Exclusive Psalmody FAQ
Or Ten Common Objections to Exclusive Psalmody Answered
Copyright 1998 First Presbyterian Church Rowlett

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[From The True Psalmody, Anthology of Presbyterian & Reformed Literature, volume 4, 1991, Naphali Press. While the following was first published in the middle of the nineteenth century, it is still very relevant to the subject.] The following summary answers to arguments for the use of hymns, and to objections to the use of the Psalms in worship, are taken from a condensed summary on the subject of Psalmody annexed to Rev. R. J. Dodd’s Reply to Morton.

It is objected –

1. ‘That the singing of uninspired composition, in divine worship, is not forbidden in the word of God.’

Answer. Neither are we forbidden to observe seven sacraments. In determining whether or not this or that particular service should be made a part of God’s worship, the absence of divine appointment, amounts, in all cases, to a prohibition.

2. ‘That good men have composed hymns of human composure.’

Answer. (1.) The best of men are liable to do things which will dishonor God, and injure the church. (2.) There are many good men who would not dare, either to compose a song to be sung in divine worship, or to offer to God a song composed by man.

3. ‘That those who use human psalmody, are more numerous than those who use only the book of Psalms in singing God’s praises.’

Answer. (1.) It was not always so; and the time may yet come, when it will cease to be so. (2.) The multitude are not always – nor have they hitherto commonly been right, in matters of faith, and religious practice.

4. ‘That we are allowed to compose our own prayers, and, by parity of reason, ought to be allowed to compose our own songs of praise.’

Answer. (1.) Right or wrong, it is a matter of fact, that most worshippers neither do nor can compose their own songs of praise. (2.) God has given us, in the Bible, a book of Psalms, but no book of Prayers; and promised to the church a Spirit of prayer, but not a Spirit of psalmody. (3.) In prayer we express our own wants; in praise we declare God’s glory. If we can frame a form of words, suitable for the former purpose, it by no means follows that we are equally competent to compose a form of words for the latter purpose. (4.) The ordinances of prayer and praise differ in this, that in the former the thoughts suggest the words; and we should therefore use the words which they do suggest; whereas, in the latter the words are designed to suggest the thoughts, and therefore we should use words, if such we can obtain, which can suggest none but appropriate thoughts. (5.) Our wants are always changing; and therefore, our prayers should vary: but the glory of God is ever the same; and therefore the same collection of songs will serve for the expression of his praise, from age to age.

5. ‘That there is, in the New Testament, authority for singing songs composed by men.’ First: we are referred to the fact that Christ and his disciples sung a hymn, Matt. 26:50.

Answer. – (1.) Let it be proved that the hymn sung by our Savior and the disciples was not one or more of the Psalms of David. It is supposed by the best commentators to have been the great hallel, consisting of the Psalms from the 113th to the 118th inclusive. (2.) Our Savior was better qualified, and had a better right to compose hymns than Dr. Watts, John Wesley, Philip Doddridge, etc. Second: It is argued that Paul enjoins the use of uninspired psalmody when he says, 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.’ Some argue from the first clause of the verse, `Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom;’ explaining the phrase, `the word of Christ,’ to mean either the whole Bible, or the New Testament; and alleging that the apostle enjoins the use of songs drawn from the whole word of God, or from the New Testament in particular. Answer. – (1.) Let it be proved that this expression means either the whole Bible, or the New Testament, and not simply, the principle of the gospel. (2.) Let it be proved that the Apostle enjoins upon the Church to compose songs, drawing the matter of them from what he denominates `the word of Christ.’

Others reason from the use of the three terms, `psalms, and hymns, and spiritual songs’ in the latter clause of the verse. Answer. – (1.) No good reason can be assigned, why any one of the psalms of inspiration might not, in reference to different aspects under which it may be viewed, be denominated a `psalm, hymn, and spiritual song.’ Such a use of language is not uncommon. God says, Ex. 34:7, `forgiving iniquity, and transgression, and sin.’ (2.) If these three terms designate three distinct kinds of devotional poetry, let it be proved that the Book of Psalms does not comprise songs of these three different kinds. (3.) The Jews applied the terms psalms, hymns, and songs, indiscriminately to the Book of Psalms. – See Josephus, Philo, etc.; and the same may have been done by Paul and the primitive Christians. (4.) In the Septuagint, which was the translation of the Old Testament in use in the days of Paul, some of the psalms are, in their titles, designated psalmos – a psalm; others, ode – a song; and others, alleluia; which last is a word borrowed from the Hebrew, and when used as a noun in the Greek language, is equivalent to hymnos – a hymn. Why may we not suppose the Apostle has allusion, in this verse, to these three terms used in the Septuagint version, as titles of different psalms?

