Development of arguments for exclusive Psalm-singing?

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richardnz

Puritan Board Freshman
PB brothers,

I have been trying to research a simple question but I lack a wide enough selection of books in order to make a well-informed judgment. I am trying to understand to what extent there was a development of arguments for exclusive psalmody from the Reformation to the present day. Here is a rough summary of the progression as it seems to me so far:-

1) 1542 onwards, Calvin, Cotton, Manton and others – hymns are acceptable in worship, but Psalms are better. This argument accompanied the success of widespread psalm-singing in the vernacular. The focus at this stage was to introduce congregational Psalm-singing. Calvin used a few scripture songs, the Apostles Creed and the Ten Commandments in addition to the Psalms.

2) 1775 William Romaine- He fought to preserve congregational Psalm-singing from the inroads made by a proliferation of new hymns. His argument was that hymns are pushing out Psalms which is, “ near to blasphemy”, because the very words of God are being removed from the worship service. He did not go so far as to say hymn-singing was forbidden by scripture.

3) 1859 “The True Psalmody”, (Reformed and United Presbyterian Church ministers). Psalm-singing is in serious decline. The new argument in this book is that there is no command to sing hymns, so hymn-singing is wrong. The two earlier arguments are maintained, but now a stronger line is taken against hymns to the point that it is a sin to sing hymns. The argument is similar to arguing “Whatever is not commanded is forbidden” and they talk of a “principle”, but no reference to the WCF is made even though the authors are Presbyterian.

4) 1947 OPC minority report, John Murray and William Young – Psalm-singing is dying out. They use similar arguments to those that have gone before but now with reference to the Confession and the Regulative Principle. It is now considered necessary to sing only the Psalms if you subscribe to the WCF. GI Williamson connects hymn-singing with idolatry.

5) 1930 W. J. McKnight, 1991 Reg Barrow – These men say that hymn singing is idolatry, to join in worship services with hymn singers is idolatry, therefore formal charges against hymn-singing office bearers should be actioned, and hymn-singers should be barred from the Lord's Supper.

My question is, “Is there any evidence of any pre-1700 writers who regarded the singing of non-Psalms as breaking the Second Commandment, ie as idolatry?”

I can find plenty who advocated Psalm-singing, but so far none who would go so far as the later writers in saying that singing anything other than Psalms of David in worship is breaking the Second Commandment. The fact that I have not found any could just be that I have not read widely enough, so if anyone can help please fill in the gaps in my knowledge.
 

NaphtaliPress

Administrator
Staff member
I don’t deny there was development of argument more fully as hymn singing eclipsed and pushed out psalm singing and as controversy brought forth fuller defenses and stronger denunciations of hymns in public worship. However, it is not true that the EP argument did not maintain exclusivity from as soon as we hear about it.

It was recognized from the time of one of the earliest hymnals that some maintained that only the Psalms should be sung in public worship or only scripture (thus the three views of inspired praise, exclusive psalmody, and inclusive hymnody date from the earliest days of the Reformation). Indeed one of the side headings under objections is “Exclusive Psalmody.” “Many affirm this truth—that one may sing and it is not against God—but they have other objections, such as that one should sing nothing but Psalms or whatever else is spelled out in the Bible.” In Translatiōne, “The Preface to the Constance Hymnbook by Joannem Zwick,” The Confessional Presbyterian 7 (2011), 227.

From the earliest days of Puritanism it is clear they thought Psalm singing (no mention of anything else) a duty of public and private worship; for instance see Nicholas Bownd’s exhortations in his Sabbathum Veteris Et Novi Testamenti: or, The True Doctrine of the Sabbath (1595/1606; critical edition, Naphtali Press, 2015). At the time of the Westminster Assembly Robert Baillie noted with disapproval those separatists that would sing a song composed of their own brain in public worship rather than the psalms (don’t have the citation at hand; but from his Dissuasive, 1645), and indeed the work of the WA was to purge any non-psalm material from the matter to be sung in public worship in the Psalter they produced as part of the uniformity of worship called for by the Solemn League and Covenant signed between England and Scotland.

After the WA, Samuel Rutherford’s contemporary and student, John Brown of Wamphray, took the exclusive psalmody position in his mammoth Latin work on the fourth commandment. “We do not deny that a private individual, filled with the spirit, is able to compose new hymns, for his own edification and that of others; but it does not follow that a song of this sort ought to be sung in the public assemblies of the Church.” In Translatiōne, “Part II: John Brown of Wamphray Singing of Psalms, Hymns and Spiritual Songs in the Public Worship of God, From De Causa Dei contra Antisabbatarios,” The Confessional Presbyterian 5 (2010) 299.
 

richardnz

Puritan Board Freshman
Thanks, Chris, for your response. It seems to confirm my suspicions that it took a long time before the arguments for EP added the sin of idolatry to the reasons for EP. I am beginning to think that the writing of “The True Psalmody” in 1859 had considerable influence in some Presbyterian circles, or perhaps it reflected a view which was starting to take hold. If I look at the view that some modern Presbyterians take, that it is a sin to sing anything other than the Psalms, that is significant stage further in argumentation than, “that one should only sing Psalms, or whatever else is spelled out in the Bible” (Constance Hymnbook Preface). I also note in your quotes that John Brown of Wamphray and Nicholas Bownd, while expressing disapproval of hymns, do not go that far in their condemnation.

Some might consider it extreme that modern Presbyterians such as Barrow and McKnight end up condemning Calvin and other Reformed teachers who sang a few non-Psalm songs in worship as idolators, but I do not think they aimed their criticism in that direction. It is a kind of “collateral damage”. Also I think they have been trying to be principled in following through once they have established that hymn-singing is breaking the Second Commandment. Whether their reasoning is correct is another question. I am trying to make sure I understand the historical flow of ideas.

