With our readers we also will share the views of our own emeritus Professor G.M. Ophoff who in hisChurch Right writes on the 69th Article of the Church Order as follows:
“1. The Psalms. In the Roman Catholic church the choir sings and the congregation was silent. Calvin also introduced singing by the congregation, and collected for it a bundle of Psalms of Clement Marot and Beza. He had the tunes composed by Louis Bourgois and Maitre Piere, and began teaching these tunes to some persons and school children. The example he set was followed by the Reformed churches generally. The most important versification of Old Testament Bible Psalms is the work of Petrus Datheen, which appearid in 1566 and soon became popular. The convention of Wezel made their use binding on all the Reformed churches of the Netherlands. However, in 1560 there appeared a new versification by Marnix of St. Aldegonde, but this versification was not able to force out of use that of Datheen. The latter continued popular and remained in use for two centuries thereafter; but in 1775 it was superseded by another versification, that imposed upon the Netherland Reformed Churches by the States General of the United Netherlands. In 1773 a committee of nine ministers, appointed by the Netherland government, collected a new bundle from three versifications—from that of Hendrick Ghijzen, silversmith in Amsterdam; from that of the society of Laus Deo, the majority of whose members, strange to say, were Anabaptists and Remonstrants; and from that of Johannes Voet, physician in ‘s-Gravenhage. This was the bundle introduced by the Netherland government. It is still in use in the ‘Gereformeerde’ churches of the Netherlands and is also in use in the Christian Reformed and Protestant Reformed Churches of North America in their Holland services, of course. The English versified Psalms in use in the Protestant Reformed Churches are from a number of versifiers.
“2. Hymns. From the beginning of the Reformation in the Netherlands a few hymns were sung besides the Psalms, namely those that Datheen had added to his versification, namely, the Ten Commandments, the Lord’s Prayer, the Twelve Articles of Faith, the Songs of Mary, Zacharias and Simeon, and the Hymn of Prayer before the sermon. But the Reformed fathers recoiled from adding to this number of hymns. They had serious objections to the hymns: (1) because the Psalms came by infallible inspiration for liturgical use in the churches among all nations and through all the ages; (2) the Psalms never wax old while the hymns do, being, as they are, expression of faith of a definite time and therefore after fifty or one hundred years their number must be increased by way of supplement.
“Thus the International Synod of Dordrecht ruled as follows: ‘In the churches only the 150 Psalms of David, the Ten Commandments, the Lord’s Prayer, the Twelve Articles of Faith, the Songs of Mary, Zacharias and Simeon shall be sung. The Hymn, O God Who art our Father, (The Prayer before the Sermon) shall be left to the choice of the congregation, to use or not to use the same. All other hymns shall be barred and those that already have been introduced shall be set aside by appropriate means.’
“The Synod of XJtrecht, 1905 added the Morning and Evening Hymns. There are many hymns, to be sure, that are doctrinally sound. Yet certain it is that they cannot compare with the Psalms of David. The latter came by infallible inspiration of the Spirit of God. That is the deciding factor. There is a divine authority for the use of the Psalms, as shown by I Chronicles 16:14; II Chronicles 29:30; Psalm 105:2, 95:1, 2; and Nehemiah 12:24. Christ and the apostles used them to praise God. The Hymn of Matthew 26:30 and Mark 14:26 refers to Psalms 113-118, the great Hellel of the Passover celebration. The hymns, songs, and Psalms of Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16 evidently do not refer to New Testament compositions but to Old Testament Psalms which in the Greek Versions bear the title above given. Finally, the Psalms meet the great requirements of praise, exalting God in His being and work and containing confessions of unworthiness, our faith, our gratitude, our needs. In depth of spirituality the Psalms far excel the hymns. In the Psalms we hear the abiding, eternal, fundamental note of the pious heart resounding. The objection that the Psalms are of the Old Testament dispensation has no force. The Psalms, as well as the New Testament Scriptures deal with the realities of the Kingdom of Christ. That they set forth these realities in the language of typical dispensation does not diminish their virtue as songs for liturgical use in the churches of the New Dispensation. As appears from their epistles the apostles, too, made even abundant use of the typical language of the Old Dispensation in setting forth the realities of the Kingdom of Heaven. The lesson of history is that when a group of Reformed churches begin to apostatize from the truth of God’s Word, they also begin introducing the hymns for liturgical purposes. Let us never, as a communion of churches substitute hymns for the 150 Psalms of David. The versifications of these Psalms are not perfect. But how can this be expected, being, as they are, the work of imperfect man. The sermons of the best preachers among us are not perfect either.”
