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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

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Alexander takes a walk with Rufus

A Dialogue on Psalmody Between Alexander and Rufus
by John Anderson, 1821

Alexander and Rufus were both ministers of the Presbyterian denomination; both desired the welfare of the church of Christ; but they had different views of the present state of the church, and of the means which ought to be used for promoting its welfare. Rufus considered it as his duty to warn his hearers against whatever he judged contrary to the Word of God in the public profession and avowed practice of the various denominations of Christians. Alexander, on the contrary, was careful to avoid controversy in his discourses addressed to the people. Satisfied with the declaration of those truths which he reckoned the more important, he seldom stated those which, he knew, were denied by other denominations, among Protestants; and said nothing of the sinfulness or danger of their errors. They lived near one another; and, notwithstanding their different opinions, they often had friendly interviews. One evening, as they took a walk together in the fields, they had the following conversation concerning church communion [which included this exchange on Psalmody].

 Alexander: Let us now proceed to the consideration of the third article complained by the Seceders, which is, our singing of hymns of human composure in public worship. Why do the Seceders make such a noise about our singing such compositions as contain nothing but Scripture truth, and tend to animate our devotion?

 Rufus: It is easy to state their objections to our practice [of singing hymns] on this head. 1st, they judge, that by this practice, we disregard the authority of God in appointing the Psalms given by the inspiration of his Spirit to be sung in the solemn worship of his church. By the Psalms, they mean those parts of the Scriptures bearing the titles of Psalms or Songs; particularly, the Book of Psalms. These, the Seceders believe, God appointed to be sung in the solemn worship of his church. Hezekiah and the princes commanded the Levites to sing praises to God in the words of David and of Asaph the seer. With regard to the authority by which all the regulations concerning the singing of the Levites were established, we are informed, that it was the commandment of the Lord by his prophets. These songs were delivered by the inspired writers to be sung in the public worship of the church, according to 1 Chron. xvi. 7 and according to the inscriptions of the Psalms.

The authority of the Old Testament (which the Seceders, agreeably to our confession of faith, consider as the same with that of the New) binds us to continue in the practice of singing the Psalms given by Divine inspiration; as being a practice which has never been abrogated. They are much confirmed in this belief by observing, that the multitude and variety of the Scripture songs are such, that the people of God, in all the changes of their condition, have never been at any loss to find some part of these songs exactly adapted to their case, giving them lively impressions of the omniscience and goodness of the Divine Author, in foreseeing each of their cases, and furnishing them with such suitable words of reproof, instruction and consolation. It is true, there are many truths more fully stated and declared in other parts of scripture, than in the Psalms: but these truths are implied, or supposed and proceeded upon in the Psalms; which the Seceders regard as comprising a system of songs and hymns sufficient to answer all the purposes of singing in the solemn and public worship of the church.

 Secondly, the Seceders urge, that the singing of human compositions in the solemn and public worship of the church, is not warranted by any precept or example to be found in the Word of God. Hence, they consider those who adhere to this practice, as chargeable with mixing something of human invention with the instituted worship of God. They regard our singing these hymns of human composure, instead of the inspired Psalms, in the same light with Jeroboam’s observation of the feast of tabernacles on the fifteenth day of the eighth month, instead of the fifteenth day of the seventh month; the month in which God had appointed it to be observed. In short, they declare, they cannot help looking upon this practice as a superstitious innovation in the worship of the Presbyterian Church, and as one of the causes of God’s wrath against this generation.

 Thirdly, the Seceders complain, that their grievance on this head has been nothing lessened, but rather increased, by the manner in which the singing of these human composures in public worship has been defended. The advocates for this practice, have advanced such opinions, in defending it, on the defects of the Psalms, and of the whole scriptures of the Old Testament, on the difference between the worship of Jesus Christ under the Old Testament, and under the New; on the warrantableness of instrumental music in New Testament worship, and on other subjects; as appear to be inconsistent with the doctrine taught, according to the Holy Scriptures, in the Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechisms. The Psalms, which the Holy Spirit indited to promote our devotion, have been represented as damping it; and the words and forms of the Psalms, when translated, have been denied to be any more the Word of God, than the words and forms of the hymns of human composure; and that it is not necessary, in translating the Scriptures, to preserve the phraseology of the original. The opinion, that some have expressed in defending our new psalmody, namely, that the words of Scripture, even when literally and justly translated, are no more the words of the Holy Spirit than English is Hebrew or Greek, has been shown, I think, to be a Deistical opinion.

