The regulative principle

Inconsistencies in Worship by Scott Bushey
Most all of my Reformed brethren would agree that an Arminian gospel is a false representation of what God’s word states about salvation. To many, an Arminian presentation sounds orthodox. Hidden down in the presentation is a flawed understanding of God’s sovereignty, how He deals with the creature, where salvation exists and how it comes to the elect. Just because an Arminian preacher is reading the words of Christ, does not mean he is conveying them with the same intent. Is this important? Absolutely and I will show why and how it is vital.

Sure we can all agree that the efficacy of the message is not dependent on the person preaching it. Many a preacher were unregenerate and yet, men have come to faith under that preaching. It is always God who is faithful, not the man. Is Rome’s gospel a true representation? No! But what if the Romanist read directly from the scriptures? The person hearing it, based on God’s decree could likely be regenerated and converted under that preaching as the Roman Catholic Priest is just reading the words of scripture; he doesn’t necessarily mess those words up-he can’t. They are God breathed, right? But what if this aberrant preachers didn’t read the scriptures and expounded on those doctrines alone? Could a man be saved under an aberrant representation? I would have to say no. Arminianism is heresy and those that hold to a synergistic gospel sadly remain in their sins. It is a denial of justification by faith alone. There is only one truth; God’s word is truth. Men, in their sin, mess up truth everyday and make it into the lie. This is exactly why the scriptures time and again warn us of false teachers.

1 John 4:1-6

1Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world. 2By this you know the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God, 3and every spirit that does not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is not of God. And this is the spirit of the Antichrist, which you have heard was coming, and is now already in the world. 4You are of God, little children, and have overcome them, because He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world. 5They are of the world. Therefore they speak as of the world, and the world hears them. 6We are of God. He who knows God hears us; he who is not of God does not hear us. By this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error.

Truth be told, there are many false teachers out there. Essentially what they do is take the truth and exchange it for a lie.

Romans 1:25

They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator–who is forever praised. Amen.

Say you met a person interested in spirituality; this person started asking you questions about God and faith.Would you ever suggest that that person ever sit under an aberrant system? Of course you wouldn’t. Would you ever give this person a Jehovah’s Witness, New Worlds Translation of the bible? I am sure you would say no as they change some important words. These changes take away the deity of Christ. The Jehovah’s Witnesses do not believe Christ is God. They deny the Trinity. The gospel that the New World Translation translates is no gospel at all.

When we think about the hymns that many in this age sing in corporate worship, we accept them at face value. We feel comfortable in singing them for a few reasons. One, is because they come recommended by our leadership. We are to trust our leadership, after all, are they not called to watch over our very souls? Will they be not judged at a higher level than the sheep? Yes, they will. Yet, when we look at the writers of many of the hymns we sing, the theological authorship is frightening. It could be seen in the same light as the writers of the New World Translation. What if I was to tell you that one of the hymn writers denied the Trinity. I am sure you would be shocked. How is this any different from what I have mentioned above? Well, you might say, ‘Scott, the hymns do not speak of doctrine’. Well, yes, they do not go into the finer details of doctrine. But if this particular hymn writer was writing about Jesus, is he talking of the same Jesus we worship? How could it be? The Jesus we worship is part of the Godhead. Much like the writers of the New World Translation,this man says there is no Godhead as well. If we met someone in our church who emphatically told you that he rejects the doctrine of the Trinity, we would endeavor to defend the faith until we saw that this person was not receiving our message and then brush the dust from out feet. If this person was an actual member of our respective congregations, he would be counseled according to Matthew, chapter 18 and if he still refused to repent of the error, taken up on charges. If he continued in his rebellion, he would be excommunicated.

