PsalmodySome excerpts from Michael Bushells, ‘Song of Zion’ on Psalmody
This is essentially a variation of an argument posed by others based on Psalm 73:28 where the Psalmist urges us to ‘tell of his wonderful works.’ They argue that the Psalms are insufficient to tell of all the works of God (see 2.9.2). In a similar fashion Poythress argues that the Psalter is insufficient to proclaim the name of God in its fulness. Our response in this case is the same as before. The Psalter itself was reborn with the risen savior. When Poythress talks about the ‘unveiled character of Christ’s revelation of the name of God in the New Testament” he says nothing about what was unveiled. He fails to realize that the Psalter itself has been unveiled and that consequently it has become a primary source of new knowledge about the Name of God. The Psalter is quoted more often in the Epistle to the Hebrews than any other book of Scripture. It is viewed there as a goldmine of information about the Lord. There is a great irony in the approach taken by Poythress. He tries to prove the inadequacy of the Psalter by appealing to the Psalter itself and by quoting from a New Testament writer who extracts vast quantities of profound spiritual truth from the Psalms. It is like a lawyer challenging the reliability of a witness and then calling him as an expert witness. Poythress refutes his own argument.
A Psalm is the calm of souls, the arbiter of peace: it stills the stormy waves of thought. It softens the angry spirit, and sobers the intemperate. A Psalm cements friendship: it unites those who are at variance; it reconciles those who are at enmity. For who can regard as an enemy the man with whom he has joined in lifting up one voice to God? Psalmody therefore provides the greatest of all good things, even love, for it has invented concerted singing as a bond of unity, and fits the people together in the concord of one choir. A Psalm puts demons to flight: it summons the angels to our aid; it is a weapon in the midst of alarms by night, a rest from the toils of day; it is a safeguard for babes, a decoration for adults, a comfort for the aged, a most fitting ornament for women. It makes deserts populous and marketplaces sane. It is an initiation to novices, growth to those who are advancing, a confirmation to those who are being perfected. It is the voice of the Church; it gladdens festivals, it creates godly sorrow. For a Psalm calls forth tears even from a stony heart. A Psalm is the employment of angels, heavenly converse, spiritual incense… What mayest thou not learn thence? The heroism of courage; the integrity of justice; the gravity of temperance; the perfection of prudence; the manner of repentance; the measure of patience; in a word every good thing thou canst mention. Therein is a complete theology; the prediction of the advent of Christ in the flesh, the threatening of judgement, the hope of resurrection, the fear of chastisement, promises of glory, revelations of mysteries: all, as in some great public storehouse, are treasured up in the Book of Psalms.
People in our day often complain that our churches are impoverished spiritually, that people have lost their hope and sense of purpose in worship. There is often a great deal of truth in this complaint, but the solution is not to be found in gimmicks and programs, the stock-in-trade of the contemporary worship movement. It lies rather in a return to the resources that God has given to us in Scripture, namely to prayer, to the preaching of the Word, and to the singing of Psalms. The Psalter is a river of hope flowing from heaven into a troubled and sinful world.
The law of the Lord, we are told, is perfect. It is sure. It is right. It is pure. It is true. It is sweeter than honey and more to be desired than gold. When we read this magnificent Psalm  we should do so with the understanding that the Psalter is in these words praising itself. The Psalter itself is a repository, in lyrical form, of the law, the testimony, the precepts, the commandments and the judgments of the Lord. The Psalter is perfect, sure, right, pure and true. Ask yourself if it would ever be appropriate to heap such praise on the words of an uninspired man.
The Psalter derives its place in the Church from its place in the Canon of Scripture. If it functions as a body of songs, a divine manual of praise, in the one, it must of necessity function as such in the other.
The inclusion of a collection of songs in the Canon of Scripture, without any demonstrable limits to its use, constitutes a divine command to use the whole of that book in services of worship. If the Lord hands us a book of Psalms, as He has in fact done, and commands us to sing Psalms, we have no right, without further instruction, to exclude certain Psalms from those that are made available to the Church.
The current practice of extracting a few Psalm fragments for inclusion in a hymnal composed mainly of songs written by modern authors, is a desecration of Scripture. It brings the songs of God down to the level of uninspired and fallible men. It mixes error with truth, the Word of God with the word of man. There would be an uproar if a new ‘Bible’ were put together consisting partly of the faillible reflections of uninspired men and partly of Psalm fragments. The two cases are parallel and equally destructive of the authority of Scripture.
