It has been claimed that the whole question of “hymnology” does not involve a matter of principle. The argument is that as long as the hymns are doctrinally sound so that they do not conflict in any way with the Word of God, they may be sung in the churches. To this point in our writings on this subject we have conceded this argument because it was our first aim to show that even though the introduction of hymns into the worship services of our churches violates no principle, there are many practicalconsiderations that prove this innovation undesirable. It must be admitted, however, that if it can be shown that a principle is involved here and that the introduction of hymns is a violation of principle, we no longer need thepractical arguments to support our position. What is wrong in principle may never be introduced even though it may seem to be practical and the majority may desire it. For example, there may be a nuisance living in my neighborhood. All the people living in the area are agreed that it is desirable to get rid of him. But this does not give me or any one else the right to shoot him. Murder is a violation of the principle of God’s law and no practical considerations or choice of majority may induce me to violate that principle.
The question then is: “Does the introduction of hymns into the worship of the church violate a principle of truth?” Otherwise stated: “Is the proposed revision of Article 69 of our Church Order in conflict with the principle of truth expressed in the Word of God?” In this article we will attempt to show that it is and thereby advance our main objection to the matter of hymnology.
We refer our readers, first of all, to the argument of Prof. R.J. George, D.D., advanced in a small pamphlet entitled, “Psalmody,” and which we feel is both cogent and logically correct. Undoubtedly the cogency of his argument is derived from his logically sound reasoning, Prof. George is connected with the Reformed Presbyterian (Covenanter) Church. The study committee that reported to our synod in 1960 also refers to Dr. George’s writing on this subject, especially his exegesis of Colossians 3:16, but fails to cite the source from which it quotes. In the above mentioned pamphlet, Dr. George begins by citing four things concerning songs to be employed in the praise of God and with regard to which he writes: “It is not denied that there are opinions, held by individuals, contrary to one or another of these four points, but it is affirmed that there is a general agreement among all classes of evangelical Christians in these conclusions.”
These four points then are:
(1) It is agreed that the Psalms were given by divine inspiration, and are the very word of God.
(2) It is agreed that the inspired Psalms were appointed by God to be used in His worship.
(3) It is agreed that, so far as the record goes, our Lord Jesus Christ used the Psalms exclusively in worship.
(4) It is agreed that we have express authority for the use of the Old Testament Psalms in the New Testament Church.
To each of these points the author adds Scriptural references and comments which we do not include here. He then proceeds to the point of difference which he finds centers in the interpretation of Colossians 3:16. Some contend that “hymns and spiritual songs” are mere human compositions while others disagree and hold that there is reference here only to the Book of Psalms. (See our previous article.) Dr. George holds that “not only does this passage not authorize the use of uninspired songs in worship, but that it enjoins the exclusive use of the Psalms of the Bible.” In demonstrating the truth of this statement he devotes a large section of the pamphlet to showing that “the Psalms are in an eminent sense ‘the word of Christ’.” The three statements following will not be contested:
(1) Christ by His Spirit is the author of the Psalms.
(2) Christ is the speaker in many of them.
(3) Christ alone is the subject of many of the Psalms.
Following this the author proceeds to show what we may learn of Christ from this wonderful book of Psalms. This is important because when the Psalms are understood and appreciated there will be no expressed need for hymns while the latter always comes when it is felt that there is a lack in the Psalms. That there is no such lack is evident from the enumeration given by Dr. George. He discusses the following things about Christ as found in the Psalms: His Divinity, His eternal Sonship, His incarnation, His Mediatorial Offices (prophetic, priestly, kingly, His betrayal, His agony: in the garden, His trial, His rejection, His crucifixion, His burial and resurrection, His ascension, His second coming). Replete with Christ are the Psalms.
Concluding, Dr. George observes, “that Colossians 3:16which has always been relied upon by the advocates of hymn singing as containing a warrant for their practices has no such meaning. The titles, ‘Psalms and hymns and spiritual songs,’ belong to the inspired Psalms, and as qualified by the word ‘spiritual’ are not true of any other. The Psalms are ‘the word of Christ’; uninspired songs are not His word in the Bible sense; the Psalms are a true standard for ‘teaching and admonishing’; uninspired songs are not; the Psalms are adapted to be the vehicles of grace to the heart and of praise to the Lord, as uninspired songs are not. The passage furnishes no warrant for the use of uninspired songs in worship, but is an explicit apostolic injunction that in the praise service of the New Testament Church the divinely authorized Psalmody should be continued.”
