The Worship of God

More articles in this collection from past issues of the Presbyterian Standard are available online here.

A Puritan Preface

to the 1650 Metrical Psalter

Below is the text (with some modernisation of spelling and punctuation) of a letter to the reader affixed to an edition of the 1650 Scottish Metrical Psalter printed for the Company of Stationers at London in 1673. The title page bears the words: "THE PSALMS OF DAVID In Meeter. Newly Translated and diligently compared with the Original Text, and former Translations: More plain, smooth and agreeable to the Text, than any heretofore. "

There are several points of interest. The twenty-six signatories make up a small galaxy of English Puritan divines: Edmund Calamy is a link with the Westminster Assembly of 1643, which did such sterling work in preparing what became the 1650 Psalter; the names indicate that psalm-singing is by no means an exclusively Presbyterian heritage, for Episcopalians (Calamy) and Congregationalists (Owen) are represented here. We also note the decided opinion of these men that the disputed phrase "psalms and hymns and spiritual songs" is a reference to the Scripture Psalter.

This article was published in the Presbyterian Standard, Issue No. 9, January-March 1998.

"Good Reader,

'T IS evident by the common experience of mankind, that love cannot lie idle in the Soul; For every one hath his oblectation (way of enjoyment) and delight, his tastes and relishes are suitable to his constitution, and a man's temper is more discovered by his solaces than by any thing else: Carnal men delight in what is suited to the gust (taste) of the flesh, and Spiritual Men in the things of the Spirit; The promises of God's holy Covenant, which are to others as stale news or withered flowers, feed the pleasure of their minds; and the Mysteries of our Redemption by Christ are their hearts' delight and comfort: But as joy must have a proper object so also a vent : for this is an affection that cannot be penned up: the usual issue and out-going of it is by singing : Profane spirits must have Songs suitable to their mirth; as their mirth is Carnal so their Songs are vain and frothy, if not filthy and obscene ; but they that rejoice in the Lord, their mirth runneth in a spiritual channel: Is any merry let him sing Psalms, saith the Apostle, James 5.13. And, Thy statutes have been my songs in the house of my pilgrimage, saith holy David, Psa. 119.54. Surely singing, 'tis a delectable way of instruction, as common prudence will teach us. Aelian ( Nat. Hist., book 2, ch.39 ) telleth us that the Cretians enjoined their Children, To learn their Laws by singing them in verse. And surely singing of Psalms is a duty of such comfort and profit, that it needeth not our recommendation: The new nature is instead of all arguments, which cannot be without thy spiritual solace. Now though spiritual songs of mere human composure may have their use, yet our devotion is best secured, where the matter and words are of immediately Divine inspiration; and to us David's Psalms seem plainly intended by those terms of Psalms and Hymns and Spiritual Songs, which the Apostle useth, Ephes. 5.19, Col. 3.16. But then 'tis meet that these Divine composures should be represented to us in a fit translation, lest we want David, in David ; while his holy ecstasies are delivered in a flat and bald expression. The translation which is now put into thy hands cometh nearest to the Original of any that we have seen, and runneth with such a fluent sweetness, that we thought fit to recommend it to thy Christian acceptance; Some of us having used it already, with great comfort and satisfaction."

Thomas Manton, D.D.
Henry Langley, D.D.
John Owen, D.D.
William Jenkyn.
James Innes.
Thomas Watson.
Thomas Lye.
Matthew Poole.
John Milward.
John Chester.
George Cokayn.
Matthew Meade.
Robert Francklin.
Thomas Dooelittle.
Thomas Vincent.
Nathanael Vincent.
John Ryther.
William Tomson.
Nicolas Blakie.
Charles Morton.
Edmund Calamy.
William Carslake.
James Janeway.
John Hickes.
John Baker.
Richard Mayo.