The views on Psalm-singing amongst the Continental Reformed churches do not seem to show the same kind of development. There are those present-day churches who follow Calvin's pattern of Psalms plus other songs (see Church order of Dordt (1618) Art 69. “In the churches only the 150 Psalms of David, the Ten Commandments, the Lord’s Prayer, the 12 Articles of Faith, the Songs of Mary, Zacharias, and Simeon shall be sung. It is left to the option of the churches whether to use or omit the song, “O God, who art our Father.”) These churches have maintained CO articles that are identical or similar to the original Art 69. Whether EP Presbyterians consider this position to be Exclusive Psalmody I am not sure, but those who do not have a history of Psalm-singing would not see a significant difference in practice from the outside.

Then there are those Reformed churches who decided to add hymns in large numbers once they become convinced that there was some kind of deprivation occurring. An example would be the Christian Reformed Church who adhered to Art69 until 1932 and then approved of about 130 hymns in one go. In the preface to the 1934 Psalter Hymnal it is admitted there is the concern that Psalms would be neglected with the introduction of a large number of hymns but they carried on anyway. Now they have more than 500. Obviously they are on a different path to Calvin.
 

Peairtach

Puritan Board Doctor
The Puritan Preface to the 1673 Psalter does not condemn the use of other songs in certain contexts, and yet these men believed there was only biblical warrant for Psalms in public worship:
http://www.cprf.co.uk/quotes/prefacescottishpsalter.htm#.VhhAkiuJJeE

Also see what John Owen has to say on this, if you haven't before:
http://www.shallwesingasongforyou.co.uk/2014/08/owen-goal/

http://www.shallwesingasongforyou.co.uk/2014/09/on-your-owen/

Puritanboard's own Matthew Winzer wrote a paper on Nick Needham's claim that the WA allowed for hymns in public worship, which has some material relevant to the question of whether other songs were tolerated/accomodated/accepted in other contexts:
http://www.cpjournal.com/articles-2...tive-principle-the-singing-of-psalms-and-the/

Then there are those Reformed churches who decided to add hymns in large numbers once they become convinced that there was some kind of deprivation occurring. An example would be the Christian Reformed Church who adhered to Art69 until 1932 and then approved of about 130 hymns in one go. In the preface to the 1934 Psalter Hymnal it is admitted there is the concern that Psalms would be neglected with the introduction of a large number of hymns but they carried on anyway. Now they have more than 500. Obviously they are on a different path to Calvin.
The Free Church of Scotland allowed for hymns in public worship a number of years ago, and about 25% of congregations now have them. The strange thing is that the uniqueness of the Psalms as God's Word is recognised in that at least one or two of the songs sung at a worship service must be Psalms, but it was formerly more properly recognised that the Psalms are "special" and that we do not have the proper high warrant to sing anything else in public worship by the fact that only Psalms were sung.

In actuality it turned out the FCoS's (1900-2010) position was that Scripture songs and paraphrases could also be sung, but in my first 21 years in the FC (1989-2010), I only once heard a paraphrase sung in a worship service, so for all practical purposes the FCoS was EP.
 
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Jeri Tanner

Moderator
Staff member
Is it known for a fact that Calvin actually had the churches sing other Scripture songs, including the Ten Commandments, in the worship service? Or could it have been that those songs were included in the song book for use at other times, but not during the service? I always see the claim that they were used in worship, but do we know this is true from eyewitnesses or from Calvin himself? I have only ever seen direct quotes from Calvin re: the singing together of the church in worship to reference Psalms, and he was quite firm that these were the songs God has given the church to sing as praise. I have never seen any quote from any contemporary of his time claiming that other portions of Scripture were sung in worship. I've looked for such and haven't found it.
 

richardnz

Puritan Board Freshman
Is it known for a fact that Calvin actually had the churches sing other Scripture songs, including the Ten Commandments, in the worship service? Or could it have been that those songs were included in the song book for use at other times, but not during the service? I always see the claim that they were used in worship, but do we know this is true from eyewitnesses or from Calvin himself? I have only ever seen direct quotes from Calvin re: the singing together of the church in worship to reference Psalms, and he was quite firm that these were the songs God has given the church to sing as praise. I have never seen any quote from any contemporary of his time claiming that other portions of Scripture were sung in worship. I've looked for such and haven't found it.
I do not think that there is any dispute as to whether Calvin used these songs in the worship service. When he was at Strasbourg he was in charge of the services for the French congregation. As Sherman Isbell has said:-

“When Calvin became pastor of the French congregation in Strasbourg in 1538, he acted quickly to compile a French psalter. Respecting Calvin's 1539 psalter, Charles Garside says: "Calvin had edited it; of that there is no doubt. It contained nineteen psalms in French translation, all but one of which were rhymed. Thirteen of these were by Clément Marot, and Calvin was responsible for the remainder. The versions of the Song of Simeon, the Decalogue, and the Credo are his also, so that this, his first psalter, unlike later versions, is peculiarly his book." (Sherman Isbell. “The Singing of Psalms”.)

Calvin's liturgy required the three songs mentioned above. Here are his Strasbourg and Geneva liturgies:-

Calvin: Strasbourg, 1540 Calvin: Geneva, 1542

Scripture Sentence: Psalm Scripture Sentence: Psalm
Confession of sins Confession of sins
Scriptural words of pardon Prayer for pardon
Absolution
Metrical Decalogue sung with
Kyrie eleison (Gr.) after each
Law
Collect for Illumination Collect for Illumination
Lection Lection
Sermon Sermon
Liturgy of the Upper Room
Collection of alms Collection of alms
Intercessions Intercessions



Lord’s Prayer in long paraphrase Lord’s Prayer in long paraphrase
Preparation of elements while Preparation of elements while
Apostles’ Creed sung Apostles’ Creed sung
Consecration Prayer
Words of Institution Words of Institution
Exhortation Exhortation
Consecration Prayer
Fraction Fraction
Delivery Delivery
Communion, while psalm sung Communion, while psalm or
Scriptures read
Post-communion collect Post-communion collect
Nunc dimittis in metre
Aaronic Blessing Aaronic Blessing

William D. Maxwell, An Outline of Christian Worship: Its Development and Forms (London: Oxford University)


