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8794John Gill on Psalm-singing.

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  • weeping_calvinist
    Jul 31, 2003
      For our Reformed Baptist friends,

      John Gill on the matter of praise, taken from his work, A Discourse
      On Singing Of Psalms As A Part Of Divine Worship:

      To consider the subject matter of singing, or what that is which is
      to be sung. The direction of the Apostle Paul in this case, is
      certainly to be regarded, who, in two distinct epistles, (Ephesians
      5:19, Colossians 3:16) exhorts to the singing of psalms, hymns, and
      spiritual songs; and what these are, it will be proper to enquire.

      1. By psalms, is meant the book of psalms, composed by David, Asaph,
      Heman, and others, under the inspiration of the Spirit of God; which
      is the only sense in which this word is used throughout the whole New
      Testament: Nor is there any reason to believe, that the Apostle Paul
      designs any other in the above mentioned places; or the Apostle
      James, when he says, (James 5:13) Is any merry? let him sing psalms.
      Those who are of a different mind, ought to shew in what other sense
      this word is used, and where, and what those psalms are we are to
      sing, if not the psalms of David, etc. since it is certain, there are
      psalms which are to be sung under the New Testament dispensation.

      2. By hymns, we are to understand, not such as are composed by good
      men, without the inspiration of the Spirit of God. I observe indeed,
      from ancient writers, and from ecclesiastical history, that such
      compositions were made use of very early, even from the times of the
      Apostles; and I deny not but that they may now be useful; tho a great
      deal of care should be taken that they be agreeable to the sacred
      writings, and the analogy of faith, and that they be expressed, as
      much as can be, in scripture language; yet, after all, I must
      confess, that I cannot but judge them, in a good measure,
      unnecessary, since we are so well provided with a book of psalms and
      scriptural songs, indited by the Spirit of God, and suitable on all
      occasions: However, I cannot think that such composures are designed
      by the Apostle; nor can I believe that he would place such between
      psalms and spiritual songs, made by men inspired by the Holy Ghost,
      and put them upon a level with them, and to be sung equally with
      them, to the edification of the churches; therefore, I take hymns to
      be but another name for the book of psalms; for the running title of
      that book may as well be, the book of hymns, as of psalms; and so it
      is rendered by Ainsworth, who also particularly calls the 145th
      psalm, an hymn of David: So the psalm which our Lord sung with his
      disciples, after the supper, is called an hymn, as the psalms of
      David in general, are called, by Philo the Jew, hymns, as they are
      also songs and hymns by Josephus. By spiritual songs, may be meant
      the psalms of David, Asaph, etc. the titles of some of which, are,
      songs, as sometimes a psalm and song, a song and psalm, a song of
      degrees, and the like; together with all other scriptural songs,
      written by men inspired by God, and are called spiritual, because the
      author of them is the Spirit of God, the writers of them men moved
      and acted by the same Spirit; the subject matter of them spiritual,
      designed for spiritual edification, and opposed to all profane, loose
      and wanton songs.

      These three words, psalms, hymns, and songs, answer to µyrwmzm,
      µylht, and µyryç, the titles of David's psalms; and are, by the
      Septuagint, rendered by the Greek words the Apostle uses. I shall not
      trouble you with observing to you how these three are distinguished
      by learned men, one from another, but only observe, what has been
      remarked by others before me; that whereas the Apostle, in his
      exhortations to singing, directs to the titles of David's psalms, it
      is highly reasonable to conclude, that it was his intention that we
      should sing them: But, inasmuch as there are some queries, scruples,
      and objections about the singing of them, it will be proper to
      attempt a satisfactory answer to them.

      (1.) It is inquired, whether the book of psalms was originally
      written in verse or metre? The reason of this enquiry is, that if it
      should appear that it was not originally written in Hebrew metre,
      then there is no reason why it should be translated into metre in
      another language, and so consequently not to be sung in the manner we
      do. To which, I answer, That the book of psalms, with some other
      writings of the Old Testament, were originally
      written in metre, is universally allowed by the Jews, and does also
      appear from the different accentuation of them, from that of other

      Josephus; a learned Jew, says, "That David being free from war, and
      enjoying a profound peace, composed songs and hymns to God, of
      various metre; some trimetre, i.e. consisting of three feet, and
      others pentametre, i.e. of five feet."

