Kuyper: The Introduction Of Hymns To Dutch Reformed Worship Was Done Unlawfully

Here we come to the issue of psalms versus hymns. Our fathers ruled that, with a few exceptions, only the singing of psalms was permitted in the assembly of believers. When hymns were introduced in 1807 (by unlawful ecclesiastical might) many people objected to them and refused to sing them when announced from the pulpit. At the time of the restoration of the church in the Secession and Doleantie [Sorrowing], the position was reaffirmed that only psalms were to be sung.

Abraham Kuyper, Our Worship, trans. Harry Boonstra (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2009), 37

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  1. A brief thought: I am no judgment ib the folks that Kupyer is writing about. But I want us to handle their example with care and keep the entire Reformation/biblical teaching on this in mind.

    Calvin makes an excellent case that in churches and countries where the Reformation has not been perfected, those who believe the Bible requires exclusive psalmody are certainly allowed to sing hymns and should do so, so that brothers and sisters in Christ do not believe that they are superstitious.

    “In regard to the Ceremonies practices by your countrymen, and which have given occasion to the present Letter, the rule which I would propose for your observance, while you continue to live there, is that those of them which are not stamped with impiety you may observe, soberly indeed and sparingly, but when occasion requires freely and without anxiety, so as to make it manifest that you have no Superstition either in observing or refraining from them.” John Calvin, “On Shunning the Unlawful Rites of the Ungodly, and Preserving the Purity of the Christian Religion,” in John Calvin: Tracts and Letters, vol 3 (Carilise: Banner of Truth, 2009) 379.

    Please notice what I am not saying: I am not saying that Calvin support hymns. But I am saying that Calvin argued that attending a church which sings hymns and refusing to do so is likely to teach the folks around you that you are superstitious. Such behavior can very much confuse the gospel.

    Obviously, Calvin would object to anyone singing hymns to Mary or hymns that denied the gospel. We should never sing such. Yet, each of us must decide based on our local context how far we participate in ceremonies not explicitly commanded or rejected by Scripture.

    • Shane,

      I ran across that this morning and thought it was interesting history. I think it is useful for Reformed folk to know that things have not been as they are now.

      Re Calvin. Amen. I argued this in 2010:

      “Calvin’s Principle of Worship,” in ed. David Hall, Tributes to John Calvin: A Celebration of his Quincentenary (Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 2010), 247–69.

    • Are ceremonies indifferent or commanded elements of worship in that we are free to observe or not observe ceremonies as opposed to the commanded elements of worship.

      Two, while I can appreciate the desire to be gracious, one way the question could then be phrased is that if one, Ursinus, the author of the Heidelberg in his commentary on the same said uncommanded worship is superstitious and two, uninspired hymns are not commanded and therefore superstitious, then the reformed ought to observe superstitions in order not to offend the superstitious regarding their superstitions?

      Thank you.

      • Bob–I am sorry, are you saying that Ursinus explicitly mentions uninspired hymns as superstitious? If so, could you give me the citation? Or are you saying a consequence of Ursinus’ statement on un-commanded worship is that hymns, which you believe are un-commanded, are superstitious?

    • Shane,
      Your argument/comment best I can tell is that according to Calvin on ceremonies – which I think it fair to say all parties agree are indifferent – it is OK to engage in them in order that the people that seem to think them essential to the worship of God are not offended.

      OK, but then what are you arguing for?
      That singing is an indifferent ceremony in the worship of God?
      But the reformed have never held that even though they have disagreed on what is to be sung.

      IOW there is an equivocation in your informal argument that equates indifferent ceremonies with the commanded element of worship, singing the praises of God, be it whatever, psalms, Scripture or uninspired hymns.

      Even further I still don’t know what your definition of the RPW is and shades of the fundamentalist/John Frame Worship Children view of the Second Commandment seems to lurk in the shadows/presuppositions of your argument:

      1. God can only command something explicitly.
      2. The Second only explicitly forbids idolatry.
      3. The conclusion and non sequitur being that the implicit in Scripture, is indifferent.
      4. And since Scripture is not explicit, the content of our praise is indifferent.

      But the reformed hold to WCF 1:6 on the good and necessary consequences of Scripture, (much more the accidents and indifferent circumstances that necessarily accompany human actions and societies. For egs. while we must meet somewhere at some time for worship, 9:00am is not an element of worship.) According to the Westminster divines, God can command something not only explicitly, but also implicitly by G&N consequences or by approved example (Sessions 634, 636, 649, Minutes 4:104,118,148, Dixhoorn ed.).

      Thank you.

      • In the list of indifferent things in Ursinus’ Heidelberg Catechism on the 2nd commandment he includes “kneeling,” “reading in church,” and “forms of prayer” all of which were not found indifferent by the Presbyterians who helped write Westminster. And it’s the same with things like celebrating the evangelical holidays. (These are the holidays mentioned in the New Testament—Christmas, Christ’s Circumcision, and so forth.)

        What exactly is a necessary consequence of the 2nd Commandment seems to vary from church to church, and time to time, among the Reformed. No Christmas for Presbyterians from let’s say 1580 to 1910. Christmas for some Reformed churches on the Continent since the Reformation.

        As a rhetorical device, the regulative principle as a necessary consequence of the 2nd commandment has been used to defend an enormous number of preferences. Hence, the American Presbyterian Samuel Miller tells us in “Thoughts on Public Prayer”; “The posture of sitting in public prayer has no countenance either from Scripture, from reason, or from respectable usage” (127). It is “unscriptural, unseemly, and highly revolting” (129); he does allow the sick and infirm to sit “with bowed heads, and fixed countenances, as becomes persons reluctantly constrained to retain such an attitude” (128).

