Tag Archives: hymns

“…when they [poems/uninspired hymns] come in competition with the Bible, or are used as substitutes for any part of the Bible, then, indeed, the profane intrusion must be met and restricted by scriptural authority and solemn protest.”

From THE ORIGINAL COVENANTER. VOL. III. JUNE, 1881. NO. 2.

“Perhaps no error has gained more extensive currency among Protestants, in this age of the church, than this:—That every one has an equal and divine right to compose hymns, to be offered in praise to God. Now let no one suppose that we have ought to say against poetry, in general, or against evangelical hymns, in particular—provided they are kept in their own place; but when they come in competition with the Bible, or are used as substitutes for any part of the Bible, then, indeed, the profane intrusion must be met and restricted by scriptural authority and solemn protest. For, if we may accept an “imitation” as a substitute for the book of Psalms without impious presumption; on the same principle imitations of all the other books of the Bible may be accepted as substitutes; and then we arrive at the infidel goal to which the teachings of Drs. Watts, Cuyler, and Musgrave have unconsciously conducted us. Of course we use these three names of distinguished divines merely as typical of a great multitude of equally cultured men—hence the church’s peril.  

Innovators of this age are not more popular and self-confident, perhaps, than those whom Isaiah was commissioned to warn, thus: “Behold, all ye that kindle a fire, that compass yourselves about with sparks: walk in the light of your fire, and in the sparks that ye have kindled. This shall ye have of mine hand; ye shall lie down in sorrow.” [Isaiah 50.11.] Should the advocates of the purity of God’s worship in the matter of his praise sometimes utter “nonsense,” or even seem to be obnoxious to the imputation of “stupidity;” their criminality and punishment must be allowed to be comparatively light, when contrasted with the crime and doom of those contemplated in the above awful commination [threatening] by the Lord’s prophet.”

found here

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“We hold, whether rightly or wrongly, that to undertake to praise God with songs other than those which the Holy Spirit has inspired for that purpose is a sin, and such a sin as, unrepented of, should prevent a person from sitting down at the Lord’s table, either in our Church or in any other.”

W. J. McKnight makes the point below that people who are guilty of the sin of singing uninspired hymns in worship should not be allowed to the Lord’s Table. This is certainly a controversial opinion, any thoughts?

“IMPARTIALITY IN APPLICATION

Furthermore, as Christ Jesus is no respecter of persons, we ought not to be, either; for, to be a Christian, if it means anything, means to be like Christ. This, that passage from James, already quoted, settles in so many words. And this our Church has always recognized. When one of our own members violates this commandment in the way referred to, he lays himself open to discipline. A faithful Session will prohibit him from coming to the Lord’s table until he has confessed his sin, given evidence of repentance, and promised not to be guilty of it again. If, then. the Church prevents its own members from communing if they commit this sin, why should it not prevent outsiders from communing when they commit the same sin? Why should the Session practice “respect of persons”? It is the violation of the law of God that is in question, and surely it is as bad for one man to transgress a divine command as it is for another. Believing this we apply “the law of the house”, as Ezekiel calls it, to prospective communicants, no matter who they may be. In reality we go below the question of the Church to which a person belongs to the question as to whether or not he is obeying the Ten Commandments.

ADDITIONAL INTERPRETATIONS

The same line of reasoning lies at the basis of our position on Psalmody, and on Instrumental Music in divine worship, and on Secret Societies. And here again we are at one, fundamentally, with the whole Presbyterian body. We all accept the Westminster Standards. These declare that the Second Commandment forbids “all devising, counselling, commanding, using, and any wise approving, any religious worship not instituted by God Himself”, and anything and everything that would tend toward the corrupting of “the worship of God, adding to it, or taking from it”, whether such devices are “invented and taken up of ourselves, or received by tradition from others, though under the title of antiquity, custom, devotion, good intent, or any other pretense whatsoever”. As for the Third Commandment, they declare that it forbids “the not using God’s name as is required; and the abuse of it in an ignorant, vain, irreverent, profane, superstitious, or wicked mentioning or otherwise using His titles, attributes, ordinances, or works”. It would be difficult to make language stronger or more explicit.

Now our Church holds that this interpretation of those Commandments binds the people of God to the exclusive use of the Psalms in divine worship, and puts them under solemn obligation to sing praises, as in apostolical times, without the use of musical instruments, and requires them to renounce the system of secretism as a system of darkness altogether unworthy of such as are called of God to be “the light of the world”.

Thus it is our interpretation of the first three Commandments—reinforced, of course, from the rest of the Bible—that gives us our distinctive position as a Church. If our interpretation is not right, we ought to disband. If it is right, our Sessions ought to see that it is honored in every particular by every person who proposes to come to the Lord’s table under their jurisdiction. The “whole limit” is to be “most holy”. To the officers has been committed the charge, by the Lord Jesus Himself, of keeping it so. If they are faithful, they will do it—and that, too, as the Word of God requires, “without respect of persons” This is one place where sentiment has no right to intrude; obedience to orders is what the occasion demands, and the demand is absolute.

