Monday, November 30, 2009




The musical part of New England worship consisted of Psalm singing, in which the Psalm was lined out by the ruling elder, or by one designated by the minister. The people knew few tunes and as late as the beginning of the eighteenth century New England congregations were rarely able to sing more than three or four. Even the few melodies commonly known became so corrupted that no two individuals sang them alike, so that a congregation singing sounded "like five hundred different tunes roared out at the same time" often one or two words apart.An eighteenth century New England minister states: "I myself have twice in one note paused to take breath."

The story is told of a New England deacon who, because of failing eyesight, found difficulty in reading the first line of the Psalm and he apologized by observing: "My eyes, indeed, are very blind."

The choir thinking this the first line of a common-meter hymn immediately sang it;

whereupon the deacon exclaimed:

"I cannot see at all."

This the choir also sang. Astonished, the deacon cried out:

"I really believe you are bewitched"

and the choir responded, "I really believe you are bewitched,"

whereupon the deacon added,

"The mischief's in you all,"

and after the choir had sung that, the deacon sat down in disgust.

(From The Story of Religion in America, William W. Sweet; Harper and Brothers, 1950 edition, page 57). (Editor’s note: How would you like to sing that song? And they say the Puritans had no sense of humor ).


The tradition of singing only Psalms was carried from Calvin, Zwingli and some of the other reformers after the Protestant Reformation, though Lutherans sang some hymns about 100 years earlier. Some churches today in Scotland and elsewhere still sing only Psalms.The Scottish Psalter is still published today. Some of the inherent problems in organizing the Psalms for singing were in the structure. Some were put together in metric, but the wording was often crude.

Then there was the Bay Psalm Book (1640), known as the first book ever published in America. It was written by Richard Mather and other Puritans at Cambridge, Massachusetts.The lyrics didn’t rhyme well, but I guess few worried about such things until, in England, a minister of Puritan stock named Isaac Watts came along. He was not satisfied with the arrangements of the psalters because they so poorly rhymed. Being an excellent poet, he composed his own Psalter. Then he began to set other poems he had written to music.First he wrote Behold the Glories of the Lamb, then others

including At the Cross,When I Survey the Wondrous Cross, Marching to Zion, Joy to the World, Oh God Our Help in Ages Past and at least 745 more! They became popular, and the era of the hymn in the evangelical churches was born, and I might add, we are much richer for it today. What a blessing to Christ’s church his hymns, those later of Charles Wesley, John Newton, William Cowper, and many others have been over the years, and always will be to worshiping Christians..


(At least I think so. My children learned it when very young, and we often sang it together).

When I survey the wondrous cross, On which the Prince of glory died,

My richest gain I count but loss, And pour contempt on all my pride.

Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast, Save in the death of Christ my God!

All the vain things that charm me most, I sacrifice them to His blood.

See from His head, His hands, His feet, Sorrow and love flow mingled down!

Did e’er such love and sorrow meet, Or thorns compose so rich a crown?

His dying crimson, like a robe, Spreads o’er His body on the tree;

Then I am dead to all the globe, And all the globe is dead to me.

Were the whole realm of nature mine, That were a present far too small;

Love so amazing, so divine, Demands my soul, my life, my all.


Certainly there was nothing forbidden in using Psalms in worship as the Puritans did. To do so exclusively is not commanded however. As a matter of fact the Bible does tell us exactly what should be done in private and corporate worship. It does so without specifying in minute detail. For instance in Psalm 150 we are told various instruments, besides the human voice, may be used in praising the Lord. The key verse is Let every thing that hath breath praise the LORD. Praise ye the LORD” (Psalm 150:6). Some want to restrict this to the Old Testament, but I see no warrant in them doing so. If you do that, you had better do away with “a pulpit of wood” for it is only found in Nehemiah 8:4; or “storehouse tithing” which is found only in Malachi 3:10.

First, we are to sing unto the Lord: “Serve the LORD with gladness: come before his presence

with singing” (Psalm 100:2). We are to sing psalms -- unto Him: “Sing unto him, sing psalms unto him: talk ye of all his wondrous works” (Psalm 105:2). Sing with understanding. This means doctrine, or teaching should be in the praises and songs: “For God is the King of all the earth: sing ye praises with understanding” Psalm 47:7). This is in the New Testament as well as old: Is any among you afflicted? let him pray. Is any merry? let him sing psalms” (James 5:13).

Secondly, hymns are to be sang as well as Psalms. “Greek= humnos; which denotes a song of praise addressed to God” W.E. Vine’s Expository Dictionary of NT Words.

