake unto you, while I was yet with you, that all things must be fulfilled, which were written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms, concerning me.” From this and other declarations of like character in the New Testament, we have infallible evidence, that Jesus Christ himself is the great subject of the book of Psalms. This the Apostles understood, when their divine Master opened their understandings, that they might understand the scriptures; and the same thing will be understood by all who are taught of the Lord. And when we consider how frequently the Apostles introduce the psalms, in their discourses and epistles, we cannot doubt that they regarded the matter of these sacred songs as very suitable to be employed in the worship of God. One thing, however, is certain, that neither our Lord nor his Apostles have furnished any psalms or songs, in the New Testament, for the use of the church, much less have they provided a book of Psalms. And further, there is no appointment given to any man to furnish psalms to be employed in the worship of God, nor is there a promise of the Spirit of Psalmody, to assist any one in performing this important service. And yet the Apostles of our Lord and Savior call upon us to “offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually,” and they exhort us to “sing psalms.” And the conclusion from the whole, is, that it is the duty of the church in offering unto God the sacrifice of praise, to present that which he has appointed, and to celebrate his praise in the use of those psalms, which he himself has provided.