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The Glory and Sufficiency of the Psalms


Athanasius (c.296-373) bishop of Alexandria, champion of orthodoxy against Arianism:
(1) "I believe that a man can find nothing more glorious than these Psalms; for they embrace the whole life of man, the affections of his mind, and the motions of his soul. To praise and glorify God, he can select a psalm suited to every occasion, and thus will find that they were written for him."
(2) Athanasius referred to the Psalms as the "epitome of the whole Scriptures."
(3) "They appear to me a mirror of the soul of every one who sings them; they enable him to perceive his own emotions, and to express them in the words of the Psalms. He who hears them read receives them as if they were spoken for him. Conscience-struck, he will either humbly repent, or hearing how the trust of believers was rewarded by God, rejoice as if His mercy were promised to him in particular, and begin to thank God. Yet, in its pages you find portrayed man’s whole life, the emotion of his soul, and the frames of his mind. We cannot conceive of anything richer than the Book of Psalms. If you need penitence, if anguish or temptation have befallen you, if you have escaped persecution and oppression, or are immersed in deep affliction, concerning each and all you may find instruction, and state it to God in the words of the Psalter!"

Basil the Great (c.330-379) bishop of Caesarea, author of a famous work on the Holy Spirit: "The Book of Psalms is a compend of all divinity; a common store of medicine for the soul; a universal magazine of good doctrines profitable to everyone in all conditions."

Ambrose (c.339-397) bishop of Milan: "The law instructs, history informs, prophecy predicts, correction censures, and morals exhort. In the Book of Psalms you find the fruit of all these, as well as a remedy for the salvation of the soul. The Psalter deserves to be called the praise of God, the glory of man, the voice of the Church, and the most beneficial confession of faith. The Psalms teach me to avoid sin, and to unlearn my being ashamed of repentance. In the Psalms delight and instruction vie with each other: we sing for enjoyment and read for instruction."

John Chrysostom (c.347-407) bishop of Constantinople, the golden-mouthed preacher: "All Christians employ themselves in David’s Psalms more frequently than in any other part of the Old or New Testament. The grace of the Holy Ghost hath so ordered it that they should be recited and sung every night and day. In the church’s vigils, the first, the midst, and the last are David’s Psalms. In the morning David’s Psalms are sought for; and David is the first, the midst, and the last. At funeral solemnities, the first, the midst, and the last is David. Many who know not a letter can say David’s Psalms by heart. In private houses where virgins spin—in the monasteries—in the deserts, where men converse with God—the first, the midst and the last is David. In the night, when men are asleep, he wakes them up to sing; and collecting the servants of God into angelic troops, turns earth into heaven, and of men makes angels, chanting David’s Psalms" (Homily 6, On Penitence).

Augustine (354-430) bishop of Hippo, Doctor of Grace: "Oh! In what accents spake I unto Thee, my God, when I read the Psalms of David, those faithful songs and sounds of devotion, which allow of no swelling spirit! Oh! What accents did I utter unto Thee in those psalms! And how was I by them kindled toward Thee, and on fire to rehearse them if possible, through the whole world, against the pride of mankind! And yet they are sung through the whole world, nor can any hide himself from Thy heat."

Alcuin of York (d. 804): "Nothing in this mortal life makes us able to inhabit God more intimately than does praising him. And nobody in this mortal life can grasp the power of the Psalms whether spoken aloud or inwardly, unless they are sung not only with lips of the mouth but with a mind intent upon praising almighty God. In the Psalms you will find, if you read them carefully with an attentive mind and are brought to their spiritual understanding, the incarnation, passion, resurrection, and ascension of the Word of the Lord. In the Psalms you will find, if you search them carefully with an attentive mind, more deeply felt prayer than you could ever achieve by your own thought. In the Psalms you will find deeply felt confession of your sins, and perfect prayer for forgiveness and mercy from our Lord and God. And in the Psalms you will find deeply felt thanksgiving for all the things that happen to you. In the Psalms you confess your weakness and misery and beseech for yourself the mercy of God. For you will find all spiritual powers [virtutes] in the Psalms if you have been made worthy by God that the secrets of the Psalms should be revealed to you ... In the Psalter you have material for reading, thinking deeply, and teaching up to the end of your life. In it you will find spiritually the books of the prophets, of the evangelists, and of the apostles, indeed all God's books. You will even find them in part intelligibly explained and described. In the Psalter you will discern prophesied the first and second advents of the Lord. Moreover, you will find in the Psalms ... all the power of his divine utterances, if you search them carefully in the depths of your mind, and are brought through the grace of God to the very marrow of their innermost thought [ad medullam intimi intellectus]."