        Who decides the necessary consequences? It’s okay to sing the creed as long as the folks singing it believe its canonical? It’s acceptable for Ursinus’ church to have kneeling, but not in a Presbyterian church? Calvin says we can participate in non-idolatrous ceremonies like, well the Anglican Prayer Book, but Presbyterians are allowed to throw stools at the pastor using one? Unless of course, it was the Anglican Prayer book that Knox helped edit and then we start hearing about its temporary usage. Or in 1564 when the Book of Common Order of Geneva, including a liturgy, readings, and written prayers “was in extensive use in the Church of Scotland, under the Sanction of the General Assembly” (135). Musical instruments are forbidden in God’s church with the exception of a pitch pipe for the poor music leader that can’t start on the right note?

        The argument seems to be that times of reformation or necessity allow temporary violations of necessary consequences of the Second Commandment? A small violation of the 2nd Commandment is okay? But not something really evil? Will worship or self-made religion is acceptable in small doses if it’s the only church you can attend and you don’t enjoy it?

        Of course, I agree on the issue of necessary consequences. The problem is that we all have to bang out those consequences with greater and lesser surety in charity and wisdom.

        My point is that the regulative principle is a principle. It’s not a defined historical pattern of worship, and it creates a general uniformity and not an absolute one.

        • Shane,

          In the list of indifferent things in Ursinus’ Heidelberg Catechism on the 2nd commandment he includes “kneeling,” “reading in church,” and “forms of prayer” all of which were not found indifferent by the Presbyterians who helped write Westminster. And it’s the same with things like celebrating the evangelical holidays. (These are the holidays mentioned in the New Testament—Christmas, Christ’s Circumcision, and so forth.)

          In themselves (in se) posture is a circumstance but when it is imposed by an Anglican Bishop upon Presbyterians, and when the message of kneeling in that circumstance is adoration of the sacrament, then kneeling isn’t necessarily indifferent any more. History matters.

          What exactly is a necessary consequence of the 2nd Commandment seems to vary from church to church, and time to time, among the Reformed. No Christmas for Presbyterians from let’s say 1580 to 1910. Christmas for some Reformed churches on the Continent since the Reformation.

          Yes, there was some variety of practice in the classical period but one cannot appeal to the Modern period (post-18th century) to leverage the earlier, classical period, since the modern period has seen a gradual and virtual abandonment of the rule of worship in practice in the mainline and a significant weakening of its understanding and practice in the sidelines.

          Further, in the classical period, the variation was rather slight. None of them used instruments. Most all of them sang Psalms and most of them sang only Psalms. Remember, in Geneva there were only a couple of songs sang in the service at all. That was true beyond Geneva as well. The Scots, because of their circumstances, which weren’t shared by everyone else, rejected e.g., the use of the Creed in worship and some (e.g., Beza and a few others) argued for the use of New Testament texts. That’s about it. There’s not a wild variation among the churches from the 1550s forward until the 18th century when the Psalms began to be replaced by hymns. There was some struggle in the Dutch churches over the organ as the people and the Erasmian magistrates wanted them and the ministers didn’t. Eventually the ministers lost but that was poilitcs not polity.

          As a rhetorical device, the regulative principle as a necessary consequence of the 2nd commandment has been used to defend an enormous number of preferences. Hence, the American Presbyterian Samuel Miller tells us in “Thoughts on Public Prayer”; “The posture of sitting in public prayer has no countenance either from Scripture, from reason, or from respectable usage” (127). It is “unscriptural, unseemly, and highly revolting” (129); he does allow the sick and infirm to sit “with bowed heads, and fixed countenances, as becomes persons reluctantly constrained to retain such an attitude” (128).

          Miller isn’t the Directory for Public Worship. We don’t confess Miller. We’re not bound to Miller’s opinions, as respected as he rightly is. The DPW and the confessions are very consistent on the Rule of Worship.

          Who decides the necessary consequences? It’s okay to sing the creed as long as the folks singing it believe its canonical? It’s acceptable for Ursinus’ church to have kneeling, but not in a Presbyterian church? Calvin says we can participate in non-idolatrous ceremonies like, well the Anglican Prayer Book, but Presbyterians are allowed to throw stools at the pastor using one? Unless of course, it was the Anglican Prayer book that Knox helped edit and then we start hearing about its temporary usage. Or in 1564 when the Book of Common Order of Geneva, including a liturgy, readings, and written prayers “was in extensive use in the Church of Scotland, under the Sanction of the General Assembly” (135). Musical instruments are forbidden in God’s church with the exception of a pitch pipe for the poor music leader that can’t start on the right note?

          The churches decide these things on the basis of God’s Word. Calvin put up with the Anglicans temporarily in Frankfurt, in the midst of a nasty fight between the Anglicans, who rejected the rule of worship, and the Genevans, who fought for it. It was an expedience, a temporary measure, not a principle.

  2. An interesting historic note: in my facsimile copy of La Forme des Prieres published in Geneva in 1542 in Calvin’s time, in addition to 34 Psalms with music for singing there is the Song of Simeon from Luke 2, the Lord’s Prayer, the Apostles’ Creed and the Ten Commandments also with music for singing.

    • Denis,

      Yes, indeed. Bard Thompson, Liturgies, 191, confirms that the Genevan congregation (post 1541) recited or sang the creed as a summary of the Word. The liturgical function is to speak the Word, in this case an ecclesiastical summary of the Word. The question is with what words is the church authorized to respond to the Word? The Reformed consensus in that question was very strong: Scripture. Most of the time it was psalms but there was a minority view (which Beza held and with which I agree) that God has commanded us to sing the rest of Scripture.

      Kuyper’s point was to note that, as consequence of the influence of Modernism and liberalism, the Hervormde Kerk imposed hymns by brute force. He actually continued by arguing in favor of the singing of hymns—his reasoning is not persuasive. For my part, I’ve been arguing for the singing of all of Scripture. I’m not arguing for exclusive psalmody.

    • This says it so well, ” The question is with what words is the church authorized to respond to the Word. The Reformed consensus was very strong: Scripture.” The Word is the only truth by which He has ordained for us to know Him. “The Lord is near to all them that call on Him, to all that call on Him in truth.” Psalm 145: 18

  3. I was at an ordination in another Presbyterian denomination last night in which the chairman announced the hymn often attributed to Calvin, I greet thee who my sure Redeemer art etc. I’ve doubted the attribution myself but wonder if you have a current view on it.

