Report of Synod’s Committee on Psalmody, 1888

The question of the matter of praise is not now, and never has been, an open one in the Reformed Presbyterian Church, yet it is one upon which many church members need line upon line and precept upon precept. We are surrounded by those who are hostile to the exclusive use of the Book of Psalms as the praise book of the church; many temptations are thrown in the way of some members of our church to use hymns of human composition in divine service, and some say we are very narrow-minded and bigoted because we confine ourselves to the hundred and fifty Psalms of the Bible. We need as a church to explain to our members from time to time, as well as to exhibit to the churches around us, why we adhere to the exclusive use of the Psalms in the worship of God. We need to do this because of the natural inclination of man to substitute the human for the divine, and to consult his own feelings, even in matters of worship, rather than the revealed will of God. The question in all such matters is not what is most pleasing to human sense, but what does God require. Were we at liberty to consult our own inclinations no doubt many would substitute some other book in place of the Bible, to be read in family worship and in the house of God. Who among evangelical Christians will affirm that we ought to displace the Bible by any other book, because, forsooth, it would be more pleasing and attractive to the perverted taste of man? It is not denied that many hymns of human composition are beautiful in thought and expression, and instructive as well, yet that does not warrant us in using them in divine worship. The horse is a beautiful animal, and useful, too, more beautiful in many eyes than the ox; there are many who have a fancy for dogs and will not hesitate to say that they are more beautiful than goats, yet under the law the horse and the dog were unclean and to offer them in sacrifice would have exposed the offerer to the just displeasure of God, while bullocks and goats were appointed and acceptable offerings. We should beware of offering to God that which he has not prescribed, lest we provoke him to anger, and bring down upon us his righteous judgments.

No one will deny that there is warrant for the use of the inspired book of Psalms. It will not be denied that God gave these Psalms to the Jews as their book of praise. All scholars admit that the “hymn” which Jesus sang just after the institution of the sacrament of the supper was selected from this book; and it is capable of demonstration that when Paul, by the Spirit, enjoined on the Ephesian and Colossian Churches the singing of “psalms and hymns and spiritual songs,” he meant no other than the inspired songs of the Bible. We are frequently commanded to praise God, but never to make a hymn to be sung in his praise. To use hymns of human composition in religious worship without divine warrant is daring presumption; it is to say that “God’s Spirit acted niggardly in doling out an insufficient supply of praise songs;” and it is to profess that we are wiser than God. Let us beware of charging God foolishly.

Since we cannot consistently and conscientiously sing anything except the Psalms of the Bible in divine worship we ought not to seem to countenance the use of other songs in such service. It is damaging to the conscientious convictions of our members to frequent even houses of worship where such corruptions of worship prevail. To do so is to enter on a course which is almost certain to end in defection.

While contending for the exclusive use of the inspired psalter, it is the bounden duty of the church to provide for use in all her services a version of this book of praise as free as possible from blemishes, so as not unnecessarily to give occasion to others to scoff and deride. It is quite generally admitted among ourselves that the Scottish version of the book of Psalms with all its excellencies is far from perfect. The demand is growing louder and louder year by year for something more smooth and agreeable not only to poetic taste but to the original. Shall this demand be heard? If so, what shall be done? Shall we return to the ancient mode of praise and chant the Psalms or shall we have an amended version? Synod has already given its endorsement to the use of chants, yet few are ready to introduce them into the public worship of God. A revised version of the psalter seems to be necessary. The committee appointed by Synod one year ago to prepare such a version, is ready to report. Since the work of that committee will come before Synod for direct action, we refrain from expressing our judgment at this time. One thing we do desire to urge on Synod, to wit: The importance of seeking agreement and harmony on the part of all psalm-singing bodies in the use of the best version of the psalter, the combined scholarship and poetic talent of the churches can produce. When all the psalm-singing churches present a united and harmonious front in this matter, we can with better grace invite the other churches to unite with us in the use of the inspired Book of Psalms.

There are yet other matters of importance in the praise service of the church. The first that we will mention is that we sing with the spirit and with the understanding, also. The mere use of the Scripture Psalms in the service of praise is only solemn mockery unless the heart also be employed. That the heart may be employed we need to understand the sentiment of the psalms. The custom of expounding a portion of sacred song on the morning of each Lord’s day is well adapted to promote a better understanding of the psalms, and ought to be perpetuated. Along with this all should earnestly seek the enlightening influence of the Holy Spirit.

It is also of great importance that we sing skillfully. To this end the voice must necessarily be cultivated to sing in time and in tune. Too little attention is paid to this in many of our congregations, hence our congregational singing is in some cases a laughing-stock to those around us. Singing classes should be organized in all our congregations, and practice in the service of song should be kept up.

Your committee would recommend the adoption of the following resolutions:

1. That we enjoin upon all members of the Church to refrain from the use of hymns of human composition as a service of worship on week-day or on Sabbath, as being a violation of that command which forbids the worship of God “in any way not appointed in his word.”

2. That steps be taken at this Synod to secure the co-operation of all the psalm-singing churches in America in preparing a version of the Book of Psalms in harmony with the original and with poetic taste, upon which all may unite.

3. That we urge upon all the members of the church to use means to improve the congregational singing of the church.

4. That we renew the recommendation of the Psalm-Singer, edited by the Rev. George Warrington, of Birmingham, Iowa, as an able and faithful exponent of the teachings of God’s law as to the service of praise, and urge upon the members of the Church to give the paper a liberal patronage for the sake of their families and for the advancement of the cause.

Respectfully submitted,

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