PsalmodyHow to Properly Sing the Psalms; various quotes; prepared by R. Andrew Myers
IN WHAT MANNER SHOULD WE SING THE PSALMS?
1. Intelligently. We are rational beings. This is a reasonable service. “I will sing with the spirit, and I will sing with the understanding also.” It requires the concentrated action of all the mental faculties, as well as previous familiarity with the matter of the Psalms. On this account they should be regularly explained from Sabbath to Sabbath. Where their excellence is appreciated they will never be laid aside.
2. With the heart. God looketh on the heart. He says to every worshipper, “My son, give me thine heart.” When filled with love, and joy, and gratitude, how it beats responsive in his presence, imparts its own thrilling emotions to the music and the psalm, and pours out its richest and its sweetest treasures unsparingly at his feet! Without this, the finest music and the noblest Psalmody are empty and worthless offerings—not better than the husks which swine do eat.
3. With the voice. It is the divine outlet and utterance of the mind and heart in man. God’s voice is himself, and we receive it as such. So when we ask God to accept of us we say—hear my cry, attend to my voice. It is a distinctive and inseparable part of ourselves; the natural embodiment of our emotions and desires. We cannot give utterance to them without it. God has made it with special adaptation to this end, and therefore it is, beyond all comparison, the most consummate organ of expression and of praise. He formed it for himself, and claims its most skilful intonations for his worship. We insult, but do not praise God when we use mechanical instruments in its stead. If there be “no essential distinction between the music of the voice and the music of an instrument,” may we not use instruments to deepen and interpret our emotions in prayer as well as in praise? The church of Rome plays her litanies and masses with as much propriety and effect as she plays her anthems and oratorios. This substitution of man-made instruments and offices in place of God’s is the very core of Anti-Christian worship. The early Christians perfectly understood the symbolical import of the musical instruments which are mentioned in the book of Psalms, and could sing about them with as much freedom and intelligence as they sang of the sacrifices, which no one thinks of renewing. Thus Clement of Alexandria, at the close of the second century, refers to those mentioned in the 150th Psalm. “Praise him with the psaltery. The tongue is the psaltery of the Lord. Praise Him on the lyre. By the lyre is meant the mouth struck by the spirit as it were by a plectrum. Praise him on the chords and organ. Our body he calls an organ, and its nerves are the strings by which it has received harmonious tension, and when struck by the Spirit it gives forth human voices.” The common sense of the Church in all ages has declared that instrumental music may be calculated to gratify the senses and inflame the passions, but not to aid, unless as types or symbols, the devotions of men. It properly belongs to the public procession and the battlefield, to the theatre and the drinking saloon, but not to the Church of the living God.
4. With distinct enunciation. Every word, as well as every note, should be clearly pronounced. Otherwise, to a stranger coming into the Church, our singing might as well be in an unknown tongue.
5. Skilfully. The art of singing cannot be learned without much study and practice. It is a divine art, and should be cultivated incessantly for the glory of God’s name and the improvement of his worship. “As it is commanded of God that all should sing, so all should make conscience of learning to sing. Those, therefore, who neglect to learn to sing live in sin, as they neglect what is necessary to one of the ordinances of God’s worship.” If any say the heart is everything in praise, we reply they can have no heart whatever in the exercise who do not strive to perform it in the most skilful and perfect manner. In every congregation there should be a standing class for the improvement of sacred music.
6. With appropriate melody. Each psalm has its own character and style, and should have its own tune. The collection is not too large for this. The Reformers everywhere accomplished it with ease. Some of the longer historical psalms are specially adapted for chanting, and chanting is the most simple, ancient, and devotional form of all music. Every tune should be marked by a religious character; the singer and the hearer should at once feel that they are not in the theatre, or the concert-room, or in the private social party, but in the house of the most high God.
7. Harmoniously. All voices are not alike. In pitch as well as in tone they have deep natural distinctions. Instead of vainly trying to obliterate these distinctions, we should aim to harmonise them in God’s worship. Human voices resolve themselves into what is called four-part harmony, a natural arrangement by which the different voices of women and men are employed together, according to their pitch. Each individual should find out his own proper part, and cultivate and practise it in full-toned harmony with all the rest. When two or three meet together in the name of Christ they are required to agree together, or harmonise, as to what they shall ask, and as to their general intercourse and action for the common good. Should they not, in the same manner, tune their feelings and voices to sing together in the harmonious expression of their common praise?
8. In the way of direct and sustained adoration. “O come, let us sing unto the Lord. Let us come before his presence with thanksgiving, and make a joyful noise unto Him with psalms. For the Lord is a great God, and a great king above all gods.” Yet how often do the indolent posture, the wandering eyes, the frequent interruptions, that would not be permitted during prayer, indicate the want of that solemnity which befits an act of divine worship! When the Jews sang praises they bowed their heads and worshipped, and the redeemed in the Apocalyptic heaven fall down and cast their crowns before the throne. Should not we also take the attitude of highest respect and adoration when engaged in this exercise? “Thou, even thou, art to be feared; and who may stand in thy sight if once thou art angry?” “Praise ye the Lord. Ye that stand in the house of the Lord, in the courts of the house of our God.”
Josias A. Chancellor, The Psalmody of the Church (1873):
4. The manner in which psalms, &c. are to be sung may be next considered.
4a. Socially, and with united voices; so Moses and the children of Israel sung at the Red Sea; so Christ and his disciples sung after the Lord´s Supper; so the watchmen will sing in the latter day, even with their voice together; so did Paul and Silas in prison; and thus the churches are directed in Ephesians 5:19; Colossians 3:16.
4b. With the heart along with the mouth, as heartily as well as vocally, which is making “melody in the heart,” (Eph. 5:19) or performing the duty in sincerity and truth; and not as the Israelites, who flattered God with their lips, sung the praises of God, but soon forgot his works.