    My view on psalms is similar to yours I think: The Reformers were for Scripture so in practice largely or exclusively psalms but not psalter only in principle.

  4. I have found that, when unable to sing along with hymns in a church, the fellowship tends to understand the explanation of conviction to singing His word alone.

  5. While the subject of what we sing in our churches may be a worthy argument for another time, we literally have Sodomites at the gates of some of the last vestiges of Bible believing churches here in America (Revoice Conference hosted by a PCA church!). Yet I have not seen any discussion or prophetic warning about this clear and present danger here on the Heidelblog. Could Dr. Clark please weigh in on this matter of urgency?

  6. I understand that you argue for exclusive singing of scripture in the church. And that singing hymns, even if they are theologically accurate and doctrinally pure, is wrong. What you must remember is that the words (letters and spaces) in our Bibles and the audible sounds that emanate from our voice boxes is not Scripture. The meaning of the written words is Scripture. The issue with translation is that meaning can be rightly understood using a variety of words and phrases as well as various sentence structures. Our English translations are a wonderful gift given to us by talented multi-linguists over the centuries but the fact of the matter is that what has been translated has been done so with a primary focus on the meaning of what was said in the original languages. Reading a literal word-for-word translation many times makes no sense to us English speakers and thus translators have sought to use words and phrases that we will understand, and rightly so, because it is the meaning of scripture that is scripture. All this to say that holding to the view that a certain English translation of the Bible is what we’re restricted to in our worship through song is committing the same error that the Pharisees made, namely that they completely missed what the object of the OT scriptures we’re pointing to, Jesus Christ. The object of our worship is a person, 3 persons actually, but one God. One can rightly communicate the meaning of scripture through words in a variety of beautiful, creative ways, making use of melodies and harmonic rhythms which God has given us not only the freedom and ability to enjoy, but the creativity we employ within the bounds of the Truth of the written word is actually a reflection of God’s glory in His creation. I assume you have no issue with confessions and creeds, or even catechisms. Those have been derived from scripture and have been used profusely within the church over the last 2 thousand years. What doctrine says that we can do that with non-musical worship, but we can’t do that with musical worship? When I use a catechism to instruct my children, I am no less worshipping God that when I am singing the Psalms to Him. When a Presbyterian minister uses a creed or confession as the basis for a part of his sermon, that is no less worship than the singing of Psalms. I do believe God dictates how we should worship Him – what does His word say? It says true worshippers must worship Him in spirit and truth. The truth of any Psalm or any verse in scripture can be restated in many ways and still convey the same meaning or even a slightly different facet of the same truth, especially when English words do not come close to the full meaning of the word(s) in the original language, which actually happens quite often – take the word ‘love’ for example.

    • Kevin,

      I think we are starting from different places. The Reformed churches confess what the ancient church called the “regula fidei” (rule of faith), which Calvin called the “rule of worship” and the “rule of faith.” It says that we may do in worship only what God commands. Few traditions follow this principle any more. The dominant principle today says that we may do what is not forbidden. These two principles lead to very different outcomes.

      Second, it is not a matter of what I’m against. It is a matter of what God has commanded. Period.

      Third, the ancient church followed this rule. There’s no evidence of orthodox Christians singing extra-canonical songs in the 2nd century. The only one’s doing so were the Gnostics. There’s not much evidence that the church did so in the 3rd century. Hymns didn’t really begin to flourish until the 4th century and even then the psalms still dominated. The Gregorian chants were the major blow to psalmody in the 7th century. Still, the church was a psalm-singing church for the most part until the 18th and 19th centuries. We live in the most psalmless age in the history of the church. We must be careful not to read our practice back into the history of the church.

      Fourth, the argument, “if we do P, then why can’t we do Q” is not very helpful since it begs the question and starts from the wrong principle. Again, the starting point is: has God commanded P? Has God commanded Q. We cannot assume P and then use that to leverage the church into doing Q.

      I’ve responded to this argument here:


      Fifth, we have positive evidence that the Apostle Paul taught the Corinthians to speak in a language the congregation can understand. Further, we know for a fact that the Apostles either translated (in some cases) portions of the OT into Greek or quoted the LXX in their work. We have positive warrant for translating God’s Word. The argument from translation is a non-starter.

      Sixth, who is arguing for a specific translation? I’m not.

      Seventh, I don’t think you’re accounting for the two parts of worship: elements and circumstances. Time, place, posture, language, and tunes—these are all circumstances dictated by nature. The elements of worship are two essentially, the Word (preached, read, made visible in the sacraments) and prayer (our response). Creeds and confessions are churchly summaries of God’s Word. If you’re offering a trade, i.e., if you’re offering to sing God’s Word if I’ll stop using creeds/confessions in church, I’ll take that trade. There have been more than a few Reformed folk who were uncertain enough the liturgical use of creeds/confessions in worship that they have not done it. I think there is positive warrant for them in Scripture, thus, were I planning a service I would confess the faith with a clear conscience before the Lord.

      8th, you also seem to assume that whatever the minister does the people may do. I doubt that. See the article above. God has instituted special offices in the church. We understand the minister of the Word to be a special office and it is his calling to lead worship. Ministers are authorized to pray on our behalf, to preach, etc. The congregation is not so authorized.

      The question here is what has God authorized the congregation to say in response to his Word? What we know certainly is that he has authorized us to use his sufficient Word to respond to his Word. We have no authorization in Scripture (see above) to respond to his Word with anything other than his Word no matter how well intentioned that offering may be.

      I hope this helps.

