O come, let us worship and bow down: let us kneel before the Lord our maker.—Psalm 95.6.

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THE U.P. VERSION OF THE PSALMS.

[ R.P. Considerations on a Pattern for Schismatic Innovation. ]

Excerpted from:

THE

Reformed Presbyterian and Covenanter.

VOL. X.

MAY, 1872.

NO. 5.

X

TrueCovenanter.com Editor's Introduction.

The current age is one in which English Bible versions are multiplied by one generation of Bible experts and publishers after another, who don’t believe that we have the English Bible as we need it, and who have given in to the claims of those who don’t believe God has preserved his inspired word for us in the original Greek and Hebrew texts of Holy Scripture.  It is also an age in which there are worship books and hymnals multiplied by one generation after another of worship experts who generally don’t believe that God has prescribed the proper manner of his worship, and delivered all that is necessary for it within the pages of Holy Scripture.

When it comes to Psalters or Psalm-books for the worship of God, one would expect that Presbyterians, who profess that God has both revealed and limited the way of his worship, (WCF 21.1,) and also preserved and kept pure his Psalms by his singular care and providence, (WCF 1.8,) would have a different disposition, and exhibit a more moderate and edifying habit.  And in fact, for many years there were such Presbyterians as carefully held to the Psalter which so long constituted an abiding expression of Reformed unity, even after that unity had broken down in other regards.

The following article is taken from a periodical of the RPCNA, several years prior to the RPCNA’s first step in revising our Reformation Psalter.  It presents considerations about the new Psalter of another Psalm-singing Presbyterian communion, which later drifted into the sinful practice of singing praises which were not appointed by King Jesus.  There is no attempt here to compare verse-to-verse translation success or weigh the advantages and disadvantages of individual versified Psalms on the level on which most of us would have to defer to the experts.  Instead of this, the Covenanter author of the past presses the more general and more universally evident considerations which, if fairly weighed, would have kept both the U.P. Church, and his own Communion, from drifting into the unending pretension and distraction that has, by the present day, completely eroded a Presbyterian desire and expectation for unity and consistency of worship among Reformed believers.

2018.04.30::JTK.

Our esteemed brethren of the U[nited] P[resbyterian] Church have at length completed their new version of the Psalms.  Having adopted and published it, it is now to be seen whether it will take the place of the common version in congregations. [viz. the 1650 Scottish Psalter.]  The general interest in so great a work seems to have been comparatively small, even within that body.  It is {136} to be feared that the greatest interest will arise from contentions about introducing the new psalms.  Every lover of Zion’s peace will mourn if this shall be so.

No intelligent Christian will deny that it is right, under suitable circumstances, to make and adopt a new metrical version of the inspired songs.  Our old version was once new.  It succeeded others less smooth and less agreeable to the original previously in use.  Translating the original into English metre is a human work, and therefore imperfect.  There are some imperfections plainly to be seen in the common version.  Some imperfections will still remain in any version men may make.  Yet it is our duty to aim at perfection in this, as in all duties.

While we say so much in favor of the work of the U.P. Church, we cannot but feel that they have made a grave mistake in what they have done and are doing.  The writer has not as yet examined the new version sufficiently to discuss its comparative merits.  Only this much may be said, that when we are asked to set aside a version surrounded by such hallowed associations and so long in common use as the old one, the new ought to be manifestly much better.  It will not do to show that it is as good as the old.

The object of the present article is to show that the U.P. Church ought not to have attempted to introduce in the worship of God a new version at the present time and under present circumstances.  That a time will come when our version will at least be improved is manifest.  That it will ever be supplanted by an entirely new one admits of great doubt.  The fit time for such an improvement would seem to be when the Spirit of God moves the church to it, and raises up fit instruments for it.  When these things are evident, we may expect results that will be greatly blessed.

