The Intent of the Original Westminster Standards in Comparison to the Synods of Dort

Should the Original Westminster Standards be considered an Exclusive Psalmody required document?

  • Yes

    Votes: 19 82.6%
  • No

    Votes: 4 17.4%

  • Total voters
    23
  • Poll closed .
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NaphtaliPress

Administrator
Staff member
I understood you were just the bearer of Fesko's views.

The problem I have in this case of what was meant by psalm, is that there is PLENTY of evidence the WA were quite clear and again, the whole purpose of their work and their understanding of worship, required specificity not ambiguity. But I stepped off my box last night so I will not persist.

Yes; it makes sense that he would allow HU; points for consistency.

Without pursuing your last point generally, I will simply say that I find the ambiguity argument in this case meritless; there is no ambiguity about the meaning of psalm when we look at the full context of the work of the WA. The dog did not bark. Baillie who famously savages the Brownist for singing hymns of their own composition in worship, and those like him, would have left some record of some kind if they had a whiff of an inkling the word psalm was used in a broad rather than the specific and primary dictionary sense. Baillie commented on issues like those being retired like bowing in the pulpit and the doxologies; he surely would have mentioned if the assembly was being vague to leave room for folks to introduce hymns; again, which would have violated the whole point of the assembly's work which was a uniform practice. There is too much we know about the WA's work on the psalter, sufficient clarity across the documents they produced, and no smoking gun of a controversy which there would have been if anyone or group of divines intended to leave room to introduce hymns.

Chris,

I'm trying to explain Fesko's perspective. The thread is dealing in part with Fesko's perspective. I know that you disagree with Fesko's perspective. All I know is that for a group of divines as intelligent and precise as they were, it gives me pause when the word "psalms" is inserted without any other qualifier, especially when Dort's DPW actually qualifies with "150." In this way, I think there is some merit to Fesko's argument which is also consonant with a document designed to unify. Confessions are full of ambiguity because they are designed to unite. If this reasoning paves the path into progressivism or apostasy, I don't know what to say. You are entitled to your opinion.

On a related note :stirpot: , Fesko argues that the Westminster Standards don't condemn English hypothetical universalism, which would mean that Calamy was ok. Couldn't resist. ;)

Chris, I always appreciate your zeal for orthodoxy. I also appreciate your insights, even when I disagree. You have taught me a lot, and I do sincerely thank you.
 

iainduguid

Puritan Board Sophomore
This does raise related issues in terms of subscription. Assuming that it is correct that the intent of the Westminster Assembly was that the practice of all the churches would be exclusive psalmody (without any additions, even doxologies), what did that do to ministers (among the Scots particularly) who still thought that doxologies were fine? Could they still in good conscience subscribe, if they were not persuaded that their previous position was Biblically wrong but were content to abide by the change in practice? Or did they have to renounce their former view? Presumably this would have also arisen in terms of a number of areas where the Confession narrowed or tightened earlier practice. Is there any record of discussion of such things as "exceptions" at the time? Are there any recorded discipline cases over what people were singing? I'm out of my field of expertise here, but it does seem that we could easily impose an anachronistic understanding on their practice.
 

NaphtaliPress

Administrator
Staff member
Good question. I don't know. But one huge problem is the CofS became almost immediately disfunctional for the decade of the 1650s (loss of the nation in 1650, Protester-Resolutioner schism, etc.) and then the overthrowing of Presbyterianism, again, at the restoration. I seem to recall reading that churches were slow to abandon or later reintroducing things laid aside by the new Directory. Just the introduction of a new psalter across the land would have been a big deal. I suspect you have to jump from 1650 to the re establishment of the church in the 1690s to discover practices?
This does raise related issues in terms of subscription. Assuming that it is correct that the intent of the Westminster Assembly was that the practice of all the churches would be exclusive psalmody (without any additions, even doxologies), what did that do to ministers (among the Scots particularly) who still thought that doxologies were fine? Could they still in good conscience subscribe, if they were not persuaded that their previous position was Biblically wrong but were content to abide by the change in practice? Or did they have to renounce their former view? Presumably this would have also arisen in terms of a number of areas where the Confession narrowed or tightened earlier practice. Is there any record of discussion of such things as "exceptions" at the time? Are there any recorded discipline cases over what people were singing? I'm out of my field of expertise here, but it does seem that we could easily impose an anachronistic understanding on their practice.
 

