Exclusive Psalmody and the 'Rest of Scripture'

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Poimen

Puritan Board Post-Graduate
This is my sixth response (in a series) to common objections to exclusive psalmody. The first is found here, the second here, the third here, the fourth here and the fifth here.

Another stock objection to exclusive psalmody is that it ignores most of the canon of the Bible as its source material. That is, the exclusive psalmodist (EP) exhausts one book of the Bible but neglects to use the other portions of scripture and, as a result, ends up with an ‘abridged’ hymnbook.

In response to this argument, let us consider the following points:

1) That there is no rule that can be cited from scripture as to how this should be done indicates the weakness of this argument. What, after all, is meant (precisely) by using the ‘rest of the scripture’? Would this entail writing a song from select portions of every book? Putting a song together from a select number of verses?

2) More essentially it would have to be demonstrated from scripture that, in order to satisfy its own teaching regarding the element of singing in worship one is required to use every portion of scripture in worship song. Furthermore, in absence of a clear statement to sing anything in addition to the Psalms, the singing of Psalms already satisfies the requirements of Regulative Principle of Worship (i.e. to limit worship to that which God has required in scripture itself).

3) As we have already noted (in the last article) the book of Psalms is its own genre: i.e. the only book in the Bible which is named ‘the book of praises.’ As such, the EP is naturally inclined to use it as the sole song book in scripture because it is the only song book in scripture.

4) Not all of the ‘rest of scripture’ is, practically speaking, readymade for singing. Note how most hymnbooks (if not all) take little or nothing from the OT genealogies specifically or the historical books generally. However, the Psalms emphasize the importance of this history and have already put it to song by way of inspired summaries: e.g. Psalm 78, 99, 107, 132 etc.

5) It is also not reasonable to make hymns out of the entire Bible for the simple result that it would become a hymnbook. Indeed no one purposes or has even tried to make a song out of every passage of scripture and it simply cannot be done without confusing the Word of God with a songbook. In the main, scripture is meant to be read; the Psalms are meant to be sung.

6) It is all well and good to say that hymns when added to the Psalms are superior to Psalms only because they utilize more of scripture, but how can this be true when no one hymnbook in fact ever uses all of the scripture as its material for its songs? Furthermore it should not be overlooked that though there is one Psalm book, there are many hymnbooks (many which are now defunct or have been passed over). Not one hymnbook has ever achieved this distinction.

7) Modern hymns by advent (and current practice) have jettisoned much of the scripture’s teaching on certain attributes of God, such as His justice, righteousness, as well as expressions of His wrath and punishment. [1] On the contrary, the Psalms contain these truths as well as clear statements of imprecatory wrath which hymns steadfastly ignore.

8) Throughout the centuries many Christian authors have noted that the Psalms are not merely another book of scripture but a compendium of scripture itself. The church father Athanasius wrote: “under all the circumstances of life, we shall find that these divine songs suit ourselves and meet our own souls' need at every turn.”[2] Martin Luther called the Psalms “a little Bible.” And Calvin was ‘accustomed’ “to call this book ‘An Anatomy of all the Parts of the Soul;’ for there is not an emotion of which any one can be conscious that is not here represented as in a mirror. Or rather, the Holy Spirit has here drawn to the life all the griefs, sorrows, fears, doubts, hopes, cares, perplexities, in short, all the distracting emotions with which the minds of men are wont to be agitated.”[3]

9) As an addendum to Calvin’s point, the Psalms are not just songs about events, places and names but contain many expressions of emotions that, though frequent throughout scripture, are rarely used in modern hymns such as sadness, anger, joy over the defeat of the enemy, and sorrow over sin. Indeed, man’s hymnbooks are mostly void of such natural & godly expressions.

See also Singing Our Sadness

9) It might be objected further that a hymnbook can take advantage of NT material that was not available at the time the Psalms were compiled. First of all, it should be noted that the Psalms take advantage of teaching us from the OT perspective which, as we have already seen, many hymns ignore. Second, the essential NT material is already anticipated and boldly proclaimed in the Psalms. As the late Pastor Kuldip Gangar noted,[4] the Psalms use the present tense when prophesying about the Messiah.[5] Third, the Psalms were compiled in a time when revelation was ongoing but as revelation ceased the Psalms became the canonical hymnal for the NT church.[6]

10) Furthermore, it is misleading, as some have argued, that the gospel of the NT is either not present or muted in the Psalms thus arguing for the necessity of writing hymns. First of all, there are many gospel passages in the Psalms: e.g. Psalms 32:1-2 (cf. Romans 4:6-8); 51; 103:1-5,11-13; 130:3-4). Second of all, we miss the main point of sung praise when we insist on seeing the gospel in every song we sing:[7]