4c. “With grace in the heart,” (Col. 3:16) with the several graces; not one note, but a mixture of notes, makes melody; many voices, yet one sound, make a chorus: so singing must be with various graces; with faith in God, without which it is impossible to please him; and with strong love and affection for him; and also “with reverence and godly fear;” for God is “fearful in praises” arwn reverend in them, to be praised with great fear and reverence of his Majesty.
4d. “With the Spirit,” as the apostle Paul determined to do (1 Cor. 14:15), with the Spirit of God, whose assistance is necessary in this as in prayer; and with our spirits, sincerely, fervently, and affectionately, and in a spiritual manner, suitable to the nature of God, who is a Spirit.
4e. “With the understanding also;” with the understanding of what is sung; and in such a manner, and in such language, as may be understood by others; for one end of the duty is, not only to speak to ourselves in it, but to “teach” and “admonish” others; and perhaps the apostle may have some regard to one of the titles of David´s psalms lykvm “Maschil,” which signifies, a psalm giving instruction, and causing to understand. In a word, besides our mutual edification.
4f. We should have in view the glory of God; for we are to “sing unto the Lord;” not to ourselves, merely to raise our natural affections, to gain applause from others, by the fineness of our voice, and by observing an exact conformity to the tune; but to the glory of Father, Son, and Spirit, the one God, who condescends to inhabit the praises of Israel.
John Gill, from A Body of Practical Divinity
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.
From the Westminster Directory of Public Worship
It remains, that I now lay down some directions for the right performance of this duty of singing God’s praise; that we may do it with edification and comfort.
1. Reason, and the nature of the duty, plainly suggest several things, relating to the external manner of managing this service, which I shall barely name: such as, that some regard ought to be had to external harmony, that there may be melody made with our voices, as well as hearts:””care must be taken, that the tunes sung, and the manner of singing them, be only such as have a tendency to excite spiritual affections:””in the choice of the tune, some regard should be had to the matter that is sung: and””such tunes should be ordinarily sung, as the generality of the worshippers can join in; for without this, the end of singing is marred.
2. Every thing intended for scripture-psalmody should be used for that purpose; but prudence should direct us, in secret, family, and public praising, to make a wise choice of what is most seasonable: and therefore, upon public special occasions, we ought to have regard to those providences of God, that his church and people are then under; whether they be humbling or joyful:””some regard should be had to the other parts of worship with which this duty is joined; that there may be an harmony between one duty and another.””Christians, in their private families, should have regard to their family-state and circumstances, and the particular providences they are under, either in a way of judgment or mercy:””and private Christians may regard the particular state and present frame of their own souls. But it is a fond partialityof some people, to confine all their attention to some very few psalms that hit their fancy, and to neglect the rest.
3. All the powers of the soul should be summoned to a vigorous exertion in this delightful employment. When David was to bless God, he addressed his soul in these words, “Be stirred up, O my soul, and all that is within me, to bless his holy name.” [Ps 103:1] And again, “Awake up, my glory; awake, psaltery and harp; I myself will awake early,” Ps 57:10. Understanding, affection, and earnestness should mix in performing this heavenly work.
4. Sing praises with understanding, Ps 47:7. Blind devotion cannot please him that dwelleth in light and glory; [1 Tim 6:16] and it does not become the children of light, [Eph 5:8; 1 Thess 5:5] that are made light in the Lord. We should, like the apostle, sing with our understandings, 1 Cor 14:15, if we would honour the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost, who are that one God, who condescends to inhabit the praises of Israel.
5. Sing with the spirit, as well as with the understanding, 1 Cor 14:15, “God is a Spirit, and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth,” John 4:24 The best of Christians have good reason to join in the prayer of the church; Song 4:16, “Awake, O north wind, and come, thou south, blow upon my garden, that the spices thereof may flow out: let my beloved come into his garden, and eat his pleasant fruits.” Exalted joy in divine praise is a fruit produced only by the Holy Ghost.
6. This service must be performed unto the Lord: for so he hath commanded, Col 3:16. If it be done, only to be seen, heard, or applauded by men, verily we have all our reward. [Matt 6:2,5,16] We should honour this duty, as a divine institution, and aim at our own and our brethren’s edification, in performing it, as an act of obedience, and of homage due to God.
7. Christ, the Mediator of the new covenant, must be interested in our songs. Whatsoever we do in word or deed, we are commanded to do all in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, giving thanks to God and the Father by him, Col 3:17
8. In singing praise, we should make melody in our hearts to the Lord, Eph 5:19. The service is not worth the name of praise, if the melody of the heart be wanting. The voice may be musical and harmonious; but God cannot be honoured without it. When the heart echoes to the matter of the song, and its inmost springs of action are forcibly struck with the influence and excellency of the truth that is sung; this, I apprehend, constitutes the melody of the heart; then it sweetly chimes to the song.
9. Spiritual psalmists sing with grace in their hearts to the Lord, Col 3:16. Hence their hearts are fixed, and their souls are enlarged; their minds are engaged, and their songs are invigorated. Savoury and just sentiments of the grace of God are the most proper means of quickening the Christian to this honourable and delightful work. Under these views his song is swelled with transports of grateful joy, and with big, though humble, expectations of the heavenly city, whose walls are salvation, and whose gates are everlasting, adoring, and ravishing praise; where the cry will never cease, Grace, Grace. “”Amen, Hallelujah.
Archibald Hall, Gospel Worship, Chap. 4:
Q. 49&50.12. What should be the subject matter of our praises to God?
A. The psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, which are dictated by the Spirit of God in scripture; and not any human composure whatever, Eph 5:19.
