The regulative principle

Various Quotes on Proper Songs to Be Sung in Worship


“By psalms are meant the Psalms of David, and others that compose the book that goes with that name; and by hymns we are to understand, not such as are made by good men, without the inspiration of the Spirit of God; since they are placed between psalms and spiritual songs, made by men inspired by the Holy Ghost … but these are only another name for the book of Psalms, the running title of which may as well be the book of Hymns, as it is rendered by Ainsworth … and by spiritual songs are meant the same Psalms of David, Asaph, etc. and the titles of many of them are songs … These three words answer to Mizmorim, Tehillim, and Shirim, the several titles of David’s Psalms …”
Dr. John Gill (1697-1771), English Baptist, commenting on Ephesians 5:19

“The learned observe, these are the express titles of David’s Psalms, mizmorim, tehillim, and Shirim, which the Septuagint translate, psalmoi, humnoi, and odai, ‘psalms, hymns, and songs,’ [and] seem to recommend to us the book of David’s Psalms.”
Thomas Manton (1620-1677), English Puritan, commenting on Ephesians 5:19

“The apostle names three sorts of them [i.e. ‘divine canticles’], psalms, hymns, or praises, and odes, or songs … You have various examples of them all in the book of Psalms … It is with these sacred lyres, of which the word of Christ affords us both the matter and the form, that the apostle would have us solace ourselves. St. James gives us orders for it: ‘Is any among you merry? let him sings psalms,’ James 5:13. The apostle calls all these sonnets spiritual, both on account of their author, who is the Holy Spirit, and also of their matter, which concerns only divine and heavenly things, the glory of God, and our salvation …”
John Daille (1594-1670), French Huguenot commenting on Colossians 3:16
“In both which places (Eph. 5:19, Col. 3:16), as the apostle exhorteth us to singing, so he instructeth us what the matter of our song should be, to wit, Psalmes, hymnes, and spirituall Songs. Now these three be the very titles of the Songs of David, as they are delivered to us by the Holy Ghost himself: some of them are called Mizmorim, that is Psalmes; some Tehillim, that is Hymnes; some Shirim, that is Songs, spirituall Songs. Now what reason can be given why the apostle should direct us in our singing to the very titles of David’s Psalms, if it were not his meaning that we should sing them? … The words of David and Asaph, as they were the words of Christ in the mouth of David and Asaph: so they were the words of Christ also in the mouths of the sonnes of Corah, or any other singers in the Temple.”
“But some one insists that, while the use of the Psalms of the Bible is proper, sacred songs written by uninspired men may be used, since they are nowhere forbidden. That is, however, the old plea of the Roman Catholic, that things not contrary to the Word of God may be introduced. On the same principle the worship of the Virgin Mary, confession to the priest, paying money to get friends out of purgatory, the sale of indulgences to commit sin, and the whole legion of such absurdities and heresies find an open door, and may come in to corrupt and degrade the Church of God. This old plea that things not forbidden may be introduced into the worship of the Church is a Trojan horse in which all manner of corruptions and abominations can clandestinely creep into the very holy of holies of the worship of the Church…When you have made an opening in the door of God’s house large enough to admit songs of praise which God has not authorized, that same hole will admit the worship of the Virgin Mary, prayers to St. Peter, confession to the priest, holy water, kissing the pope’s toe, and the whole brood of pollutions and monstrosities from which the Church escaped in the tremendous revolution and reformation of the sixteenth century. The great principle that only what is commanded has a place in the worship of God was one of the cornerstones of the Reformation ; without it the great battle of Protestantism against Romanism could never have been fought out and won. In asserting this doctrine we are simply calling the Church back to one of the great attainments of the Reformation, when purity of worship and the inspired songs of God’s Word had the right of way in all the Reformed Churches.”
By The Rev. William H. Vincent, D. D., Allegheny, Pa.

Calvin’s other reform of congregational worship was his insistence that singing should include only the words found in the Bible. Luther wanted the hymns of the Church to reflect as closely as possible the exact words of scripture. Calvin went a step further. He felt that the singing of the express words of only the psalms, though he did permit the singing of other select scripture texts, ensured that Divine revelation was being put to music. The only notable musical contribution of the early Calvinist churches was therefore the Psalters, metrical translations of the Book of Psalms. 24 In 1524, Theodore de Beze introduced congregational psalmody to the German-speaking Calvinist churches in Strasbourg where he was pastor. In 1533, Calvin presented the Genevan Psalter that was followed by the editions of 1542, 1551. When Calvin became the pastor of the French-speaking congregation in Strasbourg in 1538, he introduced the French Psalter that was later published in its complete form in 1562. Clement Marot and Beza, the latter Calvin’s eventual successor at Geneva, translated the texts from the psalms, with Loys Bourgeois composing the melodies using a simple chord style. Calvinist congregations sung the metrical psalms unaccompanied and in unison. In 1537, Calvin sought to codify the practice of exclusive psalmody citywide; he approached the city council of Geneva to present a set of Articles intended to bring the church at Geneva into conformity with what he viewed as the pattern of New Testament worship. 25 Later settings of the psalms were more contrapuntal: Claude Le Jeune exchanged the tunes and composed what have been equated to free motets. 26 Another important French composers of metrical psalms, was Claude Goudimel. Jan Sweelinck was the most important composer in the Netherlands. England, Germany, and Scotland developed their own versions and translations of the Principal French Psalter. The Principal French Psalter was also seminal in the creation of the first American Psalter, the Bay Psalm Book.”

John Barber – Luther and Calvin on Music and Worship