By now, you may be wondering, where I am going with all of this? What hymn writers are we saying that we shouldn’t be using? I want you to understand that this issue goes much deeper than just hymn singing; this is an issue of what God has commanded we use as song in worship. My point in other papers I have written on the subject deals with this. You can refer to my other paper entitled: The Regulative Principle: Worship, Psalm Singing and Grape Juice. One needs to really have their brain wrapped around this doctrine first to fully understand the extent of what I am attempting to convey here. In essence, the people of God should not be bringing aberrant things into the worship of God. God prescribes the way He is to be worshipped and anything else must be discarded and considered will worship. Will worship is a direct break in the 2nd commandment. The doctrine of the Regulative Principle of Worship comes about in the same way we get to other doctrines, by command. Some of these doctrines are derived by what is called good and necessary consequence or inference. For example, we have no direct, positive command for woman to take the supper, polity, membership, infant baptism, the change of sabbath day from last day of the week to the 1st day of the week, just to name a few. These doctrines are derived from the whole of scripture. When we speak of discipline in the church as described in Matthew 18, how could one discipline a person who was not attached to a local body officially? How could one be excommunicated from a thing they are not actually communicated with? When the scriptures speak of ‘adding to their numbers daily’, it shows that there were counts of the members that were kept; lists if you will. This mentality supports a formal membership. G. I. Williamson helps with the definition of the Regulative Principle:

“What is the proper way to worship God? This is an age-old question, and historically there have been two divergent answers. (1) One of these is that of the Roman Catholic Church (followed in principle by Greek Orthodox, Lutheran and Anglican Churches) namely, that it is proper to worship God as we will so long as there is no direct statement in the Bible forbidding us. (2) The other is that of the Reformed Churches, which is, that it is proper to worship God only as He wills, and this means only in ways that He has commanded, instituted or prescribed in His Word. The contrast is plain: the one says, what is not forbidden is permitted; the other says, what is not commanded is forbidden.”- G.I Williamson on “The Singing of Psalms in the Worship of God”

When we speak of songs and worship, God has commanded us to sing the Psalms. There are actual commands in scripture that show this:

1Chr. 16:9 Sing to Him, sing psalms to Him;Talk of all His wondrous works!

Psa. 95:1   Oh come, let us sing to the LORD!Let us shout joyfully to the Rock of our salvation.2 Let us come before His presence with thanksgiving;Let us shout joyfully to Him with psalms.

Psa. 98:5 Sing to the LORD with the harp,With the harp and the sound of a psalm

Psa. 105:2 Sing to Him, sing psalms to Him;Talk of all His wondrous works!

Eph. 5:19 speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord,

Col. 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.

James 5:13   Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing psalms.

The above shows the command to sing the Psalms; it is a bit strange that those who love the Psalms have to defend the practice and even write papers as such. Most churches do not sing the Psalms. The Psalms are God breathed. They are flawless. It could never be said that there is any aberrancy in God’s word. Singing the Psalms are safe. It is prudent to sing the Psalms. Compare this thinking to singing hymns written by men, some of these men heretical in some of their doctrines. Could you believe for a moment that God is pleased with our song in this regard? Compare the two approaches. It would seem irrefutable. Spiritually speaking, one would think that singing God’s word would be a blessing, yet when most people are challenged to do away with songs written by men in their churches, they grind their teeth.

William Romaine wrote:

I lack a name for that man who should pretend that he can make better hymns than the Holy Ghost. It is just the same as if he was to write a new Bible; not only better than the old, but so much better that the old may be thrown aside. What a blasphemous attempt!  And yet our hymnmongers, inadvertedly I hope, have come very near to this blasphemy.

I don’t know if I share in the same sentiment as Haldane here shows forth; however, his point is important in that this is the mentality that Isaac Watts utilized for writing his hymns. See what C. M. Rudin writes about Watts:

“When Watts complained one day about the untuneful Psalm–versions that were sung in his father’s church, one of the church officers retorted, “give us something better, young man.” Watts was just in the mood to take up the challenge, and although he was quite young, he wrote a new hymn, “Behold the Glories of the Lamb.” Sung the following Sunday, it was so highly praised that the youthful poet decided to write others. In the next two years he composed nearly all the 210 hymns in his volume “Hymns and Spiritual Songs,” Published in 1707. This was the first real hymn-book in the English language.”

