An Examination of an Argument in Support of the Cause of an Uninspired Psalmody, drawn from Analogy.
The reader may remember, that in our second chapter, we adverted to an argument which the advocates of evangelical hymns composed by uninspired men, sometimes employ, which is drawn from prayer. They observe, that all with one consent admit, that in prayer it is proper to use our own language, in framing our petitions before the throne of grace. No one will pretend that we are bound to employ the precise language of scripture, when we come before God, to pour out our hearts in prayer and supplication. All that is necessary, is that we employ language which is in accordance with the word of God. And from this principle, which we admit to be correct, our brethren argue, that we have the same liberty in preparing our songs of praise. The matter of our songs should be taken from the sacred Scriptures, but we may express them in our own language. This is the principle for which the venerable author of the “Inquiry” contends. His position is,—“As we use our own language in prayer, so may we in praise.”
This reasoning is plausible, and is well adapted to influence minds, whose views of propriety are regulated rather by considerations of human prudence, than by the authority of God. And if the question with regard to the validity of this conclusion, were submitted to the tribunal of human wisdom, a favorable decision might be anticipated. But we have already had occasion to remind the reader, that in matters connected with the worship of God, the decisions of human wisdom are often found to be at variance with the divine appointment. The wisdom of this world, is foolishness with God. The Lord knoweth the thoughts of the wise, that they are vain.
However plausible this argument may appear at first view, a little examination may satisfy the honest inquirer after truth, that it is entirely fallacious. The things which are compared, are dissimilar, and consequently the reasoning is inconclusive. Prayer and praise agree in one particular, and that is, they are both ordinances of religious worship. But in almost everything else, they differ. And therefore, it is a pure assumption to say, that because we may employ our own language in prayer, therefore it is proper to compose in our own language our songs of praise to God. Not only are these religious exercises different in their nature, but, that God himself regards them in a different light, is evident from the fact that he has made provision for his church in the one case, which he has not in the other. But that the reader may see more satisfactorily the difference between these divine ordinances, and the absolute necessity for provision in the one case, which is not necessary in the other; and consequently the fallacy of the conclusion which is drawn by those who reason from the one ordinance to the other; let us notice a little more in detail, some particulars in which they differ.
1. In prayer, we come to God to ask for those things which we need; but in praise, we ascribe to him the glory which is due unto his name. As our situation and circumstances are ever varying, our wants are very different at one time, from what they are at another. Our petitions must consequently be framed in accordance with our wants. But God is unchangeable, and his praise is always the same. That glory which is proper to be ascribed to his name at one time, will always be proper. No matter what may be our situation; whether we may be in prosperity or in adversity; whether we may be the subjects of joy or of sorrow, still God is to be praised for what he is in himself, and for the exhibitions of his glory which he has made in the works of creation, of providence, and of redemption. And what ascriptions of glory are due to him, the Spirit of God has declared in those psalms and hymns and songs, which are the productions of his infinite wisdom.
