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Preface to the 1640 Bay Psalm Book

Puritan Worship

The following is the preface to the Bay Psalm book. This is a good example of the Puritan notion of Exclusive Psalmody (singing just the Psalms).

Preface to the 1640 Bay Psalm Book

The singing of Psalms, though it breath forth nothing but holy harmony, and melody: yet such is the subtlety of the enemy, and enmity of our nature against the Lord, and his ways, that our hearts can find matter of discord in this harmony, and crotchets [i.e. fanciful notions] of division in this holy melody.


There have been three questions especially stirring concerning singing. First, what psalms are to be sung in churches? whether David’s and other scripture psalms, or the psalms invented by the gifts of godly men in every age of the church. Secondly, if scripture psalms, whether in their own words, or in such metre as English poetry is wont to run in? Thirdly, by whom are they to be sung? whether by the whole churches together with their voices? or by one man singing alone and the rest joining in silence, and in the close saying amen.

Touching the first, certainly the singing of David’s psalms was an acceptable worship of God, not only in his, but in succeeding times, as in Solomon’s time 2 Chron. 5:13, in Jehosaphat’s time 2 Chron. 20:21, in Ezra’s time Ezra 3:10,11, and the text is evident in Hezekiah’s time they are commanded to sing praise in the words of David and Asaph, 2 Chron. 29:30, which one place may serve to resolve two of the questions (the first and the last) at once, for this commandment was it ceremonial or moral? some things in it indeed were ceremonial, as their musical instruments, etc., but what ceremony was there in singing praise with the words of David and Asaph? what if David was a type of Christ, was Asaph also? was everything of David typical? are his words (which are of moral, universal, and perpetual authority in all nations and ages) are they typical? what type can be imagined in making use of his songs to praise the Lord? If they were typical because of the ceremony of musical instruments was joined to them, then their prayers were also typical, because they had that ceremony of incense admixt with them: but we know that prayer then was a moral duty, notwithstanding the incense; so singing those psalms notwithstanding their musical instruments. Beside, that which was typical (as that they were sung with musical instruments, by the twenty-four orders of Priests and Levites 1 Chron. 25:9) must have the moral and spiritual accomplishment in the New Testament, in all the Churches of the Saints principally, who are made kings and priests Rev. 1:6 and are the firstfruits unto God Rev. 14:4. as the Levites were Num. 3:45. with hearts and lips, instead of musical instruments, to praise the Lord; who are set forth (as some judiciously think) Rev. 4:4 by twenty-four Elders, in the ripe age of the Church, Gal. 4:1,2,3. answering to the twenty-four orders of Priests and Levites 1 Chron. 25:9. Therefore not some select members, but the whole Church is commanded to teach one another in all the several sorts of David’s psalms, some being called by himself MyrOmzm: psalms, some Myllyht: hymns, some Myryw: spiritual songs. So that if the singing of David’s psalms be a moral duty and therefore perpetual; then we under the New Testament are bound to sing them as well as they under the old: and if we are expressly commanded to sing Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual Songs, then either we must sing David’s psalms, or else may affirm they are not spiritual songs: which being penned by an extraordinary gifts of the Spirit, for the sake especially of God’s spiritual Israel, not to be read and preached only (as other parts of holy writ) but to be sung also, they are therefore most spiritual, and still to be sung of all the Israel of God: and verily as their sin is exceeding great, who will allow David’s psalms (as other scriptures) to be read in churches (which is one end) but not to be preached also, which is another end so their sin is crying before God, who will allow them to be read and preached, but seek to deprive the Lord of the glory of the third end of them, which is to sing them in Christian churches.

Obj. 1. If it be said that the Saints in the primitive Church did compile spiritual songs of their own inditing [i.e., composition], and sing them before the Church. 1 Cor. 14:15,16.

Ans. We answer first, that those Saints compiled these spiritual songs by the extraordinary gifts of the Spirit (common in those days) whereby they were enabled to praise the Lord in strange tongues, wherein learned Paraeus proves those psalms were uttered, in his Comment[ary] on that place vers 14 which extraordinary gifts, if they were still in the Churches, we should allow them the like liberty now. Secondly, suppose those psalms were sung by an ordinary gift (which we suppose cannot be evicted [i.e., evidenced]) does it therefore follow that they did not, and that we ought not to sing David’s psalms, must the ordinary gifts of a private man quench the Spirit still speaking to us by the extraordinary gifts of his servant David. there is not the least foot-step of example, or precept, or color reason for such bold practice.

Obj. 2. Ministers are allowed to pray conceived prayers, and why not to sing conceived psalms? must we not sing in the Spirit as well as pray in the Spirit?

