God and Song: An Inquiry Into the Eternity of God in relation to Church Worship
by Dr. C. Matthew McMahon
Music and Song
It is quite true that throughout the centuries various forms of music and song have emerged and taken shape for the benefit of the people of God. For the saint, various forms of musical interlude are a privilege of personal blessing. Here are some biblical examples of music and song through Biblical History:
Genesis 4:21, “His brother’s name was Jubal; he was the father of all those who play the lyre and pipe.”
Exodus 15:1, “Then Moses and the people of Israel sang this song to the LORD, saying, “I will sing to the Lord , for he has triumphed gloriously; the horse and his rider he has thrown into the sea.”
Psalm 28:7, “And with my song I will praise Him.”
Psalm 30:1, “A Song at the dedication of the house of David.”
Psalm 33:3, “Sing to Him a new song; play skillfully with a shout of joy.”
Psalm 69:30, “I will praise the name of God with a song, and will magnify Him with thanksgiving.”
Isaiah 42:10, “Sing to the LORD a new song, And His praise from the ends of the earth, You who go down to the sea, and all that is in it.”
Ephesians 5:18-19, “And do not be drunk with wine, in which is dissipation; but be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord…”
Colossians 3:16, “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.”
Rev. 5:9, “And they sang a new song…”
It is imperative that we take great care surrounding the manner in which we offer the spiritual sacrifices of song before the Lord in worship in compared with personal devotions outside of worship. In the former worship is regulated by God’s immutable dictates surrounding the nature of worship (this we will speak to in a moment). In the latter it rests on personal taste, so long as such tastes do not fall into a form of sin. In terms of the point overall, the inquiry resides in the formal aspects of corporate worship, and how God so desires us to worship as corporate bodies. The saints should not desire, at any turn, to bring dishonor to God, and to deter the blessings we would have otherwise received from Him in praising Him in corporate worship. It is not hard to distinguish the reality that the contemporary church has run amuck today with ruining worship. They have replaced command with compromise. Let us not jump ahead too quickly. We should first make a vital notation. In qualifying the manner in which the “worship” is used throughout this paper, it needs to be briefly defined. It is undoubtedly true that every aspect of the worship service is actually part of worship. That seems redundant, but it is not. The call to worship, or invocation, is a part of worship. The Scripture reading given by the Pastor or Elder is part of worship. The prayers prayed on behalf of the congregation, community, nation, or world, are part of worship; the tithe and offering are as well. The preaching is part of worship. And yes, singing is part of worship as well. All these, and more in some cases, are part of “the corporate worship service.” Corporate worship refers to the gathering of the visible saints for the expressed purpose of glorifying God in a covenant community. For ease and clarity, though, I will reference the term “worship” to refer to the aspect of the worship service known to us as song, or singing related facets. It would not be helpful to continually distinguish that portion of the worship service apart from other portions. The reference in general for this will simply be “worship.”
Now, in continuing where we left off, worship in the modern church today has run amuck. That’s right, amuck. Many churches have shipwrecked their worship. There is so much today in regards to impudent worship styles and musical abstractions that one begins to wonder where God fits into all of it. Too many theology deviant musicians have a book out on worship and how to “do” worship. The average church member knows exactly what this refers to. There is the contemporary music that plagues our churches and is destroying worship. William Romaine said in opposing this “modern” monstrosity, “There are several reasons for opposing it. One, it’s too new. Two, its often worldly, even blasphemous. The new Christian music is not as pleasant as the more established style because there are so many new songs, you can’t learn them all. It also puts too much emphasis on instrumental music rather than on Godly lyrics. This new music creates disturbances, making people act indecently and disorderly. The preceding generation got along without it.” Now, don’t you agree? Is the church falling into this? Of course it is! William Romaine, an Anglican Calvinist, wrote this quote in 1775. According to the “traditionalist” men of his day, he was critiquing Isaac Watts’ hymns. Yes, that’s right, he wrote this critique entitled, “An Essay on Psalmody” against the hymns that Isaac Watts had written: When I survey the Wondrous Cross, O God Our Help in Ages Past, Give to Our God Immortal Praise, and the other hymns that they had begun using in their “contemporary worship” of the day. Such modern monstrosities destroy the worship of the church.
You may have thought this paper was going to trash and critique our modern day Contemporary Christian Music. There is no need for that. For those who know the Bible well, Contemporary Christian Music has already trashed itself and it does not even know it. It needs no help in that department. Many “Reformed” Christians are going to have trouble with this article. They will never give up Handel, Neander, Luther, Schutz, Watts, Bach and the like. They are going to sing their hymns in church, teach their children to sing those hymns, and hope their grandchildren sing those hymns as well. They would see the church apostatize for anything less. However, there is a great problem in the manner in which Christians press 400, 500 or 1500-year-old hymns into our church life without fitting the duty of praise and song to God’s overall commandments regarding worship.
The stage is now set for the real discussion to take place. The proper foundation to understanding an appropriate role of music in the church today is an aspect of the Doctrine of God, or Theology Proper. The attributes and being of God are paramount to understanding worship. Certain attributes are essential to understanding God’s relationship to worship and song. Here, we must look at certain important characteristics of God’s nature. First, there is what is called the “Immensity of God.” This term, “immense” is one of the incommunicable attributes of God. “Incommunicable” is a fancy theological word. It simply means that this attribute of God’s being is something He alone has and does not share or communicate to us. For instance, a communicable attribute would be “love.” God loves, and we love. We can love. But, we do not love as God loves. His love is infinite, eternal, and the like. We can love in a finite manner. We share, in that respect, the attribute of being able to love. In another sense, though, God is immense. We are finite. We are not immense and do not carry the attribute of immensity, or even a relation of it in any manner. The attribute of God’s immensity flows from His infinite being. It is an attribute in respect to place and time. In respect to place God is immense – He is everywhere present in the fullness of His being. There is no place where He is not. The indivisible eternity of God embraces all divisible times, not coextensively or formally, but eminently and indivisibly. We should notice that the immense God embraces in His immensity all the extended and divisible parts of the world because wherever He is He is there wholly. This does not mean He is the chair, or lamppost, or car, as the New Agers would like to think. But it does mean He is everywhere present in the totality of His being. The chair, lamppost and car all have their being in Him – He upholds them all. If He did not uphold them they would cease to exist. The Creator is distinct from the creature. The Bible teaches this very plainly as we will see.
Though He is immense as to place, He is also immense as to time. This we call God’s “eternality.” The “mixture” (for our purposes) of His infinity and immensity give way to “eternity.” The infinity of God in relation to duration is his eternity. Jeremiah 23:24 says, “Can anyone hide himself in secret places, so I shall not see him?” says the LORD; “Do I not fill heaven and earth?” says the LORD.” There is no place, or time, that can escape Him. Revelation 1:4 says, “Grace to you and peace from Him who is and who was and who is to come.” God was, is and is to come all at the same time. He is eternal. 1 Timothy 1:17 says, “Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, to God who alone is wise, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.” The Father is eternal, “The eternal God is your refuge,” (Deut. 33:27), the Son is eternal, “Christ came, who is over all, the eternally blessed God. Amen.” (Rom. 9:5), and the Spirit is eternal, “who through the eternal Spirit.” (Heb. 9:14) God is eternal. He is immense as to time as well as to place. This fact the Bible teaches from Genesis to Revelation.
We should make a distinction between God’s omnipresence and His immensity. Some may ask if there is a distinction at all. There is a distinction. Paraphrasing Francis Turretin, the former indicates an absolute property belonging to Him from eternity; the later, based upon it, denotes a habitude to place existing in time. They are related to each other as a first and second act or principle and principate. For out of immensity arises omnipresence, which supposes immensity as its foundation. God is therefore omnipresent because He is immense. That may all be a little confusing to some. Let’s restate the idea by asking a question, “If God is immense, what does that say to His disposition to a particular time or place?” Is God “more in tune” in one place or time than another? Does God favor one particular era of church history more than another? With the possible exception of the fullness of time in which Jesus Christ walked the earth, the answer to the above question is “not at all.” God does not add or take away from Himself in any place or time, or delight in one place or time more than another. Wherever He is, He is there in a complete delight in Himself. But what about when we say He is “drawing near” or moving “far away” from us? This is to be taken in the manner of His operations, not His description or being. For instance, go out tonight and look at the full moon (or whenever the full moon is out next). Then after looking at it, turn around. Did the moon change or did you change? Since we know something changed, let us ask this question “Was the change actual?” Yes. Was it in respect to the being of the moon, or a relationship you had to the moon? Certainly it surrounded the relationship you had with the moon. First you were looking at it, and then you turned away from it. God is present everywhere for all time. His moving closer or further to some is not a reaction in His being, but a relationship change usually based on the sin of a person or obedience of a person. It is the person’s relationship with God that changes. God never changes. Malachi 3:6 states, “For I the Lord do not change.”