Rev. Ophoff counsels our churches to “<never< i=””> substitute hymns for the 150 Psalms of David.” If this advice is heeded by our Synod the hymn question can be settled once and for all so .that it is a settled matter unto the end of the ages. The term “never” implies just that. Under no circumstances, at no time should hymns be introduced. We feel that Synod in resolving this question should so word its decision that it is either “now or never.” By this we mean that Synod should not hold the adoption of this matter in convenient until a more convenient time. She should not temporarily cl</never<>ose the door to hymns while leaving an opening through which the question will again come up in a few years. We have always been a Psalm-singing church and we would like to see our churches remain that way and believe they should but if the Synod is otherwise minded and desires to make our churches hymn-singing churches, they should adopt the hymns now. We agree with Rev. Hoeksema when he writes that our churches should be unanimous in this matter but then two things should be kept in mind. These are:
(1) The obvious fact that today this unanimity is not present. This is evident from the expressions from the consistories of Classis East to which we referred before.
(2) To determine that unanimity the Synod will have to give all the churches the opportunity to express themselves on the question. Unanimous choice cannot be coerced. Neither may a unanimous vote at the Synod (if that should prove possible) be interpreted to mean that all the churches are of one accord.
If then the Synod should decide not to settle the question until all the churches are agreed on the matter, we feel a great mistake will have been made. To suspend the matter would only leave it an open question for a long time to come while the thing is agitated both pro and con. This is not a desirable circumstance in the church.
We are going to devote some space yet to consideration of the exegetical question involved in the hymn matter. Appeal is sometimes made to the fact that in Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16 mention is made of the singing of “hymns” in the New Testament Church. Do these passages not only allow but even instruct the New Testament Church to sing hymns? If so there is no question remaining for our Synod to decide. Then Scripture itself provides the answer and we must introduce a collection of hymns and spiritual songs along side of our Psalter. If not, however, the question remains as to what these passages mean?
We quote, first of all, the following comment of Rev. H. Hoeksema on this passage, Colossians 3:16. He says, “As to the distinction between ‘psalms, hymns and spiritual songs,’ it seems to me that not three different and distinct categories of songs are denoted by these terms. It is evident that a psalm, whether taken in the general sense of a song accompanied by music or in the more specific sense of Old Testament psalms, is, or may be also a hymn, or a song of praise, and that both psalms and hymns are necessarily spiritual songs. Each of these terms, therefore, denotes the songs believers sing from a specific and different point of view. We hardly need to add that neither this passage nor the parallel passage in Ephesians 5:19 can be used as an argument in .favor of hymn-singing or against hymn-singing in public worship, but of the singing of the individual believers. The apostle concludes that this singing is to be done ‘with grace.” The meaning of this phrase is not that the singing must be done with joy, but by the power of the grace of God, by which alone they can sing praise unto God.”
The Rev. Frank D. Frazer in an article entitled, “Psalms And Hymns And Spiritual Songs” makes rather extensive comments on the Scriptural passages cited above. Space will not permit our quoting his writing here but, D.V., we shall do so the next time. Introductory to his article he makes the following comment with which we can all undoubtedly agree.
“A strict exegesis of these passages requires, of course, that the words in them be taken in the sense obviously intended by the writer, and reasonably to be understood by those to whom the epistles were addressed, not in some other sense they might acquire at a future time.”
In other words it is not a question of what we mean today by the terms “Psalms, Hymns and Spiritual Songs” but what did the apostle mean when he wrote these words to the church? If we are able to answer that question, we will be able to determine what bearing, if any, these passages have upon the hymn question as before our Synod today.