Rules to be Observed in Singing of Psalms

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Puritanboard Amanuensis
Andrew, thankyou for this excellent thread and the work you've put into it.

The following is from William McEwen's Select Essays, which I also recently saw on Google Books.

On Singing of Praise.

Where can grave, sweet melody be applied, with such propriety, as to the sacred subjects of religion? By this, devotion is invigorated, joy is heightened into rapture, divine truths are better impressed upon the heart, and fixed in the memory. Distempered passions are allayed, and heavenly affections are inspired. Even as the hand of the Lord was upon the prophet, when he called for a minstrel, and the evil spirit departed from the king of Israel, while David touched, with his skilful hand, the sweet resounding harp. From the most remote ages, and from the most remote places of the world, have we heard songs, even glory to the righteous.

To this heavenly mirth the Christian is inspired, not by the fumes of wine, wherein is excess; but being filled with the Spirit, he speaks to himself in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs; singing and making melody in his heart unto thee. He makes the voice of his praise to be heard, not only in the public assembly, but in his private dwelling.

Though there are peculiar seasons of this duty, when it is more remarkably incumbent; yet he sees abundant reason to bless the Lord at all times, and to have his praise continually flowing from his lips. – Even in the night of his distress, oft times he has a song, when all joy would seem to be darkened, when his harp would seem to be turned into mourning, and his organ into the voice of them that weep. Thus Paul, with Silas, sung at the dead hour of midnight, though their backs were coloured with ignominious scourges, and their feet made fast in the stocks.

Though he despises not the melody of the voice, yet, by itself alone, he accounts it no more but bodily exercise, that profits little. Therefore, he uses it only in a subserviency to his devotion; and rests not in it as his ultimate end. What he chiefly attends unto, is, that he may sing praises with understanding, and with grace.

His praising is his reasonable service. And though the subject sung should not exactly suit his own case – though it should be some dreadful imprecation, uttered by the spirit of prophecy; some high, attainment, to which he is not arrived; some deep distress, which himself is unacquainted with – yet, by ejaculatory prayers, and serious meditation, he can digest even these seemingly foreign subjects into the nourishment of his soul, and sing of them to the praise and glory of God.

As far as in him lies, he wants to have these affections set a working, and these graces educed into exercise, that are naturally required by the theme of which he sings: be they holy joy, fervent love, burning gratitude, reverential fear, or godly sorrow. – But chiefly the grace of faith must never fail to be acted, in this as in other parts of worship. Christ is the chief musician, to whom his songs are inscribed. – Christ is his altar, by which he offers up his sacrifice of praise continually.

And here can I forget to celebrate the fulness and variety of that little bible, composed by the Hebrew king and prophet? What attribute of God does he not describe in lofty numbers? What work suffers he to pass uncelebrated or unsung? What moral duty, what Christian grace, is not here recommended? What possible case is not here painted? To what distemper of the soul may we not find here a sovereign remedy? Here the secure may find what is proper for their awakening, the disconsolate for reviving, the doubting for directing, the feeble for supporting, to make them be as David.

What mortal pen can equal the sublimity of his thoughts, the liveliness of his metaphors, the majesty of his descriptions? Which of his psalms may not say, “I am fearfully and wonderfully made?” – When he displays the glory of the God of Israel, thousands of mighty angels stand before him; “God is in the midst of them, as in mount Sinai.” Now he flies on the wings of the wind, and rides on flaming cherubim. – His lightnings lighten the world. The earth trembles at his approach. The mountains melt as the snow that covers them. The foundations of the world are discovered. The floods drive back their tides. The mountains skip like rams.

Now he sets him on a throne, of which justice and judgment are the foundation: and mercy accompanied with truth go before his face. Now he describes the fierceness of his anger; and rains down snares, fire, brimstone, and an horrible tempest. Darting his eye through distant ages, he brings down the Son of God to dwell in clay; a body is prepared him. The Jews are filled with rage against the Lord’s anointed. He hears his melancholy groans. Sees his heart melting like wax in the midst of his bowels. – But he leaves not his soul in hell. Messias lives, ascending on high, and leads captivity captive. Rejoice, ye worlds of blessedness. Be lifted up, ye everlasting doors, and the King of glory shall come in.


