What Dr. Watts said about Psalm singing

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Blueridge Believer

Puritan Board Professor
IT IS DIFFICULT TO BELIEVE THAT SUCH THINGS COULD BE SAID BY A CHRISTIAN MAN.


VI. The advocacy of hymn-singing has led to the adoption and utterance of sentiments which strike at the very fundamentals of Christianity. We begin with Dr Watts, who " imitated" the Psalms of the Bible and also prepared many of the hymns now in use. This favourite poet and hymn-writer allowed himself to speak of the Psalms of Scripture in the following terms : " Some of them are almost opposite to the spirit of the gospel, hence, it comes to pass, that when spiritual affections are excited within us, and our souls are raised a little above this earth in the beginning of a psalm, we are checked on a sudden in our ascent towards heaven, by some expressions that are fit only to be sung in the worldly sanctuary. When we are just entering into an evangelical frame, the very next line which the clerk parcels out to us, hath something in it so extremely Jewish and cloudy that it darkens our sight of God the Saviour. Thus, by keeping too close to David in the house of God, the vail of Moses is thrown over our hearts. While we are kindling into divine love, some dreadful curse against men is proposed to our lips; as, Psalm lxix. 26-28 which is so contrary to the new commandment of loving our enemies. Some sentences of the Psalmist may compose our spirits to seriousness, but we meet with a following line that breaks off our song in the midst; our consciences are affrighted lest we should speak a falsehood unto God ; thus the powers of our souls are shocked on a sudden and our spirits ruffled—it almost always spoils the devotion—our lips speak nothing but the heart of David. Thus our hearts are, as it were, forbid the pursuit of the song, and then the harmony and the worship grow dull of necessity. Many ministers and private Christians have long groaned under this inconvenience ; there are a thousand lines in it—the Book of Psalms—which were not made for a church in our days, to assume as its own. I should rejoice to see David converted into a Christian: there are many hundred verses in that book (of Psalms) which a Christian cannot properly assume in singing—as Ps. lxviii. 13,16, and lxxxiv. 3, 6; Ps. lxix. 28, and Ps. cix. are so full of cursings, that they hardly become the tongue of a follower of the blessed Jesus. By that time they axe filed for Christian Psalmody—the composure can hardly be called inspired or divine—I could never persuade myself that the best way to raise a devout frame in plain Christians, was to bring a king or captain into our churches, and let him lead and dictate the worship in his own style of royalty, or in the language of a field of battle."1

Another, Dr James Latta, uses such language as the following : " Whether these psalms (mentioned 1 Cor. xiv. 26) were the effect of previous study and inspiration united, or of immediate suggestion, they were certainly not designed to inspire them—(the converts to the gospel) with veneration and respect for the Psalms of David. Any person will quickly perceive how remote psalms and hymns, formed upon it (the orthodox Nicene Creed) would be from the doctrine of the Old Testament. Nor do I think the introduction of the Psalms of David into the Christian church was very honourable to the cause of Christ . It deprived Him of divine honour—it deprived the asserters of His Deity of all opportunity of bearing testimony to it in that part of their worship—it decided clearly in favour of that tenet of Arianism, that divine worship was to be paid only to the Father, and so had a direct tendency to make heresy triumphant." l

1 Preface to Imitation, Works, vol. vii. p. 24.

The Psalms of the Bible—unchristian in spirit, in doctrine, unfit for devotion—tend to make heretics, etc.! How different this estimate of the inspired Psalter, from the testimonies to its excellence which we have furnished so abundantly in our first chapter ! And in whose service, but in that of the infidel, were Dr Watts and Dr Latta employed in putting forth such utterances against the word of God ?

Others have gone nearly as far, in other forms, in this work of undermining the faith of the church. They have virtually denied that the church—we speak in reference to her ordinary members—has, in her possession the word of God at all : asserting, substantially, that there is no Bible, except in the original Greek and Hebrew, Mr Black, against whose views on Psalmody Dr Anderson composed his able work, thus wrote some sixty or seventy years ago : " That there neither is nor can be any such thing as the inspired forms of the psalms in our language, unless an immediate revelation were made in that language : that it is not possible to retain the words and phrases of the original in any translation ; that as a prophet is to speak in the language which is suggested to him, his words are justly called the 1 Discourse on Psalmody, 43, 51, 77.

words of the Holy Ghost; but that whenever a translation of that subject is made into any other language, the words of the language into which it is translated are no more the words of the Holy Ghost, than Greek is English." We need not pause here to vindicate the claim of our Bibles as they are in the hands of the people of God, to be, indeed, the word of the living God. This is part of our controversy as Protestants with the Popish apostacy

Another late writer follows in the same strain: "The inspired songs of the Old Testament are written in Hebrew, and that has been a dead language to her ever since her (the Christian church's) first existence. She might translate these songs: but the songs themselves she could not use."1 And, of course, provided this be true of the psalms" it must be equally so of any portion of the Bible; and so, in his zeal against the exclusive use of the Scripture Psalms, this writer would take away from the plain people of God, the entire word of God: for, if the translated psalms are not the psalms, then the translated sermon on the mount, is not the sermon on the mount: if translated psalms occupy, substantially, the same position as the ordinary compositions of men, which express Scripture truth, then are the translated epistles of Paul to be regarded in the same light as other sound gospel teaching; as to the inspired Paul's epistles,however, we cannot have them in our hands unless we can read Greek ! These doctrines would deprive us of the Bible altogether: they would bereave the Church of Christ of any authoritative standard of faith and duty, accessible to unlettered Christians, and would hand these over to the teachings and interpretations of the learned, and especially to the clergy. Thus the Papists teach, reason, and conclude.

1 Morton on Psalmody, p. 86.


from "the true Psalmody" pages 159-160
 
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