The question may be asked, “Where do people like Maxwell and Schaff get their information regarding Calvin's inclusion of non-Psalms in his Genevan and Strasbourg liturgy?”
There was a mammoth effort made by scholars in the 19th century to collect together original writings of the Reformation. This project, the Corpus Reformatorum, was not finished until the 20th century. The collection, which runs to 101 volumes, contains reprints of the collected works of John Calvin, Philip Melanchthon, and Huldrych Zwingli, three of the leading Protestant reformers. Texts in the CR are written in either Latin, French or German. The editors were:-

Karl Gottlieb Bretschneider (1776-1848)
Heinrich Ernst Bindseil (1803-1876)
Edward (Eduard) Reuss (Reuß) (1804–1891)
August Edward (Eduard) Cunitz (Caunitz) (1812-1886)
Johann Wilhelm (Guilielmus) (William) Baum (1806-1878)
Emil Egli (1848-1908)
Georg Finsler (1819-1899)
Walther Köhler (1870-1946)

The Corpus includes Ioannis Calvini, Opera Quae Supersunt Omnia – Volumes 29- 87. (The Complete Works of John Calvin)
This is a most useful source for scholars because if you want to research what Calvin wrote it is all in one place. You do not have to try and read a collection of brittle 500 year-old books. The disadvantage for the rest of us is that Calvin's writings are all in the original Latin and Old French. It is really the domain of scholars, but it is all available online.
So when Schaff or Maxwell quotes “Opera Vol VI” we know he is referring to this work. He quotes this when he refers to Calvin's liturgy, and we can look up where Calvin used the sung versions of the Lord's Prayer, the Ten Commandments, the Song of Simeon etc.
What we find is that the Opera has at p174 of Vol 6 the liturgy of Calvin as he wrote it in 1542. There is a note regarding the French liturgy he composed in Strasbourg where Calvin says:-
“Icy L'eglise chante les commandemens de la premiere table, pays dit le Ministre....Icy L'eglise chante le reste des commandemens, la Ministere va en la chaire et alors se font prieres en la sort qui s'ensuit...”
Roughly translated: “The church here sings the commandments of the first table, then the Minister says .... Here the church sings the rest of the commandments , the Minister goes to the pulpit and then prays in the manner that follows .. . "
So we can be sure that the singing of the Ten Commandments was part of the regular liturgy, not for private use or occasional use. This is why the sung version of the Ten Commandments is in the Geneva Psalter.
The Song of Simeon likewise.
“Graces apres la Cene. “Pere celeste.......”
Les graces finies on chante le cantique de Symeon, “Maintenant Seigneur Dieu etc.”
Translation: “Thanks after the Supper. “Heavenly Father...”
When the thanks are finished we sing the Song of Simeon “Now Lord God...”.
So here we see the use of the Song of Simeon (Nunc Dimittis) was ordinarily used in the celebration of the Lord's Supper.
 

NaphtaliPress

Administrator
Staff member
As I noted earlier the three views of hymn singing, inspired praise, and exclusive psalmody date to the early days of the reformation (Calvin clearly falling into the middle camp); and that it took time in the cauldron of controversy before any systematic arguments were put on paper for EP and the arguments became more cohesive as the practice reduced to and became hallmarks of specific communions. As far as calling the hymn singing in public worship sin or idolatry, if you believe the worship songs prescribed by the Lord for His worship are those in the book of psalms, that follows logically as the consequence of all violations of the second commandment as the bifurcation is commandment keeping or committing some form of idolatry otherwise, which in this case of an error in the mode of worshipping God, some Reformed at least class more specifically as a type of superstition, reserving 'idolatry' proper to the sin of idol-worship. The issue with some extremists today is not speaking generally of hymn singing as a form of idolatry; but their manner and their separatism which heightens that particular error in worship to a level that mandates leaving a church as the only recourse. I do not think earlier EPs like Brown or those unnamed individuals referenced in the preface to the Constance Hymnal would deny that singing hymns in worship would be a sin as it would be bringing to God worship which He had not prescribed. While arguments in favor of EP have developed, I don't think the basic principles were that cloudy as it is a logical consequence that to bring to God worship that he has not prescribed is a violation of the second commandment; and a violation of any of the commandments of God is of course sin.
 

Jeri Tanner

Moderator
Staff member
The issue with some extremists today is not speaking generally of hymn singing as a form of idolatry; but their manner and their separatism which heightens that particular error in worship to a level that mandates leaving a church as the only recourse.
Just to clarify this sentence, you're saying that there are those who hold to EP who are extremists because they would have believers in EP leave a church that doesn't practice EP?

Thank you for this information on the progress of the development of a systematic theology for EP. Semper reformanda!
 

Jeri Tanner

Moderator
Staff member
How much did the recovery of the Christology of the Psalms have to do with the development of the theology of exclusive psalmody in public worship? I can see that without that revelation of our Lord and Savior speaking, praying, being spoken of and prayed to, etc. in them, it would be difficult for people to come to the ep conviction. Calvin seemed to lack this seeing of Christ all through them? But others did not, thank God.
 

richardnz

Puritan Board Freshman
As I noted earlier the three views of hymn singing, inspired praise, and exclusive psalmody date to the early days of the reformation (Calvin clearly falling into the middle camp); and that it took time in the cauldron of controversy before any systematic arguments were put on paper for EP and the arguments became more cohesive as the practice reduced to and became hallmarks of specific communions. As far as calling the hymn singing in public worship sin or idolatry, if you believe the worship songs prescribed by the Lord for His worship are those in the book of psalms, that follows logically as the consequence of all violations of the second commandment as the bifurcation is commandment keeping or committing some form of idolatry otherwise, which in this case of an error in the mode of worshipping God, some Reformed at least class more specifically as a type of superstition, reserving 'idolatry' proper to the sin of idol-worship. The issue with some extremists today is not speaking generally of hymn singing as a form of idolatry; but their manner and their separatism which heightens that particular error in worship to a level that mandates leaving a church as the only recourse. I do not think earlier EPs like Brown or those unnamed individuals referenced in the preface to the Constance Hymnal would deny that singing hymns in worship would be a sin as it would be bringing to God worship which He had not prescribed. While arguments in favor of EP have developed, I don't think the basic principles were that cloudy as it is a logical consequence that to bring to God worship that he has not prescribed is a violation of the second commandment; and a violation of any of the commandments of God is of course sin.
I have to agree that once you make the decision that the book of Psalms is the only divinely approved source of congregational song material it is only logical that any variation from that is classified as sinful. That means that you would have an obligation to condemn the practices of the hymn-singers, Calvin-followers and inspired-praise singers and any other variant. This condemnation would be more than disapproval, but would have to go so far as pointing out their need for repentance. I have not seen any of this in the writings of pre-1700 Reformed writers. You may say that Brown would see hymn-singing as a sin, but the quote you gave says re hymns,..
” but it does not follow that a song of this sort ought to be sung in the public assemblies of the Church.” Is he saying that those who sing hymns have poor reasons, and that hymn-singing is a poor practice or a sinful practice? It is an important difference. It would be good to get a more definitive statement from Brown.