With the reality of seeing that God is immense as to place and time, there is a grave problem with making God faddish or nostalgic in the manner He is to be worshipped since His directives stand for all time. He is not bound to a physical manifestation of time in a church fad, or in a piece of religious nostalgia. Rather, He is bound to Himself. These terms need to be defined and examples should be given in order for this to become clearly seen. Webster’s New Universal Unabridged Dictionary defines “fad” in this way, “a temporary fashion, notion, or manner of conduct. Especially one followed by a group.” The American Heritage Dictionary defines “faddish” in this way, “Given to fads.” Fads come and go. There was a time where everyone wore bellbottom pants. If we move back further in time, there was a time when people wore knickers. Which one of these two is God bound to? Does God think that bellbottom pants are better than knickers? Does time matter in this regard to God? Is He faddish in this respect? Absolutely not. No, God is not faddish. His being as “immense” both to time and place will not allow Him, by necessity, to become faddish. If God is timeful, or transcends the limitation we have as to time, how could anyone ever say that He is more or less pleased with the current state of men’s ideas at any given time rather than His own constancy?
What does the word “nostalgic” mean? Webster’s New Universal Unabridged Dictionary defines the noun “nostalgia” as “a wistful desire to return in thought or in fact to a former time in one’s life, to one’s home or homeland, or to one’s family or friends; a sentimental yearning for the happiness of a former place or time.” One who is nostalgic has a sentimental yearning for the happiness, or supposed happiness, which remains very relative of a former place or time. When you talk to your grandmother about her life as she was growing up, she often prefers that time to the hustle and bustle of the age of technology today. There are many grandmothers who do not own a computer and would never consider it. Some grandmas do not see themselves as technologically savvy. They would simply rather go back through time and recapture their youth. Many people often decorate their house in that way – they may have a whole room dedicated to Victorian furniture or antiques to recapture the nostalgia of a bygone era. Theme parks often create areas of nostalgia that transport the sentimental time traveler back into an era they have forgotten, like the 50’s, or a whole century, like medieval England. We know people are sentimental in these areas due to the high dollar amounts many are willing to pay to recapture a bit of sentiment at those parks. However, is God sentimental over certain aspects of song and music? If you like 17th or 18th century music, that is wonderful. Many people love 17th or 18th century music for personal devotion, this writer included. Handel’s Messiah is magnificent. But God is not locked into a particular era, rather, He is locked into His own being and constancy. He is never, nor will ever be, faddish or nostalgic.
It is certainly prudent to guard against triviality in worship, or creating a service to pander to “unchurched” Harry or Sally. In singing the Psalms of David in Meter, or the Metrical Psalter of 1650 used by the Scottish churches, the pattern or manner of singing is so different than those immersed in popular culture that such singing is devoid of feeling and excitement. However, in John 4:24 Christ says, “worshippers must worship in spirit and in truth.” On the one hand they worship with the whole man – emotions, will, affections, mind, strength – i.e. the spirit (their entire redeemed humanity). On the other hand they worship in truth; i.e. the Word of God. All music should be sung from the heart. The mind, body, soul, emotions, will, all of them should be engaged in worship. What part of the humanness of men here should be excluded? What part of man is so sinful that it should be excluded for partaking in worship? The mind? The will? It is certainly okay to stir ourselves up to worship if it is rightly done. Most of the time Christians are not stirred up and are in need of being stirred to worship the Lord with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength. David said, “Bless the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all His benefits,” (Psalm 103:1), and then listed a number of things he needed to remember. He stirred himself up to worship because his heart was faint. Is this the exception or the norm? In any case, the entire redeemed humanity of any individual should fully worship the Living God.
Criteria for Worship
We know from God’s attributes that He is not faddish or nostalgic because He is timeful. How does this apply to parameters in worship? What is acceptable? What is not acceptable? In taking into account the above general guidelines, we can make certain biblical criteria the norm for any church service. First, it is to be orderly. 1 Corinthians 14:40 says, “Let all things be done decently and in order.” In the immense madness that characterized the Corinthian church and its chaotic worship, the Apostle took great lengths to order their worship. God is a God of order, not frenzy. Screaming up and down the church isles, rolling in the aisle, dancing around the sanctuary is not orderly. Nothing the church does in a worship service should distract other worshippers from worshipping God, and should conform the Scriptural Laws that God has ordered for sinners to approach Him. This sets the tone for the entire service.
Secondly, worship must be done in both spirit and truth. Again, as quoted previously, John 4:24 states, “God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.” God is seeking these kinds of worshippers. They must worship in spirit. Some denominations believe this to mean in some form of “ecstatic experience” on a level of emotionalism. It is certainly true that worship is emotional, but it is not based on feelings. The mind dictates to the rest of the body, or the heart of men, what it is to determine based on the truth it understands. But it is interesting that Jesus says “spirit” first, and then “truth.” Are some of these denominations correct? Is “spirit” worship more important? No, but it is as important as worshipping in truth. These are the two criteria Jesus gave to His church. So what does “spirit” mean? To answer this, one must understand that there has to be an affinity between the worshipper and the One worshipped who in this case the One worshipped is God. For this to be true, the one worshipping must be regenerate, or born again. If they are not, then their sacrifices before God are an abomination to Him (Proverbs 15:8). Only when a man is born again is he able to please Christ and offer up spiritual sacrifices before God (Romans 12:1-2). His old man is dead, and his new man, the new creation, is now a spiritual man who can be plugged into God and the truth of His Word in a redeeming and transforming manner. Only those born again can worship in spirit, and they are to do so in the new man – the entirety of the spiritual man in Christ. The emotions, the will, the heart, the affections, all of these engage the worshipper in worship to God, the Supreme spiritual being. God is not restricted to a physical local, as the Samaritan woman thought. His worshippers must have an affinity to Him as a Spirit in this way or they cannot worship. However, they must also worship Him in truth – what God thinks of Himself and what praise is most suitable to Himself. The mind guides the rest of the newly created man. As it is transformed, it guides the spirit of a man, or the entirety of his being, to worship the Invisible God. Objective Truth (as we will see) sets every standard for the worshipper. That is why the Bible guides the worshipper in his quest to worship God. The objective standard of the Word of God sets the stage for spirit worshippers to Worship. To exclude one or the other is to exclude true worship.
Also, it must be remembered, that worship, done in truth, is a communication of truth. Songs are conduits to theological manipulation. “Allow me to write the music for a nation,” Plato said, “and I will control the nation.” In a similar manner, the songs sung in worship in the church, will, in fact, control the church to a great extent. Theological ideas are communicated in this way. The congregation is a reflection of the songs it sings, as much as it is of the spiritual truths taught to them in any mode.
Third, worship by strict proxy has been replaced by congregational worship. Colossians 3:16 says, “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.” Ministering to one another in song is the duty of the entire congregation. In the Old Testament much of the worship was done by the Levites (Number 8:21-26; Ezekiel 44:16). They were ministers over the congregation and on behalf of the congregation to God. In the New Testament Christ is our only “mediator,” and all Christians are exhorted to admonish one another by song, or congregational singing. Singing is not only the Christian’s praise to God, it is also the admonition of one Christian to another for the building of the body. Any rejection to these three biblical “rules” will negate true worship and the blessing of God on the people of God. This presses us to consider the axioms of the Regulative Principle of worship. In other words – having certain guidelines is good, but we must have a Divine Warrant to do everything we do in worship from Scripture.
The Scriptural Law of Worship
I have elsewhere written on the Scriptural Law of Worship, or as is commonly called the Regulative Principle in Worship. For sake of refreshment, I simply reiterate that which is most important here on that subject matter, before moving into the topic at hand since the two are inseparably enjoined together. Simply stated, the Regulative Principle asserts that true worship is only commanded by God and false worship (or will-worship) is anything not commanded. That is an oversimplified statement that most Reformed Christians would agree upon. A more profitably expounded definition is found in the Westminster Confession in Chapter 21 paragraph 1 when it says:
The light of nature showeth that there is a God, who hath lordship and sovereignty over all, is good, and doth good unto all, and is therefore to be feared, loved, praised, called upon, trusted in, and served, with all the heart, and with all the soul, and with all the might. But the acceptable way of worshiping the true God is instituted by himself, and so limited by his own revealed will, that he may not be worshiped according to the imaginations and devices of men, or the suggestions of Satan, under any visible representation, or any other way not prescribed in the Holy Scripture.