Much aberrant worship comes from rationalizing where God’s word allows for no rational. Take for instance the sons of Eli;

1Sam. 2:12   Now the sons of Eli were corrupt; they did not know the LORD.  13 And the priests’ custom with the people was that when any man offered a sacrifice, the priest’s servant would come with a three-pronged fleshhook in his hand while the meat was boiling.  14 Then he would thrust it into the pan, or kettle, or caldron, or pot; and the priest would take for himself all that the fleshhook brought up. So they did in Shiloh to all the Israelites who came there.  15 Also, before they burned the fat, the priest’s servant would come and say to the man who sacrificed, “Give meat for roasting to the priest, for he will not take boiled meat from you, but raw.”

1Sam. 2:16   And if the man said to him, “They should really burn the fat first; then you may take as much as your heart desires,” he would then answer him, “No, but you must give it now; and if not, I will take it by force.”
1Sam. 2:17   Therefore the sin of the young men was very great before the LORD, for men abhorred the offering of the LORD.

Did God command the Priest to boil the meat or roast it? Who knows what the sons were thinking. Maybe they rationalized the idea that both techniques ‘cook’ the meat. Did not God clearly command to roast the meat? Rationalizing, when it comes to the Worship of the Lord is despicable and hazardous to one’s well being. Look at what Matthew Henry says of the sons:

The abominable wickedness of Eli’s sons (v. 12): The sons of Eli were sons of Belial. It is emphatically expressed. Nothing appears to the contrary but that Eli himself was a very good man, and no doubt had educated his sons well, giving them good instructions, setting them good examples, and putting up many a good prayer for them; and yet, when they grew up, they proved sons of Belial, profane wicked men, and arrant rakes: They knew not the Lord. They could not but have a notional knowledge of God and his law, a form of knowledge (Rom. ii. 20), yet, because their practice was not conformable to it, they are spoken of as wholly ignorant of God; they lived as if they knew nothing at all of God. Note, Parents cannot give grace to their children, nor does it run in the blood. Many that are sincerely pious themselves live to see those that come from them notoriously impious and profane; for the race is not to the swift. Eli was high priest and judge in Israel. His sons were priests by their birth. Their character was sacred and honourable, and obliged them, for their reputation-sake, to observe decorum. They were resident at the fountain-head both of magistracy and ministry, and yet they were sons of Belial, and their honour, power, and learning, made them so much the worse. They did not go to serve other gods, as those did that lived at a distance from the altar, for from the house of God they had their wealth and dignity; but, which was worse, they managed the service of God as if he had been one of the dunghill deities of the heathen. It is hard to say which dishonours God more, idolatry or profaneness, especially the profaneness of the priests. Let us see the wickedness of Eli’s sons; and it is a sad sight.