Phil D.

Puritan Board Junior
His point, as I understand it, is that since a historical use of "psalms" is inclusive, then the strict list in Dort's DPW is more restrictive-- more exclusive.
In any case, given the way the term is almost always used, to call the Dort position"exclusive psalmody" is both unusual and unhelpful.
 

NaphtaliPress

Administrator
Staff member
His point, as I understand it, is that since a historical use of "psalms" is inclusive, then the strict list in Dort's DPW is more restrictive-- more exclusive.

In any case, given the way the term is almost always used, to call the Dort position"exclusive psalmody" is both unusual and unhelpful.
I question the conclusion or at least its relevance. In context, the use of psalm was not inclusive of other things in the work of the Assembly. To import other uses from outside that context when the meaning is quite clear is ..., well, polite words fail me. Dr. Fesko is just wrong.
 

timfost

Puritan Board Senior
You say that confessions are "full of ambiguity." I do not wish to to take this too far off topic, but I am curious where else you find the Westminster Standards (or other confessions) ambiguous.

Lapsarianism, atonement (sufficient/efficient, strict particularist, etc.), predestination (double?), two/threefold covenant views, covenant children dying in infancy (are they all elect?), church polity, etc., etc.
 

Tom Hart

Puritan Board Senior
Lapsarianism, atonement (sufficient/efficient, strict particularist, etc.), predestination (double?), two/threefold covenant views, covenant children dying in infancy (are they all elect?), church polity, etc., etc.
I'm not quite clear whether you're referring to the Westminster Standards or other confessional documents, but I suppose I can move on.

Am I correct to understand that you place the Westminster Divines' view of the use of psalms in the same category as these, then? That is, there was no consensus, so they took a more "unifying" approach?
 

timfost

Puritan Board Senior
I'm not quite clear whether you're referring to the Westminster Standards or other confessional documents, but I suppose I can move on.

Am I correct to understand that you place the Westminster Divines' view of the use of psalms in the same category as these, then? That is, there was no consensus, so they took a more "unifying" approach?

I'm referring specifically to Westminster. All I'm saying is that for these men to list "psalms" without any qualifier is imprecise. In my mind, they either lacked precision because a) they missed something, or b) they were leaving it slightly ambiguous. The latter seems more plausible. Many reformers at this point in history could in good conscience sing other songs outside of the 150. The standards were well acquainted with positively denouncing certain doctrines in circulation in their day (e.g. two covenants of grace). Comparing to six day creation is not fair, since FH, for example, was a later development.

I'm not expecting you to agree, but I don't think my assessment is unreasonable.
 

NaphtaliPress

Administrator
Staff member
Again, it is unreasonable once you consider the primary information, the directory they had previously published to the WCF clearly articulating what was meant, the production of a psalter, purged of extra material which would not be necessary if the word psalm were vague, not producing a psalter hymnal, the guiding principle of uniformity of practice where it is unreasonable and just plain makes no sense to suppose imprecision, etc. Hymns were not even on anyone's radar; in fact we know they were held in derision, so Baillie's dog not barking is diagnostic as well as I have said. So to expect imprecision to allow for hymns given the internal evidence of the work of the assembly without resorting to writings and times external to their work, is just plain unreasonable. And, if we do accord any significance to the Burges manuscripts capitalizing of Psalm, then why is that not clarifying as well? The problem for this imprecision theory is all the evidence against it within the work of the assembly itself.
There I go on another soapbox; but I just find it plain historical malpractice to resort to this sort of speculation.
I'm referring specifically to Westminster. All I'm saying is that for these men to list "psalms" without any qualifier is imprecise. In my mind, they either lacked precision because a) they missed something, or b) they were leaving it slightly ambiguous. The latter seems more plausible. Many reformers at this point in history could in good conscience sing other songs outside of the 150. The standards were well acquainted with positively denouncing certain doctrines in circulation in their day (e.g. two covenants of grace). Comparing to six day creation is not fair, since FH, for example, was a later development.

