Reformed Psalmody Distinct From Hymnody

As over against this Hymnody, whether of the Latin Church or the Hussites or Lutherans, the distinction of the Calvinistic Psalmody lay not in its form but in its authorship and subject- matter. The Hymn was a religious lyric freely composed within the limits of liturgical propriety by anyone who had the gift. The Calvinistic Psalm, on the other hand, was simply the Word of God, translated and versified in hymn- form, so as to be sung by the people. To mark this distinction of the Calvinistic type of Church- Song, it is designated as Metrical Psalmody . When the purpose is merely to distinguish the two types of congregational song within the bounds of Protestantism, it will be sufficient to designate the singing of metrical Psalms in the Reformed Churches as Psalmody, as over against the freer Hymnody of Lutheran and other bodies.

—Louis Benson, John Calvin And The Psalmody Of The Reformed Churches (1907)

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  1. The obvious choice is Psalmody. My journey went from Lutheran Hymnody to contempo. praise/light hymnody to now full-on exclusive, a cappella psalmody. The richness of singing God’s word back to him after his word is spoken to us is simple yet majestic.

  2. it’s an unfortunate situation we have when uninspired songs of man’s composition are
    given the title of “hymns”, this creates a problem because the Scriptures themselves
    declare that the Title of what we call the Inspired & Infallible Psalms in english is in
    actual fact called The Book of Praises or Hymns in the Hebrew language, thus negating
    the modern use of the word hymn! if this alone doesn’t settle the argument then we
    have the fact that a number of individual “psalms” have the title Hymn, as well as the
    New Testaments use of the word hymn in Matt 26:30 most probably refers to the Jewish
    practice of singing Psalms 113 -118 on Holy-days, known as the Hallel.

    So the Scriptures themselves call Psalms Hymns & Hymns Psalms interchangeably

    Like I said it’s an unfortunate situation we have today when what the Inspired Scriptures
    & uninspired Historical testimony ie Septuagint calls Psalms Hymns & Spiritual Songs
    have simply become known as the Psalms, whilst uninspired hymns have taken the
    Scriptural Title Hymns, this whole situation is a bit like the modern Particular Baptists
    use/borrowing/theft of the word “Reformed” as British/American Reformed Churches
    preferred to use the word Presbyterian rather than follow the Continental Churches.

    • Robert, exactly where in the Septuagint can one find the phrase “Spiritual Song(s)”? I know that some individual psalms are called hymns and/or songs and/or something else (e.g., writings, instruction – strange that the apostle didn’t mention these in the Regulative passages, if he meant exclusively the Psalms), but as far as I know, that’s as far as it goes. I am open to correction, whether by you, Dr Clark or A N Other.
      As regards the use of the word “Reformed”, the Church of England has described itself as Reformed for many years (because of its doctrine on the Lord’s Supper). Where is there any evidence that the word was ever the exclusive domain of MacroPresbyterian Paedobaptists (as contrasted with Brethren-influenced Independents, which I would call MicroPresbyterians)? By the way, as far as church government is concerned my views are macropresbyterian, but would you really call John Owen and John Bunyan unreformed? And William Perkins and Richard Sibbes?

    • Dr Clark, Thank you for your link to , which according to the email I received, you posted in response the comment above that you are about either to approve or not. You give us four headings, psalms hymns, songs and understanding (synesis, maschil in Hebrew). There is a fifth, writing or remembrance (stelographia, michtam in the Hebrew) – one would have thought the Holy Spirit would have listed this if He had intended to restrict us to the psalms written in Scripture – a sixth, prayer, and a seventh, Alleluia. Interesting, also that the Septuagint (not the MT) specifies the 24th Psalm as being for the Lord’s Day (Doesn’t this illumine the text, a bit, especially the “O Jacob”, which we can now understand as referring to the Son of God’s identification of Himself with Jacob?).
      I don’t see anything in the Septuagint which links the word “spiritual” specifically with the word “songs” – This seems to be exclusive to Ephesians 4:19 and Colossians 3:16.
      Another question is: Does the removal of direct inspiration for songs by the Holy Spirit at the end of the apostolic age really restrict us again to the psalms of the Old Testament? Does it not rather send us also to the pages of the New Testament for construction of songs that are either direct quotes from or necessary consequences of the inspired material therein?
      We pay dearly, of course, for neglect of the Psalter.
      I notice Eric Burns picks on the most minor of the problems caused by versifying. The imposition of poor interpretations of the text by consideration purely of metre and rhyme and the odd paraphrase that is just wrong are more major problems. And what happened to Psalm 72:20? From that point of view, the chants one finds in the Anglican books of Common Prayer, based, I think, on Coverdale may be preferable. ,

      • John,

        I’ve never argued for exclusive psalmody, the fact of which, as a regular reader of the HB, you must surely be aware. For more on the case for singing only from Scripture but from all of Scripture see Recovering the Reformed Confession.

        You seem to have missed the point of the post, which is, in sum this: Paul drew upon established categories. He wasn’t licensing the use of non-canonical songs in public worship.

  3. I’ll admit I haven’t bought into the exclusive psalmody argument. However, I wholeheartedly agree that the churches have lost a lot by giving up the use of the Psalter in its sung praise. Further, this loss probably has something to do with the alienation of the Bible in too many churches as well.

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