Tag Archives: Westminster Divines

Rev. Matthew Winzer reviews Nick Needham’s essay on the Westminster Assembly’s teaching on psalms, hymns and musical instruments

Thanks to Mr. Chris Coldwell and Rev. Matthew Winzer for bringing this review to us free of charge. There is a link in the post below to download the PDF. The Confessional Presbyterian Journal (highly recommended by this EP website) is available there as well. The following is from Mr. Coldwell’s website:

“The Confessional Presbyterian 4 (2008) 253–266. Review: Nick Needham, ‘Westminster and worship: psalms, hymns, and musical instruments,’ In The Westminster Confession into the 21st Century, 2, ed. J. Ligon Duncan (Ross-shire, Scotland: Christian Focus Publications, 2005). 540 pages. ISBN 978-1-857-92878-5. $37.99. Reviewed by Matthew Winzer, Grace Presbyterian Church (Australian Free Church), Rockhampton, Queensland, Australia. Download PDF.

[Synopsis:  Matthew Winzer briefly critiques Mr. Needham’s handling of the regulative principle of worship before reviewing at length his handling of the Westminster Assembly’s view of Singing of Psalms. Sections are: The Historical-contextual Interpretation of “Singing of Psalms” in the Westminster formularies; Th e Work and Proceedings of the Westminster Assembly; External Evidence: the Milieu of 1640s London; Advocates for Exclusive Psalmody Amongst the Westminster Assembly of Divines; and The Wider Puritan Tradition. Mr. Winzer then briefly covers Mr. Needham’s handling of the Assembly’s view of musical instruments in worship before concluding the review. A lengthy footnote handles the “other Scripture Songs” project of the Scottish General Assembly running parallel with what would become the 1650 Scottish Psalter.]

Westminster and Worship Examined: A Review of Nick Needham’s essay on the Westminster Confession of Faith’s teaching concerning the regulative principle, the singing of psalms, and the use of musical instruments in the public worship of God.

An attempt has recently been made by Nick Needham “to give an accurate historical judgment relating to the [Westminster] Assembly’s views and deliverances relating to exclusive psalmody and non-instrumental worship.”1 If, however, one were expecting to find a detailed examination of the writings of the divines, he would be sorely disappointed. Throughout the article reference is made to only one fragment of writing from a member of the Assembly; all other quotations are taken from the statements of individual Puritans who neither attended the Westminster Assembly nor spoke specifically to the issue of exclusive psalmody. Moreover, no use has been made of the valuable historical material to be found in the writings of those members who have provided some sketches of its proceedings. Given this regrettable state of affairs, it must be said that the article fails in its attempt to provide an accurate historical judgment on the Assembly’s views. Whoever is the rightful possessor of the views Mr. Needham has represented, they have not been shown to belong to the Westminster Assembly….”

“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