(1.) They profaned the offerings of the Lord, and made a gain to themselves, or rather a gratification of their own luxury, out of them. God had provided competently for them out of the sacrifices. The offerings of the Lord made by fire were a considerable branch of their revenue, but not enough to please them; they served not the God of Israel, but their own bellies (Rom. xvi. 18), being such as the prophet calls greedy dogs that can never have enough, Isa. lvi. 11. [1.] They robbed the offerers, and seized for themselves some of their part of the sacrifice of the peace-offerings. The priests had for their share the wave-breast and the heave shoulder (Lev. vii. 34), but these did not content them; when the flesh was boiling for the offerer to feast upon religiously with his friends, they sent a servant with a flesh-hook of three teeth, a trident, and that must be stuck into the pot, and whatever that brought up the priest must have (v. 13, 14), and the people, out of their great veneration, suffered this to grow into a custom, so that after awhile prescription was pleaded for this manifest wrong. [2.] They stepped in before God himself, and encroached upon his right too. As if it were a small thing to weary men, they wearied my God also, Isa. vii. 13. Be it observed, to the honour of Israel, that though the people tamely yielded to their unwarrantable demands from them, yet they were very solicitous that God should not be robbed: Let them not fail to burn the fat presently, v. 16. Let the altar have its due, for that is the main matter. Unless God have the fat, they can feast with little comfort upon the flesh. It was a shame that the priests should need to be thus admonished by the people of their duty; but they regarded not the admonition. The priest will be served first, and will take what he thinks fit of the fat too, for he is weary of boiled meat, he must have roast, and, in order to that, they must give it to him raw; and if the offerer dispute it, though not in his own favour (let the priest take what he pleases of his part) but in favour of the altar (let them be sure to burn the fat first), even the priest’s servant had grown so very imperious that he would either have it now or take it by force, than which there could not be a greater affront to God nor a greater abuse to the people. The effect was, First, That God was displeased: The sin of the young men was very great before the Lord, v. 17. Nothing is more provoking to God than the profanation of sacred things, and men serving their lusts with the offerings of the Lord. Secondly, That religion suffered by it: Men abhorred the offerings of the Lord. All good men abhorred their management of the offerings, and too many insensibly fell into a contempt of the offerings themselves for their sakes. It was the people’s sin to think the worse of God’s institutions, but it was the much greater sin of the priests that gave them occasion to do so. Nothing brings a greater reproach upon religion than ministers’ covetousness, sensuality, and imperiousness. In the midst of this sad story comes in the repeated mention of Samuel’s devotion. But Samuel ministered before the Lord, as an instance of the power of God’s grace, in preserving him pure and pious in the midst of this wicked crew; and this helped to keep up the sinking credit of the sanctuary in the minds of the people, who, when they had said all they could against Eli’s sons, could not but admire Samuel’s seriousness, and speak well of religion for his sake.

The above scenario is a great example of the Normative Principle; the sons of Eli thought, ‘Well, God has not specifically forbade how we are offering these sacrifices, hence, it must not be sinful. This is will worship and a direct break in the 2nd commandment. There sacrifices were not theologically sound and God punished them for it. How is it we take for granted that some of the songs we use in worship meet God’s requirements. Are we not doing the same thing as the sons did? Is our meat roasted or boiled?

Most churches use the Trinity Hymnal for their worship. Upon reviewing the Trinity Hymnal, one finds a plethora of questionable items. For instance, many are women writers. Some are Unitarian in their theology. Others are Amyraldian. Some hold to aberrant lifestyles. Some anti-trinitarian. How is using the Trinity Hymnal different from using the New World Translation? The Jehovah’s Witnesses preach a gospel message. They hold to the Great Commission. They see Christ as savior. The believe in a doctrine of sin, repentance, belief etc. One must translate this mentality upon those writers in the trinity Hymnal as well to remain consistent. To not use the same critical thinking that we use in our critique of the Jehovah’s Witnesses to the Trinity Hymnal would be an injustice.

Let me say, I am not saying that all of the Trinity Hymnal is aberrant; some of the writers are orthodox, if not many. The point I am trying to make clear here is that not only is the Trinity Hymnal flawed in the way I am showing, it is that way because it is uninspired. The other thing to consider is just because most churches use this hymnal does not make it right. Having said all of this, would it not be more prudent to sing the Psalms? I spoke to a Pastor friend earlier today in regard to him using the Trinity Hymnal in his congregation and asked how he gets around this problem. He replied, ‘We sift through all the junk and remove it-we created a hymnal, specific for our church from the Trinity Hymnal’. In my opinion, this is not the absolute solution, but better than most.

Take for instance, Isaac Watts; it started all with him; he wrote more than 700 hymns in his lifetime. One of his most prominent hymns was ‘Joy to the World’.

Verse 1

Joy to the world! the Lord is come;
Let earth receive her King;
Let every heart prepare him room,
And heaven and nature sing,
And heaven and nature sing,
And heaven, and heaven, and nature sing.

Verse 2

Joy to the world! the Saviour reigns;
Let men their songs employ;
While fields and floods, rocks, hills, and plains
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat, repeat the sounding joy.

Verse 3 (optional)

No more let sins and sorrows grow,
Nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make His blessings flow
Far as the curse is found,
Far as the curse is found,
Far as, far as, the curse is found.

Verse 4

He rules the world with truth and grace,
And makes the nations prove
The glories of His righteousness,
And wonders of His love,
And wonders of His love,
And wonders, wonders, of His love.