  7. A few thoughts: Calvin is very clear that “psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs,” are “under these three terms he [Paul] includes all kinds of songs. They are commonly distinguished in this way—that a psalm is that, in the singing of which musical instruments besides the tongue is made use of; a hymn is properly a song of praise, whether it be sung simply with the voice or otherwise; while an ode contains not merely praises, but exhortations and other matters.” (Commentary, Colossians 3:16). And he tells us in his comments on Ephesians 5:19, “What may be the exact difference between psalms and hymns, or between hymns and songs, it is not easy to determine.”

    Thus, it seems to some of the Reformed under the regulative principle that singing psalms (Scripture), hymns (uninspired Scripture truths), and spiritual songs is acceptable in church, because Paul lumps all three together. There are of course exegetes who come to the conclusion that psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs are just synonyms for psalms or Scripture, but that is not a necessary interpretation but rather probable. As Calvin notes “it is not easy to determine.” Probable thus allowing the godly to disagree on this issue and remain Reformed.

    I suppose there are also folks who argue that when Paul writes “psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs” he’s not talking about gathered worship services, but again this strikes me as probable rather than necessary.

    Second, the movement from the Continental understanding of the regulative principle to that of British Isle, only obey the commands of Scripture, was noted by Hooker and is supported by modern scholars like J. I. Packer and Oliver O’Donovan.

    Thus, Oliver O’Donnovan writes on Thomas Cartwright (1535-1603). “In their opposition to external eccleisastical forms (of liturgy, vestments, offices, and discipline) legislated by Elizabeth’s parliament of 1559, Cartwright and Travers repudiated Calvin’s notion of “things indifferent” (adiaphora), i.e., not regulated by God’s express law, which might be variably decided on other grounds by ecclesiastical authorities, including civil sovereigns. Instead they proposed the comprehensive regulation of Christian action by God’s revealed commands, either by his ‘particular’ commands or, in the case of apparently free action, by his ‘general’ commands. On the principle that particular commands elicit the more perfect obedience, Cartwright argued that the church’s ministries and discipline are, in all important respects, established by Christ’s particular directives, given in the speech and practice of the apostles and evangelists, as recorded in Acts and the Epistles: while ‘unspecified’ details of orders and ceremony, etc., are subject to Christ’s general directives delivered by St. Paul.” Oliver O’Donovan and Joan Lockwood O’Donovan, “From Irenaeus to Grotius: A Sourcebook in Christian Political Thought,” (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1999), 703.

    If O’Donovan, Hooker, and Packer are correct then, Calvin’s articulation of the regulative principle included obeying Scripture, doing that which is necessary to obey Scripture, and that which is indifferent. What is indifferent is both a case of wisdom and context.

    Which may explain why I am not aware of Calvin forbidding the singing of hymns (as distinguished from Scripture songs) in church. If he did make such a universal statement, I am delighted to be corrected.

    My point is there seems to be room among the Reformed understanding of the regulative principle and in our understanding of Scripture to allow good men and churches to hold to different understandings of using uninspired words in singing in the congregation.

    • Shane,

      1. I’m not arguing for exclusive Psalmody. The point that Kuyper was making here is that the Hervormde Kerk introduced hymns unlawfully. Kuyper, errantly in my view, goes on in this chapter, to argue for hymns.

      2. Calvin is not the norm. Scripture as confessed by the churches is the norm. The evidence is against Calvin on this. That said, Calvin did not sing uninspired songs (with the exception of the creed) in Geneva. They sang no hymns. The only change that happened after Calvin’s death was that Beza asked for and received permission to add NT passages to the psalms for singing.

      3. Appealing to Anglicans is a non-starter on this issue since they reject the rule of worship, i.e., we may do only what God commanded. On this point, the Anglicans were not Reformed. They were Lutheran.

      On Calvin’s theology and practice of worship see the essay, “Calvin’s Principle of Worship” in https://www.amazon.com/Tributes-John-Calvin-Celebration-Quincentenary/dp/1596380969

      His principle of worship was quite contrary to that of the Anglicans, as he made clear repeatedly.

    • John 4: 24 “God is Spirit. Those who worship Him must worship in spirit and in truth.” What does that mean but that we must worship Him by the inspired Word, which alone is God’s truth?

      • Angela, truth can be propositionally stated in a variety of ways, not just the ways in which the words are presented in a certain English translation of the Bible. For example, I can sing “Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so” and that would be a true song. And as I (or my children) sing that with our mind and affections directed towards our creator/savior, we would in fact be worshiping Him in spirit and truth. If I sing “A mighty fortress is our God, a bulwark never failing…” that too is a true statement affirmed in scripture. If I use a reformed catechism which is based on the word of God to instruct my children, then I am worshiping my creator by telling my children about Him. Singing is just one form of worship.

        I’ll make up a song right now that is also true – “Oh Lord, how short have I fallen of your glory. Yet that is not the end of the story. Your Son was sent from heaven on high, to the cross in my place where He died, that I might live to bring you glory, by being the object of your grace and mercy.”

        That song, though written by me, was based on and inspired by scriptural truth. Is there anything false in that song? No. Can I sing that as an expression of worship to my creator, sure! Nothing in scripture prohibits me from doing so. If you or anyone else can cite a scripture that prohibits me from singing that to my creator as an expression of worship, please reply with it. Don’t reply with what the reformers did, or what the early church did, or the fathers, etc. Show me a chapter and verse that prohibits me from singing a true song about my God.

        • Kevin,

          Where does Scripture positively forbid dancing naked during worship or slaughtering lambs? It doesn’t. See the problem with your approach?

