Divine Appointment of the Book of Psalms to be used in the Worship of God.
Having examined the author’s “precept and precedents,” in support of his principle that we have authority to use the compositions of uninspired men, in the worship of God; and having shown, as we hope to the satisfaction of the reader, that his position is unsustained, it is now proposed to consider the claims of the songs of inspiration. It may be proper here to remark, that among those who are the advocates of the exclusive use of an inspired Psalmody, there is some little diversity of opinion. By some it is maintained, that the songs contained in the book of Psalms, were designed to be permanently used in the worship of God, to the exclusion of all others. By others it is supposed, that any song contained in the Bible may with propriety be employed in the celebration of God’s praise. While I decidedly concur with those who plead for the exclusive use of the book of Psalms, I do not think that this diversity of opinion should give rise to any difficulty in the church of God. Where there is agreement in relation to the great principle, that an inspired Psalmody only is to be used, to the exclusion of the compositions of men, which give human views of divine truth, there need not I think be any difficulty on this subject among brethren. And it is believed that if men were willing to confine themselves to the use of the songs of Scripture, there would be little disposition to go beyond the book of Psalms.
It is now taken for granted—because it is admitted by all who are concerned in the present discussion—that the singing of God’s praise, is an ordinance of religious worship. To sing Psalms to the praise of God is recognized as a duty in every part of the sacred Scriptures. If then it is the duty of the church to sing psalms, we must suppose either that he has provided psalms or songs for the use of the church, or that he has given directions to the church to prepare a system of songs for this purpose. Having examined what our author has to say in support of the principle, that the church has authority to prepare her songs of praise, and believing that he has failed to establish this principle from Scripture, I now proceed to show that God has made such provision for his church, as to his infinite wisdom seemed proper; and therefore, that the church has authority to use those songs only, which God has provided in his word.
In pleading for the use of the sacred songs contained in the book of Psalms, my principal argument is drawn from—1. The divine appointment of these songs to be employed in the praise of God. If it can be made to appear to the satisfaction of the reader, that the songs contained in the book of Psalms were given to the church to be used in celebrating the praise of God, it will then be admitted that the point in dispute is settled; for with all who receive the Bible as the rule of faith, it is a received principle, that in the worship of God, divine appointment is our guide. What evidence, then, have we, that the psalms and hymns and songs contained in the book of Psalms, were appointed by God, to be used in the celebration of his praise?
The divine inspiration of the book of Psalms, will be admitted by all who are interested in the present discussion. Though it must be confessed that language is sometimes employed by those who plead for what our author styles a “Gospel Psalmody,” in relation to those divine songs contained in the book of Psalms, which is utterly inconsistent with the reverence which is due to the word of God, and which would seem to indicate, that in reality they are regarded as the productions of mere human genius. They who denominate some of these sacred hymns “cursing psalms,” and represent the Psalmist as giving vent to feelings of malevolence towards his personal enemies, surely do not regard him as one by whose mouth the Holy Ghost spoke. But however incautiously and irreverently some men may have spoken of these divine songs, yet all who believe in the inspiration of the Scriptures, will admit that the book of Psalms is the word of God, and is, in common with other parts of the Bible, the rule of faith and practice. But while the book of Psalms is a revelation from God, and is, in common with the rest of the lively Oracles, profitable for instruction in righteousness, it is profitable especially as containing matter adapted to a particular purpose. In this book, the high praises of our God are celebrated by the divine Spirit, who “searcheth all things; yea, the deep things of God;” and therefore, these songs are profitable to the church especially, for the purpose of praising God, which is an end to which some other parts of divine revelation are not adapted. Everything contained in the sacred volume is useful to the church of God; but some portions of the word of revelation are more appropriate to one purpose, while others are more especially adapted to another. And the book of Psalms is adapted to the edification of the church of God, especially as furnishing matter suitable to be employed in singing God’s praise. That these songs were given to the church to be sung in the worship of God, is evident from the peculiar character of their matter; the titles by which the Holy Ghost designates them, and from the use which was originally made of them by the church of God.
The matter of these divine songs is peculiar, and indicates the particular end for which they were intended. Here, the glory of Jehovah is celebrated in the sublimest strains of Eastern poetry, as displayed in the works of creation and of redemption; and the church is furnished with suitable matter for praising God, for his goodness, wisdom, power, love and mercy manifested in the salvation of man, the preservation of the church, and the government of the world. As, then, the peculiar character of the contents of any composition, manifests the end for which it was intended; as from its matter, we know that one composition is a political essay; another, is a philosophical speculation; and a third, is a biographical sketch of some distinguished individual; so from the matter of the book of Psalms, we learn that its peculiar design is the celebration of God’s praise, and that it was given to the church to be employed peculiarly for that purpose. “Praise ye the Lord; for it is good to sing praises to our God; for it is pleasant, and praise is comely.” These divine songs abound with ascriptions of praise to God, and with urgent calls addressed not only to the church in her collective capacity, but to all classes of men, to engage in this delightful exercise:—“Praise the Lord, O Jerusalem! praise thy God, O Zion!” “Let everything that hath breath, praise the Lord.”