I'm not expecting you to agree, but I don't think my assessment is unreasonable.
 

timfost

Puritan Board Senior
...but I just find it plain historical malpractice to resort to this sort of speculation.

I understand. I think the surrounding documents can be helpful, but they also can be evidence of an interpretation of the standards while there are other viable interpretations. Similarly, I don't subscribe to Dort's DPW in the same way I subscribe to the Canons. I also don't interpret Heidelberg 96-98 strictly through Dort's DPW or Ursinus's commentary which significantly outlines original intent. The point of the confessions are to unify. What the assembly produced doesn't necessarily codify the only possible interpretation.
 

NaphtaliPress

Administrator
Staff member
And the WA's confession and other standards did seek unity--around one psalter to be used in all three kingdoms. This modern theory---who before the late 20th early 21st century amongst historians believed the word psalm was imprecise?--is reading a modern idea of what such a unifying should have been (it should have included hymns because that's what they believe is biblical) back onto what the assembly produced. It sure would have saved all the subsequent presbyterian churches a lot of trouble if they had believed psalms was indefinite so as to have no need to alter their standards or simply to waive off any debate over Watts' imitations or the introduction of hymns.
I understand. I think the surrounding documents can be helpful, but they also can be evidence of an interpretation of the standards while there are other viable interpretations. Similarly, I don't subscribe to Dort's DPW in the same way I subscribe to the Canons. I also don't interpret Heidelberg 96-98 strictly through Dort's DPW or Ursinus's commentary which significantly outlines original intent. The point of the confessions are to unify. What the assembly produced doesn't necessarily codify the only possible interpretation.
 

NaphtaliPress

Administrator
Staff member
Also proving the absurdity of psalms in 21.5 allowing room for interpretation is the fact that not only was one psalter produced and approved, the assembly's intent was the prohibiting of singing any other version of even those psalms. See Van Dixhoorn, 5.303.
 

Jeri Tanner

Moderator
Staff member

JP Wallace

Puritan Board Sophomore
All I'm saying is that for these men to list "psalms" without any qualifier is imprecise.

How so? When we come across the books of the Bible, say 1 John, or Revelation we don't use that way of thinking. Indeed any conservative commentary or New Testament Introduction will actually use the fact that there are no qualifiers as rather strong evidence that it was the John than needed no additional qualifier to identify him i.e he didn't need John the brother/uncle of/from/etc.

And It's pretty much the case in all areas of life (apart from postmodern academia) - if I ask for a spanner, well take you choice, if I ask for a 14mm that's what I want - and it's not up to someone else to question whether I actually mean perhaps 12, or maybe 15!

I think to use this principle (and I know you wouldn't) in a widespread fashion would destroy any sense of authorial intent or indeed meaning in any written document. We would have to second guess the intended meaning behind every single word.

For sure, sometimes we are imprecise, and indeed in some places that might have crept into the Confession, and indeed it was a document of committee, but the overwhelming evidence historical, literary, linguistic and so forth is that in the 17th century and indeed right up until today that when they and we write "psalms" we mean the psalms.
 

Backwoods Presbyterian

Puritanboard Amanuensis
The Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church understands the original intent of the WCF to be Exclusive Psalmody, which is why when dropped EP as our confessional position we added an explanatory note on 21.5 making it clear that we* disagreed on that point.

* - speaking as a member of the denomination, not necessarily my own position.

