by James A. Grier
There are some things not properly involved in a discussion of this subject which are often brought in. The effect is only to distract attention from the important questions really involved. The following are some of these:
1. The question at issue in the controversy between Psalm-singing Churches and those which sing hymns is not, Is it right to sing the Psalms of the Bible? Everybody acknowledges this. We are not called to defend the rightfulness of Psalm-singing.
2. It is not, Should we sing any given version of the Psalms? Any good metrical version is fit to be sung. So the Psalm-singing Churches have always thought and taught. The Genevan version of Marot and Beza (under Calvin, 1543), that by Wyatt and others, that by Sternhold and Hopkins (1562), Tate and Brady (1696), the Bay Psalm Book of New England, that by Francis Rouse (1649), and the usual versions of our own and other denominations of Christians, testify that it is not a question of singing versions, but of singing Psalms. Faithfulness to the original is, by our own denomination, counted essential to an acceptable version. Much of the attack on inspired psalmody has been and is upon versions (Annan’s book was of this type). Thus you have sneers at “Rouse” and other versifiers, and criticisms upon their work as “paraphrases” instead of close translations; whereas the question is not primarily one of versions, but one as to the Psalms of inspiration.
3. Neither is the question one of method in rendering the Psalms. One may prefer the chant, a sort of musical use of the prose version, as was the usage in Scotland prior to the first metrical version. The whole matter of the precise method of presenting these divine compositions to God in praise, whether by chant or by tunes adapted to meter or with instrumental accompaniment, is aside from the real issue. The chant is an impossibility in the present status of popular music.
4. We are not called to consider the question as to whether we are ever to use other inspired songs of the Bible in praise or not. The issue is not between two classes of inspired praises, but between those which are inspired and those which are not—are purely human. When we get to the place where it is a question whether we shall include the Song of Solomon and the other poetry of the Scriptures outside of the book of Psalms in the Psalter of the Church, there will be small difficulty in reaching conclusions. The question as to matter of praise does not turn on this point. In the meantime the query is, “Shall man make his own praises, or shall he use those God has given him to employ?” I may say, however, in passing, that the judgment of the Psalm-singing Churches is against the use of other inspired poetry than the book of Psalms in praise to God. It is not thought it was designed for praise.
5. We do not admit into this discussion the query, “May we sing the Gospel?” The Gospel is not matter of praise to God, but of instruction to men. Of course, a man or a congregation may sing it if they want to. It will not, however, be praise to God any more than would the prophecies and history of the Bible were they sung. The question is, “What shall be used in praise to God?”
6. The question is not, “Is it wrong to sing hymns?” but whether it is clearly and divinely right? The man who asks simply, “Is it wrong?” will never know if it be right. He holds a negative position toward the truth. There is a wide difference between having a distinct and unequivocal right to do a thing, and not having any warrant for it, and so being in uncertainty as to the right or wrong. Especially in great questions of worship it is wise to know we are right. There is no question as to the Psalms being right, but no man under the sun can show it is right to sing human hymns in the worship of God. The Bible gives absolutely no warrant therefor. Its trend is wholly against it.
7. The question is not, “Is it lawful to sing hymns?” It is, “Is it right to sing them in the worship of God?” No one contends that they have no place. They afford entertainment, yield instruction, and may even be used to quicken devotion. There is no question about these things. It is, “Shall they be used in praising God?”
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Notes On Psalmody
I. The psalms are to be used in God’s praise
II. The psalms are adapted to and sufficient for God’s praise
III. Objections to the psalms
IV. Supplementary objections to hymns
Added note on the law of worship