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Chapter II. The matter of praise


Chapter II. The matter of praise

James Dodson

I. Is it optional with us, whether we compose the matter of our praise? No. God has prepared it for us in his word. This is regulated by divine appointment. Jehovah has provided it for his saints, and says, “Is any merry? let him sing psalms.” Jam. 5:13. Divine appointment reigns in the whole plan of redemption, and as completely in designating the matter and manner of our praise, as in the incarnation of his Son.

II. Do we not compose our prayers from his word, without any book especially appointed by God? Yes. In prayer we are regulated by circumstances. It is the language of dependence, and is varied by our condition. While we are to “acknowledge God in all our ways,” and to “pray without ceasing,” he has, by one short and perfect form, said, “after this manner pray ye.” He has not given to us any book of prayers; and God has not said, “and thou, when thou prayest,” pray Job, or pray Proverbs, or pray Psalms.

III. Is it proper for the ministers of Christ to compose sermons, and give their own views of his truth to the people in his name? It is. Christ has neither given to them any book of sermons, nor told them to preach Isaiah, Luke, or John; but “go and preach the gospel to every creature.” “Preach the word.” Without an inspired book of sermons, they must “not shun to declare the whole counsel of God.” 2 Cor. 2:15,16.

IV. Is there any thing in the nature of praise which makes it necessary, that God himself should record the matter which we are to use in this part of worship? Yes. In prayer we can in some degree know our own wants, and in fulfilment of the divine promise Zech. 12:10, “the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities.” Rom. 8:26. In preaching, also, we may become able “rightly to divide the word of truth,” until we come to “the full assurance of understanding;” but in praise, God alone can determine what he will accept as “the fruit of our lips.” Matt. 15:9; Mark 7:7; Psa. 105:2; 1 Chron. 16:9; Psa. 86:2.

V. When was praise first publicly given to God by the church? We read of it first at the shores of the Red Sea, when “the church” Acts 7:38 was delivered from her enemies. Exod. 15:1.

VI. When did praise become a stated part of divine worship? More particularly when the worship of Jehovah was established at Jerusalem, in the days of David, who spake as he was moved by the Holy Ghost; and is called by God, “the sweet psalmist of Israel.” 2 Sam. 23:1,2; 1 Chron. 15:16,19,27.

VII. Was praise subsequently a part of divine worship? Yes. Psa. 100:4; 84:4; 43:3,4; Col. 3:16; Eph. 5:19.

VIII. Did David, as the psalmist of Israel, write all the psalms? No. He wrote probably more than one half of them. Yet they are called by his name (David, Heb. 4:7. Rom. 11:9) because he was employed more extensively than any other, in this part of the word of God, as the amanuensis of the Holy Ghost.

IX. What name was originally given to that part of the Holy Scriptures which is thus called David? It was called “Tehillim,” that is, hymns or praises, because it was given as the matter of divine praise to the church of God in every future age. It is also called “Psalms,” because many of these “spiritual songs” were, at the temple worship, sung with the psaltery. Parts of the book have other names, as Mizmor, Shir (46, title), Tehillah (145, title), Tephilah (17,86,102, titles), Prayers, Shir-hammacholoth (120-134)—Odes of Ascension. They are also called, in the Septuagint, Psalmoi.

X. When were the Tehillim, or Psalms written and formed into a book? They were written in a manner similar to the other parts of Scripture Heb. 1:1, during a period of nearly one thousand years, and were collected into one book, probably by “Ezra the priest, a scribe of the law of the God of heaven.” They stood in their present numerical order in the days of the apostles. Acts 13:33.

XI. Were other songs, beside those contained in the Book of Psalms, composed during that period? Yes, many. Such as the Song of Deborah Judg. 5:12, the song of the well Num. 21:17,18, the 1005 songs of Solomon, and others.

XII. Were not these then given as the matter of her praise, or are they not commanded to be sung by the church in all future ages? No. As we read of different books in Scripture, such as the book of Gad, of Nathan, of Jehu, of Jasher, and the Epistle from Laodicea, which were not collected into the sacred canon, by the Holy Ghost, so we thus know, that by the same divine sovereignty, the songs thus noticed, or even recorded, were ephemeral as matter of praise; while the songs contained in the “Sepher Tehillim,” or Book of Psalms, and collected and placed in one book by the Spirit, are a part of “the word of God, which liveth and abideth forever,” selected by infinite wisdom, and given expressly as the matter of praise to the church until the end of time. The same principle applies to any isolated and occasional hymns or songs, which may be found in the New Testament.

