Bay Psalm Book On Uninspired Versus Inspired Songs

…must the ordinary gifts of an private man quench the Spirit still speaking to us by the extraordinary gifts of his servant David?

—Preface of The Bay Psalm Book (1640) (HT: Bob Godfrey)

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  • R. Scott Clark
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    R.Scott Clark is the President of the Heidelberg Reformation Association, the author and editor of, and contributor to several books and the author of many articles. He has taught church history and historical theology since 1997 at Westminster Seminary California. He has also taught at Wheaton College, Reformed Theological Seminary, and Concordia University. He has hosted the Heidelblog since 2007.

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  1. In 1 Corinthians 14:29-32 Paul writes “If any thing is revealed to another that sitteth by, let the first hold his peace”. Is the Spirit in David’s Psalms really being quenched when they are made to give place sometimes to other equally inspired parts of Scripture that have been fashioned into songs of worship by private persons? Admittedly with the Psalms both the doctrinal content and its arrangement are inspired, whereas with privately composed hymns and songs only the doctrinal content is inspired (Hymns and songs containing doctrines other than those of Scripture should not be sung at all, and those in which spiritually meaningful expressions of are greatly diluted by padding should be regarded with extreme caution), yet the latter are still spiritual and, therefore, singing them in keeping with the definitive commands in Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16.
    This is leaving out other songs in Scripture that aren’t in the psalms. One that’s often forgotten is the Song of The Well in Numbers 21 and its antitype in John 4:14.

    • Are you sure that you want to say that the doctrinal content of uninspired hymns inspired? The doctrine of Scripture is inspired and the doctrine we confess is true insofar as our confessions are faithful to Scripture but I’m sure that the Reformed churches have never confessed that the doctrine of uninspired hymns is “inspired.” Further, when we wrote our confessions we didn’t sing non-canonical hymns in response to God’s Word. We sang God’s Word. I doubt very much that you can inspiration is a transitive property that may be imputed to non-canonical hymns. In such a case, you shall have effectively made the canon considerably greater than we presently know it.

      As to “song, hymns, and spiritual songs” I refer you to the brief summary posted recently from Henry Beets and to the numerous posts explaining the historic understanding of that phrase. It is almost certainly a reference to headers in the LXX text of the Psalms and not to non-canonical songs of our own composition.

      John, if you’ll read Recovering the Reformed Confession you’ll see that I defend Beza’s position (held by others) that all of God’s Word should be sung in public worship.

  2. Thanks. We had Dr. Godfrey at our Cheyenne Reformation Conference, and he mentioned this passage then.

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