Exclusive Psalmody

Discussion in 'A capella Exclusive Psalmody' started by C. Matthew McMahon, Feb 13, 2005.

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  1. C. Matthew McMahon

    C. Matthew McMahon Christian Preacher

    Since the Puritans worshiped by exlusively using the Psalms, and since A Puritan's Mind is designed to demonstrate the truth of the Bible as the Puritans saw it (among other things) I thought I would start a section of the site to put out articles that favored Exclusive Psalmody from a Puritan perspective. It should ultimately be a good resource overall once I get everything posted, but there are a couple of pieces out there right now that deal with the issue from the early church, and form the Puritan perspective.

  2. Peter

    Peter Puritan Board Junior

    :up: Thanks Matt,
    Semper Reformanda!
  3. VirginiaHuguenot

    VirginiaHuguenot Puritanboard Librarian

  4. lwadkins

    lwadkins Puritan Board Junior

    Thank You Matt:sing:
  5. JohnV

    JohnV Puritan Board Post-Graduate

    Does this mean that I have change my mind about Exclusive Psalmody? I'm not Puritan because I don't agree with it?

    Actually, I'm not opposed to it, as long its a matter of church polity, and not doctrine. But I'm setting myself to read Dr. Young's piece. I've printed out a few pages to read later tonight. I really respect him. I disagreed with his take on Presumptice Regeneration, but then he was writing against another view of it. But I still think that he wrote THE definitive work on Reformed epistemology. As I recall, it wasn't meant to be that, but for me it turned out that way. He made Van Till and Clouser, and any other one I read, look like beginners in comparison. So I hold him in very high regard.
  6. blhowes

    blhowes Puritan Board Professor

    In general, where does the development of hymns fit into the historic scheme of things? It seems that many of the better hymns were written around the same time, or shortly thereafter, that the puritans lived.
  7. VirginiaHuguenot

    VirginiaHuguenot Puritanboard Librarian

    Isaac Watts (1674 - 1748) did more than anyone else, I believe, to move the Reformed Church away from the Psalms alone and towards uninspired hymnody.

    He wrote a paraphrase of the Psalms because he believed that the Psalmist David spoke like a Jew, not a Christian, therefore, the Psalms were unsuitable as indited by the Holy Spirit for Christian worship. His attitude eventually became the prevailing view on the psalms in worship.
  8. Scott Bushey

    Scott Bushey Puritanboard Commissioner

    I'm with you John.
  9. daveb

    daveb Puritan Board Sophomore

    Thanks for posting those articles, they are very interesting. I've always thought that the singing of Psalms would be so beneficial since you actually memorize the Scriptures.
  10. Scott Bushey

    Scott Bushey Puritanboard Commissioner

    The other idea is that it guards you from singing error.

    [Edited on 2-14-2005 by Scott Bushey]
  11. blhowes

    blhowes Puritan Board Professor

    Thanks for your response.

    Its interesting to learn the history of different aspects of our worship services. Living in our culture, without giving it further thought, we could easily assume that the way we worship today is how people have always worshipped down through the ages.

    Here's something I read:
    What exactly was he reacting to? Was it the poor attempt of his predecessors to write hymns, or was it the way the Psalms were sung then, or both?
  12. VirginiaHuguenot

    VirginiaHuguenot Puritanboard Librarian

    Well, that statement in particular reveals a clear bias in favor of Watts' view of the situation. That psalm excerpt, I believe, is from Psalm 104.26 and it is indeed laughable.

    But the Scottish metrical psalter of 1650 had been in use for some time before Watts arrived on the scene and it is still the standard for psalm-singers (which is not to say that portions couldn't stand further revision). Other versions of the metrical psalms have been prepared since then and psalm-singers that I know have different preferences based on translation and tunes, etc.

    I don't know how dull Watts found Psalm-singing to be (it is clear what the author thinks), but I think he honestly believed that David's Psalms were unChristian and needed improvement in order to be made suitable for Christian worship. I'm sure the imprecatory psalms were significant in his thinking along those lines. In general, I think he believed that innovation was the ticket to keeping the faithful interested in established religion. His psalm paraphrase was the first step away from Puritan worship down the road paved with good intentions. He was poet and wanted to use his talent for the service of the church, and thought he could do better than David in this regard.
  13. blhowes

    blhowes Puritan Board Professor

    It would certainly be interesting to read his autobiography, if available, or a good biography, to help separate fact from fiction and to learn his motivations.

    From your readings, do you really think that he thought he could do a better job than David?
  14. JonathanHunt

    JonathanHunt Puritan Board Senior

    'thought he could do a better job than David'

    Do I detect a slight bias? :lol: I think that really isn't the issue. Non-psalms had been sung for centuries. Watts certainly marks the beginning of an expansion in hymnody, however. He is also the finest non-inspired hymnist ever In my humble opinion.

    One of my favourite psalm expansions was written by Richard Baxter, based on Psalm 104. I must put it on here some time.

