The Singing of Psalms, Hymns and Spiritual Songs
By Benjamin Keach, 1691
We shall now prove and demonstrate that singing of the praises of God, not only in private, but also in congregations, is a duty incumbent on us in Gospel-times, as well as it was of Old. As there is the same God of mercies, so the same praises are to be rendered to Him for His blessings, no doubt, and in the same manner now (that is, by singing), as was then.
1. Because the Lord (who alone appoints His own worship) hath commanded and required it at our hands; and His command and precept is the rule of our obedience. “Rejoice. . . ye righteous: for praise is comely for the upright. Praise the LORD. . . sing unto him” (Psalm 33:1-2). “Sing aloud unto God our strength: make a joyful noise unto the God of Jacob” (Psalm 81:1). “Make a joyful noise unto the LORD. . . come before his presence with singing” (Psalm 100:1-2). “O come, let us sing unto the LORD: let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation” (Psa. 95:1). Many such precepts are given forth by the Holy Ghost, as it is well known to all. “Sing unto him, sing psalms unto him, talk ye of all his wondrous works” (I Chron. 16:9). “Sing unto God, ye kingdoms of the earth; O sing praises unto the Lord” (Psalm 68:32).
2. Consider these commands, by which the Lord established this part of His worship of old, are as obligatory unto us in gospel-times, as they were then to them when ﬁrst instituted, except it could be proved to be either ceremonial or Judaical, or hath received a change in the Gospel. And this is evident in many respects, particularly as to prayer, that was a duty then; and the precepts contained in the Psalms and the Prophets, which enjoin it, are of the New Testament, and equally bind the conscience. So also in fasting, a duty (as one observes) required by the prophets; and not so clearly repeated by any institution under the Gospel, as this of singing is; and the same might be said for days of thanksgiving.
It is observable, how often our brethren, upon all proper and ﬁt occasions, ﬂy to those precepts to press prayer, fasting, and thanksgiving, too. If therefore singing, as it is laid down and enjoined in the sacred precepts in the Book of Psalms, is not binding, notwithstanding it is repeated and given forth in the New Testament afresh, why do you, when you exhort to other duties, make use of arguments and proofs, out of the Book of Psalms and the Prophets, in other cases, since the commands thereof, though neither ceremonial nor Judaical, are (as you seem to aﬃrm) of any force, nor obligatory to us? This seems strange, for certainly men have more reason in them, than to press obedience on subjects to their superior, by abrogated or antiquated statutes; and shall the Lord’s ambassadors be more irrational in pressing obedience to the Lord, than rational men are in civil aﬀairs?
“Now saith one, since there is no man that questions whether singing of psalms was instituted and commanded of God of Old, how can they avoid the power of such precepts, considering, as he minds, particular Psalms 81:4-5, where singing is called ‘a statute for Israel, and a law of the God of Jacob’ and ‘ordained in Joseph for a testimony’; which saith he, refers to a time, before they were brought into the ceremonial worship? Hence, saith he, it inevitably follows, that until any man can show us that singing of psalms, yes, singing of the Book of Psalms, was ceremonial or Judaical, or are changed or abrogated in the Gospel; those precepts lie upon us now with the same power and obligation as it laid them under then, for the antiquity of a law, or institution, rather commends it to us, than any ways abates of its obligation; so that had there been no other institutions for singing of psalms, etc., than what is in the Book of Psalms, we should have had suﬃcient authority to be found in them” (A Manuscript Called Psalmody). He might have added, since especially it is of the like nature with prayer, viz., a moral precept, as well as brought into a written law. But to all I might add, it is much more unreasonable to plead an exemption from the force and obligation of those precepts, since the saints are enjoined to sing Psalms of David by the Holy Ghost in the New Testament; for all grant there are no other psalms, none called psalms besides the Book of Psalms.
3. To this, take what Mr. Wells aﬃrms: “I shall take one shaft out of the whole quiver, i.e., I shall use one argument, among many, which is this, viz., we always ﬁnd this duty of singing psalms linked to, and joined with other moral duties; thus the Psalmist joins singing and praying together. “O come, let us sing unto the LORD. . .O come, let us worship and bow down; let us kneel before the LORD our maker” (Psalm 95: 1, 6).
There is prayer and singing connected, singing being of equal necessity and authority with other ordinances; and so the Apostle James joins these two together, “Is any among you aﬄicted? let him pray. Is any merry? let him sing psalms” (James 5:13). You may observe, both these services are equally calculated for man’s necessity. Thus Paul and Silas join them in their practice (Acts 16:25).
