“But if once we begin to use human composures in God’s worship, we are in imminent danger of being gradually led to sing mere jargon, or men’s opinions, instead of the sacred truths of the Spirit’s inditing. This is already verified in the case of some deluded enthusiasts, who, instead of reading the Scripture, or singing the Psalms of David with gravity, always sing such hymns and spiritual songs as breathe their own notions, and are inflamed with their own wild fire.” New addition to Books Online: A Sermon by Rev. William Marshall (ARP) – 1774

Found this today in Robert Lathan’s fine history of the ARP. This sermon is an excellent summary of our position. Lathan says this was preached in 1773, though the publication itself says April 13, 1774. See Robert Lathan, History of the Associate Reformed Synod of the South in which is prefixed a History of the ARP and RPC (Harrisburg, PA, 1882), 221.

A portion of the text:

“We must yield to the current of ancient history, that in the course of three centuries, human composures were sung in the worship of God, as well as David’s Psalms ; but these were concomitants, if not sources of that corruption, which did considerably accelerate that deformation in the church, which brought forth the whore of Babylon. To plead for human composures being admitted into the worship of Cod from their being used in the ancient ages of Christianity, will equally conclude in favor of instrumental music, which was admitted about the same period. A time of deadness in religion is the ordinary period of a church’s declension from the purity of her worship: Men then forgetting the command of God, think of gratifying their own fancies. “But I fear, lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtilty, so your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ.” (2 Cor. xi. 3.) This is a favorable juncture for the devil to exert himself, when a church is in a slumbering condition. “But while men slept, his enemy came, and sowed tares among the wheat, and went his way.” (Mat. xiii. 25.)…

6. To alter the Psalms of David from their original sense; or to substitute human compositions in their room, in Christian worship, is productive of dangerous consequences. Allow me to point out a few of these, and leave your own minds to suggest many more:

1. This has a tendency to weaken the authority of David’s Psalms. It is natural for people to have a light opinion of the Psalms when thoy hear them branded with a number of contemptuous epithets. Will any be much awed by what is opposite to the spirit of the gospel? But objections of this sort equally strike against all the Old Testament, and have a native tendency to strengthen the cause of Deism. What is said against the Psalms of David is spoken against “the Holy Ghost who spake by the mouth of David.” (Acts i. 16.) Doubtless it would be employing time and talents to better purpose, in attempting a reformation of many things in the church rather than in the Psalms of the Spirit’s inditing. “The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul: The testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple.” (Psal. xix. 7.)

2. If David’s Psalms are to be sung, only as mangled according to the pleasure of men; or if they are to be altogether excluded, and human composures put in their room; none can tell what will be at last sung in “worshipping assemblies.” I speak of those churches in which these things are looked on as matters of indifference; where people are allowed to use what psalms or hymns they please, and thus to act as the children of Israel in the days of the Judges, when “every man did that which was right in his own eyes.” (Judges xvii. 6.) After all the members are severed from the body of the Psalms, some new refiners may be for cutting away part of the remainder, under pretence of their being also unsuitable for gospel worship. Considering the many poets and poetasters in the world, we know what will be sung in place of David’s Psalms, if once excluded. The practice already introduced, of ministers’ composing hymns which comprise the heads of.their sermon will more generally spread: Many of us are but poor preachers, hut would make worse poets. Heads of families will make hymns and spiritual songs, which they may reckon suitable to the state of their families. In one church we shall have one set of such songs, a different one in another: Our Psalms and Anthems will at last become more voluminous than our Bible, and more frequently read, which is already become lamentably true, with respect to so:ns deluded Sectaries. Such disorders began even in the apostolic age and were corrected by the apostlo Paul. ”How is it then brethren? When you come together, every one of you hath a Psalm, hath a doctrine, hath a tongue, hath a revelation, hath an interpretation.”