2. In social prayer, one leads in the exercise, while others follow and unite with him in presenting their supplications before the throne of grace; but, in praise, all simultaneously lift up their voices together in extolling the name of God. And hence it results, that in the exercise of praise, a written form is absolutely necessary, while in prayer, such form is unnecessary. And hence, as our songs of praise assume a character of permanency, which does not belong to our prayers, we can see an important and obvious reason, why provision should be made for our assistance in the performance of the one duty, which was not considered necessary in the other. And in connection with this consideration, I remark,—
3. That since, in singing God’s praise, a written form is necessary, there is provided for the church, in the word of God, a book of Psalms, while there is no book of Prayers. This is a fact which deserves special attention. The infinitely wise God, does nothing in vain, and never works without design. From every part of the word of God we learn that it is our duty, both to pray to him and to sing praise to his name. And while the duty in both cases is perfectly plain, it is no less evident, that God has made provision with regard to the performance of the one duty, which he has not thought proper to make with reference to the other. Not only are we commanded to sing psalms, but a book of Psalms which contains the songs of the Spirit of purity, of love and of grace, is provided for cur use. Men may say, that “as we use our own language in prayer, so may we in praise;” but the fact that God has himself provided for us a book of Psalms, while he has given us no book of Prayers, rebukes the unwarranted assertion. And from the provision already made for us by HIM who knows the glory which is due to himself, there is no need for us to prepare songs of praise, unless we are disposed to adopt the presumptuous principle, that we are more competent to decide what is proper to be employed in praising God, than he himself who is the object of praise. But in relation to prayer, the case is entirely different. While it is plainly our duty to pray. HE with whom is the residue of the Spirit, has not thought proper to provide for us a collection of prayers. And consequently, in complying with the divine command,—“In everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known unto God,”—we must, from the necessity of the case, express our requests in our own language. The reader can, therefore, have no difficulty in perceiving that the cases are dissimilar, and consequently, that it is by no means a legitimate conclusion, that, as we may use our own language in prayer, so may we in praise. But still further,—
4. Our Lord taught his disciples to pray, and gave them an admirable form of prayer, with reference to which he has said, “After this manner pray ye.” But he gave his disciples no divine song, as a model of praise, according to which they were to compose their songs, with a direction, as in the case of prayer, to sing after this manner. And why, with reverence I would ask, did not the great Prophet of the church, furnish in the New Testament a book of sacred hymns, or direct some one of his Apostles to perform this service? The only rational answer which can be given to this inquiry, is, that he did not consider it necessary. He had already raised up a sweet Psalmist of Israel, whom he had qualified for the work, and by whom he had provided for his church, such a collection of psalms and hymns and songs, as to his infinite wisdom and goodness seemed proper.
And with regard to the difference between these two religious duties, I observe once more,—
5. That as provision has been made in the case of praise, which has not been made with regard to prayer, so there is a promise of divine help in the performance of the duty of prayer, which is not given in relation to praise. It is graciously promised by Him who is the hearer of prayer,—“I will pour upon the house of David, and upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the Spirit of grace and of supplications.” [Zech. 12:10.] And as the christian needs assistance in performing the duty of prayer, for which provision has not yet been made, we find it written,—“The Spirit also helpeth our infirmities; tor we know not what we should pray for as we ought; but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered.” [Rom. 8:26.] Here then, we see that the God of grace, who knows what the christian needs, has graciously promised divine assistance to direct us in the expression of our requests in prayer: “We know not what to pray for as we ought; but the Spirit helpeth our infirmities.” We have no book of Prayers, in the use of which we may make our requests known unto God; but we have the promise of the aid of the Spirit of grace and of supplications, to help our infirmities, and to instruct us how to pray. But there is no promise in all the New Testament, of the aid of the Holy Spirit, as the Spirit of psalmody, to aid us in preparing our songs of praise. He, in whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge, did not think proper to raise up, under the gospel dispensation, a sweet Psalmist of Israel, to provide for the church a system of songs, as he had formerly done; nor did he commission any of his Apostles to perform this service; nor did he promise to send his Spirit in any subsequent age, to qualify any man for the execution of a work of such importance. And why not? The only satisfactory answer which can be given, is that such a service was unnecessary, since it had already been performed.
It is then quite manifest, not only, that prayer and praise are religious duties, which are different in their nature, but that God himself regards them as so different, that in his infinite wisdom he has thought proper to make that provision for the use of his church in the one case, which he has not in the other. It is no valid objection to our reasoning to say, that some of the psalms are termed prayers; that the language of prayer is employed throughout the psalms; and that in prayer we ascribe praise to God. All this may be true. In these particulars and in others which might be mentioned, there may be a coincidence between these two exercises of religious worship. But still, it remains true, that prayer and praise arc not only two different ordinances, but that God regards them as different; and has made provision to aid us in the performance of the duty of praise, which he has not furnished for our assistance in prayer. And consequently, to say, that since it is proper in prayer to use our own language, therefore it is right to do the same in singing God’s praise, is to reason after the manner of men, but not in accordance with the wisdom of God.