XIII. Were any attempts made to add to the Book of Psalms, after it was completed? Yes. The 151st psalm was fabricated, and attempted to be added to the then perfect book, nearly three hundred years before “the Christian era.” Septuagint, Psa. 151st.

XIV. Is such an attempt authorized by God? No. It arises from the depravity of our nature, and the opposition of our wills to the divine will, and consequently forms a part of what the Holy Ghost calls “will worship,” which has a show of wisdom. Col. 2:23.

XV. Is, then, this book called the Book of Psalms, by the Holy Ghost? It is so called, both by Jesus Christ and by the Spirit. Luke 20:42; Acts 1:20; Heb. 4:7.

XVI. Was it given to the Jewish church to be the matter of praise to God? Yes. 1 Chron. 16:7; 25:1,5; Psa. 81:1,2; Neh. 12:8,46; Psa. 137:3,4; Ezra 3:10.

XVII. Was the Jewish church in reality different from the Christian? No. They are the same church, under different dispensations. Acts 7:38; Heb. 4:2; Gal. 4:3,4.

XVIII. When Christ came “to fulfil all righteousness,” and by his evangelists and apostles to complete the oracles of God, did he, or they, praise Jehovah by singing psalms? Yes, both did. Matt. 26:30; Mark 14:26; Acts 16:25; Psa. 22:2; Heb. 2:13.

XIX. Did they deliver, by inspiration, any other “psalms, hymns, or spiritual songs,” than those contained “in David”? Heb. 4:7. No. One such psalm or song would be a treasure for the edification of the saints, if “the Psalms” had been simply Jewish; and yet it would not afford a precedent or warrant for uninspired men to make human hymns, and sing them as praise to God. Isa. 1:12. Hos. 13:2.

XX. What is a human hymn, psalm, or spiritual song? One, of which the arrangement and composition are made by uninspired men, and not by the authority and wisdom of God, even although the sentiment be taken from, and agree with, some portion of Scripture. It has “a show of wisdom;” yet it is only man’s opinion which will be opposed and contradicted by the opinion of some other man metrically expressed, in language, to his mind, equally scriptural. Consequently, “of making many ‘hymn’ books there is no end.” We have now more than one for each Sabbath in the year, all supplanting “the Lord’s song,” (songs), and in their turn supplanted by the poetical skill and caprice of other men. Such compositions, as matter of praise, are, moreover, purely “will worship.” Isa. 1:12.

XXI. Are the psalms adapted to the condition of saints in New Testament times, as the matter of their praise? Yes. They are “an epitome of the Bible, adapted to the purposes of devotion.” (Bp. Horne). They are emphatically “the word of Christ,” portraying especially the work of the Spirit in the soul of man, in all its stages and conditions of being, from his “creation anew in Christ Jesus” to the enjoyment of eternal glory.

XXII. Do they not present the Messiah only as a Saviour to come? No. They present his incarnation Psa. 40:6-8; Heb. 10:5, his public teaching Psa. 40:9; Luke 4:16-22, his death Psa. 22:1;31:5; Luke 23:46, his ascension Psa. 68:18; Acts 1:2-9, sitting down at the right hand of God Psa. 110:1. Acts 2:34. Heb. 1:13; 10:12,13, and his whole mediatorial work, as far as it has been accomplished, as it really is Luke 24:44.

XXIII. Do they not contain curses and imprecations upon our enemies, contrary to the command, “Love your enemies” Matt. 5:44? No. Not upon our enemies, but upon the enemies of Christ. Psa. 69:20-25; 109:8; Acts 1:16,20.

XXIV. Have they not grown old, and consequently become less adapted to praise? No. A book can not be considered old while its author lives. He may, at any time, alter or remodel it; consequently, while God lives, the Psalms cannot and will not become obsolete; and for this reason they are a song ever new. Psa. 33:3; 96:1; Isa. 42:10; Rev. 5:9; 14:3; 15:3.

XXV. But are not “psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs,” mentioned in the New Testament, to be sung? Yes. We are commanded to sing them. Eph. 5:19. Col. 3:16.

