Exclusive Psalmody

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Puritanboard Librarian
Originally posted by JohnV
Good answers, Andrew. I'll answer tomorrow. I'm a bit busy tonight. Its a pleasure discussing these things with you. Thanks for helping think through this.
Likewise, John! I value your thoughts and comments and know that you sincerely wish to worship God in the most Biblical way, and that is our common goal in this discussion.

I want to add that I am not up for another full-length discussion on this subject, since so much has been said before, and I lack both time and energy right now (there is much going on in my life), but if we can advance the discussion profitably in any way, then I hope we can continue towards that end. I may not be able to answer quickly though either due to time constraints.

I know this thread is supposed to be about Matt's articles, but it seems that we can't help but discuss the issues raised by those articles. This is a Puritan forum and we are speaking about Puritan worship and whether it is Biblical worship. To approach God with a right heart in the manner which he has ordained, this is the essence of Biblical Puritan worship, and if we can encourage one another in that vein as iron sharpens iron, to God be the glory!


Puritan Board Post-Graduate
from Andrew
I want to add that I am not up for another full-length discussion on this subject, since so much has been said before, and I lack both time and energy right now (there is much going on in my life), but if we can advance the discussion profitably in any way, then I hope we can continue towards that end. I may not be able to answer quickly though either due to time constraints
Fair enough. I was going to point out that on some of the responses to my post you answered a somewhat different sentiment than I had in mind, but that I understand what you were getting at. I do not disagree with those points you raised. And I won't niggle about the conclusions you come to out of them. We're not really far apart.

But I won't carry on with it, as I also don't want to make this into a debate. As long as we're taking each other seriously, I think that we benefit from each others' stated opinions.

I would like to add a few more thoughts, and see if they float.

Historicallly we have received the best of the heritage from our forefathers. First and foremost, we received the Word from them. But secondly, we also received the best of their deliberations and decisions concerning various points of doctrine. We have not only some of the great creeds from past Councils, but also have some great confessions that have defined the theology of the historic Church against detrators and dissidents from the faith. In short, we have the very Word of God, and we have the Secondary Documents, namely the Ecumenical Creeds, and we have the Westminster Standards, in that order. We also have, after this, treatises from gifted men, who have written down for us the wisdom which they received by the grace of God. Any of our libraries are packed with such writings, some better than other. But nowhere do we find an inspired congregational Psalter among them dating back to, or near to the original. We have not been bequeathed a living version of the songs that were sung, and even less of the music they used.

If the Church had been so insistent about singing exclusively of the Psalms, and using only authorized versifications then we would have some kind of record of that akin to the Confessions at least, but logically they would be between the Creeds and the Word, or equal to the Creeds, in order. We would have, in descending order: The Word, the Psalter, (and, or next) the Creeds, the Confessions, and the writings. The problem is that we don't have the authorized Psalter even after the Confessions.

Now this is countered by the argument from language, that the Psalter would consist of versifications in the various vulgar languages. The mother tongue, so to speak, of the Church is Latin. And this was prevalent for about a thousand years and more, fifteen hundred years to be more precise. And even then I can recall in my own lifetime the changeover from Latin services to English in some churches. But still we do not have an authorized congregational Psalter.

We may argue from the point of music, that music has changed and developed tremendously over the centuries. The Gregorian Chants, for example, have been out of favour for a long, long time, even in the RCC. And new music calls for new authorized versifications. But this last proposition would not follow if only authorized versifications were important.

Now I may have exaggerated the argument a bit, but only to show that the argument from history does not really follow. It is of no effect to say that certain churches practiced EP. The fact is that the historic Church did not practice it, as evidenced by the lack of circumstantial evidence that one would be confident to expect. Ordinarily, the heritage that is bequeathed to us, the children of the Faithful, consists of the Word, the Creeds, and the Confessions (which includes the Catechisms. ) We do not find admonitions to faithfulness to an authorized congregational Psalter to the same degree, as one would expect.

Well, that's one thought I had. I don't know if I conveyed it very well. It took longer to write it than to think it. I have yet another one to bring up too, but I'll do that later. And at some time I would like to get back to the reasoning you used, Andrew, to reach the conclusions you came to. We weren't adressing exactly the same issues, and it would be helpful to me to work some of these things out.


Puritanboard Librarian

I'm not sure what you mean by "authorised versification" or "authorized Psalter." From what you are saying, it seems to me that the same argument could be made that we don't have an "authorised Bible." The process of arriving at faithful translations of God's word or faithful versions of the Psalter is much the same. And in fact I would argue that we do have faithful reliable Bibles and Psalters. As you mentioned, they vary from language to language and the Dark Ages suppressed God's word in all forms for a long time. But the Church has never been without the Bible or the Psalter. My own Psalter has been in use since 1650. My Bible has been in use since 1611. There have been faithful Bibles and Psalters before then and since then.