The titles which the Holy Spirit has employed to designate these divine hymns, indicate the particular use for which they were intended. The reader will please to remember what has been said in a preceding chapter, on the words of the Apostle, when he exhorts the church to engage in the duty of singing “psalms and hymns and spiritual songs.” It is believed that no interpretation of the Apostle's language can be sustained, which does not proceed upon the principle, that there is a reference to the different songs contained in the book of Psalms. And this being admitted, it will follow, that we have an explicit divine direction to employ these songs in the worship of God. But independent of this consideration, it is undeniable, that the Holy Spirit appropriates to this collection of sacred songs, the title, “the book of Psalms,” or songs of praise. By this title they are referred to repeatedly in the New Testament. For example, our Lord, when speaking with reference to this portion of divine revelation, says, “David himself saith in the book of Psalms.” [Luke 20:42.] And in accordance with this, is the language of the Apostle Peter: “It is written in the book of Psalms.” [Acts 1:20.] The word “psalm,” is of Greek derivation, and comes from a word which signifies to sing. Psalms, then, are songs which are to be sung. And by giving to this collection of sacred songs, the title of the book of Psalms, the Holy Spirit recognized them as songs of praise to be sung in the worship of God.
That these songs were originally used by the church in singing the praise of God, is a matter of historical record. On this point, we may hereafter be more particular.
Since, then, the book of Psalms is a collection of songs given to the church by the Holy Spirit, the matter of which indicates, that their peculiar design, is to set forth the praise of God; since the Holy Spirit has designated this collection, “the book of Psalms,” or a book of songs of praise ; since they are denominated, “the songs of Zion,” and “the songs of the Lord;” and since we learn from the sacred Scriptures, that these songs were used by the church of God, with divine approbation; therefore, we conclude, that these songs were given to the church by her glorious King, to be employed in singing God’s praise.
That the force of the argument in favor of the divine appointment of the book of Psalms, to be employed in the worship of God, may more clearly appear, it may be of advantage, in this connection, to review briefly, the history of this part of religious worship, as it may be deduced from the sacred Scriptures.
In the primitive ages of the world, the worship of the Deity, it would appear, consisted chiefly in prayer, in connection with the offering of sacrifice. There is no evidence furnished by anything contained in the sacred history, that the singing of God’s praise formed any part of the regular worship of God. The first example recorded in the Bible, in which the people of God are represented as engaged in a social capacity, in this exercise of religious worship, is on the occasion of that signal display of the divine power and goodness, manifested in the deliverance of Israel at the Red Sea, while their Egyptian adversaries experienced a terrible overthrow. “Then sang Moses and the children of Israel this song unto the Lord, and spake, saying, I will sing unto the Lord ; for he hath triumphed gloriously; the horse and his rider hath he thrown into the sea.” On a subsequent occasion, Deborah, a prophetess, furnished a song commemorative of the divine goodness in delivering Israel from the yoke of Jabin, the king of Canaan: “Then sang Deborah and Barak, the son of Abinoam, on that day, saying, Praise the Lord for the avenging of Israel.” At that time, there had not yet been provided a book of Psalms, containing a collection of songs, adapted to the diversified circumstances of God’s people. Nor have we any evidence that the singing of God’s praise constituted any part of the stated worship of Jehovah; but when the circumstances of divine providence called for a public expression of gratitude to God, some individual was raised up, who, under the direction of the Spirit of God, furnished a song suited to the occasion.
At least as early as the days of Samuel, there were established in the Hebrew Commonwealth, Schools of the Prophets. These Seminaries of sacred learning were under the superintendence of some distinguished Prophet, and in them, the youth destined to the prophetic office, were employed in the study of divine things. Though the sacred history has given us but little information, relative to the exercises in which the youth in these schools were employed, we learn that one particular part of their business was the celebration of God's praise, in sacred songs, accompanied by instruments of music, Saul, as Samuel had foretold, when he came to the hill of God, which was the seat of one of these colleges, was met by a company of prophets, who “prophesied upon the psaltery and tabret and pipe and harp.” And seized by a divine impulse, Saul joined the company and prophesied also. And, on a subsequent occasion, when Saul sent messengers to Naioth, to apprehend David, we are told that when the messengers saw the company of prophets prophesying, and Samuel standing as appointed over them, the Spirit of God was upon the messengers of Saul, and they also prophesied. By prophesying, in these examples, is evidently meant the celebration of God's praise, in sacred songs, under a divine influence. Accordingly, the sons of Asaph and Jeduthun, musicians in the temple, are represented as prophesying with a harp, to give thanks, and to praise the Lord.