Calvin's preface to the Genevan Psalter shows that he preferred Psalms to hymns.

The Book of Common Order (1562) contained in addition to the Psalms, "The Ten Commandments," "The Lord's Prayer," "Veni Creator," "The Song of Simeon called Nunc Dimittis," "The Twelve Articles of the Christian Faith," and "The Song of Blessed Marie called Magnificat." This is based on Calvin's liturgy, and displays a preference for Psalms.

Thomas Manton on James 5:13 says:-
“Others question whether we may sing scripture psalms, the psalms of David, which to me
seemeth to look like the cavil of a profane spirit. But to clear this also. I confess we do not
forbid other songs; if grave and pious, after good advice they may be received into the
church. Tertullian, in his Apology, showth that in the primitive times they used this liberty,
either to sing scripture psalms or such as were of a private composure. But that which I am to
prove, that scriptural psalms may be sung, and I shall, ek perissou, with advantage over and above, prove that they are fittest to be sung.”

So Manton preferred Psalms to hymns.


Scottish Psalter

In 1673 an edition of the Scottish Psalter was published in London with a preface signed by 25
of the leading ministers of the age, including John Owen, Thomas Manton and Joseph Caryl.
They state:
'Now though spiritual songs of meer humane composure may have their use, yet our devotion is
best secured where the matter of words are of immediately Divine inspiration; and to us David's
Psalms seem plainly intended by those terms which the Apostle useth, Eph 5:19, Col 3:16.'

John Owen and others preferred Psalms to hymns.

John Cotton, Preface to Bay Psalm Book 1640 says:

“Secondly, suppose those psalms were sung by an ordinary gift (which we suppose cannot be
evicted) does it therefore follow that they did not, & that we ought not to sing David’s psalms?
must the ordinary gifts of a private man quench the Spirit still speaking to us by the extraordin-
ary gifts of his servant David? there is not the least foot-step of example, or precept, or colour
reason for such bold practice.

Secondly. Suppose he had, yet seeing psalms are to be sung by a joint consent and harmony of all the Church in heart and voice (as we shall prove) this cannot be done except he that composes a psalm, bringeth into the Church set forms of psalms of his own invention; for which we find no warrant or precedent in any ordinary officers of the Church throughout the scriptures.

You might think from the above the Cotton is a clear advocate of Psalms-only and perhaps a condemner of those who sing anything else. However in 1647 he says:-

“Wherein we hold and believe;
1. That not only the Psalmes of David, but any other spirituall Songs recorded in Scripture, may lawfully be sung in Christian Churches, as the song of Moses, and Asaph, Hemen, Ethan, Solomon,Hezekiah, Mary and Elizabeth, and the like.
2. We grant also, that any private Christian, who hath a gift to frame a spiritual Song, may both frame it privately, for his own private comfort, and remembrance of some special benefit, or deliverance. Nor do we forbid the private use of an Instrument of Musick therewithall: So that attention to the Instrument, does not divert the heart from attention to the matter of the Song.’
(p. 15) The Singing of Psalmes a Gospel Ordinance – 1647 John Cotton

This puts him in the “scripture songs” category, so he would not say the singing of songs other than the Psalms of David is sinful, but it seems to me that he would argue that singing of any songs outside of scripture songs is sinful.

Baillies “Dissuasive” is available at:

http://quod.lib.umich.edu/e/eebo/A29432.0001.001?rgn=main;view=fulltext

Here are some Brownist views he criticises:-

“The singing of Psalms in meeter, not being formal Scripture, but a Paraphrase, to them is unlawful (KKKK); much more the singing of any other songs in the Church, which are not expresse Scripture.” (p39)

“And as if all these innovations had not been sufficient, they begun to put down all singing of Psalms, and to set up in their place Their singing Prophets, making one man alone to sing in the midst of the silent Congregation, the hymns which he out of his own gift had composed.” (p82)

“All set prayer, even the Lords prayer, and all Psalms in meeter, yea in prose, if used as praises, are unlawfull.” (p29)

Working backwards from the fact that he regards these Brownist statements as wrong, it seems that he has nothing against “other songs in the Church” (that is, other than the Psalms) or the singing of the Lord's Prayer. In addition there is a 2002 paper by David Silversides that says regarding the singing of doxologies:-,

“This practice was a matter of some dispute in Scotland and it must be acknowledged that Robert Baillie, one of the Scottish commissioners to the Assembly, was initially a strong defender of the practice, notwithstanding objections from within his own congregation. The Assembly as a whole, however, rejected the practice, and Baillie himself evidently changed his view, ultimately writing:
“But in the new translation of the Psalms, resolving to keep punctually to the original text, without any addition, we and they were content to omit that [i.e. the doxology] whereupon we saw both the Popish and Prelatical part did do much dote, as to put it to the end of most of their lessons, and all their Psalms.”
In summary it appears that Baillie did not have a principled objection to singing songs other than the Psalms of David, but he preferred Psalms. It is noteworthy that the removal of doxologies was not only because they were unispired. The Romanist and Anglican connection was a strong motivation on its own for their removal.

