Has the Experiment Succeeded?

Not according to Bob Godfrey (HT: Brenden):

“One obvious effect of psalm-singing was that Reformed worshipers had the psalms well planted in their minds and hearts. If we should hide God’s Word in our hearts that we might not sin against him (Ps. 119:11), singing the Word is one of the best ways to do that. Early Reformed leaders did not so much argue that we may sing only psalms as they argued that the psalms are the best songs to sing because they are divinely inspired.


The principle argument used to promote hymn-singing from the eighteenth century on has been that hymns are more clearly centered on Christ than are the psalms. This argument was known before the eighteenth century, but was not very persuasive among early Reformed people. Calvin and Luther believed that the psalms were filled with Christ. They also believed that if our prayers and sermons and sacraments are filled with Christ, then we will see Christ in the Psalter. But as the Lord’s supper became infrequent and the sermons were too often moralistic, a great push developed to use hymns that preached the gospel. This impulse was strengthened by the increasingly revivalist spirit of much of American religion since the eighteenth century.”

The quotation comes from his autobiography: An Unexpected Journey. Has worship become more or less Christ-centered since we gave up the psalter (God’s Word) first for paraphrases of the psalms (the starter drug), which led us to the harder stuff, revival hymns, and then finally to the liturgical equivalent of crack cocaine: the choruses?

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    • It is classic, yes. But I am sort of partial to this Godfrey-ism: “Muisc has become the new sacrament.” Like “Reformed” means much more than soteriology, “worship” includes much more than musicality.

        • It was on an old WHI broadcast, couldn’t say exactly which one, but I recall I was sitting in my living room on the plaid couch noticing how the evening’s were getting darker sooner, so it must have been a Fall episode.

  1. It’s SO hard to disagree with Godfrey. I can’t wait for the new psalter-hymnal from the OPC, with the first 150 (or so) pages being devoted to the psalms, newly translated, put to new tunes, etc. Such a thing will make it much easier for a pastor to seamlessly introduce more psalms into public worship without ruffling anyone’s feathers. Some brilliant person is behind that somewhere.

  2. For those interested in a modern publication of the Psalter, Crown and Covenant Publications has just published The Book of Psalms for Worship, with all of the Psalms in modern English set to tunes for congregational singing. In my experience thus far with this Psalter, it has proved to be a wonderful tool for singing the Psalms both in private devotions and public worship.

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