Q. 49&50.13. In what manner should these be sung?
A. With grace in our hearts to the Lord, Col 3:16.
The Singing of Praise
1. The singing of praise is an ordinance of worship and is expressed in words set to music. The Psalms of the Bible, by reason of their excellence and their Divine inspiration and appointment are to be sung in the worship of God, to the exclusion of all songs and hymns of human composition. They are to be sung without the accompaniment of instruments, inasmuch as these are not authorized in the New Testament. The metrical versions of the Psalms used in the praise of God shall be such as may be approved from time to time by the church.2. All the people are under obligation to praise God and to sing thoughtfully, reverently, fervently, with grace in the heart, as becometh the worship of the High and Holy One. A knowledge of music should be cultivated, and the congregation should be trained in singing. None should be chosen to lead the singing in public worship who are not of recognized Christian character.
3. The oversight of the singing of praise in the congregation belongs to the session. Great care must be taken against the tendency to leave the singing to the choir, although under the guidance of session, for specific purposes, or in unusual circumstances, the choir may sing by itself. Congregational singing must always be the rule.
Explanation of the Psalm
4. The Psalms have a depth of meaning and beauty which cannot be fully appreciated without careful study. The custom of explaining the Psalm or a portion of the Psalm should be maintained, and for this the pastor should make careful preparation. The explanation may well present the central thought of the Psalm, the interpretation of passages that seem obscure, and the presence of Christ in the Psalm. It may on occasion be directed especially to the children. It should be brief and a stimulus to spiritual worship.
Guidance for the Singing of PsalmsIn the singing of the psalms we are greatly privileged in being able to give vocal expression to the Word of God. Music is a wonderful gift from God and this is particularly so when it is applied to the psalms as it gives expression to the words, helping to bring out their meaning and to impress it on our hearts.
This privilege carries with it a responsibility. In 1 Cor. 14: 15, we read, “˜. . . I will sing with the spirit and I will sing with the understanding also.´ Further in Col. 3:16, we find the words, “˜. . . teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.´The former verse tells us that the understanding is to be in our singing as well as in our hearts.The latter presents us with one of the reasons why. Our singing of praise is not just for ourselves as individuals. It is a corporate act in which we support and strengthen each other. It should also be a witness to visitors, particularly those who may not be familiar with this form of praise. If our singing is monosyllabic, mechanical and dull, the music will not bring out the meaning of the words and may well detract from them.
The following of some basic guidelines can make a marked difference to the impact of our singing. There are three things to consider:
The tempo or speed of singing should not be ponderous and sluggish so as to cause the words to be disconnected from each other. Neither should we sing with unseemly haste, as this will give no time to either express outwardly or consider inwardly the words. It is the precentor´s job to set the tempo and this should be followed by all to maintain a unity in the singing.
Secondly, we need to consider the dynamics or loudness of the music. The practice of some always to sing as loud as possible is crude and ineffective in portraying the meaning of the words. There are certainly psalms of jubilant praise but there are others that have different moods such as prayerfulness, penitence, reflection and instruction. Clearly, these require a more subdued character to our singing.
Expression marks have been included in the margin as a guide and the following is an explanation of the terms:
pp = pianissimo, very soft
p = piano, soft
mp = mezzo piano, rather soft
m = mezzo, medium voice
mf = mezzo forte, rather loud
f = forte, loud
ff = fortissimo, very loud
c = crescendo, increasing in loudness
d = diminuendo, decreasing in loudness
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, there is the stress given to the words. Think about the meaning and sentiment of the words and try to give them the same flow, stress and meaning as when reading.The writing of the psalms in metre has allowed the matching of the emphasis of each syllable to that of its corresponding note, using the natural structure and rhythm of the tunes.
Remember that the words are primary and that the tunes are there to support them and help us express them. As we sing in worship, let us do so to the best of our ability and to the glory of God.
As for the rest, it is necessary to remember that which St. Paul hath said, the spiritual songs cannot be well sung save from the heart. But the heart requires the intelligence. And in that (says St. Augustine) lies the difference between the singing of men and that of the birds. For a linnet, a nightingale, a parrot may sing well; but it will be without understanding. But the unique gift of man is to sing knowing that which he sings. After the intelligence must follow the heart and the affection, a thing which is unable to be except if we have the hymn imprinted on our memory, in order never to cease from singing. For these reasons this present book, even for this cause, besides the rest which has been said, ought to be singular recommendation to each one who desires to enjoy himself honestly and according to God, for his own welfare and the profit of his neighbors: and so there is need of all of it being much recommended by me: seeing that it carries its value and its praise. But that the world may be so well advised, that in place of songs in part vain and frivolous, in part stupid and dull, in part foul and vile, and in consequence evil and harmful which it has used up to now, it may accustom itself hereafter to the singing of these divine and celestial hymns with the good king David. Touching the melody, it has seemed best that it be moderated in the manner we have adopted to carry the weight and majesty appropriate to the subject, and even to be proper for singing in the Church, according to that which has been said.
CHAPTER III. The Manner of Praise.”They tune their hearts, by far the noblest aim.”—R. Burns.
I. How should praise be offered to God? With the voice, with “the spirit, and with the understanding.” Psa. 30:1; 145:1; 66:17; Heb. 13:15; 1 Cor. 14:15; Psa. 42:4.
II. Why should praise be offered with the voice? Does not God fully know all silent thoughts? Sentiments are capable of being rendered not only more attractive, but also more impressive, by their combination with musical sounds, especially when we “sing with grace in our hearts, making melody to the Lord.”
III. Why should praise be offered with the understanding? Some sounds are adapted to sentiments of social pleasure, others to emotions of sorrow; some to matters of sentimental taste, and others, the reverse of all these, to the worship of God.
V. Why must praise be offered with the spirit? Without the spirit, praise, as a part of religious worship, would not be acceptable to God. John 4:23,24.