Martin Luther (1483-1546) German Reformer:
(1) "Hence it is that the Psalter is the Book of all saints; and everyone, in whatever situation he may be, finds in that situation Psalms and words that fit his case, that suit him as if they were put there just for his sake, so that he could not put it better himself, or find or wish for anything better."
(2) "The human heart is like a vessel in a tempestuous sea, tossed to and fro by the storms from the four quarters of the world. Fear and care of future mishap are roaring here; grief and sadness on account of present evil there. Hope and courage respecting future happiness are blowing here; while assurance and joy on account of present good are sounding there. Such tempests teach one to be in earnest, now to open and now to pour out one’s heart. He who is in fear and trouble talks in other strains about mishap than he who lives in joy; and he who lives in joy in other strains than he who lives in fear. It comes not form the heart (they say) when a sad one tries to laugh and a glad one to weep—i.e., his heart is neither opened nor poured out. But what do you find most in the Psalms? Earnest speech in all manner of tempests. Where can you find more appropriate expressions of joy than in the Psalms of praise and thanksgiving? You look right into the hearts of saints, as into fair and pleasant gardens, or heaven itself, and behold the beautiful, laughing, and delicate flowers of all manner of fair and joyous thoughts towards God and His love springing lustily into life. Again, where can you find more profound, plaintive, and wretched words of grief than in the Psalms of complaint? Once more you look into the heart of saints as into death or hell. How gloomy and dark their mournful visions of God! So, again, when the Psalms speak of fear and hope, they abound in words so significant that no painter could thus portray, no Cicero nor orator thus describe them."

Melanchthon (1497-1560) German Reformer: The book of Psalms is "the most elegant work extant in the world."

John Calvin (1509-1564) French Reformer: "Not without good grounds am I wont to call this book an anatomy of all parts of the soul, since no one can experience emotions whose portrait he could not behold reflected in its mirror. Yes, the Holy Spirit has there depicted in the most vivid manner every species of pain, affliction, fear, doubt, hope, care, anxiety, and turbulent emotion, through which the hearts of men are chased. Other portions of the Scriptures contain commandments whose transmission the Lord enjoined upon His servants, but in the Psalms, the prophets, communing with God and uncovering their inmost feelings, call and urge every reader to self-examination to such a degree, that of the numerous infirmities to which we are liable, and of the many failings which oppress us, not one remains concealed. The reader of the Psalms finds himself both aroused to feel his misery and exhorted to seek for its remedy. You cannot read anywhere more glorious praises of God’s peculiar grace towards His Church or of His works; you cannot find anywhere such an enumeration of man’s deliverances or praises for the glorious proofs of His fatherly care for us, or a more perfect representation to praise Him becomingly, or more fervent exhortations to the discharge of that holy duty. But, however rich the book may prove in all those respects to fit us for a holy, pious, and just life, its chief lesson is, how we are to bear the cross, and to give the true evidence of our obedience, by parting with our affections, to submit ourselves to God, to suffer our lives to be entirely guided by His will, so that the bitterest trial, because He sends it, seems sweet to us. Finally, not only is the goodness of God praised in general terms to secure our perfect resignation to Him, and to expect His aid in every time of need, but the free forgiveness of our sins, which alone can effect or peace of conscience and reconciliation to God, are in particular so strongly recommended, that there is nothing wanting to the knowledge of eternal life."

