Friday, July 8, 2011
Psalm 150: A Biblical Consideration of Songs and Music in Worship
I was asked recently to skip ahead a little in the study of the Psalms to see what a study of Ps. 150 would produce as to the ever raging controversy involving music in worship. I think the question was mainly directed at instruments in worship; but, as I studied I found it hard to isolate that one factor without also considering the songs we are to sing; both of which are the source of much disagreement in the Church. My goal here is to be as impartial as is possible and to present the word of God and the perspectives of various sources in dealing with this issue. Upon completion I hope I will have presented a case sufficient to give you a credible reason to either retain or reject your current view of this matter.
Music and Instruments
First, lest any man object to this being considered speaking of worship, corporate or otherwise, we have the bookends of vs. 1-2, 6 which make it abundantly clear that this is indeed speaking of worship. In general this Psalm can be summed up accurately by saying as Calvin does, “This Psalm… commends the spiritual worship of God, which consists in sacrifices of praise.” Spurgeon notes the significance of vs. 6, and this Psalm overall, in closing the Book of Psalms with a directive to worship God, whoever you may be. He says, “Thus is the Psalm rounded with the note of praise; and thus is the Book of Psalms ended by a glowing word of adoration. Reader, wilt thou at this moment pause a while, and worship the Lord thy God? Hallelujah!” With this the other sources agree and to recite each of them would be redundant.
But, as to the meaning of vs. 3-5, there is disagreement. Some of the expositors are a little ambiguous here and will require further investigation with the rest of our study, but most are not. I will split the two sides of debate here and allow the readers to see the logic employed by both sides.
Against the use of instruments in worship:
¨ [The trumpet, the psaltery, and the harp] were instruments of music, both used in divine worship under the former dispensation; and in which David was well skilled and delighted, and appointed proper persons to praise with them, (1 Chron. 15:20-21). They were typical of the spiritual melody made in the hearts of God's people, while they are praising Him in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, under the Gospel, (Eph. ; Rev. 5:2; 5:8; 14:2-3)… Now these several instruments of music are named, not as to be used in Gospel times; but, being expressive of the highest praise and joy shown in former times, are mentioned to set forth the highest strains and notes of praise in New Testament saints; as well as to denote their heartiness, agreement, and unanimity in this service, (Rom. 15:6). JG
¨ It is well that we are not concerned to enquire what sort of instruments these were, it is enough that they were well known then. Our concern is to know, 1. That hereby is intimated how full the psalmist’s heart was of the praises of God and how desirous he was that this good work might go on. 2. That in serving God we should spare no cost nor pains. 3. That the best music in God’s ears is devout and pious affections, non musica chordula, sed cor – not a melodious string, but a melodious heart… 4. That, various instruments being used in praising God, it should be done with an exact and perfect harmony; they must not hinder, but help one another. The New Testament concert, instead of this, is with one mind and one mouth to glorify
15:6. MH God, Rom.
¨ Exhorting the people only to rejoice in praising God, he maketh mention of those instruments which by God’s commandment were appointed to the old Law, but under Christ the use thereof is abolished in the Church. (150:3) 1599 GB
For the use of instruments in worship:
¨ The call to praise [Jehovah] “with dance and with timbrel” in 149:3 is put forth anew in [150:4], but with the introduction of all the instruments; and is addressed not merely to
, but to every individual soul. K&D, Franz Delitzsch Israel
¨ When the people have been gathered by blast of trumpet, they proceed to “praise Him with the psaltery and harp.” Stringed instruments are to be used as well as those which are rendered vocal by wind. Dulcet notes are to be consecrated as well as more startling sounds. The gospel meaning is that all powers and faculties should praise the Lord – all sorts of persons, under all circumstances, and with differing constitutions, should do honor unto the Lord of all. If there be any virtue, if there be any talent, if there be any influence, let all be consecrated to the service of the universal Benefactor. Harp and lyre – the choicest, the sweetest, must be all our Lord’s… If men are dull in the worship of the Lord our God they are not acting consistently with the character of their religion… We have here three kinds of musical instruments: timbrels, which are struck, and strings, and pipes: let all be educated to praise the Lord. Nothing is common and unclean: all may be sanctified to highest uses.
Here we have a more ambiguous approach to the passage which can be clarified when coupled together with other passages that we will see shortly:
¨ Our corrupt nature indulges in extraordinary liberties, many devising methods of gratification which are preposterous, while their highest satisfaction lies in suppressing all thoughts of God. This perverse disposition could only be corrected in the way of God’s retaining a weak and ignorant people under many restraints, and constant exercises. The Psalmist, therefore, in exhorting believers to put forth all their joy in the praises of God, enumerates, one upon another, all the musical instruments which were then in use, and reminds them that they ought all to be consecrated to the worship of God. JC
Now, with all of that said, two questions remain, 1. Can we use musical instruments in worship? 2. If so, which ones?