Then there is Thomas Ford in 1652 “The Singing of Psalms a Christian Duty” who said in his First Sermon:-
“But I return to answer the former objection concerning singing of psalms composed by an ordinary and common gift, as God in his providence gives occasion. And to this I say that I am not so much against composing, as imposing; when men set up their own new songs, and shut out David's psalms.

I will not say it is unlawful to conceive and compose a psalm on occasion. But I say again there is no reason that our conceived psalms should shut out David's;”

In Sermon 5 he says:-

“2. Secondly, Sing none but spiritual songs, such as David's psalms are, and others composed by holy men of God, who spake as they were inspired by the Holy Ghost. These are altogether spiritual for the author, for the matter, and for the end and use of them.”

His focus was on introducing Psalms and the last statement above shows that he also approved of scripture songs. I cannot find any statement of his to say that the singing of hymns in worship was sinful, but he was certainly keen on displacing them with Psalms.

In summarising these authors, I can see that all of them had a great enthusiasm for singing Psalms, and all of them would prefer to see a church free of hymns. However I do not see them going as far as calling the singing of anything other than the Psalms of David as sin. In this respect they are different from the post-1850 EPs. As I have put together this collection of statements I have also noticed that I do not have a single clear example of a Psalms-only writer from pre-1700. They may exist, but I have not found any yet. I cannot yet see any of these writers calling the singing of songs other than the Psalms as sinful, and most of them endorse the use of scripture songs.

I realise this is a little long, but I thought it would be useful to give sources.
 

Jeri Tanner

Moderator
Staff member
As I noted earlier the three views of hymn singing, inspired praise, and exclusive psalmody date to the early days of the reformation (Calvin clearly falling into the middle camp); and that it took time in the cauldron of controversy before any systematic arguments were put on paper for EP and the arguments became more cohesive as the practice reduced to and became hallmarks of specific communions. As far as calling the hymn singing in public worship sin or idolatry, if you believe the worship songs prescribed by the Lord for His worship are those in the book of psalms, that follows logically as the consequence of all violations of the second commandment as the bifurcation is commandment keeping or committing some form of idolatry otherwise, which in this case of an error in the mode of worshipping God, some Reformed at least class more specifically as a type of superstition, reserving 'idolatry' proper to the sin of idol-worship. The issue with some extremists today is not speaking generally of hymn singing as a form of idolatry; but their manner and their separatism which heightens that particular error in worship to a level that mandates leaving a church as the only recourse. I do not think earlier EPs like Brown or those unnamed individuals referenced in the preface to the Constance Hymnal would deny that singing hymns in worship would be a sin as it would be bringing to God worship which He had not prescribed. While arguments in favor of EP have developed, I don't think the basic principles were that cloudy as it is a logical consequence that to bring to God worship that he has not prescribed is a violation of the second commandment; and a violation of any of the commandments of God is of course sin.
I have to agree that once you make the decision that the book of Psalms is the only divinely approved source of congregational song material it is only logical that any variation from that is classified as sinful. That means that you would have an obligation to condemn the practices of the hymn-singers, Calvin-followers and inspired-praise singers and any other variant. This condemnation would be more than disapproval, but would have to go so far as pointing out their need for repentance. I have not seen any of this in the writings of pre-1700 Reformed writers. You may say that Brown would see hymn-singing as a sin, but the quote you gave says re hymns,..
” but it does not follow that a song of this sort ought to be sung in the public assemblies of the Church.” Is he saying that those who sing hymns have poor reasons, and that hymn-singing is a poor practice or a sinful practice? It is an important difference. It would be good to get a more definitive statement from Brown.

Calvin's preface to the Genevan Psalter shows that he preferred Psalms to hymns.

The Book of Common Order (1562) contained in addition to the Psalms, "The Ten Commandments," "The Lord's Prayer," "Veni Creator," "The Song of Simeon called Nunc Dimittis," "The Twelve Articles of the Christian Faith," and "The Song of Blessed Marie called Magnificat." This is based on Calvin's liturgy, and displays a preference for Psalms.

Thomas Manton on James 5:13 says:-
“Others question whether we may sing scripture psalms, the psalms of David, which to me
seemeth to look like the cavil of a profane spirit. But to clear this also. I confess we do not
forbid other songs; if grave and pious, after good advice they may be received into the
church. Tertullian, in his Apology, showth that in the primitive times they used this liberty,
either to sing scripture psalms or such as were of a private composure. But that which I am to
prove, that scriptural psalms may be sung, and I shall, ek perissou, with advantage over and above, prove that they are fittest to be sung.”

So Manton preferred Psalms to hymns.


Scottish Psalter

In 1673 an edition of the Scottish Psalter was published in London with a preface signed by 25
of the leading ministers of the age, including John Owen, Thomas Manton and Joseph Caryl.
They state:
'Now though spiritual songs of meer humane composure may have their use, yet our devotion is
best secured where the matter of words are of immediately Divine inspiration; and to us David's
Psalms seem plainly intended by those terms which the Apostle useth, Eph 5:19, Col 3:16.'

John Owen and others preferred Psalms to hymns.

John Cotton, Preface to Bay Psalm Book 1640 says:

“Secondly, suppose those psalms were sung by an ordinary gift (which we suppose cannot be
evicted) does it therefore follow that they did not, & that we ought not to sing David’s psalms?
must the ordinary gifts of a private man quench the Spirit still speaking to us by the extraordin-
ary gifts of his servant David? there is not the least foot-step of example, or precept, or colour
reason for such bold practice.

Secondly. Suppose he had, yet seeing psalms are to be sung by a joint consent and harmony of all the Church in heart and voice (as we shall prove) this cannot be done except he that composes a psalm, bringeth into the Church set forms of psalms of his own invention; for which we find no warrant or precedent in any ordinary officers of the Church throughout the scriptures.