Acceptable worship (acceptable corporate worship) is 1) instituted by God Himself, 2) limited by His revealed will, 3) not accomplished by a) the imagination or devices of men, b) suggestions of Satan, c) made under any visible representations, and d) by any other way not prescribed by Holy Scripture. The Christian would do well to take these into consideration, and study the Scriptural Law of Worship to agree that God alone determines, by His Word, what is acceptable and what is not acceptable in the corporate sanctuary.
It should be seen as appropriate that the house of God be ordered by God’s rules. It should be seen as appropriate that God’s people are to be ordered by God’s rules. It should be seen as appropriate that worship, that which shows reverence, piety, love, desire, and joy in God, be structured and ordered according to God’s word and His biblical principles lying therein. Every Christian would certainly concede that in the corporate worship of God’s people, God alone determines the manner in which sinners are to approach Him. Whatsoever is not commanded is forbidden. This means that every aspect of our corporate worship is ordered by God that all things “be done decently and in order” (1 Corinthians 14:40) and not accomplished according to our thoughts, wills or ideas (Colossians 2:23).
It should also appear quite logical that any violation of the Scriptural Law of Worship would also open the door to all kinds of superstitions, idolatries and confusion. Once men have free reign to do what is not commanded, anything goes. This is readily apparent when we see anything not specifically commanded interrupt the God-ordered worship of the Scriptures. And yet, what must be remembered is that the moment the door swings open, there is no warrant, in any way, to shut it if one disregards the manner in which God (not man) determines the Creator and Redeemer is to be approached. It is pertinent to this study overall, though it may be written in many parts, to seek logical conclusions about what we study. For example, if songs and hymns composed by men and women, whether or not they are heretics or Christians, that are not part of the Duty of Praise and the God-given manual of praise for that expressed purpose, then those who hold to such a view should have nothing to say, whatsoever, about drama, mime, dance, puppets or any other medium in which they apply their loose view of the Regulative Principle. Once the door opens in one area that is not warranted, it will be an act of great eisogetical gymnastics to close the doors in other areas. If God allows Cain to bring his fruits (Genesis 4:3-5), or Nadab and Abihu their strange fire (Leviticus 10:1-3), then anything is permissible. It is no accident that in matters of corporate worship and the rule or law of Worship, that God deals quite dreadfully upon such acts – with Nadab and Abihu God struck them down (Lev. 10:1-3); with Korah, Dathan, and Abiram God killed them for utilizing discretionary powers in matters of worship (Numbers 15); Uzzah was killed for touching the ark when it stumbled (something only given as a right to Levites, and that in a certain manner) (2 Samuel 6:7); Christ rebuked those who manipulated worship (vain worship) when he said that such people teach as doctrines the commandments of men (Mark 7:7); and the Apostle Paul was very strict to regard any worship not of divine appointment “will-worship” (as said before), as well as demonstrating those who abused the Lord’s Supper were sick and some had died as a result of God’s judgment (1 Corinthians 11:30). This we should at least be honest with when determining the manner in which we worship.
God’s Guidelines vs. Man’s Taste
God has made, from the beginning of human existence, very specific and purposeful guidelines for worship and for those things to be used in worship through the history of progressive revelation. From the sacrifices of Cain, Able, Noah and Abraham, to the temple sacrifices, Sabbath days, the Tabernacle’s and Temple’s furnishings, the structure of the tabernacle and temple – everything was given the greatest degree of absolute minutia and any deviation from that minutia meant certain death for all matters concerning the moral law and its extension in certain areas of the ceremonial law. The law plays an important part in worship, and all things surrounding worship since it reflects the worth of God. The moral law (the perfect reflection of God’s character) directs us upon the object, the means, the manner and the time of worship in the first four commandments (cf. Exodus 20). Worship is a very solemn and sober engagement where the worshipper enters into the presence of God with the corporate assembly and follows the Scriptural Law that God gives him in order to accomplish His will in His own magnification. Any aspect of the law that is broken in this regard is sin. God alone determines how sinners approach Him. As a matter of fact, God determines how human beings or angelic beings approach Him as well. As Christians, we must continue to use God’s judgments, commandments and statutes as a rule and line to be drawn against anything which does not have a plain and divine appointment for worship.
Today, the church turns to that which is faddish or nostalgic based on their own “tastes” and the intrusion of “culture” into the church. The “worship” songs that Contemporary Christian Music offer usually revolve around those praise songs that repeat themselves over and over like mantras at a New Age festival. They are downright pathetic. How could God accept such things offered by the theologically inept writers of Contemporary Christian Music? An example may be the following:
Oh Lord I love you.
Oh Lord I love you.
Oh Lord I love you.
Yes, I Love you.
There should be wide agreement that much of the music of Contemporary Christian Music is “new age mantraism.” It is almost as if singing songs like the example above “conjures up the deity” and places one in “touch” with the supernatural through repeated ecstatic experience and lively music. The composers of this kind of “worship” (which is easy noticeable) have done one of four things: 1) they have either copied the worldliness of secular new age music on purpose, 2) written their music to attract the unregenerate in church worship services, 3) have dummied down the songs so that they are speaking to saints as people with a “kindergarten level of intelligence”, or 4) have written them as if “Jesus is my girlfriend.” None of this will do. We do not worship Jesus by singing songs that we could sing to our “girlfriend.” God is not our pal. God is the Living Almighty God, and He has a specific manner and means by which sinners are to approach Him. How difficult would it be to change “Oh Lord I love you,” to “Oh Darla I love you?” Instead of man’s desires, then, we should be after accomplishing the will of God in worship.
Worship is Objective not Subjective
Worship is objective by nature, not subjective. The very fact that God command us to worship Him is objective, and fulfills a specific purpose. God will be glorified, and that glorification will happen in a specific manner by His creation. Men do not have the right, at any time, to tell God how He will be glorified. Men do not tell God how He is glorified at any time in any subjective nature. God’s Word, and that Word alone determines how men glorify Him. Let us use the example of prayer. When we pray, we do not pray principally subjectively, but objectively. In other words, we pray because God has 1) told us to pray, 2) told us how to pray, and 3) told us how not to pray. Luke 11:1 states, “Now it came to pass, as He was praying in a certain place, when He ceased, that one of His disciples said to Him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John also taught his disciples.” It is wise for the followers of God to ask God how He desires them to pray, and to be taught to pray. If prayer were primarily subjective, no questions would ever be asked and no directives would ever be given. Prayer would, for all intents and purpose in that scheme, be completely subjective. But in prayer, the fruit of its objectivity is a subjective compilation or reinterposition of the Word of God. Prayer was defined by many of the great Puritans as the Word of God formed into an argument, and then retorted back to God again in humility. In other words, we never pray without the Word of God because the Word of God is what God requires of us principally to retort back to Him. Christ, our greatest example of prayer, certainly engaged in the subjective consequences of it, while at the same time holding steadfastly to the objective nature of it. At Gethsemane Christ prayed that if it were possible that the cup should pass from Him. But the subjective nature of the prayer is always housed within the will of God and the objective principle of prayer: “not my will but Yours be done” (Luke 22:42). The same can be said of the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew 6:9. Also, when Jesus prayed on the cross, He followed the Scripture quoting Psalm 22. The prescription is there as principally objective, though reinterposition is subjective. The worshipper in his prayer closet takes the Word of God and prays accordingly. I know of no Christian who would sanely admit that he prays contrary to the Word of God. How do we pray? How do we mediate? How do we preach? How do we confess our sins? How do we glorify God? Well, we principally open our Bibles and find out what God says on the matter. Worship, even in our private daily devotions, is still primarily and principally objective in nature. All things given up to God are filtered through the standard of His Word and His will. Worship is no different.
The purpose of the objectivity of worship is that God will be glorified in the manner which suits Him best. Leviticus 10:3 says, “…before all the people I must be glorified.” God is primarily glorified and only glorified by the work of His own Spirit in and through His people. God cannot be glorified in any other manner than by complete perfection. This is why the Westminster Confession of Faith states concerning any good works that Christians accomplish, “Their ability to do good works is not at all of themselves, but wholly from the Spirit of Christ.” There is no mistaking this. We must abide in Christ and His perfection and His Spirit to be acceptable. John 15:4-6, “Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned.” Romans 8:4-14 says, “that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. For to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. Because the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be. So then, those who are in the flesh cannot please God. But you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His. And if Christ is in you, the body is dead because of sin, but the Spirit is life because of righteousness. But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you. Therefore, brethren, we are debtors — not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. For if you live according to the flesh you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God.” Ezekiel 36:26-27 states, “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will keep My judgments and do them.” Since abiding in the vine (by Christ’s power) and walking in the Spirit (by Christ’s power) and keeping God’s judgments (by Christ’s power) are all by Christ’s power, it would stand to consider the most suitable means by which God would glorify Himself. What is the object by which God would be most glorified (or glorified at all) through human agency by the Spirit? This question must be answered to suitably describe the duty of praise as God requires it, for no praise would be worthy other than that which God would require.