The witness of history is decidedly in favor of Psalmody from the earliest history of the Church. I recognize that bias is involved in interpreting history and I know my own biases but church history is something I know a little about and I am persuaded that the early Church sang the Psalms alone and when hymns were introduced it was done so gradually and by the unorthodox of the time. Augustine and Jerome have made statements that support this argument. You mentioned Gregorian chants. During the Dark Ages the Psalms were extremely highly regarded by monks and their chanting was a continuation of the early practice albeit not in congregational form. Thus even in the RCC Psalms retained a certain honor. But they were rediscovered in a remarkable way in the Reformation -- first, by Luther, then by Marot, Beza and Calvin. Where the Psalms were translated and versified, they were sung, and where they were sung, particularly in France, Geneva and Scotland, the Reformation shone the brightest. The first book published in the US was the Bay Psalm Book. The Puritans were not innovators, they were lovers of God's word who breathed it, spoke it, read it, sang it and meditated upon it. God's people in olden times have often died with the Psalms on their lips (I think of Margaret Wilson, age 18, who was martyred as she sang Psalm 25: "My sins and faults of youth, O Lord, do thou forget..."). The Psalms in worship represent the best of Church history.

John, I would encourage you to read Mike Bushell's The Songs of Zion if you have not already done so. It contains a very thorough chapter on the witness of church history in favor of psalmody.

As we all know, history is not determinative. I am not making that argument. But I believe it is noteworthy that Psalmody was the practice of the early Church and the most Reformed churches since.

Decline in orthodoxy of religion matches the introduction of hymns in corporate worship. Why is that? Because there is nothing more suitable for the worship of God than the Psalter. It's God's Word. Man's word is not par for the task of properly worshipping God. God himself provided the Psalter. This is simply sola scriptura applied to worship through song.


Puritan Board Post-Graduate

I appreciate your knowledge of Church history. I do not question the facts that you have presented. Nor do I in any way question that the Psalms were and remain a primary, vital, and prominant part of any book of worship at any age. These things are conceded gratefully.

I do, however, question the conclusions you come to concerning these facts. They do not necessarily add up to that; though it may well be that they might, it also may well be that they do not. We are after the truth, not after imposing either of our opinions on others. What we are questioning is whether or not the Church practiced EP as a matter of doctrinal purity.

I think I did a poor job of getting across my thoughts. Let me try it again, from another angle.

In jurisprudence there are two ways to use circumstantial evidence. The first way is to compile it in such a way as to create a scenario in which the conclusions decidedly lead to a certain end, namely a conviction. One must show that a hypothetical or asserted guilt of a crime makes sense in light of all the evidences that do not point directly to the one accused. The other way is to do the opposite, to show that the circumstantial evidences do not make sense if the one accused is guilty. In other words, this leads to an aquittal.

To say it another way: One can pile up evidences that do not individually point to the accused, but together leave little logical alternative but to be pointed at the accused. Or one can show that if the guilt of the accused is assumed, then there would exist circumstantial evidences to that effect, or that the circumstantial evidences that do exist do not add up to pointing to the accused. On can point to the circumstantial evidences or one can point to a lack of them if the accused were guilty.

For example,
"If the accused perpetrated the crime, it would follow that he would have had to be conveyed to the crime scene by some kind of transport. The only transport available to him was his own car; but that car showed no increased mileage from the time prior to the crime, as noted by the mechanic who serviced the vehicle."

Its not iron-clad, but it is circumstantial evidence that one ordinarily would expect.

In this case, I am not pointing directly to the Psalter, but to circumstantial evidences that one would expect to exist if the Church had practiced EP. I mean, we have plenty of residual or side documentations of the Creeds and Confessions, and contending versions of the Bible competing for authenticity, to put it too crassly perhaps. But we do not have that kind of documentation which would ordinarily exist if the Church had been adamant about EP. It would rate highly in importance if it were a doctrinal matter, and one would expect to find something about it if it were that important. One would ordinarily expect it to be explicitly stated in some authorized Church documentation.

What I am trying to point out is that, if and when the Church practiced EP, it was done under covenant, not under doctrine. That must be a logical conclusion. In other words, it was agreed as a matter of policy and unity to sing from a common book, and that such a book would consist of the Psalms only. To agree to this was to agree to unity within the Church, not to agree that the Scriptures demanded EP. We must, I think, conclude this from the circumstantial evidences that we do have; or rather that we do not have if EP was a point of doctrine in the Church.

My point is that your point is arguable, but so is non-EP. But these can only be argued from indirect propositions, not direct. The argument for Biblical Necessity, that we have a command to sing Psalms, but we don't have one to sing hymns, does not constitute Biblical necessity. It may yet be that 'hymns' means hymns in Eph. and Col., and a good case has been made to that effect. So necessity is ruled out, as it has been shown that this EP argument is not impossible to avoid.

And you have agreed that neither side can establish their case concerning the meaning of that term. We may have our opinions, but we are concerned only with the real meaning of Scripture on this point. So, if both parties are agreed that the Scripture is ambiguous about this, then we must assume a more general meaning, leaving us with a command to sing, but no command as to specific songs other than what conforms to rightful and worshipful praise to God. And if He is pleased to hear the prayers of the lowly people, who He prefers to save over the proud and rich, then why would He not hear those same prayers and praises put to music?

I am not saying that everyone should write their own songs. It would be nice, but I don't think anyone would endorse my attempts at poetry. But if we have any right to the arts as Christians, and I think we have the original right to them, then why would they not be best employed in praise and prayer to God? And does not Scripture enjoin such upon us? If our prayers are acceptable to God in formal worship, why then would not our songs, especially if the Council of the Church has carefully scrutinized them for fitting content and conformity to congregational singing?

Just some thoughts.
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