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James Dodson

[from The Associate Presbyterian, Vol. XIV, No. 10, March 1873, pp. 289-292.] 

The above is the title of a publication expressly intended to supersede the version of the Psalms in Metre, adopted by the Reformed Covenanted Church of Scotland near the middle of the seventeenth century. This innovation, we are sometimes told, has been perpetrated by the “General Assembly of the United Presbyterian Church of North America.” Anon we are assured that such a statement is not correct,—that this whole responsible enterprise is to be attributed to a committee of that church, consisting of some five or six members. If any reliance is to be placed upon the religious literature of the day! the truth seems to be that the “Revised Psalms,” prepared by a committee, were sanctioned by the Assembly, “without submitting them in overture to the courts or people.” Indeed, such has been too often the mode of procedure in the visible church, when the disguised aim was to unsettle her faith, or corrupt her worship.

Versions and paraphrases have now become synonymous and convertible terms in the conception of the unlearned; and “the times of this ignorance are winked at” by too many of those reputed among the learned. Hence the currency of such phrases as—“Watts’ Version.” Such deception is to be reprobated. The like dishonesty, but more impious still, is countenanced by reputed Biblical scholars, in the use of such language as—“David’s Psalms and Watts’ Psalms.” Impious, we say, because it involves a virtual denial of the Psalmist’s inspiration! natively and directly leading to infidelity.

Such reflections as these were naturally suggested on meeting with a brief article quite recently in the “Christian Instructor” of Philadelphia, in which the following sentiment is risked to the public eye by some reckless contributor:—“The Revised Psalms have been authorized by the same authority that displaced Sternhold and Hopkins’ for the Scottish version more than two hundred years ago.”—Indeed!

On this very singular statement we remark:

1. It was a pretty bold assumption on the part of the United Presbyterian Church, and not well calculated to “heal unhappy divisions” among the churches which adhere to the Scriptural purity of God’s worship, to launch among them a “New Version” of the Psalms, without seeking their cooperation in the preparation of such an arduous and responsible work: a work requiring and demanding learning, piety, poetical talent, and integrity.

2. The leaders in the innovation would not but know that the result of their labors would most probably operate as a stumbling-block to some in their own fellowship, and as a “bone of contention”—a firebrand among “sister churches” (Matt. 18:7). Among existing barriers to union among the sisters, this so-called Version is entitled to distinguished prominence, both in regard to its interior structure, and the manner of its introduction. We cordially wish success to Mr. Easton and others, in exhibiting and exposing the utter incompetency of these modern poetasters [writers of inferior poetry].

3. There is always a close alliance between ignorance and presumption. These have been sometimes facetiously termed—“the Irishman’s coat of arms.” The advocate of the “Revised Psalms” verifies in this instance the verisimilitude of another aphorism—“There are Irishmen of all nations!” This writer’s logic is as interesting as it is rare. By some mysterious process of reasoning he confidently reaches the conclusion, which he emphasizes by throwing it into the form of assertion—“The Revised Psalms have been authorized by the same authority that sanctioned the Scottish version.” Does this loose, rambling writer mean what his words import? Is it true that the General Assembly which authorized the “Revised Psalms,” is the identical one that adopted the Scottish version? It seems this writer is profoundly versed in ecclesiastical history, who can, by an induction of the facts, establish the conclusion, that the two Assemblies—more than two centuries apart—are nevertheless identical! He counts largely on the credulity of the age.

So many parties have claimed descent from the famous Reformed Covenanted Church of Scotland, that the general Presbyterian public, instead of searching after her footsteps in authentic history, are content to adopt the shorter method of the poet,—“Longæ sunt ambages; sed summa sequar fastigia rerum: Tedious are the windings (of history); but I will follow only the outlines.” The divine injunction is very different—“Stand ye in the ways, and see, and ask for the old paths.” It is not enough to profess “devotion to the ‘Principles of the Westminster Formularies,’ or to the ‘Principles of the Reformation,’ as witnessed for” by conflicting parties. No, the “Confession PURE and SIMPLE” may itself be the avowed “Basis of Union” by large Christian bodies in our superficial age, who still cling to the antagonistic systems of Calvinism and Arminianism! All these denominations seem to be as zealous in pleading the succession from Westminster, as Papists and Prelates from the apostles; and with no better success. Apostolic succession and authority, however boldly claimed by pretenders, will always be inseparably associated with those who “continue in the Apostle’s doctrine and fellowship.” So, the writer of the article in question must be taught that those, and those only, who identify with the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland in doctrine and order, are legally competent to exercise the same authority. That Assembly told us that the Westminster formularies were adopted “as a part of uniformity” contemplated in the more formal and organic basis of union,—the Solemn League. We therefore say again, it is great presumption in this writer, to claim for his General Assembly identity or equal power with that of Scotland in the middle of the seventeenth century, while ignoring both her federal deeds and judicial decisions: and at the same time, we are as remote from maintaining the infallibility or immutability of any symbols of faith and order framed by uninspired men, as he or any other possibly can be. “Nellius addictus jurare in verba magistri—We pin our faith to no man’s sleeve!”

                                                                                                DAVID STEELE, SENIOR,

                                                                                      of Reformed Presbyterian Church


            Philadelphia, January, 1873.