History of Psalmody—Pliny’s Letter to Trajan—Justin Martyr—Clemens Alexandrinus—Paul of Samosata—Tertullian—Athanasius—Chrysostom—Jerome.
The reader will remember, that in a preceding chapter, there was given a brief exhibition of the history of psalmody under the former dispensation. From this historical survey it appeared, that the Scriptures furnish no evidence, that previous to the days of David, the singing of God's praise constituted a part of the regular worship of God. We have evidence that the people of God, individually and in a social capacity, on particular occasions engaged in this delightful exercise. And on such occasions, someone divinely inspired furnished a sacred hymn adapted to the purpose of celebrating the loving kindness of the Lord. But at length in the person of David, “the man who was raised up on high, the anointed of the God of Jacob,” there was provided for the church, a Prophet to perform the office of a “sweet psalmist of Israel.” We have just the same evidence that David was appointed to this office, as that Moses was raised up to be a lawgiver in Israel. The Spirit of the Lord spake by David, and through him communicated to the church a great variety of songs of praise. And not only was this distinguished servant of God endowed with the spirit of heavenly wisdom to qualify him for the office of preparing sacred hymns for God’s Israel, but was also employed in establishing various regulations in the house of God, connected with the worship of God. And from this time forth, the singing of God’s praise became not only a regular, but a prominent part of the worship of God.
Previous to the days of David, of course the sacred hymns of the sweet psalmist of Israel, could not have been used, not being yet in existence. But that same Spirit who spake by the mouth of David employed others, to perform the important office of furnishing a song of praise, as the occasion required. The Scriptures, however furnish no evidence whatever, that the church ever employed in the worship of God, the effusions of uninspired men.
Subsequently to the days of David, after the singing of praise became a part of the stated worship of God, a large and varied collection of sacred hymns was given to the church in the volume of inspiration, under the title of “THE BOOK OF PSALMS.” By whom these songs of praise were collected into a book, as it is impossible to determine with absolute certainty, so, it is a matter of no importance. It is enough for us to know, that God has given to his church such a book; and that it is recognized in the New Testament as “THE BOOK OF PSALMS.” [Luke 20:42.]
We have also seen, that in the New Testament there is not furnished any collection of hymns; there was not raised up, by the great Prophet of the church, any sweet psalmist to perform the office of preparing songs of praise to be employed in his worship; nor, is there any direction relative to the performance of such a service. The singing of God’s praise is recognized as a duty; and we are exhorted to engage in this duty. [Heb. 13:15. James 5:13.] But it is in no instance intimated, that it is our duty to prepare hymns of praise to be employed in this part of divine worship. We are directed to search the scriptures. And we all understand this direction as pointing to the duty of examining those sacred writings which God has given to the church as the rule of our faith and life. And for a similar reason, when we are exhorted to sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, we understand that it is made our duty to praise God in the use of those sacred songs, of which the Spirit of the Lord is the author and which are contained in his word.
In the New Testament, we have various examples recorded, in which the servants of God were employed in singing God’s praise; but what songs were used we are not particularly informed. It is worthy of remark, however, that everywhere throughout the New Testament, the sacred writers refer to the book of Psalms, as having respect to the person and kingdom of Christ. [Acts 4:25. Heb. 1:8, 10:5.] And our Lord after reproving the disciples for the dullness of their apprehension, and their slowness to believe all that the prophets had spoken, graciously opened their understanding that they might understand the scriptures; and explained to them particularly what was contained in the psalms concerning himself. [Luke 24:44.] There can be no doubt therefore, that the writers of the New Testament considered these sacred hymns as very suitable for the purpose of celebrating the praises of the Messiah.