Looking on these stanzas one would be hard pressed to find any theological inaccuracies. However, imbedded deep down is his position on the Trinity. How is this any different from the Jehovah’s Witnesses? Would you be willing to use any of their songs in worship?

Here’s another example: When I Survey the Wondrous Cross

When I survey the wondrous cross
On which the Prince of glory died,
My richest gain I count but loss,
And pour contempt on all my pride.

Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast,
Save in the death of Christ my God!
All the vain things that charm me most,
I sacrifice them to His blood.

See from His head, His hands, His feet,
Sorrow and love flow mingled down!
Did e’er such love and sorrow meet,
Or thorns compose so rich a crown?

His dying crimson, like a robe,
Spreads o’er His body on the tree;
Then I am dead to all the globe,
And all the globe is dead to me.

Were the whole realm of nature mine,
That were a present far too small;
Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all.

To Christ, who won for sinners grace
By bitter grief and anguish sore,
Be praise from all the ransomed race
Forever and forevermore.

Again, you would be hard pressed to find a problem with the text.

Gilbert M’Masters writes:

Whatever obscurity, from the ambiguity of his language and other causes, may hang over his views, the following facts admit of no doubt–that is–that Dr. Watts was an anti-trinitarian, and that the distinct divine Personality of the Son of God, as equal with the Father, had no place in his acknowledged creed.

The labours of his life, in which he manifested more than his usual mental vigour, were in direct opposition to the orthodox faith on this whole subject… He ventured to tell his Maker that the doctrine of three real persons in the Godhead, is a strange and perplexing notion, which we cannot receive; and which is not even inferable from the whole contents of the Book of God!…

What upon this fundamental subject were the views of Dr. Watts? Certainly not those of Christianity. They might be those of a slightly modified Arianism, but not less gross or erroneous than those of the Alexandrian presbyter. The scheme of both was really a form of the old Oriental Gnosticism. The superangelic spirit of Arius and Watts was but an AEon of the Gnostics.The scheme of Watts may be Gnosticism, but Christianity it is not.

James Wilson writes:

“In these quotations Watts cannot be misunderstood. He most distinctly denies the existence of three persons in the Trinity, and makes the Son and Holy Ghost to be mere faculties, physical faculties, or attributes. The Son and Holy Ghost, in his view, are no more persons, than the human understanding and will are persons.”

Wilson continues to state:

The progress of Arian and Socinian heresies, in the Reformed churches, both in Europe and America, has given just ground of alarm to the friends of truth, – to all who feel an interest in “the glory of the Lord God of Israel,” – to all who believe that Jesus Christ is ”Emmanuel, God with us.” Turrettin maintains,* that no anti-trinitarian can be saved, while continuing in the belief of antitrinitarianism. One text, on which he relies for the support of this position, is I John v. 20. “And we know that the Son of God is come, and hath given us an understanding that we may know him that is true; and we are in him that is true, even in his Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God and eternal life.” Jesus Christ is the true God, as well as the Son of God; and, by the knowledge of him as Jehovah Jesus, – God’s eternal Son by necessary generation, and exhibited in humanity as the Father’s righteous servant,** -justification unto life eternal is procured. Hence Turrettin reasons, that those who are ignorant of the one only living and true God, subsisting in three persons, co-equal, co-essential, and co-eternal, cannot have life eternal.

One can easily see my thinking when I compare the writings of Watt’s with the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Is this a level of blindness or denial on those who would still refuse to reject his hymns knowing these facts? I would have to say so. Just because I like a tune does not mean I will deny that which the Holy Spirit is revealing to me. When the word of God and His Spirit says jump, thats exactly what I do!


In a letter to Dr. Coleman of February 11th: 1747, accompanying his volume on “The Glory of Christ,” Dr. Watts says, “I think I have said every thing concerning the Son of God which Scripture says; but I could not go so far as to say, with some orthodox divines, that the Son is equal wit h the Father.”