XXIII. In what manner, then, should we sing these sacred songs to the praise of Jehovah? Always as an act of divine worship, with the spirit and with the understanding, with our voice, and with grace in our hearts, making melody to the Lord—individually—in families—and in the house of God. Avoiding the decorations of a theatrical and sentimental taste, and delighting ourselves in the word of Christ after the inward man, we will grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ; we will come to an innumerable company of angels, to the spirits of just men made perfect, and daily join with them in singing the song of Moses and of the Lamb.
But the right manner of this duty is chiefly to be noted. And here, (i) Trust not upon the melody of the voice, as if that pleased God, who delights only in the melody of the heart (Col. 3:16). Neither let the recreating your senses be your end, which is but a carnal work: Non musica chordula, sed cor; non clamans, sed amans, psallit in aure Dei: ‘Not a musical string, but the heart; nor crying, but loving sounds in the ear of the Lord.’ This spiritual music was typified by musical instruments of old. (ii) You must use it for the same end as meditation and prayer, according to the nature of what is sung, that is, to quicken faith (2 Chron. 20:21, 22; Acts 16:25, 26), and joy and delight in the Lord, glorying in Him (Ps. 104:33, 34; 105:3; 149:1, 2; 33: 1-3). You are never right until you can be heartily merry in the Lord, to act joy and mirth holily (James 5:13 ; Eph. 5:19 ), and also to get more knowledge and instruction in heavenly mysteries, and in your duty, teaching and admonishing (Col. 3:16). Many psalms are Maschils (as their title is), that is, psalms of instruction.
In these words here [Eph. 5.19] are two main things considerable viz. the lawfulness and the usefulness of singing psalms. We have done with the former, and now come to the latter viz. the usefulness of singing. This I call the directive part, or Directory, and in it we shall inquire into these two particulars viz. how we must sing, and why we must sing. The apostle shews both. We must sing with the heart, or with grace in the heart; and we must sing to the Lord. Singing and making melody in your hearts to the Lord; that is (say some) to the Lord Jesus Christ, or to the Lord Jehovah, i. e. to his praise and glory; as it is said of the Israelites, Psa. 106:12, “They sang his praises.” Now this the apostle calls for here, if we would sing a psalm as we ought, to the praise of the Lord, to the glory of his great name, we must do it in or with the heart. God is a Spirit, and will be worshipped in spirit, John 4:24. He calls for the heart, “My son, give me thy heart.” So Chrysostom upon this text, “attending with understanding.” The meaning of the apostle is clear and unquestionable, that our singing of psalms must not be a lip-labour, an outward bodily exercise, it must not be the pleasing ourselves or others with the tune of a psalm; that is not it which God looks for at our hands, but we must sing as Mary did, Luke 1:46,47, “My soul doth magnify the Lord, my spirit rejoiceth in God my Saviour.” And as David in the 103rd psalm, “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name.” This is that which the apostle here calls for, and it implies these two particulars:1. A sense and understanding of that which is sung, “I will sing with the understanding,” saith the apostle, that is, so as I would be understood by others, therefore by himself much more, “Sing ye praises with understanding;” a blind sacrifice was an abomination to the Lord.
2. 1t must be with an inward feeling and affection of the heart and spirit. So David in Psalm 57:7 “My heart is fixed, my heart is fixed,” or, my heart is prepared, or my heart is disposed. When a man’s heart is filled with the Spirit, as the apostle speaks, when a man’s heart is full of holy and heavenly thoughts, affections, and meditations, and so “out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks; when the frame of a man’s heart is suitable to the holy and spiritual matter that is sung, this is singing in the heart, or with grace in the heart to the Lord, who looks at the heart, and how a man is affected within. Certainly (as one says) grace in the heart is the best tune to any psalm; and without this, sweetest best tuned voice is but howling and bawling, in the ears of the Almighty. Yet do we not exclude the voice in singing. David used it, “I will sing and give praise even with my glory; Awake psaltery and harp, I myself will awake early.” “Awake up my glory,” says David; that was his tongue, called his glory, because his tongue in singing was an excellent instrument of glorifying God. Nor do we exclude all modulation or tuning of the voice according to the laws of music, provided there be no affectation of it so as our hearts be wholly taken up with it. Provided also there be no empty tautologies or chanting over and over the same things, tossing of the word of God like a tennis-ball from one to the other, like that cathedral music intended only to please the ear, and no way ordered to the use of edifying in grace and knowledge. But for the voice in singing we plead, and also for singing with tunes. All the psalms were penned in Hebrew metre, with the exactest art that might be. They were penned (saith one) with, “exactness and variety of metre.” 1. In such verses as are suitable to the poetry of the Hebrew language, and not in the style of such other books of the Old Testament as are not poetical. 2. Many verses together in several of the psalms do also run in rhymes, as those know that understand the Hebrew; and as Buxtorf shews, Thesaur. 629. But, though we plead for singing with the voice, yet our chiefest respect in that singing must be unto the heart and spirit, to the understanding and to the affection and inward feeling of what is sung, for this is to sing with grace in the heart.
Hence it follows that none can sing a psalm as he ought, but he that hath grace in his heart and is renewed in the spirit of his mind. None could learn that song, Rev. 14:3, but the hundred forty and four thousand which were redeemed from the earth; which was only the people of God who stood in opposition to Antichrist; and by their singing there is meant all spiritual worship performed by God’s people to him. It is said there, “No man could learn that song, but those that were redeemed from the earth;” the Antichristian earthly generations had no skill on the spiritual worship and service offered to God in the true Christian church. Therefore the psalmist saith (speaking of this duty) “Rejoice in the Lord, O ye righteous, for praise is comely for the upright;” it is impossible for others to rejoice in the Lord. Only God’s own people have an inward experimental knowledge of the glorious excellencies and attributes of God, viz. his power, wisdom, goodness, &c. They only have tasted how sweet the Lord is in his promises and providences. They know, and none but they, what the offices of Christ are, in the power, fruit, and benefit of them. They know what it is to be redeemed from the earth, and from death, and from the nethermost hell. They only have experience of the mercy and loving kindness of the Lord, supporting, supplying them, and ordering all for good to them. And they alone have a lively feeling of their infirmities, sigh and groan under the burden of their corruptions, are troubled for the indisposition and untowardness of their hearts. These and such as these, who are so inspired and affected, can sing David’s psalms with David’s spirit. Others may sing more pleasingly to the ear, but these alone make melody in the ears of the Lord, who looks at the heart.