Have the “Revised Psalms” not been ground out by a kind of mechanical process?  Has the work not been done by a very small part of the Christian church, without the co-operation of the great body?  The U.P. Church is far from being the majority even of those that use exclusively the Scripture psalms in the English language.  This fact stamps the movement at once as sectarian.  The Psalms are the property of the whole church.  The old version is catholic, as much so as the “authorized version” of the Bible.  As well might the same body undertake a new version of any other portion, or all of the Bible.  There is nothing wrong in making any number of versions of the Psalms, or of the whole Bible.  But for any one denomination to substitute in the worship of God a version of its own instead of the universally accepted one is to build a wall of separation between itself and all others.  It is to be guilty, to a certain degree, of schism.  The church is one.  It ought to be practically one.  For any denomination to authorize and use a book of praise different from all others, is practically, so far, to divide the church.  This is a part of the sin of all hymn-singing churches.  Their hymn books are all sectarian.[1]

Covenanters have peculiar love for the U.P. Church.  They feel that they are very near to one another.  But this step moves them farther from us.[2]  While we do not think it was so intended, we cannot but feel wounded by it.  And many a wound it will inflict when we {137} shall meet with them around the family altar or elsewhere to worship, to find our venerated common version shoved aside by one that, as members of the church, we know not.  Our lips will be sealed.  Our hearts will be sad.  How would they like it if we should introduce still another version?  What do they expect?  Is it that the church in the three Kingdoms, and in America, will adopt their version?  Or shall each particular denomination in each particular country follow their example and the divisive course of hymn-singers, and make its own book of praise?  Then when Christian brethren shall meet, each one will have a psalm.  Is the old version so bad that we may destroy the practical union among so many of the followers of Christ to get rid of it?  Has the U.P. Church not been too much carried away by the scoffs and arguments of those who oppose the psalms, by conformity to the world and by a perverted taste?  Have they not grown to think too lightly of what is too often called “doggerel?”  Why do they desire such a great number of versions and metres as we find in their book?  Is it not a positive loss to have so many versions of the same psalm?  The psalms used in worship ought to be familiar to the ear and memory of the worshipper.  One good version is twice as good as two good ones, three times as good as three, and six times as good as six.

I do not say that the labor of the U.P. Church is lost.  They have accomplished much.  And when the time comes that all evangelical Christians will throw aside their hymns, and when the talent of the whole church shall be combined to improve or revise our metrical psalms and make a catholic version, they will be useful as helps.  But the bulk of them will likely go to the rubbish.


Footnotes:

1. The Presbyterian Churches which derive from Scotland, and other Reformed churches deriving from England, generally all stand in a relation to the Solemn League and Covenant of 1643.  In the first article of this Covenant our predecessors committed themselves to an endeavour for the nearest uniformity in worship possible, throughout their churches, across national borders.  In the years which immediately followed, they obtained, with the blessing of God, great success in this regard.  Their hope was to unify the Church, and to purge her of all schismatic tendencies, preventing the dangers of sectarianism.  It is in this light that the above author observes how far succeeding generations had deviated from these commitments and obligations.  “Hymn books are all sectarian.”  And however much sincere and holy motivations have contributed to particular Psalm book revisions and re-versifications, the above author’s assessment is exactly inline with both a Biblical and a Reformation understanding of the nature of “Schism.”  Being now many generations, and 150 years into these trends, we can see whether or not the new Psalter productions are expected to be of the quality, or have the endurance, or evidence the authority, of our Reformation Psalter from 1650.  And we can just as easily see that the Psalter re-versifiers have such an idea of “schism” as seems to find an advantage in changing Psalters for the sake of changing Psalters, or assisting and encouraging brethren from other communions in producing their own unique Psalters, as if each Presbyterian “denomination” were its own main-street business that needed a unique logo.  It is Sectarian.  Those who want unity in an old Psalter are not the Schismatics.  The Lord Jesus is not pleased with our manner of pleasing ourselves in these things. Luke 16.15.—JTKer.

2. The U.P. Church is now part of the apostate PCUSA.  Making a new Psalter is not a cause of apostasy, and conviction that there is need for corrections and improvements to the Psalter are not the symptoms of a soul headed towards apostasy.  But there are other motivations that drive the production of new Psalters besides an honest desire for necessary repair.  This is evident in all the ways that new Psalters express change beyond this point, and advance into innovation and variety in disregard for consistency, unity, and the discernment of generations which were more Reformed.  The more we give ourselves license in these things, the more we are followers of those who are now apostate.  We can see where their path has taken them.  It is only reasonable to be cautious, and check ourselves, when we have been following them. Jer. 2.36.—JTKer.