In these sacred colleges established in Israel, then, it appears that, among other employments, poetry and music were cultivated by the sons of the prophets; sacred hymns were composed under a divine influence, and were sung in the worship of God, accompanied by musical instruments. Whether any of the hymns composed in these schools of the prophets, have been transmitted to us, in that collection of sacred songs denominated the book of Psalms, we have not the means of determining with certainty.
At length, however, in the person of David, a prophet was raised up, whom the Spirit of the Lord eminently qualified for this purpose; who not only composed a great variety of sacred hymns, but also reduced the public worship of God into a regular system, of which the singing of praise formed a part. That David was divinely qualified for this service, and called to it, is sufficiently evident from the express language of the Bible, “Now these be the last words of David: David, the son of Jesse, said, and the man who was raised up on high, the anointed of the God of Jacob, and the sweet Psalmist of Israel said, the Spirit of the Lord spake by me and his word was in my tongue.” [2 Sam. 23:1, 2.] In the worship of the ancient tabernacle, according; to the appointment of Moses, the Israelites were directed to express their joy in God, by blowing with trumpets at the time of offering the sacrifices. “In the day of your gladness, and in your solemn days, and in the beginnings of your months, ye shall blow with the trumpets, over your burnt-offerings and over the sacrifices of your peace-offerings.” [Numb. 10:10.] But in connection with the offering of sacrifice, David introduced the singing of praise. By his direction the Levites were numbered and distributed into classes, that among other services connected with the worship of the temple, they might “stand every morning to thank and to praise the Lord, and likewise at evening.” [1 Chron. 23:30.] And in the performance of this part of their service, the custom was, that when the offering was presented on the altar, the Levites began to sing the praise of God. “When the burnt-offering began, the song of the Lord began also, with the trumpets and with the instruments ordained by David, king of Israel.” [2 Chron. 29:27.] And that these regulations in the worship of God and in the services of the temple, were made, not by his own private authority, but by divine direction, we have sufficient evidence. In the instructions which David gave to Solomon with regard to the temple and its worship, according to “the pattern of all that he had by the Spirit,” there are included directions, for the priests and the Levites, and for all the work of the service of the house of the Lord. And in relation to these instructions, generally, it is added, “All this, the Lord made me understand in writing by his hand upon me, even all the works of this pattern.” [1 Chron. 28:13, 19.] And as a further confirmation of the conclusion that in all these regulations connected with the worship of God, David was directed by divine wisdom, it is stated in the history of the reformation effected under the reign of Hezekiah, that this pious king “set the Levites in the house of the Lord, with cymbals, with psalteries and with harps, according to the commandment of David, and of Gad, the kings’s seer, and Nathan, the prophet; for so was the commandment of the Lord by his prophets.” [2 Chron. 29:25.]
From this historical survey, then, it appears, that we have no evidence, that previous to the age of David, the singing of God’s praise formed a part of the stated worship of God. But, on particular occasions, when the dispensations of divine Providence towards the church, called for a public expression of their gratitude, the people of God poured forth their thankful acknowledgments in songs of praise; and at such times someone who was divinely qualified by being filled with the Holy Ghost, furnished a hymn suited to the exigencies of the church. But in all the history of the church, as recorded in the Bible, there is no evidence whatever, that any person presumed to undertake such a service, who was not divinely called to it, by being endowed with the Spirit of inspiration.
At length, after the Lord God of Israel had given rest unto his people, and they were in quiet possession of the land promised to their fathers, God raised up, in the person of David, a prophet, by whom the public worship of God was reduced into a regular system, of which the singing of praise formed a part. And as the celebration of God's praise now became a regular part of divine worship, it became indispensably necessary that divine songs should be provided for the use of the church. Accordingly, God, who selects his own instruments for the accomplishment of his work, called David to the performance of this most important service. By the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, he was endowed with those peculiar gifts which were necessary to qualify him for the office of a SWEET PSALMIST OF ISRAEL; and by his instrumentality, the church was furnished with a choice variety of “psalms and hymns and spiritual songs,” adapted to the diversified circumstances of the private believer and of the church of God. “In these songs,” as the celebrated [Jonathan] Edwards very justly observes, “David speaks of the incarnation, life, death, resurrection, ascension into heaven, satisfaction and intercession of Christ; his prophetical, kingly and priestly office; his glorious benefits in this life and that which is to come; his union with the church; the blessedness of the church in him; the calling of the Gentiles ; the future glory of the church, near the end of the world; and the coming of Christ to the final judgment.” [History of Redemption.] The singing of praise to God, from this time forth, formed a part of the regular worship of God; and by the sweet Psalmist of Israel, the anointed of the God of Jacob, by whom the Spirit of the Lord spake, the church of God was furnished with songs to be employed in divine worship.