            • Kevin,

              Here’s what Yahweh thinks about truth stated propositionally in different kinds of ways and unauthorized worship:

              Then Aaron lifted up his hands toward the people and blessed them, and he came down from offering the sin offering and the burnt offering and the peace offerings. And Moses and Aaron went into the tent of meeting, and when they came out they blessed the people, and the glory of Yahweh appeared to all the people. And fire came out from before Yahweh and consumed the burnt offering and the pieces of fat on the altar, and when all the people saw it, they shouted and fell on their faces. Now Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, each took his censer and put fire in it and laid incense on it and offered unauthorized fire before Yahweh, which he had not commanded them. And fire came out from before Yahweh and consumed them, and they died before Yahweh. Then Moses said to Aaron, “This is what Yahweh has said, ‘Among those who are near me I will be sanctified, and before all the people I will be glorified.’” And Aaron held his peace. And Moses called Mishael and Elzaphan, the sons of Uzziel the uncle of Aaron, and said to them, “Come near; carry your brothers away from the front of the sanctuary and out of the camp.” So they came near and carried them in their coats out of the camp, as Moses had said. And Moses said to Aaron and to Eleazar and Ithamar his sons, “Do not let the hair of your heads hang loose, and do not tear your clothes, lest you die, and wrath come upon all the congregation; but let your brothers, the whole house of Israel, bewail the burning that Yahweh has kindled. And do not go outside the entrance of the tent of meeting, lest you die, for the anointing oil of Yahweh is upon you.” And they did according to the word of Moses (Lev 9:22–10:7).

              Why is this passage here? To teach the Israelites and us the Lord’s stance toward unauthorized worship. This is why the early church taught “the rule of faith” and the Reformed taught “the rule of worship.”

              One more:

              David again gathered all the chosen men of Israel, thirty thousand. And David arose and went with all the people who were with him from Baale-judah to bring up from there the ark of God, which is called by the name of Yahweh of hosts who sits enthroned on the cherubim. And they carried the ark of God on a new cart and brought it out of the house of Abinadab, which was on the hill. And Uzzah and Ahio, the sons of Abinadab, were driving the new cart, with the ark of God, and Ahio went before the ark. And David and all the house of Israel were making merry before Yahweh, with songs and lyres and harps and tambourines and castanets and cymbals. And when they came to the threshing floor of Nacon, Uzzah put out his hand to the ark of God and took hold of it, for the oxen stumbled. And the anger of Yahweh was kindled against Uzzah, and God struck him down there because of his error, and he died there beside the ark of God. And David was angry because Yahweh had burst forth against Uzzah. And that place is called Perez-uzzah, to this day. And David was afraid of Yahweh that day, and he said, “How can the ark of Yahweh come to me?” So David was not willing to take the ark of Yahweh into the city of David. But David took it aside to the house of Obed-edom the Gittite. And the ark of Yahweh remained in the house of Obed-edom the Gittite three months, and Yahweh blessed Obed-edom and all his household (2 Sam 6:1–11).

              Uzzah meant well. Was it expressly forbidden for Uzzah to touch the ark? No but it was not expressly commanded or a necessary consequence of what Yahweh had said. Yahweh had said that only the Levites were to touch the ark. As one preacher said, Uzzah presumed that he his hands were more holy than the the earth. He meant well. It wasn’t expressly forbidden. What could go wrong? Oops.

              Has Yahweh changed?

              But a man named Ananias, with his wife Sapphira, sold a piece of property, and with his wife’s knowledge he kept back for himself some of the proceeds and brought only a part of it and laid it at the apostles’ feet. But Peter said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back for yourself part of the proceeds of the land? While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not at your disposal? Why is it that you have contrived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God.” When Ananias heard these words, he fell down and breathed his last. And great fear came upon all who heard of it. The young men rose and wrapped him up and carried him out and buried him. After an interval of about three hours his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. And Peter said to her, “Tell me whether you sold the land for so much.” And she said, “Yes, for so much.” But Peter said to her, “How is it that you have agreed together to test the Spirit of the Lord? Behold, the feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out.” Immediately she fell down at his feet and breathed her last. When the young men came in they found her dead, and they carried her out and buried her beside her husband. And great fear came upon the whole church and upon all who heard of these things (Acts 5:1–11; ESV).

              They lied to the Spirit of Yahweh (κυρίος is the LXX translation of Yahweh). The Lord is just as holy, just as dangerous as he was then. The rule of worship has not changed from OT to the NT because God has not changed.

              How do I know?

              Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died. But if we judged ourselves truly, we would not be judged. But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world. So then, my brothers, when you come together to eat, wait for one another—if anyone is hungry, let him eat at home—so that when you come together it will not be for judgment (1 Cor 11:27–34; ESV).

              Yahweh breaks out in judgment against false worship in the NT. He is still dangerous. He is still holy. God has instituted holy worship by positive command. Good intentions are not sufficient. “It is not forbidden” gets people killed in both the OT and the NT.

              That is why there is a rule of worship.

    • Shane,
      For one, Donovan Hooker and Packer are not correct.
      For the reformed, Scripture can command something either explicitly or implicitly (WCF 1:6).
      For Hooker/Anglicans/Lutherans what is implicit is indifferent.
      For example, there is no recognition of the good and necessary consequences of the Second Commandment, i.e. the Regulative Principle.
      Consequently their take on it could very well be skewed. Which it is.

      Two, Calvin counseled patience with the fooleries of Anglicanism, not approval.

      Three, we know what Calvin’s practice was and it wasn’t what advocates of uninspired song plump for.

      Four, the Septuagint, if not the Hebrew in the subtitles to the Psalms, refer to psalms, hymns and songs.

      The reformed understand a command is necessary to approve something for worship and they considered the presence of a Book of Inspired Hymns in the OT an implicit command to sing its songs.
      Arguably in the NT worship of God that means the Psalms are either sufficient, supplemented or replaced by either inspired or uninspired song if not both.
      Yet again the Anglican/Lutheran mischaracterizations/arguments don’t carry any water in the debate.

      • Bob, thank you for cordial comments: Please I am making the following arguments:

        The regulative principle believed and articulated by many British Isle Protestants, particularly the Presbyterians, was stricter than John Calvin and his contemporaries were using on Continent. The British Isle dumped things indifferent. I am not arguing for the Anglican system or the application. I merely noting the importance of the change in establishing what is the regulative principle. Is it what is command by Scripture, things necessary to obey Scripture, and what is indifferent? Or is it only what is command by Scripture?

