Historic Documents

When Westminster Standards used the term, ‘Psalms’, they meant Psalms only! by Scott Bushey

When the subject of exclusive psalmody comes up, many times the normative worshipper will charge that the Westminster Divines never meant exclusivity in regards to Psalm singing and that Westminster used the term inclusively, i.e. that to include the use of man made, non inspired song in the Worship of God. Below I am attaching some definitive proof that the WCF is a document that supports only the singing of Psalms in the worship of God.

Evidence that the Westminster Confession of Faith teaches exclusive psalmody from the framers of the 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith:

“Some promoters of singing hymns may differ with the [OPC] majority and minority reports, alleging that perhaps the phrase “singing of psalms” in the Westminster Confession of Faith may not mean that only psalms are to be employed in public worship. Some Presbyterians have argued that the term ‘psalms,’ being a lower case ‘p’ might refer to psalms and hymns. In the original 1648 edition of the Westminster Directory for the Publick Worship of God, the upper case ‘P’ in the term ‘Psalms’ was consistently used;16 but regardless of which edition is used with consistent upper or lower case, it will make no difference to the true intent of the writers and signers of the Westminster Standards. The following Westminster documents consistently speak of singing psalms, with no mention of hymns: Westminster Confession of Faith (ch. XXI, sec. V), Westminster Form of Presbyterial Church Government (Of the Ordinances in a particular Congregation), and the Westminster Directory for the Publick Worship of God (Of the Sanctification of the Lord’s Day, Of Singing of Psalms). Acknowledging historic Presbyterian familiarity with the Synod of Dordrecht Church Order (1618-19) and the distinction made between psalms and hymns, in all fairness to legislative intent interpretation, the ‘psalms’ or ‘Psalms’ in the Westminster Standards must be biblical psalms of praise.

In the later editions of the Westminster Standards, biblical psalms of praise, were commonly referred to as ‘psalms.’ In the reading of the Scriptures, in the Westminster Directory for the Publick Worship of God, it references exposition of the portion of Scripture read: “let it not be done until the whole chapter of psalm be ended” (Of Public Reading of the Holy Scriptures). Regarding public preaching, it speaks of some ‘text of scripture’; it further orders the use of “some chapter, a psalm, or book of the holy scripture” (Of the Preaching of the Word). In the Directory for the Publick Worship of God, there are parallel and coordinate directives to read or sing a ‘psalm,’ but no directive to sing a hymn. We find this same employment of the term ‘psalm’ or ‘psalms’ in the Authorised King James Version to refer to the Book of Psalms (see Luke 24:44).

The London or Baptist Confession of Faith (1689) deliberately altered section V, of the chapter, Of Religious Worship and the Sabbath Day, to read “psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs.” The Baptists understood the legislative intent meaning of the Westminster Confession of Faith to be psalms only, as Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16 are used as proof-texts for the “singing of psalms with grace in the heart” (West. Con. ch. XXI, sec. V). The Baptists, therefore, decidedly rejected the historic Westminster Presbyterian interpretation of Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16. The 17th century Westminster Presbyterians interpreted, “psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs” (Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16) to the Book of Psalms.

16 The Westminster Standards, An Original Facsimile (Audubon, New Jersey: Old Paths Publications, 1997).” — George Bancroft, The Apostolic Church and the Gospel Ministry, pp. 223-224

“This chapter follows very closely the Savoy Declaration’s minor revisions of the Westminster Confession. The only change of note from the Savoy is the addition of the phrase, ‘teaching and admonishing one another in psalms, hymns and spiritual songs’ in paragraph 5. This alteration, which seems to have originated with the authors of the 1689 Confession, takes the place of the words ‘of psalms’ in the Westminster Confession and Savoy Declaration. It probably indicates a desire to distance themselves from the position of exclusive psalmody.” — Sam Waldron, “A Modern Exposition of the 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith,” p. 267 on Chap. 22 “Of religious worship and the sabbath day”

