The Great Debate: Psalms vs. Hymns II

(From the NTJ, Jan. 1997)

From: Glenn Morangie
To: T. Glen Livet
Date: 9/3/96 11:10am
Subject: Psalmody -Reply

Thanks for the response. This is surely better, but I am still uneasy about the compositions of men. Which means I think the inspired words of God are a pretty good way of singing praise to him. Is there any better?

Now of course, versifications are not inspired, which might be an argument for chanting psalms or any other hymn that is part of the canon, like the Magnificat, Nunc Dimitis, i.e. those NT hymns Calvin included in worship. But neither are translations of the Bible inspired and we don’t seem to object to their use in public worship. We wouldn’t read Chuck Colson’s thoughts about Eph. 1 instead of reading the Word. We probably wouldn’t read Colson at all. And in my book, his writings are no better or worse than Isaac Watts’.

In sum, I find it a very different thing to sing the composition of an author who has sat down and composed five verses based on a passage of Scripture or a particular doctrine, than to sing words that closely parallel the words of Scripture and use them as forms of prayer and praise. And this, I believe fits with Terry Johnson’s argument in his new book. If the Reformed tradition has made the Word central to worship, why not make it central to our singing as well?

So I guess I am not an exclusive psalmodist and, therefore, able to take the Lord’s Supper at your church (since I am not advancing sin). But I think exclusive psalmodists’ instincts to be on the whole admirable.

And what do you do with our standards? Don’t they need to be revised and don’t we need to say that the early Reformers were wrong and show why?

Unpersuadedly yours,


From: T. Glen Livet
To: Glenn Morangie
Date: 9/3/96 1:36pm
Subject: Psalmody -Reply

Our Reformed worship is not in fact centered on the Word. Reformed worship is dialogical; God speaks to us and we speak to him. In Word and Sacrament, God speaks to us; in prayer and praise, we speak to him. Thus, the rules governing the singing of praise are essentially the same as those governing prayer; the words should be faithful to the scriptures, according with biblical truth (including emphasizing what scripture emphasizes), but they need not be restricted to inspired words. For instance, how could we ever pray for Mrs. Jones, dying of cancer, using the language of scripture?

Indeed, as regards the sermon, the matter becomes even more pointed, doesn’t it? In preaching, God speaks to his people. Yet, we do not limit the sermon to a reading of canonical scripture, but we entrust this grave responsibility to men who are orthodox and of good judgment. If we entrust uninspired men to speak God’s Word to us, we can as easily trust uninspired men to speak our words to God.

I agree with you that the instincts of the exclusive psalmist position are largely admirable, especially in light of the poor quality of much hymnody. On the other hand, an instinct that denigrates praise being offered explicitly to the Second Person of the Trinity is not entirely noble.


2 thoughts on “The Great Debate: Psalms vs. Hymns II

  1. Our Reformed worship is not in fact centered on the Word.

    Well, Glen speaks for himself. Real Reformed Worship is centered on the Word. His conclusion in the “Thus, the rules governing…” is in violation of WCF 21, which clearly distinguishes prayer from singing. However, what he says really does betray his real purpose. He wants to throw off the easy yoke of Christ, the Word of God, and do worship his way.

    On the other hand, an instinct that denigrates praise being offered explicitly to the Second Person of the Trinity is not entirely noble.

    That would be just lovely if it weren’t for the fact that the Second Person of the Trinity, didn’t ask for such praise. His burden is easy and his yoke is light, but too heavy for Glen. Glen then falls into the sin of calling good evil, when he says EP is not entirely noble. Plus his position is based on the false premise that the Psalms are not offered explicitly to the Second Person of the Trinity. The Psalms when sung with grace in the heart are sung to God, the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost (WCF 21:2) the second Person of the Trinity is not excluded.

    Just because what one calls praise if offered to God or to any of the persons of the Trinity doesn’t mean such is actually countenanced by God. Saul was going to offer the sheep of the Amalekites, but according to Glen, Samuel was not entirely noble in denigrating it. The worship at the calves in Dan and Bethel was denigrated by the man of God. The scriptures continually denigrate that worship, with the constant repeating of the phrase “did not depart from sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat that made Israel to sin” when condemning the Kings of Israel. Glen errs knowing neither the WCF nor the scriptures.


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