        Implied and intertwined with what I have been arguing is that what things indifferent are is dependent on context and wisdom. It is no longer indifferent for me to wear a white powdered wig in the pulpit every Sunday. So, if we include the indifferent in our formulation of the regulative principle, we can expect change in the practice of the church.

        The exegesis of difficult passages of Scripture allows different interpretations and applications among the Reformed. Calvin identifies the passages including “psalm, hymns, and spiritual songs” as such a difficult passage. I have not expressed my understanding of this passage. But it seems to me that if Calvin finds it difficult we should be open to allowing multiple understandings within the analogy of the faith.

        The practice of any given historical church provides us information about their doctrine, but not their actual doctrine. So, I’ve preached out of the King James Bible, but this does not make me King James only. Thus, those who reject the evangelical holidays argue that while Calvin allowed the celebration of Christmas, he himself was against it. It appears to me that the practice of Reformed church leans towards psalms only until 1800s, but the formal doctrine is more open to other forms of singing in church than their practice may suggest.

        Therefore, the use of hymns and spiritual songs (in the modern sense) can be allowed in Reformed churches under the regulative principle for three reasons: the church decided that in wisdom it is better to use hymns than not to use hymns and songs, though they would prefer to use Scripture songs or psalms; the church has concluded that the Bible commands the singing of hymns and spiritual songs; the church finds hymns indifferent.

        So, what I am asking, and hope that this is what we are doing, is to have a charitable conversation about the relative wisdom and biblical accuracy of the Reformed churches application of Scripture and regulative principle.

        • Shane,

          The evidence does not support your claim “The regulative principle believed and articulated by many British Isle Protestants, particularly the Presbyterians, was stricter than John Calvin and his contemporaries were using on Continent.” Please take a look at the article to which I pointed you. I began my research thinking that something like what you claim might be true. I did the work after writing Recovering the Reformed Confession and wanted to fill in the story a bit on Calvin. For the project I spent a lot of time in original sources and my conclusion came as a surprise to me and this after reading Calvin for more than 30 years. The fact is that Calvin’s principle of worship was identical to that the Westminster Divines.

          Their circumstances were different. Their place in history was different—1564 is not 1644. Those factors led to somewhat different outcomes. Given those differences the similarity between the Directory of Public Worship, written and endorsed by the Assembly, which was composed of Anglicans, Presbyterians, and Congregationalists, and Calvin’s approach is quite striking. Further, the British Reformed were well read in Calvin and thought of themselves as following the very same principle.

          I’m not going to reproduce the article here so I’ll leave you get it and read it for yourself.

          As to Calvin on “psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs he wrote:

          Psalms, hymns. He does not restrict the word of Christ to these particular departments, but rather intimates that all our communications should be adapted to edification, that even those which tend to hilarity may have no empty savour. “Leave to unbelievers that foolish delight which they take from ludicrous and frivolous jests and witticisms; and let your communications, not merely those that are grave, but those also that are joyful and exhilarating, contain something profitable. In place of their obscene, or at least barely modest and decent songs, it becomes you to make use of hymns and songs that sound forth God’s praise.” Farther, under these three terms he includes all kinds of songs. They are commonly distinguished in this way—that a psalm is that, in the singing of which some musical instrument besides the tongue is made use of: a hymn is properly a song of praise, whether it be sung simply with the voice or otherwise; while an ode contains not merely praises, but exhortations and other matters. He would have the songs of Christians, however, to be spiritual, not made up of frivolities and worthless trifles. For this has a connection with his argument (Commentary on Philippians, Colossians, & 1 & 2 Thess on Col 3;16).

          He gave a simple, generic account of the distinction but he gave no warrant for non-canonical songs from the passage. I think you’ve made more of it than the passage warrants. We know with certainty what Calvin thought about the value of the psalms and how superior they were to non-canonical songs. We also know that in the Strasbourg and Genevan liturgies they sang NT songs. The single non-canonical song they sang was the Creed, which I’ve already explained. Further, the Creed is something of a special case since it had almost a quasi-canonical authority. They knew by the 16th-century that each of the apostles had not actually written each article or at least they conceded that we could not be certain about it but they thought of the Creed as being substantially Apostolic teaching and so closely connected to the Apostles that it was practically canonical. By the mid-17th century, there had been more work on the Creed and the study of Patristrics had developed (led by the Reformed) and they were a little clearer on the development of the Creed.

          On the rule of worship, I don’t think you quite grasp how the principle works. E.g., you don’t seem to understand the difference between elements and circumstances. A white powdered wig is a circumstance. The singing of God’s Word in response to his Word is an element. A circumstance is determined, as the Divines said, “by the light of nature.” An element is not.

          Here is an explanation of the difference:


          The Reformed churches did not merely ‘lean toward” the Psalms. They translated the Psalms. They produced Psalters. They sang the Psalms in public worship and private worship. When our people were taken to the flames in France by the Papists they sang Psalms on the way to the flames (typically Ps 68). They sang them until the Papists cut out their tongues to stop them from singing God’s Word.

          Finally, your conclusion only follows from the normative principle and on the assumption that the meaning of Col 3 and Eph 5 is vague. It is not. We know what those terms mean. They come right out of the Psalms in the LXX. It’s not a mystery. I don’t grant your premises. Therefore I reject your conclusion.

          Shane, what you should do is simply admit that you don’t accept the rule of worship. I understand but it won’t do to change the rule. As the football coaches everywhere say, “it is what it is.”

    • Thanks for yours Shane, but while I can appreciate the desire for a charitable discussion of the issues, I am still confused. Not only by your first paragraph, but as how you would define the Regulative Principle – which at least according to the 3 Forms/Westminster – essentially is the good and necessary consequences of the Second Commandment. This in that John Frame and his Worship Children, such as Schlissel and Jordan, have repeatedly stated that the Second Commandment only forbids idolatry, nothing more. That the Scripture can command something implicitly or by approved example is a no show in their survey of the question.