You might think from the above the Cotton is a clear advocate of Psalms-only and perhaps a condemner of those who sing anything else. However in 1647 he says:-

“Wherein we hold and believe;
1. That not only the Psalmes of David, but any other spirituall Songs recorded in Scripture, may lawfully be sung in Christian Churches, as the song of Moses, and Asaph, Hemen, Ethan, Solomon,Hezekiah, Mary and Elizabeth, and the like.
2. We grant also, that any private Christian, who hath a gift to frame a spiritual Song, may both frame it privately, for his own private comfort, and remembrance of some special benefit, or deliverance. Nor do we forbid the private use of an Instrument of Musick therewithall: So that attention to the Instrument, does not divert the heart from attention to the matter of the Song.’
(p. 15) The Singing of Psalmes a Gospel Ordinance – 1647 John Cotton

This puts him in the “scripture songs” category, so he would not say the singing of songs other than the Psalms of David is sinful, but it seems to me that he would argue that singing of any songs outside of scripture songs is sinful.

Baillies “Dissuasive” is available at:

http://quod.lib.umich.edu/e/eebo/A29432.0001.001?rgn=main;view=fulltext

Here are some Brownist views he criticises:-

“The singing of Psalms in meeter, not being formal Scripture, but a Paraphrase, to them is unlawful (KKKK); much more the singing of any other songs in the Church, which are not expresse Scripture.” (p39)

“And as if all these innovations had not been sufficient, they begun to put down all singing of Psalms, and to set up in their place Their singing Prophets, making one man alone to sing in the midst of the silent Congregation, the hymns which he out of his own gift had composed.” (p82)

“All set prayer, even the Lords prayer, and all Psalms in meeter, yea in prose, if used as praises, are unlawfull.” (p29)

Working backwards from the fact that he regards these Brownist statements as wrong, it seems that he has nothing against “other songs in the Church” (that is, other than the Psalms) or the singing of the Lord's Prayer. In addition there is a 2002 paper by David Silversides that says regarding the singing of doxologies:-,

“This practice was a matter of some dispute in Scotland and it must be acknowledged that Robert Baillie, one of the Scottish commissioners to the Assembly, was initially a strong defender of the practice, notwithstanding objections from within his own congregation. The Assembly as a whole, however, rejected the practice, and Baillie himself evidently changed his view, ultimately writing:
“But in the new translation of the Psalms, resolving to keep punctually to the original text, without any addition, we and they were content to omit that [i.e. the doxology] whereupon we saw both the Popish and Prelatical part did do much dote, as to put it to the end of most of their lessons, and all their Psalms.”
In summary it appears that Baillie did not have a principled objection to singing songs other than the Psalms of David, but he preferred Psalms. It is noteworthy that the removal of doxologies was not only because they were unispired. The Romanist and Anglican connection was a strong motivation on its own for their removal.

Then there is Thomas Ford in 1652 “The Singing of Psalms a Christian Duty” who said in his First Sermon:-
“But I return to answer the former objection concerning singing of psalms composed by an ordinary and common gift, as God in his providence gives occasion. And to this I say that I am not so much against composing, as imposing; when men set up their own new songs, and shut out David's psalms.

I will not say it is unlawful to conceive and compose a psalm on occasion. But I say again there is no reason that our conceived psalms should shut out David's;”

In Sermon 5 he says:-

“2. Secondly, Sing none but spiritual songs, such as David's psalms are, and others composed by holy men of God, who spake as they were inspired by the Holy Ghost. These are altogether spiritual for the author, for the matter, and for the end and use of them.”

His focus was on introducing Psalms and the last statement above shows that he also approved of scripture songs. I cannot find any statement of his to say that the singing of hymns in worship was sinful, but he was certainly keen on displacing them with Psalms.

In summarising these authors, I can see that all of them had a great enthusiasm for singing Psalms, and all of them would prefer to see a church free of hymns. However I do not see them going as far as calling the singing of anything other than the Psalms of David as sin. In this respect they are different from the post-1850 EPs. As I have put together this collection of statements I have also noticed that I do not have a single clear example of a Psalms-only writer from pre-1700. They may exist, but I have not found any yet. I cannot yet see any of these writers calling the singing of songs other than the Psalms as sinful, and most of them endorse the use of scripture songs.

I realise this is a little long, but I thought it would be useful to give sources.
It's interesting that the doctrine of what the church is to sing was settled, as far as the use of uninspired hymns, at the councils of Laodicia and Chalcedon. Yet those decisions of the church have not been looked to, respected and adhered to as seriously, as have been their decisions on the nature of Christ and the Trinity, for example. To call the church's use of uninspired songs in public worship a sin is not equivalent to condemning as heretics those who use them! There seems to be a lack in knowing and understanding the issues at present, and many are doing what they think is best or right. Bible-believing Christians are willing to call disbelief in the Trinity a sin, however, even when that disbelief springs from not understanding the issues. Also, this disbelief is becoming less widely condemned.

By the way, in regards to Calvin: In the "Minutes Of The Sessions Of The Westminster Assembly Of Divines" by John Paterson Struthers (online at Google books), the case is made that "Calvin allowed 'a few biblical songs' (Bushell) to be sung in his youth. However, this is a far cry from requiring 'uninspired "hymnody', and as he grew in grace, he insisted upon the practice of exclusive psalmody." (This is a footnote in the aforementioned book on page 983 of the Google location; he is quoting or commenting on Michael Bushell's book "Songs of Zion.")

I realize this is straying from the actual question of the OP- sorry about that!
 

R Harris

Puritan Board Sophomore
"By the way, in regards to Calvin: In the "Minutes Of The Sessions Of The Westminster Assembly Of Divines" by John Paterson Struthers (online at Google books), the case is made that "Calvin allowed 'a few biblical songs' (Bushell) to be sung in his youth. However, this is a far cry from requiring 'uninspired "hymnody', and as he grew in grace, he insisted upon the practice of exclusive psalmody." (This is a footnote in the aforementioned book on page 983 of the Google location; he is quoting or commenting on Michael Bushell's book "Songs of Zion.")"

That was essentially my understanding also - that it was Beza in fact who convinced Calvin to move toward an EP or at least a predominant psalmody position.