      David's psalms seem to be of the Lyric kind; hence Jerom, who, of all
      the fathers, best understood the Hebrew language, calls "David, our
      Simonides, Pindar, Alcaeus, Flaccus, Catullus, and Serentis," who
      were all of them Lyric poets.

      And in another place, he says, "If it should seem incredulous to any
      that the Hebrews have metre, or that the Psalms or the Lamentations
      of Jeremiah, or almost all the scriptural songs are composed after
      the manner of our Flaccus, and the Greek Pindar, and Alcaeus, and
      Sappho; let him read Philo, Josephus, Eusebius Caesariensis, and
      he'll find, by their testimonies, that what I say is true."

      The learned Gomarus, in his Lyra, has given out of the Psalms, and
      other poetical books of the scriptures, several hundred of instances
      of verse of the Iambic, Trochaic, Dactylic, Anapaestic, Choriambic,
      Jonic, Antispastic, and Paeonic kind, which he has compared with a
      like number out of Pindar and Sophocles. The Jews indeed have now
      lost the knowledge of the sacred poetry, and have been, for many
      hundred of years, unacquainted with it; though R. Benjamin Tudelensis
      says, that there lived in his time, at Bagdad, one R. Eleazar, and
      his brethren, who knew how to sing the songs as the singers did, when
      the temple was standing. But be this as it will, there's reason
      enough to conclude, that the book of Psalms was originally written in
      verse; and therefore it is lawful to be translated into verse, in
      order to be sung in the churches of Christ.

      (2.) It is queried, whether the book of Psalms is suitable to the
      present gospel dispensation, and proper to be sung in gospel
      churches. I answer,

      Nothing is more suitable to the gospel state, or more proper to be
      sang in the churches of Christ; since it is so full of prophecies
      concerning the person, offices, grace and kingdom of the Messiah;
      concerning his sufferings, and death, his resurrection, ascension and
      session at the right hand of God; which are now more clearly
      understood, and are capable of being sung by believers, in a more
      evangelic manner than when they were first composed: Besides, this
      book is full of exceeding great and precious promises, as the ground
      of the faith and hope of God's people; is a large fund of experience,
      a rich mine of gospel grace and truth, and is abundantly suited to
      every case, state and condition, the church of Christ, or a
      particular believer, is in at any time. A little care and prudence
      used in the choice of proper psalms, on particular occasions, would
      fully discover the
      truth of this.

      (3.) It is objected, that persons often meet with things which are
      nor, and which they cannot make their own case; yea, sometimes with
      what is shocking and startling to a Christian mind; such as
      imprecations and curses, on enemies or wicked men. And it is asked,
      Should persons sing cases not their own, and such things as there now
      mentioned; would they not be guilty of lying to God, and of want of
      that charity to men which is so much recommended under the gospel
      dispensation? To which, I reply, That as to singing cases not our
      own, this is no more lying to God than reading them is, singing being
      but a flower way of pronunciation in a musical manner; therefore, if
      this ought to deter persons from singing, it should also from
      reading: Besides, in public worship, we sing not as single persons,
      but in conjunction with, and as parts of the community, and body of
      the people; so that what may not be suitable to one, may be so to
      another, and in both, the end of praise be answered. Moreover, when
      we sing the cases of others, and which we cannot make our own, we
      sing them as such, and not as our own sense and experience; which yet
      may be very useful to us, either by way of example, or advice, or
      comfort, or instruction, or admonition, and the like: And if this
      should not be the case, yet there are two other principal ends of
      singing, viz. the praise and glory of God, and the edification of
      others, which may be attained this way and, after all, the same
      objection will lie against public prayer, as much as against public
      singing; since no prayer put up by the minister, in public, at least,
      not all the petitions in it, any more than every psalm or hymn, sung
      in public, are suitable to the cases of all persons present; yet this
      has not been thought a sufficient argument against public prayer, or
      to deter persons from joining in it. As for imprecations and curses
      on wicked men, though the scriptural instances of them are no
      examples to us to do the like; because these were made by men under
      the inspiration of the Spirit of God; yet they were prophetic hints
      of ruin and destruction to wicked men, and as such should be
      considered, and may be sung by us, and that to the glory of God and
      some instruction to our selves; for herein we may observe the justice
      and holiness of God, the vile nature of sin, the indignation of God
      against it, and the just abhorrence and detestation, that sin and
      sinners are had in with God, and should be had in with all good men.