Ans. First because every good minister has not the gift of spiritual poetry to compose extemporaneous psalms as he has of prayer. Secondly, suppose he had, yet seeing psalms are to be sung by a joint consent and harmony of all the Church in heart and voice (as we shall prove) this cannot be done except he that composes a psalm, brings into the Church set forms of psalms of his own invention; for which we find no warrant or precedent in any ordinary officers of the Church throughout the scriptures. Thirdly, because the book of psalms is so complete a system of psalms, which the Holy Ghost himself in infinite wisdom has made to suit all conditions, necessities, temptations, affections, etc. of men in all ages; (as most of all interpreters on the psalms have fully and particularly cleared) therefore by this the Lord seems to stop all men’s mouths and minds ordinarily to compile or sing any other psalms (under color that the occasions and conditions of the Church are new) etc. for the public use of the Church, seeing, let our condition be what it will, the Lord himself has supplied us with far better; and therefore in Hezekiah’s time, though doubtless there were among them those which had extraordinary gifts to compile new songs on those new occasions, as Isaiah and Micah etc. yet we read that they are commanded to sing in the words of David and Asaph, which were ordinarily to be used in the public worship of God: and we doubt not but those that are wise will easily see; that those set forms of psalms of God’s own appointment not of man’s conceived gift or human imposition were sung in the Spirit by those holy Levites, as well as their prayers were in the Spirit which themselves conceived, the Lord not then binding them therein to any set forms; and shall set forms of psalms appointed of God not be sung in the Spirit now, which others did then?

Question. But why may not one compose a psalm and sing it alone with a loud voice and the rest join with him in silence and in the end say amen.

Ans. If such a practice was found in the Church of Corinth, when any had a psalm suggested by an extraordinary gift; yet in singing ordinary psalms the whole Church is to join together in heart and voice to praise the Lord.—for—

First, David’s psalms as has been shown, were sung in heart and voice together by the twenty-four orders of the musicians of the Temple, who typed out the twenty-four Elders all the members especially of Christian Churches Rev. 5:8. who are made Kings and Priests to God to praise him as they did: for if they were any other order of singing Choristers beside the body of the people to succeed those, the Lord would doubtless have given direction in the gospel for their qualification, election, maintenance etc. as he did for the musicians of the Temple, and as his faithfulness had done for all other church officers in the New Testament.

Secondly, others beside the Levites (the chief singers) in the Jewish Church did also sing the Lord’s songs; else why are they commanded frequently to sing: as in Ps. 100:1,2,3. Ps. 95:1,2,3. Ps. 102. title with verse 18. and Ex. 15:1. not only Moses but all Israel sang that song, they spake saying (as it is in the orig[inal language]) all as well as Moses, the women also as well as the men. v. 20,21. and Deut. 32. (whereto some think, John had reference as well as to Ex. 15:1. when he brings in the Protestant Churches getting the victory over the Beast with harps in their hands and singing the song of Moses. Rev. 15:3.) this song Moses is commanded not only to put it into their hearts but into their mouths also: Deut. 31:19. which argues, that they were with their mouths to sing together as well as with their hearts.

Thirdly, Isaiah foretells in the days of the New Testament that God’s watchmen and desolate lost souls, (signified by waste places) should with their voices sing together, Isa. 52:8,9. and Rev. 7:9,10. the song of the Lamb was by many together, and the Apostle expressly commands the singing of psalms, hymns, etc. not to any select Christians, but to the whole Church. Eph. 5:19. Col. 3:16. Paul and Silas sang together in private Acts 16:25 and must the public hear only one man sing? to all these we may add the practice of the primitive Churches; the testimony of ancient and holy Basil is instead of many Epist. 63 [letter 207; sec. 3]. When one of us (says he) has begun a psalm, the rest of us set in to sing with him, all of us with one heart and one voice; and this says he is the common practice of the Churches in Egypt, Libya, Thebes, Palestine, Syria, and those dwelling on Euphrates, and generally everywhere, where singing of psalms is of any account. To the same purpose also Eusebius gives witness. Eccles. Hist. Lib. 2 cap. 17. The objections made against this do most of them plead against joining to sing in heart as well as in voice, as that by this means others out of the Church will sing as also that we are not always in a suitable estate to the matter sung, and likewise that all cannot sing with understanding; shall not therefore all that have understanding join in heart and voice together? are not all the creatures in heaven, earth, seas: men, beasts, fishes, fowls, etc. commanded to praise the Lord, and yet none of these but men, and godly men too, can do it with spiritual understanding?

As for the scruple that some take at the translation of the Book of Psalms into metre, because David’s psalms were sung in his own words without metre: we answer—First, there are many verses together in several psalms of David which run in rhythms (as those that know Hebrew and as Buxtorf shows Thesau. pa. 629.) which shows at least the lawfulness of singing psalms in English rhythms.

