The Singing of Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual Songs with Grace in the Heart
Part 1 of 2
“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.” (Col. 3:16)
The singing of praise unto the Lord is a vitally important element in the scriptural worship of God. Throughout the Bible we read that the people of God throughout the ages have responded to his self-revelation and mighty acts of redemption on their behalf with an outpouring of songs of praise. For instance, after the parting of the Red Sea when the people of God where miraculously delivered from danger and the armies of Pharaoh destroyed, we read that Moses and the sons of Israel sang a song of praise to the Lord celebrating his mercy and their deliverance (Exodus 15:1).
The Book of Psalms, which contains songs, meditations, and prayers, is a wonderful source of divinely inspired hymns of praise. It has provided the church in all the ages with a rich compendium of theologically impeccable and spiritually edifying songs for use in its worship.
During the Reformation, the importance of the singing of Psalms (1 Chron. 16:9) was rediscovered by the church, and in the 17th century the singing of Psalms exclusively rather than uninspired hymns or spiritual songs, became the practice of Presbyterians. The belief that the church may only sing Psalms in worship is reflected in the Westminster Standards, which only acknowledge Psalms and not uninspired hymns as a legitimate element of Christian worship. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries this practice began to change, and today most Presbyterians also sing hymns and spiritual songs. In chapter 21 of the Westminster Confession the divines listed amongst the elements of acceptable worship: “singing of psalms with grace in the heart” however, what scripture commands us to sing with grace in the heart are not merely Psalms but – “psalms and hymns and spiritual songs” (Eph. 5:19, Col. 3:16)I therefore agree with commentators like Charles Hodge who pointed out that this proves that singing was from the beginning a part of Christian worship, and that not only psalms but hymns also were employed.” It is therefore my belief that the church is commanded in scripture to sing both Psalms and uninspired hymns and spiritual songs in our worship and have therefore recorded this as my only exception to the teaching of the Standards.
Unfortunately, as many other Presbyterian Pastors have noted, the modern church seems to have gone from exclusively singing Psalms, to exclusively singing Hymns. It is my conviction that scripture teaches us that the New Testament church should be singing both and that to neglect the Psalms is to impoverish the people of God.