3. This has a tendency to introduce error into the worship of God. The second commandment requireth us to keep the ordinances of God pure and entire: Wnile we abide by the Psalms of David we shall effectually secure purity of worship in respect of praising God: But if once we begin to use human composures in God’s worship, we are in imminent danger of being gradually led to sing mere jargon, or men’s opinions, instead of the sacred truths of the Spirit’s inditing. This is already verified in the case of some deluded enthusiasts, who, instead of reading the Scripture, or singing the Psalms of David with gravity, always sing such hymns and spiritual songs as breathe their own notions, and are inflamed with their own wild fire. “And Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, took either of them his censer, and put fire therein, and put incense thereon, and offered strange fire before the Lord, which he commanded them not. And there went out a fire from the Lord and devoured them, and they died before the Lord.” (Lev. x. 1, 2.) Could it be made appear that David’s Psalms are not suitable for every person, we would not think it strange to see men so fond of other composures. But this is so far from being the case, that to use the warm expressions of Gerard concerning them, “They are a jewel made up of the gold of doctrine, of the pearls of comfort, of the gems of prayer. This book is a theatre of God’s works, a sweet field and rosary of promises, a paradise of sweet fruits, and heavenly delights: An ample sea, wherein tempesttoss’d souls find richest pearls of consolation: An heavenly school wherein God himself is chief instructor. The abridgement, flower and quintessence of scripture: A glass of divine grace representing to us the sweetest smiling countenance of God in Christ; and a most accurate anatomy of a Christian soul, delineating all its afflictions, motions, temptations and plunges, with their proper remedies.”


“What poetry is to be compared with the Psalms of God? … Singing of psalms is commanded by divine authority, and commanded as a part of divine worship; not left to man’s wisdom how to provide for it, but is expressly provided for in the good word of God … The Psalms are stolen out of the church, and thereby the members are deprived of the blessings promised to the singing of them; for God will not give you the end if you neglect the means.”

Alexander Blaikie quotes William Romaine:

“What poetry is to be compared with the Psalms of God? Who can make the singing of any human verses an ordinance, or give a blessing to them, such as is  promised, and is given to the singing of Psalms? For what reason, then, are they set aside in the church? Why are the words of man’s genius preferred to the words of inspiration? Singing of psalms is commanded by divine authority, and commanded as a part of divine worship; not left to man’s wisdom how to provide for it, but is expressly provided for in the good word of God. And is not great contempt put upon this infinitely wise provision, when it is quite disused in the church, and man’s word is preferred to it?

What would you think of them who should throw aside all the Scripture, and never read it all in the congregation? And is it not an offense of the like nature, totally to neglect a part, a chief part of it, which was recorded for the use of the church, and in which its members were to sing the high praises of their God? It is hereby treated as useless and good for nothing. A very gross affront is put upon the love and wisdom which revealed this divine collection of hymns, and the church is deprived of the blessing promised to the singing of them, whereby it is robbed of one of its choicest treasures. If any thing be sacrilege, this is. The Psalms are stolen out of the church, and thereby the members are deprived of the blessings promised to the singing of them; for God will not give you the end if you neglect the means. Frequent are his commands in the Old Testament to sing psalms, and we have several in the New. for instance, let the word (not something beside it, but the word) of Christ itself dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms, and hymns, and spiritual songs. These are not different things, but different names for the same collection of Psalms, as they treat of different subjects.”

Alexander Blaikie, Catechism of Praise, 1849

“Five Reasons for Exclusive Psalmody” from Pastor Benjamin Glaser

Thanks to Pastor Benjamin Glaser for posting this on his website recently! Rev. Glaser is the pastor of Ellisville Presbyterian Church (ARP) in Ellisville, MS.

Five Reasons for Exclusive Psalmody

“From the 1871 Associate Reformed Presbyterian Synod’s “Summary of Doctrines”:


“It is the will of God, that the sacred songs contained in the Book of Psalms be sung in His worship, both public and private, to the end of the world; and the rich variety and perfect purity of their matter, the blessing of God upon them in every age and the edification of the church thence arising, set the propriety of singing them in a convincing light ; nor shall any human composures be sung in any of the Associate Reformed churches.” This regulation not only asserts the propriety of singing the Psalms in Christian worship, but forbids the use of human composures, and is supported by the following, among other considerations:

1. The Book of Psalms is a portion of the “Word of God and is, therefore, the truth most pure; human productions may, and often do contain error.

2. The true idea of praise is the celebration of God’s perfections and work; this the Infinite God, who only knows Himself can express inconceivably better than man, and we should reverently leave the expression of it to Him.

3. God has appointed the Book of Psalms to be used in His praise; human composures are unauthorized.

4. When we lay aside God’s own inspired Psalter in order to use man’s in the place of it, we seem to dishonor God and give man the preference.

5. The hymn books prepared by churches are sectarian, give prominence to their peculiar dogmas, and thereby perpetuate the divisions of the church; the Book of Psalms, like the Bible of which it is a part, is common ground on which the whole visible church may stand.”