God’s Glory and Praise
Praise is commanded by God from His people for His glory. Praise is not about what Christians “get out of” worship. The doctrine of praise does not house, principally, what Christians “receive” but what is given to God and its affect in His glorification, or rather, the reflection of His glory. God must be glorified, and praise to God must glorify Him perfectly. We know that sinful redeemed sinners glorify God, or rather, are used by God as vessels to glorify Himself. Can God use human vessels to become more glorious? Never. God can never become more glorious than He is right now. The Bible certainly speaks of God’s majesty and glory. Psalm 145:5 says, “I will meditate on the glorious splendor of Your majesty, And on Your wondrous works.” It also speaks about the glorification of God in praise; Psalm 29:1, “Give unto the LORD, O you mighty ones, Give unto the LORD glory and strength.” It seems to indicate that human beings can “give” God glory. But this must be coupled with the Biblical warrant that also speaks about God’s immutability; Malachi 3:6, “For I am the LORD, I do not change.” And as the Psalmist says, “But thou art the same, and thy years shall have no end” (Ps. 102:27). How does God receive glory, or be extolled as glorious, and yet not change, and still say that we “give God glory?” Does God receive something from us that He did not have previously? Remember that God is infinite, immense, self-existent, simple (without passions or parts) and all together perfect. How could he ever be improved?
“Giving glory to God” is something God loves since human beings act like mirrors that reflect the radiance of God’s worth. Worship is really ascribing to God His worth. It is not giving God worth, but speaking it or singing it as a mirror would reflect sunlight. Worship is really “worth-ship”. As a result, God will never share His glory (His worth-ship) with another and desires to be glorified through human beings, as with the rest of creation such as inanimate objects. Psalm 19:1, “The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament shows His handiwork.” The heavens do not literally speak, but they do shine forth the glory of God, or more literally, the “weightiness” of God – His presence and power. God admires the reflection of Himself in nature in inanimate objects such as stars which declare His glory, in fallen human beings in relationship to His image which are fearfully and wonderfully made in terms of their construction, and in redeemed human beings which are washed in the blood of Christ and are conformed to His image. God receives glory by the reflection of worthiness seen in creation of all kinds because He is pleased with Himself. Even “the light of nature, and the works of creation and providence do so far manifest the goodness, wisdom, and power of God…” But even inanimate objects can demonstrate the worthiness of God. God, though, desires more than that. He does not content Himself to be glorified by rocks, twigs, and stars. Instead, He created men to be used as “instruments” of His glory and the mechanism of extolling Himself through His praise by their mouth, and from their heart, soul and mind. When a man looks in a bathroom mirror to see his reflection, in like manner, God looks at redeemed men to see His reflection. He is the cause and substance of Himself in them and only that is pleasing to Him. Thus, when men worship, God is looking for something from them in particular – Himself.
What is the Duty of Praise?
Since God is pleased with Himself, he has required that men praise Him with praise that is befitting His being. God is most pleased with who He is and His own being. Praise to God would come, first and foremost, from God. In other words, if there “is” a doctrine of “praise” that God requires of men, then the content, element, or substance of that praise and worship will be found as a result of God’s directives to us. Since God determines the manner in which He will be glorified, then one cannot suppose that men have the ability, in and of themselves, to glorify God. God must aid them to do so using His own “praise” through them. It is not enough to apply praise to God as something we create or shape, but rather it must be what God directs us to do since He is most pleased with Himself and praise is the epitome of giving glory to God.
God requires men to praise Him. This is a duty. Psalm 57:7 says, “My heart is steadfast, O God, my heart is steadfast; I will sing and give praise.” Psalm 108:1 says, “O God, my heart is steadfast; I will sing and give praise, even with my glory.” We know that men “praise” God, but are they required to? Yes:
Psalm 33:2, “Praise the LORD with the harp; Make melody to Him with an instrument of ten strings.”
Psalm 104:35, “…Praise the LORD!”
Psalm 105:45, “Praise the LORD!”
Psalm 106:1, “Praise the LORD! Oh, give thanks to the LORD, for He is good! For His mercy endures forever.”
Psalm 111:1, “Praise the LORD!”
Psalm 112:1, “Praise the LORD!”
Psalm 113:1, “Praise the LORD! Praise, O servants of the LORD, Praise the name of the LORD!
Psalm 116:19, “In the courts of the LORD’s house, In the midst of you, O Jerusalem. Praise the LORD!”
Psalm 117:1, “Praise the LORD, all you Gentiles! Laud Him, all you peoples!”
Psalm 135:1, “Praise the LORD! Praise the name of the LORD; Praise Him, O you servants of the LORD!”
Psalm 146:1-2, “Praise the LORD! Praise the LORD, O my soul! While I live I will praise the LORD; I will sing praises to my God while I have my being.”
Psalm 147:1, “Praise the LORD! For it is good to sing praises to our God; For it is pleasant, and praise is beautiful. Praise the LORD, O Jerusalem! Praise your God, O Zion!
Psalm 148:1, 7, “Praise the LORD! Praise the LORD from the heavens; Praise Him in the heights! Praise the LORD from the earth, You great sea creatures and all the depths;
Psalm 149:1, “Praise the LORD! Sing to the LORD a new song, And His praise in the assembly of saints.”
Psalm 150:1, “Praise the LORD! Praise God in His sanctuary; Praise Him in His mighty firmament! Let everything that has breath praise the LORD. Praise the LORD!”
There is almost no need to explain the reality that Yahweh is to be praised. One cursory reading of the Bible would demonstrate this beyond doubt. However, there must be a division between what the Scriptures say about praise, and what praise God will accept. God must be praised in a manner in which He will accept it. That means the content of the praise is specific, and the praise itself is specific. If God is going to accept it, it must be from God and by His power. Why? God accepts nothing less than perfection. Deuteronomy 15:21 is exceedingly clear, “But if there is a defect in it, if it is lame or blind or has any serious defect, you shall not sacrifice it to the LORD your God.” Again, when Christians praise God, or offer any sacrifices to Him, “Their ability to do good works is not at all of themselves, but wholly from the Spirit of Christ.” What does the Spirit of Christ use to glorify God in praise? What will He use? Will God use a lame sacrifice fabricated by a fallen heart? God cannot use fallen men’s words or wisdom to reflect His glory in praise. It must be that which is most pleasing to God, which is why it is wholly by the Spirit of Christ that anything men do is accepted. Not everything is accepted, but only that which God would accept. God cannot use human invention – it is marred, lame, and fallen. It must be of divine origin and warrant. It cannot simply be left up to men to pick and choose the songs, manner or elements by which they would like to praise God. Their praise must be God’s praise, His praise. But what is God’s praise?
What Would God Use to Glorify Himself in Us by His Spirit?
If you were God, how would you praise Yourself? How would you reflect your own glory? Would you rely on man’s conceptions? Would you allow man to create his own concoctions of praise, or would you implement your own praise in his mouth? Would you accept the New Age Christian mantraisms or 17th century hymns? Obviously, this is a conjectural statement of sorts. We are not God, and it is somewhat subjective to try and place ourselves in “His shoes.” Or is it?
