Originally published in Credo Quarterly, March 2002.
The Psalter-the Only Hymnal? is the title of a booklet written by Iain Murray and published by the Banner of Truth Trust.1 The Banner of Truth is well known throughout the world for the part it had to play in the revival of a reformed worldview in the mid twentieth century, and especially in the department of reissuing literature which enabled the church to stand in the ways, and see, and ask for the old paths. Iain Murray, particularly, has devoted himself to the service of the church in this regard; and the church, undoubtedly, has been the better because of the blessing of the Lord upon his labours. In the areas of the reformation of the church, the puritan hope, unity, and revival, he ought to be heard for the breadth of learning and depth of insight that he manifests. Meanwhile, his biographical works demonstrate a healthy balance of hagiography and critical analysis, and these are a testimony to his spiritual devotion and vision.
That having been said, one must always be careful not to make the helper of his faith a master of his conscience. While Mr. Murray has many good things to say to the church of our day, he must only be heeded insofar as his teaching has been tried by the light of Scripture and found to accord with it. If he has been discovered to speak what is contrary to Scripture, then his teaching needs to be addressed; even as Paul confronted the error of the esteemed apostle Peter which was leading others astray.
In this reviewer's opinion, it is necessary to critically address Mr. Murray's views which he has expressed in the booklet under review. The question posed in the title of the booklet is answered in the negative by the author. He considers the biblical psalms insufficient to express the matured faith and experience of the New Testament church.
The reviewer, on the other hand, answers the question in the affirmative. An inspired hymnody, he argues, is the only hymnody that can fulfil the biblical function of "song" in the worship and witness of God's people; and for that reason, inspired hymnody ought to be exclusively used as the matter to be sung in public worship. Uninspired hymnody can only be maintained by reducing the nature of "song" to that which an uninspired composer can attain to. Effectively, that is what Mr. Murray has attempted to do. He appeals to a different view of praise-song than that which the Old Testament psalms reveal; and on this basis he asserts the insufficiency of inspired psalms to express, in song, the praise of New Testament saints. The following examination of Mr. Murray's booklet endeavours to demonstrate that this is not only an erroneous, but also a dangerous teaching, and one which requires redress by the modern church.
1 Iain Murray, The psalter-the only hymnal? (Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 2001). Hereafter referred to as Psalter.
[BREAK=1. The issue stated]
1. The issue stated
Six points of apparent "common ground" commences the author's treatment of this subject. Without stopping to offer detailed comment on this section, it may safely be said that Mr. Murray does not seem to be aware of what the advocate of inspired hymnody is contending for. It would be difficult for such an advocate to assent to the proposition that "the content of praise must be ... in accord with the reality of his own experience."2 Christian experience is imperfect, while an inspired hymnody teaches that which is perfect. There will necessarily be matter in the Old Testament psalms which the singer will not be able to grasp either theoretically or experimentally. This applies to "all Scripture," since it is given for the purpose that "the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works," 2 Tim. 3:16, 17.
Likewise, the author's fifth point is also dubious. He claims that the singing of praise "is intended to be of special benefit to believers in the uplifting of their spirits... Joyless singing is a contradiction."3 Now it is true that the merry soul is enjoined to sing psalms, Jam. 5:13. It does not follow, however, that singing psalms requires a merry soul. The same verse calls upon the afflicted to pray; but none would argue that prayer without affliction is a contradiction. The Old Testament psalms set forth "a broken spirit" as a sacrifice that the Lord will not despise, Ps. 51:17. Numbers of the psalms were sung with anguish of heart and tearful eyes in distressing circumstances. The psalmists tell of their flesh drying up and of their tongue cleaving to the roof of their mouth under a sense of their sin and a sight of the majesty of God.
So the six points of apparent "common ground" cannot conscientiously be maintained by the advocate for an inspired hymnody.
After alluding to the fact that the controversy over the exclusive use of the Psalter arises because the advocates of an inspired hymnody make the substance of praise a matter of principle rather than preference,4 the booklet provides a summary of the psalms-only case as understood by Mr. Murray. First, the only wise God has provided a book of praise in His inspired Word. Second, only God may determine how He is to be worshipped. Third, uninspired men cannot do better than He. Fourth, in the book of Psalms the Lord has provided what is suitable for all ages. Fifth, the Lord Jesus Christ Himself sang the Psalms in praise. Sixth, the Psalter belongs to both Testaments. Seventh, there is no warrant to supplement or supplant the inspired psalms by making use of uninspired compositions in the public worship of God.5
Now, it is granted that this is the general argument presented in defence of an inspired psalmody. One careless omission, though, is the fact that the inspired psalms are appointed to be sung in the gatherings of the New Testament church, Eph. 5:19,
Col. 3:16. As Mr. Murray later endeavours to discredit this point, it was surely worth mentioning as an element of the psalms-only case. Whatever the arguments presented for or against the exclusive use of inspired psalms in public praise, the interpretation of these texts is crucial.
Moreover, Mr. Murray has failed to mention one even more fundamental argument which the advocates of an inspired psalmody put forward in defence of their position. It has to do with the prophetic nature and function of song in congregational worship. Deut. 32 records the song that Moses the prophet spoke in the ears of all the congregation of Israel. Judges 5 contains the song of Deborah, the prophetess. Mention is made of musical instruments in association with the company of the prophets in 1 Sam. 10. David, the sweet psalmist of Israel, had the words of the Holy Ghost upon his tongue, 2 Sam. 23:2. Then, when David made preparations for the worship which was to be performed in the temple, he committed the song into the hands of Heman, "the king's seer in the words of God," 1 Chron. 25:5, 6.
In the New Testament, Paul gives instructions concerning singing "with the spirit" and the bringing forward of "a psalm" (1 Cor. 14:15, 26) in the context of regulating the use of the prophetic gift. In the disputed passages, Eph. 5:19, Col. 3:16, the saints are to speak to themselves, to teach and admonish one another, in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs. Again, a prophetic function. Finally, in the Apocalypse, the songs of the redeemed and of the heavenly host are prophetic, either foretelling God's judgements to come, or revealing the nature of those judgements when they do come. Here, then, is the biblical criterion for examining the quality of a song which is to be used in congregational worship. Is it prophetic? If not, the composition does not come up to the standard of worship-song as revealed in the holy Scriptures. In both the Old and New Testaments the church was blessed with a prophetic hymnody. The church of subsequent ages should not settle for anything less! And as uninspired men cannot produce prophetic compositions, the church ought not to settle for their substandard songs.
That, as far as the advocate for an inspired hymnody is concerned, is the fundamental point to be made on this issue.
[BREAK=2. A response issued]
2. A response issued
In the next place, Mr. Murray offers a response to what he has summarised as the case for exclusive psalmody. His first challenge to an inspired psalmody is: "where is the proof in Scripture that God appointed the one-hundred-and-fifty Psalms of David for the public worship of the Old Testament church?"6 Mr. Murray provides some reasons for his doubt concerning the Divine appointment of all 150 psalms. These are, because "the title of other Psalms ... refers to them as prayers;" "other Psalms, perhaps forty in number, may be said to be chiefly for instruction;" and "for many Psalms there is no indication at all that they were to be set to music for public worship."7
The subscription at the end of Psalm 72, which Mr. Murray thinks is significant, namely, "the prayers of David the son of Jesse are ended," either refers to the first two books of the Psalter (1-41, 42-72), or to the chain of Davidic psalms from 51-72. In either case, it is clear that some of these compositions at least are designated as "psalms," "psalm-songs," or "song-psalms;" e.g., 61-72 particularly. For this reason, the majority of commentators do not see "prayer" as a strict genre within the psalms. The LXX, the Greek version of the Old Testament, translates Ps. 72:20 as "the hymns of David," which Justin Martyr quotes approvingly.8 E. W. Hengstenberg rendered the word "prayer-songs," in association with tehillim being "praise-songs."9 But however one understands these prayers, the fact is that at least some of them were appointed to be sung. Hence, one cannot claim that the prayer-nature of these songs renders them unsuitable to be used in connection with the worship of the Old Testament church.
