Monthly Archives: October 2010

“…Evidently the Psalm-singing churches and individuals have erred, if at all, on the side of caution and safety.”

“PSALMODY, A REPLY TO M. N. R.

[The Presbyterian’s Nov. 8, 1880 contained an article on Psalmody, signed M. N. R., which was evidently addressed to our own and other psalm-singing denominations. It was an argument for hymns, claiming to be kind in tone. An answer was needed from those who have a reason for their faith and practice in this matter. We had made notes for a reply, but the article entitled ‘Praise’ (which though long is worthy of careful perusal, as it is a closely connected argument) and the following from the Presbyterian of Nov. 21 are a sufficient discussion of the subject for one number. We are thankful to see this reply. We are no bigots when we follow Christ and his apostles. Ours is unsectarian ground, where all can meet.—Editors.]

“With a sincere tone and with a cordial respect for all who love our Saviour,” and “with no intention of stirring up heated or angry debate,” permit me to criticize with all kindness the article on Psalmody in the Presbyterian of Nov. 8. The article, doubtless, was intended for the Psalm-singing denominations in this country. Permit me to suggest that their position and belief should be stated with a little more fairness.

1. They repel the implied stigma that they sing Rouse. For, though this version is mainly due to his labors, it must be remembered that, as it came from his hands, it was subjected to the most careful scrutiny, first in England by the Westminster Assembly of Divines in 1645. They made amendments. “After all pains in England had been bestowed upon the Psalms, they were sent down to Scotland in portions for further consideration.” The Church of Scotland divided the work into four parts and appointed a committee of revision for each part. It was amended and corrected with the utmost care, and use made of the various versions then in existence. Then it was sent to all the Presbyteries, and their observations transmitted to the original committee. Then a commission of the Assembly revised the whole. Then it was sent to the Synods and through them to the Presbyteries. Then it was remitted to the General Assembly, and thus carefully prepared and corrected, it was in 1649 “allowed by the authority of the General Assembly of the Kirk of Scotland, and appointed to be sung in congregations and families.” We have better warrant for calling the Shorter Catechism by the names of the committee by whose labors it was composed, or the Heidelberg Catechism by the names of the two theologians who wrote it, or the Presbyterian Hymnal, Dr. Herrick Johnson’s Hymnal, than the Scotch version Rouse’s.

2. Why may they not be permitted to speak of an inspired Psalmody? What abuse of language is it? We call our English version of the Bible the Word of God. We refer to it as inspired. Is that an abuse of language? When our Lord and His apostles and the writers of the New Testament quoted their translation of the Hebrew Bible as the Word of God, no one regards them as guilty of the “folly of claiming inspiration for the Greek version; and so, if “M. N. R.” wished to avoid “heated or angry debate” he should have omitted the sentence, “It is folly to claim inspiration for Rouse.” He will search in vain among the published discussions of this topic for any such claim. All that is meant by an inspired Psalmody in English is a faithful translation of the inspired Psalms as opposed to a mere imitation or loose paraphrase, or such a perversion as Dr. Watts gives of the one hundred and ninth Psalm.

But what is the position of these Psalm-singing churches? It is this. The second commandment requireth the receiving, observing, and keeping pure and entire all such religious worship and ordinances as God hath appointed in his word; and forbiddeth the worshipping of God by images or any other way not appointed in His word. Here we stand with them. This is our point of agreement.

Now the question comes under this general principle, concerning which we are agreed; have we sufficient authority to use for singing in public worship any thing outside the one hundred and fifty Psalms? Then the main contest is in regard to the meaning of the words, “Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual Songs” in Ephesians v. 19, and Colossians iii. 16. Did the apostle in these words refer exclusively to the Psalms of David, or did he include under the terms Hymns and Spiritual songs something similar to our modern Hymns? Of course, each one will interpret according to his own practice. But let us not imagine the texts are strongly and positively on our own side. Certain facts should make us cautious. In the Septuagint, which was the translation of the Old Testament in use in the apostle Paul’s clay, the title of the sixty-seventh Psalm was a hymn, psalm, or song. A number have the title psalm or song, and in general the word Neginoth, which the translators of our English Bible merely transferred, is, translated hymns in the Greek. The word hymn occurs in Matthew xxvi. 30, “And when they had sung a hymn they went out to the Mount of Olives.” Most authorities are agreed that the Psalms alone were sung by our Lord and His apostles on this occasion.