Immediately after the institution and first celebration of the Lord’s supper, we are informed that our Lord and his disciples “sung an hymn.” [Mat. 26:30.] What hymn was sung on this occasion we are not told, and consequently cannot determine with absolute certain ty. It is however a well established historical fact, that it was the custom of the Jewish church on the occasion of the Passover to sing the great Hallel, or hymn of praise, consisting of psalms 115 and 118 inclusive, [Horne’s Introduction. vol. 3, p. 306. Ainsworth’s Annotations.] I am aware that some of our modern “wise men” have told us, that “the bible knows nothing of any particular psalm being sung at the Passover, nor of any singing upon the occasion at all.” And it has been said that, “Where the institution of the Passover is recorded in Exodus, there is no allusion to singing of any kind.” This is readily admitted. But what then? In the primitive account of the institution of the Passover, there is no mention made of the use of wine. And yet, it is a well known historical fact, that in subsequent times, wine was used in the celebration of the Passover. And it is further evident that wine was used at the Passover which was observed by our Lord and his disciples immediately previous to the institution of the Lord’s supper. [Luke 22:17.] And from the fact that our Lord sanctioned this usage of the Jewish church by his example, there is no room for doubt in relation to the divine appointment of the use of wine in the Passover; though, the bible contains no record of the fact. Whether the Hallel was sung in connection with the celebration of the Passover previous to the period of our Lord’s incarnation, is a question of fact, which must be decided by testimony. And the concurrent testimony of those most competent to decide, and whose testimony was influenced by no peculiar views on the subject of psalmody, is in the affirmative. And as our Lord conformed to the usage of the Jewish church in using wine in connection with the Passover, the probable conclusion is, that he likewise conformed to similar usage in singing a hymn of praise which has reference to that great work which the ordinance of the Supper is designed to commemorate.
I have somewhere seen a learned criticism, in which the writer “waxes bold,” and says, “We are not left to supposition in this case. There is no room for it. The language is perfectly plain on the subject. When they had sung an hymn; literally, when they had hymned. It is a word that never can be shown to be used in the New Testament, when the book of psalms is evidently meant.” Wonderful! The psalms are hymns of praise. The authors of the Septuagint expressly denominate them “the Hymns of David.” [Ps. 72:20.] Josephus, the Jewish historian, styles them Hymns of praise, [Josephus’ Antiquities, B. vii. chap. 12.] And yet, it seems, that it would not be proper to represent those who use them in the praise of God as singing a hymn! The Greek word here employed and which may be literally translated, “hymned,” is used in three different instances in the New Testament. It is employed by Matthew and Mark, with reference to the hymn sung by our Lord and his Apostles on the occasion of the Passover: by the historian in describing the exercises of Paul and Silas in prison; “They prayed and sang praises unto God.” Acts 16: 25; and by the Apostle in the epistle to the Hebrews; “In the midst of the church I will sing praise unto thee.” Heb. 2: 12. In this latter instance we have a quotation from the 22nd psalm; so that the word here “evidently” does refer to one of the hymns contained in the book of Psalms; and that it does in the other instances referred to, there is no ground to doubt. One thing however is certain, that it never can be shown, either from the meaning of the word, or from scriptural usage, that it does not refer to the hymns contained in the book of Psalms.
In the history which we have in the New Testament of the labors of those whom our Lord called to preach the gospel, we have no particular information with regard to the manner in which the worship of the church was conducted. The church being yet in its infancy; not yet well provided with places of worship and constantly exposed to persecution, it is not to be supposed that public worship could be conducted in that systematic order which was afterwards introduced. No doubt the primitive ministers, as the missionaries among the heathen now do, often preached the gospel, without engaging either in prayer or praise. But in process of time as churches were organized, and officers were appointed, and the solemn assembly was convened for worship on the first day of the week, as well as occasionally at other times, the religious exercises of God's people would be conducted in a more systematic manner. Let us inquire, in so far as we have the light of history for our guide, what was the practice of the church, in the ages immediately succeeding the time of the Apostles.
The first particular reference to the usages connected with the worship of the primitive christians, to which I shall call the attention of the reader, occurs in the famous letter addressed by the younger Pliny to the Emperor Trajan. This letter was written during the persecution under Trajan, probably in the year 107. Those who have not access to the Epistles of Pliny, may see the original, with the translation, in [Nathaniel] Lardner’s Credibility, vol 7. The passage in this Epistle with which we are concerned is the following. In giving an account to his royal master of the usages of the christians, Pliny observes that after making inquiry, he learned that, “they were wont to meet together on a stated day, before it was light, and sing among themselves alternately [literally, responsively] a hymn to Christ as a God, and bind themselves by an oath, not to the commission of any wickedness, but not to be guilty of theft, or robbery or adultery; never to falsify their word, nor to deny a pledge committed to them when called upon to return it. When these things were performed, it was their custom to separate, and then to come together again to a meal which they ate in common without any disorder.”
On this extract I would offer the following remarks:
1. The account which Pliny here gives of the worship of the christians, is founded upon information which he had derived from such as had renounced Christianity. It is not intimated, that the express language employed by the christians, is here given. But Pliny states in his own language the information which he had obtained. Their fault consisted not in any immorality with which they were chargeable, but simply in conforming to the rites and obligations of a religion which was opposed to all idolatry.