For more from M’Master’s work: M’Masters

Pastor Angus Stewart has written a paper that is exceptional in regards to substituting Psalm singing with hymnody. He writes:

“Churches today usually sing three or four songs in their worship services. Every use of a “hymn” (an uninspired composition) displaces a Psalm. Each time this happens,

  • a God-breathed Psalm (II Tim. 3:16) is replaced by that which is not God-breathed
  • an infallible and inerrant Psalm (John 10:35) is replaced by that which is liable to error and, in many instances, errant
  • a Psalm written by a “holy man of God” who was “moved by the Holy Ghost” (II Peter 1:21) is replaced by a production of a man (or woman) who may or may not be holy and who certainly was not “moved by the Holy Ghost”
  • a divinely authorized Psalm (Ps. 95:2; James 5:13) is replaced by that which is not divinely authorized”

Stewart goes on to make some important distinctions about hymns and their writers:

“A number of Free Presbyterian hymns were written by Unitarians—modernists who deny the truth of the Holy Trinity, the Deity of Christ and of the Holy Spirit, the blood atonement of Christ, eternal punishment, etc. I John 2:22 declares, “He is antichrist, that denieth the Father and the Son.” Apparently, the Psalms of David—a man who wrote by the Spirit of Christ (I Peter 1:11) and was a type of Christ—are not sufficient, so the Free Presbyterian hymnal includes several hymns by Unitarian antichrists who deny the Son and (thereby) the Father.

Unitarian Sir John Bowring (1792-1872) wrote “In the cross of Christ I glory” (112). The cross, however, is the revelation of the eternal Son in whom all the divine fullness dwells (Col. 1:19-20) but Sir John denied Him. Jesus taught that “all men should honour the Son, even as they honour the Father. He that honoureth not the Son honoureth not the Father which hath sent him” (John 5:23). Is it right to claim to honour the Son in singing the hymns of a Christ-dishonouring Unitarian?

As well as being a Unitarian, Sir John was a radical politician and a disciple of atheistic philosopher, Jeremy Bentham, a leading exponent of the anti-Christian ethic of utilitarianism. Bentham died in Bowring’s arms and requested Bowring to publish his collected works. Sir John’s long and eventful life included imprisonment in France, well-nigh bankruptcy, financial irregularities and charges of plagiarism and drug trading. (Not drug selling but drug taking was the problem for Dorothy Greenwell, authoress of “I am not skilled to understand” [461], for “towards the end of her life she became addicted to opium” [ODNB, vol. 23, p. 614].) As to his personal character, Bowring was “often accused of vanity, obsequiousness, and worse” (see ODNB, vol. 6, pp. 987-990).

Unitarian Sarah Fuller Adams (née Sarah Fuller Flower; 1805-1848) was an actress who “had to give up a career on the stage because of illness” (Watson, The English Hymn, p. 429). Her “Nearer, my God, to Thee, // Nearer to Thee” (407) has an interesting publication history.

Together with twelve other hymns by Sarah Fuller Adams, it was published by W. J. Fox, a celebrated Unitarian minister, in Hymns and Anthems (1841), a book compiled for his congregation in South Place Chapel, Finsbury, London (Sarah Fuller Adams was a member of this congregation). It was common for Unitarian chapels to have their own individual hymn-book at this time (Watson [ed.], An Annotated Anthology, p. 281).

J. R. Watson makes several remarks on the content of the hymn:

Its Unitarian origins are seen in its third line [of the first stanza], where the Cross is not the sign of the Atonement but the Cross of earthly trouble and suffering … the last verse [or stanza] describes a mystical flight, the soul transformed into rapture in its journey upward to God [“Or if on joyful wing // Cleaving the sky, // Sun, moon, and stars forgot, // Upward I fly”] (Watson [ed.], An Annotated Anthology, p. 282).

Though many have made more “Christian” alterations to this hymn, the Free Presbyterian hymnal has not made any changes “to alter its distinctive character as a hymn to the FATHER alone” excluding the Second and Third Persons (DOH, p. 792).