I will bless the Lord at all times; his praise shall continually be in my mouth. (Psa. 34:1)
Who can utter the mighty deeds of the Lord, or declare all his praise? (Psa. 106:2)
Then they believed his words; they sang his praise. (Psa. 106:12)
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; all those who practice it have a good understanding. His praise endures forever! (Psa. 111:10)
Praise the Lord! Sing to the Lord a new song, his praise in the assembly of the godly! (Psa. 149:1)
Let them give glory to the Lord, and declare his praise in the coastlands. (Isa. 42:12)
I will recount the steadfast love of the Lord, the praises of the Lord, according to all that the Lord has granted us, and the great goodness to the house of Israel that he has granted them according to his compassion, according to the abundance of his steadfast love. (Isa. 63:7)
Praise is objective. It is not man’s praise but His praise. This really is a strange concept since it would regularly be “our praise of His being” instead of “His praise,” at least in the manner in which we would regularly think about such things. A few times the psalmist says “my praise”; Psalm 22:25, “My praise shall be of You in the great assembly; I will pay My vows before those who fear Him.” Psalm 71:6, “By You I have been upheld from birth; You are He who took me out of my mother’s womb. My praise shall be continually of You.” Psalm 109:1, “To the Chief Musician. A Psalm of David. Do not keep silent, O God of my praise!” But “praise” here, as the Geneva Bible states, is about vowing; “vows before them that fear him.” It is akin to thinking about the raising of the hands in praise to God (which is an act of swearing oaths) – this is why God is very specific in other areas about what He wants for His praise. When you see people raise their hands abased on emotions, this is wrong. The lifting of hands is swearing oaths in His name. It is a confirmation on what the worshipper knows to be true of God. Thus “vowing” is integral to worship. God, then, in vows and songs, desires to see a reflection of Himself, not of what the worshipper will conjure up. He is looking for His praise. Isaiah 48:9 says, “For My name’s sake I will defer My anger, and for My praise I will restrain it from you, So that I do not cut you off.” Isaiah 42:8, “I am the LORD, that is My name; and My glory I will not give to another, Nor My praise to carved images.” Isaiah 43:21, “This people I have formed for Myself; They shall declare My praise.” For example, Isaiah 42:12 says, “Let them give glory unto the LORD, and declare his praise in the islands.” The Hebrew “give” is more formally “to set in place” (soom). What is set in place? His “praise” or “fame”. “Declare” means to “announce” (nawgad) which holds within it the idea of “vowing” or “confession of something”. Such a declaration or setting in place of God’s glory and praise is said of something objective, though the instrument of praising is subjective. The reality is given that the “praiser” is stating the actual truths which surround God. Stating those actual truths, and the reality behind them in understanding, is the duty of every believer. Now these are “stating” God’s thoughts, or His praise, after Him. Psalm 50:23, “Whoever offers praise glorifies Me; And to him who orders his conduct aright I will show the salvation of God.” Where, then, would the Christian find such specific instances of His praise?
Before answering that question, it is imperative to place upon the duty of praise the reality of singing. Praise in these instances is not “blessing God” (which is another idea altogether). Instead, it is contrasted by its method, which is by song. The people of God are required to sing His praise to Him. This is done by God’s power working in and through the congregation of the faithful. And they are only faithful because God is pleased to dwell in them. Praise may be most helpfully defined, then, as the “manifestation of His declarative glory by His creatures.” As the command is set in Psalm 150:6, “Let everything that has breath praise the LORD. Praise the LORD!” How is this praise given? Psalm 109:30, “I will greatly praise the LORD with my mouth; Yes, I will praise Him among the multitude.” These are the sacrifices of the people by their lips (Hosea 14:2). As Hebrews 13:15 makes clear, “Therefore by Him let us continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name.” This confirms much of what has been stated thus far. By Him we continually offer up sacrifices which are “praise to God”, and this being explicit – it is the fruit of our lips giving thanks to His name (God’s name being a reflection of His character and attributes). The matter of praise is already set down for His people. They are simply to extol God with such praise. Where, then, is this praise to be found? “Sing unto him, sing psalms unto him. (Psalm 105:2)”
The Psalter as a Manuel of Praise
God alone determines for us what is “the fruit of our praise” as the Psalmist said and the writer of Hebrews (Psalm 109:30; Hebrews 13:15). The Psalmist is very specific about his praise to God since he must utter God’s praise to God: Psalm 119:13, “With my lips I have declared all the judgments of Your mouth.” The determination of God in His own reflection of His worth in His people has been made by giving them a manual of praise which exhaustively demonstrates every “praise” that should be given to God. So we must ask the question: Is there a special place in the Bible as a whole, or as attested by the Holy Spirit or Jesus Christ that ascribes this work as a “manual of praise?” In other words, though we are keenly aware that there are many places that house psalms, and hymns, and songs about God in different times throughout progressive revelation, is there any portion of the Scripture held particularly high, or created in a particular manner as a manual of praise? The answer to this is a resounding “yes.”
God has ordered and set apart a manual of His praises to be given to the church that such praise (His praise) should be sung until the end of the world. Christ said, “Now David himself said in the Book of Psalms: ‘The LORD said to my Lord, “Sit at My right hand. (Luke 20:42)” In the same way Christ saw the Book of Psalms as a completed book, so he differentiates this from things such as the “Law” (which is the Book of Moses) and “the prophets”. Luke, who penned Christ’s words, also used this phrase in Acts 1:20 upon demonstrating the replacement of Judas, “For it is written in the book of Psalms: ‘Let his dwelling place be desolate, And let no one live in it’; and, ‘Let another take his office.” Luke followed Christ’s demonstration under the influence of the Spirit that the Book of Psalms was particular to “psaltery.” If one were to ask Christ, “Where do I find the psalms to sing?” His answer would not be “In the Old Testament,” but, “In the Book of Psalms.” That book was of particular significance for the singing of praise and the duty of praise to God.
The Book of Psalms was given to the Hebrews to sing God’s praise. 1 Chronicles 16:7, “On that day David first delivered this psalm into the hand of Asaph and his brethren, to thank the LORD.” This was epitomized in the structure of Jewish worship and praise, 1 Chronicles 25:1-3 says, “Moreover David and the captains of the army separated for the service some of the sons of Asaph, of Heman, and of Jeduthun, who should prophesy with harps, stringed instruments, and cymbals. And the number of the skilled men performing their service was: Of the sons of Asaph: Zaccur, Joseph, Nethaniah, and Asharelah; the sons of Asaph were under the direction of Asaph, who prophesied according to the order of the king. Of Jeduthun, the sons of Jeduthun: Gedaliah, Zeri, Jeshaiah, Shimei, Hashabiah, and Mattithiah, six, under the direction of their father Jeduthun, who prophesied with a harp to give thanks and to praise the LORD.” And likewise the Scriptures continually refer back to the singing of these psalms as sacred praise, “Moreover the Levites were Jeshua, Binnui, Kadmiel, Sherebiah, Judah, and Mattaniah who led the thanksgiving psalms, he and his brethren” (Nehemiah 12:8). This was structured by the office of the psalmist in Jewish worship, of which David stands as a prominent figure. Such an office set down the manual of praise for the people of God. Nehemiah 12:46 explains, “For in the days of David and Asaph of old there were chiefs of the singers, and songs of praise and thanksgiving to God.” And such are the words of Ezra, “When the builders laid the foundation of the temple of the LORD, the priests stood in their apparel with trumpets, and the Levites, the sons of Asaph, with cymbals, to praise the LORD, according to the ordinance of David king of Israel” (3:10). Thus, when the worship of God was established in Jerusalem, in the days of David, the sweet psalmist of Israel, the Holy Spirit moved upon David to write down His praise in the Book of Psalms. (2 Sam. 23:1,2) This Book, or manual of praise, was used by order of the “sweet psalmist” under the direction of God, to be given to the specifically ordered priests to sing God’s praises with thanksgiving. As the Book of Psalms was compiled, until God saw fit to cease any additions to it, it was used progressively until its completion as the Hebrew Psalter. Even the writer of the Hebrews designates a difference between the manual of praise (the Book of David) and other portions of the Scripture. Hebrews 4:7 says, “again He designates a certain day, saying in David, “Today,” after such a long time, as it has been said: “Today, if you will hear His voice, Do not harden your hearts.” It is true that others wrote various songs in the Psalter other than David. But the Psalter is predominately written by David (through the Holy Spirit) and so the manual of praise is attributed to him.
In this manual of praise a hermeneutical shift takes place that one must be aware of in order to understand the importance of the Psalter. When David, Asaph, the Sons of Korah and others wrote the Psalms, they were not merely man’s praise to God, but inspired praise that was meant to be eternally binding as a perfect reflection of the character of God. It was not that God would allow David, Asaph, or any other to simply write a tune and allow it into the worship of God, but rather, they were inspired and carried along by the Holy Spirit to write 150 parts to a complete manual of praise over the entire history of Israel. God may be “slow” in our eyes in assembling by progressive revelation a few psalms at a time, but with God a day is as a thousand years. So it is not that other songs in the Scriptures are no less inspired or important (like the song of Moses in Exodus 15), they have simply not been deemed as part of the accepted praise of God’s church in corporate worship by being excluded from the Book of Praise. God has set down 150 psalms, songs, and hymns, to be sung by His people as a complete manual of praise.