Rankin, Adam (1755-1827)

Ebenezer ARP Church was organized by Rev. Adam Rankin around the year 1793. This photograph is from 1898.

Adam Rankin was a controversial figure in his day. He authored the first book published in the state of Kentucky in 1793 entitled A Process in the Transylvania Presbytery. This work was a defense against charges brought against him by his Presbytery, which included a defense of his views on Psalmody. Apparently Rankin stirred up quite a bit of controversy concerning the use of the Psalms in worship.  It seems that he believed God spoke to him in dreams, at least according to the charges against him. While we may not agree with all of the actions of Rev. Rankin, his work on Psalmody is historically significant as one of the first American defenses of exclusive Psalmody.

The following is from the Ebenezer ARP website. It should be noted that the website contains some inaccurate information on Psalmody. They also speak very critically of Rev. Rankin.

“Born: Near Greencastle, Pennsylvania, March 24, 1755
Died: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, November 25, 1827

“There can be no question that Mr. Rankin was ‘encompassed with infirmities,’ that he was sensitive, a little jealous, impulsive and strong of will, so that he soon put himself on the defensive, and always with his face to the foe, and he had the misfortune of living at a time when ecclesiastical things did not always run smoothly. On the other hand, it is just as certain that he was loyal to the truth and valorous in its defense, however faulty in his methods. He was of unquestioned piety, and commanded the full confidence of those among whom he lived. He possessed unusual eloquence and power in the pulpit, and often moved a whole congregation to tears.”

…from the Manual of the United Presbyterian Church in North America by William Glasgow.

The Reverend Adam Rankin was descended from pious Presbyterian ancestors, who had emigrated from Scotland. His parents steered him in the way of the ministry from his birth.

He was received as a candidate for the ministry at the Stone Meeting House in Augusta County, Virginia, in November 1781. He was enrolled at Bethel Church, May 18 1784, and about this time he married Martha, daughter of Alexander McPheeters, of Augusta County, Virginia.

Built in 1784 for Rev. Adam Rankin, 317 South Mill Street, Lexington, KY

In 1784 he was in Kentucky and founded the churches of Pisgah in Woodford County, and Mt. Zion which is Lexington, Kentucky’s pioneer church. It is likely that he was the first minister to settle in Lexington. He attended a conference of Presbyterians at Cane Run Church, Tuesday, July 12, 1785, and sowed the seeds of discord about Psalmody.”

Rankin’s principle opponent in the Psalmody debate was the Rev. Robert Bishop.

Gordon, Alexander (1789-1845)

Guinston United Presbyterian Church, built in 1773. This was one of the pastorates of Rev. Gordon Alexander. Originally ARP, then UPC, the church is now PCUSA.

“At a meeting of Presbytery, May 7th, 1828, a call was presented to the Rev. Alexander Gordon. He accepted, and was installed on the 2d of July. He resigned August 3d, 1842. He was born in Montrose, Scotland, in 1789; was educated at Edinburgh University; studied theology with Professor Paxton; was licensed June 25, 1817, and sailed four weeks afterward, in company with the Rev. Peter Bullions, for this country; was ordained, August 20, 1818, and installed in Guinston, York county, Pennsylvania. He resigned this charge October 20th, 1825. After leaving Putnam he became pastor at Johnstown, where he died from an attack of cholera morbus, August 20th, 1845. He was a fair preacher, and rather a superior writer. He was of a melancholy temperament, and while at Guinston had a sunstroke,from the effects of which his nervous system never wholly recovered. He thus described the consequences: “Now, all my boldness left me, and a continual fear of losing my recollection, and of falling through my discourse, succeeded it. If I had to stand in a high pulpit, my giddiness and fear of falling into confusion increased. My distress in this way has, hundreds of times, been indescribable, and as often, upon mere human principles, insupportable. When the hour for commencing public worship was announced, it would make me quake from head to foot. I have often ascended the pulpit like one going to execution, and often could not hold up the Psalm book for trepidation; a strange face in the audience would fill me with confusion.” ”

Gordon was the author of The Design and Use of the Book of Psalms, published in 1822

In reading his biography he seems to have been a man with a troubled spirit. Coming from a difficult childhood, he describes his early years and then some of the troubles he had while a minister. This is from his biography…

“Mr. Gordon was born in Montrose, Scotland, in the year 1789. He says: “My parents and grandparents on both sides were poor. My mother, Helen Hampton, was of a weakly constitution. My father was lame— from which, at times, he suffered great pain, and was frequently unfit for labour. His earnings, which would not exceed, but often fell below fifteen shillings sterling per week, were all the means of our support, and there were eleven of us, of whom seven died in childhood Being the oldest who lived, as soon as I was capable of giving any assistance it was both needed and required. At the age of four years, I began to follow my father to his employment, which was that of a thread miller, at which I continued to labour, as I could, for eight years. My earnings, till my twentieth year, went wholly to my father; consequently I had not the means of a common education in my youth.