2. It was the custom of these christians to assemble statedly on a particular day for religious worship. The first day of the week, or the christian sabbath, is evidently referred to. And owing- to the difficulties of the times, they were accustomed to meet before daylight, that they might escape the fury of their persecutors.
3. When these christians assembled for worship, it was their custom, to sing a hymn to Christ as a God. The original Latin is, “carmen, Christo, quasi Deo, dicere.” It has been a matter of doubt with some critics, whether it is praise or prayer to which this expression relates. This doubt has its origin in the fact, that the Latin word carmen, may signify a prayer as well as a song; and this doubt is strengthened by the consideration, that Justin Martyr, whose testimony shall presently be produced, in his account of the worship of the primitive christians makes particular mention of prayer, but is silent in relation to songs of praise. However, I am inclined to believe, that the word should be taken in its more common acceptation, and conclude that it is to be understood as having reference to the singing of praise. I am the more disposed to come to this conclusion since I find that both Tertullian in his Apology, and Eusebius in his history, lib. 3. cap. 33, who quote this Epistle of Pliny, understand the words in question as having reference to praise. According to this view, then, the Christians in ancient Bithynia, about the beginning of the second century, were accustomed in their religious assemblies to sing a hymn to Christ as a God.
The inference drawn from this historical fact by those who plead for the use of hymns composed by uninspired men is, that, the sacred songs which were sung by these primitive christians were such as had been composed by the brethren in support of the doctrine of our Lord’s divinity. But is such an inference legitimate I It will not be denied by any who are acquainted with the book of Psalms, that these sacred hymns speak of Christ. Nor will it be denied that they bear testimony to his divine dignity and glory. I will not refer to any particular psalm, but to the book of Psalms generally. Christ the Lord of glory, is the great subject of this book. Then with the strictest propriety, it might be said that in singing these psalms, the primitive christians celebrated the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ as a divine person.
But, that circumstance connected with the worship of the primitive christians, which not only excited the surprise, but even aroused the contempt of the pagan world, was that they revered as a divine person, a man who suffered an ignominious death. The doctrine of Christ crucified, was to the Jews a stumbling-block, and to the Greeks foolishness. Festus, the Roman Governor, speaking of the accusation preferred against Paul by the Jews, observes, that, “they brought none accusation of such things as I supposed; but, had certain questions against him of their own superstition, and of one Jesus which was dead, whom Paul affirmed to be alive.” The prominent characteristic of Christianity, then, in the estimation of the heathen, was, the worship of one whom they regarded as a dead man, but whom the christians affirmed to be alive. And therefore, it was perfectly natural for Pliny to represent what he styles a “detestable superstition,” as worship offered to Christ as a God. Though it is not to be supposed that Pliny understood the reference which the psalms have to the divine character of the Messiah; nor that he took the trouble to examine the character of the sacred songs which the christians were accustomed to sing; yet he knew that a peculiarity of the christians was, that they worshipped Christ as a God. And consequently, he would naturally speak of that part of their worship which consisted in singing hymns, as being offered unto Christ as a God. The conclusion then to which we are conducted is, that there is nothing in this account of the worship of the primitive christians, which in any degree militates against the opinion, that they employed in the worship of God the songs of inspiration; much less, is there anything to prove that they were accustomed to employ hymns composed by uninspired men.
The next ancient writer, to whom I shall refer, is the distinguished Justin Martyr. About the middle of the second century, Justin addressed to the reigning Emperor, an Apology in behalf of the christians. In this Apology, he refers to the worship of the primitive christians,. and among other things observes,—“In all our oblations, we praise the Creator of all things through his Son Jesus Christ, by the Holy Ghost. And on the day of the Sun, as it is called, all the inhabitants both of the city and of the country meet together, when the commentaries of the Apostles or the writings of the Prophets are read as the time will permit. Then when the reading is ended, the President delivers an exhortation with a view to excite to the practice of those important duties inculcated in the word which has been read. Then bread is brought forward, and also wine and water. The President gives thanks, and the bread and wine in the Lord’s Supper, are distributed.” In this account of the primitive worship of the church, there is a distinct recognition of the reading of the Scriptures, of prayer, of preaching the word, and of the dispensation of the Lord’s Supper, as parts of the public worship of God. For the purpose of attending to these exercises of religious worship, christians in the days of Justin, were in the habit of assembling on what he calls the day of the Sun, which is evidently the first day of the week. Whether he refers to singing as a part of the worship of God, may admit of some doubt. It would seem probable, however, that in the declaration, “In all our oblations we praise the Creator of all things,” he refers to the exercise of praising God by sacred hymns. If so, there is nothing said by Justin which would enable us to determine what sacred songs were employed for this purpose. But from all the writings of Justin, and particularly from his Dialogue with Trypho the Jew, it is manifest that he understood the psalms generally as testifying to the divine dignity and glory of the Lord Jesus, and therefore very well adapted to the purpose of celebrating his praise.