16 The Westminster Standards, An Original Facsimile (Audubon, New Jersey: Old Paths Publications, 1997).” — George Bancroft, “The Apostolic Church and the Gospel Ministry,” pp. 223-224

~R. Andrew Myers


Given this impetus to bring the Church of England into a uniformity with the Church of Scotland, it is of fi rst importance to ascertain what the Church of Scotland underst ood by the expression “singing of psalms” when used in the context of the ordinary parts of public worship. According to the 1641 “Government and Order of the Church of Scotland”—usually attributed to Alexander Henderson, who would later serve as a commissioner to the West minst er Assembly—”Th e publike worship beginneth with prayer, and reading some portion of holy Scripture both of the Old and New Test ament, which the people hear with attention and reverence, and aft er reading, the whole Congregation joyneth in singing some Psalm.” Th e Order goes on to mention another two times when the Psalms are sung in the public service, namely, aft er the reading and prefacing of the Scriptures and prior to the closing benediction.

From this description of ordinary religious worship it is not made clear what is meant by “singing some Psalm,” but the hist orical record shows that the Psalms of David in Metre were the only songs authorised to be used in public worship. Th e matter has been thoroughly invest igated by the able Scottish church hist orian, David Hay Fleming, who gathered the relevant witnesses together and showed conclusively that human additions to worship-song were “disallowed as a Prelatic innovation,” and “that human hymns were not used in God’s public worship at the second Reformation.

It is needless to reduplicate this evidence as Mr. Needham acknowledges that “In act ual liturgical pract ice, the Reformed Church of Scotland was exclusively psalm-singing” (West minst er, 274). So it is clear that when the 1641 “Order of the Church of Scotland” says that “the whole Congregation joyneth in singing some Psalm,” it undoubtedly means to refer to th

Now, considering the reforming resolution of the Parliament to bring the Church of England into nearer uniformity with the pract ice of the Church of Scotland, the “singing of psalms” mentioned in both the Confession and Direct ory might naturally be underst ood to refer to the Psalms of David as authorised and sung in the Church of Scotland. Th e hist orical context at least points in this direct ion; some corroborating evidence is required to show that the West minst er Assembly did in fact make moves to adopt the Scottish pract ice. Th is evidence is to be found in the Assembly’s work on a Psalter which included a metrical version of the Old Test ament book of Psalms and nothing else.

Th e Work and Proceedings of the Westminster Assembly. As early as Oct ober, 1643, Robert Baillie indicates that the Scottish commissioners to the West minst er Assembly went up to London with the following prosp ect : “it is liklie that one of the points of our conference will be anent a new Psalter.”15 Th e commissioners were not disappointed. On 20 November, 1643, the House of Commons resolved Th at the Assembly of Divines be desired to give their Advice, whether it may not be useful and profi table to the Church, that the Psalms, set forth by Mr. Rous, be permitted to be publickly sung, the same being read before singing, until the Books be more generally disp ersed.16 Th is resolution, besides initiating work on the new Psalter, also shows that the materials to be used in the worship-song of the Church of England at this time were those “permitted to be publickly sung,” and that the view of the West minst er divines was consulted as to what materials would be fi t for this purpose. Th e Assembly’s reception of Parliament’s resolution was recorded by John Lightfoot: Wednesday, Nov. 22.—Th e fi rst thing done this morning was, that Sir Benjamin Rudyard brought an order from the House of Commons, wherein they require our advice, whether Mr. Rous’s Psalms may not be sung in churches; and this being debated, it was at last referred to the three committees, to take every one fi ft y psalms.17 Th e Assembly did not take their commission lightly, but proceeded immediately to examine Rous’ Psalms for their fi tness to be authorised for use in the Church of England. In relation to undertaking to revise the Psalms of Rous, the Assembly Minutes record an important st atement by Alexander Henderson, which connect s this Psalm book to the Assembly’s work on a direct ory of worship as well as to the proposed uniform pract ice of the churches of Scotland and England: Mr Hinderson: We had a psalme booke off ered to our church made by Lord Sterling, but we would preferre this [Rous’ Psalter] to that, for I have seene it.