If we understand Dr. George correctly, it is his position that God has given the church a “Book of Songs” to which she may neither add nor take away. The church is mandated by God to use exclusively in her worship the Songs which God has provided for her. Not to do so is to violate a principle of Divine law. But, you say, this is nowhere written in Scripture. A text cannot be found that directly states this, True indeed but this is also true of other truths we embrace as, for example, the truth of Infant Baptism. Let us note that God gave us the Scriptures containing sixty-six books. Some of these are historical books in which God reveals His mighty works throughout the history of His church. Other books are prophetic in which He makes known the coming of His Kingdom as well as His judgment upon the world. The prophecies point to the coming day of our Lord. Other books are called Epistles or Letters written by the apostles to the churches for their instruction in the doctrines of the Gospel of Christ. In the entire collection of books God gave but one Book of Songs. The Epistles were not written to be sung but to be read in the churches. When you receive a letter you do not sit down and sing that letter but you read it. Historical records and prophetic discourses are not designed to be sung either. God has provided songs, beautiful, inspired songs in which the church of all ages can sing of her Lord and Redeemer and of the glory of her God. If she had need of more than these God Himself would have provided but He did not and, therefore, we ought to be satisfied with God’s provision.
Ingersoll once said that “he could write a better book than the Bible.” Christians were shocked and denounced him as an “infidel blasphemer.” Writes Dr. George: “How then can we say that we can write a better book of praises than God’s Psalter? If it be true then hymn books are better than the Psalm book, it marks the highest achievement of the race; for then man has transcended God in His own field. If it be not true, then the displacing of the God-made Psalter, by the man-made hymn books, in God’s worship, is an act of most daring presumption.”
With the following allegory the professor concludes his pamphlet:
“If I had an important message to send to one living in the upper districts of the city, I might summon a messenger boy and say to him: ‘Can you carry this message for me to such a person living in such a part of the city?’ And the boy would answer doubtfully: ‘I think I can. It is true that I have never been in that part of the city, I was born near here. I have heard of the person to whom you wish to send the message, and I think I can find him. I am willing to try.’ My message is a very important one, and while satisfied of the good intentions of this boy, I am not assured of his ability to fulfill the trust. So I call up another boy and ask him the same question. At once his face glows with intelligence as he answers. ‘Oh yes, I can carry your message directly to his home. I know all about that part of the city. I was born there. I came from there. In fact your friend sent me down here to find you and bear up any message you might desire to send him.’ It would not be difficult to decide which of these messengers I should employ. This is an allegory. If I had a message of praise to send up to God and I employed a hymn to carry it, I would feel uncertain about it. But if I employed a Psalm to carry it, I know that it would ascend to heaven. The Psalm was born there. It came from God to me; and indeed God sent it to me to bear any message of praise I might wish to send up to Him.”
On the point we have raised in this article Rev. G.M. Ophoff also reflects in his “Isagogics” on the Psalms. Writes he: “What may be the difference between the Psalms and the history of Scripture? The history of Scripture is a record of events as events. The sacred historian does not project his soul into the events which he records, does not reveal the attitude he assumes toward these events. The heart responses of the historical writer are not given. The Psalmist makes it plain that these same events constitute the treasures of his heart. In other words the Psalmist is one with a heart showing itself up by song as a heart in which the Word of God dwells richly (to express ourselves in N.T. language). The Psalmist is one for whom the external realities reflect and became as was said the highest possible good upon which he sets his affections.”
Again: “The lyric poet of Scripture was at once the mouthpiece of the church of God of all times, for he was used by the Spirit to express the faith, the hope, the joy, the sorrow of Christ’s church. That he did so implies that the faith, the hope, etc. of the individual poet was universal, i.e., his joy and grief and faith, etc., is at once the joy and grief of God’s people of all times. Hence the sentiments circulating through the Psalms were at once prophetic of the grief, the joy and the sufferings of the church in the future and in particular of Christ. Because of this universal aspect of these poems many of them could be Messianic.”
Shall we set this aside? Shall we substitute it with songs of our own making? Shall we say that God’s provision is not adequate and then go ahead and supplement it? To do so is in our view a violation of principle, a tampering with the Divine ordinance governing the singing and the provision for the singing of the Church.