“ Songs -- joyous lyric pieces on sacred subjects; contrast the reveling, licentious songs of pagan feasts (Amos 8:10).” Fausset’s Bible Dictionary on “hymn”.

“And when they had sung an hymn, they went out into the mount of Olives” (Matthew 26:30).

“And at midnight Paul and Silas prayed, and sang praises unto God: and the prisoners heard

them” (Acts 16:25)

“Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody

in your heart to the Lord” (Ephesians 5:19).

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one

another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the

Lord” (Colossians 3:16).

These verses should be most instructive to us on what kind of singing in Christian assemblies is acceptable to God. I found Fausset’s words “contrast the reveling, licentious songs of pagan feasts” very alarming. He was speaking of pagans back before 1877 when his dictionary was originally published. What would he have to say about the modern pagans in England and America today and their so-called church music? Thirdly, the verses above are saying “spiritual songs” as opposed to worldly or pagan songs.

How do you define the difference? “All music is be to offered to God. Johann Sebastian Bach, perhaps the greatest musician of all time, said that the aim of all music is the glory of God. In his own life and work the great composer and organist sought to live out that aim, frequently initialing his works S.D.G.: Sola Deo Gloria--to the glory of God alone. Whenever believers sing, they must constantly remind themselves that their song should be a gift of praise to the Lord. Every word of every song should be biblical, rightly reflecting God's own thoughts and attitudes. It is tragic that much of the music today classified as Christian is nothing more than theological mishmash.”John MacArthur on Ephesians 5:19; from

Some of you may say “Oh, it is just a matter of choice. A ‘Christian rock’ or ‘Christian rap’ song can praise the Lord as much as a hymn.” Be careful now, Christian friend! First of all, as we have said, the lyrics should be biblical. Also, the song should be offered to God. I can’t get too detailed in this issue, but hope to expand later. Suffice it to say, there is a certain amount of latitude in types of songs. Rhythm in itself is not wrong. The Hebrew songs certainly had rhythm.But, to take the rhythm that serves the devil so well, put a few Christian sounding phrases with it,and call it “Christian rock.”or“Christian rap”or “contemporary” is a misnomer. I used to listen to Elvis, Chuck Berry, the Rolling Stones, the Beatles, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Lynryd Skynyrd and many other rock singers, and you can’t take the same tunes and styles they sang, give them religious lyrics and call them Christian. They may be religious, but not Christian -- certainly not spiritual songs! So many young people (and some older ones as well), are being fooled today by contemporary Christian music, most of which will not, and cannot help you worship the true Sovereign God aright. “Be ye not unequally yoked together

with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what

communion hath light with darkness? And what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part

hath he that believeth with an infidel?” (2 Corinthians 6:14-15)


Likely some will get angry and puffed up with me, but think about this; I am not saying every song must be an old hymn written before 1900. I am saying our worship songs in our churches should meet our chief end -- which is to glorify God! I am not saying every good song must have been written by a Calvinist. Charles Wesley, although an Arminian, wrote some great hymns. Some modern songs are good. It is just the trend to throw out the old songs, along with the old paths -- the old biblical theology of Sovereign Grace. Our songs, whether old or new,should be scriptural.

“O sing unto the LORD a new song: sing unto the LORD, all the earth. Sing unto the LORD,

bless his name; shew forth his salvation from day to day” (Psalm 96:1-2).

I am sure someone will point out the preceding verse to defend all contemporary songs, but as you see the new song here was also to be a song of praise to Jehovah. If we in the New Testament are “showing forth His salvation from day to day.” our songs must present Jesus Christ, whose very name means salvation. He is our salvation (see Isaiah 12:2).

“Let all things be done decently and in order” (1 Corinthians 14:40).

Here is an example of a good modern song IMHO.

WE SHALL BEHOLD HIM (Words and music by Dottie Rambo)

The sky shall unfold, preparing His entrance;

The stars shall applaud Him with thunders of praise.

The sweet light in His eyes shall enhance those a waiting,

And we shall behold Him then face to face.


And we shall behold Him, we shall behold Him

Face to face in all of His glory;

And we shall behold Him, Yes, we shall behold Him

Face to face, our Saviour and Lord.

The angels shall sound the shout of His coming,

The sleeping shall rise from their slumbering place.

And those who remain shall be changed in a moment,

And we shall behold Him then face to face.


And we shall behold Him, we shall behold Him

Face to face in all of His glory;

And we shall behold Him, Yes, we shall behold Him

Face to face, our Saviour and Lord.

We shall behold Him, our Saviour and Lord.

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