Well done to revise the booke & if it come to a direct ory of worship, that ther might be uniformity in that in the whole Island….18 Th is record should not go unnoticed, for it shows that the mention of a Psalm book in the fi nal draft of the Direct ory for Public Worship had a sp ecifi c referent in mind, namely, a metricated version of the Old Test ament book of Psalms. Little is recorded concerning the Assembly’s deliberations anent the Psalter. Robert Baillie has noted that “Mr. Nye sp oke much against a tie to any Psalter, and somewhat against the singing of paraphrases, as of preaching homilies; we, underst and, will mightily oppose it: for the Psalter is a great part of our uniformity which we cannot let pass until our church be well advised with it” (Baillie, Letters, 2.121). It appears from this notice that some of the extreme opinions of the separatist s found their way into the Assembly via Philip Nye. Th ey had become so vehemently opposed to the Book of Common Prayer that they would have nothing uninsp ired in the worship service, not even paraphrases of the Psalms. Robert Baillie’s personal opinion refl ect ed the mind of the Scottish commissioners that the Psalter was an essential ingredient in that uniformity of worship which was sought in the Solemn League and Covenant.19 Some further notices of the Assembly’s work reveal that their labours on the Psalter were concerned with accurately refl ect ing the original Hebrew of the Old Test ament Psalms and excluded anything which did not keep closely to the text. John Lightfoot’s Journal entry for December 22, 1643, records, “Mr. Gibson proposed, that a select committee of Hebricians might be chosen, to consult with Mr. Rous upon the Psalms, from Psalm to Psalm, for the solidity of the work, and the honour of the Assembly” (Lightfoot, Journal, 90). Robert Baillie reports that the new translation of the Psalms excluded the uninsp ired doxology, or conclusion, “resolving to keep punct uallie to the originall text, without any addition.” He adds that all parties were content to omit it because it was an addition whereupon “the Popish and Prelaticall partie did so much dote” (Baillie, Letters, 2.259).

The divines were not prepared to include any matter in their covenanted psalm book which did not adhere closely to the insp ired text. While work on the Psalter st eadily proceeded, the Direct ory for Public Worship was completed by the divines and presented to the Parliament, whereupon the following ordinance was passed: Th e Lords and Commons assembled in Parliament, taking into serious consideration the manifold inconveniences that have arisen by the Book of Common-Prayer in this Kingdome, and resolving, according to their Covenant, to reform Religion according to the Word of God, and the Example of the best Reformed Churches, have consulted with the Reverend, Pious, and Learned Divines called together to that purpose; And do judge it necessary, that the said Book of Common-Prayer be abolished, and the Direct ory for the Publique Worship of God, herein aft er mentioned, be est ablished and observed in all the Churches within this Kingdome.20 Th e ordinance indicates, fi rst , that the Parliament was act – ing in accord with its covenanted commitment to uniformity in religion; secondly, it was following through on its resolution to follow the example of the best Reformed Churches; and thirdly, that what the Assembly of divines had concluded with resp ect to the public worship of God was to be universally implemented throughout the churches of the kingdom. As already noted, the Direct ory for Worship contains a section on the singing of psalms. In this sect ion it is written, “Th at the whole congregation may join herein, every one that can read is to have a psalm book; and all others, not disabled by age or otherwise, are to be exhorted to learn to read.”21 It has been shown that Parliament made provision for this psalm book in direct ing the divines to give consideration to the suitability of Rous’ psalms. At the very time the Direct ory was passed and enact ed the divines were st ill completing the examination and alteration of this Psalter. In the absence of any other provision, the most logical conclusion is that the Direct ory’s mention of “a psalm book” is a reference to the Psalms of David in Metre which they were in the process of fi nalising. Th e psalm book was fi nally completed on November 13, 1645, and sent up by the Assembly to the House of Commons with this resolution: Ordered—Th at whereas the Honble House of Commons hath, by an order bearing the date the 20th of November 1643, recommended the Psalms set out by Mr. Rouse to the consideration of the Assembly of Divines, the Assembly hath caused them to be carefully perused, and as they are now altered and amended, do approve of them, and humbly conceive that it may be useful and profi table to the Church that they be permitted to be publicly sung.22 Th e fi nished product received the imprimatur of the House of Commons on November 14, which resolved, “Th at this Book of Psalms, set forth by Mr. Rouse, and perused by the Assembly of Divines, be forthwith printed.”

