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CHAPTER V.  Mr. Morton’s remarks upon the History of Psalmody.


CHAPTER V. Mr. Morton’s remarks upon the History of Psalmody.

James Dodson

Dr. Pressly has a chapter upon the ancient history of Psalmody. He says: "Let us inquire, in so far as we have history for our guide, what was the practice of the church in the age immediately succeeding the time of the apostles." Mr. Morton strongly charges the Dr. with falsifying, in this matter. His remarks upon the Dr’s. deductions from Pliny’s letter, will serve to shew with how much justice and ability he prosecutes this charge.

Our author says, p. 216: "His (Dr. Pressly’s) first testimony is the letter of Pliny, Governor of Bythinia and Pontus in Asia Minor, to the Emperor Trajan, written about A. D. 111. Pliny states in this letter, that the Christians of Bythinia, ‘were wont to meet together on a stated day, before it was light, and sing alternately a hymn to Christ as a God.’ The Doctor will have it, that this piece of history speaks in his favor. He says: "It will not be denied by any who are acquainted with the Book of Psalms, that these sacred hymns speak of Christ,—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. 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.’ Thus the Doctor makes appear that the primitive Christians used the book of Psalms to the exclusion of all other compositions." Now, the candid reader will see that the Dr. does not attempt to prove any such thing from the passage in Pliny’s letter, to which he refers. He shows very clearly, that the words of Pliny do not prove that the primitive Christians used human compositions in singing God’s praise; but he does not so much as hint that they do prove that human compositions were not used.

Mr. Morton, after this barefaced misrepresentation of Dr. Pressly’s argument, proceeds to confront him with Neander. "But let us compare this," says he, "with what the celebrated historian Neander says on this subject, p. 192: ‘singing also passed from the Jewish service, into that of the Christian Church. St. Paul exhorts the early Christians to sing spiritual songs. What was used for this purpose were partly the Psalms of the Old Testament, and partly songs composed with this very object; especially songs of praise and thanks to God and Christ; and such we know Pliny found to be customary among the Christians. In the controversies with the Unitarians, about the end of the second century, and the beginning of the third, the hymns in which, from early times, Christ that been honored as a God, were appealed to.’ Now this history is very different from that of Dr. Pressly."—And what if it is, Mr. Morton? Has not Dr. Pressly as good an opportunity of knowing what the Apostle Paul means by ‘spiritual songs,’ as Neander has! And has he not as good a right as Neander, to draw his own conclusions from Pliny’s letter to Trajan? Yet Mr. Morton asks triumphantly,—"if the Doctor is right, why did he not state that Neander falsifies on this subject?"—The answer is easy;—it is no part of Dr. Pressly’s character as a gentleman, to give the lie to every man who differs from him in opinion; and still less, to step out of his way for this purpose.—And Mr. M. adds with the same air of triumph, "Now why did not Dr. Pressly bring forward this piece of history which so flatly contradicts himself, and show, that is incorrect?"—I can easily let you into the whole secret, Mr. M.: Neander is a writer of the present age; and Dr. Pressly being a man of sense, or at least desirous to be esteemed such, did not wish to make himself supremely ridiculous, by producing the speculations of a modern historian, in evidence of the ‘practice of the Church in the age immediately succeeding the time of the apostles.’—And I know another author who might have partially saved his credit by avoiding this same stupendous folly.