Why do we limit ourselves to the inspired Psalms, excluding, for example, the inspired canticles found in the Scriptures outside the Psalter? The answer is that there is no clear indication in the Scriptures that such songs were intended by God for perpetual use in His Church. In the absence of such an indication, it would seem prudent to refrain from singing them in worship. For similar reasons we would also suggest that the practice of singing prose portions of Scripture in worship is wrong. The Holy Scriptures should not be subjected to uses which are foreign to their original purpose and design.
The Psalter ought to be a precious and beloved book, if for no other reason than this: it promises Christ’s death and resurrection so clearly-and pictures his kingdom and the condition and nature of all Christendom-that it might well be called a little Bible. In it is comprehended most beautifully and briefly everything that is in the entire Bible. (Luther, “Preface to the Psalter, 1545 (1528),” Luther’s Works)
Hence it is that the Psalter is the Book of all saints; and everyone, in whatever situation he may be, finds in that situation Psalms and words that fit his case, that suit him as if they were put there just for his sake, so that he could not put it better himself, or find or wish for anything better. (ibid.)
I believe that a man can find nothing more glorious than these Psalms; for they embrace the whole life of man, the affections of his mind, and the motions of his soul. To praise and glorify God, he can select a psalm suited to every occasion, and thus will find that they were written for him. Athanasius
The Law instructs, history informs, prophecy predicts, correction censures, and morals exhort. In the Book of Psalms you find all of these, as well as a remedy for the salvation of the soul. The Psalter deserves to be called, the praise of God, the glory of man, the voice of the church, and the most beneficial Confession of Faith. Ambrose
The women, the children, and the humblest mechanics, could repeat all the Psalms of David; they chanted them at home and abroad: they made them the exercises of their piety and the refreshment of their minds. Thus they had answers ready to oppose temptation, and were always prepared to pray to God, and to praise him, in any circumstance, in a form of his own inditing. Apostolic Constitutions
Some churches have seen fit to incorporate a few Psalm fragments into their hymnals, but this only adds sacrilege to impiety. Should we not stop for a moment to think about how this looks to the author of the inspired Psalms? We cast aside all but a small portion of His Psalter as unfit for inclusion in our hymnals and set our own hymns up as equal to those few Psalms that are deemed worthy of inclusion! Such arrogance would be laughable if it were not such monstrous sacrilege.
The Psalter did not become obsolete with the cross. It became relevant as never before. That explains why the New Testament writers could continue to use it as a theological base and why the church could continue to sing it with gusto, not despite the new realities of a new covenant, but in fact because of them! Before the coming of Christ much of the Psalter was shrouded in mystery. But after the Messiah came and delivered the key to the Psalter, that was no longer the case. The New Testament writers do not view the Psalter as being in any sense inadequate to their magisterial taks. On the contrary they view it as a gold mine of divine instruction. In the hands of the Messiah, the Psalter was reborn.
Theology books talk abstractly about the unity of the covenant but the Psalter is the best possible practical expression of that doctrine. If we can get out heads around the fact that when we take up the Psalter we sing the same songs that David sang, the same songs that the apostles sang, and the same songs that Jesus sang, we can begin to comprehend the importance of psalmody. It unites us to the church of all ages in a way that hymns cannot. We can also begin to understand why attacks on psalmody are so insidious. They are not just attempts to drive a wedge between the Psalter and the New Testament, though they are that. They are attempts to fragment the church.
The Psalms are thus seen to reveal His divinity, His eternal sonship, His incarnation, His mediatorial offices; they prophesy of His betrayal, His agony in the garden, His trial, His rejection, His crucifixion, His burial and resurrection, His ascension, and His second coming and the triumph of His kingdom.
Two things are abundantly clear from the details recorded in the Gospels. Jesus loved the Psalms and turned to them in His darkest hour. And He saw them as prophetic utterances intimately connected with his person and work. How can the Psalms which Christ loved so passionately ever distance us from Him? How can all the hymns ever written draw us as close to our Savior as the words of this one Psalm ?
We saw in the last point that the preferred name for addressing God in the Psalms is ‘LORD’ (yhwh in Hebrew, Kurios in the Septuagint). Now we see that, except for Revelation 22:20, the only name used in direct address to Jesus in the New Testament by His followers is ‘Lord’ (Kurios). In other words, the preferred name used in the New Testament to address Christ is the same name preferred in the Psalms to address God. When we address the ‘LORD’ in the Psalms we are addressing Christ by the name preferred by His disciples.
