When we think about John Murray we might think first of his defense of the biblical doctrine of The Imputation of Adam’s Sin or we might think of his judicious application of Scripture in Principles of Conduct. Others might think of Mr Murray as a covenant theologian or perhaps as the progenitor of certain aspects of the modern discussion of union with Christ. One aspect of Mr Murray’s work, however, that is little known (perhaps even within the OPC itself, a denomination he served for decades) was his dissent, written with Dr. William Young (1918–2015), from the majority report on worship to the Thirteenth General Assembly of the OPC.
For years it was tucked away in the minutes of the OPC General Assembly. I do not believe it was included in his collected works, perhaps because it was co-authored. It is a 5,000 word essay in defense of the old Reformed understanding of the “rule of worship” (or the regulative principle of worship) that only God’s word may be sung in public worship, in response to God’s Word.
As is typical for Mr Murray (and Mr Young) the Scriptures are handled with care. The first part surveys what can be fairly deduced from the New Testament evidence about what our Lord, the disciples, and later the Apostolic church sang in worship. Part 2 addresses (among other places) 2 Corinthians 14:15, 26. Part 3, the longest part of the minority report, challenges the assumptions on which the modern appeal to Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16 rest.
Pace the majority report, Murray and Young concluded,
This survey of the evidence derived from Scripture shows, in the judgment of the minority, that there is no evidence from Scripture that can be adduced to warrant the singing of uninspired human compositions in the public worship of God.
I certainly agree with Mr Murray and Dr Young here and I think we should all agree with them. This was the conclusion to which all the Reformed churches arrived in the 16th–18th centuries. That is not to say that I agree with all of the minority’s conclusions. E.g.,
We are not certain that other inspired songs were intended to be sung in the worship of God, even though the use of other inspired songs does not violate the fundamental principle on which Scripture authorization is explicit, namely, the use of inspired songs.
One wonders whether the authors of the minority report were in complete agreement with each other. Why else raise the possibility of singing texts of Scripture outside the Psalter? Whatever the case, I am with Theodore Beza (1519–1605) and the rest of the minority who argued that we ought to sing all of God’s Word, from the Psalter, from the Song of Moses (Ex 15), and from the New Testament. Wherever one falls out on this question or even if one concludes against the position adopted by Mr Murray and Dr Young, we ought to appreciate their careful work in the Scriptures on this point and their desire to preserve the historic understanding of the “rule of worship” in the Reformed and Presbyterian churches.