(I somehow missed Jake's comment, apologize for the double post)
 
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Logan

Puritan Board Junior
I'm referring specifically to Westminster. All I'm saying is that for these men to list "psalms" without any qualifier is imprecise. In my mind, they either lacked precision because a) they missed something, or b) they were leaving it slightly ambiguous.

Or c) they believed that the term "psalms" was clear enough. If they intended to be imprecise (ambiguous) wouldn't they have said "songs"?

The Directory is written in the same context by the same men who wrote WCF 21.5 and that seems to me to make it clear (if there was any doubt) what is meant by "psalms". As does the production of a "psalter". I'm not sure I see why one would assume there was intentional ambiguity intended by the term.
 

kodos

Puritan Board Junior
Chris, can you provide the quote from Dixhoorn? Also, I found this: https://www.semperreformanda.com/th...t-of-the-westminster-standards-by-c-coldwell/

I typed this rather quickly from my Vol V of the Assembly Papers, etc. so might have typos with the older spellings - have to go to our prayer meeting soon. Hope this helps.

TEXT:
To the Right Honourable the House of Lords assembled in Parliament.

The Assembly of Divines having received, April 9th from this Honourable House an order bearing date March 26th 1646, to certifie this Honourable House, why the translation of the psalmes made by Mr. Burton, may not be used & sung in Churches, by such as shall desyre it, as well as any other translation; Doe humbly returne this answere, that wheras, on the 14th of November 1645 in ovedience to an order of this Honourable House concerning the said Mr Bartons psalmses, wee have allready commended to this Honourable House one translation of the psalmes in verse made by Mr Rous, & perused & amended by the same learned Gentelman & the Committee of the Assembly, as conceiveingit would be very usefull for the Edification of the Church in regard it is soe exactly frames according to the originall text; And wheras there are severall other translations of the psalmes allready extant, wee humbly conceive that, if liberty should be given to the people to sing in Churches every one, that translation which they desyre, by that meanes severall translations might come to be used; yea, in one & the same congregation, at the same time, which would be a great distraction & hinderance to edification.

Cornelius Burges Prolocutor pro Tempore.

Henry Robroughe scriba
Adoniram Byfield scriba.


-----

As my own two cents in this discussion, it is really strange to think that the Assembly meant anything _but_ the 150 Psalms of David given the amount of material we can sift through that indicates nothing else was on their mind.
 

NaphtaliPress

Administrator
Staff member
As my own two cents in this discussion, it is really strange to think that the Assembly meant anything _but_ the 150 Psalms of David given the amount of material we can sift through that indicates nothing else was on their mind.
Exactly; it is one thing if a word or phrase was used for which we have no clue what the assembly was talking about or doing, but in this case the data is extensive and the only reason it seems for going to more and external sources to the assembly is because some folks don't like the answer that data provides.
 

Tom Hart

Puritan Board Senior
I'm referring specifically to Westminster. All I'm saying is that for these men to list "psalms" without any qualifier is imprecise. In my mind, they either lacked precision because a) they missed something, or b) they were leaving it slightly ambiguous. The latter seems more plausible. Many reformers at this point in history could in good conscience sing other songs outside of the 150. The standards were well acquainted with positively denouncing certain doctrines in circulation in their day (e.g. two covenants of grace). Comparing to six day creation is not fair, since FH, for example, was a later development.

I'm not expecting you to agree, but I don't think my assessment is unreasonable.
I was going to ask you from what evidential basis you are launching these assertions. Can you point to primary sources that would suggest that "psalms" means anything else than psalms, for instance, private correspondence, or minutes from the debates? If you cannot do that, then all this is nothing but bare speculation.
 

NaphtaliPress

Administrator
Staff member
I was going to ask you from what evidential basis you are launching these assertions. Can you point to primary sources that would suggest that "psalms" means anything else than psalms, for instance, private correspondence, or minutes from the debates? If you cannot do that, then all this is nothing but bare speculation.
Those who write in this genre do cite individual sources. Needham, Ward, etc. Such is not persuasive even on its own I don't think but one has to totally discount the extensive evidence within the context of the assembly's work to the contrary to bolster it In my humble opinion.
 