As to the first question you can easily see that the matter cannot be decided here decisively, at least not based on what we have seen and this verse considered as a means of coming to a conclusion on the matter. Still, I can find no New Testament warrant that banishes the act of music in worship which was clearly used and instituted in the Old Testament (1 Chron. -29; 25).
15:6, cited above and elsewhere by others, seems like a bit of a stretch if it is to be applied as proof that we are no longer to use music in worship. Even using the Regulative Principle of Worship we would with all confidence be able to say that with the New Testament remarkably quiet on the subject and with a standing Old Testament practice in place, the use of music in worship is justified completely. For the Westminster Confession itself says in 1.6 that in the absence of express commands our worship, “by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture.” But, that said, whether the expositors above were in favor of or against the use of music in worship one thing held true with all, and it was a focus on the heart. Whatever our music may or may not be, practiced or not practiced, the vital importance is that we are preparing our hearts for worship and that must be the greater consideration here. Whatever the determination of the individual congregations may be, they should be allowed to exercise those convictions in this matter with clearness of conscience and without being assaulted by others to adopt their own practices, whatever they may be. Yet should they be found wanting in approaching the worship of God in an unworthy manner then they cannot be left to exist unmolested, then they must be clearly dealt with which only further proves where our focus must be in this matter. Rom.
As to the second question a number of the expositors above put a like lack of importance on the specifics of the instrument. I can recall a time when I was advocating the use of our piano in church in order to save the massive amount of dollars we were spending on an organist. I was quickly admonished that the piano had no place in worship and the organ was somehow the more appropriate choice (I kept my peace, but it was a statement that my aching ear drums whole heartedly disagreed with). I must admit myself that I am adamantly opposed to “worship bands.” But I think both examples prove a valid point in considering what instruments we can use. Of course the organ is no more pious or appropriate than the piano (or visa versa) and if my only argument against the worship band is the instruments they play then what we end up with is a legalistic overestimation of our personal preferences. But, whatever music we play it must be well tuned, intended for the worship of God alone, and quite frankly with no consideration as to the cultural preferences of the congregants in our churches. This is where I take exception to the worship band; it is part of the seeker friendly movement that seeks to modernize the gospel. It puts a greater emphasis on rhythmic drum beats pulsing through the body, intended to inspire and invoke emotion, then it does on anything to do with worshipping God. Notice in such congregations that they play soft lead-ins at carefully rehearsed times and pick up the tempo to whip the crowd into a frenzy, it makes the worship of God a rock concert, and that, even if they were using violins and harps, would have no place among the people of God. Perhaps I am most in favor of Calvin’s assessment here, “[…] the Psalmist, in order to awaken men who grow languid in God’s praises, bids them lift their eyes towards the heavenly sanctuary. That the majesty of God may be duly reverenced, the Psalmist represents Him as presiding on His throne in the heavens… Though our minds can never take in this immensity, the mere taste of it will deeply affect us. And God will not reject such praises as we offer according to our capacity. I do not insist upon the words in the Hebrew signifying the musical instruments; only let the reader remember that sundry different kinds are here mentioned, which were in use under the legal economy, the more forcibly to teach the children of God that they cannot apply themselves too diligently to the praises of God – as if He would enjoin them strenuously to bring to this service all their powers, and devote themselves wholly to it.” We must prepare our hearts and focus on the Lord, then the instruments and everything else will be tuned to His glory and the worship will be beautiful.
Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual Songs
If the last part of this consideration has been controversial then this is even more so. I lament the fact that it is so but nonetheless this is a point of great contention. The main point of contention is that we are to sing exclusive Psalmody in our churches versus Psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. The secondary point, that is a necessary part of the consideration and of equal magnitude, is what is that express command referring to in Eph. 5:19, Col. 3:16? Is it different kinds of Psalms only or are they distinct categories of song?
I think it best to answer the latter point first, for in getting an answer to that question we will by default answer the first. None can deny that if these two key verses, Eph. 5:19 and Col. 3:16, be said to refer exclusively to Psalms then we have no warrant to sing anything else and if they refer to other types of songs then a viable argument cannot be leveled to exclude songs simply because they are not Psalms.