The next writer to whom I shall refer is Clement of Alexandria, who flourished in the latter part of the second and in the former part of the third century.
In a work of Clement, entitled the Pedagogue or the Instructor, there is a chapter on the subject of “The manner in which we may recreate ourselves at festivals.” He expresses his disapprobation of the use of such instrumental music as was common among the heathen, and which was better, adapted to inflame the passions than to excite pure affections. Instead of instrumental music he recommends that the voice be employed in singing sacred songs. In support of this recommendation, he quotes the 150th psalm, and in a manner, somewhat fanciful indeed, he explains the terms trumpet, psaltery, harp, organ, &c. as referring to the different members of the body which are employed in vocal praise. In this connection he introduces the famous passage Col. 3:16, 17. He then observes, “If any of you know how to sing at the sound of the lyre and the harp, let him imitate the example of that righteous Hebrew king, who gave thanks to God, saying, “Rejoice in the Lord, O ye righteous, for praise is comely for the upright. Praise the Lord with harp, sing unto him with the psaltery;” in which quotation it will be seen that the reference is to the 33d psalm. After quoting this psalm, he says, “The Apostle calls the psalm a spiritual song.” From this it is evident that Clement to whom the Greek language was vernacular, understood the phrase spiritual songs employed by the Apostle, as applicable to the psalms of David. And further, after referring to the impure songs which the Greeks sung at their festivals, Clement says, “But let such amorous songs be far from us, and let our songs be the praises of God,” introducing as an example the 149th Psalm. On this extract, I would offer two remarks,—
1. This christian Father seems to have regarded the Psalms of David, as well adapted to the expression of that praise, which the christian should ascribe to God ; and he does not seem to have felt the necessity for any others more suitable for this purpose.
2. He considered that in singing these psalms the christian complies with the apostolic direction in Col. 3:16, 17.
Tertullian a Latin writer who flourished about the same time, speaking of the manner in which public worship was conducted in his day, observes, in his Treatise De Anima, “Scripturae leguntur, Psalmi canuntur, ad locutiones proferuntur.” The Scriptures are read, Psalms are sung and then sermons are pronounced. Though there is no epithet here applied to the term psalms, which would enable us to determine with absolute certainty, what sacred songs are meant; yet as the word is used without any qualification, and in connection with the scriptures, there seems to be no room to doubt, that it is employed in the usual acceptation, as referring to the songs of inspiration. And this conclusion is rendered more probable, when taken in connection with the fact, that on another occasion, Tertullian refers to the 133d psalm as being sung on the occasion of their festivals. “Vide quam bonum et quam jucundum, habitare Fratres in unum: Hoc, tu psallere non facile, nosti nisi quo tempore cum compluribus coenas.” De Jejunio. [“Behold, how good and pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity: This psalm, you sing not easily, except when you know you sup with many others.” Of Fasting.] See King’s “Inquiry into the Constitution of the primitive church.” I may here remark, that Augustine, likewise refers to the fact, that this psalm was so commonly sung among the christians, that even those who were unacquainted with the Psalter, were familiar with it. See his Exposition of the 133d Psalm.
There is a passage of history in connection with the life of Paul of Samosata, which has sometimes been referred to, for the purpose of establishing the conclusion that hymns of human composition, were in general use in the primitive age, in the orthodox church, and that it was through the influence of heretical teachers, that the Psalms of David were introduced. It will at once occur to the rejecting christian, that it would be something very strange, if it were really so, that the enemies of the truth, should manifest a partiality for a portion of the word of God, which has always been peculiarly dear to the humble, practical christian. But what are the facts in the case, just referred to? Paul of Samosata, who rejected the doctrine of our Lord’s divinity, has been represented as banishing from the church in Antioch “the old church hymns, that spake of Christ as the incarnate word,” and as introducing in their stead the Psalms of David, as being better adapted to the promotion of his heresy.