“But my parents and grandparents were, I trust, religious, and continued constant in the duties of their scriptural profession, which was that of the Secession church, and of the antiBurgher side. And I was carefully instructed according to it. Being immediately under my parents till I was thirteen years of age, my words and actions and company were strictly watched, which I then thought was a severe restriction. I do not recollect how early I was taught to use the Lord’s prayer. At the age of seven I could use the form of asking a blessing and returning thanks at meals for myself and brothers. No deficiency in dress, and scarcely any extremity in the weather, exempted me from attending on the public ordinances of religion. At family worship I was required to repeat some part of the chapter read. On the Sabbath evening I was required to rehearse what I could of the public discourse.

“August 18th I was ordained to the office of the ministry at Guinston. This was another solemn and express devotemen^ of myself to a witnessing profession—but which, at that time, had not a due weight on my mind. I: was already caught by the popular enthusiasm,, and wished to distinguish myself as an advocate for all those liberal measures by which I thought this happy age was triumphing over bigotry. And my conversation, preaching, and prayers were full of it. O what a fool and how inconsistent I was! But God was preparing to break the charm, and set me again free. There was no place or house belonging to the congregation, and I was, or thought I was, under the necessity of buying land and building a house. The latter was a tedious, troublesome, and very expensive business. It brought me much in debt, and greatly harassed my mind, and became a great diversion from study. It gave me occasion, many times, to know what people really are. And while I was in trouble of another sort, these matters were also in progress, and tended greatly to increase it.

“There was a minister belonging to the General Assembly in my vicinity, whom, for his talents and soundness in doctrine, I esteemed, and he in turn commended my liberal views. We met, on an occasion, for the examination of the Sabbath Schools. Mr. M., in his part of the service, was pleased to sing Dr. Watts’ compositions. I was liberal to my shame and sorrow, but not so liberal as that. But ‘the backslider in heart is filled with his own ways,’—and I now was. I felt it at the time to be God’s reproof. Although I had several times publicly inveighed against human compositions, it did not hinder the people, (my own and others,) from believing that I was, at this time, conniving at the practice, because I was co-operating with one who was opposed to strictness in profession.

“I deemed it my duty to publish my views on psalmody, which I did, in a small book entitled, ‘The Design and Use of the Book of Psalms.’ From the moment of its publication my popularity with many was ruined. Coldness and bitter opposition now occupied the place of adulation and friendship. At the time, I thought this was hard treatment, but have ‘long since viewed it as one of God’s many mercies to me, and as such I here record it. I was now made to think deeply. I saw what I had been doing, even loving the praise of men more than the praise of God, and began in earnest to retrace my steps. . . . And now that I was awake, His rebukes came heavier and faster upon me.’ ”

“Several other trials now came upon me at once. The persecuting tongue was set against me. The occasion of this seemed to be the little book I had published on the psalms. Attempts were made, first, to destroy my character and usefulness, and, when that could not be done, to destroy my credit. In the short space of six months, seven suits were brought against me for debts, some of them real, but most of them pretended. For a length of time I was kept in fear of being sold out by the sheriff. This fear at length induced me to sell out, myself, and owe no man any thing, and leave the place. Upon looking back on these thoughts, I am disposed to ascribe them chiefly to the spirit of free masonry, which I had previously attacked in a public discourse.

“My conscience, too, spoke in terrible accents to this purpose:—

‘Fools for their sin and their offence
Do sore affliction bear.’

“Among the multitude of thoughts, these came with force:—’It may be I am nothing but a hypocrite, after all my professions and preachings.’ Although suffering very unjustly at the hand of man, yet these sufferings from the hand of God are nothing to what I deserve. The world knows not the hundredth part of my vileness. I am utterly unworthy of the place I hold. The very idea that the gospel is preached by such as I, begets horror. Nobody could think so meanly of me as I did of myself. In addition to all the rest, I was continually borne down by fearful apprehensions of death.”

The biography of Gordon Alexander is found here

The website of the Guinston Presbyterian Church is here, with further historical information

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.’ ”