All that was required now was the examination and approval of the Psalter in Scotland. In a public letter on November 25, 1645, Robert Baillie wrote, “Th e Psalms are perfyted: the best without all doubt that ever yet were extant. Th ey are now on the presse; but not to be perused till they be sent to yow, and your animadversions returned hither, which we wish were so soon as might be.”24 In two private letters he expressed a longing which he shared in common with his fellow labourers in England: “It is our earnest desyre that the Psalter might at this time be put in such a frame that we needed not to be troubled hereaft er with any new translation thereof.” “Th ese lines are likely to go up to God from many millions of tongues for many generations.”25 Th ese st atements reveal that the Psalter committee in London desired their version of the Psalms to be a manual of praise which would be used for many generations and that they were not inclined to make any eff orts towards producing another.

Th e Assembly of divines subsequently recommended the emended version of Rous and passed over another version from the pen of Mr. William Barton, which had been referred to them by the House of Lords. Barton’s Psalms had been brought to their attention on Oct ober 7, 1645; aft er perusal, they sent the following communication to the House of Lords on November 14, the same date that the House of Commons authorised the use of Rous’ Psalms: in Obedience to the Order of this Honourable House, they appointed a Committee to consider thereof; and, upon the whole Matter, do fi nd Reason to certify this Honourable House, Th at albeit the said Mr. Barton hath taken very good and commendable Pains in his Metaphrase, yet the other Version, so exact ly perused and amended by the said Mr. Rouse and the Committee of the Assembly with long and great Labour, is so closely framed according to the Original Text, as that we humbly conceive it will be very useful for the Edifi cation of the Church.

From this communication it becomes clear that the Assembly considered their labours had produced a translation which closely refl ect ed the original text, and that they were not prepared to work on another. Although the revised Psalter was sent to Scotland for further examination and correct ion, the Assembly of divines made no further eff orts in the way of preparing materials to be sung in the public worship of God. As far as they were concerned, ample provision had been made for fulfi lling that part of the service which they entitled “the singing of psalms.” Th e matter, however, was not yet concluded. On March 26, 1646, the House of Lords inquired of the Assembly of divines as to why the psalms of William Barton “may not be sung in Churches as well as other Translations, by such as are willing to use them.”27 Th e divines sent in their answer on April 25: whereas there are several other Translations of the Psalms already extant: We humbly conceive, that, if Liberty should be given to People to sing in Churches every one that Translation which they desire, by that Means several Translations might come to be used, yea in one and the same Congregation at the same Time, which would be a great Dist ract ion and Hinderance to Edifi cation.

Not only did the Assembly confi ne its labours to the Psalms of David in Metre, but they would not even consider allowing more than one metrical Psalter to be used in the Church lest it cause dist ract ion and hinder that edifi cation which they considered the approved Psalter was fi tted to promote. Th is review will not trace the hist ory of the Psalter as it moved from England to Scotland because it has no bearing on the quest ion as to what is meant by the term “psalms” in the West minst er formularies.29 It suffi ces at this point to simply show that the Commissioners considered the Assembly’s work on Rous’ Psalter to provide for that part of public worship which the divines called “the singing of psalms.” Th is is expressly st ated in a paper by the Commissioners which was presented on December, 1646, to the Grand Committee at London, and was subsequently laid before the Commission of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland at Edinburgh on January 21, 1647, courtesy of Robert Baillie: And becaus the singing of Psalmes in Churches is a part of the publike worship of God, We desire that the Paraphrase of the Psalmes in meter, as it is now examined, correct ed, and approved by the Assembly of Divines here, and by the Commissioners of the Gen. Assembly in Scotland, may be lykwise authorized and est ablished by Ordinance of Parliament.