      Two, consequently these pied pipers have poisoned the well and nobody can really tell us what the RPW is confessionally speaking. The modern P&R church then parrots the party line and tells us us that the RPW is legalistic and there’s lots of room to wiggle.

      Well maybe, but an argument is needed instead of either mischaracterization or ignorance of the RPW. Which by default ends up where? By concluding (?) hymnsinging is indifferent”.

      Only singing is commanded, but singing sound doctrine is the same as singing Scripture, which because the latter is translated, it is not really the Word of God and so on and so forth. (Where do we go from here or end up? In the beginning was the Thought of God? The Sacrament? Just how subjective to we want to be?)

      Again, Donovan, Hooker and Packer are not the way to introduce a discussion about reformed differences over the RPW and its application.

      Thank you.

  8. Kevin,
    The difference is that the Scripture is THE truth. John 17: 17 “sanctify them through thy Word, thy Word is truth.” Your song might be about the truth and it might even accord with the truth but it is not Scripture, the inspired Word, because it is not written by the direct inspiration of the Spirit. The only sure truth is the actual Word of God, inspired by the Holy Spirit. It is exclusively the truth, as the actual Word of God, that comes directly from God. Nothing besides Scripture can make that claim. As Jesus said to the woman at the well, we must worship God through His Word, which is the truth.

    • There are different ways of talking about truth. But when it comes to the knowledge of God, the only reliable, true source of information is the Word, that actually comes from God Himself. His Word is THE truth according to Jesus, when it comes to our sanctification, which certainly includes our worship. When we sing to God in worship, we are responding to His Word in the formal assembly of the church where we are to worship in spirit and in truth. As Jesus said, thy Word is truth. John 17: 17

  9. Dr. Clark,
    I’m not sure I understand what you mean in saying “The rule of worship has not changed.” Obviously you are not advocating for Levites to lead congregational singing. Moreover, the examples of Nadab, Abihu, and Uzzah are in some ways moot because we no longer have a tabernacle or Ark. Can you describe how you would distinguish between the unchanging rule of worship and the types & shadows which have passed?

    • Hi Don,

      The rule is not “offer goats etc.” The rule is that we may do in worship only what God has commanded. God has not changed (Mal 3:6-7). Under types and shadows we offered blood because it was commanded. Jesus Christ is the same, yesterday, today, and forever” (Heb 13:8). Uzzah et al are still instructive precisely and only because the rule is the rule. We do not sacrifice bulls and goats because Christ has fulfilled the types (illustrations) and foreshadows but it’s clear from Acts and 1 Corinthians that God is still holy and that we may worship him only as he has commanded. Under the NT we do not offer blood because Christ is the lamb of God, the temple, and our High Priest. This is the argument of Hebrews but it also says:

      See that you do not refuse him who is speaking. For if they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less will we escape if we reject him who warns from heaven. At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, “Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.” This phrase, “Yet once more,” indicates the removal of things that are shaken—that is, things that have been made—in order that the things that cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire (Heb 12:25-29).

      If we didn’t know that this passage was from Hebrews we might think it was from Leviticus or one of the minor prophets. We worship God with reverence and awe (and not with “Like a Sloppy Wet Kiss“) because God was holy, is holy, and shall be holy.

      He shall be worshiped as he has commanded and in no other way.

    • Sorry, I was probably not very specific. My question was not about the blood of bulls and goats, or of dietary restrictions, which are clearly addressed in, e.g., Hebrews and Acts 10. God has not changed, of course, but some of God’s commands have changed, or rather, some of them have run their course and expired. Discerning what is a type & shadow and what is still in force is not quite so easy as determining what commands are explicitly repeated in the New Testament; that’s what I was trying to ask.

      • Hi Don,

        I don’t think I disagree with what you’re saying so far so you’ll have to be a little more explicit to help me understand what the question is. I guess that you are assuming something (or things) that you’re not stating explicitly. What are you assuming as you ask the question? Perhaps that will help us understand each other?

    • Just a thought from the peanut gallery, so to speak, that may be over simplified. I take it that all that was typological of Christ in the old covenant administration of the covenant of Grace, under Moses has served its purpose, and has been abrogated because the type has given way to the reality. The temple and all of the Mosaic ceremonies were a type of the incarnate body of Christ, so they have become obsolete, and have passed away with the coming of Christ. In fact to cling to them is tantamount to a denial that Jesus is the Messiah, the One those types pointed to has come! That is what I understand as the message of the book of Hebrews. So we look to what is commanded explicitly, and by example, by Jesus and the apostles. The administration of the covenant has changed to reflect the reality, but the adminstration is always according to what God commands in His Word.

    • Somehow I erased the main thing I wanted to say in my reply, which was that I was not catching the distinction between your use of “rule” and “command” so I appreciate your clarifying response.

      Beyond that, I was wondering how to distinguish what is a type&shadow vs abiding command. Some of that has been covered pretty thoroughly here already, e.g., keeping the Sabbath vs. use of instruments in worship, and maybe it’s wandering too far from the main topic of this post.

    • My understanding is that the rule is what we call the regulative principle, that we shall do nothing that that God does not specifically command, or that what once was commanded and has since been abrogated. Rule is the general principle, commands are the instructions or examples for specific practices. Circumcision of the flesh, as the initiation into the covenant, has been abrogated, but infant initiation of the children of believers has not been abrogated since the baptism of households is still practiced by the apostles, and nowhere are we instructed to stop the practice. Jesus instructed us on the celebration of the Lord’s Supper. The temple and those practices that were part of the ceremonies are obsolete as Hebrews tells us. That is why the use of musical instruments, in our worship, which were part of the ceremonies, seems questionable, to say the least, especially since there is no example of them being used in the worship of the apostles. Jesus said we must worship in spirit and in truth and in John 17: 17 he says the Word is truth, so our worship should be by responding to the reading and preaching of the Word, with the Word. And so we should judge any worship practice by the rule of the regulative principle, that it must be commanded by the Word specifically or by example, and that it has not been abrogated by God’s by the Word, specifically, or by the practice of the apostles.