 Alexander: In the heat of controversy, even sensible men are sometimes carried into extremes. But we have a sufficient warrant for singing in solemn worship such hymns as we ourselves compose, as well as those we find in the book of Psalms, in Col. iii. 16, where the apostle exhorts us to sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs. The Seceders, from an obstinate attachment to their favorite opinion, dislike this text, as much as the Arians do the 7th verse of the fifth chapter of the 1st epistle of John. The book of Psalms never obtained these various titles, nor was known by them; but, on the contrary, the name of Psalms was appropriated to it. The apostle, by these various names of such different derivation, did not mean that book exclusive of all others, nor indeed any one collection of compositions then extant.

 Rufus: We should not say, that the Psalms never obtained these various titles; nor were known by them; since the words psalms, hymns, and songs are an exact translation of the Hebrew titles of the Psalms; since the Greek words, so rendered, are all found in the titles of the Psalms in the Septuagint translation of this book. When Josephus speaks of David’s hymns and songs, I suppose every reader understands him as speaking of the Psalms. Indeed, I think it cannot be denied, that there are hymns and spiritual songs in the book of Psalm; and if so, it follows, that we do what the apostle exhorts us to do; that is, we sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, when we sing the compositions contained in that Book.

 Alexander: But can it be proved, that these are meant exclusively, or that we should sing no other in public and solemn worship?

 Rufus: This part of the Holy Scriptures is called by Christ and his apostles biblos psalmon, the book of Psalms. From their use of this title we conclude, that the Psalms, not only considered separately, but as forming a collection or system, are of Divine authority. We have indeed other songs in scripture, such as, those of Hezekiah and Habakkuk. Hezekiah concludes his song with these words The Lord was ready to save me therefore we will sing my songs to the stringed instruments all the days of our life in the house of the Lord. Hezekiah here expresses his resolution to employ the remainder of his days in celebrating the praises of his Divine Deliverer; but does not say, that his preceding meditation, as here recorded, was to be sung, like the songs in the book of Psalms, in the ordinary public worship of the temple. If this writing of Hezekiah had been designed for that purpose, it would probably have been placed, (as Vitringa on this passage says, he believes, was the case with other songs of Hezekiah) in that book. This song was not necessary, on account of the subject of it, as a supplement to the book of Psalms, as there are several in that book, such as the 38th, the 39th and 90th, on the same subject. So there are several psalms concerning the same illustrious events that are described in the song of Habakkuk, such as the 68th and the 76th. With regard to the words in this song, which are rendered in our translation, To the chief musician on my stringed instrument, it may be observed, that while the word neginoth is found in the inscription of the 4th, 6th, 54th, 67th and 76th psalms; but in none of them has it, as here, the pronominal affix rendered my; a circumstance which leads us to consider the word neginoth, as respecting the personal exercise of the prophet, rather than the joint exercise of the singers in the temple. But though it had been the case, that these and other parts of scripture, bearing the title of songs, were sometimes warrantably sung in solemn and public worship of the church; yet it would not follow, that we may warrantably sing in that worship portions of scripture which bear no such title; and far less does it follow, that we may sing in that worship songs or hymns, which, as such, cannot at all be pretended to be given by Divine inspiration. As it was the prerogative of Jehovah to add to the canon of scripture; so it was his prerogative to add, if it had been necessary, to the system of psalms, which he had given by the inspiration of his Holy Spirit to be sung in the public and solemn worship of his church. But this only serves to show the impious presumption of men’s attempts to add to that system.

 I can easily see the reason why the Arians abhor the text, you cited, in the first epistle of John, because it expressly asserts, (what these heretics deny) that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, are one in respect of their Divine essence or being. But to affirm, that the Seceders as much dislike the other passage you cited in the third chapter of the epistle to the Colossians, because they are against the making of hymns by persons that are uninspired for the purpose of being sung in solemn and public worship, and against the use of them according to such a purpose, is quite unreasonable; while there is nothing in the passage now referred to about hymns or songs of that particular description. If it had been either expressed or necessarily implied in this text, that the psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs used in solemn or formal worship were to be of human composure, it would have been formidable to the tenet of the Seceders; but as it is, I think, we must yield the cause to them, unless we can produce some other text, which is more to the purpose.