All denominations have to reckon with the Ten Commandments. All alike have to assume some attitude toward the Moral Law. Some treat the matter very loosely and unsatisfactorily; some are more rigid, some are less. We, in common with all others are under the necessity of taking a stand. We have done it. We have interpreted the Law, and what constitutes its violation, to the very best of our ability. We have published our findings. The world knows our position. We pledge ourselves to be true to those findings and to that position every time we go to the communion table. We aim to be strictly impartial. We are no firmer with outsiders than we are with our own members. “Here is the law of the house”, we say; “Christ requires us to see that the law is observed; we have no option but to obey orders”.

BY WAY OF SUMMARIZING

What our findings are—I mean those findings which keep us distinct from other Churches—may be fairly, yet succinctly, set forth in four brief statements.

We hold, whether rightly or wrongly,—yet as a matter of fact we do hold,—that to support an unchristian Constitution in its unchristian condition is a sin, and such a sin as, unrepented of, should prevent a person from sitting down at the Lord’s table, either in our Church or in any other.

We hold, whether rightly or wrongly, that to undertake to praise God with songs other than those which the Holy Spirit has inspired for that purpose is a sin, and such a sin as, unrepented of, should prevent a person from sitting down at the Lord’s table, either in our Church or in any other.

We hold, whether rightly or wrongly, that to introduce instrumental music into the New Testament worship, when the Apostles organized that worship without it, is a sin, and such a sin as, unrepented of, should prevent a person from sitting down at the Lord’s table, either in our Church or in any other.

We hold, whether rightly or wrongly, that union with secret societies is a sin, and such a sin as, unrepented of, should prevent a person from sitting down at the Lord’s table, either in our Church or in any other.

The fact is that we find ourselves under obligation, in these respects, to bear a faithful testimony not only to the world, but to such other Churches also as differ with us on these intrinsically important questions. At the communion table our testimony comes to its climax. Shall we weaken where we should be firmest? Shall we waver where we should be immoveable? Shall we make it apparent on the Holy Mount that we are sincere in our conclusions and mean to maintain them to the end, or shall we choose the Holy Mount to make it apparent to other Churches and to the world, that we only half believe what we profess? Here, of all places, it would seem, we ought to aim to be perfect, even as our Father which is in heaven is perfect (Matt. 5:48).

Evidently this is not the place to defend our position as a Church, as it comes to light in our distinctive principles. All we needed to do here was to state the principles fully enough to bring the situation clearly into mind. And this, we assume, has been done.

A CASE IN POINT

An incident that happened a few years ago in my ministry might be cited in this connection, it seems to me, as an apt illustration. One of the ablest men I ever knew—the pastor of a neighboring congregation—accosted me on the street one day and said, “One thing about your Church I could never understand, that is, your position on Close Communion”. In reply I said, “In point of principle our views on that question are the same as yours”. “How is that?” he said. “Suppose”, said I, “that one of your members should strike a child down with an ax and kill it, would your Session allow him to go to the Lord’s table at the next communion?” “Well”, said he, “I should hope not”. “Why?” I asked. “Why, because he violated the Sixth Commandment”, he said. “But”, I protested, “he might hold that what he did was not murder”. “Oh”, said my friend, “we would not leave that to him; we would take that matter into our own hands”. “You mean to say”, I said, “that your Session would assume the responsibility of interpreting the Sixth Commandment and also of passing judgment on the man’s conduct, as to whether it was a violation of the Commandment thus interpreted”. “Precisely”, he said. “Well, then,” said I, “why should you object to our Sessions when they do the same thing with respect to the First Commandment, and the Second, and the Third? “Oh, I see”, he said, “and what is more I believe you are right; it never occurred to me in that light; with you Close Communion means that the Reformed Presbyterian Church intends to honor the Moral Law as the Church apprehends it, before anyone shall be permitted to take a seat at the Lord’s table under its jurisdiction and oversight”. “Yes”, said I, “that is the exact situation as we see it”; and the man was satisfied. After all, to any person who really stops to consider, it is only a question of clear thinking and a sincere purpose to follow orders.”

From CONCERNING CLOSE COMMUNION. AN INVESTIGATION. by W.J. MCKNIGHT, D.D., Pastor of the First Reformed Presbyterian Church of Boston found here Concerning Close Communion by WJ Mcnight.

“The Inspired Psalms, as being the dictates of the Spirit of truth, are entirely free from error, and although, in some cases, we may be unable to discover the application of the figures, or the full import of the expressions, we cannot hesitate for a moment to declare, that in arrangement, expression, and design, the psalms are absolutely perfect.”