The same principle applies to the second doubt. One of David's "prayers," the 53rd, is virtually the same in substance as the 14th. The 14th is titled, "to the chief musician, (a Psalm) of David;" while the 53rd adds "upon Mahalath, Maschil." The 60th psalm has this design in the title: "to teach." Verses 5 to 12 of Ps. 60 form over half of the 108th psalm called "A song (or) Psalm of David." Maschils, or psalms of instruction, are to be found in the titles of some compositions which are also designated a "psalm" (32), or a "song" (45), and which are dedicated "to the chief musician" (52-55). Which is sufficient to show that a "maschil" can, with propriety, be called a song, and be employed in the public worship service. As with the "prayers," the very fact that these are "instructions" does not render them unsuitable for Old Testament public worship. And as far as the New Testament church is concerned, the apostle commands the use of them for the express purpose of "teaching and admonishing one another," Col. 3:16. Dr. J. A. Alexander of Princeton was surely correct when he stated that all 150 psalms, different as they are, have a marked resemblance to each other. "They are all not only poetical but lyrical, i.e. songs, poems intended to be sung."10
As to the third doubt, this only demonstrates that "God ... at sundry times ... spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets." The appointment to sing inspired psalms in the Old Testament church sufficed as a divine appointment to sing all 150 of the Old Testament psalms, even if every individual psalm was not explicitly appointed to be used in worship. Paul's instruction to Timothy to give attendance to reading (i.e., of the Scriptures), 1 Tim. 4:13, warrants the reading of all the Scriptures in the New Testament church, even though certain New Testament epistles had not yet been written when the instruction was given. Whenever the Psalter came to be completed,11 the last psalms to be composed would have been placed on the exact same footing as the first compositions.
Now, the biblical evidence that God appointed inspired psalms for the use of Old Testament public worship is as follows. Firstly, William Binnie notes that
the frequent mention of the ‘Precentor' or ‘Chief Musician,' in the titles of the earlier psalms, reminds us that a large portion of them were originally composed with an eye to the Service of the Temple, and were delivered to the leader of the psalmody for the public use of the Congregation.12Of the 116 titled psalms in the Psalter over 50 of them are committed "to the chief musician." This designation, along with the difficult musical directions in the titles, and the rare mention of particular times at which certain psalms were to be employed, intimates to most commentators that the Psalter was to be used in the temple service.13 The very description of them as "psalms" and "songs," together with the use of the first person plural pronouns "we" and "us" in numbers of the psalms, indicates that they were to be sung in a corporate context. There are, besides, many references in the Psalter to singing songs in the house of the Lord, and these obviously apply to the inspired psalms themselves.
Outside of the Psalter, the evidence mounts to an irrefutable height.14 When the congregation of Israel brought up the ark to Zion, "David delivered first this psalm to thank the Lord into the hand of Asaph and his brethren," 1 Chron. 16:7. The words of the untitled 96th and 105th psalms are particularly interwoven into this composition, together with short selections from the 29th and 98th, and the doxology from the 41st psalm; which, interestingly, is combined with the people's response of "Amen" to form the doxology of the 106th psalm. Moreover, it has already been referred to before that when David made preparations for the worship which was to be performed in the temple, he committed the song-service into the hands of Heman, "the king's seer in the words of God," 1 Chron. 25:5, 6. The song, as with the other instructions concerning the temple, was not an unwarranted human imposition on David's part. Rather, "All this, said David, the Lord made me understand in writing by his hand upon me, even all the works of this pattern," 1 Chron. 28:19.
After David's era, Solomon organised for praise to be given to the Lord in the psalms of David when he brought the ark up to the completed temple. It is recorded that the people sang to the Lord in words which are found in the 136th Psalm, 2 Chron. 5:13. At which time, "the house was filled with a cloud," and "the priests could not stand to minister by reason of the cloud: for the glory of the Lord had filled the house of God," verse 14. Such was the divine approval of these proceedings. Later, it is mentioned concerning Hezekiah's reform of temple worship that "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. Now, it is obvious that the singing of David's and Asaph's words must have been appointed by God as a part of public worship, else Hezekiah's directives could not have been regarded as a reformation. Finally, at the restoration after exile in Nehemiah's time, the service of song was reinstated "according to the commandment of David, and of Solomon his son. For in the days of David and Asaph of old there were chief of the singers, and songs of praise and thanksgiving unto God," Neh. 12:45, 46. These songs and thanksgivings, unquestionably, were the inspired compositions which are to be found in the Old Testament book of Psalms.
Now, Mr Murray is correct when he goes on to say that "even the fact that Scripture designates a part of Scripture as a ‘song,' is not itself proof that it is necessarily given for public worship."15 It is upon this basis that the Song of Solomon is not to be employed in public worship; nor the other Scripture songs outside of the book of Psalms; nor the versification of other parts of Scripture which were not appointed to be sung in the midst of the congregation. But this is immaterial to the author's response to the exclusive psalmodist's case. The fact is that the compositions which constitute the Old Testament book of Psalms were appointed for this purpose, as demonstrated above; while no other compositions were provided with this warrant.
Nor is the author's assimilation of prayer and praise to any effect. He says: "If the exclusive argument were true it would mean there is a prohibition concerning sung praise which is in marked contrast with the freedom believers have in expressing all desires and thanksgivings which are not set to music."16 This is exactly what is found in both the Old and New Testaments. There are, in fact, public prayers which are offered up in the Old Testament; but none of these are either appointed to be used as set prayers in public worship or incorporated into a book of other set prayers to form a liturgy of common prayer. The Psalms, though, are both appointed for public praise and incorporated into a book to be used in public praise. Similarly in the New Testament. In Eph. 5:19 Paul commands the singing of a form of words. The "psalms," "hymns," and "songs" must be written compositions which the whole congregation can sing in unison to. By its very nature, congregational singing must be bound to a form of words which prohibits individual expression (in words, though not in spirit), in order to provide for a unified voice. A little later, in Eph. 6:18, the apostle instructs the same church to pray "with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit." Herein the apostle has not bound prayer to a set form, but has given liberty to the church to express their desires and thanksgivings in their own words.
The second challenge presented by Mr. Murray to an inspired hymnody is no challenge at all. It has to do with the manner in which such songs are to be sung. Should they be chanted so as to enable the worshipper to adhere to the exact wording? Or should exactness be sacrificed in order to facilitate a more structured singing of them by means of a metricated version?17 That does not enter into the question as to whether the church is bound to an exclusive use of inspired psalmody, but is the sort of issue which is resolved after the question has been settled in the affirmative.
Mr. Murray's third challenge is more to the point. What evidence is there that the Psalter "must remain the sole manual" for the New Testament? The author examines two main principles which the advocate of an inspired hymnody relies upon to establish his case. First, the "‘regulative principle,' namely that what God has not appointed he has forbidden, and God has not appointed any second hymnal to supplement the Psalter." Second, "It is said that the ‘psalms, hymns and spiritual songs' of Ephesians 5:19 refer solely to different sections of the Old Testament Psalter."18 The booklet then deals with the second point and refers to the first point afterwards.