Puritanboard Librarian
George Estey, An Expofition vpon the fiftie and one Pfalme in Certaine Godly and Learned Expofitions vpon diuers parts of Scripture, p. 2:

Further, fuch pfalmes were committed to thefe Mafters of the Mufick, to require other to fing them, and the Apoftle, Col 3, 16, requireth that wee fhould fpeake vnto ourfelues, that is, amongft ourfelues, one to another, in pfalms and hymnes, fo as that it may be a great fhame to vs, if not ftaying all ribaldrie fongs and vaine fonets, we procure not the pfalmes euen of others to be fung. Dauid would not els fo oft haue made it his exercife, and prouoked other thereto. And for the better directing our finging, we muft doe it with vnderftanding, Pfalme 47, 8, that is, firft, that ourfelues may vnderftand, otherwife, we were as good to fol fa, or found as inftruments doe.

Secondly, if wee be with companie, others muft vnderftand vs, as that our finging may be with grace, as Col 3, 16, miniftring occafio of profitable matter & inftruction in grace.

Thirdly, it muft be done with the hart. Col, 3, 16 with feeling affections and cheerfulneffe.

Fourthly, it muft be to the Lord, that is, the hart lifted vp vnto God, and refting in the found of Mufick, but hauing the minde fet vpon the matter.

Hence followeth, that euen in finging, it beeing to be performed to God, it fhould be with great reuerence.


Puritanboard Librarian
W.B. Smiley, The Singing of Praise a Duty:

To perform this duty aright, therefore, it will be found necessary not only to cultivate a musical quality of voice, without which the singing must necessarily be indifferently performed, but, what is of still greater importance, we must seek to bring all the desires of our hearts and the purposes of our lives into harmony with the character and will of Him Whose praises we sing, else our praise service will be one in which the lips participate, but in which the heart finds no interest. A proper performance of this duty, however, requires that we

"Sing till we feel our hearts Ascending with our tongues; Sing till the love of sin departs, And grace inspires our songs."
Whoever, therefore, has any thought or desire to participate in such a service as this up yonder would do well to put himself in training for it by cultivating a voice and heart fitted to sing songs of praise to God on earth.


Puritanboard Librarian
Christopher Ness, A Christian's Walk and Work on Earth until He Attain to Heaven, pp. 136-137, quoted by Randall J. Pederson, Day By Day with the English Puritans, p. 261:

David did not only raise himself up from his indisposing drowsiness (going out with Samson to shake it off from him [Judg. 16:20]) but he reckoned God's statutes, which he made his songs in the house of his pilgrimage, to be better to him than ten thousands of gold and silver. They were the rejoicing of his heart, as his best inheritance. "Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly" (Col. 3:16). Indwell in you: it must be in you and in you again, well digested and turned into juice and blood, and this cannot be so well effected by a brief and cursory reading of the Word, as it may be by the singing of it. Wherein there is a distinct and fixed meditation upon it, and upon every syllable of it while it is leisurely sounded out by the voice; the longer that you ponder it in your mind, the more likely may it have a strong influence on your affections; this pausing and pondering does chase, supple and work the Word into your spirit, and so makes it both a refreshing and a ravishing ordinance to you, having a more intense violence upon your heart than bare reading; for hereby God's Word takes a deeper impression upon you, and those things that you did know before, come to be better known and more graciously understood, the Spirit of God sealing them upon your soul. Then does the Word of Christ dwell in you richly, and you give rich and liberal entertainment to it, and you will account all other but trivial trash to this true measure.