That’s it we desire to be satisfied in: how we may sing David’s psalms with David’s heart.
1. It is commonly, truly, and piously said, we must sing David’s psalms with David’s spirit, though there is no text in the Bible, to my remembrance that hath those very words; but some speak somewhat to this effect, as Col. 3:16, we must sing “with grace in our hearts,” that is as much as if he should have said, Sing David’s psalms with David’s spirit.
2. We grant it is impossible for any to sing psalms so, but one that is a new creature, renewed in the spirit of his mind, as David was.
3. We say in the general, to sing David’s psalms with David’s spirit, or to sing with grace in our hearts to the Lord, there must be not only an habitual, but an actual disposedness, as when a man sets upon any duty, he must stir up the grace that is in him; so it is not enough in singing psalms to have an habit of grace, but we must stir up, and act the gifts and graces of God within us. Here then this will be the great question: how our spirits ought to be disposed when we are to sing, that we may so do it as to give God the glory, and gain benefit to our own souls? Or, (which is all one) how we may sing David’s psalms with David’s spirit? Or how we may sing with grace in our hearts unto the Lord? which is the doctrine in the text.
Now here I meet with that which is a very great scruple, and I believe hath taken and kept off many from singing of psalms. They know not how to accommodate passages in them; either those passages are no way suitable to their conditions, or their affections many times are not suitable to those passages; and hence they conclude they cannot sing them so as to praise or please God in them, and therefore resolve not to sing at all.
Further, when they say we must sing David’s psalms with David’s spirit (if I mistake not) their meaning is, we must be in every respect like David, and in the very same case that it was when he sang these psalms to the Lord. As for instance, the sixth psalm was penned by David when he was or had been sick, therefore we cannot sing this psalm when we are well and in good health. So we cannot sing the 51st psalm, because (as we hope) many of us have not committed such foul sins as David had, viz. adultery and murder. So many of us have not had occasion to fly out of our country as David had, upon which occasion he penned some of his psalms, as Psalm 52, 54, 55, 56, 57, 120, &c. So many of us have not a house to dedicate or purify, as David had when he penned the thirtieth psalm, and therefore we may not sing that psalm. To conclude, we must be in the same condition in every respect, as David was when he penned those psalms, or else it is impossible to sing them as David did; that is, to sing David’s psalms with David’s spirit.
247. Discuss with them [your children] how people must sing the Psalms in a manner that is pleasing to God. Make clear to them that they must not only use their voices but also pay attention to what they are singing, lift up their hearts to God in the singing, and rejoice in him. Otherwise the singing will be held by God to be the howling of animals. Tell them how they must behave themselves before, during, and after the singing, and talk with them on this subject all the more because this way of worshipping is usually practiced in an external manner.
Q. In what doth singing of psalms properly consist? — A. In praising God with our lips, for what he is, and has done, with cheerfulness of heart, Psalm cx. cxlv.–cl.
Q. In what manner should we sing in praising God? — A. With understanding, love, and affection to God.
2. Singing of psalms is a divine ordinance, being,
1. Prescribed; “be filled with the spirit: speaking to yourselves in psalms, and hymns, and spiritual songs,” Eph. v. 18, 19. “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms, and hymns, and spiritual songs,” Col. iii. 16.2. Regulated; the right performance thereof being laid down, “I will sing with the spirit, and I will sing with the understanding also,” 1 Cor. xiv. 15, 16. “Singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord,” Col. iii. 16. “Singing and making melody in your hearts to the Lord,” Eph. v. 19.
We are to consider how men break this command (i.e., the second commandment–Kaalv.) in praise and thanksgiving: and here there is a failing in general. 1. In the utter neglect of this necessary duty: Alas, what of that duty we do in secret, and yet it is singularly for God’s honour and as clear a duty as prayer! 2. In mocking praise often, by profaning psalms for our carnal mirth. 3. In neglecting and slighting of it, though not altogether, yet by unfrequent going about it. 4. In accounting it to be almost no duty at all, and in being but little challenged for slighting of it, or for irreverent using of it.