And becaus the singing of Psalmes in Churches is a part of the publike worship of God, We desire that the Paraphrase of the Psalmes in meter, as it is now examined, correct ed, and approved by the Assembly of Divines here, and by the Commissioners of the Gen. Assembly in Scotland, may be lykwise authorized and est ablished by Ordinance of Parliament.

Th e corroborating evidence has now been considered. It has been demonst rated that the Church of England, in conscientiously pursuing covenanted uniformity with the Church of Scotland, sought to make provision for that part of worship called “the singing of psalms” by preparing and authorising a book of metricated Old Test ament Psalms to be used throughout the kingdom. Th ey made no further provision for the singing of any other materials in the Church of England. When this is taken in connect ion with the fact that nothing was to be used in public worship but what was authorised by public authority, it becomes clear that the covenanted Church of England adopted the same exclusive psalm-singing pract ice as the covenanted Church of Scotland. Given this st ate of aff airs, there is really only one way of interpreting the phrase “singing of psalms” as used in the Confession of Faith and Direct ory for Public Worship. It must sp ecifi cally refer to the Old Test ament book of Psalms. Th ere is no hist orical-contextual basis for a generic interpretation of the word “psalms,” according to which it is taken to mean a religious song. If Mr. Needham had invest igated the appropriate hist orical context, namely, the proceedings of the West minst er Assembly, he would have seen that the phrase “singing of p

The above taken from: http://www.cpjournal.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/04/Winzer-NeedhamReviewf.pdf

a chronological summary:

1. The DPW permits only the singing of Psalms in worship. So why ever would the confession permit uninspired hymns and then forbid them in worship?

2. The WCF pursuant to SLC and Parliament’s resolution calling the Assembly required it to permit only Psalms (consider the Government and Order of the Church of Scotland 1641).

3. it produced ONLY the 1650 Psalter for public worship.

4. Robert Bailie in 1643 noted that the Scottish Commissioners required a new Psalter (authorised by Act of Parliament 20th November 1643 which related to songs that would be permitted to be publicly sung).

5. The DPW (permitting only psalms) was adopted by Parliamentary ordinance and “established and observed in al the Churches within this Kingdome”.

6. 25 April 1646 The Assembly passed resolution to reject the singing of anything other than the 1647 Psalter.

7. The Commissioners presented a paper on Dec 1646 to the Grand Committee in London and subsequently to Grand Commission of General Assembly of the Church of Scotland on 21 January 1646 adopting only the 1650 Psalter as being authorised to be sung in churches. this was supported by Ordinance of Parliament.


Minutes of the Westminster Assembly, April 15, 1646:

“Ordered, That the Book of Psalms, set forth by Mr. Rous, and perused by the Assembly of Divines, be forthwith printed in sundry volumes: And that the said Psalms, and none other, shall, after the first day of January next, be sung in all Churches and Chapels within the Kingdom of England, Dominion of Wales, and Town of Berwick upon-Tweede; and that it be referred to Mr. Rous, to take care for the true printing thereof.—The Lords concurrence to be desired herein.”