That this portion of history in so far as it stands connected with the subject of psalmody may be set in its true light, I shall present to the reader, an extract from the Epistle of the council of Antioch which condemned the heresy of Paul, together with the Latin translation of the learned Valesius. Our information with regard to this matter is derived from the proceedings of the Council. The original may be seen in Harduin’s Acta Conciliorum, Tom 1, or in the History of Eusebius Lib. 8, cap. 30.
ORIGINAL OF THE EPISTLE.
ψαλμους δε τους μεν εις τον Κυριον ημων Ιησους Χριστον παυσας, ὡς δη νεωτερος, και νεωτερων ανδρων συγγραμματα· εις εαυτον δε, εν μεση τη εκκλησια τη μεγαλη τη πασχα ημερα, ψαλμωδειν γυναικας παρασκευαζων. ὡν και ακουσας τις φριξειεν.
TRANSLATION OF VALESIUS.
Quinetiam psalmos in honorem Domini Jesu Christi cani solitos, quasi novellos, et a recentioribus hominibus compositos, abolevit. Mulieres, auteni magno paschae die in media ecclesia, psalmos quosdam canere ad sui ipsius laudem instituit; quod quidem audientibus horrorem merito incusserit.
The scholar who examines the original, will see that the following is a literal translation. Paul “put a stop to the psalms in honor of our Lord Jesus Christ, as though (they had been) modern, and the compositions of modern men, and prepared women on the great day of Easter, in the midst of the church, to sing psalms in honor of himself.” It will be seen that this translation differs from that which has commonly been given, simply in the rendering of the particle ὡς. According to the more common interpretation of the passage, this particle has been understood in the sense of because. And hence, Paul is charged with setting aside the psalms which were sung in the church of Antioch, because they were modern.
But, to say the least, it is not necessary that we should understand the particle in this sense. According to very common usage, it is employed to convey the idea of comparison or similitude, rather than to signify the reason for which a thing is done. Examples almost innumerable of the following kind, occur in the New Testament. “Be ye wise as serpents and harmless as doves.” Matt. 10:16. “His raiment was white as the light.” “If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed.” Matt. 17:2, 20. “He was led as a sheep to the slaughter, and like a lamb dumb before his shearer.” Acts 8:32. And in Acts 27:30 it is translated correctly, “as though,” as I believe it should be in the passage under consideration. In all such instances it will be seen, that this particle is used to convey the idea of comparison between objects which in some respects resemble each other.
Understanding the particle in this sense, as employed by the Council, the charge preferred against Paul is, that he took as much liberty with the psalms, which the church in Antioch had been accustomed to sing, as though they had been the compositions of modern men. And the implied idea is, that the psalms which had been sung in that church, were not modern, nor the compositions of modern men, but were the songs of inspiration. And the daring impiety of Paul appeared in this, that he treated the divine songs which celebrate the praises of the Lord Jesus, as though they had been the compositions of uninspired men.
The Council then, according to this view, do not say that Paul set aside the psalms, which had been sung at Antioch because, they were the compositions of modern men, but, as though, they had been of this character. This view, it will be seen, accords with the translation of Valesius. He employs the term “quasi,” as though, to express the sense of the original.
In support of this interpretation of the Epistle of the Council which condemned the heresy of Paul, the following considerations are submitted to the judgment of the unprejudiced reader.
1. The sacred songs, which the church in Antioch had been accustomed to sing, and the use of which Paul of Samosata is said to have abolished, are termed “psalms.” Neander, it is true, denominates them “the church hymns which had been in use since the second century;” and others describe them as “the old church hymns that spake of Christ as the incarnate word.” But the Council speaks of them as the “psalms.” Now, while I freely admit that this term does not conclusively establish the fact, that these sacred songs were the Psalms of David, yet it furnishes a strong presumptive argument in favor of this supposition. It will, I suppose, be admitted by all who are concerned in this controversy, that this term is more commonly used to designate the Psalms of inspiration, and that it is not the term usually employed in reference to the compositions of uninspired men.
But, perhaps it will be said that the qualifying phrase, psalms “in honor of our Lord Jesus Christ,” determines that they were songs composed by men for the purpose of testifying to the truth of our Lord’s divinity. To this, I reply, that such a conclusion is by no means legitimate. All that appears from the language of the Council is, that the psalms which were sung in Antioch had reference to Christ, and were in honor of him. Now, if the Psalms of David do bear testimony to the divine dignity and glory of the Lord Jesus Christ; and if they do speak of him as being a divine person, and yet as appearing in our world in human nature; and if the church, in the days of Paul of Samosata, thus understood the psalms, then, it was strictly proper and natural for these advocates of the truth of our Lord’s divinity, to speak of the inspired Psalms as being sung in honor of our Lord Jesus Christ.