Now, the author's response to the claim that Eph. 5:19 (and Col. 3:16, though he fails to mention it) refers to the compositions which are to be found in the Old Testament book of Psalms is a very strange one indeed. It comes down to this. "We know of no prominent orthodox commentator who takes that view." He then refers the reader to J. Eadie, C. Hodge, R. C. H. Lenski, and W. Hendriksen; all advocates of an uninspired hymnody. There is no examination of the passage under consideration; not even a quote from Mr. Murray's esteemed interpreters on this passage, nor a statement as to why their comments persuaded the author to reject the interpretation put forward by the advocates of an inspired hymnody.
Mr. Murray does attempt a biblical answer of sorts. It comes by way of referring to the extraordinary "psalms" of 1 Cor. 14:26. And here the author seems to seize upon the New England Puritan, John Cotton, as if he had to make a concession that the psalms in this passage were given by divine inspiration.19 But Mr. Cotton was not conceding this point, he was insisting upon it. The fact that these psalms were inspired renders an appeal to them as futile. If the composing of these psalms required an extraordinary gift, the directions in 1 Cor. 14 for the regulation of the extraordinary gifts are only precedents "to all such Churches as have received the like gifts." They cannot provide a precedent for a Church in which this extraordinary gift has ceased. Hence, no warrant can be derived from the Corinthian practice, or from Paul's directions which regulate that practice, "to compile some spirituall Ditty in verse."20
So 1 Cor. 14 does not create any uncertainty as to the materials of praise which are to be employed in the New Testament church's public worship. Eph. 5:19 and Col. 3:16 regulate the "ordinary" matter that is to be sung therein, and these texts refer to the compositions found in the book of Psalms. This may be clearly seen by considering the following facts of the case.
The use of the terms "psalms," "hymns," and "songs," as has already been seen in a previous section, is used within the Psalter synonymously. A composition can be both a psalm and a song at the same time. It has also been seen that the LXX, the Greek version of the Old Testament, referred to the "prayers" of David, as "hymns," Ps. 72:20. It has translated a number of words, particularly those which are obscure, by the words "hymn" and "song." The title of Ps. 4 contains "neginoth" in Hebrew, and this is transliterated as such in the Authorised English Version; but the Greek translation renders it "song." Two psalms later, Ps. 6, the same word "neginoth" is translated "hymn." Altogether,21 the Greek translation contains the word "psalm" in 67 titles, "hymn" in 6, and "song" in 35. On occasion these words appear in combination, and in Ps. 67 (66 in the LXX) they all appear together, as they do in the apostle's instructions.
Besides the evidence in the titles of the Psalter, one may also consult the body of the psalms themselves. The words "hymn" and "song" are to be found there as well, and it has already been noted that Nehemiah referred to the compositions of David and Asaph as "songs," Neh. 12:46. This interchange of words is used a number of times in the historical books. So the Old Testament provides a strong basis for understanding "psalms," "hymns," and "songs," as a reference to the compositions of the Old Testament Psalter.
Now, the Greek translation of the Old Testament was regularly adopted by the apostle Paul in his letters to the churches. Paul's 27 quotations of the Psalms, Prof. Allan Harman's Th.D. thesis demonstrates, "are for the most part cited exactly from the LXX or else are very close to it;" and "the manner in which the quotations are introduced shows that Paul conceived of the Psalmists' words as possessing divine authority."22 Paul's adoption of the three terms which appear in the titles of the LXX translation is in reliance on the divine authority of these terms. Furthermore, Paul uses the same terms in two different letters to two different churches, thereby showing that the three terms in combination must have been a common way of referring to the hymnody of these Greek speaking, LXX reading churches.
The evidence is strongly in favour of understanding the Old Testament Psalms as the "psalms," "hymns," and "songs" which Paul exhorts the New Testament church to sing. There are two churches who adopted the same terminology when referring to their hymnody; there is the repeated use of that terminology in the received translation of the Old Testament which was used by these churches; and the point of reference in this received translation when using this terminology is to the compositions in the Book of Psalms, both in the psalms themselves and in the historical books which give some account of the use of these psalms in the Old Testament church.
There is also evidence in the New Testament to show that "hymning" referred to the singing of these Old Testament compositions. In Matt. 26:30, after the institution and celebration of the Lord's supper on the night of Passover, Jesus and the disciples are described as singing a hymn, literally, hymning. This is generally believed to have been the traditional Jewish hymn which was sung after the celebration of the Passover, the Hallel of Pss. 113-118. Then in Heb. 2:12 the apostle himself (if the majority of orthodox commentators are to be followed) quotes the LXX translation of Ps. 22:22 verbatim: "in the midst of the church will I sing praise (hymn) unto thee;" where the hymning David referred to was undoubtedly one of his psalms.
Among Jewish writers around the time of the apostle, "hymn" and "song" were also commonly used when referring to the Old Testament Psalms. Josephus says that David "composed songs and hymns to God," "and taught the Levites to sing hymns to God;"23 while Philo referred to the 23rd Psalm as a song, and the 30th as a hymn, to name but two examples.24
In the early Christian church, similarly, the three terms were used interchangeably to describe the book of Psalms. Justin Martyr was referred to before as endorsing the LXX translation of "hymns" in Ps. 72:20. Clement of Alexandria must have been contemplating either Eph. 5:19 or Col. 3:16 when he said: "The apostle calls the psalms ‘a spiritual song.'"25 Lactantius called David, "the writer of divine hymns;"26 and the apostolic constitutions could not be any clearer: "sing the hymns of David."27
So the weight of biblical evidence supports the claim that the three terms in Eph. 5:19 and Col. 3:16 refer to the Old Testament book of Psalms. (1.) The three terms were common to the Greek speaking church who received and read the Greek translation of the Old Testament by Divine authority. (2.) That Greek translation uses these same three terms to refer to the Psalms of David both in the Psalms themselves and in the historical books. (3.) The New Testament itself provides two examples of "hymning" these sacred compositions; while (4.) both the Jews of the apostolic time, and the post-apostolic Christian church constantly applied these terms as synonyms for the Old Testament book of Psalms.
Next, some prominent orthodox commentators shall be quoted in order to show that this understanding of the biblical texts has historical support, contrary to Mr. Murray's sensational claim.