Richard Hooker (1554-1600) Church of England: "The choice and flower of all things profitable in other books, the Psalms do both more briefly contain, and more movingly also express, by reason of that poetical form wherewith they are written … What is there necessary for a man to know which the Psalms are not able to teach? They are to beginners an easy and familiar introduction, a mighty augmentation of all virtue and knowledge in such as are entered before, a strong confirmation to the most perfect among others. Heroical magnanimity, exquisite justice, grave moderation, exact wisdom, repentance unfeigned, unwearied patience, the mysteries of God, the sufferings of Christ, the terrors of wrath, the comforts of grace, the works of Providence over this world, and the promised joys of that world which is to come, all good necessarily to be either known, or had, or done, this one celestial fountain yieldeth. Let there be any grief or disease incident into the soul of man, any wound or sickness named, for which there is not in this treasure-house a present comfortable remedy at all times ready to be found. Hereof it is that we covet to make the Psalms especially familiar unto all. This is the very cause why we iterate the Psalms oftener than any other part of the Scripture besides; the cause wherefore we inure the people together with their minister, and not the minister alone to read them as other parts of Scripture he doth."

William Perkins (1558-1602) the "father of English Puritanism:" "[The Book of] Psalms contains sacred songs suitable for every condition of the church and its individual members, composed to be sung with grace in the heart (Col. 3:16)" (The Art of Prophesying, p. 14).

Matthew Henry (1662-1714) English Presbyterian, famous Bible commentator: "the Psalms which David penned should be made use of in praising God by the Church to the end of time" (Commentary on Ps. 145:1).

Thomas Chalmers (1780-1847) Scottish Presbyterian, first moderator of the Free Church of Scotland: "There is a something to meet the whole varied experiences of the spiritual life in these ages of a later and more refined dispensation. And such is the divine skilfulness of these compositions, that, while so framed as to meet and to satisfy the disciples of a ritual and less enlightened worship, there is not a holy and heavenly disciple of Jesus in our day who will not perceive in the effusions of the Psalmist a counterpart to all the alternations of his own religious history—who will not find in his very words the fittest vehicles for all the wishes, sorrows, and agitations to which his own heart is liable."

Henry Cooke (1788-1868) Irish Presbyterian, champion of Trinitarianism against Unitarianism: "Is any sad—[the Psalms] will teach him to cry from the depths of affliction. Is any persecuted—they will furnish him with petitions for a refuge and deliverance. Is any in want—they will lead him to the Friend of the poor and needy. Is any in sickness—they will lead him in the way to the true Physician. Is any dying and in misery—they will show him the path of life, ending in the fullness of joy at the right hand of the Eternal. And all this they do, because they are the spiritual revelations of the supplications, strong crying and tears of Jesus in the days of His flesh, and therefore furnish to His disciples the model and material of their prayers of faith."

Albert Barnes (1798-1870) American Presbyterian, Bible commentator: "The Psalms are selected by the Christian from the whole Bible, as they were by the Jew from the books in his possession—the Old Testament … nor will there ever be in the world such an advance in religious light, experience, and knowledge, that they will lose their relative place as connected with the exercises of practical piety … Their [the Hebrews’] poetry of the religious kind … is all of a high order. There is none that can be placed on the same low level with much that is found in the hymn-books of most denominations of Christians—very good; very pious; very sentimental; very much adapted, as is supposed, to excite the feelings of devotion; but withal so flat, so weak, so unpoetic, that it would not, in a volume of mere poetry, be admitted to a third or fourth rank, if, indeed, it would find a place at all."

Patrick Fairbairn (1805-1874) Scottish Presbyterian, author of The Typology of Scripture: "Is there a feature of the Divine character as now developed in the Gospel, a spiritual principle or desire in the mind of an enlightened Christian, a becoming exercise of affection, or a matter of vital experience in the Divine life, of which the record is not to be found in this invaluable portion of Holy Writ—the Psalms."