2ndly, We sin before we go about this duty: 1. In not preparing for it. 2. In not praying for the Spirit, to fit and enable us to praise, 1 Cor. 14:15, and for a fixed heart for that work, Psalm 108:1. 3. In our not aiming at a spiritual disposition for such a spiritual duty. 4. In our not endeavouring for a right impression of the majesty of God. And, 5. For clearness of our interest in him. And, 6. For an impression of the excellency of his way, and meaning of his word; all which are exceeding necessary unto the right performance of this duty, and without them we cannot praise suitably.3rdly, We are guilty of many faults in the time of praising: 1. Doing it without respect to God’s glory, and for the fashion only. 2. Hypocrisy, not praising him with the whole heart, performing it only with the lips, when the heart is away. 3. Ignorance, when we want understanding of the words we express. 4. No suitable impression of God’s greatness and goodness upon our hearts when we praise. 5. Not aiming at communion with God in this duty, as desiring, minding, and hoping to praise him for ever. 6. Not being taken up with spiritual and heavenly delight in him, and in the work of his praise. 7. Lightness, laughing or mainly affecting of and carnally doting upon some tone or voice more than being suitably affected with the matter, and making melody in the heart to the Lord. 8. Forgetting what we do sing, and not knowing or considering what it is we sing, the heart not being present nor fixed. 9. Not being constrained by love to praise, but some custom or natural conscience constraining us to it. 10. Not offering up our praises in and through Christ Jesus, Heb. 13:15. 11. Soon satisfied in our praising, as if we were little troubled to be fitted for it, and because little of ourselves lieth in it, we are the less careful how we discharge it, but stint and limit ourselves to some certain customary matter, which puts us to few prayers before, and makes but few challenges after. 12. Not intermixing ejaculatory prayers in our praisings. 13. Much hypocrisy when we sing the cases of others, or their thoughts and estimation of God, and study not to be something like their frame and exercise. 14. Not framing our affections in praising to the subject of our praise; whether it be some sad case, or some cheerful condition, or some historical or prophetical subject; and when imprecations are a part of the song, we soon fall off, or praise one and the same way in all. 15. Not serious in blessing God for former mercies to his servants, if it be not so well with us in the mean time, or cheerfully acknowledging his former deliverances of his church and people, in which we have not personally shared. 16. Not being affected with his keeping of us free of many sad cases we sing, and others have been in, nor blessing him for delivering them. 17. Not letting the word of the Lord, which we sing, sink down in us for engaging our hearts to and cheering our spirits in good. 18. Not assenting to and giving him glory in the acknowledgment of the justness of his severest threatenings, and the most fearful scripture imprecations. 19. Not rightly observing those things that are the subject-matter of scripture songs, so as to put a difference between some things we are to tremble and scare at, such as the falls of the saints, and other things which we are to imitate and follow for our edification. 20. Gadding in idle looks, so that some scarce look on their books (although they can read) that they may the better have the sense of what they sing. 21. Not putting a difference betwixt praying a petition that is in a psalm, and singing of it, which should have a sweetness with it that may encourage us to pray for, and expect what others before us have obtained. 22. Wanting such considerations about the matter sung, when it suits not our present case, as may suitably affect us, and fit us to glorify God in that duty: as when we sing of the eminent holiness of some of the saints, we are to bless him that ever any was so holy, whatever be our sinfulness; and that we have hope of pardon, though under many failings, and much unlikeliness to that case we sing. 23. Not singing with the voice at all, although the tongue be given us as our glory, that we may therewith thus glorify God.4thly, After we have been about this duty of praise, we sin: 1. By falling immediately into a carnal frame. 2. Not looking back or examining, when we have done, how we have carried it in praising God. 3. Few challenges for our many failings in praise. 4. Little repentance for those failings. 5. Not keeping the heart right for a new opportunity of praise. 6. Not keeping a record of his mercies in our memories, and upon our hearts, to engage us to praise him. 7. Not walking in the exercise of love, which would sweetly constrain us to this duty, and make us delight in it.
VIII. WE BREAK THIS COMMANDMENT IN THE MANNER OF PRAISING GOD.
Praise is offered to God for what he is, and for what he does. In the latter case it is commonly called thanksgiving. Both Scripture and providence frequently summon us to this duty. If it is a mark of bad manners not to thank men for acts of kindness; surely it is a mark of a bad heart not to thank the Lord for his boundless goodness. Like prayer, praise is mentioned several hundred times in the Scriptures. It seems to be taught by natural religion. Even the heathen praise their gods. Judg. xvi. 23, 24; Dan. v. 4. Let us notice several particulars. 1. Our great error respecting this duty is, that we do not engage in it with sufficient frequency or fervency. If we were more thankful for the merices we receive, we should doubtless receive more mercies to be thankful for. As God’s nature is unchangeable and his compassions infinite, it is impossible for us to praise him too much. It is much to be lamented that the children of sorrow should ever feel themselves exempt from the obligations of this duty. The most afflicted of mere men in the depths of his sorrows, cried out, “Blessed be the name of the Lord.” Job. i. 21. It should greatly commend this duty to us, that it is very delightful and refreshing to a contrite heart; and that if through grace, we shall ever reach the kingdom of God, praise will be our employment for ever. No soul, that has been washed in atoning blood, shall, in passing Jordan, lose its harp. No! on the other side of “the river that has no bridge,” the hand that had on earth touched its strings but feebly and awkwardly, shall strike them with a vigour and accuracy that shall entrance itself, and shall be well-pleasing to God. Paul says love is greater than faith or hope, not beause it is more necessary here, but because it shall last for ever. By parity of reasoning, praise is greater than prayer or fasting. Ps. civ. 33, cxlvi. 2. The chief revenue God gathers from our lost world, is from the praises of his loving, penitent people. Can it be doubted that many of the dismal fears and terrible misgivings of God’s children would vanish, if they did properly abound in this duty? “Whoso offereth praise glorifieth me: and to him that ordereth his conversation aright, will I show the salvation of God.” “Is any merry? Let him sing psalms.” Ps. l. 23; James v. 13.2. Some seem to have the impression that under the old dispensation, abundant praise was more required than under the new. But that is surely a mistake. “Be careful for nothing: but in every thing by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known unto God.” Phil. iv. 6. “Be filled with the Spirit: speaking to yourselves in psalms, and hymns, and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord; giving thanks always for all things unto God and the Father, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Eph. v. 18-20. If Old Testament saints had much cause for abounding in praise and thanksgiving, as none but the wicked will deny; surely New Testament saints have much greater cause for doing the same. “For if the ministration of condemnation be glory, much more doth the ministration of righteousness exceed in glory…. If that which was done away was glorious, much more that which remaineth is glorious.” 2 Cor. iii. 9, 11. And if we are thus surrounded by the “glory that excelleth,” we ought to say so in praises, and thanksgivings, and thundering hallelujahs.3. We sin against the ordinance of praise and thanksgiving when we reject it altogether, either from public or private worship, Ps. l. 23; when we do not abound in it, Ps. liii. 9; when we engage in it in a frivolous spirit, Ps. iv. 4; when neither our understandings nor our hearts are truly engaged in the work, 1 Cor. xiv. 15; when we waver in this duty; when we look upon it as a task, Mal. i. 13; when we go from this duty and are no more thoughtful or watchful than we were before, Haggai i. 5-7; when we are willing the work of praise should be performed in an unedifying manner, 2 Chron. xxix. 11; when we enter into this service with malignant hearts, Luke vi. 37; when without sufficient cause, we excuse ourselves from uniting our voices with God’s people in this service, Ps. xvi. 9, xxx. 12, lvii. 8; when in our praises we have not a due deference to the mediation of Jesus Christ, Heb. xiii. 15; when we hinder or discourage others from engaging in this duty; and when this part of divine worship is performed in any way contrary to the requirements of God in all acts of worship previously stated.