So Justin Martyr, in his 117th question, “ad Orthodoxes,” tells us “That they sang, and sent up prayers to God; the primitive church conﬁrming David’s injunctions, and the apostolical commands. So that by these instances we may observe that the duty of prayer and singing have walked in the same equipage, and lay claim to an equal authority from Divine Writ, the Scripture jointly favoring both” (. 177).
Secondly, this duty and holy ordinances of singing in Gospel-days is evident from these prophetic Psalms. “I may speak (says Mr. Wells) of singing, as Paul speaks of Timothy’s ordination (I Tim. 4:14); it was given by prophecy. There are divers prophecies in the Old Testament concerning saints singing in Gospel-times. Psalm 100:1-2, says, Mokorus observes, that there David pours forth his ardent prayers and wishes for the Kingdom of Christ. And so Divines observe that Psalm 100 is prophetical: ‘Make a joyful noise unto the LORD, all ye lands. Serve the LORD with gladness: come before his presence with singing.’ ‘O sing unto the LORD a new song; sing unto the LORD, all the earth’ (Ps. 96:1). Here we, and all the Gentiles be sure who believe in Christ, are required to sing, and to come into His presence, that is, into His public worship with singing. “
In I Chronicles 16:23-24: ‘Sing unto the LORD, all the earth; show forth from day to day his salvation. Declare his glory among the heathen; his marvellous works among all nations’ (Psalm 66:1-2); ‘Make a joyful noise unto God, all ye lands; Sing forth the honour of his name: make his praise glorious.” Psalm 21:13: “Be thou exalted, LORD, in thine own strength; so will we sing and praise thy power.” These, and many other Psalms, are, it is evident, prophecies of Gospel-times, when the old boundaries of the church should be broken down, to give an entrance unto the Gentiles into the church of God; and to show us, that as the Jews in their church-state were to celebrate the praises of God by Psalms, so are we. As Israel sang the praises of God in the wilderness, and at the Red Sea, and therein acknowledged the beneﬁts they received, so must we, with songs of thanksgiving, show forth from day to day His salvation, and declare His glory among the heathen, with a joyful and triumphant noise. Otherwise, we fall short of answering the prophecy in our day and times, and render not to God the duty He requires. And to all the prophetical Psalms, I might add that pregnant prophecy recorded by the prophet Isaiah in Isaiah 52:8: ‘Thy watchman shall lift up the voice; with the voice together shall they sing.’”
“Watch clearly (says Mr. Wells) prognosticates this musical ordinance in Gospel-times. Mulsculus saith, ‘These watchmen shall jubilee, when they shall consider the great joy approaching for the redemption obtained by Christ. There are two things, which not only stablish, but sweeten and honour an ordinance. 1. Promises. 2. Prophecies. Christ Himself was the fruit and issue of both.’
“These things clearly inform us:
“1. That singing of psalms, etc., is not a legal part of worship, but suitable to Gospel-times.
“2. That there is clear and manifest institution of it: and that these prophetical Gospel songs and prophecies are part of the Gospel (being prophecies of it, as the ﬁrst chapter of John is).”
What think you of those places of the prophets and Psalms, that speak of Christ as they are mentioned and recited in the New Testament? Are they not Gospel as well as anything you ﬁnd there-in-taught or laid down anew? Does not the Apostle tell us that unto them (that is, to Israel) the Gospel was preached, as well as unto us? And that in promises and prophecies it was preached in Abraham?
“3. Consider that there is no attainment under the Gospel, of special spiritual privilege, that can exalt Christians beyond the practice of this duty. The more our mercies are, the greater are our obligations to praise God by Psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs; and so express the joy of our hearts by singing forth the praises of God. They that attain to the greatest purity of Gospel worship and institutions are to do as Moses and Israel did at the Red Sea.
“4. Revelation 15:3-4: “And they sing the song of Moses the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying, Great and marvellous are thy works, Lord God Almighty; just and true are thy ways, thou King of saints. Who shall not fear thee, O Lord, and glorify thy name? for thou only art holy; for all nations shall come and worship before thee; for thy judgments are made manifest’” (A Manuscript Called Psalmody).
These were such that have attained to the purity of Gospel-institutions, being purged as by ﬁre from anti-Christian pollution, becoming as pure as transparent glass, having a perfect conquest and victory over Antichrist, who are said thus melodiously to sing forth the praises of God. To close this, we shall sing in Heaven in the highest glory, and therefore it follows, the highest state of grace calls upon us, be sure to be found in this so holy and sublime duty, which as we have shown, is the work of angels.
[From The Breach Repaired in God’s Worship, 1691 edition, pp. 45-54; via Milburn Cockrell, editor, The Berea Baptist Banner, May 5, 2011, pp. 81, 94-95. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]
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