The Dutch Annotations say that "these several names seem to be taken from the several inscriptions of the Psalmes of David."28 Henry Ainsworth taught: "Ther be three kinde of songs mentioned in this book [the Psalms]... All these three the Apostle mentioneth together, wher he willeth us to speak to our selves with Psalmes & hymns & spiritual songs, Eph. 5.19."29 As might be expected, John Cotton was in agreement: "as the Apostle exhorteth us to singing, so he instructeth what the matter of our Song should be, to wit, Psalmes, Hymnes, and spirituall Songs. Now those three be the very Titles of the Songs of David, as they are delivered to us by the Holy Ghost himselfe."30 Edward Leigh stated the matter in the exact same words: "as the Apostle exhorteth us to singing, so he instructeth what the matter of our Song should be, viz. Psalmes, Hymnes, and spirituall Songs. Those three are the Titles of the Songs of David, as they are delivered to us by the Holy Ghost himselfe."31 Thomas Manton, whom Mr. Murray later calls a "Puritan leader," writes on the very next page of a work which the booklet cites: "Now these words (which are the known division of David's psalms, and expressly answering to the Hebrew words Shurim, Tehillim, and Mizmorim, by which his psalms are distinguished and entituled), being so precisely used by the apostle in both places, do plainly point us to the Book of Psalms."32 Thomas Ford, the Westminster divine, has given in his thoughts: "I know nothing more probable than this, viz. that psalms, and hymns, and spiritual songs, do answer to mizmorim, tehillim, and shirim, which are the Hebrew names of David's psalms."33 A contemporary English Presbyterian, Cuthbert Sydenham, speaks to the same effect, "I find they are used in general as the title of David's psalms, which are named promiscuously by these three words."34 An edition of the Westminster version of the Psalms in 1673 has the names of Dr. John Owen and twenty-five others signed to the preface which says: "To us David's psalms seem plainly intended by these terms of psalms, and hymns, and spiritual songs, which the apostle useth. Eph. 5.19; Col. 3.16."35
A little later Thomas Ridgeley came to the same understanding: "It cannot well be denied that the psalms of David are called indifferently by these three names, ‘psalms,' hymns,' and ‘songs.'"36 This view is expressed by Jonathan Edwards: "We find that the same [the words of David and Asaph] are appointed in the New Testament to be made use of in the Christian church, in their worship." Eph. 5:19 and Col. 3:16 are subsequently quoted.37 John Gill might also be added to the list of orthodox commentators: "these three words answer to ... the several titles of David's psalms; from whence it seems to be the intention of the apostle, that these should be sung in Gospel churches."38 Then there is John Brown of Haddington: "The Psalms, Hymns, and spiritual Songs, there recommended, are plainly the same with the Mismorim, Tehillim, and Shirim, mentioned in the Hebrew titles of David's Psalms."39
[BREAK=3. The regulative principle applied]
3. The regulative principle applied
Mr. Murray proceeds to deal with the regulative principle, and he does so by minimising what may be regulated by Scriptural command. He says "it is sung praise that is authorised as a part [of worship], not the very words of which that part has to be made up."40 It is painful to have to point out that the author does not provide any biblical support for this dogmatic assertion. He immediately recommences adducing historical support, and seems to imply that exclusive psalm-singers revert to the same method in order to demonstrate otherwise.
The latter, however, is simply not the case. While historical support is adduced secondarily to show that the Reformed understanding of the regulative principle includes the matter of song, the primary basis for believing this is the exegetical conclusion that Eph. 5:19 and Col. 3:16 direct the worshipper in what they are to sing. Whatever view one takes as to the meaning of the terms in these verses, it is clear that Paul is not only appointing the ordinance of singing, but also that he is appointing the singing of words, and that those words are to be of a particular nature. So the very words do enter into the essence of worship, and as such are to be "limited by God's own revealed will." The only question is, has God restricted the church to the form of words which He has provided in the inspired Psalms, or has He also made provision for the addition of songs by means of uninspired men? That is the state of the question.
Eph. 5:19 and Col. 3:16, as has been demonstrated, refers to the "psalms," "hymns," and "songs" of the Old Testament book of Psalms. The advocate of an inspired hymnody also insists that no provision has been made, in the New Testament, to add to these songs. The reference in 1 Cor. 14 to "psalms" is to an extraordinary manifestation of the Spirit, not to the ordinary worship of the church in all subsequent ages. Upon this basis, that there is no provision for the introduction of uninspired compositions, the attempt to introduce them must be rejected as an unwarranted addition to God's prescribed form of worship as revealed in His Word.
That God has not made any provision to add to the Old Testament psalms in New Testament worship is a telling one against the advocate of an uninspired hymnody. The Old Testament psalms were written by men who were appointed to their task. David was the sweet psalmist of Israel; and the others, likewise, were specifically commissioned to their office by a divine appointment. In the New Testament there is not the slightest hint of any such appointment or gifting of men to compose "new songs." There is not even a passing mention of anybody engaging in this activity for the service of the church. Many "offices" and "gifts" are described in the letters of Paul, but none of them refer to hymn-making. In Eph. 5:19 and Col. 3:16 the command is to sing, not compose. An existing body of songs is already presumed to exist; and no provision is made anywhere else for the composing of others. If it were God's will that uninspired men should compose new songs for public worship, surely He would have revealed something concerning that practice!
This, in a nut-shell, is the primary response of the exclusive psalmodist to the claim that the very words of congregational singing do not come under the direction of the regulative principle.
Secondarily, it is necessary now to examine Mr. Murray's historical revisionism. He has devoted 8 pages of his 32 page booklet to an historical "remake" of the reformed church's hymnody in an effort to convince the reader that the reformed tradition did not consider the words of congregational praise to be a part of worship which is governed by the regulative principle. He has his predecessors, of course. Horatius Bonar attempted a similar revisionist interpretation in the 19th century Free Church of Scotland. His imposture was ably discovered by David Hay Fleming of the Original Secession Church, who stands with the likes of Thomas M‘Crie and David Laing when it comes to the history of Scotland's first and second reformations. If the reader will take the time to peruse the "Hymnology of the Reformation,"41 he will find the record set straight so far as the Scottish church is concerned.
The first reformed church who attracts Mr. Murray's attention is none other than that perfect school of Christ at Geneva. Without hesitation he quotes Louis Benson: "Even at Geneva, the fountain head of Metrical Psalmody, the addiction to psalms was not exclusive - no divine prescription was claimed for the Psalter."42 As early as 1543, however, John Calvin expressed the opinion of Augustine that "no one is able to sing things worthy of God except that which he has received from him. Therefore, when we have looked thoroughly, and searched here and there, we shall not find better songs nor more fitting for the purpose, than the Psalms of David, which the Holy Spirit spoke and made through him."43 This expresses a divine prescription for the use of the Psalter in public worship. The fact that the Genevan Psalter included "such materials as the commandments and Nunc Dimittis," as well as other uninspired matter including a hymn attributed to Calvin is quite beside the point. The inclusion of the Apocrypha in some of the early Reformed translations would not suggest to any fair-minded historian that the Apocrypha was thought to be suitable for reading in public worship. Neither should the presence of these other materials, which could have been included for any number of reasons,44 suggest that they were used in congregational praise. Unless the historian can provide a concrete testimony of their actual use in worship any claim that they were employed in worship is mere conjecture.
The Scottish Reformed Church is introduced at this point. Robert Baillie's reference to a later version of the psalms endeavouring to "keep punctuallie to the original text," is used by Mr. Murray to insinuate that the earlier Reformation version was "clearly not composed in the conviction that nothing other than the biblical text may be introduced."45 A strange species of reasoning: that because a later age endeavoured to be accurate, therefore an earlier age must not have shared the same conviction of accuracy. This quotation is seen in its true light below where it is discussed in the context in which Robert Baillie mentioned it, namely, the use of the doxology or conclusion.
This brings Mr. Murray to the Puritan era, which he clearly admires but sadly misunderstands. As he says, "no school of men were stronger on what is called the regulative principle than were the English and Scottish Puritans;" but he pays little attention to his subject when he claims that "with the exception of John Cotton, we know of none who believed that biblical principle debarred the use of hymns."46 This can hardly be believed; especially since Mr. Murray goes on to quote a section of John Ball's work which is intended to be an answer to John Robinson's arguments for the exclusion of uninspired hymns. Mr. Robinson's arguments are presented by Mr. Ball in the body of his text, and in the side-notes parallel to the text Mr. Robinson's work on separation is referred to with the relevant pagination. Not only so, but the very text which Mr. Murray quotes out of Mr. Ball's work, calls the men whom the author is answering as "our brethren;" all which should have clearly intimated to Mr. Murray that there were Puritans other than John Cotton who "believed that biblical principle debarred the use of hymns."