On Singing of Praise.
Where can grave, sweet melody be applied, with such propriety, as to the sacred subjects of religion? By this, devotion is invigorated, joy is heightened into rapture, divine truths are better impressed upon the heart, and fixed in the memory. Distempered passions are allayed, and heavenly affections are inspired. Even as the hand of the Lord was upon the prophet, when he called for a minstrel, and the evil spirit departed from the king of Israel, while David touched, with his skilful hand, the sweet resounding harp. From the most remote ages, and from the most remote places of the world, have we heard songs, even glory to the righteous.To this heavenly mirth the Christian is inspired, not by the fumes of wine, wherein is excess; but being filled with the Spirit, he speaks to himself in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs; singing and making melody in his heart unto thee. He makes the voice of his praise to be heard, not only in the public assembly, but in his private dwelling.Though there are peculiar seasons of this duty, when it is more remarkably incumbent; yet he sees abundant reason to bless the Lord at all times, and to have his praise continually flowing from his lips. – Even in the night of his distress, oft times he has a song, when all joy would seem to be darkened, when his harp would seem to be turned into mourning, and his organ into the voice of them that weep. Thus Paul, with Silas, sung at the dead hour of midnight, though their backs were coloured with ignominious scourges, and their feet made fast in the stocks.Though he despises not the melody of the voice, yet, by itself alone, he accounts it no more but bodily exercise, that profits little. Therefore, he uses it only in a subserviency to his devotion; and rests not in it as his ultimate end. What he chiefly attends unto, is, that he may sing praises with understanding, and with grace.His praising is his reasonable service. And though the subject sung should not exactly suit his own case – though it should be some dreadful imprecation, uttered by the spirit of prophecy; some high, attainment, to which he is not arrived; some deep distress, which himself is unacquainted with – yet, by ejaculatory prayers, and serious meditation, he can digest even these seemingly foreign subjects into the nourishment of his soul, and sing of them to the praise and glory of God.As far as in him lies, he wants to have these affections set a working, and these graces educed into exercise, that are naturally required by the theme of which he sings: be they holy joy, fervent love, burning gratitude, reverential fear, or godly sorrow. – But chiefly the grace of faith must never fail to be acted, in this as in other parts of worship. Christ is the chief musician, to whom his songs are inscribed. – Christ is his altar, by which he offers up his sacrifice of praise continually.And here can I forget to celebrate the fulness and variety of that little bible, composed by the Hebrew king and prophet? What attribute of God does he not describe in lofty numbers? What work suffers he to pass uncelebrated or unsung? What moral duty, what Christian grace, is not here recommended? What possible case is not here painted? To what distemper of the soul may we not find here a sovereign remedy? Here the secure may find what is proper for their awakening, the disconsolate for reviving, the doubting for directing, the feeble for supporting, to make them be as David.What mortal pen can equal the sublimity of his thoughts, the liveliness of his metaphors, the majesty of his descriptions? Which of his psalms may not say, “I am fearfully and wonderfully made?” – When he displays the glory of the God of Israel, thousands of mighty angels stand before him; “God is in the midst of them, as in mount Sinai.” Now he flies on the wings of the wind, and rides on flaming cherubim. – His lightnings lighten the world. The earth trembles at his approach. The mountains melt as the snow that covers them. The foundations of the world are discovered. The floods drive back their tides. The mountains skip like rams.Now he sets him on a throne, of which justice and judgment are the foundation: and mercy accompanied with truth go before his face. Now he describes the fierceness of his anger; and rains down snares, fire, brimstone, and an horrible tempest. Darting his eye through distant ages, he brings down the Son of God to dwell in clay; a body is prepared him. The Jews are filled with rage against the Lord’s anointed. He hears his melancholy groans. Sees his heart melting like wax in the midst of his bowels. – But he leaves not his soul in hell. Messias lives, ascending on high, and leads captivity captive. Rejoice, ye worlds of blessedness. Be lifted up, ye everlasting doors, and the King of glory shall come in.
Further, fuch pfalmes were committed to thefe Mafters of the Mufick, to require other to fing them, and the Apoftle, Col 3, 16, requireth that wee fhould fpeake vnto ourfelues, that is, amongft ourfelues, one to another, in pfalms and hymnes, fo as that it may be a great fhame to vs, if not ftaying all ribaldrie fongs and vaine fonets, we procure not the pfalmes euen of others to be fung. Dauid would not els fo oft haue made it his exercife, and prouoked other thereto. And for the better directing our finging, we muft doe it with vnderftanding, Pfalme 47, 8, that is, firft, that ourfelues may vnderftand, otherwife, we were as good to fol fa, or found as inftruments doe.