There is no dispute that psalms should be sung. But that is not really the heart of the question to be asked. The true question revolves around the Psalter as a manual of praise, and as praise as a duty in glorifying God by those psalms which God ordained to be a manual for the church. As God compiled this Book of Psalms, as Christ called it, that manual would have expanded until God saw fit to stop adding to it. Moses, Asaph, David and others penned these psalms as God so ordered that they should include them into His praises, and the manual of praise for the church for all time.
The Singing of Praise as a God-Ordained Duty
There are many arguments that demonstrate that His praise should be sung by His people. First, reason teaches us through the light of nature. We are constructed in a way to sing. Vocal cords were made to praise God. James 5:13 says, “Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing psalms.” Secondly, it is a commanded duty that God requires. Psalm 30:4 commands, “Sing praise to the LORD, You saints of His, And give thanks at the remembrance of His holy name.” Spencer says, “No command is more frequently and emphatically imposed upon God’s people in the Old Testament than is the duty of singing praise to God. In the New Testament these commands are renewed and made emphatic. Paul writing to the Colossians (iii. 16) says: “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.” In Ephesians, v. 18, 19, he says: “Be filled with the Spirit; speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord.” Language in the form of a command could not insist more clearly and distinctly upon the duty of singing praise to God.” There are also the expressed examples of singing His praise such as Exodus 15 where Moses and the Israelites sing as a result of their deliverance, or with David as previously noted when he appointed singers for praise. Even Christ sang from the manual of praise in Matthew 26:30 and Mark 14:26 where it says that “And when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.” Such a “hymn” was a portion of the Hallel psalms. The singing of paschal hymns were Psalms 113 – 118 and 136, which the Jews called the “great Hallel” where one would sing from the manual of praise during the Passover. And with Paul and Silas in prison, they sang together “hymns” (or hymn-prayed as it is literally rendered) to God (Acts 16:25) which presses us to consider that they knew what they were singing ahead of time as that which was well known. Fourthly, the Book of Psalms is a complete theology of all doctrines contained throughout the Bible. In Psalm 2 the Father and Son are presented, and in Psalm 51 the Holy Spirit, thus we have the doctrine of the Trinity. The Book of Psalms is filled with Christ from beginning to end. In Psalm 40 He speaks of His redeeming man. In Psalm 22 He speaks of His death, and sufferings, and is the very song sung by the Messianic Warrior King as He was crucified upon the cross. In Psalm 68 there is the glory of His ascension, and subsequent gifts given to the people of God. Christ is the perfect man of the first Psalm, and no amount of confusion is there concerning the Christ Shepherd of Psalm 23. He is the bride groom in Psalm 45, the rock of Psalm 40, and one of my favorites of all – the King of Glory in Psalm 40. As Spencer says, “There are no other compositions which in such a transcendent way exhibit the divine perfections, and since God knows just what He wishes us to sing, and has given us the songs to be sung, it follows that we glorify Him when we in song make known to the world His praise.” If someone cannot see these things in the Psalms, they are reading them with their eyes closed (or their heart closed).
Should we sing “Psalms, Hymns and songs”?
Some contest that we should be singing psalms, hymns and songs, not just psalms. Two interesting Scriptures around the debate between uninspired songs sung in comparison to the Psalms alone are Ephesians 5:18-19 and Colossians 3:16. Ephesians states, “And do not be drunk with wine, in which is dissipation; but be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord.” Colossians says, “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.” When interpreting what Paul meant here, one should keep in mind that there are certain rules of interpretation that should be followed, based on the grammatico-historico exegesis. Greek heathenism is not Paul’s axiomatic center to his worldview. Rather, he was utterly influenced by the cultus worship of the Old Testament and the subsequent teaching that he received from the Lord Jesus Christ. Also, we should be reminded that the Bible used in Paul’s day was the LXX, or Septuagint. This was the Greek (koine) translation of the Hebrew Old Testament. Bushell writes: “Psalmos…occurs some 87 times in the Septuagint, some 78 of which are in the Psalms themselves, and 67 times in the psalm titles. It also forms the title to the Greek version of the psalter…. Humnos…occurs some 17 times in the Septuagint, 13 of which are in the Psalms, six times in the titles. In 2 Samuel, 1 & 2 Chronicles and Nehemiah there are some 16 examples in which the Psalms are called ‘hymns’ (humnoi) or ‘songs’ (odai) and the singing of them is called ‘hymning’ (humneo, humnodeo, humnesis)…. Odee…occurs some 80 times in the Septuagint, 45 of which are in the Psalms, 36 in the Psalm titles.” In other words, it is far more likely that Paul meant “psalms”, or variations to the psalms as hymns and songs, referring back to both the superscriptions to the LXX and Hebrew Old Testament rather than just to “modern ideas” read into the text. For example, in Psalm 48:1, it says, “A Song. A Psalm of the sons of Korah. Great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised In the city of our God, In His holy mountain.” The superscription here says it is both a “Song and a Psalm”. I thought this was a psalm, not a song? Or when it says in the ESV translation in 1 Corinthians 14:26, “What then, brothers? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up.” A hymn? The Greek word “psalmos” is translated psalm or hymn! Christ sang a hymn after the Last Supper. Matthew 26:30 says, “And when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives,” But all scholars agree that this was a Hallel psalm for the Passover feast. So psalms, hymns and spiritual songs are truly psalms. But then we must be fair and ask, “Does this make sense for Paul to say “psalms, psalms and psalms?”” I believe so. It would be as equally valid to say in Exodus 34:7, “keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin.” Or would it be permissible for the Holy Spirit to inspire Deuteronomy 5:31, “But as for you, stand here by Me, and I will speak to you all the commandments, the statutes, and the judgments which you shall teach them, that they may observe them in the land which I am giving them to possess.” And again in Deuteronomy 6:1, “Now this is the commandment, and these are the statutes and judgments which the LORD your God has commanded to teach you, that you may observe them in the land which you are crossing over to possess.” Is it right for Christ to say, “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind” (Matthew 22:37)? Can Luke write in Acts 2:22, “Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a Man attested by God to you by miracles, wonders, and signs which God did through Him in your midst, as you yourselves also know…” Or for that matter for Paul to say, “psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord.” This seems to plain enough without entering into interpretive gymnastics on an already difficult set of verses. Thus, Scripture seems to use repetitive but different terms to press an idea home. It is like “Holy, Holy, Holy, is the Lord God almighty” which is stated by the seraphim in Isaiah 6. Is God holy? Yes. Can He be any more holy than completely holy? No. Then why “holy, holy, holy?” Hebrew repetition is used to prove points and to stress ideas. Such is the idea stressed in Isaiah 6, and such is the idea stressed in Ephesians and Colossians around psalms.
This leads us to inquire about human compositions in worship. Will God allow human, uninspired compositions? Human compositions for hymnody other than God’s manual of praise cannot compare simply as a result of God’s inspired authorship. Now this is not an argument at all that “inspiration” is the sole reason why we should sing inspired Book of Psalms over non-inspired psalms. Many who do not hold to the Psalms as the only manual for praise often say that the entire Bible is inspired so we should be able to sing from any part of it. I agree to their assertion that the whole Bible is inspired, but not to their conclusion since the ordained manual of praise is the Book of Psalms. The Israelites did not use the entire Bible (what they had) as inspired praise which is demonstrated clearly from Old Testament worship. There is no stated exclusion or any abrogation of the Book of Psalms in the New Testament as the only manual of praise. But there is something more important in this first baby step to consider in the Book of Psalms over human compositions which may be sung. This rests in the simple area of infinite intelligence and wisdom in the intricacy of the Psalter and its parts. Explaining the theological content of the Psalms is really for another time, but the fact of its interlaced ideas is what I would like to pinpoint for a moment. In human composition outside the Psalter, men string together ideas that they think fit together. They place songs together where they had been “inspired” by a portion of Scripture here or there, or maybe a few of them together. For example, Isaac Watts’ hymn “Not all the Blood” states that Christ saves. Here is a portion of that hymn:
But Christ the heavenly Lamb takes all our sins away.
A sacrifice of nobler name and richer blood than they.
Believing we rejoice to see the curse remove
We bless the Lamb with cheerful voice, and sing His bleeding love.