If then the one hundred and fifty Psalms had, some of them, the titles “Hymns and Songs,” is it so very unreasonable to suppose that Paul was referring to the Book of Psalms, and that alone? Evidently the Psalm-singing churches and individuals have erred, if at all, on the side of caution and safety. These two texts of Scripture furnish a very narrow opening to which to bring in for regular use such a multitude of heterogeneous hymns that practically the Psalms are rarely used. Are the Psalms sung in our Sabbath-schools? Are our children made familiar with them by use? And why not? Is what is provided now used intrinsically better, as to matter and style, than any of the translations? Truly, from the general avoidance of the Psalms and the substitution of what is so inferior, it seems as though we needed a tract on some such subject as, “A Plea for the Psalms of the Bible;” or “The Superiority of the Psalms for purposes of Praise;” “The Adaptability of the Psalms to the Young.” Instead of “M. N. R.” using his talents to plead for the hymns, some one needs to say a word in favor of the much-neglected Psalms, especially in the Sabbath-school. Why not chant our melodious prose version? or why not use one of the metrical versions?”

G. W.

 From Volume XVIII, 1880 of the Reformed Presbyterian and Covenanter Magazine found here.

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Latta, James (1732-1801)

James Latta was a defender of the Imitations of Dr. Watts, and an opponent to the exclusive use of the Psalms in worship.

“James Latta was born in Ireland in 1732, the son of Rev. James Latta and his wife Mary Alison. He came to America at an early age with his parents, who settled near Elkton, Maryland. After his mother’s brother, Rev. Francis Alison, opened an Academy near New London, Delaware, young Latta became a student at his uncle’s school. He and classmate Hugh Williamson would have the distinction of being members of the first graduating class of both Rev. Alison’s Academy (which would evolve into the University of Delaware) and the College of Philadelphia.

Latta and Williamson entered the College of Philadelphia in 1754, graduating with the Class of 1757. From 1755-1759, the younger James Latta was a Latin tutor in the Academy, both as an undergraduate and while studying theology with Dr. Francis Alison.

In 1758, Latta was licensed to preach by the Presbytery of Philadelphia, and in the following year was ordained and appointed to the destitute settlements of Virginia and Carolina. In 1761, he became pastor of a church at DeepRun, Bucks County, Pennsylvania, where he was stationed until 1770. In that year, Latta resigned in order to assume the charge of Chestnut Level, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, which he retained until his death in 1801. Latta was the Third Moderator of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America and the author of A Discourse of Psalmody (1794) [a work in favor of the Imitations of Dr. Watts and against exclusive Psalmody] and other various published writings.

During the American Revolution Latta served as a private and a chaplain in the Pennsylvania Militia. He was married to Mary McCalla. He died at Chestnut Level, in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, 1801. In 1940, his original diploma was presented to the University in commemoration of its bicentennial by James Latta, a direct descendant.”

Image of James Latta's original 1757 diploma from the CollegeA.B. Diploma Awarded to James Latta in 1757, one of the first diplomas awarded by the College of Philadelphia (now the University of Pennsylvania) and therefore one of the first diplomas awarded by the University of Pennsylvania School of Arts and Sciences

From the University of Pennsylvania archives http://www.archives.upenn.edu/people/1700s/latta_james.html

Question #7: Is a Psalter a paraphrase or a translation? When we sing from a Psalter are we really singing the Word of God?

Question #7: Is a Psalter a paraphrase or a translation? When we sing from a Psalter are we really singing the Word of God?

Bonner, Thomas Joel (1821-1895)

Bonner, Rev. Thomas Joel—”Was born in Monroe Co., Ala., Dec. 23. 1821. His father, William Bonner, had moved from Cedar Springs, in Abbeville Co., S. C; afterward located in Wilcox Co., Ala., and later in Freestone Co., Texas. Thomas spent his early years on the farm. He attended Miami University a while, but graduated from Erskine College in 1843. The same year he married Miss Amanda Posey, of Abbeville Co., S. C. His theological studies were prosecuted under Rev. Joseph McCreary one year, and in Erskine Theological Seminary.