“The reasons for our faith and practice are these:

1. Taken from the commandment, or exhortation of the Apostle, Ephesians 5:19, Be you filled with the Spirit, (saith he) speaking to yourselves (that is, to one another) in Psalms and Hymns and Spiritual Songs, singing and making melody in your hearts to the Lord. To the like purpose is his commandment and exhortation to the Colossians, Colossians 3:16, Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another, in Psalms and Hymns and Spiritual Songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord. In both places, as the Apostle exhorteth us to singing, so he instructeth us what the matter of our song should be, to wit, Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual Songs; Now these three be [the very titles of the songs of David, as they are delivered to us by the Holy Ghost himself]: some of them are called Psalms, some Hymns, some Songs, Spiritual Songs. Now what reason can be given why the Apostle should direct us in our singing to the very titles of David’s Psalms, if it were not his meaning that we should sing them? Yea, either we must exclude the Psalms of David, from the name of Psalms, and Hymns, and Spiritual Songs; or else we must be forced to acknowledge, that we are exhorted to sing them, as well as any other.”

~John Cotton, “Singing of Psalms, A Gospel Ordinance” (1647, republished as Greg Fox, ed., “John Cotton on Psalmody and the Sabbath,” p. 21, Puritan Publications, 2006)

“3. Singing of psalms must be used in thy family. The Lord Jesus and his family did practise this duty: Mat. xxvi. 30, ‘And when they sang a hymn, they went out into the Mount of Olives.’ David in that psalm, at the dedication of his house, speaketh that his glory should sing praise to God, and not be silent, Ps. xxx. title, ver. 4 and 12. Our tongues are called our glory, not only because by our speech we excel beasts, but chiefly because therewith we should glorify God. It is observable that most of these places which prophesy the Gentiles’ conversion, do mention their worshipping the true God by singing, Ps. cviii. 3, c., and lxiv. 4; Isa. liv. 1, and lii. 8. The Holy Ghost when he commandeth that the word should keep house with us, doth also enjoin us to ‘teach and admonish one another in psalms, and hymns, and spiritual songs,’ (which are [the titles of David’s psalms, and the known division of them, expressly answering to the Hebrew words, Shurim, Telhillim, and Mizinurim, by which his psalms are distinguished and entitled, as the learned observe],) ‘singing and making melody with grace in our hearts to the Lord,’ Col. iii. 16; Eph. v. 19; James v. 13. Basil speaks high in the praise of praising God by this holy exercise. Chrysostom speaketh of some in his time who always concluded their suppers with singing a psalm, and, saith he, they lived like angels.

This ordinance will much quicken holy affections, and help a Christian to serve God with more cheerfulness. When the Israelites were singing the 136th psalm at the bringing in the ark, the glory of the Lord filled the house, 2 Chron. xx. 22. The sweet singer in Israel was the man after God’s own heart.

Only, reader be careful to sing David’s psalms with David’s spirit, and not like a nightingale to sing by rote: ‘I will sing with my spirit, and I will sing with the understanding also.’ Making melody with grace in the heart, is the best tune to set all David’s psalms with.”

~George Swinnock, “The Christian Man’s Calling,” (Part 1, Chap. XXVII), in “The Works of George Swinnock,” Vol. 1, pp. 341-342 (1868, 1992, Banner of Truth)

“The singing of Psalms has also now just about died out. Originally Reformed churches only allowed congregational singing of the Psalms, because they were authentically and authoritatively Biblical and hence lacked the potential contamination of false teaching which might come from the mere human authorship of hymns. Subsequently, however, hymns (which are not even mentioned by the Confession) have been introduced into Reformed liturgical use and have virtually driven out what is mentioned and was once exclusively sung.”

~John H. Gerstner, Douglas F. Kelly, and Philip Rollison, “A Guide to the Westminster Confession of Faith: Commentary,” pp. 104-105

“The Assembly advocated the exclusive use of the biblical Psalms in praise. With this as the only approved manual for praise, the assembly produced a metrical Psalter containing only the 150 Psalms. The Assembly’s Psalter was later revised in Scotland and became the Scottish Psalter of 1650.”

~Wayne R. Spear, “Faith of Our Fathers: A Commentary on the Westminster Confession of Faith,” p. 113

Additional arguments can be found here on Travis Fentiman’s website:



and R. Andrew Myers: