Quotes on Psalm-Singing: Part 1



Here is a compilation of quotes I have collected. This will be the first of many. I hope you are encouraged, strengthened, and intellectually challenged for the glory of God and His worship.


“The first-century (apostolic) church used the LXX more than any other form (translation) of the Old Testament. .. At the top of the Psalms in the LXX were titles or superscriptions. Those superscriptions described each Psalm, they categorized the psalms in 4 classes or groups: ψαλμος [Psalms], συνεσις; [understanding], υμνος [Hymns], ωδη [Ode/Song]. .. Paul invokes them in Colossians 3:16. “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom (σοφίᾳ), singing psalms (ψαλμοις) and hymns (υμνοις) and spiritual songs (ωδαις πνευματικαις), with thankfulness in your hearts to God.” .. If Paul was invoking familiar categories that pre-existed the NT church by 250-300 years then we must account for that in our interpretation and application of these two passages.” – Dr. Scott Clark


John Cotton (1584-1652), New England Congregationalist theologian: “In both which places (Eph. 5:19, Col. 3:16), as the apostle exhorteth us to singing, so he instructeth us what the matter of our song should be, to wit, Psalmes, hymnes, and spirituall Songs. Now these three be the very titles of the Songs of David, as they are delivered to us by the Holy Ghost himself: some of them are called Mizmorim, that is Psalmes; some Tehillim, that is Hymnes; some Shirim, that is Songs, spirituall Songs.  Now what reason can be given why the apostle should direct us in our singing to the very titles of David’s Psalms, if it were not his meaning that we should sing them? … The words of David and Asaph, as they were the words of Christ in the mouth of David and Asaph: so they were the words of Christ also in the mouths of the sonnes of Corah, or any other singers in the Temple.”


Henry Ainsworth (1571-1622), English Puritan, scholar in Hebrew and Rabbinics, commenting on Psalm 3: “There be three kinds of songs mentioned in this book: 1. Mizmor, in Greek psalmos, a psalm: 2. Tehillah, in Greek humnos, a hymn or praise: and 3. Shir, in Greek ode, a song or lay. All these three the apostle mentioneth together, where he willeth us to speak to ourselves with ‘psalms, and hymns, and spiritual songs,’ Ephesians 5:19.”


The Preface to The Bay Psalm Book (1640), the first book to be printed in New England:  “… the whole Church is commanded to teach one another in all the several sorts of David’s psalms, some being called by himself Mizmorim: psalms, some Tehillim: hymns, some Shirim: 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 (Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16), 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.”


The twenty-six Puritan signatories of the Preface to the 1673 London edition of the Scottish Metrical Psalter: “… to us David’s Psalms seem plainly intended by those terms of ‘psalms and hymns and spiritual songs,’ which the apostle useth (Eph. 5.19; Col. 3.16)” (the signatories include John Owen, Thomas Manton, Matthew Poole, Thomas Watson, Thomas Vincent and William Jenkyn).


Thomas Manton (1620-1677), English Puritan, commenting on Ephesians 5:19: “The learned observe, these are the express titles of David’s Psalms, mizmorim, tehillim, and Shirim, which the Septuagint translate, psalmoi, humnoi, and odai, ‘psalms, hymns, and songs,’ [and] seem to recommend to us the book of David’s Psalms.”


“The sum of our finding thus far is, first, that there is a body of strong presumptive evidence for the inspiration of Paul’s “psalms and hymns and spiritual songs,” and, second, that the adjective pneumatikos lifts them to this high level beyond peradventure, stamping them as written by poetically gifted men under the extraordinary impulse and guidance of the Holy Spirit. In keeping with such a conclusion is the following from an editorial in the North British Review, of Edinburgh: “It is probable that, while the miraculous influences of the Spirit continued upon earth, no uninspired songs were admitted into the public or private devotions of Christians” (vol. 27, p. 195). Even if we went no farther it would appear, and we so assert, that in Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:15 there is not a scintilla of warrant for the use of humanly composed lyrics in worship. Though other inspired odes than those in the book of Psalms should be countenanced in these passages, it were a bewildering feat of inference that would legalize therefrom the multitudinous hymnology of today, for this has been wrought out at the discretion, and according to the wisdom, of fallible men. Authorization for such an uninspired hymnology is imperatively required, but they labour in vain who seek it here.” – Prof. John McNaugher, D. D., LL.D, “A Special Exegesis of Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16”


“When Mr. Murray claims to know ‘no prominent orthodox commentator’ who takes the view that Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16 refer solely to different sections of the Book of Psalms, he obviously discounts Manton, who wrote: ‘If the practice of the apostles may be interpreted by their instructions, the case will be clear. In Col 3:16 and Eph 5:19, Paul bideth us ‘speak to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs’. Now these words (which are the known division of David’s Psalms, and expressly answering to the Hebrew words Shurim, Tehillim, and Mizmorim, by which his Psalms are distinguished and entitled), being so precisely used by the Apostle in both places, do plainly point us to the Book of Psalms.’ When he names Eadie, Hodge, Lenski and Hendriksen as examples of the prominent orthodox commentators who take his view of these verses, he ignores not only Thomas Manton, but also John Owen, John Brown of Haddington, Hugh Martin and John Murray, to name only some of those promoted by the Banner of Truth Trust as orthodox commentators and who take the view that these verses restrict sung praise in public worship to inspired materials.” – Rev. H M Cartwright, “Psalms or Hymns in Public Worship”


“The Book of Psalms is the only scripturally authorized hymn book, as we see, for example, from 2 Chronicles 29:30 and from the use made of it by the Old Testament saints, by our Lord and by the Apostles. The oneness of the Church in Old and New Testament times, the completeness of the Psalms as regards doctrine and experience, and the divine provision of a book which adequately expresses the praises of God’s people in all ages, indicate its permanent place in the Church. It speaks the language of fulfillment as well as prediction, as Hugh Martin illustrated in 1872 by reference to Psalms 21:4; 40:6, 9; 68:18; 69:9, 20; 80:17; and 110:4. The divine provision of the Psalm Book secures the truthfulness of the praise and the liberty of the people from impositions by men. It expresses and promotes the unity of the Church. It also helps to form godly character and experience in those who enter into its doctrines and sentiments. God did not include all the inspired songs of Scripture in the Book He provided, and so we have no authority to add even other portions of Scripture to what God has given as a complete book of praises. It was not supplanted or supplemented in New Testament times by divine appointment or inspiration. It cannot be supplemented by human hymns without displacing the divine. God has given a book of praise, and the biblical exhortations with respect to the subject matter of praise refer to that book. In the New Testament we are exhorted to sing Psalms and we have the example of Christ and the Apostles (for example, Matt 26:30; 1 Cor 14:15, 26; Eph 5:18-20; Col 3:16; Jas 5:13). Uninspired hymns are unknown in the New Testament. It is not without significance that none were used in the Churches of the Calvinistic Reformation.”  – Rev. H M Cartwright, “Psalms or Hymns in Public Worship”

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