In this connection, it may be proper to examine the character of a sentiment which is sometimes advanced by the advocates of an uninspired psalmody, and which it is supposed tends to show the impropriety of using at least some of the songs contained in the book of Psalms, and the propriety of providing others better adapted to the present circumstances of the church. Dr. Watts, in his “Essay for the Improvement of Psalmody,” makes the following remarks, with regard to “the true method of translating ancient songs into christian worship:” "Psalms that are purely doctrinal, or merely historical, are subjects for our meditation, and may be translated for our present use with no variation, if it were possible; and in general, all those songs of Scripture, which the saints of following ages may assume for their own: such are the 1st, the 8th, the 19th, and many others. Some psalms may be applied to our use by the alteration of a pronoun, putting they in the place of we, and changing some expressions which are not suited to our case, into a narration or rehearsal of God's dealings with others. There are other divine songs which cannot properly be accommodated to our use, and much less assumed as our own, without very great alterations; namely, such as are filled with some very particular troubles or enemies of a person; some places of journeying or residence; some uncommon circumstances of a society, to which there is scarcely any thing parallel in our day or case.” Here it is maintained, that many of the songs of inspiration cannot be properly accommodated to our use, without very great alterations; because they do not apply to “our day or case,” and consequently cannot be assumed as our own. The principle is then taken for granted, that our songs of praise to God should contain such language and sentiments as we may assume as our own. Though the venerable author of the “Inquiry,” expresses himself somewhat more cautiously, yet I suppose, from what he has said, that his views are substantially the same. Accordingly he maintains that “all that is typical and local in the Psalms, is not suited to gospel worship and praise.” And why not suited to gospel worship and praise?" I suppose his answer, with Dr. Watts, would be,—Because such psalms are not applicable to our particular circumstances, and cannot be assumed as our own. Is it then a correct principle, that our songs of praise to God must describe our particular circumstances, and contain such language as we can assume as our own? I have no hesitation in replying, that this is not a principle of the Bible, but one which man has found out; and therefore, if my venerable Father pleases, he may class it with “human inventions.”
It will, I suppose, be admitted by all sober men, that the songs contained in the book of Psalms, were adapted to the use of the church at the time when they were originally composed. I cannot see how this can be questioned, unless we deny that they were given by inspiration of God. Let us then inquire, whether there are not many psalms, the language of which the believer of old could not assume as his own. For example: Could any believing worshipper, under the legal dispensation, assume as his own the following language: “All they that see me, laugh me to scorn; they shoot out the lip; they shake the head saying, He trusted on the Lord, that he would deliver him: let him deliver him, seeing he delighted in him. I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint; my heart is like wax; it is melted in the midst of my bowels. They part my garments among them, and cast lots upon my vesture.” These words, it is easy to see, could not be assumed by any ancient worshipper, as applicable to himself; for they apply to the Lord Jesus Christ only. And in these words, the Spirit of Christ taught the church of old to sing of the sufferings of the Savior, who was wounded for our transgressions, and bruised for our iniquities. And the church now under the gospel, can with great propriety, use the same words in singing of the sufferings of Him, who by the one offering of himself has made an end of sin; though no individual believer can assume these words as his own. Were it necessary, it would be easy to multiply examples of this kind. But the example which we have produced, is sufficient to show, that if the language employed in praising God, must be assumed by the worshipper as his own, a large proportion of the psalms which God himself provided for his church of old, could not with propriety be used, even by those to whom they were originally given. In fact, not a single psalm in the whole book, which describes the experience of the true believer, can be selected, the language of which each individual, in any worshipping assembly, could assume as his own, and as descriptive of his present experience. That language which appropriately describes the situation and experience of one believer in the assembly of the saints, may not be at all applicable to the present situation and experience of another. And, upon the principle we are examining, no congregation of God’s people could unite in the use of any system of songs, neither that which is contained in the book of Psalms, nor any of those which have been prepared by uninspired men. But the principle which maintains, that in singing the praise of God, we may use those songs only which describe our own experience, and the language of which we may assume as our own, has its origin in the wisdom of man, and not in the word of God. So far is it from being a scriptural principle, that I do not hesitate to pronounce it an erroneous principle, and one which is founded in mistaken views of the nature of praise. It would be absolutely wrong