 Alexander: At present, I would rather decline entering largely into the merits of the cause. The contest has been triumphantly managed by the reverend and venerable Messrs. Black and Lata. But it seems absurd to say, that we may not use such songs in our solemn worship, as express our praises of God for the incarnation, obedience, atonement, and resurrection of the Divine Mediator, as events which have already taken place.

 Rufus: It is true, we cannot, in this conversation, enter largely into the merits of every particular that comes under our review. What we assign, however, as a reason for our adherence to any side of a question ought to be something that appears satisfactory. But to say that such a cause has been triumphantly managed by two of our ministers, you can hardly suppose will satisfy my mind, especially, when that which has been advanced against them, on the part of the Seceders, remains, to this day, unanswered. With regard to the remark you added, I observe, that the faith of God’s people, even under the Old Testament, always rested upon Christ’s obedience and atonement, as if they had been already finished; and, as if God’s acceptance of them had been already manifested in his resurrection and ascension. Hence these events are celebrated in the Psalms, as if they had been past events. They pierced my hands and my feet: they gave me gall for my meat, and in my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink. Thou hast ascended on high: thou hast led captivity captive. The stone which the builders rejected is become the head of the corner. Dare we say, that in singing these and the like expressions the people of God do not sing praises to him for Jesus Christ as already crucified and exalted? Dare we deny, that the Holy Spirit, in giving these expressions to be sung in solemn worship, intended that they should be used and applied in praising God for Christ’s finished work? On the other hand, if it was the design of the Holy Spirit, that they should be so used and applied, is there no impiety in teaching, that these parts of the Psalms are not well adapted by the infinite wisdom of God to that end?

 Alexander: There is one plain simple argument, which satisfies myself with respect to the propriety of singing what the Seceders call human composures in the worship of God. It is this: If we are to use our own words in prayer and preaching, provided they are agreeable to the Word of God, why not in praising also?

 Rufus: To this the Seceders have often returned a very plain answer. God hath given us a book or system of Psalms, and hath commanded us to sing them in his worship; but he has nowhere in the scriptures signified, that the duties of prayer and preaching are rightly performed by the mere repetition of a prescribed form of words. It is evident, that we cannot join together in singing the praises of God in his worship, without some prescribed form. We have in our Bible, forms of psalms or songs adapted to every occasion, on which we are called to sing his praise: the question is, which of these forms are we to prefer on such occasions? Those which God hath given by the immediate inspiration of his Holy Spirit, and which he has appointed to be sung in his worship; or human composures, which have no such authority? Which psalmody are we to prefer? That which is certainly from Heaven, or that which we know to be of men? Besides, if we admit this reasoning from the use of our own words in prayer to the use of them in singing, I cannot see, why we should not also admit the reasoning of the advocates for liturgies and set forms of prayer from the use of set forms in singing. There is hardly any church without some established form of psalmody. Amongst ourselves, Dr. Watts’ Imitation has obtained a sort of establishment; and why, may not Episcopalians say, should we not have a common form of prayer established among us, as well as a form of psalmody? I know not how we can confute such reasoning without showing the difference between singing and prayer in this respect; without showing, that there is a warrantable use of a set form of words in the one, but not in the other. The words we use in prayer, whether we use the words of scripture or others, expressing sentiments or desires agreeable to the scriptures, must, from the very nature of the exercise, be considered, in their tenor or connexion, as our own words. But the words we sing are often not our words to God, but God’s words to us, words of doctrine reproof, direction, or instruction: such as those of the 1st, 37th, 49th, 50th, and other Psalms. It is a pity, that any should be so uncandid as to deny such a plain truth. It is also inconsistent with candour to impute to the Seceders a superstitious attachment to what is called Rouse’s Version of the Psalms. They prefer it as the most correct verse-translation in our language. They have reason for this preference from its having undergone the correction both of the Westminster assembly and of the general assembly of the Church of Scotland. They disapprove the singing of Dr. Watts’ Imitation in public and solemn worship, because it is not a version of the Psalms at all. It was never intended to be so by the author, as appears by his preface and the title of the work as published by himself. He accounted much of the matter and the style in general of the Psalms, as they stand in the Old Testament, unsuitable to New Testament worship; and therefore he did not mean to preserve the whole matter of the Psalms, or their style, but to express as much of the matter as he judged suitable to his purpose, not in the language of the Old Testament, that is, in their own language, but in the language of the New Testament. Hence the title of A Version, or An Improved Version, in the editions of that work lately printed, must seem to be an imposition on the public.