The author also seems blissfully ignorant of the debates which took place during the 17th century concerning the issues of singing, metricating, and using the doxology.47 Some of the severer separatists cast aspersions on the ordinance of singing, and it was against these that the works of John Cotton, Thomas Ford, and Cuthbert Sydenham, before quoted, were directed. All three of these men opposed uninspired hymnody as well. Others of the separatists so turned against the Book of Common Prayer that they would have nothing uninspired in the worship service, not even a metrical version of the Psalter. This particular controversy found its way into the Westminster Assembly through a very independently-minded Independent. Robert Baillie has recorded that "Mr. Nye spoke much against a tie to any Psalter, and somewhat against the singing of paraphrases, as of preaching homilies; we, understand, will mightily oppose it: for the Psalter is a great part of our uniformity which we cannot let pass until our church be well advised with it."48 The mention of a "psalm book" in the Directory for Public Worship shows that the Scots did not contend in vain.
This last statement by Robert Baillie is most instructive. It is sometimes forgotten that when the Westminster Assembly was drawing up its Directory for Public Worship, it was doing so as a part of the covenanted uniformity of religion which, it was hoped, would forever characterise the kingdoms of Scotland, England and Ireland. The fact that the divines worked upon an accurate translation of the Psalms,49 and that no provision was made for the bringing in of uninspired hymns into the worship of the church, demonstrates, to some degree, that the divines saw no warrant for uninspired hymns in public worship.
The emphasis upon an inspired psalmody was so present in the Westminster Assembly that it was thought fit to do away with the uninspired doxology, or conclusion, which some customarily sang at the end of a Psalm. Brownists opposed it from the first, but moderate English Independents and Scottish Presbyterians alike made use of it. Notwithstanding this agreement, Robert Baillie mentions that because the Assembly had resolved "to keep punctually to the original text, without any addition," both parties were content to omit it.50 It can be seen by placing this quotation in its proper context that the divines were not prepared to include any matter in their covenanted hymn-book which did not adhere closely to the inspired psalms.
This, surely, must be of significance in coming to an historically accurate interpretation of the Westminster Confession of Faith, chapter 21, section 5, where it speaks about "singing of psalms with grace in the heart" as an ordinary part of public worship. In the Directory for Public Worship the divines state that every literate attendant upon the worship service ought to possess a "psalm book." Now, the divines were only concerned to produce one psalm book which was intended to be used exclusively in all of the churches of Scotland, England, and Ireland. This "psalm book" consisted only of metricated translations of the Old Testament psalms. From all which it is abundantly clear that the Westminster Assembly, as a body, though not necessarily every member of the Assembly, "believed that biblical principle debarred the use of hymns."
In Robert Baillie's catalogue of sectarian errors, he tells of the practice of the Independents of Arnheim in composing their own hymns.51 A similar catalogue of errors, but far more detailed, was written by Thomas Edwards. One such error he mentions is: "That the singing which Christians should use, is that of Hymns and spiritual songs, framed by themselves, composed of their own gifts."52 Two groups were guilty of this practice. "The Prelaticall faction and that Court party were great Innovators, given to change ... and were every day inventing some new matter of worship, adding this ceremony and the other, putting down some parts of worships, and altering them by substituting other; as in putting down singing of Psalms in some Churches, and having Hymnes." The sectarians were the other party, and showed themselves no different in their "taking away of singing of Psalms, and pleading for Hymnes of their own making."53
William Ames would not allow anything to be sung from the Scriptures which was not a song. "Because this religious melody is a kind of prayer it is hardly fit that the decalogue and the like which are not in the nature of prayer be put into meter and sung in place of psalms."54 It is very difficult to see how this contemporary of Henry Ainsworth and teacher of John Robinson (both advocates of an inspired hymnody) could have allowed the use of uninspired songs if he would not even permit the versification of the decalogue and other Scriptural portions. In his comment on Eph. 5:19, Paul Baynes urges the worshipper to "get the spirit of David to sing a Psalm of David."55 Lewis Bayly echoes this sentiment: "Remember to sing David's psalms with David's spirit."56 These exhortations could not apply to one who sings uninspired songs. John Owen's approval of the exegesis which equates the terms of Eph. 5:19 with the Psalms of David has already been noted. He mentions "translations and tunes of psalms in singing" in his list as to what constitutes a circumstance of worship.57 Translating is only relevant in the case of the Biblical psalms; and nothing is said about composing songs.
The covenanting exiles John Brown of Wamphray and Robert M‘Ward both advocated an inspired hymnody. The former answered the Quaker teaching that no man may sing without a sense of God's love and a divine influence of the Spirit, "whether it be in the words of David's Psalmes, or of the songs of others, such as Zachary, Simeon and Mary."58 The covenanter concerned himself only with defending the singing of David's psalms. Robert M‘Ward referred to "the Psalmes in meeter, used both by you, and us."59 The "you" refers to Bishop Burnet and the episcopal party, thereby indicating that the Church of Scotland continued to adhere to an inspired hymnody even in her darkest days. He says that "God hath appointed the whole Psalms, to instruct our praise."60 After answering some of the concerns of Messrs. Burnet and Murray, especially regarding the singing of the "prayer-psalms," as he quaintly calls them, and the appointment of the Psalms in the Old Testament church, the faithful covenanter makes an unequivocal commitment to an inspired hymnody.
Seeing the Lord hath provided us with a plentiful variety of Psalmes and Hymnes; and beside, hath allowed us as full a liberty of praising in prose, as of prayers, I think it doth fully remove all that is here by you objected, and abundantly warrant us, both to abide content with God's institutions, and refuse a superfluous mixture of humane Odes, with these Divine Psalmes, which he hath appointed, for the matter of our more solemne Praises.61What about the doxology then? In singing, he goes on to remark, the Lord has "instructed us with a sufficient plenty of divine composures, we think it neither needful nor acceptable that we should gratify an arbitrary imposition, in receiving the supplement of a human addition."62 And this spiritual worshipper was so devoted to his biblical principles that when the Bishop suggested the doxology might be sung because it was Scriptural, the ready response was: "It is true, the words are Scriptural, but can you say that the Scripture beares any such allowance for their use in singing, as it doth for the Psalmes of David?" As with William Ames, this Puritan would not even sing the words of other Scripture portions in congregational praise because of the want of a divine warrant to do so.
Not only the British, but the Dutch Puritans also "believed that biblical principle debarred the use of hymns." The Dutch Annotations have already been referred to as applying the terms of Eph. 5:19 and Col. 3:16 to the psalms of David. It is stated by Abraham Van de Velde:
With one word, we judge this and other novelties in these carefree days a useless hindrance. This we also say of the introduction of new hymnbooks, and present day ditties, which we do not find in God's Word; as also the playing and peeping of organs in the Worship service. The former are all against the decrees of our Synods. See about singing in the Church, the National Synod of Dordt held in 1578, art. 76; the National Synod held in Middelburg, 1581, art. 51; the National Synod held in the Hague, 1586, art. 62; at which gatherings hymns not found in Scripture are expressly forbidden.63These ecclesiastical laws are spoken of approvingly by Wilhelmus a Brakel: "The decision of the Dutch Synods has been very correct indeed, namely, that none other but the Psalms of David are to be used in the churches."64
Besides John Ball, the only other apparent Puritan advocate of an uninspired hymnody whom Mr. Murray quotes is Thomas Manton.65 It is difficult to comprehend under what auspices Mr. Manton would "not forbid other songs," but receive them "into the Church." But let the reader continue on with the earnest Puritan's thoughts on the subject:
Scripture psalms not only may be sung, but are fittest to be used in the church, as being indited by an infallible and unerring Spirit, and are of a more diffusive and unlimited concernment than the private dictates of any particular person or spirit in the church... But suppose men of known holiness and ability should be called to this task, and the matter propounded to be sung be good and holy, yet certainly then men are like to suffer loss in their reverence and affection, it being impossible that they should have such absolute assurance and high esteem of persons ordinarily gifted as of those infallibly assisted. Therefore, upon the whole matter, I should pronounce, that so much as an infallible gift doth excel a common gift, so much do scriptural psalms excel those that are of a private composure.66An unbiassed reader of Thomas Manton's exposition will undoubtedly conclude that the earlier part of his treatment on the subject was nothing more than a concession for the sake of the argument until he had come to deal with the question as to which songs are more appropriate to be used. When he says, "Therefore, upon the whole matter, I should pronounce," the reader is being provided with the Puritan's final conclusion on the subject; and that should be taken as his mind on the matter. And if the reader will continue to listen to his exposition, he shall discover that Mr. Manton actually provides a good defence for an inspired hymnody, and contradicts the great majority of Mr. Murray's arguments against it. Let Mr. Murray give an ear to this "Puritan leader," and he shall see the good old way in a better light than he himself has painted it.