George Smeaton (1814-1889) Scottish Presbyterian: "The unction and fragrance of the Spirit with which the Psalms are replete lead me to notice ... that it is an utter misconception to represent the Old Testament religion as more fed by mundane hopes than by the influence of the Holy Spirit. It is to lose sight of all the numerous expressions of joy, rapture, and praise with which the Psalms abound from the first to the last ... the Psalms ... when considered as the actual expression of praise for the Israelitish Church, as well as a legacy handed down to us in the Christian Church, sufficiently refute that view. No book of a similar kind was prepared for the New Testament Church. The Holy Spirit, replenishing the sweet singers of Israel with spiritual truth and holy love, anticipated in this way much of the necessity that should be felt in Christian times ... [The] inspired and invaluable psalms ... describe the eternity and omnipresence, the majesty and condescension, the justice and mercy of god in a strain of the most fervid devotion. They sing of repentance and faith, of joy in God and delight in God's law, with an ardour beyond which it is impossible to go. They depict Christ's royal reign and His union with His Church; the anointing with the oil of gladness (Ps. 45:7); the receiving of gifts for men (Ps. 68:18); and the supreme dominion with which Christ was to be invested by the Father with a tenderness, unction, and joy to which no other words are equal" (The Doctrine of the Holy Spirit, pp. 29-30).

W. E. Gladstone (1809-1898) British prime minister:
(1) "All the wonders of Greek civilization heaped together are less wonderful than is the single Book of Psalms … There are many single verses of the Psalms on which, taken severally, we might be content, so lofty is their nature, to stake the whole argument for a Divine revelation."
(2) "But most of all does the Book of Psalms refuse the challenge of philosophical or poetical composition. In that book, for well-nigh three thousand years, the piety of saints has found its most refined and choicest food, to such a degree, indeed, that the rank and quality of the religious frame may, in general, be tested, at least negatively, by the height of its relish for them. There is the whole music of the human heart, when touched by the hand of the Maker, in all its tones that whisper or that swell, for every hope and fear, for every joy and pang, for every form of strength and languor, of disquietude and rest. There are developed all the innermost relations of the human soul to God, built upon the platform of a covenant of love and sonship that had its foundations in the Messiah, while in this particular and privileged Book it was permitted to anticipate His coming."

Professor William Binnie (1823-1886) Scottish Presbyterian:
(1) "The Psalms accordingly are pervaded everywhere with the consciousness of God … It is the high prerogative of the psalms, that they not only name the name of God, but bear us into His presence. They bring us face to face with our Maker and Judge, a personal God, who has an ear to hear and a hand to help, and of whom the weakest saint on earth may say, ‘I am poor and needy, yet the Lord thinketh upon men.’"
(2) "There are few things more important, in the interest of a pure and scriptural and catholic piety, than that the views of truth and godliness impressed on successive generations, by the combined influences of poetry and song in the worship of the Lord, should be those set forth by the Holy Spirit Himself in the Bible psalms."

Dr. John James Stewart Perowne (1823-1904) professor at Cambridge, author of a commentary on the Psalms: "The Psalter is the only entire book in the Bible which God has given expressly to aid and guide the worship of man; and while adapted to every capacity in its range of experience, it includes every case, from the depth of penitential remorse, to the fullest and most exalting realization of God’s friendship."

Adolph Saphir (1831-1891) Hungarian Jew who became a Presbyterian minister: "The church in all ages has honoured the loved the Psalms. David was chosen to be the sweet singer of Israel, not merely the old covenant Israel, but the whole Israel of God. Here is perfect sympathy with all our weakness and fluctuating experience, and at the same time faithful and sure guidance; here we find a perfect expression of feeling and soul-experience; here are the deepest and truest utterances of repentance and of faith—of the soul’s mournful complaints in darkness and sorrow, and of jubilant rejoicing and thanksgiving in the sunshine of divine favour; here is a true analysis of the heart; here we behold the doubts and conflicting thoughts, the fear and tumult of the soul—all that ever moves and agitates the saints of God. But the Psalter is not merely an expression of our feelings; it guides, corrects, and elevates us. David prays with us according to the mind of God. He is not merely our brother, but he is also a type of Christ. In the Psalms we learn the mind of Messiah in His union with His people. Hence the Psalter is the incomparable and comprehensive manual and hymn-book of the saints."