 Alexander: It has been so common to hear disputants call one another uncandid, that the accusation is now little regarded.

 Rufus: It may, however, be sometimes well grounded; as well as some of the charges of injustice which we continually hear people bring against their neighbours in their civil affairs; and is it not even more necessary to distinguish between justice and injustice in controversies about matters of religion, than in those about civil affairs?

Pressly, John Taylor (1795-1870)

“Pressly, John Taylor, D. D.—Son of David Pressly, born in Abbeville Co., S. C, March 28, 1795, graduated at seventeen Transylvania University, Ky. Four years in the A. R. P. Seminary, N. Y., under the peerless Mason fitted him for license by the Second Presbytery, July 3, 1816. July 10, 1817, he was ordained and installed pastor of the large and waiting congregation of Cedar Spring, S. C, and Long Cane eleven years later, Feb. 28, 1828. Under Synod he was entrusted with the first mission West—to Tennessee. Two months in 1819 were spent, a sermon on an average, was preached each alternate day, $17.25 collected, expenses $33.40 and $7.00 per week was allowed. Synod highly approved his work and “expressed their gratitude to the head of the Church for the cheering intelligence and kind reception of the missionarv during his tour.” He was Moderator of Synod 1820, her Professor of Divinity 1825-1831, early influential and always punctual. Dr. Pressly, in connection with Dr. Isaac Grier, was a delegate to a convention of the three A. R. Presbyterian Synods in Pittsburgh, Pa., Sept. 12, 1827, with the hope of union. In the midst of his rising popularity and extended usefulness in his congregation of 172 families and 334 members this relation was dissolved Nov. n, 1831. The Associate Reformed Presbyterian Synod of the West established a Theological Seminary in Pittsburgh, Pa., May 1825. To the sole charge of this responsible work he was unanimously elected Oct. 10, 1831, and entered upon his duties Jan. 5, 1832. During that year he accepted a call to the First A. R. P congregation of Allegheny, Pa., and removed the Seminary to his church. The title of D. D. was conferred by Jefferson in 1832, of which he was a trustee 1839-1865. He married Miss Jane Hearst of Cedar Spring, S. C., Sept. 22, 1846. Synod elected him President of Erskine College. This was declined. For over 15 years he was an honor to our Synod, facile princeps, very early in his ministry being called to her most responsible, difficult and delicate duties. His subsequent, useful and far reaching career belongs to another Church very near to us. He was the prince of the distinguished Pressly family. Dignified in person, systematic and laborious in study, able in debate, expository in preaching, a master in the classroom and oracular with his students. Psalm singing Presbyterianism never had an abler or more influential defender. His death occurred August 13, 1870.”

“In commemoration of the virtues and faithful services of their beloved pastor, the members of the congregation, among whom he had labored so long and acceptably, erected a mural tablet of white marble to the right of the pulpit, with the following appropriate memorial, inlaid with letters of gold inscribed upon a shield of black marble: [see above]:  This testimonial of loving and grateful hearts was unveiled on the occasion of the semi-centennial anniversary of the church, held Nov. 8, 1881.”

“The personal appearance of Dr. Pressly was strikingly impressive. Six feet in height, with clear-cut, strong, sensitive and refined features, iron gray hair and keen dark eyes, he looked at once the clergyman and patrician. He was a fine horseman, and when mounted suggested a resemblance to his cavalier ancestors. In manner he may have seemed to some somewhat austere, as he never lost the dignity of his profession or the demeanor of a cultured, Christian gentleman, but no one could be near him and not teel that he had a great, loving heart. In character, in life, and in all the work of his life, he was a good man.”

Pressly’s work on Psalmody can be found here

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.

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.”