But that famous Calvin written essay, where he said he "searched far and wide" and could not find anything better than the Psalms ("it is as if the Holy Spirit is speaking through us"), leads me to believe that he was not tolerant of uninspired material. What that meant in terms of how he felt about those that did use uninspired material may be unclear, but his position on what should be used is not.
 

richardnz

Puritan Board Freshman
It's interesting that the doctrine of what the church is to sing was settled, as far as the use of uninspired hymns, at the councils of Laodicia and Chalcedon. Yet those decisions of the church have not been looked to, respected and adhered to as seriously, as have been their decisions on the nature of Christ and the Trinity, for example. To call the church's use of uninspired songs in public worship a sin is not equivalent to condemning as heretics those who use them! There seems to be a lack in knowing and understanding the issues at present, and many are doing what they think is best or right. Bible-believing Christians are willing to call disbelief in the Trinity a sin, however, even when that disbelief springs from not understanding the issues. Also, this disbelief is becoming less widely condemned.
I cannot find any reference to what to sing in the canons of Laodicia or Chalcedon. There is one Laodician canon, 59, which I notice has been referred to by a few EPs:-

Synod of Laodicea (343-381), canon 59: "No psalms composed by private individuals nor any uncanonical books may be read in the church, but only the Canonical Books of the Old and New Testaments."

As you can see, it only refers to what is read, not to what is sung.

The Council of Chalcedon (451) has nothing at all, as far as I can tell, regarding what is sung in worship. Perhaps there is some confusing of these councils with the 1st Council of Braga (563) which held (Canon 11) “That no poetic composition be sung in the Church except the psalms of the sacred canon.” This Council is the only one I know of that speaks to what is sung in worship, and seems to support the exclusive singing of inspired songs. What would be useful is the reasoning behind the decision. Was it because the Priscillians had composed hymns and the faithful were trying to shut them out? Or was it because of a biblical perspective on what was appropriate in song? It is not easy to understand the arguments behind a practice without some background information.

When hymn-singers are regarded as sinful for singing hymns I do not know of a consensus as to how sinful it is. If it is against the 2nd Commandment and equivalent to the sin of Nadab and Abihu, as some claim, that sounds like a very serious sin to me.
 

richardnz

Puritan Board Freshman
"By the way, in regards to Calvin: In the "Minutes Of The Sessions Of The Westminster Assembly Of Divines" by John Paterson Struthers (online at Google books), the case is made that "Calvin allowed 'a few biblical songs' (Bushell) to be sung in his youth. However, this is a far cry from requiring 'uninspired "hymnody', and as he grew in grace, he insisted upon the practice of exclusive psalmody." (This is a footnote in the aforementioned book on page 983 of the Google location; he is quoting or commenting on Michael Bushell's book "Songs of Zion.")"
I tried looking up Calvin in Struthers “Minutes”, (1874) but I could not find anything. There are only 841 pages so I could not get to p983. Here is the link I tried:-

http://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=hvd.32044035037175;view=1up;seq=1550

However I did find this footnote in Reg Barrow's “Psalm Singing in Scripture and History”:-

“Bushell, Songs of Zion, p. 141. Calvin allowed "a few Biblical songs" (Bushell) to be sung in his youth. However, this is a far cry from requiring uninspired "hymnody," and, as he grew in grace, he insisted upon the practice of exclusive Psalmody!”

I assume Barrow is quoting Bushell accurately. Calvin tried to start singing in worship for the first time in the year 1537, during his first stay in Geneva. He proposed to the Council of the city the introduction of the singing of Psalms by the whole congregation, "in order to lift up our hearts unto God and to exalt His Name by songs of praise." But the Council of Geneva rejected Calvin's proposal.

When Calvin went to Strasbourg in 1538, at 29 years of age, he was successful and Psalm-singing was instituted along with singing the Song of Simeon, Ten Commandments, Apostles Creed, Lord's Prayer. He did not just “allow” these as Barrow says. He was responsible for their inclusion! These songs must be what Bushell means by “a few Biblical songs”. Barrow's claim that “this is a far cry from requiring uninspired hymnody” is right. But the following statement, that “as he grew in grace , he insisted on the practice of exclusive Psalmody” is unsubstantiated and seems to be a mistake. Calvin at no stage indicated a change of thinking as to the propriety of singing those songs and was able to continue with at least the Song of Simeon and the Ten Commandments for the next 25 years.


That was essentially my understanding also - that it was Beza in fact who convinced Calvin to move toward an EP or at least a predominant psalmody position.
Calvin started with the predominant psalmody position well before Beza arrived on the scene in 1548. After Calvin's death Beza composed sixteen scripture songs for worship in 1595, so he does not look like the one who may have influenced Calvin toward EP. Bucer in Strasbourg would be a more likely candidate. Calvin himself stated, "As for the Sunday Prayers [liturgy], I took the form of Strasbourg and borrowed the greater part of it."
“I have particularly copied Bucer, that man of holy memory, outstanding doctor in the church of God.” Bucer's liturgy included the singing of the Psalms, the Apostles Creed, Ten Commandments and the Gloria In Excelsis. I think that would qualify as a predominant psalmody position.

But that famous Calvin written essay, where he said he "searched far and wide" and could not find anything better than the Psalms ("it is as if the Holy Spirit is speaking through us"), leads me to believe that he was not tolerant of uninspired material. What that meant in terms of how he felt about those that did use uninspired material may be unclear, but his position on what should be used is not.
The essay spoken of here must be Calvin's preface to the Geneva Psalter. The statement “we shall not find better songs nor more fitting for the purpose, than the Psalms of David” should be tempered with the observation that in his liturgy Calvin employed other songs for special functions in worship. I think it would be safe to conclude that he was not opposed to uninspired material in principle, but he had very limited use for it in practice and only used it when he thought it necessary. The result was worship of almost exclusively Psalms and scripture songs.
 