Clasping at straws, Mr. Murray quotes references to hymns by John Flavel, David Dickson and Richard Baxter. His point in these quotations "is to indicate that in the seventeenth century the idea that sung praise must be confined to the Psalter was so unknown that Puritans saw no need to justify their words or verses."67 But Mr. Murray provides no evidence either that any of these men desired, or that the church appointed, their psalms to be sung in public worship. In the case of David Dickson's compositions, they could not have been used for this purpose. The Church of Scotland had a strict stance on uniformity of worship and would not allow anything to be sung in public worship but what was appointed by the General Assembly. Robert Wodrow intimates a better purpose for "his short poems on pious and serious subjects." "I am told," he says, they "have been very useful, when printed and spread among country people and servants."68 That is, they were designed for private use.
As for the rest of Mr Murray's historical analysis, the reviewer cannot question the general accuracy of it; for it is a well known fact that inspired psalmody declined terribly in the 18th century Scotland, England, and America, although the force of it was not felt in Scotland until the 19th century. The reader may peruse this section with the use of hindsight and discover for himself some of the symptoms which showed themselves in an age when men began to think too highly of their own intelligence and abilities. Lost was the humble, self-sacrificing submission to the Word of God which characterised the men of both the first and second reformations. In their place came generations of men who thought they knew better, and as a consequence, they set about to pen words more uplifting than David's psalms. May the church of the present time remember from whence she is fallen, and repent, and do the first works.
[BREAK=4. Experience interpreted]
4. Experience interpreted
The last section of the booklet purports to be a "positive case for hymns." But if the reader expects to discover solid arguments based upon a sound exegesis of the Scriptures they shall be soon disappointed. The author believes "that the praise of the church was not intended to be left precisely where it was in the former dispensation."69 On what basis does he believe this? Has he discovered that the New Testament lays aside the praise of the Old Testament church? Or that it reveals the composing of new songs to supplement the Old Testament hymnody? No. The author has disregarded these fundamental questions and has preferred to base his case on the difference between the experience of the Old and New Testament saints. He then claims that the Old Testament psalms are insufficient to express this different experience of the New Testament saint.
Mr. Murray's case is virtually summed up in this self-contradicting statement: "while regeneration and the way of salvation were the same in both testaments (John 3:10), a mighty change in spiritual experience was brought in by the coming of Christ."70 The words "same" and "changed" cannot be used in this way without cancelling each other out. If it is the same experience, then it has not changed. If the experience has changed, then it is not the same. The author later seeks to reassure his readers that the experience is the same: "I repeat, the difference ... is relative and not absolute... All evangelical truth can be found in the Psalter, but not to the degree in which it is now made known."71 That is a much better way of stating the difference. It is not a matter of kind, but of degree. So it is not a change in spiritual experience afterall, but a greater fulness in the same experience.
While this distinction between kind and degree will satisfy the covenant theologian, he shall soon become suspicious of the way in which Mr. Murray constantly describes the experience of the New Testament saint as being of a different kind. He says that singing, in the New Testament, moves "from Levitical choirs, and accompanying Temple ritual, to whole churches singing because ‘filled with the Spirit;'" and "‘the Spirit of adoption' ... was not the common possession of the church before."72 Now, either these evangelical truths are to be found in the Psalter, or they are not. If they are, then clearly the Old Testament church could sing of the same experience, namely, of being filled with the Spirit and having the Spirit of adoption in common possession. If not, then Mr. Murray has reassured his readers in vain that the difference is only relative.
The author has clearly struggled to come to terms with the fact that a difference in degree cannot change an experience into a different kind. It is undoubtedly true that the Spirit of adoption was not a common possession of the Old Testament saints in the same way that He is the common possession of the saints now. They had it in a shadow, we in substance. But this does not negate the fact that they enjoyed the possession of it. Otherwise the Lord could not have said concerning the church in Egypt, "Let my son go," Exod. 4:23; Hos. 11:1. One is either a natural son or a son by adoption. The people of Israel were not natural sons, ergo, they must have enjoyed the Spirit of adoption.
Paul intimates what the difference of degree is in Gal. 4. The Old Testament saints enjoyed the Spirit of adoption, but they could not enter into the full blessing of that adoption until they came of age. They had a right to all the privileges of the sons of God, but were "under tutors and governors until the time appointed of the father," verse 2. And again, in Heb. 11:40, "that they without us should not be made perfect." They would not enjoy the completeness of the promised blessings which they saw afar off, verse 13. But the fact that they saw them afar off, does not mean that they did not see them. "Abraham rejoiced to see my day: and he saw it, and was glad," John 8:56. So the Old Testament saints did not have a different kind of experience. There is no blessing the saints enjoy now which they knew nothing of. Now Mr. Murray continues to attribute a different kind to the experiences of the saints of both Testaments. He asks "Is it then credible that the language of Christian praise must ever be confined to the words of an age of far less light and privilege? Is this difference between Old and New to be recognised in preaching and prayer but not in song?"73 The answer can only be negative if one holds that the light and privilege are qualitatively different, of a different kind to that which is now seen and enjoyed. And if they are regarded as a different kind of light and privilege, then clearly the preaching, prayer, and praise of the New Testament will have to be different too. But if that is the case, then the Old Testament is nothing more than a history book which informs the New Testament saints of what was once a reality but is so no more.
The New Testament church, taking her example from the Lord Himself, sees the Old Testament as a lively oracle which continues to speak to the church and to regulate her faith and life. Mr. Murray need only consult the early chapters of Acts to see that the apostolic church, both in preaching (Acts 2:14-36), and in praying (Acts 4:24-30), recognised that they did not differ from the fathers in any one point. Their constant message was that the fathers' hope had been brought to fulfilment through Christ, and that His kingdom had been made a present reality through His Spirit.
The New Testament saints, because of this covenantal solidarity, regarded themselves as belonging to the same church as the Old Testament saints. Throughout the New Testament the apostles claim that the body of which they are a part is a community in continuity with the "congregation" of the Old Testament. In this respect they quote the Psalter more than any other book, thus demonstrating that the Psalter expresses the prophetic word of the professing church in all ages. This idea shines out brilliantly in Heb. 2:12. According to the apostle, those whom Jesus calls his brethren are the members of the very same "church," or "congregation," in which David sang God's praise. The praise which the exalted Lord hymns in the midst of the church is the prophetic word which David the king sang before assembled Israel. Is it a different song? No. It only sounds different because the one hymning it has a much greater voice than David.