We cannot go wrong by following the example of His disciples and closes friends. If we do that we will address Jesus by the name ‘LORD,’ with the full understanding that this is to be taken as the covenant name of God Almighty. No other name even begins to do Him justice. And it just so happens that the name ‘LORD’ (yhwh) occurs 695 times in the Book of Psalms. The Psalter is full to overflowing with the covenant name that Jesus took to himself (Luke 20:41-44; John 18:6) and the only name used by the Apostles to address him. There is no deficiency in the Psalter here.
This dual emphasis on the mercy of God and the justice of God, an emphasis which is at the very heart of the Gospel, is something that is unique to the Psalter. While it is true that most hymnals have songs extolling the mercy of God and others that praise His justice, the contrast between the two is never as stark as it is in the Psalter. They typically deal with the justice of God simply as something from which believers are delivered. Little is said about the awful fate that awaits the enemies of God or about the vindication of the holiness of God. There is also little awareness in hymnals generally of the fact that the punishment which sin deserves is so fearful that we barely have the vocabulary to describe it. This is something which the Psalter tackles head on, while most hymnals either seek to cover over the difficulty with silence or use emasculated language with all the fire removed. The result is a diminishment of the mercy of God because His mercy is best seen against the background of His wrath. We cannot understand the mercy and love of God unless we have a clear picture of His wrath and the fearful consequences of sin.
As justice and mercy cannot be understood individually, so also the love of God cannot exist without hatred for His enemies. As politically incorrect as this statement is, it is the constant message of the Bible in general, and of the Psalms in particular. The Psalms are full of what can only be called hatred for everything opposed to God.
The short answer to the alleged contradiction between these Psalms and the New Testament is that it is based on a set of false assumptions and a very one-sided selection of verses from both testaments. A closer look at Scripture reveals that both testaments demand that we show kindness to our enemies, and both Testaments rejoice at the prospect of the vindication of God’s righteousness and the utter destruction of His enemies. Both testaments promise that God will defend His own and pour out His wrath on any who would dare to touch the apple of His eye (Psa. 17:8). If this analysis is correct, then there can be nothing ethically wrong with the Imprecatory Psalms. It is always proper to ask God to fulfill His promises. If it is proper for God to judge the wicked, both temporally and eternally, and if He tells us that He intends to do so, then it must be proper for us to pray that He will do precisely that. And if it is proper for David to pray these Psalms, it must be proper for us to pray them as well, albeit in the proper way, at the proper time and with the proper motives. They exist in the Psalter for a reason. God put them there for us to use.
David himself was aware of the role of the Holy Spirit in the Psalms which he produced. The last recorded words of David begin with the words “The Spirit of the LORD spoke by me, and His word was on my tongue” (2 Sam. 23:2). It is extremely difficult, given what the Bible says about the source of these Psalms, not to charge critics of the Imprecatory Psalms with blasphemy.
And Paul does not seem the least bit shy about applying one of the imprecations from Psalm 69 to Israel, saying, ‘Let their table be made a snare, and a trap, and a stumbling block, and a recompense unto them’ (Rom. 11:9-10; Psa. 69:22-23). In short, if we look closely, there does not seem to be any real difference between the Old and the New Testament with regard to the matter of calling upon God to judge the wicked.
After one of the most sublime expositions of the character of God anywhere inside or outside of Scripture (Psa. 139:1-18) David feels compelled to add, ‘Do I not hate those who hate Thee, O LORD? And do I not loathe those who rise up against Thee? I hate them with the utmost hatred. They have become my enemies’ (Psa. 139:21-22). On a first reading this expression of hatred seems incongruous with the sublime reflections that preceded it. But the progression of thought actually makes perfect sense. A contemplation of the character of God revealed in the first part of the Psalm prompts two questions. The first arises from the realization that there are in the world men who actually hate this amazing God. The man whose wickedness is so deep that he can hate such a God is almost incomprehensible as God Himself. How is it possible for such a man to exist?
The Psalms are the best because they come from the LORD. No single hymn or collection of hymns can say that. God has given them to us to sing so that we can have worship songs that are worthy of Him, songs that are the breath of the Holy Spirit, songs that burst open the doors of heaven as no human hymns can ever do. When we sing the Psalms we are only returning them to God who gave them.