That the Psalms do celebrate the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ; that they do exhibit him to the view of our faith, as a divine person, and at the same time, as a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief, it cannot be necessary that I should undertake to prove. It may be sufficient to refer to the numerous instances in which the Psalms are applied to the Lord Jesus, by the writers of the New Testament; and particularly to the declaration of our Lord himself, in which he says to his disciples, Luke 24: 44, “These are the words which 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.”
And while it is perfectly evident that Jesus Christ, in his person. and work; in his divine dignity, humiliation, sufferings and death; resurrection and ascension into heaven; is the great subject of the Psalms, it is not less evident from the writings of the primitive Christians, that the Psalms were thus understood by them. And this being the fact, it was perfectly natural for them, when speaking of these divine hymns, to represent them as being sung in honor of the Lord Jesus Christ. In confirmation of what has just been said with regard to the sense in which the Psalms were understood by the primitive Christians, it may be sufficient for my purpose to adduce the testimony of Justin Martyr, who wrote about the middle of the second Century. In his Dialogue with Trypho the Jew, in which, the particular design of this learned Father, is to prove that Jesus Christ is the Messiah promised to the fathers, the Psalms, generally, are referred to, as furnishing the proof of his position. For example, Justin quotes the 110th Psalm as applicable to the Messiah. And then addressing Trypho, he says, “I am not ignorant that you Jews explain this Psalm, as though it referred to Hezekiah.” But he adds, “The words themselves declare that it relates to our Jesus.” After having pointed out clearly the application of this Psalm to the Lord Jesus Christ, Justin addressed Trypho in the following language: “That I may convince you, that ye Jew's do not understand your own Scriptures, I will mention another Psalm dictated to David by the Holy Spirit, which you contend was spoken with reference to Solomon, your king, but which, in reality, was uttered concerning our Christ.” It is the 72d Psalm to which Justin here refers; and after repeating the entire Psalm, he remarks, “In the conclusion of this Psalm it is written, the hymns of David are ended.” And then he proceeds to show that the things spoken in this Psalm cannot apply to Solomon, as the Jews were wont to contend, but do relate to our Lord Jesus Christ.
If, then, the primitive Christians understood the Psalms as referring to the Lord Jesus, as is abundantly evident from the writings of Justin Martyr and others, it was strictly appropriate and natural, when speaking of them, to represent them as being sung in honor of Him. And the language applied to the psalms which were sung in Antioch in the days of Paul of Samosata, very correctly describes the Psalms of David, as they were understood in the primitive ages of Christianity.
If it were necessary to adduce further proof in confirmation of what has been said in relation to the sense in which the Psalms were understood by the primitive Christians, it would be easy to multiply testimonies from the writings of Irenaeus, of Clement of Alexandria, of Athanasius, of Augustine, and others of similar character, who were distinguished advocates of the truth. Indeed, these Fathers instead of experiencing any difficulty in seeing their divine Redeemer in the Psalms, appear from their writings, to have had Him presented to the view of their faith everywhere throughout these sacred hymns.
2. But that the Psalms, the use of which Paul [of Samosata] abolished, were not “the compositions of modern men,” and could not have been set aside by him under the pretext that they were “modern,” will appear from this consideration: That which he is said to have introduced, would be equally, if not in a greater degree, obnoxious to the same objection. The Psalms which he removed were such as were “in honor of the Lord Jesus Christ;” those which he appointed to be sung in their stead, were “in honor of himself.” Now, it is certain that none of the Psalms of David would be adapted to the purpose of celebrating the praises of Paul of Samosata. And it is no less certain that any songs which were in honor of this enemy of the truth, must have been modern, and the compositions of an uninspired man. And though Paul was a heretic, it cannot be supposed that he was so perfectly devoid of common sense, as to urge as a reason for setting aside the existing psalmody of the church, a consideration which would apply with greater force to the exclusion of what he proposed to introduce.
I am aware, that it has been customary to suppose, that Paul introduced the Psalms of David in the room of those which he displaced. Neander says, “he probably suffered nothing but Psalms to be used.” Others not quite so modest, assert without any qualification, that it was the “pompous Unitarian, Paul of Samosata, who first set the example of installing the Psalms in the place of exclusive dignity?” But where, I ask, is the authority for such conjectures, or for such unqualified affirmations? The Epistle of the Council, by whose authority the heresy of Paul was condemned, says no such thing.