XXVI. Were they not something different from the Book of Psalms? No. For the Colossians and Ephesians had already the Septuagint. “Moses was read in their synagogues every Sabbath day,” their first Christian assemblies Acts 13:15, and converts were Jews Acts 18:19; 19:1,19. Col. 2:14, and therefore, when they were thus directed, they would easily understand, that the psalmois, humnois and odais pneumatikais were obviously the Mitzmorim Shirim, and Tehillim previously given in the Book of Psalms, by the inspiration of God. Besides, in the Septuagint Psa. 72:20, and by Josephus Antiq. B. VII. chap. 12, the Tephiloth, or prayers of David, are called hymns.

XXVII. Do not these various terms indicate different kinds of hymns, from those found in the Book of Psalms, and authorize the composition of religious poetry as the matter of praise? No. No more than the terms law, commandment, and statutes, in the 119th Psalm, denote any thing different from the word of God, and authorize, as the revealed will of Heaven, the, the writings of Josephus, the Koran, or the Book of Mormon.

XXVIII. When commanded to “let the word of Christ dwell in” them “richly,” if his “word” could not be found in the “hymns and spiritual songs” contained in the Book of Psalms, could the Colossians and Ephesians remain upon the earth, until modern hymnologists could supply its supposed defects? No. Nor yet compose, without divine inspiration, hymns for themselves, of which God would assuredly accept, as the matter of his praise.

Objections. 1. The psalms are not adapted to the departure of missionaries. Ans. Missionaries departed probably without singing, according to scriptural example Acts 13:3,4; and for such solemn scenes, the psalms provide matter most suitable to the condition of every missionary, or to that of any of his friends, who “let the word of Christ dwell in them richly.” Psa. 46, 56, 72, 122, etc.

2. They are supposed to be not adapted to Sabbath schools. “You would not have the children learn the old psalms? Ans. The family circle is the Sabbath school of Scripture. Psa. 92:1,2; 118:15; Gen. 18:19; 1 Tim. 3:12; Deut. 6:7. And if for the benefit of those who have no pious parental instruction, this institution has been established, yet every teacher must be assuredly guilty, who does not teach his pupils, “the word of Christ” as the matter of their praise, that it may dwell in them richly. If human hymns had any divine authority, the varied contradictory compilations, which abound, could, even then, only train the early mind to contradictory doctrinal opinions, while none of them will enable the scholar to say, “Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee.” Psa. 119:11.

XXIX. What, then, are some of the reasons why Christians should sing only “the Book of Psalms” in praise to God?

1. The command of God Jam. 5:13, which ought to be sufficient for every saint.

2. He has given to us no additional hymns in the New Testament, for the Book of Psalms was previously perfect.

3. Because Christ, “in whom dwells all the fulness of the Godhead bodily,” who is “the wisdom of God,” and in whom dwells all the “fulness of knowledge and of wisdom,” not only made no new ones, but consoled himself, on the cross, with the words of David. Psa. 22:1; 31:5. This is the highest possible authority to every Christian, for the use of the Psalms exclusively.

4. Because the apostles, although inspired to write the New Testament, and to complete the word of God, were not “moved by the Holy Ghost” to write any more “spiritual songs.” We have their Gospels, Acts, and Epistles, yet they leave us nothing with which to supplant the songs of Zion.

5. Because every human composition lacks divine appointment. The command is not, make “a psalm,” but “take” one. Psa. 81:2.

6. Because the Psalms are vitally adapted to our use. When we search the other scriptures, we learn how others served God; when we sing “the Lord’s song” aright, we worship him ourselves. Psa. 63:3-5.

7. Because, the psalms being given by the same Spirit who regenerates every Christian, they are precisely adapted to the growth of the soul in the divine life, being “the sincere milk of the word,” by which the believer grows 1 Pet. 2:2, when he “lets the word of Christ dwell in him richly.”

8. Again, when “all nations shall call Christ blessed,” his “watchmen shall sing together with the voice.” Isa. 52:8. “They shall lift up their voice, until from the uttermost parts of the earth shall be heard songs, even glory to the righteous.” Isa. 24:14-16. As they shall then see eye to eye, they will sing together, in the unity of the faith, “the song of Jehovah” Psa. 137:4,—that song which, given under the Old Testament dispensation, was “the song of moses,” and which, being perpetuated coextensively with the reign of Messiah, is forever “the song of the Lamb.” Psa. 86:8-10; Rev. 15:3,4.