It astounds me, given the overwhelming use of psalms as central to gathered worship in the first four centuries, the absolute importance given to psalmody for the first two centuries of the post-Reformation Reformed churches, and the fact that the Book of Psalms is the only hymn book which can claim to be universal in its acceptance by the whole of Christendom and utterly inspired in all of its statements – it astounds me, I say, that so few psalms are sung in our worship services today.
I know how difficult it is to persuade the world that God disapproves of all modes of worship not expressly sanctioned by His Word. The opposite persuasion which cleaves to them, being seated, as it were, in their very bones and marrow, is, that whatever they do has in itself sufficient sanction, provided it exhibits some kind of zeal for the honor of God. But since God not only regards as fruitless, but also plainly abominates, whatever we undertake from zeal to His worship, if at variance with His command, what do we gain by a contrary course? The words of God are clear and distinct. ‘Obedience is better than sacrifice.’ ‘In vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men’ (1 Sam. 15:22; Mt. 15:9). Every addition to His word, especially in this matter, is a lie. Mere ‘will worship’ (ethelothaeskeia) is vanity. This is the decision, and when once the judge has decided, it is no longer time to debate.
Having observed that the word of God is the test which discriminates between his true worship and that which is false and vitiated, we thence readily infer that the whole form of divine worship in general use in the present day is nothing but mere corruption. For men pay no regard to what God has commanded, or to what he approves, in order that they may serve him in a becoming manner, but assume to themselves a license of devising modes of worship, and afterwards, obtruding them upon him as a substitute for obedience… When shaking off this yoke, we wander after our own fictions, and offer to him a worship, the work of human rashness; how much soever it may delight ourselves, in his sight it is vain trifling, nay, vileness and pollution. The advocates of human traditions paint them in fair and gaudy colors; and Paul certainly admits that they carry with them a show of wisdom; but as God values obedience more than sacrifice, it ought to be sufficient for the rejection of any mode of worship, that it is not sanctioned by the command of God.
[CONTEXT: Heidelberg Catechism on the 2d Cmd]
God requires in the Second Commandment ‘that we in no wise make any image of God, nor worship Him in any other way than He has commanded in His Word.’
But the acceptable way of worshipping the true God is instituted by Himself, and so limited by His own revealed will, that He may not be worshipped according to the imaginations and devices of men, or the suggestions of Satan, under any visible representation, or any other way not prescribed in the Holy Scripture.
Wilson says that ‘strict regulativists are quite arbitrary in their pronouncement on what stays and what goes. Examined closely, it is not the regulative principle which is winnowing the wheat and chaff, but rather the personality types of the regulativists themselves.’ He offers his readers no specific examples so all we are left with is an anonymous ad hominem attack on a prefabricated straw version of a principle that no advocates of the regulative principle would bother to defend. The interesting thing is that Wilson’s replacement for the regulative principle is far more arbitrary than even his own imaginary rendition of the regulative principle. The overuse of analogy and metaphor which are characteristic of his writing, and that of his associates Schlissel and Leithart, cannot help but be arbitrary. He has no objective standard for determining what is proper in worship.
To say that ‘the Lord Jesus is our regulative Principle’ is ultimately a meaningless metaphor, the stock-in-trade of Frame, Poythress, Leithart, and Gore. Wilson basically says that if we understand the Gospel properly, our worship will be right. He says that this is not mysticism, but we are hard pressed to understand why not. He comes very close to saying that we should just do what feels right, secure in the knowledge that if we understand the Gospel properly, we will do the right thing. It is very difficult for us to see how anyone can possibly apply a principle like this to concrete cases. It is too subjective to be useful for anything but motivational speeches.
Worship and salvation are thus intimately connected in Scripture. In fact, we can say that worship is the terminus ad quem of salvation. Worship is the reason God made us and it is the reason for which He redeems us. We exist to bring Him glory. At no time is that accomplished more fully than when we are bowing before Him in worship. This is why worship is described in Scripture in soteriological terms. It is a primary means for teaching us about salvation. Both salvation and worship focus on what God has done for us and what we are incapable of doing for ourselves. Both teach us that we are totally incapable of approaching God on our own, that we are totally dependent on Him to provide the means for coming into his presence (salvation) and remaining there (worship).