    This debate's been done to death, though, and I'm not wading in with my anti-exclusive comments today!


    I'll be worshipping with an exclusive psalmodial baptist church in wednesday night. They're quite rare!

  15. Contra_Mundum

    Contra_Mundum Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger Staff Member

    Any church that cuts itself off from the Psalms has basically eliminated their basis for singing anything in the church. In that case, I've come to bury Watts, and not to praise him... but I'm not an exclusive Psalmodist either. I do think that he was used by God in spite of his errors to enrich the church's song-store. And we'll just have to agree to disagree on the merits of that.

    I claim we are better off with Watts' "Joy to the World" and Luther's "Ein Feste Burg (A Mighty Fortress)" in our hymnals than without. Both have are often listed in hymnbooks as being derived from a Psalm (Ps. 72, Ps. 46). But, once admit them, and you have indeed opened the door to virtually all "theological arrangements," including some powerful English, German (translated), and other emminently orthodox offerings.

    So, either you are for them or against them.

    (although I would argue that unless one argues for the most radical form of EP conceivable, we are all arguing for our preferred "standard of deviation from the pure extreme;" someone else's "more divine songbook than thine" will give him cause to abuse you for not being strict enough...)
  16. VirginiaHuguenot

    VirginiaHuguenot Puritanboard Librarian

  17. blhowes

    blhowes Puritan Board Professor

    ...hoping to avoid turning this into a debate. As Sergeant Friday of Dragnet would say, "I want the facts, mam, just the facts!"
  18. VirginiaHuguenot

    VirginiaHuguenot Puritanboard Librarian

    I know exclusive psalmody is a touchy subject for some, but I think Bob's questions about Watts are legit, and I can assure readers that I have not overstated Watts' desire to make David sound like a Christian. That was his whole argument for the necessity of singing psalm paraphrases instead of the traditional metrical psalms. Whether one agrees that Watts was right or not, that's historical fact, and because he was so influential in this regard, Watts does play a pivotal role in the historical transition from Puritan worship (exclusive psalmody) to modern worship (uninspired hymnody).
  19. daveb

    daveb Puritan Board Sophomore

    Absolutely. This is something the church sorely needs.
  20. Scott Bushey

    Scott Bushey Puritanboard Commissioner

    JohnV previously said:
    "Actually, I'm not opposed to it, as long its a matter of church polity, and not doctrine."

    I agree with this. In this alone, considering it may keep Gods people us from possibly sinning, should we not be exclusive Psalmodists?
  21. Contra_Mundum

    Contra_Mundum Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger Staff Member

    You need three things to sing the Psalms aright, and not just a Psalter.

    1) A psalm, in some version or other.

    2) Faith.

    3) Proper education regarding what you are singing, its meaning, import, etc.

    I'm sure the Mormon Tabernacle Choir is lustily, beautifully, and precisely using Psalm xyz, and "singing in error."
  22. blhowes

    blhowes Puritan Board Professor

    Originally posted by VirginiaHuguenot
    Also, here is Schaff's 19th century treatment on psalmody which deals with Watts as well:

    The article says:
    Being unfamiliar with Presbyterian polity, was this decision only "binding" on the churches in Philadelphia? Was there any challenge made to try and overturn the decision so that it wouldn't spread?

    [Edited on 2-14-2005 by blhowes]
  23. Peter

    Peter Puritan Board Junior

    That's an interesting perspective, Watts is just the 1st innovater trying to make the hymns of the church "relevent" of a long succession of innovaters leading all the way to our present day "praise and worship" teams. Watts is just the 1st contemporary worship song writer. Contemporary is a relative term anyway- what we call the "old hymns of the faith" today was once contemporary and what is contemporary today will one day be the old hymns of the faith. Of course there is a way to escape the cycle, songs outside the oldfashion-teeniebob continuum, timeless songs relevent to every age, the Spirit inspired Psalms of David.
  24. Contra_Mundum

    Contra_Mundum Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger Staff Member

    Presbyterianism in early America centered in the PA/NJ area, because of the relative religious freedoms there, compared to the various establishments in the other colonies.

    The aforementioned synod (or GA) was at or near the beginning of "mainline" denominational American Presbyterianism, with connectionalism between presbyteries/synods. Prior to this Phila. synod (the orig. Phila. Pbty. formed the first synod in 1717), there were a number of Presbyterian churches and presbyteries, which churches were still nominally connected with the "old country" from which original settlers had come. Ministers ordinarily came from Scotland or N.I. to serve the colonial Presbyterian churches, until the "log college" seminaries began producing ministers (which was controversial due to the "educated ministry" requirement). The Tennet brothers and the "old side/new side" split back in the 1740s was seen as a product of the different sources for the ministry, which produced different attitudes toward the Great Awakening and itinerancy. C. Hodge demonstrated that doctrinally, there was scarcely any cause for this division. This division was eventually healed, though there were signs that the rift produced seeds for a later division, labelled the Old School/New School (which was doctrinal).

