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The Glorious Psalms (2)

By Rev. James Gracie

This Editorial was published in the Presbyterian Standard, Issue No. 25, January-March 2002.

IS THE Psalter a sufficient manual with which to praise God? The question is not whether or not the Psalter should be used exclusively. We believe it should. But that is an altogether broader question and one that we leave for another day. The question addressed here is can it be used exclusively? Is it possible for the Psalter to provide sufficient material for the New Testament believer, or do we by necessity require something more?

This issue of the Presbyterian Standard carries a review of the recent offering by Rev. Iain Murray on the subject of exclusive psalmody (page 4). Within the review, Rev. Brian Garrard states, "To argue that the Psalter is insufficient as a manual for Christian and Gospel praise is to reveal a deep ignorance of the Psalms contents." But are the Psalms sufficient for the public worship of God?

Sufficiency of Scripture

To argue that the Psalter is insufficient for true worship is to say that God has left His Church with a grave deficiency. The singing of praise occupies a very significant part of the worship of God. Both the Old and New Testaments acknowledge this: "While I live will I praise the LORD: I will sing praises unto my God while I have any being" (Ps 146:2); "Praise ye the LORD: for it is good to sing praises unto our God; for it is pleasant; and praise is comely" (Ps 147:1); "Is any merry? let him sing psalms." (James 5:13)

The sufficiency of the Scriptures can be seen in a number of areas. How can a young man learn to purify his way? "By taking heed thereto according to thy word" (Ps. 119:9). The Psalmist hid the Word of the LORD in his heart, meditated upon it, learned it, declared it with his mouth, rejoiced and delighted in it more than all riches, and would not forget it (Ps.119:11-16). It was a lamp unto his feet and a light unto his path (Ps.119:105). Its entrance gives light and understanding to the simple (Ps 119:130). And Job esteemed it even more than his necessary food (Job 23:12).

Perhaps the one most significant fact of all is that The Word alone has a Divine promise accompanying it: it alone is said to be "able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus" (2 Tim. 3:15). No hymn can claim this promise for itself. The Apostle continues, "All Scripture....is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works" (2 Tim 3:16,17). So far as worship is concerned, the Word is to be preached in season and out of season (2 Tim.4:2). And it is Christ crucified that is to be preached, "That no flesh should glory in his presence." (1 Cor.1:29)

The Word is therefore sufficient in all these areas of public and private life. Yet in one area we are to believe there is a deficiency: God has left his Church with no sufficient manual by which to praise His blessed Name. The Word can accomplish much; but not this. The man of God may be throughly furnished for every good work by the divinely inspired Word; except, of course, for one of the most important good works possible - the singing of His praises. Furthermore, man must make up this deficiency himself. We must add the compositions of men to the Psalms of God in order to compensate for their deficiency. What an opportunity for flesh to glory in His presence!

Contrary to this view, the compilers of the great Confessions of a past age recognised the all-sufficiency of the Scriptures. The Westminster Confession of Faith addresses the subject of adding man-made compositions to Holy Writ when it addresses the subject of the Apocrypha: "The Books commonly called Apocrypha, not being of divine inspiration, are no part of the canon of the Scripture; and therefore are of no authority in the Church of God, nor to be any otherwise approved, or made use of, than other human writings." (W.C.F. 1.ii) Mere human writings were not to replace the divinely inspired Word. How many professedly 'Reformed Churches' would replace the Scripture in the pulpit with the Apocrypha (or for that matter John Owen, Turretin, Charnock etc.)? Yet many are willing to argue otherwise when it comes to the Psalms. They are willing to replace God's Word with manmade compositions.

Can we really accept such an open attack upon the sufficiency of God's Holy Word? We believe it robs God of His glory, impugns the integrity of Holy Writ, is injurious to the body of Christ in that it is divisive and is not conducive to the edification of believers. It also betrays a deep ignorance of the Psalms contents.


When one examines the spiritual and theological content of the Psalms one finds that, rather than there being any deficiency within them, there is an evident all-sufficiency that should see an end to all disputation.

1. The Doctrine of God

(a) The Trinity - in common with many other parts of the Old Testament, the Psalms reveal the truth concerning the three Persons of the Trinity. For example, the words at the beginning of Psalm 110, "The LORD said unto my Lord, Sit thou at my right hand…" These are the words of Jehovah the Father to his Son the Messiah; words spoken in his eternal purpose and decree when he foreordained him to be the Redeemer; and in the council and covenant of peace, when he promised him this glory as the reward of his sufferings.

The work of the Third Person of the Trinity is clearly recounted in Psalm 51:11-12; "Cast me not away from thy presence; and take not thy Holy Spirit from me. Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation; and uphold me with thy free spirit." In Psalm 143, the Holy Spirit is described as being 'good' and is associated with the Word and will of the Father. He leads the believer 'into the land of uprightness' (v.13).

(b) God's Self-Revelation - Psalm 19 informs us that revelation is twofold: (i) Revelation of God in nature unto all; "The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handywork" One day utters speech to the next, and one night teaches its successor these truths. (ii) In His Word unto His own beloved Israel. It is the law of the LORD that is perfect 'converting the soul'. It is the testimony of the LORD that is sure, "making wise the simple".

Psalm 19 is almost a synopsis of what the Apostle Paul later speaks of in the first chapter to the Romans: "For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made..."(v.20). "I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth" (v.16).

(c) The Attributes of God - the Psalms described every attribute in the most exquisite and incomparable way: His sovereignty (24:1-5), His holiness (93 and 99), His power (46 and 121), His omnipresence (139), His majesty (8), His faithfulness (119:89-94), His Judgement (1; 82) and His mercy (189:1-5).

When speaking of the Holy Scripture, the Westminster Confession refers to the heavenliness of the matter, the majesty of the style, the scope of the whole (to give all glory to God) and the entire perfection thereof. This description refers equally to Psalms as it does to the rest of Scripture. However, it cannot be applied to hymns. Could any hymn-writer aspire to such high and lofty language as, "The LORD reigneth; let the people tremble: he sitteth between the cherubims; let the earth be moved. The LORD is great in Zion; and he is high above all the people. Let them praise thy great and terrible name; for it is holy" (Ps. 99:1)?

(d) God as Creator/Sustainer - with what descriptive majesty the Psalmist narrates this. He embraces the two extreme parts of the world, the northern and southern hemispheres, whether inhabited or uninhabited, and declares them to be created by the Almighty: "The north and the south thou hast created them…Thou hast a mighty arm." (Ps.89:12-13) The elements - fire, hail, snow, vapour, stormy wind - are but fulfilling His Word. The mountains are his (Ps. 148).

So far as His decrees are concerned, "The LORD bringeth the counsel of the heathen to nought: he maketh the devices of the people of none effect. The counsel of the LORD standeth for ever, the thoughts of his heart to all generations" (Ps. 33:10-11). The idea that God started everything and then stepped back to allow some mythical person known as 'mother nature' take over is alien to the Psalmist. "LORD, what is man, that thou takest knowledge of him! or the son of man, that thou makest account of him!" (Ps. 144:3). God takes knowledge of man in Providence and grace.

To be Continued (D.V.)