The reviewer is ashamed to have to repeat some of the conclusions which Mr. Murray arrives at. He regards hymns like "O Sacred Head! Sore wounded" as better expressing the feelings of the believer to Christ crucified than Ps. 22 does.74 Jesus expressed His own feelings concerning His crucifixion in Ps. 22, and Mr. Murray thinks that an uninspired song would have served Him better. Is the author listening to the altogether lovely One declare God's name in the midst of the church? It is not in the words of these human sentiments that he sings. Uninspired hymns do not allow the singer to enter into the sufferings of our Lord. "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" They are the words of participation in Christ's spiritual anguish in bearing the sins of His people. "They pierced my hands and feet." The singer feels the humiliation which Christ endured on His behalf. Neither do uninspired hymns permit an entrance into the glories which followed our Lord's sufferings. "I will declare thy name unto my brethren." Hear the believer seated in heavenly places in Christ speak the authoritative word of the exalted Head of the church. "All the ends of the world shall remember and turn unto the Lord." The worshipper sings the very words of the King which issues a summons to every knee to bow before Him. Uninspired hymns are a poor substitute for these precious words of the Lord.
Mr. Murray is of the opinion that the note of assurance which is to be heard in Pss. 23 and 103 "is occasional rather than pervasive."75 It is more likely the case that uninspired hymns sound the note of assurance too often, and that this pervasive note drowns out the melody of a well balanced theology. What uninspired hymn sinks down to the depths of the psalmist's despair when he awakens in his conscience and realises "‘Gainst thee, thee only have I sinned." "Lord thou my folly know'st, my sin not covered is from thee." "When as I did refrain my speech, and silent was my tongue, My bones then waxed old, because I roared all day long."
There is too much assurance in uninspired hymnody. And one of the reasons for that is because of Mr. Murray's so-called fifth point of common-ground, "joyless singing is a contradiction." Uninspired hymnists who share this delusion reflect it in their compositions; and unless they reach this note of joy and assurance they do not believe they are praising God. These shallow sentiments show that it is, in fact, the uninspired songs of men which are insufficient to express the praise of a New Testament saint.
Again, where is the judgement of God set forth in these sentimental songs of uninspired men? "The Lord is by the judgement known which He Himself hath wrought." John Owen says: "How many psalms have we, that are taken up in setting forth God's breaking, yoking, befooling, terrifying his adversaries at such a season! ... The reasons of this are,-1. Much of the greatness and intenseness of God's love to his own is seen in his enemies' ruin... 2. The manifestestation of God's sovereignty, power, and justice, is as dear to him as the manifestation of his mercy."76 Who desires a hymnody which only sets forth the mercy of God in Christ and never brings the worshipper to tremble at His Word!
Just one more of Mr. Murray's challenges to the inspired Word needs to be met. He is confident that "it is not accidental that on the subject of heaven ... hymns have excelled the Psalter... The desire for heaven could not be a characteristic of the psalms but it is abundantly found in hymns."77 This, of course, could only be true if God Himself is not seen as all the saints' desire and portion both in this life and that which is to come. The heaven which uninspired men dream of could not equal the great longings of soul which the sweet psalmist of Israel pours forth in the expectation "that I the beauty of the Lord behold may and admire, And that I in His holy place may reverently enquire." Samuel Mather on the types of the Old Testament wrote:
Everlasting life and salvation in heaven, is not a truth revealed only by the gospel, but was well known, clearly revealed, and firmly believed, by the saints of old. They had assurance of this, that they should live with God for ever in glory. "When I awake ... with thy likeness." Psalm xvii. 15. "Thou wilt receive me to glory." Psalm lxxiii. 24. "In thy presence is fulness of joy; at thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore." Psalm xvi. 11. They looked for another country, whereof Canaan was but a type and shadow, as the apostle shows in the epistle to the Hebrews, chap. xi. 16. They knew there was an eternal state of happiness for the saints, as well as an eternal state of misery for the wicked; they did believe this in those days.78It is this typical heaven in which the Old Testament saints lived that gives the inspired Psalms their glorious lustre. Uninspired hymnists speak out of a desire to go to heaven. David and his associates spoke out of their experience of being in heaven. Modern day biblical-theologians would call this the blessing of "the eschatological Spirit." Geerhardus Vos described the various aspects of the Psalter's eschatological outlook and commented:
Only in the Psalms all this is suffused with the genial warmth of religious feeling. We have here a great province of objectivity translated into terms of living religion, and that religion at the very acme of its functioning. The Psalter teaches us before all else what the proper, ideal attitude of the religious mind ought to be with reference to its vision of the absolute future. The trouble with eschatology in the experience of the church has frequently been that it was either dead or overmuch pathologically alive. In the Psalter we can observe what is its normal working. And through observing this we can learn the even more principial lesson, what is the heart and essence of all religion, because when eschatologically attuned the religious mind responds to the highest inworking and closest approach of God, and therefore operates up to the full potentialities of its own nature.79[BREAK=Conclusion]
This review may now draw to a close by contrasting the inadequacy of uninspired hymns with the sufficiency of the Old Testament Psalms to express the praise of the New Testament saint.
The faith and experience which is expressed in uninspired hymns is both limited and fallible. Because of this they are seen by the exclusive psalm-singer as a great imposition and an impediment to Christian growth. Songs of uninspired men are restrictive. They were not written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of their writings might have hope. The Old Testament psalms, on the other hand, were inspired for this purpose, Rom. 15:4. Moreover, uninspired compositions, besides being restrictive, can be harmful. Not only do they impede Christian growth, they are prone to propagate error; what is worse, they do this in a devotional strain which leaves a deep impression on the heart and mind.
An inspired hymnody does not present these disadvantages and hindrances. The New Testament worshipper may take up the words of the Old Testament psalms in the assurance that David's faith and experience was providentially guided so as to provide instruction and warning to the Christian. Then, that this revelatory experience is infallibly recorded, because the Spirit of the Lord spoke by the psalmists, and His words were in their tongues, 2 Sam. 23:2. What Paul says regarding the Israelites in the wilderness applies as equally to David in the wilderness: "all these things happened unto them for ensamples; and they are written for our admonition," 1 Cor. 10:11. It is not just the words, but the events that the words describe, which are given by God for the instruction and advisement of those "upon whom the ends of the world are come."
A Presbyterian stalwart by the name of Henry Cooke once wrote a defence of uninspired hymns; but upon discovering the way in which they propagated error he completely changed his view. He wrote: "If a doctrinal error be, at all times, dangerous, how much more when it is stereotyped in the devotions of the sanctuary."80 The reviewer hopes that Mr. Murray will come to the same conviction!
1 Iain Murray, The psalter-the only hymnal? (Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 2001). Hereafter referred to as Psalter.
2 Psalter, 3.
4 Ibid., 4, 5.
5 Ibid., 5, 6.
6 Ibid., 7.
8 Justin Martyr, ‘Dialogue with Trypho,' in The Ante-Nicene Fathers 1 (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1993 rpt.), 211.
9 E. W. Hengstenberg, Works 7 (Cherry Hill, N.J.: Mack Publishing, n.d., rpt.), 557.
10 J. A. Alexander, Commentary on Psalms (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Kregel Publications, 1991 rpt.), 11.
11 The reviewer is still yet to see any concrete evidence which demonstrates that even one of the psalms was written after the days of David. All of the arguments for post-Davidic psalms depend upon conjecture regarding the historical context of particular words. E.g., "house" and "temple" suggest that the temple had been built, or "captivity" and "gather" might seem to indicate the exile and beyond. But once it is determined that these words have been used in psalms that are reputed to have been written by David or his associates, the conjecture is baseless, and cannot support the historical superstructure which is being built upon it.