Tom Hart

Puritan Board Senior
Those who write in this genre do cite individual sources. Needham, Ward, etc. Such is not persuasive even on its own I don't think but one has to totally discount the extensive evidence within the context of the assembly's work to the contrary to bolster it In my humble opinion.
I agree, certainly. I would be interested to see the sources, but then, of course, there is the context of the Assembly and the documents they produced.

The bigger point that I am getting to is this:
If one's interpretation of the work of the Westminster Assembly so neatly accords with one's own private views, and that apart from evidence, then one ought to question one's own motives. And then there is the matter of how one handles the evidence once conclusions have already been arrived at.
 

Tom Hart

Puritan Board Senior
@NaphtaliPress,

Would you happen to know if this matter (of the meaning of "psalms" or the inclusion of man-made hymns) was at all a subject of debate in the Assembly?
 

NaphtaliPress

Administrator
Staff member
The silly thing is that this is a question with zero consequence. Those who want hymns have long since changed the text of the Westminster formally or through their own adopting intent.
I agree, certainly. I would be interested to see the sources, but then, of course, there is the context of the Assembly and the documents they produced.

The bigger point that I am getting to is this:
If one's interpretation of the work of the Westminster Assembly so neatly accords with one's own private views, and that apart from evidence, then one ought to question one's own motives. And then there is the matter of how one handles the evidence once conclusions have already been arrived at.
 

NaphtaliPress

Administrator
Staff member
I agree, certainly. I would be interested to see the sources, but then, of course, there is the context of the Assembly and the documents they produced.

The bigger point that I am getting to is this:
If one's interpretation of the work of the Westminster Assembly so neatly accords with one's own private views, and that apart from evidence, then one ought to question one's own motives. And then there is the matter of how one handles the evidence once conclusions have already been arrived at.
Read Winzer's review of Needham referenced on this thread where his interaction should provide some of the source material that is usually adduced to try to make the meaning of psalm questionable.
 

Tom Hart

Puritan Board Senior
The silly thing is that this is a question with zero consequence. Those who want hymns have long since changed the text of the Westminster formally or through their own adopting intent.
I agree, it is silly. There is no need to go about attempting to alter the intent of the documents. It just comes off as dishonest.
 

Brian Withnell

Puritan Board Junior
I tend to look at all these controversies as ones that have been debated time out of mind before me and by much better minds than mine, and for which no final consensus has been reached. Certainly there are those on both sides of the debate that can line up a vast array of opinions ... many of which appeal (al la wcf 1.8) "The Old Testament in Hebrew (which was the native language of the people of God of old), and the New Testament in Greek (which, at the time of the writing of it, was most generally known to the nations), being immediately inspired by God, and, by his singular care and providence, kept pure in all ages, are therefore authentical; so as, in all controversies of religion, the church is finally to appeal unto them."

I am not so well equipt in the original languages that I might view them as honorably as those that have gone before. Nor do I subscribe that any new manuscripts have been discovered that might cast more light upon the origin than what has been available previously. That Godly men ... many of reformed faith that hold to the infallibility of scripture and by strong conviction in both directions hold what they believe to be true, I do not take a dogmatic position on this. Yet this is not to say the theology of the regulative principle is inconsequential, but that it seems this discussion has already been hashed out a million times or more. If there were a church that otherwise was absolutely within all other things consistent with what scripture teaches, but was out of step with what I believed in this point, and were for principled decisions based upon the word of God, I would not feel compelled to look elsewhere for a church. I would not bring it up so as to be divisive within the church. If I were asked to serve in one of the offices, I would make known my personal view, but that I was not so firm as to think it needful to speak on the subject, or if asked to speak "this church holds to ..." rather than to speak to my own mind. This horse has died long ago... :deadhorse:
 
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