Another fine selection from the Reformed Covenanter website:

Rev. Thomas Houston

“We have always thought that the serious imperfections that are justly chargeable upon the most favourite uninspired hymns furnish a powerful argument against employing them in the Psalmody of the Church.  The Inspired Psalms, as being the dictates of the Spirit of truth, are entirely free from error, and although, in some cases, we may be unable to discover the application of the figures, or the full import of the expressions, we cannot hesitate for a moment to declare, that in arrangement, expression, and design, the psalms are absolutely perfect.  To say otherwise, as some modern hymn-makers have done, is to charge the Author of inspiration with imperfection, and to cast contempt on his best gift to our world.  No such declaration, however, can, with propriety, be used in relation to those merely human compositions which have been introduced to rank with the Psalms of David, or, in many cases, to supplant them, in the praises of the Church.  Select the most esteemed of them, and they will be found, either in matter, or style, or arrangement, to betray evident marks of human imperfection: in some instances, noxious error it diffused under the embellishments of poetry; in others, the style is turgid, abounding in puerile conceits or unnatural images, and forced expressions; while, in almost all, there is a wide departure from the unadorned simplicity and dignified gravity of the Words of the Holy One of Israel.” Rev. Thomas Houston

Covenanter, Mar. 1837, p. 49.

“Objections to the psalms, and the praise of hymns as superior to God’s book can have no weight as against the single fact that the psalms are divinely authorized and the hymns are not.”

Rev. R. J. George

The following was originally posted at the Old Light Covenanter blog here. George goes on to list good arguments against the objections against the Psalms.

Lectures in Pastoral Theology, Third Series

R. J. George

Lecture XX
Objections to the Book of Psalms

“If the argument presented in the preceding lectures be accepted, then no form of objection that can be raised against the book can set it aside. Since God has provided the psalter by His Holy Spirit, and commanded it to be used; and since He has provided no other, nor promised His aid to any effort to prepare another, it is evident that, in this matter, He has left nothing to the judgment of men. Objections to the psalms, and the praise of hymns as superior to God’s book can have no weight as against the single fact that the psalms are divinely authorized and the hymns are not.”

“At his [Charles Spurgeon’s] request Dr. Kennedy gave out a paraphrase to be sung, probably the first time he ever did so in his life.”

Rev. Dr. John Kennedy

In the nineteenth century, Rev. Dr. John Kennedy of Scotland enjoyed a friendly relationship with Charles Spurgeon. Dr. Kennedy invited Mr. Spurgeon to preach at the opening of a new church facility in Dingwall Scotland. I found the following quote to be of interest because it takes notice of the fact that a Paraphrase was sung at this assembly instead of a Psalm.

“When it was announced in 1870 that the great Baptist preacher [Charles Spurgeon] was to open Dr Kennedy’s new church in Dingwall there was much public satisfaction, not unmingled with astonishment. Mr Spurgeon’s name drew together an immense crowd. The church, of course, could only accommodate a limited number; but in the evening there was a large concourse in the open air. Mr. Spurgeon’s earnestness and eloquence were combined with a brightness and vivacity which contributed to the charm of his preaching. At his request Dr Kennedy gave out a paraphrase to be sung, probably the first time he ever did so in his life.” (From a Memoir of Dr Kennedy which appeared in the newspaper Inverness Courier in 1893. Mrs Kennedy regarded it as the best account of her late husband that had appeared in any form.) here online

I was quite disappointed to read that this concession was made for Mr. Spurgeon. It distresses me because it seems to overlook a great truth that should be notice about the singing of Psalms. Every Christian can come together to sing the Psalms, the same cannot be said of hymns and paraphrases. I wonder if Dr. Kennedy’s congregation joined in singing the paraphrase?

I will see if I can find some of the details of the service…

This is the building that was dedicated in 1870 in Dingwall

“But in the new translation of the Psalmes, resolving to keep punctually to the original text, without any addition, we and they were content to omit that [doxology] whereupon we saw both the Popish and Prelatical parties did so much dote…”

Robert Baillie (1602-1662)

“Also about the Conclusion of the Psalmes [Psalter], we had no debate with them; without scruple, Independents and all sang it [the doxology], so far as I know, where it was printed at the end of two or three psalms. But in the new translation of the Psalmes [the eventual 1650 Psalter], resolving to keep punctually to the original text, without any addition, we and they were content to omit that [doxology] whereupon we saw both the Popish and Prelatical parties did so much dote, as to put it to the end of the most of their lessons, and all their psalms.” Robert Baille, April 25, 1645, Letters of Robert Baillie, Vol II, p 259.

Robert Baillie stated this after the Westminster Assembly decided to remove an uninspired Doxology from what would become the authorized 1650 Psalter. Baillie admits that most men sang it without any scruple, but then he makes it clear why they eventually removed it from the Psalter…it was not an inspired part of the original text.

 This was the doxology in question:

To Father, Son and Holy Ghost
The God whom we adore
Be glory as it was, is now
And shall be evermore.

 David Silversides uses this quote by Baillie to make the following point:

“Later Scottish Covenanters, like Brown of Wamphray and McWard (contending with Bishop Burnett) opposed the sung doxology, not because they deemed its content doctrinally unsound, but because of the regulative principle of worship and the absence of Scriptural warrant to add anything to the 150 Psalms given by God. From the deliberate exclusion of the doxology we learn that the Westminster Confession means by the “singing of psalms” (in ch.xxi, para. v) simply the use of the Biblical Psalms.”

The paper by David Silversides is found here

Question #11: Is it a sin to sing uninspired hymns in worship?

Plastic commandments

Question #11: Is it a sin to sing uninspired hymns in worship?