The Ends, Command and "Notion" of Singing Psalms
James Durham, Scottish Presbyterian (1622-1658)
In praising then, we
would neither simply look to our frame, nor to the matter in itself,
which is to be sung, nor to the cases we are in, as if these were the
warrant of our singing, or the rule to regulate us in it: but unto these
three things. 1. The end wherefore singing is appointed. 2.
The command. 3. The notion, or consideration, in respect of which
the believer joineth in the duty of praise.
ends are principally three. 1. Glorifying God, and making
his praise glorious: thus histories of the Lord’s dealing with his
people of old, and thus the cases of others, in our singing of them,
serve to that end, that he did such works, that such a case was once
sung to him, and such a saint was so dealt with: otherwise, we might
scruple to sing Psalm 44:1, "We have heard with our ears, our
fathers have told us," and other scriptures, as well as cases: and so
the most part of the subject of praise and the book of the Psalms,
would be laid aside as useless, and not so much as to be read; for we
ought not to read, or say an untruth, more than to sing it.
A second end is,
edifying of others with whom we join, as well as studying edification
ourselves: so, Colossians 3:16, the end to be proposed in
singing, is, "Teaching and admonishing one another, in psalms, and
hymns, and spiritual songs." And suppose, some found themselves
unsuitable in their own case, to the purpose that is to be sung, yet
will it not teach them what they should be, and admonish them, because
they are not such?
A third end we are to
aim at in singing, is our own cheering and refreshing, "Making melody in
our hearts to the Lord" (Eph. 5:19). Which ariseth not
always form the matter simply considered, as it holds true in our own
experience: but 1. From our conscientious going about it as a piece of
worship to God, and so doing, we are accepted in that. 2. From the
heartsomeness of that soul-refreshing exercise of praise; and so that
which might be more saddening in meditation to us, yet should be
cheering in praise, because it is then used in that ordinance.
3. From the possibility that is herein discovered, of attaining such a
blessing, frame, or experience, because once a saint did attain it: and
since they were men of the like passions, and infirmities with us, why
may not we aim at, and hope to be made saints of the like graces with
them, since they were what they were, by the grace of God? 4. From this,
that it was once made good in another, which mercy should be a ground to
us, to mention it to the Lord’s praise. 5. From its being a
part of scripture, appointed for his praise, whether it agree with
our case, or not: that being the end wherefore it was designed to be
sung, is a sufficient warrant for our joining in the singing thereof.
would consider the command we have, not only to praise, but to
praise in these words of David, and other penmen of holy Psalms; for
which cause, God hath furnished his church with songs (but not so
with forms of prayers, to which he would have us astricted) and that for
preventing doubts concerning the matter: For, 1. If God did
propone these songs to be sung, then they are fit to praise him. 2.
If he did allow none to sing them but such as had no hesitation or
scruple to assert them, with application to themselves; then, either
never should they be sung, or never in public: but, 3. Did he not
appoint them to be used in David’s time? And joiners then were not
all of one size; sure, they had never been committed to public use,
if none might have joined in singing them, but these who could sing them
from their own experience: or, will a believer be challenged for
praising God, in the rule and words laid down by him? Certainly not:
however he may be challenged, if he be not suitably affected in the
singing of them.
would consider the notion, or capacity under which believers join in
this duty; for they join either as parts of the whole church, and so
they go about their part of the duty of praise (as the matter holdeth
true in any member indefinitely, even as they join in prayers) so being
that which is sung, be allowed matter for that end: or they join as true
believers, and then what points out infirmity, they look on as agreeing
to their flesh; what points out sincerity, they as spiritual, though not
perfect, join on that account in the thankful acknowledging of it; what
confesseth a sin, if guilty, they acknowledge it; if not, they bless God
they are preserved by grace; yet they are made to see their corruption,
which hath the seed of that sin in it, and take warning; as in singing
the 51st Psalm is requisite, when all are not under that guilt
which David there confesseth.
(The Song of Solomon
[Edinburgh: Banner, repr. 1982], pp. 69-70).