      • Angela – according to your own logic, the use of musical instruments was exampled for us by King David and King Hezekiah and nowhere in scripture is it abrogated, even in the New Testament. Therefore, musical instruments are not off limits in the NT church, or in private worship at home.

        David worshiped the LORD with instruments outside of the commands around temple worship. He was a man after God’s own heart and his example doesn’t somehow become null in the NT church.

        2 Samuel 6:5 ESV – And David and all the house of Israel were celebrating before the LORD, with songs and lyres and harps and tambourines and castanets and cymbals.

        Psalm 101:1 ESV – A Psalm of David. I will sing of steadfast love and justice; to you, O LORD, I will make music.

        Isaiah 38:20 ESV – The LORD will save me, and we will play my music on stringed instruments all the days of our lives, at the house of the LORD.

        Psalm 33:2-3 ESV – Give thanks to the LORD with the lyre; make melody to him with the harp of ten strings! Sing to him a new song; play skillfully on the strings, with loud shouts.

        Psalm 150:4 ESV – Praise him with tambourine and dance; praise him with strings and pipe!

        • Kevin,

          Your appeal to these passages was refuted in the 2nd century and again in the 13th century (Aquinas called your interpretation “Judaizing”) and again in the Reformation. See these resources.

  10. All your quotes are from the OT where the use of musical instruments was the command of God as temple worship. In the NT the temple practices have become obsolete and that includes the use of musical instruments used in the ceremonies that went with animal sacrifices which are abrogated in the new covenant. So the use of musical instruments is also abrogated. Also if the use of musical instruments was still a feature of worship in the new covenant, you would expect some mention of their use in the worship of the apostles, but that is simply not the case.

    • I just said that David used instruments OUTSIDE OF THE COMMANDS around temple worship. He used them publicly and privately in his worship of God. Your comment around new covenant worship is an argument from silence, which is not enough to condemn people of God who use instruments in their worship today.

    • If you want to sing praise songs with instrumental accompaniment, in private that is a separate issue. The regulative principle concerns what we do in formal worship in the assembly of the church. There we are to do only what is commanded, and there is no command to use musical instruments. The temple sacrifices used musical instruments as part of the ceremonies for animal sacrifices. Since the animal sacrifices have been abrogated, so are the ceremonies that went along with them, and the instruments that were played in those ceremonies. That is why they are abrogated.

      The regulative principle is about what God tells us in His Word, by prescription or example what we are to do. There is no command or example of musical instruments used in apostolic worship.

      You are using an argument from silence, insisting that since musical instruments ate not forbidden they may be used. Well, then how about dancing naked in the church, that is not specifically forbidden either! I am not arguing from silence, but from the actual commands and practice shown in the Word.

    • What I think needs to be remembered is that in worship we are to worship God, to praise Him and glorify His name. Should it not be according to the instructions He gives in His Word? That is what the regulative principle is designed show. It comes as as shock to understand that In the new covenant musical instruments are no longer used because they were part of the Mosaic ceremonies involving animal sacrifices which have been abrogated, and there are no commands to use them in the new covenant nor are there any mentions of them being used by the apostles. I found this shocking when I realised that it is the case, but in the interest of pleasing God rather than ourselves, I came to the conclusion that the regulative principle is necessary to define the proper way to worship God for His glory.

  11. Dr. Clark, I understand your position about instruments but I’m not sure I understand Calvin’s anymore. Above, you quoted him, “a psalm is that, in the singing of which some musical instrument besides the tongue is made use of.” Does this mean that by definition (Calvin’s definition, at least), psalms should be accompanied? Maybe more importantly, he says that “under these three terms he [Paul] includes all kinds of songs,” which I suppose is not limited either to Scripture or the 150. So I’m starting to wonder if to Calvin, this passage is a general teaching that our communication should generally be “joyful and exhilarating” but it is not a particular instruction on worship services?

    • Don,

      Calvin was speaking in purely historical terms. The point is that he didn’t say what was being attributed to him. We know what Calvin’s view of instruments was. I’ve documented here repeatedly and in the article to which I’ve been pointing readers. There are several posts here with quotations from Calvin on instruments.


      Following the ancient church, which universally and explicitly rejected the use of instruments in worship, he and all the Reformed churches rejected their use as a type and shadow of the Old Testament. They were a part of the Levitical system (see 2 Chron 29). The same Levitical priests who slaughtered lambs and goats also played musical instruments as part of OT worship. That’s why the 16th and 17th century Reformed churches removed instruments from their buildings and returned the apostolic and ancient Christian practice of singing God’s Word a Capella.

      So, no, the Psalms should be accompanied.

      No, the Genevan churches, apart from the Creed, did not sing uninspired songs. As I’ve explained, they tended to regard the Creed as quasi-apostolic. By the 17th century we had a clearer understanding of the development of the Creed. Not all the Reformed churches sang or used the Creed in public worship. The Reformed consensus came to be that “Psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs” are three three types of psalms since Paul took those terms from the headings in the LXX, the Greek translation of the OT. See this explanation.


      Calvin was trying to give a fairly straightforward historical account of psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs but he wasn’t justifying the use of non-canonical hymns in worship.

  12. Wilhelmus à Brakel in his The Christian’s Reasonable Service Vol 4 in
    Soteriology: The Doctrine of Salvation Ch 79. Singing Spiritual Songs
    under the section : Other Spiritual Songs in Addition to the Psalms

    ” The decision of the Dutch Synods has been very correct indeed, namely,
    that none other but the Psalms of David are to be used in the churches. ”

    obviously David did not write the whole of the Book of Psalms, but his
    name is attached to the whole by way of honour, eminence & custom,
    neither are they just a book of psalms, psalms & psalms as some would
    have it, but a part is named for the whole, as their titles would indicate
    that they are psalms, hymns & spiritual songs or known by one or more
    of these titles, for the hebrews referred to the whole as a book of hymns.

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