NaphtaliPress

Administrator
Staff member
Richard, Barrow is not a credible authority to hang things upon. If you are going to interact with EP theory and historical claims to work toward some anti EP conclusions, interact with Bushell who is an authority and who has refined his work through several edition over the decades. Don't take the writings and claims of separatists who happen to be EP and work back from them. Get a hold of Bushell's latest edition and see his sections on Calvin. In sum he thinks whether Calvin was EP, inspired praise or open to uninspired hymns (which he doubts and offers some evidence toward that view, p. 268ff) is moot from the practical standpoint. I don't know if this is available internationally; but here is the print on demand link for Bushell. http://www.lulu.com/shop/search.ep?contributorId=898932
 

richardnz

Puritan Board Freshman
Richard, Barrow is not a credible authority to hang things upon. If you are going to interact with EP theory and historical claims to work toward some anti EP conclusions, interact with Bushell who is an authority and who has refined his work through several edition over the decades. Don't take the writings and claims of separatists who happen to be EP and work back from them. Get a hold of Bushell's latest edition and see his sections on Calvin. In sum he thinks whether Calvin was EP, inspired praise or open to uninspired hymns (which he doubts and offers some evidence toward that view, p. 268ff) is moot from the practical standpoint. I don't know if this is available internationally; but here is the print on demand link for Bushell. http://www.lulu.com/shop/search.ep?contributorId=898932
Thanks for the link to “Songs of Zion”. I thought his book was out of print and I had given up on finding a copy. That is a reasonable price.

What started my attempt at research was an article by Rowland Ward. “ Should the Psalter be the Only Hymnal of the Church? - Historical aspects of the practice of Reformed worship suggested by a booklet of the same name by Iain H. Murray published by the Banner of Truth Trust, 2001.”

There were a number of comments he made in this article that interested me. He said that the historical issues regarding psalmody are “frequently poorly understood”. He also said, regarding the RP Testimony of 1806, RP Doctrinal Testimony of 1837, “ Yet there is no condemnation of metrical versions of prose Scripture or of other Scripture songs in these writings. The more restrictive theory had not yet come to the fore.”

This was news to me. Everything EP I had read said there was a consistent and well-defined theory from the early days of the Reformation. His article was an encouragement for me to get my facts right and adopt a more critical attitude toward modern works on the history of congregational singing. As far as I can tell Rowland Ward is right. There was a change in the arguments for EP around 1850 toward a more restrictive view. I consider that the earlier arguments, which I associate with Calvin and the Puritans, better than the later arguments. Some may disagree and say that the reasoning improved. I am not convinced. However whatever our views may be on the merits of various arguments, it is important to at least understand the history accurately. I think EP is a good practice and should be promoted in all churches but it needs to be supported by the best arguments and accurate history.
 

Logan

Puritan Board Junior
Sometimes a "condemnation" doesn't come simply because there has been little or no controversy about it. Unless the writers specifically mention "we have no problem with metrical scriptural songs", then there is always the possibility they didn't condemn it because it just didn't come up.

We see very nebulous and inexact language used by the early church fathers about the person of Christ. It was only when there was a controversy that the terms and ideas became more definite. Similarly with psalms. While I don't know for certain, I wouldn't be surprised if it wasn't until the rise of hymnody supplanting psalm-singing in the 1800s that led to more definite language in EP writings.
 

NaphtaliPress

Administrator
Staff member
I agree with you Richard that it is important to understand the history and I have been pointing out the EP theory has developed and refined as controversies more unfolded, slowly, over a couple of centuries for quite some time. Rowland and I have engaged over the years on this and I have long disagreed with him in a friendly way, over the other scripture songs and his understanding at least early on that psalms does not mean Psalms in the WCF. On this and Murray's work, I would direct to the PB archives. Also see items that have run in The Confessional Presbyterian journal; and there hopefully will be a couple more items in the 2015 as far as the case to be or not be made if not the history.
 

Peairtach

Puritan Board Doctor
Sometimes a "condemnation" doesn't come simply because there has been little or no controversy about it. Unless the writers specifically mention "we have no problem with metrical scriptural songs", then there is always the possibility they didn't condemn it because it just didn't come up.

We see very nebulous and inexact language used by the early church fathers about the person of Christ. It was only when there was a controversy that the terms and ideas became more definite. Similarly with psalms. While I don't know for certain, I wouldn't be surprised if it wasn't until the rise of hymnody supplanting psalm-singing in the 1800s that led to more definite language in EP writings.
It seems clear from the Puritan Preface to the Scottish Psalter 1673, and other places, that many, like Manton, Owen, etc, didn't disapprove of (all) other songs, just that they didn't have the proper high warrant for them that they had for the Psalms in public worship :2cents:
 

Logan

Puritan Board Junior
I've read the preface, and it seems to me that there is no limiting of the psalter to being used exclusively in corporate worship, so no mention of exclusive psalmody in the context of all of life. But neither is there a clear admission of songs of "mere human composure" into corporate worship.

In other words, we cannot prove from that quotation more than what the writers intended: that when teaching our children and venting our joy, human-composed songs have their place, but the Psalms are best for securing our devotion. That this applied to public worship seems uncertain at best.
 

Peairtach

Puritan Board Doctor
Yes, Logan, but when you take historical evidence like the Preface, with other evidence, it seems clear that men like Manton and Owen limited the authority of the Church to prescribing Psalms for public worship services. I don't know if this was the position of all the signatories to the Preface.

Sent from my HTC Wildfire using Tapatalk 2
 

MW

Puritanboard Amanuensis
The idea of "development" requires one to ignore clear references in earlier periods to the exclusive use of the Psalms in public worship. A great variety of views were expressed in the Puritan period. This makes the fact that the Westminster assembly only considered Psalms in the context of public worship all the more significant.
 

NaphtaliPress

Administrator
Staff member
I agree the basic arguments are there, by developed I am just saying the case became more directed, certainly longer, as controversy brought the need at subsequent times.
 

MW

Puritanboard Amanuensis
Chris, I wasn't responding to your statement but to the basic thesis underlying the OP, that there was a periodic development.

I don't think it requires controversy to come to exclusive psalmody. The canonical Psalter is in the Bible and has been a distinct and formative influence throughout church history. One has to take conscious steps in order to to add to the Psalms. We should therefore expect that non-exclusive psalmody required the development.
 
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