Singing the Psalms in Public Worship

“Is any among you afflicted? let him pray. Is any merry? let him sing psalms.” (James 5:13)

Does God have the right to reveal how He ought to be worshipped? or has man been given authority to offer uninspired praise according to His own corrupt inventions and innovations? These are most prevalent and contentious questions which must be satisfactorily answered before God will ever be worshipped aright.

Throughout the scriptures, the people of God have been given various warnings that they must not tamper with God’s Word at any time.

(Deut. 4:2) “Ye shall not add unto the word which I commanded you, neither shall ye diminish ought from it, that ye may keep the commandments of the Lord your God which I commanded you.”

(Deut. 12:32) “What things soever I command you, observe to do it: thou shall not add thereto, nor diminish ought from it.”

(Rev. 22:18) “For I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, if any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book: (v19) and if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book.”

It seems quite clear therefore from the above that the Bible remains perfect and complete for all matters of faith and practice, and therefore must not be added to. This principle also stands in regards to the singing of God’s praise; for that God in His infinite perfection has not left man in the dark or ill-equipped as to how He ought to be worshipped; but rather has graciously given him a book of praise which is contained as an inseparable part of His Word known to all as the Book of Psalms.

Now these be the last words of David. David the son of Jesse said, and the man who was raised up on high, the anointed of the God of Jacob, and the sweet psalmist of Israel, said, The Spirit of the Lord spake by me, and his word was in my tongue (II Sam. 23:1-2).

Sing unto him, sing psalms unto him, talk ye of all his wondrous works (I Chron. 16:9).

Sing unto him, sing psalms unto him: talk ye of all his wondrous works (Ps. 105:2).

Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord (Eph. 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 (Col. 3:16).

Is any among you afflicted? let him pray. Is any merry? let him sing psalms (James 5:13).

In the New Testament, the Lord Christ Himself has given commandment and direction regarding divine worship: “God is a spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth” (John 4:24).

By the word “spirit,” Christ refers to that which is inspired by the Spirit of God, namely, the Bible, for “All scripture is given by inspiration of God” (II Tim. 3:16). The content of sung praise is hence the Book of Psalms or the Psalter.

The reference to the word “truth” means that all praise offered to God in worship must contain no blemishes or inerrancies but must be absolutely pure. This of course is not true of hymns and songs of human compositions, because the word of man in uninspired odes is not “truth.” Moreover, it often contains doctrinal errors and also even damnable heresies. How different is was with David, the main human penman of the Psalms. As “the anointed of the God of Jacob, and the sweet psalmist of Israel,” he truly and boldly declared, “The Spirit of the Lord spake by me, and his word was in my tongue” (II Sam. 23:1-2). What uninspired writer of “hymns” would dare say this of his compositions? Yet such people would have us sing their poems in the public worship of the Almighty instead of the God-breathed Psalms!

Since the Word of God (and thus the Psalter as God’s book of sung praise) cannot be added to or subtracted from, it must therefore be our absolute and final authority in all matters concerning the worship of God. How repugnant then must the ever-increasing number of uninspired books of hymns be to the true and living God, who demands nothing less than true obedience and compliance to His Word! “Sing unto him, sing psalms unto him: talk ye of all his wondrous works” (Ps. 105:2).

Guest Article by Bill Whyte

Source: Covenant Protestant Reformed Church

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