Third: it is inferred from 1 Cor. 14:26 that the Corinthians brought to their assemblies psalms composed by themselves, under a supernatural impulse of the Spirit, and of course not contained in the book of Psalms. Answer. – Let it be proved that the Psalms, by the unseasonable utterance of which they disturbed their assemblies, were composed by themselves under an impulse of the Spirit, and not selected from the Book of Psalms.

6. ‘That the Book of Psalms is hard to understand.’

Answer. – (1.) If there are some passages in the Psalms hard to understand, so are there in the other scriptures, 2 Pet. 3:16. (2.) It is no harder to understand the psalms when we sing them than when we read them. (3.) The more we use them, the better will we understand them. (4.) We have a better opportunity of understanding them than Old Testament worshippers had; and we are sure the Book of Psalms was their psalmody. (5.) If we are unable to understand the Psalms, much less are we able to compose songs which will supply their place. (6.) If any man does not understand the Psalms, let him, under the direction of their divine Author, endeavor to ascertain their meaning. (7.) The psalms are not, in general, hard to understand. There is, indeed, an unfathomable depth of meaning in them; but no man finds fault with a well on account of its depth, if the water rises to the surface. There can be more divine truth, and true devotional sentiment found on the very face of the inspired Psalms, than can be obtained from those which are uninspired, when they are worn threadbare.

7. ‘That the Psalms are not adapted to New Testament worship.’

Answer. – (1.) God never changes, and of course his praise is always the same. (2.) The Spirit of God was better able, in the days of David, to prepare songs suited to New Testament worship, than men are now. (3.) The Psalms everywhere speak most clearly of Christ and his mediatorial work, kingdom and glory; and are, by the Apostles, copiously quoted in illustration of the way of salvation. (4.) They make less reference to the peculiarities of the old dispensation, than some books of the New Testament do. (5.) We have no Book of Psalms in the New Testament, and no command to prepare one.

8. ‘That the Psalms contain sentiments adverse to the spirit of the Gospel; abounding with sharp invectives against personal enemies, and being, in many instances, expressive of revenge, etc.’

Answer. – It is blasphemy.

9. ‘That the Psalms are not sufficiently copious to furnish a complete system of psalmody.’

Answer. – (1.) God is no more glorious now than he was in Old Testament times; and if the Psalms were sufficient then for the expression of his praise, they are still sufficient. (2.) It is too much for any man to take upon himself to decide how copious a system of psalmody ought to be. (3.) The Book of Psalms actually contains an incomparably greater abundance and variety of matter than all the hymns which were ever composed by men.

10. ‘That we have no good metrical translation of the Psalms.’

Answer. – (1.) Let those who think we have no good metrical translation of the Psalms, improve some of the versions in use, or make a better. It is surely easier to make a good translation of God’s Psalms, than to compose songs better than those which He has made. (2.) It is better to sing, in divine worship, an imperfect translation of those songs which God has composed, than to sing the best songs which men can make. (3.) We have a good metrical translation of the Psalms. There are, in the Scottish version of the Psalms, it is true, some blemishes. It contains some uncouth forms of expression, and some words which are now obsolete; and its versification in many instances is far from being smooth. But, for the most part, both the phraseology and the versification are very good; and it must be allowed by those who have examined it, that its fidelity to the original Hebrew is not much, if at all, inferior to that of the prose translation of the Psalms, in our English Bible.

These few observations are submitted to the judgment of the candid and intelligent reader. Though they may not be blessed as a means of reclaiming any from the practice of using human psalmody, yet if they serve to establish some in their attachment to the Psalms of inspiration, the writer will not consider his labor lost. Christian worshippers will one day see eye to eye, on this, as on all other important points. In the meantime, all the fearers of God can, with confidence, commit the interests of Christ’s truth, so far as they are involved in this controversy, to the management of Him who brings order out of confusion, and light out of darkness; and praying, `Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven,’ rest assured that very soon, in songs appointed by Jehovah’s own high authority, the devout worshipper will everywhere `give to the LORD the glory due unto his name.’

`Praise ye the Lord; unto him sing
a new song; and his praise,
In the assembly of his saints,
in sweet Psalms do ye raise.
Let Isr’el in his Maker joy,
and to Him praises sing;
Let all that Zion’s children are,
be joyful in their KING.’