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 judgment of God set forth in these sentimental songs of uninspired men? "The Lord is by the judgment 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.78
It 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