Puritanboard Librarian
John Wells, How We May Make Melody in Our Hearts to God in Singing of Psalms, in Morning Exercises at Cripplegate (Puritan Sermons), Vol. 2, pp. 72-73:

3. The manner of singing. -- Our text saith, "making melody;" with inward joy and tripudiation of soul: if the tongue make the pause, the heart must make the elevation. The apostle saith to the Colossians: "We must sing with grace;" (Col. iii. 16; ) which is, as some expound it, (1.) Cum gratiarum actione, "with giving of thanks." -- And, indeed, thankfulness is the very Selah of this duty, that which puts an accent upon the music and sweetness of the voice; and then we sing melodiously when we warble out the praises of the Lord. (2.) With gracefulness. -- With a becoming and graceful dexterity. And this "brings both profit and pleasure" to the hearers, as Davenant observes. Psalms are not the comedies of Venus, or the jocular celebrations of a wanton Adonis; but they are the spiritual ebullitions of a composed soul to the incomprehensible Jehovah, with real grace. God's Spirit must breathe in this service; here we must act our joy, our confidence, our delight. Singing is the triumph of a gracious soul, the child joying in the praises of his Father. In singing of psalms, the gracious heart takes wings, and mounts up to God, to join with the celestial choir. It is grace which fits the heart for, and sweetens the heart in, this duty. And where this qualification is wanting, this service is rather an hurry than a duty; it is rather a disturbance than any obedience.


Puritanboard Librarian
Frederick S. Leahy, Psalms, Hymns and Spiritual Songs, p. 25:

Psalms should always be sung to an appropriate tune. Some Psalms like the fifty-first are penitential; some like the second are victorious; some are joyful like the one hundred and forty-eighth, some are deeply reflective like the one hundred and thirty-ninth; and some have a missionary vision like the eighty-seventh. In each case an appropriate tune, reflecting the mood of the Psalm should be chosen.

The Psalms should be sung thoughtfully. The tune should never be so complicated that the worshipper is more concerned with it than with the words he is singing. The average congregation does not have the musical expertise of a trained choir. Every effort, however, should be made to improve congregational singing. There is no excuse for the careless and the slovenly: that is not to the Glory of God. Ministers need to remind their people of the importance of singing thoughtfully. To sing thoughtlessly is not to praise God.


Puritanboard Librarian
Thomas Gouge, "Directions for Sanctifying the Lord's Day," Christian Directions, shewing How to Walk With God all Day Long, in The Works of the Late, Reverend and Pious Mr. Thomas Gouge, pp. 196-197:

II. 'Another private duty, is singing of Psalms;' for this may and ought to be performed in your families, as well as in the congregation. This David commended for one duty of the Sabbath: as Psalm xcii.1. The title of the Psalm is, 'A psalm or song for the Sabbath day.' And thus it begins; 'It is a good thing to give thanks unto the Lord, to sing praises unto thy name, O most High.'

For the manner of performing this duty, the apostle, (Col. iii.16.) giveth us these directions, in these words, 'Singing with grace in your hearts, to the Lord.'

1. 'First, Therefore, it must be in the heart, or with the heart;' that is our hearts must go with our voices, the one must we lift up as well as the other: for, God is a Spirit, and therefore, will be worshipped with our hearts and spirits, as well as with our bodies. And truly, singing with the voice, without the concurrence of the heart and spirit, is no more pleasing unto God, than a sounding brass or a tinkling cymbal.

2. 'As we must sing with the heart, so, with grace in the heart;' that is, we must exercise the graces of God's holy Spirit in singing, as well as in praying; laboring to express the same affection in singing the psalm, as David did in penning it. As, if it be a psalm of confession, then to express some humility, and brokenness of heart and spirit in singing. If it be a psalm of prayers and petitions, then must our affections be fervent. If a psalm of praises and thanksgiving, then must our heart be cheerful. And thus must the affection of the heart be ever suitable to the quality of the psalm.


Puritanboard Librarian
Cotton Mather, Preface to the Psalterium Americanum:

And if in the Profecution of thefe Defigns, we add the method of Singing, which is the way to be filled with the Spirit, from whence the PSALMS are dictated, Behold the Spiritual Songs now put into a Condition for it, that we may in our Heart make Melody unto the Lord.
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