He was licensed by the Alabama Presbytery in 1846. For a number of years he was S. S. for a vacancy in Lowndes Co. and occasionally visited vacancies in Georgia and Mississippi. At the solicitation of friends and kindred, he moved to Freestone Co., Texas, in 1859.

Some time before this he was ordained sine titudo by the Alabama Presbytery. He preached regularly in this new field, always loyally maintaining the principles of the church of his choice. For perhaps 15 years, he never saw the face or heard the voice of an Associate Reformed minister, yet always had a lively interest in the enterprises of Synod. About the year 1865 he organized a Psalm-singing church at County Line school house, near the line between Freestone and Navarro counties. This church was temporarily placed under the care of a presbytery of the Presbyterian Church in the U. S. The congregations of Harmony, Richland and Ebenezer come out of this organization. In the organization of the Presbytery of Texas, at Harmony Church, Dec. 9, 1876, Rev. T. J. Bonner presided and preached the opening sermon. He, with Revs. J. M. Little and W. L. Patterson composed the Presbytery. Failing health compelled him to retire from the active work of the ministry about the year ’79. He died June 13, 1895, at the home of his son, W. B. Bonner in Wortham, Texas. He left a widow and six children.

“…for the sake of union, we believe that many of our body would be willing to forbear with their Presbyterian brethren in the use of other songs in the worship of God.”

This is a news report on a Union Conference held between the Old School Presbyterians and the ARP church in 1856 or 1857. The Evangelical Repository of 1857 records the words of the Due West Telescope.

“A Union Convention In The South.—Some time since, members of the Synods of South Carolina and Georgia tendered invitations to members of the Associate Reformed Synod of the South, to consider the propriety of a union being formed between these bodies under the care of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church, (Old School). Negotiations were accordingly entered into, and after various steps had been taken it was at length proposed that a Convention of delegates from each body should be held at Columbia, S. C, on the 23d of March (?1857). This Convention was held, and the Due-West Telescope gives us the following brief but interesting account of the meeting and its apparent result:—

‘The Convention in Columbia was smaller than we had hoped it would be. Only six Associate Reformed ministers, and about as many elders, were present. There were about twice as many of the Presbyterian body. The Convention was opened by a very appropriate sermon by Dr. Smythe, of Charleston. The following officers were then elected:—Dr. J. B. Adger, of the Columbia Seminary, President; Rev. W. R. Hemphill, Vice President; Dr. M’Bryde and Rev. C. B. Betts, Secretaries. After some further preliminaries, the Convention adjourned until Wednesday morning.

The first hour and a half of the next morning’s session were spent in devotional exercises. After this it was proposed, as the best means of reaching the end for which we had met, that the Convention divide itself into two committees; the Presbyterians forming one, and the Associate Reformed members constituting the other; that these Committees should occupy different rooms, and carry on a correspondence by letter. This seemed to us to be a very unfortunate arrangement, but it was adopted. Two letters by each committee were passed. The first was sent by the Presbyterians, and expressed a willingness to take their A. R. brethren just as they are, without making any requirements of them. To this the A. R. Committee replied that they earnestly desired the Union, but that they regarded the adjustment of the Psalmody question as necessary to its consummation. To this end they proposed that a new version of the Psalms be prepared by translation or collation, or both, as literal as might be in consistency with the laws of versification; that this version should take the place in the Union Book of Praise, of both Rouse and Watts; that it should be received and used by both churches, not on the principles of accommodation or forbearance, but as being authorized by the Head of the church, and by the church itself. Then it was said that while we do not feel at liberty ourselves to use anything else in the praise of God than the Scripture Psalms, yet, for the sake of union, we believe that many of our body would be willing to forbear with their Presbyterian brethren in the use of other songs in the worship of God.