So far from it, the express declaration of the Council is irreconcilable with such a supposition. The psalmody which, according to the Council, Paul introduced, was designed to celebrate his own praise; was in honor of himself. And this could not have been an inspired psalmody, but must have been a system of which man was the author.
The conclusion, then, to which I am conducted, taking the language of the Council as my guide, and not suffering myself to be misled by the mere conjectures and suppositions of men, may be exhibited in the following propositions:
1. The psalmody employed in the worship of God in the church of Antioch, in the days of Paul of Samosata, was a divine system. The psalms which were sung at that time, were in honor of our Lord Jesus Christ. And this character belongs appropriately to the Psalms of David, for they speak of Christ and celebrate his glory.
2. The daring impiety of the heretic Paul was manifested in this, that he took as much liberty with these Psalms, whose author is the Holy Spirit, as though they had been the compositions of uninspired men.
3. The psalmody which he introduced was designed to celebrate his own praise. He appointed women in the church, on the great day of Easter, to sing songs in honor of himself, the hearing of which was adapted to fill the pious mind with horror.
In the latter part of the fourth century, during the reign of Julian the Apostate, who was a most determined enemy of Christianity, and who labored most assiduously to restore idolatry, we have abundant evidence, not only that the psalms of David were in common use, but that all classes of christians were familiar with them; and that they were regarded as well adapted to the existing circumstances of the church. Sozomen in his ecclesiastical History, Lib. V. cap. 19, states that, Julian, when meditating a war against the Persians, consulted the oracle of Apollo, whose Temple was at Daphne. But the oracle gave no response. Inquiring into the cause, he was informed that it was in consequence of the body of a Martyr which was buried in the neighborhood of the temple. Accordingly the Emperor ordered the christians to remove the body. While engaged in this service, the historian informs us, that the christians lightened their labor by singing psalms as they marched in solemn procession. Men and women, young men and virgins, old men and boys sang together in harmonious concert, the 97th psalm, in which these words occur, “Confounded be all they that serve graven images, that boast themselves of idols.” Thus did they not only celebrate the praise of God, but at the same time testify their abhorrence of idolatry, which Julian was laboring to restore.
By this proceeding of the christians, Julian was greatly incensed, and ordered a young man whose name was Theodorus, to be bound to the stake and subjected to torture. But the young man, so far from being intimidated, and regardless of his bodily sufferings sung at the stake, the same psalm, which the multitude had sung on the preceding day.
About the same time, as we are informed by Theodoret in his History, Lib. III. cap. 19. there was a widow of the name of Publia, distinguished for her piety, who presided over an assembly of virgins. As Julian passed by, Publia and her virgins testified their opposition to the worship of idols, by singing in concert those psalms in which the vanity of idolatry is exposed; such as the 115th and the 68th. In his rage Julian ordered the venerable matron to be buffetted on the cheek. But, so far from being silenced, Publia esteemed it an honor to suffer reproach for her religion. And she continued, adds the Historian, “to assail Julian, as she had done before, with spiritual songs, imitating him who was the author of them, and who repressed the evil spirit that annoyed Saul.” The reader will please to observe, that while we have in this instance evidence of the prevailing use of David’s psalms, Theodoret denominates them spiritual songs.
The next Author to whom I shall refer, is Anthasius, bishop of Alexandria, the able and zealous opponent of Arianism in the fourth century. Among the works of this Father, we have an Epistle addressed to Marcellinus, “Concerning the Interpretation of the Psalms.” After expressing his great regard for the Scriptures generally, he says, “Yet the book of Psalms is especially worthy of attention and observation.” While this portion of scripture is profitable more especially for one purpose, and that for another, the Psalms, he observes, contain whatever is to be found elsewhere in the Bible. “The volume of the Psalms, is like Paradise which contained plants of every kind that were good for food.” He then goes briefly over the book of Psalms, to show by a reference to particular examples, that no matter what may be the particular condition of the christian, he may here find something adapted to his case.
After having taken a cursory survey of the book of Psalms, he observes, that, “If you desire to sing those things apart from others which relate to Christ you may find such, in every psalm, but especially in such as the following.” He then refers to the 45th and 110th, in which, says he, Christ is exhibited as God’s own Son; and the 22nd and 69th, which proclaim the cross of Christ and what he suffered for us. He then vindicates the propriety of singing the psalms, in opposition to some whom he terms “the more simple,” who had taken up a prejudice against singing, as adapted in their view, to gratify the ear, rather than to profit the soul. And in conclusion, he insists upon the propriety of adhering to the plain and simple language of the Spirit in opposition to all meretricious ornaments of style, with a view to make the psalms more acceptable to the carnal and fastidious taste.