This correlation in Scripture between worship and salvation is why attacks on the regulative principle are ultimately attacks on the doctrine of salvation. Attempts to add merit to salvation are always related to attempts to add sensual frills to worship. They have the same goal-to exalt the efforts of man above the works of God. The history of the church teaches one thing clearly. Whenever the regulative principle has been ignored, the gospel of grace has soon disappeared.
Worship is used extensively in Scripture as a metaphor for godly living. In a metaphorical sense, ‘all of life is worship.’
This is all very beautiful, profound and true. The problem arises when we forget that the correlation between worship and ‘all of life’ is a metaphor. The phrase ‘all of life is worship’ encapsulates a valid principle, but it cannot be permitted to destroy the distinction between life and worship or to deny the uniqueness of Biblical worship. However, in the hands of some men it has been used to do precisely that. The argument that they use is simple enough. The regulative principle governs worship. All of life is worship. Therefore, it is said, the regulative principle governs all of life. In the final analysis, we are left with the assertion that the principle which guides our worship practice is the same principle which guides our grocery shopping. Once we have gotten to that point, there is no regulative principle.
If the statement that ‘all of life is worship’ is no longer a metaphor, then there is nothing special, unique or distinctive about true worship, and the very idea of worship as it is defined in Scripture ceases to exist. It is extremely difficult to think of a metaphor that does not produce nonsense when turned into an equality. There is no exception.
One of the best ways to attack a principle is to coopt the terms used in its definition and by the selective use of metaphor to change the principle into something which sounds the same but which in reality is something quite different.
No one needs to be taught that God sets all the rules of interaction when His creatures appear before Him. It is a principle that is embedded in the very idea of what it means to be God and what it means to be a human being created in His image. It is a principle that runs like a crimson thread throughout Scripture. To deny its validity is to deny God.
The problem was with the manner in which the fire was offered. The passage makes this clear. The fire was ‘strange’ because God had ‘not commanded them’ to offer it. It was as simple as that. God viewed offerings that He had not commanded as ‘foreign’ or ‘strange’ intrusions. The sin of Nadab and Abihu was one of presumption, of making an offering not commanded by God. It was the Lord’s intention that only those acts prescribed by Him should be performed. On the surface of the matter, the actions of Nadab of Abihu may appear pious or commendable, but as the passage indicates, religious zeal is never commendable when it leads to a zealous disregard of the commandments of God.
The repeated reference to the commandment of God is of paramount importance. It shows that nothing less than this is in our Lord’s esteem the regulative principle of the worship of God. It does not mean that ‘tradition’ as such is to be depricated. But it does require that any tradition which is not based upon and derived from divine prescription is of human origin and sanction and incurs the condemnation so patent in our Lord’s teaching on this subject. Jesus’ cleansing of the temple illustrates his jealousy for the sanctity of the house of God and the holy zeal with which desecration should be expelled.’ It is important also to notice the emphasis in this passage on the importance of having the heart right in worship. A heart that is near to God in worship will be concerned, as Jesus says, not with the multiplication of external rites and traditions, but rather with adherence to the commands of God. The regulative principle is like a spiritual compass. It tells our hearts which way to point, namely towards God and not towards our own external rites and ceremonies.
Worship ‘in spirit’ is worship that is connected to this hidden world, a world that is more real than all the ornate, tangible types which were such an integral part of the old worship. This is why ‘spirit’ is united with the word ‘truth.’ Worship ‘in truth’ is worship that is in accord with reality, with that which is true rather than with that which is mere shadow and type. The regulative principle is important as the guardian of this new spiritual worship. It guards worship against the tendency of the fallen human heart to gravitate away from the spiritual and towards the carnal and sensual, to return to the old way of worshiping. In effect the phrase ‘worship in spirit and truth’ is the terminus ad quem of the regulative principle. It is both its goal and that which it protects.
The chief characteristic of the ‘revolution’ in worship practice that has swept through the modern church under the guise of being ‘contemporary’ is that it draws the focus of the worshiper away from Christ in heaven to an endless array of ‘worship events.’ It is not angel worship. It is something much more insidious. It is activity and novelty worship. Its purpose is not to worship God but to serve the perceived needs of the worshippers. Allowing people an opportunity to ‘exercise their gifts’ and to ‘get involved in worship’ has an appearance of wisdom, but in reality it is not very different from what the people at Colossae were doing.