Unitarian John Page Hopps (1834-1912) wrote the moralisms of hymn 451: “Father, lead me, day by day, // Ever in Thine own sweet way.” However, God is the “Father” and leader only of those whom He has “predestinated … unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ” (Eph. 1:5), the One who is “Lord” and “God” (John 20:28). Hopps, however, did not believe in Christ, our Lord and our God, and he did not make this confession.

Hopps’ radical politics included his advocacy of Home Rule for Ireland, contrary to the unionists who argued that “Home Rule is Rome Rule.” The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography continues,

[Hopps] moved on to new enthusiasms characteristic of a generation to whom traditional theological questions seemed increasingly irrelevant. Of these, the most remarkable was spiritualism, for which he was prepared by an early exposure to Swedenborgianism and by his mother’s spiritualist experiences and to which he turned during a mental crisis in the mid-1860s. His spiritualism was consistent with his all-embracing humanitarianism and expansive view of God as a spirit, not a person. Rejecting belief in the resurrection of the body, he was an early advocate of cremation (ODNB, vol. 28, p. 89).

Unitarian Julia Ward Howe (1819-1910) is the authoress of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” which begins “Mine eyes have seen the glory” (542). The hymn “was written in 1861 at the outbreak of the [American] Civil War, and was called forth by the sight of troups for the seat of war” (DOH, p. 1652). Evidently, the Lord was coming in the forces of the Union army! J. R. Watson writes,

The sheer zest of this hymn obscures its total commitment to war: Julia Ward Howe’s lines anchor the gospel of the coming of the kingdom to the troop review that she had just witnessed (from which come the burnished rows of steel, presumably the rifles or cannons of the Union regiments). He comes with a trumpet call:

He hath sounded forth the trumpet that shall never call retreat;—

And as he marches on there is trampling and crushing underfoot. The rapidity of the four-beat line has a tremendous momentum: the hymn was written at great speed, in the November dawn after the troop review, and its images contain an almost frenzied desire to overrun and destroy (“O be swift, my soul, to answer Him; be jubilant my feet!”) (Watson, The English Hymn, p. 477).

Unitarian Mrs. Howe’s hymn concludes “Our God is marching on!” but what God is being sung about? Not the Triune God and Father of the Lord Jesus Christ, but a Unitarian idol and a god of the “Union Cause.”

Interestingly all the Unitarian hymn-writers included in the Free Presbyterian Hymnal are “laypersons” penning their odes in the Victorian era (1837-1901). Ian Bradley’s thesis would seem to receive some support here: “Within the Victorian Free Churches hymn writing seems to have been more of a lay than a clerical activity. Perhaps the denomination in which it was most popular was Unitarianism” (Bradley, Abide with Me, p. 90; italics mine).

At the end of I John, the inspired apostle declares that God’s “Son Jesus Christ” is “the true God, and eternal life” (5:20). Then follows the exhortation, “Little children, keep yourselves from idols. Amen” (5:21). Is it appropriate to sing the hymns of idol-worshippers, who deny that Jesus Christ is “the true God,” in the church’s public worship? Why not sing the Psalms of holy David (a type of Christ) instead of the hymns of antichrists? Why not sing of the glory of the divine Messiah in the Psalms, such as, “Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever: the scepter of thy kingdom is a right scepter. Thou lovest righteousness and hatest wickedness …” (Ps. 45:6-7; cf. Heb. 1:8-9)?”

The above taken from: with permission.


You may be thinking at this point that I am being divisive with my observations. You might ask, “Scott, aren’t we all supposed to ‘strive for the purity, peace, unity and edification of the Church-isn’t that in the Book of Church Order for the Presbyterian Church in America?” Yes it is. I have had to pray about these things that recently have caused me grief. Does this upset the peace of the church? It could. What about unity? Of course. Does it edify? It should! Jesus Himself said that He came to bring a sword; to divide families, mother from daughter and father from son. Do I have the correct heart on the matter? If I told you I have cried for God’s people, especially those in my particular congregations, would that convince you of my heart towards the issue. Am I being schismatic? I would pray not. I want nothing less than unity. I pray for this often. How are men knitted in Christ? Through the truth.