to assume as our own, the language of the songs of inspiration, because it is not our own. It is the language of the Spirit of God; and to assume it as our own, would be to incur the guilt of taking as our own, that which we have no right to call our own. These songs are the word of God. In some of them, the Spirit of God describes the exercises of the believing soul; and we may apply the language which they employ, for the purpose of self-examination. At one time we see the believer in the depths of distress, and hear him exclaiming under spiritual desertion, “How long wilt thou forget me, O Lord? For ever? How long wilt thou hide thy face from me?” But may not one, whose privilege it is to rejoice in the light of God's countenance, praise God acceptably in the use of this language, though not applicable to his present experience? At another time, we see the believer rejoicing in hope, and hear him give utterance to the gratitude of his heart, saying, “Great is thy mercy toward me, and thou hast delivered my soul from the lowest hell.” And may not a believer who is in darkness and distress, be edified himself, and perform an acceptable service to God, in singing this language, though it is descriptive of a situation very different from his own? In some of the psalms, we have the most precious promises of support in the time of trouble; of grace to help us in the time of need; of pardon of sin; of peace with God, and such like. And it is both our privilege and our duty to appropriate to ourselves these invaluable blessings, which are presented to us in the divine promises. And the blessings which are conveyed to us, in these promises, the believer appropriates to himself upon the authority of God’s word. The songs of inspiration then, let it be kept in mind, are the word of God. The language which they employ, is not to be regarded as ours, but, as it is in truth, the word of God. The songs are a part of that Scripture in relation to which it is said, “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for instruction in righteousness.” And if they are sung in the exercise of faith as the word of God, and not as containing language which we may assume as our own, God will be glorified and we will be edified. The language of the songs of the Spirit is not, then, to be assumed as our own, but is to be applied and improved as the language of other portions of the divine word, for reproof, for correction, and for instruction in righteousness.
But we have said, that the principle which is under consideration, is founded in mistaken views of the nature of praise. What is the specific design of this religious exercise? The language of prayer is often employed in the songs of inspiration; and the difficulties, perplexities and deliverances of the believer, are often described in them by Him who knows what is in man. But the specific object of praise, is to ascribe to God the glory which is due unto his name. He surely knows what ascriptions of glory are due to him from his church. In these songs which are the productions of his infinite wisdom, his glory is celebrated as manifested in the works of creation, of providence and of redemption; in his works of mercy toward his church, and of judgment toward her enemies. And the God of Zion calls upon his church in these songs, to sing unto the Lord, to bless his name, to shew his salvation from day to day, to declare his glory among the heathen, and his wonders among all people.
But it is more particularly to those Psalms in which there are allusions to the typical institutions of the law, that the author of the “Inquiry,” in his remarks, has reference. And if I understand his language, he not only intimates that such Psalms are not suited to gospel worship and praise, but that the use of them has a tendency to introduce a “Judaizing Christianity.” His language to which I more particularly refer, is the following: “It is something like an insult to the human understanding, in this age of the world, to say, that those parts of the 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, that it is well known that “everything typical under the Jewish dispensation, is called the shadow of good things to come.” If the language which our author here employs, is to be understood in its ordinary acceptation, he maintains that some parts of the book of Psalms, are among “the shadows of good things to come,” which have long since vanished away. And consequently, that it would be just as improper to use them in the worship of God, under the Gospel, as it would be to oiler a lamb in sacrifice to God, or to observe any other typical institution. For the sake of illustration, we may refer to one of the Psalms to which he himself has directed our attention. “I will offer unto thee burnt sacrifices of fatlings, with the incense of rams; I will offer bullocks with goats.” It is quite manifest, that upon the principle which maintains that the worshipper must assume as his own the language of his songs of praise, this Psalm could not now be used in the worship of God. For we do not now offer unto God burnt sacrifices of fatlings; nor would it be proper to present such offerings unto the Lord. But here lies the mistake. The language of this Psalm is not our language; nor are we to assume it as our own. It is the language of the Spirit of God; and in employing it in praising God, it is our duty to look to its author for his gracious influences, to enable us to understand it and use it in a proper manner. And taught by the Spirit of grace and truth, the humble christian, while he praises God, not in the words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth, shall be enabled to make melody in his heart to the Lord.