Dr. Alexander Whyte (1836-1921) Scottish Presbyterian, often described as "the last of the Puritans:" "The Psalms of David shine to this day with a greater splendour than on the day they were first sung … I bless David’s name for the blessing my soul gets out of his Psalms every day I live … Think of the multitudes that no man can number to whom David’s Psalms have been their constant song in the house of their pilgrimage … Then, take David’s knowledge of God, and his communion with God. There is nothing like it in the whole world again. There are many mysteries of godliness not yet revealed to us; but to me, the mystery of David’s knowledge of God and his communion with God is one of the most mysterious. Had Paul sung David’s Psalms, and sent, now the twenty-third to the Philippians, and now the thirty-second and the hundred and seventy-second to the Colossians, and so on, I would not have wondered. I would wonder at nothing after the coming of Christ, and after His death and His ascension. But it baffles me to silence to see such Psalms as David’s before the day of Christ."

John McNaugher: "It is the oldest hymn-book in existence, having a connected record through thousands of years down to our own times, and it is consecrated forever as having been the hymnary of our Saviour and of the Apostolic Church. In the light of its age-long history, of its rich poetry, of its unsectarian, catholic character, of its freedom from error, of its well-proportioned thought, of its theological depth and spiritual quality, of its wealth of evangelical matter, of its supremacy in the utterance of devotion and religious experience, and of the unexampled strains in which it celebrates the glories of God, there is ample occasion for the plea that the Churches of Christ recognize in the Psalter their heritage of sacred song, as against a human hymnody with its necessary imperfections."

Dr. Joseph Cook: "The Psalms are the mid-pillar in the Divine cathedral of the scripture, or rather, a whole transcript of pillars. Three thousand years they have been the highest manual of devotion among men. Nothing like them can be found in all antiquity! Greece has spoken! Rome has had the ear of the ages! Modern time has uttered all its voices: but the Psalms remain wholly unsurpassed!"

Rev. John M. Ross, Riverside, California: "The Psalter is a book of worship by means of which man may express in fitting terms his homage and adoration. It gives us the completest view of God which we, in our present limitations, are capable of receiving. ‘Canst thou by searching find out God?’ We can only know Him as He reveals Himself. Herein lies the weakness of an uninspired hymnology; it cannot give us a complete view of God."

Rev. James Parker, Jersey City, New Jersey: "No advocate of uninspired songs can place his hand upon any hymn-book of man’s composition and say, ‘The Lord hath appointed this.’ On the other hand, the songs of the Psalter are stamped with the King’s own seal … Like that mighty rock that rears its majestic front where strive the waters of the stormy Atlantic and the blue Mediterranean, so this divine Psalter, based upon the eternal foundation of God’s will, lifted high above the strife of man’s conceptions of truth, has stood during the centuries bathed in the sunshine of the divine approval, and it will stand as a witness to every coming age that it alone contains the matter for the proper praise of every attribute of God, and the proper expression of every need and longing of man."

Michael Bushell: "The strongest argument for exclusive psalmody is the one that inevitably wells up from within when a sincere Christian begins to sing the psalms with grace in his heart. Once these divine hymns have entered into the heart of a man and he has been fed by the heavenly manna which lies embedded there, he will never be satisfied with earthly counterfeits. And until a man has experienced the psalms in this way, all the sophisticated polemics in the world will not avail to draw from his hymns. Acceptance or rejection of the position of exclusive psalmody is, I am fully persuaded, as much a matter of the heart as a matter of the mind" (Songs of Zion, p. i).