To start with I will say that I am less impartial in this specific consideration because I think Scripture is much clearer on the matter. I will also admit that you may find men, probably many of them, that will find a different conclusion than I do; it will be up to you to decide which school of thought has erred. For instance, John Gill is clear as to where he stands in the debate, “By psalms are meant the Psalms of David, and others which compose the book that goes by that name, for other psalms there are none; and by "hymns" we are to understand, not such as are made by good men, without the inspiration of the Spirit of God; since they are placed between psalms and spiritual songs, made by men inspired by the Holy Ghost; and are put upon a level with them, and to be sung along with them, to the edification of churches; but these are only another name for the Book of Psalms, the running title of which may as well be the Book of Hymns, as it is rendered by Ainsworth; and the psalm which our Lord sung with his disciples after the supper, is called an hymn; and so are the psalms in general called hymns… and by "spiritual songs" are meant the same Psalms of David, Asaph and the titles of many of them are songs, and sometimes a psalm and song, and song and psalm, a song of degrees; together with all other Scriptural songs, written by inspired men; and which are called "spiritual", because they are [composed] by the Spirit of God, consist of spiritual matter, and are designed for spiritual edification; and are opposed to all profane, loose, and wanton songs… from whence it seems to be the intention of the apostle, that these should be sung in Gospel churches.” I think it fair to say that Gill’s opinion is, in general, the opinion of the advocates of exclusive psalmody.
But others take it very differently; let us consider their work in this matter:
¨ He does not restrict the word of Christ to these particular departments, but rather intimates that all our communications should be adapted to edification, that even those which tend to hilarity may have no empty savor… “In place of [the wicked’s] obscene, or at least barely modest and decent songs, it becomes you to make use of hymns and songs that sound forth God’s praise.” Farther, under these three terms he includes all kinds of songs. They are commonly distinguished in this way – that a psalm is that, in the singing of which some musical instrument besides the tongue is made use of: a hymn is properly a song of praise, while an ode (or spiritual song) contains not merely praises, but exhortations and other matters. He would have the songs of Christians, however, to be spiritual, not made up of frivolities and worthless trifles. JC, Col. 3:16
¨ […] the joy of Christians should express itself in songs of praise to their God. In these they should speak to themselves in their assemblies and meetings together, for mutual edification. By psalms may be meant David’s psalms, or such composures as were fitly sung with musical instruments. By hymns may be meant such others as were confined to matters of praise… Spiritual songs may contain a greater variety of matter, doctrinal, prophetical, historical, etc. Observe here… the singing of psalms and hymns is a gospel ordinance: it is an ordinance of God, and appointed for His glory. MH, Eph. 5:19
¨ […] in connection with psalms it is natural to think of the Old Testament Psalter… As to hymns, in the New Testament the word hymn is found only in [Col. 3:16 and Eph. ]. Augustine, in more than one place, states that a hymn has three essentials: it must be sung; it must be praise; it must be to God. According to this definition it would be possible for an Old Testament psalm, sung in praise to God, to also be a hymn… But if Augustine’s definition is correct there are also hymns that do not belong to the Old Testament Psalter; such hymns as the Magnificat (Lu. -55) and the Benedictus (Lu. 1:68-79). Fragments of other New Testament hymns seem to be embedded in the letters of Paul (Eph. ; Col. 1:15-20; 1 Tim. , and perhaps others). The word song or ode (in the sense of poem intended to be sung) occurs not only in Eph. and Col. 3:16 but also in Rev. 5:9; 14:3, where “the new song” is indicated, and in Rev. 15:3, where the reference is to “the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb.” These are not Old Testament Psalms… All in all, then, it would seem that when… the apostle uses these three terms, apparently distinguishing them at least to some extent, the term psalms has reference, at least mainly, to the Old Testament Psalter; hymns mainly to the New Testament songs of praise to God or to Christ; and spiritual songs mainly to any other sacred songs dwelling on themes other than direct praise to God or to Christ. William Hendriksen, Col. 3:16
You see now how a more ambiguous comment by Calvin in Ps. 150 is better clarified through further study as in his consideration of Col. 3:16. I will say that in regards to the venerable Matthew Henry there seems to be some logical inconsistency with his definition of psalms being “fitly sung with musical instruments” and his earlier finding that “the New Testament concert, instead of this, is with one mind and one mouth to glorify God.” Under such dueling conclusions it might make it impossible for us to sing the psalms at all. But, that aside, his definitions are wholly consistent with others we have referenced. They are consistent in finding that the instruction given to us by the apostle pertains not to merely various types of psalms but distinct forms of song to be sung as a part of our worship.
