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I. The singing of psalms is here enjoined as a sacred branch of social worship..
We are to glorify God in our bodies and in our spir. its. To him we are to consecrate the use of all our powers. And there is the same reason why the musi cal, as any other faculty, should be employed in his service, We are wonderfully made; and the capacity of uttering a tuneful variety of sounds, is not the smallest wonder in our formation. To him by whose wisdom we are thus curiously organized, our praise should be directed. "I will sing," says David," and give praise with my glory,." The faculty of speech, next to reason, is the glory of man.
Praise is the most excellent part of divine worship. As charity is greater than faith and hope, because in heaven these will cease, but that will never fail; so praise is superior to humiliation and prayer, because these belong only to the present state, but that is the devotion of heaven. There our sins and temptations will no more molest us; our souls will be purified from present corruptions; our desires will be satisfied, and our wants supplied; and all our mournful petitions will be changed into songs of joy.
That psalmody was an instituted part of worship in the Jewish church, is evident from the many devout songs and psalms composed by divine inspiration for religious uses, some of which were sung, not only by particular persons in their private worship, but also by the whole assembly of Israel.
From the days of David, when the order of divine worship was more regularly settled, than it had been before, there was a select number of singers, instructed and supported at the public expense, whose office it was to set forward and preside over this branch of wor ship.
In the book of Psalms, frequent exhortations to sing praises to God are addressed to all nations of the
earth, as well as to the congregation of Israel. Hence
it appears, that this was not a ceremony peculiar to the Mosaic dispensation, but an ordinance designed for universal and perpetual use. This is distinguished from ceremonial rites by special marks of superiority. "I will praise the name of God with a song, and magnify him with thanksgiving. This also shall please the Lord better than an ox or bullock, that hath horns and hoofs."
In the New Testiment we find the same evidence, that psalmody is an ordinance of Christ, as we find in the Old Testament, that it was an ordinance of Moses. When Jesus, with his train, was descending from the mount of Olives to attend the passover at Jerusalem, the whole multitude of his disciples praised God with a loud voice, saying, "Blessed be the king that cometh in the name of the Lord, Hosanna in the highest." After the celebration of the holy supper, our Lord with his disciples "sung an hymn." Paul and Silas, confined in prison, "sung praises to God at midnight." The Apostle exhorts the churches to maintain this branch of worship, and gives them instructions for the decent and edifying performance of it. This was continued in Christian assemblies after the apostolic age. The early fathers exhort those who sing in divine worship," to make melody in their hearts, rather than with their voices." Some Heathen writers say, “It was a custom among the Christians to assemble on a certain day, and sing hymns unto Christ, as unto God."
We may add, The church in heaven is represented as worshipping God with this exercise." The living creatures and the elders fall down before the lamb, and sing a new song."
The several passions of the soul have each its peculiar language and give some distinguishing notes to the voice. These different notes excite in the mind the passions which they represent. There is such a connexion between sounds and passions that they become
by turns the causes of each other. There are certain instrumental sounds, which inspire with ardor and resolution; and others which melt and dissolve. Much greater effects may be produced by the living sound of human voices, harmoniously combined in singing those sacred songs, which are filled with sentiments of piety and devotion. The power of music to transport the soul we have all experienced; and its effect is strongly expressed by the prophet, when, describing the heavenly inhabitants as singing their changes in divine worship and crying one to another, "Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty," he says, "The posts of the door moved at the voice of him that cried, and the house was filled with smoke."-I proceed,
II. To consider the matter or subject of our singing. This the apostle expresses by psalms, hymns and spiritual songs.
By psalms is doubtless intended that collection of sacred poems, which passes under this name; and is one of the canonical books of scripture. By hymns may be designed other poetical compositions of scripture, as the songs of Moses, Hannah, Zechariah, Simcon and others. By spiritual songs may be meant those pious and devout songs, which in that age were composed by prophets and holy men in the church, under the immediate influence of the Spirit. That there was such a spiritual gift in the apostolic age is evident from several passages in the 14th chapter of First Epistle to the Corinthians-"I will pray with the Spirit, and I will pray with the understanding also: I will sing with the Spirit, and I will sing with the understanding also."
"When ye come together, every one of you hath a psalm, hath a doctrine, hath a tongue, hath a revela
Under the Mosaic dispensation, there were certain songs, or psalms, statedly used in the temple worship. On special occasions new songs were com. posed by holy men under divine influence, and de
livered to the chief musician to be set to music, and sung in the congregation. In the early Christian church the practice was the same. Spiritual songs composed, occasionally, were admitted among the psalms and hymns of the Old Testament.
The matter which we sing should be accommodated to the occasion of the worship. In ordinary cases we may sing any psalm suited to the general purpose of devotion. In special cases we should select those which best correspond with the aspects of Providence.
In this gospel age, our psalmody ought not to be confined to that small portion of scripture, which is called
the book of psalms." We may take spiritual songs from the New Testament, as well as from the Old. The matter of our psalmody must be formed agreeably to the sacred oracles; but we need not be restricted to any one part of scripture. The Apostle's direction is, "Let the word of CHRIST dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in spiritual songs."
If in the days of David it was thought necessary, that on extraordinary occasions a new song should be sung, surely now we may sing some new songs on the glorious occasion of the gospel. If the temporal deliverances vouchsafed to the people of Israel, were the subject of their public praise; much more should the great salvation, purchased by the Son of God, be the subject of ours. And doubtless it is more proper to celebrate this in the plain language of the gospel, than in the obscure diction of prophecy. The church in heaven sing a new song-not only the song of Moses, but also that of the Lamb.
As new songs were sung in the Jewish church, so they were set to new tunes. They were first commit. ted to the chief musician, that he might adapt to the subjects the music in which they were to be sung. There was a variety in the tunes, as well as psalms, to
enliven the devotion of the heart. Such is our frame that a sameness of sound flattens on the ear.
III. We are directed to sing, making melody-to sing with the understanding-to teach and admonish one another with spiritual songs-to do all things decently and in order.
The use of music, in social worship, is to assist and enliven the devotion of the heart. And when the music is performed with melody of sound, exactness of time and harmony of voices, it greatly contributes to this end. But a confused and grating discord of harsh and untutored voices, instead of kindling, chills the spirit of devotion and damps the ardor of the soul.
Singing cannot be performed to edification and comfort without skill. "Play skilfully," says the psalmist. The singers in the Jewish worship" made one sound.” They kept time as exactly as if their voices were all melted into one. For this purpose they were placed together in a collected body.-Upon that grand solemnity, when Solomon brought up the ark from the city of David and set it in the holy place," the Levites, who were the singers, stood at the east end of the altar, and with them the priests sounding with trumpets ; and the trumpeters and the singers were as one to make one sound.
Care was taken that the singers should be well instructed. The chief of the Levites, by David's urder," appointed some of their brethren to be singers.” They selected such as they found most capable of that service. And these were put under skilful instructors. "The sons of Heman were, under the hands of their father, for song in the house of the Lord." And they with their brethren "were instructed in the songs of the Lord, and were all cunning." And Chenaniah the chief of the Levites "instructed in song because he was skilful."
When the Levites sang in divine worship, they were led by a principal musician, "who was over the