The Puritan Preface to the Psalms in Metre
‘TIS evident by the common experience of mankind, that love cannot lie idle in the Soul; For every one hath his oblectation (way of enjoyment) and delight, his tastes and relishes are suitable to his constitution, and a man’s temper is more discovered by his solaces than by any thing else: Carnal men delight in what is suited to the gust (taste) of the flesh, and Spiritual Men in the things of the Spirit; The promises of God’s holy Covenant, which are to others as stale news or withered flowers, feed the pleasure of their minds; and the Mysteries of our Redemption by Christ are their hearts’ delight and comfort: But as joy must have a proper object so also a vent: for this is an affection that cannot be penned up: the usual issue and out-going of it is by singing: Profane spirits must have Songs suitable to their mirth; as their mirth is Carnal so their Songs are vain and frothy, if not filthy and obscene; but they that rejoice in the Lord, their mirth runneth in a spiritual channel: Is any merry let him sing Psalms, saith the Apostle, James 5.13. And, Thy statutes have been my songs in the house of my pilgrimage, saith holy David, Psa. 119.54. Surely singing, ’tis a delectable way of instruction, as common prudence will teach us. Aelian (Nat. Hist., book 2, ch.39) telleth us that the Cretians enjoined their Children, To learn their Laws by singing them in verse. And surely singing of Psalms is a duty of such comfort and profit, that it needeth not our recommendation: The new nature is instead of all arguments, which cannot be without thy spiritual solace. Now though spiritual songs of mere human composure may have their use, yet our devotion is best secured, where the matter and words are of immediately Divine inspiration; and to us David’s Psalms seem plainly intended by those terms of Psalms and Hymns and Spiritual Songs, which the Apostle useth, Ephes. 5.19, Col. 3.16. But then ’tis meet that these Divine composures should be represented to us in a fit translation, lest we want David, in David; while his holy ecstasies are delivered in a flat and bald expression. The translation which is now put into thy hands cometh nearest to the Original of any that we have seen, and runneth with such a fluent sweetness, that we thought fit to recommend it to thy Christian acceptance; Some of us having used it already, with great comfort and satisfaction.”
Thomas Manton, D.D.
Henry Langley, D.D.
John Owen, D.D.
C. Matthew McMahon writes in regard to the preface:
Several points ought to be noted.
(1) The twenty-six signatories make up a small galaxy of English Puritan divines, including John Owen (Vice-Chancellor of Oxford University, author of a 7-volume commentary on Hebrews and The Death of Death in the Death of Christ, and possibly Britain’s greatest theologian), Thomas Manton (author of some 20 volumes and “Mr. Thomas Manton’s Epistle to the Reader” prefixed to many editions of the Westminster Standards), Matthew Poole (famous Bible commentator), Thomas Watson (noted especially for his oft republished sermons on the Westminster Shorter Catechism), Thomas Vincent (author of The Shorter Catechism Explained from Scripture), William Jenkyn (author of a fine commentary on Jude) and Charles Morton (head of a Puritan academy and teacher of Daniel Defoe, author of Robinson Crusoe).
(2) The names indicate that Psalm singing is by no means an exclusively Presbyterian heritage, for Episcopalians (Calamy) and Congregationalists (Owen and Meade) are represented here.
(3) The Scottish Metrical Psalter is not a mere paraphrase of the Word of God. It is a translation from the Hebrew, as the 1673 edition declares on its title page: “Newly Translated and diligently compared with the Original Text, and former Translations.” The title page also declares its faithfulness to the inspired Hebrew, for it is “More plain, smooth and agreeable to the Text, than any heretofore.” To this the signatories agree: “these divine composures [are] represented to us in a fit translation … The translation which is now put into thy hands cometh nearest to the original of any that we have seen … that we thought fit to recommend it to thy Christian acceptance.”
(4) Owen, Poole, Vincent etc. have no truck with the notion that the Psalms speak insufficiently of Christ and so are deficient for the church’s sung praise. “The promises of God’s holy covenant, which are to others as stale news or withered flowers, feed the pleasure of [godly] minds; and the mysteries of our redemption by Christ are their hearts’ delight and comfort,” they write. “Joy,” they continue, “must have a proper object so also a vent: for this is an affection that cannot be penned up: the usual issue and out-going of it is by singing.” Singing what? “They that rejoice in the Lord, their mirth runneth in a spiritual channel: ‘Is any merry? let him sing psalms,’ saith the apostle (James 5:13).” Clearly singing the Psalms is the vent for the Christian’s joy in Christ’s redemption, which it could not be if it spoke insufficiently of Him.
(5) The Puritan signatories make a striking argument for Psalm singing from the new nature of the elect, regenerate child of God. The new nature delights in Psalm singing as a means of comfort, profit and spiritual solace. As the Puritans declare, “surely singing of Psalms is a duty of such comfort and profit, that it needeth not our recommendation: The new nature is instead of all arguments, which cannot be without thy spiritual solace.”
(6) A common criticism of Psalm singing—that it is boring—is plain contrary to our Puritan forefathers. Note the words they associate with singing the Scottish Metrical Psalms: love, relishes, pleasure, hearts’ delight, joy, affection, merry, profit, spiritual solace, devotion, fluent sweetness, great comfort and satisfaction. As they say, “spiritual men [delight] in the things of the Spirit.”
(7) The decided opinion of these Puritan worthies is that the “psalms and hymns and spiritual songs” which we are commanded to sing (Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16) refer to the scriptural Psalter.
(8) Since, as Owen, Manton, Watson, etc., argue, “our devotion is best secured, where the matter and words are of immediately divine inspiration,” they “recommend [the Psalter] to [our] Christian acceptance,” quoting James 5:13: “Is any merry? let him sing psalms.”