“The singing of the gospel, helpful though it may be in its place, is not of the nature of praise, for the gospel is addressed to man, not to God. In seeking to make an impression upon men the singing of the gospel may be usurping the place of that which is due unto God. That which terminates on ourselves or others may be a means of grace, but only that which terminates on God is praise... praise is the expressing unto God that which is His due. Let Him not be robbed of it.” John M. Ross, “The Idea of Worship” (page 16) The Psalms in Worship (1907), edited by John McNaughter

11) In a sense, the Psalms are the rest of scripture since, unlike any other book in the Bible they were: a) written by a variety of authors b) written over many centuries & c) contain many of the OT church’s experiences and history which are normative for the church today (see Romans 15:4, 1 Corinthians 10:6 & 2 Timothy 3:15-17). Thus the Christian can be assured that when he sings God’s songbook, he is singing all that which God intended for him to sing.


[1] Isaac Watts, one of the ‘fathers’ of modern hymnody, wrote: “there are many hundred Verses in that Book which a Christian cannot properly assume in singing without a considerable Alteration of the Words, or at least without putting a very different Meaning upon them, from what David had when he wrote them.” A Short Essay Toward the Improvement of Psalmody. In reply, J.G. Vos argued that: “Evil is not abstract, but concrete; it is identified with particular persons. To destroy the evil, the persons must be dealt with by God's mighty power and righteous judgment. Isaac Watts said he would make David talk like a Christian. He denatured the Psalms, and he sophisticated them. Watts quite failed to appreciate the real beauty and glory of the Psalter.” J.G. Vos, Ashamed of the Tents of Shem?

[2] The Letter of Athanasius to Marcellinus: ‘On The Interpretation Of The Psalms’

[3] From the preface to his commentary on the Psalms.

[4] http://www.sermonaudio.com/sermoninfo.asp?SID=825142012368

[5] For example, Psalms 2, 22, & 110.

[6] This is asserted in light of the fact that no addendum or substitution to the Psalms was introduced in the New Testament.

[7] Which, ironically, would not be true of our hymnbooks should we write a song based on every passage of scripture or even every NT passage. Much of the NT contains exhortations and commands which are not, in the narrow sense, part of the gospel.
 

Cymro

Puritan Board Junior
Again the position is cogently stated, so thanks. It has always been a puzzle to me
why churches preach from the psalms, yet refuse to sing from them, as demonstrated by
their complete absence from the praise element of worship. I have encountered hostility
to using psalms to sing, but docility when preaching from them. There seems an antipathy
to singing the word of God, which is perplexing!
 

Nicholas Perella

Puritan Board Freshman
Second of all, we miss the main point of sung praise when we insist on seeing the gospel in every song we sing:[7]

“The singing of the gospel, helpful though it may be in its place, is not of the nature of praise, for the gospel is addressed to man, not to God. In seeking to make an impression upon men the singing of the gospel may be usurping the place of that which is due unto God. That which terminates on ourselves or others may be a means of grace, but only that which terminates on God is praise... praise is the expressing unto God that which is His due. Let Him not be robbed of it.” John M. Ross,

I find this striking. As the attention centers more on man, a lessening of a praise to God.


I have encountered hostility to using psalms to sing, but docility when preaching from them.

That hostility may be there while preaching also, but since during the preaching that hostility can be hidden or relieved because what the listener is doing during the sermon is not as public.

Thinking of what Rev. Kok said in point #10 as to the kind of worship singing Psalms involves - Praising God, so, an act toward God insisted upon by the very words. Whereas our praising toward God during a sermon is not publically demonstrated as much as the singing. Obviously during the listening of the sermon our disposition should be toward God in praise and thanks, and this very well may be happening. Yet not as outwardly demonstrated as while singing. During a sermon on the Psalms that insistence to praise God so publically is not there as much as singing the Psalms publically insists. The sermon listener is not put in a position to publically insist a praise toward Him. The need to be hostile is not there for the public exposure and insistence upon the listener of the sermon to praise God is not as great.

Obviously this has nothing to do with people who do not sing Psalms because their church does not include them in worship, but rather, it is of the conflict to not have them in worship. That simple defiance.

I was reading this today, and it gave me food for thought even concerning this:

The truth is, that Pelagian sentiments, or corruptions of the scriptural views of the doctrines of grace, are uniformly found to accompany a low state of personal religion, - these two things invariably acting and reacting upon each other, and operating reciprocally as cause and effect.
William Cunningham, Historical theology: a review of the principal doctrinal discussions in the Christian church since the apostolic age (Edinburgh: T. and T. Clark, 1863) 474.]
 
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