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.61
What 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.63
These 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.66
An 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.