The next writer, to whom I shall refer is Chrysostom, bishop of Constantinople, who flourished during the latter part of the fourth and the beginning of the fifth century. Among his writings, we have an Exposition of most of the Psalms. In common with the early Fathers of the Church, he understands the psalms generally as relating to Christ. In his Exposition of the 110th psalm, he not only shows its application to Christ, but its opposition to the prevailing heresies of that age. Among others he particularly specifies the heresy of Paul of Samosata. It would appear, therefore, that in the estimation of Chrysostom, the introduction of the psalms of David into the Church, would not be adapted to promote the heresy of this enemy of the truth.
In his Homily on Col. 3:16, 17, Chrysostom speaks of ignorance of the Scriptures, as the cause of all kinds of evil; from which it appears, that he understood the phrase, “the word of Christ,” as referring to the sacred oracles. He inveighs against the indolence of parents and husbands, in leaving the instruction of their households entirely to their pastors, while they neglected to co-operate in the work. He condemns the use of “satanic songs” and sports, in which the youth were wont to indulge, while the sacred songs were neglected. And as an antidote against this evil, he directs those who had the oversight of children to “teach them to sing those psalms which are full of heavenly wisdom.” He then prescribes the course to be pursued. “Begin with the first psalm.” And then he adds, “When with such as these, you have led the youth from the commencement of life, you may conduct him to loftier themes.” He then distinguishes between psalms and hymns. According to him, hymns are songs of a more divine character, being employed more especially in ascribing praise to God, while psalms relate to matters of christian experience and rules for the government of human conduct. With the particular distinction which Chrysostom makes between psalms and hymns, we have no concern. My object is to show that this eminent Greek writer, who it is to be supposed, understood his own language quite as well as our modern writers on psalmody, regarded the phrase, “the word of Christ,” as applicable to the Scriptures; that he understood the terms psalms and hymns and songs, as applicable to the songs of inspiration; and that, he regarded those as complying with the injunction of the Apostle, who taught such as were under their care to sing these sacred songs.
Our attention shall in the next place be directed to the testimony of Jerome, one of the most learned of the Fathers, who was born A.D. 330 and died A.D. 421. In his voluminous writings, we have abundant evidence, that the Psalms were regularly sung in the fourth and fifth century. Besides a commentary on the book of Psalms, we have Homilies on particular psalms. As a specimen of his views in relation to the principle on which the psalms are to be interpreted, I would refer to his introductory remarks on the 118th psalm.
“In every psalm, the prophet speaks and sings of our Lord Jesus Christ; but especially in the 118th psalm, now read for the purpose of being sung, is the mystery of the resurrection proclaimed.” In his Homily on Ephes. v: 19, he observes, “What is the difference between psalms, hymns and songs, may be fully learned from the Psalter.” He then proceeds to give his own views with regard to the distinction between these different terms. It appears therefore that Jerome in common with the other Fathers, understood the terms employed by the Apostle, “psalms, hymns and spiritual songs,” as applicable to the songs of inspiration contained in the book of Psalms.
It appears, however, that in the days of Jerome, as at the present time, there were those who thought that they could compose songs better adapted to excite devotional feelings, than those composed by the sweet Psalmist of Israel. In his tract “Concerning the celebration of the festival of Easter,” Jerome incidentally refers to the subject of psalmody. There prevailed in the early ages of Christianity some diversity in practice with regard to the time of holding this festival. Jerome observes, that with regard to some other things there was a degree of diversity among different churches. “As to the utility of singing psalms and hymns, we have the authority and example of our Lord and his Apostles. Yet for the purpose of elevating the mind and exciting the affections there is some diversity in our modes.” And he adds, we in Africa sing the divine canticles of the prophets, while the Donatists inflame the passions by singing psalms composed by uninspired men. The reader will please to observe, that we have here the testimony of Jerome, that the church sung the songs of inspiration, while the Donatists, who were schismatics, were accustomed to sing the compositions of uninspired men.
The writings of Augustine abound with evidence that the Psalms were regularly used in the worship of the church in the age in which he lived. The authorities already referred to, however, have occupied more space than was anticipated. Therefore, without prosecuting the subject further, it is hoped, that the brief sketch which has been given, will satisfy the reader that from the beginning, the songs of inspiration were employed by the church in the worship of God.