XXX. What psalmody has been used by the church since the death of our Saviour?

1. In the primitive churches, at Corinth 1 Cor. 14:26, at Ephesus, at Colosse, and among the twelve tribes Acts 26:7; Jam. 1:1, 5:13, the Psalms were exclusively used. Acts 16:25; Heb. 2:12; Psa. 22:22.

2. From Justin Martyr, Clemens Alexandrinus, Tertullian, Athanasius, Chrysostom, and others, the practices of their respective periods may be partially learned. “The hearts of the pious, in all ages, have felt the value of the Psalms.” Athanasius styles them, “an epitome of the whole Scriptures”; Basil, “a compendium of all theology.” According to Charles Buck, “St. Hilary, bishop of Poitiers, is said to have been the first who composed hymns to be sung in churches, and he was followed by St. Ambrose. Most of those in the Roman breviary were composed by Prudentius.”

3. Luther, while he raised the enthusiasm of his countrymen by making for them poetical compositions, styled the Psalms “a little Bible,” and gave a metrical version of them to his churches.

4. When doctrine, government, worship, and discipline were farther reduced to scriptural purity by Calvin, he sang only the Psalms, in the version “began by Clement Marot, and completed by Beza. Guilliaume Franc set them to tunes, and the people seemed to be infatuated with the love of psalm-singing.”

5. The version of Hopkins and Sternhold was completed in 1562, and soon after adopted by the church of England. This denomination subsequently selected, and now use, the version of Tate and Brady, to which they add five hymns and a doxology. To it the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States appends a number of human compositions, yet, conscious of the want of divine authority, for any addition to the Psalms, “it is ordered, that when any hymn is sung, a portion of the Psalter shall be sung also.”

6. On the 19th of May, 1650, the Presbyterian version of the Psalms was adopted by the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland. In 1745, when persecution no longer purified her gold, and learned ease became not uncommon among her ministry, she added to the Psalms some forty-six metrical compositions, which, in thirty-six years of travail, grew to the (perfect?) number of sixty-seven pieces, called “paraphrases,” with an appendage of five hymns, all which were adopted by the Assembly, June 1, 1781.

By many of the present generation, who have from infancy found them bound with “the Book of Psalms,” the “paraphrases” are viewed as if they were inspired—collected in the same manner—and prepared by the same divine appointment and authority to be the matter of Jehovah's praise, as the Psalter has been. This common opinion is false.

7. By “the pilgrim fathers,” the Psalms were exclusively used, not only on board of the Mayflower, but for twenty-seven years after their landing at Plymouth. To a second edition of Eliot, Weld, and Mather’s version, published in 1647, “a few spiritual songs were added. Their psalms were those of the New England version, and they seldom used a hymn.”—Hood’s History of Music in New England, p.79.

This was affirmed of the pious in New England in the eighteenth century.

XXXI. What has for the last three quarters of a century, more than any thing else, superseded the Psalms among many Protestants? The “imitations” and hymns of the Rev. Dr. Watts. These, written about 1719, were republished in America in 1741, the Psalms “imitated in the Language of the New Testament” by J. Edwards, and the hymns by Dr. Benjamin Franklin.

XXXII. What is now the matter of praise among the various Protestant denominations in Christendom?

1. Among Episcopalians. In the Established Churches of England and Ireland, and in the “Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States,” the Psalter, with a collection of human hymns, to be sung as above directed, see Q.XXX.5, is used. The same may be affirmed of the Lutherans in Europe, while “Hymns for the Use of the People called Methodists, by John Wesley,” are used there by his followers. In America “a collection of Hymns for the use of the Methodist Episcopal Church, principally from the collection of the Rev. John Wesley,” is set forth by her bishops.

2. Among Presbyterians. In Scotland, England, and the British colonies, the Psalms, with paraphrases, are used by all, excepting the Reformed, and perhaps a few others. In Ireland, the Psalms alone are the acknowledged matter of praise. In the United States, the Associate, the Reformed, and the Associate Reformed Churches profess to adhere exclusively to the Psalms, while the General Assemblies, the Reformed Dutch Church, and the Cumberland Presbyterians, employ human compositions.