12 William Binnie, The Psalms: their history, teachings, and use (London: T. Nelson and Sons, 1870), 355.
13 The genuineness of the titles need not be of concern here. It suffices to state that the sacred historian gives credence to them, 2 Sam. 22:1; and that Christ and His apostles accepted the Jewish tradition of Davidic authorship which was established on the basis of them, Matt. 22:43, 45; Acts 2:25; Rom. 4:6; 11:9.
14 For a fuller treatment of this evidence, see The true psalmody (Edinburgh: James Gemmell, 1878), 63-71. William Binnie, The Psalms, 356-360, provides an outline of evidence for the use of the Psalter in Israel's post-canonical worship.
15 Psalter, 8.
17 Psalter, 9, 10.
19 Ibid. 11.
20 John Cotton, Singing of Psalmes a gospel-ordinance (London: 1647), 34.
21 What follows is a summary of the data which is presented by John McNaugher, ‘A special exegesis of Col. iii. 16 and Eph. v. 19,' in The Psalms in worship, ed. John McNaugher (Edmonton: Still Waters Revival Books, 1992 rpt.), 137-145.
22 Allan Harman, ‘Paul's use of the Psalms,' in The New Testament student 1, ed. John H. Skilton (Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 1974), 195.
23 Josephus, Works, trans. William Whiston (Massachusetts: Hendrikson, 1987 rpt.), 203, 204.
24 Philo, Works, trans. C. D. Yonge (Massachusetts: Hendrikson, 1993), 178, 237.
25 Clement of Alexandria, ‘The instructor,' in The Ante-Nicene Fathers 2 (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1993 rpt.), 249.
26 Lactantius, ‘The epitome of the divine institutes,' in The Ante-Nicene Fathers 7 (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1993 rpt.), 238.
27 ‘Constitutions of the holy apostles,' in The Ante-Nicene Fathers 7 (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1993 rpt.), 393.
28 ‘Annotation upon Eph. 5:19,' The Dutch annotations upon the whole Bible, trans. Theodore Haak (London: 1657).
29 Henry Ainsworth, ‘Annotation on Ps. 3, title' in Annotations upon the book of Psalmes (1617).
30 John Cotton, Singing of Psalmes, 16.
31 Edward Leigh, Annotations upon all the New Testament (London: 1650), 306.
32 Thomas Manton, Works 4 (Pennsylvania: Maranatha Publications, rpt., n.d.), 443.
33 Thomas Ford, Singing of Psalms (London: printed for Christopher Meredith, 1657 [1653 according to Thomason]), 16.
34 Sydenham Cuthbert, A Christian sober and plain exercitation (London: printed by Thomas Mabb, 1657), 179.
35 As quoted by The true psalmody, 98.
36 Thomas Ridgeley, A body of divinity (Edmonton: Still Waters Revival Books, 1993 rpt.), 442.
37 Jonathan Edwards, Works 1 (Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1990 rpt.), 554.
38 John Gill, Gill's commentary 6 (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1980 rpt.), 451.
39 John Brown, The psalms of David in metre (Dallas, Texas: Presbyterian Heritage Publications, 1991 rpt.) xiii.
40 Psalter, 11.
41 David Hay Fleming, ‘The hymnology of the reformation,' in An anthology of
presbyterian and reformed literature 4 (Dallas, TX: Naphtali Press, 1991), 223-246. Immediately following Fleming's work is a reprint of The true psalmody, pp. 247-313, which will also amply repay the efforts of a conscientious reader.
42 Psalter, 12.
43 From the facsimile edition of: "Les Pseaumes mis en rime francoise par Clément Marot et Théodore de Béze. Mis en musique a quatre parties par Claude Goudimel. Par les héritiers de Francois Jacqui" (1565), available on the internet at: (http://www.fpcr.org/blue_banner_articles/calvinps.htm).
44 One thinks of the inclusion of the Apostles' Creed at the conclusion of the Westminster Shorter Catechism which was deemed unnecessary but added because it is "anciently received in the Churches of Christ."
45 Psalter, 13.
47 Horton Davies, The worship of the English puritans (Morgan, PA: Soli Deo Gloria, 1997 rpt.), 162-181, outlines some of the historical issues. He viewed the history of Puritan praise in three stages, p. 162: "firstly, the restoration of the people's rights to sing the Davidic Psalms in the vernacular; secondly, the versification of these psalms, that they might the easier be memorized by congregations and set to repetitive melodies; whilst the third stage is exemplified by Isaac Watts, in whom paraphrases of psalms develop into hymns."
48 Robert Baillie, Letters and Journals 2, ed. David Laing (Edinburgh: Bannatyne Club, 1841-2), 121.
49 See S. W. Carruthers, The every day work of the Westminster Assembly (Greenville, SC: Reformed Academic Press, 1994), 161-167, for a brief account of this forgotten aspect of the Assembly's work.
50 Robert Baillie, Letters and Journals 2:259.
51 Robert Baillie, A dissuasive from the errours of the time (London: printed for Samuel Gellibrand, 1645), 118.
52 Thomas Edwards, Gangraena (London, printed for Ralph Smith, 1645), 32.
53 Ibid., 51.
54 William Ames, The marrow of theology, ed. John Eusden (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books, 1997 rpt.), 262, 263.
55 Paul Baynes, A commentary upon the whole Epistle of the apostle Paul to the Ephesians (London: 1658, 5th edition), 506.
56 Lewis Bayly, The practice of piety (Morgan, PA: Soli Deo Gloria, 1997), 154.
57 John Owen, Works 15 (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1991 rpt.), 232.
58 John Brown, Quakerisme the Pathway to Paganisme (Edinburgh: John Cairns, 1678), 463.
59 Robert M‘Ward, The true non-conformist (1671), 273.
60 Ibid., 274.
61 Ibid., 278.
62 Ibid., 280.
63 Abraham Van de Velde, The wonders of the Most High: 125 years history of the United Netherlands 1550-1675 (c. 1678, trans. 1997), no pagination.
64 Wilhelmus a Brakel, The Christian's reasonable service 4 (Morgan, PA: Soli Deo Gloria, 1995), 34, 35.
65 Psalter, 14. In an earlier article, the author has referred to Thomas Manton as one of the Assembly's "leading members." Iain Murray, ‘The directory for public worship,' in To glorify and enjoy God, ed. John L. Carson and David W. Hall (Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1994), 326. The good Puritan deserves high commendation, but it ought also to be genuine. Alexander F. Mitchell, The Westminster Assembly (Edmonton: Still Waters Revival Books, 1992 rpt.), xx., could find no positive evidence that Dr. Manton's name should be included among the super-added divines of the Assembly. He certainly did not sit on any of the drafting committees for the Westminster documents, and he is not mentioned as having engaged in any discussion.
66 Thomas Manton, Works 4, 443.
67 Psalter, 15, 16.
68 Robert Wodrow, ‘A short account of the life of Mr. David Dickson,' in Truth's victory over error (Kilmarnock: John Wilson, 1787), xviii.
69 Psalter, 20.
70 Ibid., 22.
72 Ibid. 22, 23.
73 Ibid., 23.
74 Ibid., 25.
76 John Owen, Works 8:103.
77 Psalter, 26.
78 ‘Samuel Mather on the Types, 1705,' in Charles H. Spurgeon, The treasury of David 1 (Massachusetts: Hendrikson Publishers, nd., rpt.), 235.
79 Geerhardus Vos, ‘The eschatology of the Psalter,' in The Pauline eschatology (New Jersey: P&R Publishing, 1994 rpt.), 332.
80 The true psalmody, 17.