To this our Presbyterian brethren replied that if they understood us, they were ready for the Union upon our ground. But, to save time, they insisted “that the new version be made a result, rather than a condition of union. But it was doubted by some of the A. R. Committee whether our Presbyterian brethren understood fully the terms proposed to them. Hence in our reply to their second letter, the fact was brought out more fully, that we desired the Psalms not only to have a place in the book of praise, but we desired them to be used. And we insisted on a new version as a condition of union, because of the prejudice that we believed existed against the one we now use.

Here the correspondence was stopped at 12 o’clock at night. Many members of the Convention had made their arrangements to leave on Thursday morning; and although the Convention adjourned to meet next morning, it was understood that nothing further would be done.

From this hasty sketch it will be seen that nothing tangible was accomplished. The meeting was a pleasant one. Not an incident occurred to mar the good feelings of any one. Rouse was sang, from first to last, and sang well. The audience that was in attendance manifested a decided interest in the objects of the Convention, and seemed greatly disappointed when it adjourned without bringing the parties more closely together. The members of the Convention were all handsomely entertained by the good people of the Presbyterian Church in Columbia, and in return we hope they received some spiritual benefit.

The proceedings of the Convention, together with Dr. Smythe’s sermon, were ordered to be published in Southern Presbyterian and Due-West Telescope. A committee, consisting of Dr. Smythe and Rev. W. R. Hemphill, was appointed to write a letter to the churches.’ ”

Question #6: There are so few churches that believe in exclusive Psalmody. How can the vast majority of Christianity be so wrong about singing hymns?

Question #6: There are so few churches that believe in exclusive Psalmody. How can the vast majority of Christianity be so wrong about singing hymns?

“We who contend for the exclusive use of ‘the Book of Psalms,’ may act very inconsistently in using Rouse’s version that has some changes and additions, but how this justifies others in singing hymns, we cannot see.”

An Article entitled “Psalmody” in The Reformed Presbyterian and Covenanter magazine, 1866, pages 337-339.

“The subject of Psalmody has of late received but little notice in this magazine. The reason is not a want of interest in the subject, or any indisposition to aid in maintaining the exclusive use of “the book of Psalms” in praising God. We thought that the nation’s duty to acknowledge Christ is especially the present truth. This belief has led us to employ largely our pages in explaining and enforcing this neglected national duty. Moreover, our U. P. brethren have given of late the question of psalmody a great deal of their attention, and in their controversies with those who deny that the book of Psalms is the only authorized matter of praise, they have done their work so well as to leave us under no necessity to give a helping hand. This article owes its existence not to any pressing need for further light on the subject of psalmody, but to notice a little volume which has been laid on our table by its author, who is an acquaintance and neighbor.

The title of the volume is, “A Vindication of the Letters on Psalmody, from the Strictures of John T. Pressly, D. D., by William Annan.” The letters to which there is here reference, were reviewed with a good deal of keenness and severity, but with entire justice, in our pages several years ago. The Strictures of Dr. Pressly we do not recollect to have seen, but we doubt not that they were written with the characteristic ability and clearness of this author. Our remarks are suggested by looking over the Vindication, and we present them just as they occurred in perusing the book.

1. It is of no importance in the controversy about psalmody, whether the authorized version was or was not the production of Rouse. That he had something to do with making it, is agreed on all hands, and we have no objection that for convenience it be called by his name.

2. It is of no importance in the controversy, whether there are changes and additions in Rouse’s version. All agree that there are, as there must be in any version, whether in metre or in prose. The only question respecting it is, Is it a version? This is admitted on the other side. These mutual concessions should place this point out of dispute.

But this is not the mind of the author of the Vindication. “Forty pages of the Letters on Psalmody,” he informs us, are occupied in showing that Rouse’s version contains expressions that are not in the Psalms in prose. By parallel columns and juxtapositions, the important fact is demonstrated. The first part of the “Vindication,” comprising sixty-seven pages, is devoted to the same object. Now we ask, what has this to do with the argument in question?

A superficial reader of the pages noted above, might readily come to the conclusion that Mr. Annan had become a champion for the exclusive use of the Book of Psalms, and one of the strictest sect, for he lectures with no little zeal our U. P. friends for using a version made with the usual poetic license. Nothing it seems will do him, but the very inspired words. Of course he will have to chant the Psalms in Hebrew.