When trying to speak to this issue with the advocates of exclusive psalmody I find that far too often they are encumbered with a defensive and disagreeable nature. Of course that is not to be wholly applied to every single person, but it has been my experience just the same. This in and of itself makes me wary. If such people are convinced of their position and the support of that position by the word of God then it is baffling to me why they would have to be so vitriolic to all those who oppose them. If you are right and we are wrong you have no right to burden and attack others over the issue but to approach them with a spirit of meekness and fear that they may be corrected regarding this matter (1 Pet. 3:15). I have seen all hymn writers mercilessly and wrongly called heretics. I have seen the inferred logic leveled that this is the only possible confessional view that one can hold; or, in other words, you are not Reformed if you do not agree with their point of view in the matter. Yet look to the
and other Reformed Confessions and you see no explicit instruction given at all. Certainly it cannot be denied that the Westminster says in 21.5 that we are to sing psalms in worship. But then it cites as a proof text the very verses we have seen explained above by at least one man who would have been very well studied and agreed with by the Westminster Divines in the person of John Calvin; and we see no limitation to exclusive psalmody by him. Nor is the direction given in 21.5 intended to be all encompassing, for the same logic employed here is what Calvin says in regards to Col. 3:16, “He does not restrict the word of Christ to these particular departments.” The Genevan Psalter, under the direction of Calvin, had both psalms and hymns and music included in it. That same Genevan Psalter made its way eventually to Westminster and Scotland where it undoubtedly had an influence on the very men that wrote the Confession. That all said, it seems awfully hard to argue that exclusive psalmody is the only confessional view. England
Furthermore, it is apparent that the Reformers were in the habit of using various forms of songs and music as well. Calvin himself seems to have drawn heavily from the Lutherans in making the Genevan Psalter during his time in
. More than that, though, we see examples from Zwingli and Luther in using music in worship, in writing and singing hymns in worship, as well as the use of the psalms. Luther found it so important that he makes the emphatic declaration, “After theology, it is to music I give the first place and the highest honor.” In practice Luther saw to it that, “All… take part in worship; and the hymns of the clergy were to be succeeded by those of the people. Accordingly, in translating the psalms, Luther’s object was to adapt them to the singing of the Church.” History of the Reformation, J.H. merle D’Aubigné, pg. 312 Strasbourg
Zwingli after being insulted over his use of music by a man named Faber replied, “My dear Faber, you know not what music is. I have, it is true, learned to play on the lute, the violin, and other instruments, and am able by these means to pacify little children; but you of course, are too holy for music. Do you not know that David was a skillful player on the harp, and in this way drove the evil spirit out of Saul…? Ah! If you knew the sound of the heavenly lute, the evil spirit of ambition and avarice by which you are possessed would come out of you also.” History of the Reformation, J.H. merle D’Aubigné, pg. 231
D’Aubigné makes such a high estimation of the hymns and their effects in the period of the Reformation that he says, “The hymns of Luther and of Zwingli play the same part in the German and Swiss Reformation as the psalms in that of
.” History of the Reformation, J.H. merle D’Aubigné, pg. 526 France
While I don’t doubt that there were legitimate men with an opposing view, it appears in general that only some of the more radical elements of the Reformation intended to end music in worship. A man named Münzer was such a one. Upon getting a following he immediately “abolished all church music and all ceremonies.” He then went on the war path against Luther himself claiming God had directed him to do so. He advocated revolution and sought to overthrow rulers and church leaders alike. History of the Reformation, J.H. merle D’Aubigné, pp. 314-315
So from what we have seen I do not believe in good conscience, departing from a presupposition that we are right no matter what the evidence may show, one can still claim that the Bible, the Confessions, and Church History can bolster any argument in favor of exclusive psalmody. That said, the focus as can be seen in every source I have cited in this matter all agree with one accord, that the focus is always on the heart, that the intent must be to glorify God and to edify His people. I don’t agree with the vicious demeanor before spoken of in this paper, but neither do I advocate others to adopt such a disposition to them. For with all of the sources and study accomplished it is an assured fact that the command doesn’t specify that we must sing all three types of songs and, as Calvin has said before, is merely presenting the opportunities and license to do so; not an express command that all three must be used or we are wrong. In that, those that practice exclusive psalmody are well within their right to do so and honor God through such worship as long as their hearts are yearning to glorify Him; that is the criteria laid out in all of the resources one can find.
Let me ask, why should one side or the other in any of the debates over worship music exclude the other from fellowship? For it is sure that this is not a spiritual essential to calling each other a brother. It is sure, though, that Christ must be our overwhelming focus. In that, there is and must be unity. In that, so much useless and heated debate can be foregone. If the two sides should choose to engage each other in conversation then let it be so, only let it be so to the edification of the other party and the glory of God. Such a drive can truly only lead us to be irenic in our approach. If we find ourselves otherwise, then may the Lord bless us with enough wisdom and discipline to shut our mouths and move along; for at that point pride is our driving force and that cannot, indeed will not, ever be productive. May the Lord give us hearts that truly love Him and our fellow Christians and the drive to serve them both to the utmost of our ability, Amen.