      (4.) It is said, that if we must sing the psalms of David, and
      others, then we must sing by a form; and if we may sing by a form,
      why not pray by one? I answer, the case is different; the ordinance
      of prayer may be performed without, a form, bur not the ordinance of
      singing: The Spirit of God is promised as a Spirit of grace and
      supplication, but nor as a spirit of poetry. And suppose a person
      had a gift of delivering out an extempore psalm or hymn, that psalm
      or hymn would be a form to the rest that joined with him; unless we
      suppose a whole congregation to have such a gift, and every one
      sing his own psalm or hymn; but then that, namely, joining voices
      together, which is the beauty, glory, and harmony of this ordinance,
      would be mere jargon, confusion, and discord. Besides, we have a book
      of psalms, but we have not a prayer book: Had we a book of prayers,
      composed by men inspired by the Spirit of God, as we have a book of
      psalms made by such, we should think our selves under equal
      obligation to pray by a form, as we now do to sing by one. Add to
      this, that the psalms of David were composed on purpose to be sung by
      a form, in the very express words of them, as they accordingly were.
      David, when he had wrote them, sent them to Asaph, and his brethren,
      or to the chief musician, the master of the song, who had the
      management of it, or some such person, to be made use of in public;
      for thus it is written, (1 Chronicles 16:7) Then on that day David
      delivered first this psalm, to thank the Lord, into the hands of
      Asaph and his brethren. And we may observe, that some hundreds of
      years after, the psalms of David and Asaph were sung in the express
      words of them, by the order of king Hezekiah; for so it is said, (2
      Chronicles 29:30) Moreover, Hezekiah, the king and the princes,
      commanded the Levites to sing praise unto the Lord, with the words of
      David and of Asaph, the seer; and they sang praises with gladness,
      and they bowed their heads and worshipped. Hence also, when the
      people of God were exhorted to sing his praise, they were bid not to
      make, but take a psalm ready made to their hands; (Psalm 81:1,2) Sing
      aloud unto God our strength ; make a joyful noise unto the God of
      Jacob; take a psalm, and bring hither the timbrel, the pleasant harp,
      with the psaltery.

      Which leads me,

      (5.) To consider another objection made against singing the psalms of
      David. The singing of there was formerly attended with. the use of
      musical instruments; such as the harp, timbrel, cymbals, and the
      like: If then they are to be sung now, why not with these
      instruments, as heretofore? and if these are disused, why should not
      singing it self? I reply, That the use of musical instruments was not
      essential to singing; therefore, tho' these are laid aside, that
      continues. The Old Testament dispensation was a showy, gaudy, and
      pompous one, suited to the then infant state of the church; there
      were many ceremonious rites which attended the worship of God, even
      that part of it which was of a moral nature; which ceremonious rites,
      though now abolished, the worship being of a moral nature, remains in
      full force: As for instance; it was usual to burn incense at the time
      of prayer; now the use of incense, which was typical of the
      acceptance of the prayers
      of the saints, through the mediation of Christ, is laid aside; but
      the duty of prayer, being of a moral nature, continues: So the use of
      musical instruments, which attended the work of singing the praises
      of God, and was typical of inward spiritual melody, is at an end,
      when singing, being equally of a moral nature with prayer, is still
      obligatory. It is now sufficient, if, when we sing vocally, at the
      same time we make melody in our hearts to
      the Lord. I close this with an observation of an ancient
      writer; "Barely to sing, says he, is not fit for babes, but to sing
      with inanimate instruments, with cymbals, and with dancing;
      wherefore, in the churches (i. e. under the gospel dispensation) the
      use of such instruments, and others, fit for babes, is taken away,
      and bare or plain singing remains."

      --end Gill--

      Not a bad treatment, eh? I happened upon this in a moment of boredom.
      Thought it was cool.

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