3. Among the Congregational, or Independent family of sects, Watts' Imitations, or other human hymns, are universally sung. To this branch of the Protestant faith modern hymns are indebted almost wholly for their composition and diffusion.

XXXIII. Are not human hymns better adapted to family worship than the Psalms? Far otherwise. No collection of human compositions can portray, in the language of the heart, the varied joys and sorrows, which are incident to a religious family, much less to all religious families. Consequently, praise, as a part of family worship, is comparatively unknown where the Psalter is laid aside. “The voice of rejoicing” Psa. 118:15 is seldom heard in any “tabernacle” even “of the righteous,” where they do not “sing psalms.” Psa. 92:1,2.

XXXIV. Can any cases be presented in proof of this fact? Yes. To say nothing of other lands, “Those strains that once did sweet in Zion glide,” have made, and continue to make, nearly every pious habitation in Scotland vocal with the praises of Jehovah. And, “in pious families” in New England, for the first century and a quarter from their settlement, “two were sung every day in the week, and on the Lord’s day, not less than eight, thus repeating each Psalm not less than six times a year.”—Hood’s History of Music, p.78.

XXXV. Is it then merely the prejudice of education, which binds those Presbyterians and Episcopalians who use them; and that bound the Puritans in New England to the use of the Psalms in praise? No. It is the paramount authority of divine appointment in all things in religious worship, Num. 3:4; 19:2.; Lev. 10:1; 2 Sam. 6:3; Jam. 5:13; Col. 3:16; Eph. 5:19; Psa. 95:2; 105:2: the example of the Church in her purest times; our own growth in grace; and the safety of true religion, as all erroneous doctrines must have corresponding human hymns for their propagation; and the Psalms are exclusively adapted to that “form of doctrine which is according to godliness,” commonly called Calvinism.

In the service of God, we ought always to employ the best, Mal. 1:8,14; consequently we should never substitute in the place of the true, living, and “incorruptible word of God,” the variable, contradictory, and unscriptural effusions of man, such as the following specimens from different authors:—

“My broken body thus I give,
For you, for all; take, eat, and live.”

35th Par. ver.3.

“Still all may share his sovereign grace,
In every change secure.”
“Condemns reluctant, but extends
The hope of grace to all.”

62nd Par. ver.9,10.

“Go with our armies to the fight,
Like a confederate God.”

Watts’s Imitation, 60, 5. Ed. ed.

“He comes to make his blessings flow
Far as the curse is found.”

Watts’s Imitation, Ps. 98, 3.

“So Samson, when his hair was lost,
Met the Philistines to his cost;
Shook his vain limbs with sad surprise,
Made feeble fight, and lost his eyes.”

Watts’s Hymns, book 1st, hymn 15, ver.5.

“Of every preacher I'd complain!
One spoke through pride, and one for gain;
Another's learning small.”
“Some walk too straight to make a show,
While others far too crooked go;
And both of these I scorn.”

Mercer’s Cluster. A Baptist Hymn Book, hymn 231, ver.2,3.

“Ah! Lord, with trembling I confess
A gracious soul may fall from grace.”

Meth. E. Hymn Book, hymn 91.

“Of my Savior possest,
I was perfectly blest,
As if filled with the fulness of God.”
"Ah! where am I now!
When was it, or how
That I fell from my heaven of grace.”

Meth. E. Hymn Book, hymn 86, ver.6,7.

Or the following, from “Second Advent Hymns,” (Ed. Lowell, 1842), hymn 3rd, called “The Plain Truth.”

“Send the glory, send the glory,
Send the glory, just now.
Send the power, send the power,
Send the power, just now.
Shake the sinner, shake the sinner,
Shake the sinner, just now.”

Such specimens form, probably, not the one thousandth part of the fruits of human opinion and “will-worship,” which might be produced; yet they show to us, that no attainments in holiness will warrant even a regenerated man to claim for his writings inspiration; and no man, unless “moved by the Holy Ghost,” can “praise the name of God with a song” of his own making, which “shall please the Lord better than whole burnt-offering.” The true Christian has “this testimony, that he pleases God,” when he sings psalms to him with grace.

“Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice.” “The words of the Lord are pure words.” Psa. 12:6. “Add thou not unto his words, lest he reprove thee, and thou be found a liar.” Prov. 30:6. Rev. 22:18.