The Bible makes it clear that David had a lot more to work with than the Mosaic law and a gift for making analogies. He had the Spirit of God and direct revelation from the LORD with regard to how He wanted to be worshipped. This is a major flaw in Leithart’s analysis. It is a fatal flaw. Leithart wants us to ignore the context of the liturgical changes made by David and develop an entirely new ‘liturgical hermeneutic’ based on a few ‘hints’ and verbal parallels. The attempt is futile as well as dangerous.
Psalmos occurs some 87 times in the Septuagint, some 78 of which are in the Psalms themselves, and 67 times in the psalm titles. It also forms the title to the Greek version of the Psalter (Psalmoi) translating the Hebrew tahilah. On rare occasion the term psalmos can have reference to the songs of the ungodly (Job 21:12; Lam. 3:14), but by far the most frequent occurrence of the term in the Psalter itself. This would have had a determinative effect on the understanding of the term in New Testament times. In the New Testament Psallo occurs in Romans 15:9; I Corinthians 14:15; Ephesians 5:19; and James 5:13. Its noun form psalmos is found in Luke 20:42; 24:44; Acts 1:20; 13:33; I Corinthians 14:26; Ephesians 5:19; and Colossians 3:16.
‘The singing of the Hallel by Christ and the eleven in the guest-chamber on the night of His betrayal, may be said to mark the point at which the Psalter passed over from the old dispensation into the New: for it accompanied the celebration of the new ordinance of the Lord’s Supper as well as the celebration of the expiring Passover. Thenceforward, it is assumed that at every gathering of Christians for mutual edification, someone will ‘have a Psalm’ to give out to be sung.’ (William Binnie, p. 364) Psalms: Their History, Teaching and Use
‘As Christianity spread in the early years, it seems always to have been accompanied by psalmody. If one could have visited the congregations scattered around the Mediterranean during the second century, one would have found corporate and private worship living out of this book. Psalmody was virtually a mark of the church, one of the constants that constituted the distinctiveness of this new religion.’ James L. Mays, The Lord Reigns, p. 4.
[CONTEXT: The Eastern Church]
‘Excepting these hymns [seven or so] in rhythmic prose, the Greek church of the first six centuries produced nothing in this field which has had permanent value or general use. It long adhered almost exclusively to the Psalms of David, who, as Chrysostom, says, was first, middle, and last in the assemblies of the Christians: and it had, in opposition to heretical predilections, even a decided aversion to the public use of uninspired songs,’ (Philip Schaff, The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Second Series, 1:247, note 14).
‘There was indeed growing up in ‘catholic’ circles,’ says Benson, ‘a suspicion of the hymn of human composure. It was due in part to a jealousy for the supremacy of Scripture, but yet more to the activity of heretical parties, Gnostics especially, in using hymns as propaganda,’ (L.F. Benson, The Hymnody of the Christian Church, p. 63).
‘The Donatists reproach us with our grave chanting of the divine songs of the prophets in our churches, while they inflame their passions in their revels by the singing of psalms of human composition, which rouse them like the stirring notes of the trumpet of the battlefield. But when brethren are assembled in the church, why should not the time be devoted to singing of sacred songs, excepting of course while reading or preaching is going on, or while the presiding minister prays aloud, or the united prayer of the congregation is led by the deacon’s voice? At the other intervals not thus occupied, I do not see what could be a more excellent, useful and holy exercise for a Christian congregation,’ (Augustine, “Epistle to Januarius,” in Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, First Series, 1:315.
‘From the evidence which we have before us, two conclusions stand out clearly. The first is that the vernacular-metrical psalm fostered by Calvin and produced by Marot, Beza, and others, very soon became woven into the fabric of sixteenth century thought and life-one might even say it became part of the Calvinist mystique. The second is that the psalms, so much a part of the Calvinist springs of action, automatically became one of the major factors in forming and inspiring Calvinistic resistance to persecution, oppression, and attack,’ Reid, “The Battle Hymns of the Lord: Calvinist Psalmody of the 16th Century,” in 16th Century Essays and Studies, p. 38.
‘It excites a certain surprise that Calvin should refer to his project at all under such circumstances of personal humiliation. But that at such a crisis in Church affairs he should make the inauguration of Psalmody the sine qua non of his return to Geneva and the resumption of his work of upbuilding the Reformed Church there-this reveals unmistakably that congregational Psalmody, was in the judgment of Calvin an ordinance essential to the right ordering of the Church of Christ. The earnestness of this conviction in Calvin’s mind was the foundation of the Psalmody of the Reformed churches, and in spite of all difficulties he at once proceeded to build upon it,’ (Benson, “Calvin and the Reformed Psalmody,” p. 13).