Secondly, the psalms are penned in such verses as are suitable to the poetry of the Hebrew language, and not in the common style of such other books of the Old Testament as are not poetical; now no Protestant doubts but that all the books of scripture should by God’s ordinance be extant in the mother tongue of each nation, that they may be understood of all, hence the psalms are to be translated into our English tongue; and in it our English tongue we are to sing them, then as all our English songs (according to the course of our English poetry) do run in metre, so ought David’s psalms to be translated into metre, that so we may sing the Lord’s songs, as in our English tongue so in such verses as are familiar to an English ear which are commonly metrical: and as it can be no just offense to any good conscience to sing David’s Hebrew songs in English words, so neither to sing his poetical verses in English poetical metre: men might as well stumble at singing the Hebrew psalms in our English tunes (and not in the Hebrew tunes) as at singing them in English metre, (which are our verses) and not in such verses as are generally used by David according to the poetry of the Hebrew language: but the truth is, as the Lord has hid from us the Hebrew tunes, lest we should think ourselves bound to imitate them; so also the course and frame (for the most part) of their Hebrew poetry, that we might not think ourselves bound to imitate that, but that every nation without scruple might follow as the grave sort of tunes of their own country songs, so the graver sort of verses of their own country poetry.

Neither let any think, that for the metre sake we have taken liberty or poetical license to depart from the true and proper sense of David’s words in the Hebrew verses, no; but it has been one part of our religious care and faithful endeavour, to keep close to the original text.

As for other objections taken from the difficulty of Ainsworth’s tunes, and the corruptions in our common psalm books, we hope they are answered in this new edition of psalms; which we here present to God and his Churches. For although we have cause to bless God in many respects for the religious endeavours of the translators of the psalms into metre usually annexed to our Bibles, yet it is not unknown to the godly learned that they have rather presented a paraphrase than the words of David translated according to the rule 2 Chron. 29:30. and that their addition to the words, detractions from the words are not seldom and rare, but very frequent and many times needless, (which we suppose would not be approved of if the Psalms were so translated into prose) and that their variations of the sense, and alterations to the sacred text too frequently, may justly minister matter of offense to them that are able to compare the translation with the text; of which failings, some judicious have often complained, others have been grieved, whereupon it has been generally desired, that as we do enjoy other, so (if it were the Lord’s will) we might enjoy this ordinance also in its native purity: we have therefore done our endeavour to make a plain and familiar translation of the psalms and words of David into English metre, and have not so much as presumed to paraphrase to give the sense of his meaning in other words; we have therefore attended herein as our chief guide the original, shunning all additions, except such as even the best translators of them in prose supply, avoiding all material detractions from words or sense. The word v which we translate and as it is redundant sometimes in the Hebrew, so sometimes (though not very often) it has been left out and yet not then, if the sense were not fair without it.

As for our translations, we have with our English Bibles (to which next to the original we have had respect) used the idioms of our own tongue instead of hebraisms, lest they might seem English barbarisms.

Synonyms we use indifferently: as folk for people, and Lord for Jehovah, and sometimes (though seldom) God for Jehovah; for which (as for some other interpretations of places cited in the New Testament) we have the scripture’s authority Ps. 14 with 53. Heb. 1:6. with Psalm 97:7. Where a phrase is doubtful we have followed that which (in our own apprehension) is most genuine and edifying:

Sometime we have contracted, sometimes dilated the same Hebrew word, both for the verse and the verse sake: which dilation we conceive to be no paraphrastical addition no more than the contraction of a true and full translation to be any unfaithful detraction or diminution: as when we dilate who healeth and say he it is who healeth; so when we contract, those that stand in awe of God and say God fearers.

Lastly, because some Hebrew words have a more full and emphatic signification than any one English word can or does sometimes express, hence we have done that sometimes which faithful translators may do, viz. not only to translate the word but the emphasis of it; as lx mighty God, for God. jrb humbly bless for bless; rise to stand, Psalm 1. for stand. truth and faithfulness for truth. Howbeit, for the verse sake we do not always thus, yet we render the word truly though not fully; as when we sometimes say rejoice for shout for joy.

As for all other changes of numbers, tenses, and characters of speech, they are such as either the Hebrew will unforcedly bear, or our English forceably calls for, or in no way changes the sense; and such are printed usually in another character.

If therefore the verses are not always so smooth and elegant as some may desire or expect; let them consider that God’s altar needs not our polishings: Ex. 20. for we have respected rather a plain translation, than to smooth our verses with the sweetness of any paraphrases, and so have attended conscience rather than elegance, fidelity rather than poetry, in translating the Hebrew words into English language, and David’s poetry into English metre; that so we may sing in Sion the Lord’s songs of praise according to his own will; until he take us from hence, and wipe away all out tears, and bid us enter into our Master’s joy to sing eternal hallelujahs.

Reformed Theology at A Puritan's Mind