Secondly, if wee be with companie, others muft vnderftand vs, as that our finging may be with grace, as Col 3, 16, miniftring occafio of profitable matter & inftruction in grace.Thirdly, it muft be done with the hart. Col, 3, 16 with feeling affections and cheerfulneffe.Fourthly, it muft be to the Lord, that is, the hart lifted vp vnto God, and refting in the found of Mufick, but hauing the minde fet vpon the matter. Hence followeth, that euen in finging, it beeing to be performed to God, it fhould be with great reuerence.
To perform this duty aright, therefore, it will be found necessary not only to cultivate a musical quality of voice, without which the singing must necessarily be indifferently performed, but, what is of still greater importance, we must seek to bring all the desires of our hearts and the purposes of our lives into harmony with the character and will of Him Whose praises we sing, else our praise service will be one in which the lips participate, but in which the heart finds no interest. A proper performance of this duty, however, requires that we
“Sing till we feel our hearts Ascending with our tongues; Sing till the love of sin departs, And grace inspires our songs.”Whoever, therefore, has any thought or desire to participate in such a service as this up yonder would do well to put himself in training for it by cultivating a voice and heart fitted to sing songs of praise to God on earth.
David did not only raise himself up from his indisposing drowsiness (going out with Samson to shake it off from him [Judg. 16:20]) but he reckoned God’s statutes, which he made his songs in the house of his pilgrimage, to be better to him than ten thousands of gold and silver. They were the rejoicing of his heart, as his best inheritance. “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly” (Col. 3:16). Indwell in you: it must be in you and in you again, well digested and turned into juice and blood, and this cannot be so well effected by a brief and cursory reading of the Word, as it may be by the singing of it. Wherein there is a distinct and fixed meditation upon it, and upon every syllable of it while it is leisurely sounded out by the voice; the longer that you ponder it in your mind, the more likely may it have a strong influence on your affections; this pausing and pondering does chase, supple and work the Word into your spirit, and so makes it both a refreshing and a ravishing ordinance to you, having a more intense violence upon your heart than bare reading; for hereby God’s Word takes a deeper impression upon you, and those things that you did know before, come to be better known and more graciously understood, the Spirit of God sealing them upon your soul. Then does the Word of Christ dwell in you richly, and you give rich and liberal entertainment to it, and you will account all other but trivial trash to this true measure.
3. The manner of singing. — Our text saith, “making melody;” with inward joy and tripudiation of soul: if the tongue make the pause, the heart must make the elevation. The apostle saith to the Colossians: “We must sing with grace;” (Col. iii. 16; ) which is, as some expound it, (1.) Cum gratiarum actione, “with giving of thanks.” — And, indeed, thankfulness is the very Selah of this duty, that which puts an accent upon the music and sweetness of the voice; and then we sing melodiously when we warble out the praises of the Lord. (2.) With gracefulness. — With a becoming and graceful dexterity. And this “brings both profit and pleasure” to the hearers, as Davenant observes. Psalms are not the comedies of Venus, or the jocular celebrations of a wanton Adonis; but they are the spiritual ebullitions of a composed soul to the incomprehensible Jehovah, with real grace. God’s Spirit must breathe in this service; here we must act our joy, our confidence, our delight. Singing is the triumph of a gracious soul, the child joying in the praises of his Father. In singing of psalms, the gracious heart takes wings, and mounts up to God, to join with the celestial choir. It is grace which fits the heart for, and sweetens the heart in, this duty. And where this qualification is wanting, this service is rather an hurry than a duty; it is rather a disturbance than any obedience.
Psalms should always be sung to an appropriate tune. Some Psalms like the fifty-first are penitential; some like the second are victorious; some are joyful like the one hundred and forty-eighth, some are deeply reflective like the one hundred and thirty-ninth; and some have a missionary vision like the eighty-seventh. In each case an appropriate tune, reflecting the mood of the Psalm should be chosen.
The Psalms should be sung thoughtfully. The tune should never be so complicated that the worshipper is more concerned with it than with the words he is singing. The average congregation does not have the musical expertise of a trained choir. Every effort, however, should be made to improve congregational singing. There is no excuse for the careless and the slovenly: that is not to the Glory of God. Ministers need to remind their people of the importance of singing thoughtfully. To sing thoughtlessly is not to praise God.
II. ‘Another private duty, is singing of Psalms;’ for this may and ought to be performed in your families, as well as in the congregation. This David commended for one duty of the Sabbath: as Psalm xcii.1. The title of the Psalm is, ‘A psalm or song for the Sabbath day.’ And thus it begins; ‘It is a good thing to give thanks unto the Lord, to sing praises unto thy name, O most High.’
For the manner of performing this duty, the apostle, (Col. iii.16.) giveth us these directions, in these words, ‘Singing with grace in your hearts, to the Lord.’1. ‘First, Therefore, it must be in the heart, or with the heart;’ that is our hearts must go with our voices, the one must we lift up as well as the other: for, God is a Spirit, and therefore, will be worshipped with our hearts and spirits, as well as with our bodies. And truly, singing with the voice, without the concurrence of the heart and spirit, is no more pleasing unto God, than a sounding brass or a tinkling cymbal.2. ‘As we must sing with the heart, so, with grace in the heart;’ that is, we must exercise the graces of God’s holy Spirit in singing, as well as in praying; laboring to express the same affection in singing the psalm, as David did in penning it. As, if it be a psalm of confession, then to express some humility, and brokenness of heart and spirit in singing. If it be a psalm of prayers and petitions, then must our affections be fervent. If a psalm of praises and thanksgiving, then must our heart be cheerful. And thus must the affection of the heart be ever suitable to the quality of the psalm.
And if in the Profecution of thefe Defigns, we add the method of Singing, which is the way to be filled with the Spirit, from whence the PSALMS are dictated, Behold the Spiritual Songs now put into a Condition for it, that we may in our Heart make Melody unto the Lord.