‘But what then ought to be done? Let us have songs that are not only decent but holy. These will incite us to pray and praise God, to meditate on his works, in order to love, fear, honour and glorify him. But what Augustine says is true, that no one can sing things worthy of God, unless he has received them from Himself. Therefore, after we have sought on every side, searching here and there, we shall find no songs better and more suitable for our purpose than the Psalms of David, dictated to him and made for him by the Holy Spirit. But singing them ourselves we feel as certain that God put the words into our mouths as if He Himself were singing within us to exalt His glory. Hence Chrysostom exhorts men, women and little children alike to become accustomed to sing them, in order that their practice might be as a meditation to associate themselves with the company of angels… only let the world be well advised, that instead of the songs partly vain and frivolous, partly dull and foolish, partly filthy and vile, and consequently wicked and hurtful, which it has hitherto used, it should accustom itself hereafter to sing these divine and heavenly songs with good King David,’ (John Calvin, Epistre au lecteur in La forme des prieres et chants ecclesiastiques, in Calvini Opera, 6:171ff.).
‘To the early French Protestants the Psalm book was a unit-the Word of God in the personal possession of the humblest, the symbol as well as the vehicle of their new privilege of personal communion with God. To know the Psalms became a primary duty; and the singing of the Psalms became the Reformed cultus, the characteristic note distinguishing its worship from that of the Roman Catholic Church,’ (Benson, “Calvin and the Reformed Psalmody,” p. 73).
Perhaps the Psalms have fallen into disuse simply because God’s people have forgotten what it means to do battle for the Lord. ‘The Psalms became the war-songs of the Huguenots. On the battlefields of Coligny or Henry of Navarre were heard such chants as Psalm 76, or 118, or above all, Beza’s versification of Psalm 68,’ (Prothero, The Psalms in Human Life, p. 193). If the Church had a real vision for the terrible spiritual battle in which it is now engaged, perhaps then it would see, as the Huguenots did, that the hymns of man are not now, and never will be, equal to the task.
Of Singing of Psalms.
IT is the duty of Christians to praise God publickly, by singing of psalms together in the congregation, and also privately in the family.
In singing of psalms, the voice is to be tunably and gravely ordered; but the chief care must be to sing with understanding, and with grace in the heart, making melody unto the Lord.
That 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. But for the present, where many in the congregation cannot read, it is convenient that the minister, or some other fit person appointed by him and the other ruling officers, do read the psalm, line by line, before the singing thereof.
‘Scripture psalms not only may be sung, but are fittest to be used in the church, as being indited by the infallible and unerring Spirit, and are of a more diffusive and unlimited concernment than the private dictates of any particular person or spirit in the church. It is impossible any should be of such a large heart as the penmen of the word, to whom God vouchsafed such a public, high, and infallible conduct; and therefore their excellent composures and addresses to God being recorded and consigned to the use of the church for ever, it seemeth a wonderful arrogance and presumption in any to pretend to make better, or that their private and rash effusions will be more edifying… Therefore, upon the whole matter, I should pronounce, that so much as an infallible gift doth excel a common gift, so much do scriptural psalms excel those that are of a private composure,’ (Thomas Manton, An Exposition of the Epistle of James, p. 443).
It is no small wonder that many consider these opinions of Watts to be blasphemous, as indeed they are. If the Holy Spirit wrote the Psalms, there cannot be anything in them ‘opposite to the Gospel.’ The contrast between Watts’ estimation of the Psalter and that of the Reformers which we examined earlier could hardly be more stark. It reveals an attitude in Watts toward the unity of the Scriptures which is wholly incompatible with the belief in their Divine origin. Watts did not understand the Psalms, nor did he understand the organic connection that exists between the two Testaments. His attack was not so much on exclusive psalmody as on the Psalms themselves and on the Holy Spirit who wrote them. And to make matters worse, Watts’ attitude towards the Old Testament permeates his hymns and Psalm imitations.
‘I must say that I imitated David’s Psalms, not as the fittest book that could be made for Christian worship, but as the best which the churches would yet hearken to,’ (Isaac Watts, cited in R.M. Stevenson, Patterns of Protestant Church Music, p. 96).