But brother A. has not changed his mind on the subject. The pages referred to are employed to bring down, it is hoped, with crushing weight on those whom he opposes, the argumentum ad hominem. The design is to show that they, in using Rouse’s version, do the very same thing that they condemn in others. Now suppose that this is true, does it prove anything? Does it add the weight of a feather to the cause which is so earnestly advocated? We who contend for the exclusive use of “the Book of Psalms,” may act very inconsistently in using Rouse’s version that has some changes and additions, but how this justifies others in singing hymns, we cannot see. If we do a certain thing, that is no reason why they should do another thing altogether different, nor why we should not find fault with them for doing it.

But there is no place for the argumentum ad hominem. “We will show this, and leave the forty pages in the “Letters,” and sixty-seven pages in the “Vindication,” just so much useless paper. “What we claim for the psalms that we sing, is, that they are a version ofinspired psalms. We hold that a version of inspired psalms should be exclusively used in praising God. Everybody knows that in changing prose into poetry, there must be the introduction of new words. We believe, however, that this does not necessarily change the meaning of what is versified. To do so would be to go beyond the limit of poetic license. We deny that this is done in Rouse’s version. We do not claim inspiration for the version, but we claim inspiration for the psalms versified, and we contend that a version of these alone is to be sung in divine worship. Now if our neighbor was contending for the right to sing some other version of the psalms, his argument would have weight against us. He could say, you sing a version that has words and lines that are not in the inspired psalms; and therefore you cannot consistently blame us for singing another version liable to the same objection. But he does not contend for singing the hymns of Watt or any other modern poet oa the ground that they are a version. His plea for hymn singing is, that the sentiment is scriptural, and the poetry is good, and therefore they should be sung. Watts repudiated the idea of a version. He expressed the relation that his production sustained to the Psalms of David by the term “imitation.” He claims that it is an excellence of his psalms that they are not a version. A literal version of some of the psalms he declared it would be wrong to sing.

Now apply the argument to the question as thus fairly stated. United Presbyterians, and Reformed Presbyterians, sing the best version of the inspired psalms they can obtain. From this premise the first conclusion is, that therefore they cannot consistently condemn singing an imitation of the Psalms, and hymns prepared from other portions of Scripture; and the second conclusion is, therefore it is right to sing imitations of the Psalms, and hymns. If this is not a fair statement of the argument occupying more than one hundred pages in the two books, we confess ourselves utterly unable to understand it. How much the cause of hymns is helped by such reasoning, we leave to others to judge.

3. We looked at the instances of “vain repetition” exhibited from Rouse, and we confess we were not led to admire the accuracy of the vindicator. On page 19 of “Vindication,” the words “I delayed not,” taken from Psalm 119:60, are presented as the whole matter out of which the line, “I did not stay nor linger long, as those that slothful are,” is manufactured by Rouse. In the prose the words are, “I made haste, and delayed not.” Why leave out the words, “I made haste”? It was doubtless an oversight, but in such a case, care should be taken to be accurate. The additional words, “as those that slothful are,” although not in the psalm, is in perfect harmony with it, and therefore does not impair its claim to be a version.

4. Passing over the body of the work, in which we find nothing new, we notice the contrast on page 139. We find there placed in parallel columns, the 12th chapter of Isaiah, and parts of four psalms in Rouse’s version. The following sentence immediately precedes: “But perhaps we can in no method better illustrate the divine excellence of such passages, and their fitness to compose a part of the high praises of Israel’s God, than by the following contrast.” The passages alluded to are some highly poetical parts of Isaiah and other Old Testament books. These are contrasted with some of the Psalms of David, with the evident design to show the superiority of the former over the latter. The fact that the Psalms on the one side of the contrast are taken from Rouse’s version, is of no account in the matter, for the contrast is between the sentiments of the two parts of the word of God. It is most manifest, if the writer understood the logic of his contrast, he meant to say that there are parts of the Book of Psalms that are too bad to be sung. We compare things where the one is good, and the other is better; we contrast where the one is bad, and the other is good. We must say that we have not seen in the writings of either Renan or Colenso, anything more disparaging to the Word of God, than this contrast in its connection.”