    The new national identity was a major impetus to the forging of a truly national church, hence the Synod. By this time uninspired hymnody was not uncommon in American Calvinistic churches, of both Congregational and Presbyterian heritage. The Synod, in my view, was simply acknowledging the fact. "Allowed" vs "Authorised", while perhaps qualifying as a parliamentary nicety, really amounts to a distinction without a difference. The Standards said "Psalms," and everyone knew that meant the biblical Psalter. No change was made to the standards that said, "And another category, uninspired hymns, are also to be sung." Rather, hymns were allowed, being viewed as compatible with the language of the Confession (not opposing it, in other words), and sanctioned by Scripture and the RPW.

    [Edited on 2-14-2005 by Contra_Mundum]
  25. daveb

    daveb Puritan Board Sophomore

    I'm thinking the same thing myself. :detective:
  26. JonathanHunt

    JonathanHunt Puritan Board Senior

    No, because that's like saying that we should only use the original languages to read from in case we read a poorly translated word and thus read error

    Or that we should not compose our own prayers but only use the ones contained in scripture because they are the only inspired ones and we might pray in error... ad infinitum

    And if you want to sing the inspired word of God, you'd have to sing in hebrew... it would rhyme then as well...

    Uh oh, I said I wouldn't do this, and I am :chained: *zips mouth*


    [Edited on 14-2-2005 by JonathanHunt]
  27. Scott Bushey

    Scott Bushey Puritanboard Commissioner

    When our pastors preach on the Lords day; is the word tainted or inspired? Why would singing it be any less inspired. The premise is that there are errors in plenty of what we sing in even the hymnals; i.e. Fanny Crosby Hymns. Singing Psalms are without error; The only error may be, as Bruce poointed out, in the singer.

    [Edited on 2-14-2005 by Scott Bushey]
  28. blhowes

    blhowes Puritan Board Professor

    You managed to hold off for 2 hours and 15 minutes. Nice self control. Very impressive!

    [Edited on 2-14-2005 by blhowes]
  29. Dan....

    Dan.... Puritan Board Sophomore


    Are you for exclusive inspired sermons only? Sermons can have errors also.
  30. JohnV

    JohnV Puritan Board Post-Graduate

    Don't get me wrong, friends. I am in favour of the singing of hymns in church. But I would not approve of just any hymn.

    My view on the singing of songs of praise and of prayer is very simple. We pray freely for those things that we look to God for, whether it is help in time of trouble, or comfort in time of need, or strength and courage in time of trial. In all cases we are unafraid to speak of specifics, and we ask for leading from the Spirit through the Word. And we express our solicitations freely, as best we can, knowing and believing that the Spirit intercedes for us. When we express to others what God has done for us we do so with our own exhuberance, and in our own words, as best we can. And we know that this praises God; for which, too, the Spirit intercedes for us. These expressions come from the heart, even though they are tainted with sin. So are the very best of our works tainted with sin. But God rewards faith. If He were to reward only that which was done perfectly then we could not hold any hope for reward. And reward is not in the sense of a victor's wreath, but as a mere answer to petition or praise, showing us His favourable acceptance of it from our lowly estate, in Christ our Lord. God answers those who ask for those things that He wills for us, not for those things we will for ourselves apart from God's will.

    Whether we speak or sing, it is the same. We can express things in song that we cannot do so easily in mere words. And even then, prose can be better than syllogistic or propositional form. For me, the expression of my heart, sinful though it be, is best expressed in song. It is a freewill offering of praise or petition.

    The Psalms are matchless in such expressions. They are irreplaceable. But I do not see them as the only expression. They are an example for us to follow, not the end itself. From then we take the example of prayer or praise that reflects our specific needs or inducements to praise. We must be carefull not to confess things which ought not come to our lips; so we must have great care in what we adopt corporately as songs of worship. And the Psalms are good to confine ourselves to when error reigns, as in our day. (We can be held hostage by those who propose different sentiments or doctrines, such as is being discussed on another thread. )But the singing of praise and of prayer to God should extend further than that to a church that is true to the Word. Otherwise the only alternative I see is the undermining of what music is to the heart and to the heart's expression of faith in specifics and circumstances.

    If it is that I may say it, (like the Confession) then it ought to be that I can say it, and then I should be able to sing it with better expression. If it is perfect praise in private, then why is it not in corporate worship?

    If it is agreed that the church, as a matter of polity, will sing only from the Psalms, then it is not wrong, and I should not oppose it or undermine church unity over it. However, I have seen it become an issue of orthodoxy, to the point that a church that departs from it departs from doctrine. And that has made EP into an ugly thing, when it was meant to be beautiful for the congregation.

    If that puts me at odds with the Westminster Standards, then I must put myself to the test, for it is a huge undertaking to differ with the Church's witness. And if I am not convinced that I err, then it is my duty to remain silent on the issue, and not to divide the church, until I can subdue my mind to truth.

    I am going to continue to read William Young's essay.
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