Covenant Protestant Reformed Church
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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.

Firstly, The 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 scripture 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.

Secondly, We 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.

Thirdly, We 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).