The Worship of God

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

Treasure in the Field

by Rev. William Balfour

A common objection to the use of the Psalms alone in worship is that the revelation of Christ which they contain is too dim for believers dwelling in New Testament light. In this extract from "The Psalms versus Hymns in the Service of the Sanctuary " published in 1881 William Balfour shows this to be a fallacy. The author was then minister of Holyrood Free Church, Edinburgh, and a leader of the Constitutionalists, being a staunch defender of the Confession of Faith against attempts to dilute its Calvinistic teaching.

This article was published in the Presbyterian Standard, Issue No. 15, July-September 1999.

I T is urged against the exclusive use of the Psalms, and in favour of hymns, that it is desirable to have material for public praise in which the name and work of Christ, and the Holy Spirit, and the Christian privilege of sonship, are brought more prominently and distinctly forward than, it is alleged, they are or could be in the Psalms, written, as they were, so long before the coming of Christ and the sending of the Spirit. This seems a very plausible and unanswerable argument. I shall not deal with it as urged by some who profess not to be able to find Christ or the Holy Spirit in the Psalms. It is enough to reply to such men, the want is not in the Psalms, but in themselves. If Christ and His Spirit dwelt richly in their own hearts, they could not fail to find them in those Psalms which the Spirit of Christ indited, and in which Christ, if we may so say, found Himself, when He expounded to His disciples the things concerning Himself in the Psalms. But there are those who allow that the name and work of Christ, the Holy Spirit, and the sonship of believers, are found in the Psalms; only they do not come so much to the surface, so to speak, as they do in what they term good Gospel hymns.

Well, we allow there is a difference, and a very great difference, but it is altogether in favour of the Psalms. Of course it all depends upon what men are seeking after. If it is to have allusion made to those glorious truths always in so many words in the praise of the sanctuary, you have this done, certainly, in a way in the hymns which you have not in the Psalms. But if what is sought is, that the soul, in the faith of those truths, should ascend in praise to God, then I maintain that you are shut up to this in the Psalms in a way which you are not and cannot be in the hymns.

In order to sing the Psalms intelligently and with edification, you are shut up to those truths in their reality - to the personal Christ and Spirit, and to the experience of sonship, which is the fruit of their gracious work, in a way which does not necessarily attend the singing of hymns where these truths, it may be, are expressed in so many words. Many are too apt to imagine that they have got the thing, when they sing the hymn in which it is named.

It is no valid objection to the Psalms, in my opinion, that these truths are not brought before us in the same way as in hymns. The question is, Are they there? If we are sure of that, as we certainly are, then it must be our own fault if we do not find them. We must have failed to get into the spirit of the Psalm; and if so, the remedy is not to be found in providing a hymn or hymns in which mention is made of these truths, in so many words, but rather in seeking the Spirit of adoption, without whom the most evangelical hymns ever written will not enable us to praise God aright, and with whom, the Psalms will furnish the richest and most inexhaustible material for praising God, even the God and Father of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. It would, indeed, not only be strange, but wholly unaccountable were it otherwise.

In other words, were it true, that the Holy Spirit had provided material for the praise of the sanctuary in the Book of Psalms, in which the child of God will have difficulty in finding Christ, in and through whom alone any acceptable praise or worship can be rendered to God, and whom it is the special office of the Spirit to glorify by showing what is His unto the soul. The truth in Christ will not be found, as it ought to be, in the Psalms or in any other portion of the Word, unless we search for it as silver. But it is all the more precious, enriching, and enlivening, when, through the Spirit, we do find it as the result of diligent and prayerful search.

Even when you have got the very words in the hymns, you must go far deeper down to get the thing; and the danger is that you should content yourselves with the words without the thing. In the Psalms, I may say, it is not till we have got hold of the thing that we really understand the words, whereas in the hymns you may have the words, and never get hold of the thing.

This is the difference, to my mind, between the Psalms and hymns.

It is very melancholy to find men setting up their weak and questionable human compositions instead of the Divine, infallible, and perfect Scripture Psalms. This, as has been said, is to prefer variety to verity - man's inventions to God's institutions.

The Psalms are a deep unfathomable mine in which Christ and the Spirit, and the whole Gospel of the grace of God, lie hid, as a treasure in the field and the man who knows anything of their value and preciousness will not readily part with them, but will rather part with all human compositions to keep by them, in which, while praising God, he is enabled more and more to enter into the holy and transforming fellowship of God in Christ through the Spirit.