The divine appointment of these songs to be used in the worship of God, is just as conclusively established, as that David was raised up on high, the anointed of the God of Jacob, and the sweet Psalmist of Israel, by whom the Spirit of the Lord spake. And accordingly, as a matter of historical record, we know that these songs were used by the church with divine approbation. At the dedication of the temple, it appears that among others, the 136th Psalm was sung. The Levites praised the Lord, saying, “For he is good, for his mercy endureth forever.” And in testimony of the divine approbation “The house was filled with a cloud, even the house of the Lord, so that the priests could not minister by reason of the cloud; for the glory of the Lord had filled the house of God.” [2 Chron. 15:13, 14.] And in the history of the reformation which took place during the reign of Hezekiah, who did that which was right in the sight of the Lord, according to all that David his father had done, we are informed that “Hezekiah the king, and the princes, commanded the Levites to sing praise unto the Lord, with the words of David and of Asaph the seer.” [2 Chron. 29:30.] David, who by way of eminence was styled the sweet Psalmist of Israel, was the principal individual employed in furnishing songs of praise for the use of the church; but Asaph, Heman, Jeduthun and others, performed their part in the same interesting service. These holy men of God, who v/ere endowed with the requisite gifts by the Spirit of inspiration, furnished for the use of the church, that rich and varied collection of divine hymns contained in the book of Psalms.
By whom these songs, which were evidently composed by different persons and on a great variety of occasions, were collected into a book and arranged in their present order, we are not able to determine with absolute certainty. There is, however, strong probability in support of the conclusion, that this service was performed by Ezra. This distinguished priest and scribe, who acted a conspicuous part in that important reformation which was effected in connection with the return of the Jews from Babylon, according to Jewish tradition, by divine direction, collected and arranged the different portions of the sacred writings then extant, and digested them in that systematic order in which they have been handed down to us. But let this matter be decided as it may, it is sufficient for us to know, that whoever may have collected these songs together, it was done with divine approbation; for the writers of the New Testament refer to them by the title, “the book of Psalms.” And to use the language of the celebrated writer already referred to, “it is manifest that the book of Psalms was given of God for this end;” that is, that it might be used by the church in singing God’s praise. “It was used in the church of Israel by God’s appointment. This is manifest by the title of many of the Psalms, in which they are inscribed to the chief musician; that is, to the man that was appointed to be the leader of divine songs in the temple, in the public worship of Israel.”
In this conclusion, then, we rest. In the revelation which God has given to his church, we find a collection of divine songs, the matter of which, the titles by which they are designated, and the use which was originally made of them with divine approbation, manifest, that the specific end for which they were given, was, that they should be employed in singing God’s praise; and being communicated to the church by her God and King, for this purpose, they should be used in this part of divine worship. Whether any other system of songs has been provided by the King of Zion, superseding the necessity and propriety of using these, shall be the subject of inquiry before this discussion is brought to a close. The point in the general argument at which we have arrived, is, that the songs contained in the book of Psalms, were given to the church to be employed in the worship of God. These are the songs of Zion; the Lord’s songs; and therefore, we are certain that in singing them in the worship of God, we use that which he has appointed.
The reader is desired to keep in view, the progress of the argument. It has been my object in the first place to examine the claims of an uninspired psalmody. By an uninspired psalmody, is meant as the reader will understand a system of songs composed by men who lay no claim to inspiration, the matter of which has been professedly collected from the sacred Scriptures. Having discovered no authority for the use of such a system of songs, my object in the next place has been to advocate the claims of the songs of the Lord contained in the book of Psalms. That we have divine authority for the use of these, it is humbly hoped, has been satisfactorily proved. But as yet I have not even attempted to show that the church is confined to the use of these songs exclusively. Whether the songs contained in the book of Psalms exclusively, are to be employed in the worship of God; or whether in connection with these, other songs of praise which are found in the Bible, may be used, is yet to be the subject of inquiry.