It seems that Mr. Watts desires to link these particular “truths” together to form this hymn. But if we look through the Psalter, we do not find this composition, or this train of thought as Watts had placed together. God did not see it fit to link these particular phrases and these ideas together in the manual of Praise, but Mr. Watts did link them together based on his ideas of what God’s people should sing. Mr. Watts, though, does not know what men should sing better than what God has given them to sing. Mr. Watts intrudes on God’s praise by adding into it something that God Himself did not see fit to link together and connect together in one particular “song.” But Mr. Watts did. And of course no one would take the time to really think about what Mr. Watts believes concerning what he wrote, for if they did, they would quickly rid themselves of his songs altogether. As Turretin said that “no anti-Trinitarian can be saved while maintaining his anti-Trinitarianism.” What has that to do with Mr. Watts song? Well, Mr. Watts said, “Some may wonder why I have omitted the eternal generation of his divine nature in this place. But I know no text that plainly calls Christ the Son, considered as pure God; and if revelation does not dictate the doctrine of a begotten God, reason does not require it.” He also said, “But when the Word and Spirit are called persons, which are suppose to be really but divine powers of the Father, whose inward distinction we know not, the term person is then used in a figurative or metaphorical sense, and not so in a proper and literal sense as when the Father is called a person.” Now, this is not a paper about Mr. Watts’ anti-Trinitarian ideas. But it’s a good case in point knowing full well that most hymnals house a huge amount of his hymns. If Watts was in such error on his doctrine, how could it be that any hymnist would desire to take the chance that Watts, or any other writer of unordained hymns, could be what God wants as His praise? Who will we turn to for a harmony of thoughts, a truthfulness of doctrine, a depth of insight, and a symphony of interrelated ideas about God’s praise of His infinite being? Isaac Watts the anti-Trinitarian? John Newton? Fanny Crosby maybe? I would suggest we turn to what God has given us, and the manner in which His ideas intertwine and lock together to form a perfect Psalter. He alone has the right and power to form the manual of praise for the good of His church that completely and sufficiently demonstrates proper praise to His being. Those men who are not carried along by the Holy Spirit to pen His praises, have no business scribbling down fallen praises to call them God’s manual of praise for worship in the corporate assembly. Prudence alone dictates otherwise. But if you are content with adding to worship the hymns of the Unitarians, or Anti-Trinitarians, or of women to lead you congregation and worship, then by all means continue using your hymnal. I would say, simply from a standpoint of safety, that such a move is a grave mistake. Watts also said that the reason he wrote these hymns was to “Christianize” the Psalms. In other words, Watts did not think that the Psalms spoke “enough” about the Trinity, the deity of Christ, and other “New Testament” ideas. He assumed that such Psalms were not fit for Christian worship. Who will we trust? Terrible theologians? Human theologians? Or the Holy Spirit?
Some will say that such arguments have no validity for a manual of praise because God has commanded that men preach, and preaching carries the Gospel, and preaching is not inspired. This is a complete misnomer. The foolishness of preaching (if God did the actual preaching as Jesus Christ did when He walked the earth it would not be foolish at all, and was not foolish when Christ did it), again, the foolishness of preaching in the use of fallen vessels to communicate the word of God through a divine message is no argument against the Psalter as God’s ordained manual of praise. Preaching is commanded. God desires to use, in that mode of presenting information from the Bile as a whole, including the Psalms, the act of preaching. He did not give the church a “Psalter of Sermons”. If He did, we would be required to use it, and simply repeat it. But God saw fit to use our foolishness instead for the propagation of the Gospel (we will have to leave it to the mystery of His will to wonder why!). Romans 10:14, “How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher?” Certainly ministers must compose the message. They must make it plain to the people. Nehemiah 8:8, “So they read distinctly from the book, in the Law of God; and they gave the sense, and helped them to understand the reading.” Preaching, though, is not singing, and has nothing to do with the manual of Praise except that ministers are required to preach the whole counsel of God which includes explaining the Psalter as well. They are not to sing their sermons, but preach them, and make the sense plain. This is the foolishness of preaching. This is not the act of praise as it relates to song. With song, God did give us a manual to follow and songs to sing. It is the Psalter. As the Westminster Confession of Faith states, “The reading of the Scriptures with godly fear, the sound preaching and conscionable hearing of the Word, in obedience unto God, with understanding, faith, and reverence, singing of psalms with grace in the heart; as also, the due administration and worthy receiving of the sacraments instituted by Christ, are all parts of the ordinary religious worship of God: beside religious oaths, vows, solemn fastings, and thanksgivings upon special occasions, which are, in their several times and seasons, to be used in an holy and religious manner.” Since the Psalms are to be sung, is there a particular manner in which we should sing them? This moves us to consider instrumental music accompanying the Psalms, and again, whether there is a divine warrant for this in following the Scriptural Law of worship.
Instruments in Worship
Instruments in worship were part of the old economy of Old Testament worship. They are no longer part of New Testament worship for a number of reasons. We should consider the elements Old Testament tabernacle/temple worship. First, the construction of the tabernacle and temple was set according to the command of God. Exodus 25:9 says, “Exactly as I show you concerning the pattern of the tabernacle, and of all its furniture, so you shall make it.” God expressed everything He desired to see in tabernacle/temple worship down to the jots and tittles: fabrics, skins, colors, pins, poles, sockets, vestments, actions of officiating priests, holy ointment, incense, the parts and arrangements of worship. In the tabernacle, there is no mention of musical instruments for liturgical worship. There is mention of silver trumpets used to call the congregation. Numbers 10:2 states, “Make two silver trumpets. Of hammered work you shall make them, and you shall use them for summoning the congregation and for breaking camp.” Other than this instance, there seems to be no mention of musical instruments at all during the tabernacle worship.
When the temple was erected, David changed the Mosaic legislation on this worship because he was divinely directed to do so. This is compatible with following the Regulative Principle of Worship and the manner in which God commands men to worship Him. 1 Chronicles 28:11-13 describes following the pattern. Then 2 Chronicles 29:25ff describes the introduction based on divine command, “And he stationed the Levites in the house of the LORD with cymbals, with stringed instruments, and with harps, according to the commandment of David, of Gad the king’s seer, and of Nathan the prophet; for thus was the commandment of the LORD by his prophets.” This is plain. As Moses received a divine plan for worship which excluded certain aspects that God introduced later, David fulfilled what God commanded him by the prophets and as a prophet, as well as being designated by the Holy Spirit as the “sweet psalmist” of Israel, the office of prophet/psalmist being contained by him. This command was not only given, but enforced by Gad and Nathan. This would not have been part of temple worship if God did not divinely command David to add to what God had already given Moses. But, as we are not dispensational, and progressive in our understanding of divine revelation, this is the manner in which God progressed worship. God’s positive enactment grounded the propriety of the change. This is basic to the Regulative Principle of Worship. As I have said as a summation already, only what God commands is permitted. He commanded the “stationed Levites” – where? – “in the house of the LORD” – how? – with cymbals, with stringed instruments, and with harps, according to the commandment of David, of Gad the king’s seer, and of Nathan the prophet; for thus was the commandment of the LORD by his prophets. David, Gad and Nathan attest to the prophetic truth of the command.
Next, we must make a distinction between elements that are typical and elements that are generic. Elements are those things commanded by God and included in worship unless rescinded by command or by good and necessary inference. Elements are of two kinds: generic/essential and typical/temporary. The Sabbath day, reading and exposition of the Word, preaching addresses, singing of psalms, alms giving, are elements which are not regarded as typical. They are essential. They remain forever. There was no differentiation between tabernacle worship, temple worship, and synagogue worship in these things. Essential elements remained. On the other hand, whatever was absent from the synagogue and present in the temple was typical. Certain elements of temple worship which were typical were symbolic of Christ to come and fulfill all ceremonies pointing to Him. We could list dozens of various ideas ceremonially that were fulfilled in Christ: washings, anointing, sacrifices, external marks of all kinds, furniture, and yes, instruments in worship.
Consider, no musical instruments were employed, ever, by anyone in corporate worship outside the temple. They were not even used in the tabernacle or temple until David heard from God. Whatever was embraced in the temple that was removed as typical for synagogue worship has expired. The Holy Spirit fulfilled many of these things under the Gospel “dispensation” in Christ. By way of illustration, the veil of the temple was torn by Christ, demonstrating the end of temple worship and all typical elements of temple worship in the progression of divine providence. This is seen also in the physical destruction of the temple as well in AD 70. Using instruments in worship was not practiced in the Apostolic Church, nor by any example in the New Testament at any time, nor by Christ. This fits the pattern of synagogue worship which, as James says, we “synagogue” together when we meet (James 2:2). Such meetings comprise prayer, reading the Scriptures, almsgiving, singing of praise, partaking of ordinances, and the like. But there is no music. There are no instruments or orchestras. Throughout the history of the church, this was followed by all good theologians. There is no one of historic significance during the early church, Reformation, or Puritanism of any kind that disagrees with the above line of thought, the ancient typical elements of the temple, and the manner of synagogue worship in the New Testament. Even men of our own day, or close to it at least (Spurgeon, Thornwell, Hodge, etc.) did not employ them under the same circumstance. To prove the opposite, non-instrumentalists and uninspired hymn advocates need a positive command by God to engage instruments as a generic element of worship. This, though, would beg the question as to the similarity between Temple worship, Tabernacle worship and synagogue/church worship. One must find the elements that run through all of them for all time. Those are the things that remain based on divine command.
To use a famous Reformer as an example of this line of thought, and the conclusions from it, we turn to Calvin on the Psalms. John Calvin is very clear on his stance (foundational to the Reformers) on the issue of musical instruments in worship. The reader may go to any of Calvin’s commentaries by book, chapter and verse and see the following as typical:
Calvin’s Commentary on Psalm 98:
“When he speaks of musical instruments the allusion is evidently to the practice of the Church at that time, without any intention of binding down the Gentiles to the observance of the ceremonies of the law.”
Calvin on Psalm 148:
“The musical instruments he mentions were peculiar to this infancy of the Church, nor should we foolishly imitate a practice which was intended only for God’s ancient people.”
Calvin on Psalm 150:
Praise him with sound of trumpet. I do not insist upon the words in the
Hebrew signifying the musical instruments; only let the reader remember that sundry different kinds are here mentioned, which were in use under the legal economy, the more forcibly to teach the children of God that they cannot apply themselves too diligently to the praises of God — as if he would enjoin them strenuously to bring to this service all their powers, and devote themselves wholly to it. Nor was it without reason that God under the law enjoined this multiplicity of songs, that he might lead men away from those vain and corrupt pleasures to which they are excessively addicted, to a holy and profitable joy. Our corrupt nature indulges in extraordinary liberties, many devising methods of gratification which are preposterous, while their highest satisfaction lies in suppressing all thoughts of God. This perverse disposition could only be corrected in the way of God’s retaining a weak and ignorant people under many restraints, and constant exercises. The Psalmist, therefore, in exhorting believers to pour forth all their joy in the praises of God, enumerates, one upon another, all the musical instruments which were then in use, and reminds them that they ought all to be consecrated to the worship of God.
Calvin on Psalm 32:
I have no doubt that playing upon cymbals, touching the harp and the viol, and all that kind of music, which is so frequently mentioned in the Psalms, was a part of the education; that is to say, the puerile instruction of the law: I speak of the stated service of the temple. For even now, if believers choose to cheer themselves with musical instruments, they should, I think, make it their object not to dissever their cheerfulness from the praises of God. But when they frequent their sacred assemblies, musical instruments in celebrating the praises of God would be no more suitable than the burning of incense, the lighting up of lamps, and the restoration of the other shadows of the Law. The Papists, therefore, have foolishly borrowed this, as well as many other things, from the Jews.
Calvin on Psalm 71:
We are not, indeed, forbidden to use, in private, musical instruments, but they are banished out of the churches by the plain command of the Holy Spiri, when Paul, in 1 Corinthians 14:13, lays it down as an invariable rule, that we must praise God, and pray to him only in a known tongue.
Calvin on Daniel Chapter 3:
Hence the immense heap of ceremonies in the Papacy, since our eyes delight in such splendors; hence we think this to be required of us by God, as if he delighted in what pleases us. This is, indeed, a gross error.
Calvin on Psalm 92:
In the fourth verse, he more immediately addresses the Levites, who were appointed to the office of singers, and calls upon them to employ their instruments of music — not as if this were in itself necessary, only it was useful as an elementary aid to the people of God in these ancient times.
Calvin on Habakkuk 3:
“…but also with instruments of music, as we know it to have been the usual custom under the Law.”
The crux of this line of thinking along the Regulative Principle of Worship is to determine whether the instruments are part of Old Testament ceremonial worship as typical elements or not. One should not waste their time arguing about anything else. And if one is honest, ceremonial worship being abrogated, what is left common to temple, synagogue and tabernacle worship is the same that is left for us in the New Testament church for worship.
Another more recent advocate of singing the Book of Praise, is Dabney. RL Dabney, in his review of John L. Girardeau’s treatise on the Use of Instruments in Worship, said “People quote the psalms “Praise the Lord with the harp,” etc. It sounds to me like they are reasoning shallowly. This is the same plea which would draw us all back to human priests and bloody sacrifices. The Psalms also tell us to “bind your sacrifices with cords, even unto the horns of the altar.” They want to use instruments, but do not seem to feel obligated to do this. Why? “Oh,” they say, “such things were abrogated with the coming of Christ.” Abrogation of typical things by Christ is key, knowing full well that the horns, altars, cymbals, harps and lyres were also removed when the temple was removed. These things, though, were never part of synagogue worship. We should not be borrowing, in this way with instruments, from the temple cultus of the Jews. If we do, then we are as obliged as the Roman Catholic Church to continue with all sorts of popish nonsense and superstition. Open the door slightly on this issue, and you open the door to allowing anything come in not divinely warranted. If instruments are in, the all of the Old Testament temple cultus for worship is also included in worship as well. This is an inescapable conclusion.
Dabney continues to press this point in the congregation as each person is to offer their own personal homage and worship to God. Anything detracting from that during worship is a division. In this way worship is to be didactic (which is the point of it all). Paul settled this quite conclusively in 1 Corinthians when he says that worship is to be done in a known tongue, otherwise it does not edify. Those speaking in an unknown tongue are to be silent, even though that person could claim being moved by the Spirit. Such a tongue, though, is not a vehicle for didactic teaching of truth. And what does he use as an example? 1 Corinthians 14 – the clanging cymbal of temple worship. Instead, it should be the faculty of the human voice used. Though it is musically inclined, it can propagate the divine truth of the character and work of God in the singing of psalms, in singing His praise. For the Christian, says Dabney, the non-appointment of musical instruments (mechanical accompaniment) is the prohibition. Thus, not only church history, but also divine warrant, and thoughtfulness around the temple/synagogue cultus, removes any possibility of instrumental use during the singing of Psalms.
Worship should revolve around what God has instituted, not what man invents. When man invents something that is called will worship (Colossians 2:23). Worshippers are not allowed to worship in spirit and desire, but spirit and truth. Here, certain guidelines that God has given us must be followed; otherwise, one makes God both faddish and nostalgic based on their preference to their own church music in worship.
In conclusion then, in this brief overview of a great amount of material, 1) God determines the manner sinners are to approach Him. This is non-negotiable. If you reject this, you reject God’s ordered worship. 2) God has determined the Book of Psalms as the book of praise utilized in corporate worship to Worship Him. It is His praise, not our praise that He is looking for. 3) Instruments were part of the Old Testament ceremonial cultus of worship and not part of synagogue worship or New Testament worship. One must look to the Tabernacle, Temple and synagogue to find out what elements remain together for all time. Those things that remain, after the abrogation of ceremonial worship, do remain by God’s command. 4) God is not faddish nor nostalgic since all worship rests on His conceptions of His own being rather than on human inventions, and desires His praise over man’s invented praise. 5) Worship is primarily objective, resting on the Word, than subjective, resting on man’s inventions. 6) The testimony of the historic Reformed faith has always followed the Regulative Principle of Worship as previously outlined.
With all this said, the reader must take time to sort through 1) what God desires for us in worship, 2) how His praise is handles, and 3) where we find His praise recorded in the Bible which is suitable for singing. His praise in the Psalms is the greatest duty of worship the Christian has to offer. And this is what God is looking for in us as we sing His praise.
Psalm 119:13, “With my lips I have declared all the judgments of Your mouth.”
 Rom. 1:20; Psa. 19:1-4a; 50:6; 86:8-10; 89:5-7; 95:1-6; 97:6; 104:1-35; 145:9-12; Acts 14:17; Deut. 6:4-5; Deut. 4:15-20; 12:32; Matt. 4:9-10; 15:9; Acts 17:23-25; Exod. 20:4-6, John 4:23-24; Col. 2:18-23. Emphasis mine.
 Westminster Confession 1:1.
 John McNaughter, ed., The Psalms in Worship, (Edmonton, SWRB: 1992) 40.
 John McNaughter, ed., The Psalms in Worship, (Edmonton, SWRB: 1992) 44.
 Michael Bushell, The Songs of Zion, (Pittsburgh, Crown & Covenant Publications: 1993) 85-86.
 Calvin on these verses did not see them as part of corporate worship at all, which ultimately would do away with the question according to the Regulative Principle of Worship if one took that view.
 Preface to The Arian Invited to the Orthodox Faith – Isaac Watts, Works, volume 6, (London: 1813) 299.
 Ibid, 299.
 The Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter XXI, Of Religious Worship, and the Sabbath Day (21:5).