Friday, June 09, 2006

Which hymn book shall we use?

The question which is being more frequently asked today by ministers and congregations is, which hymnbook shall we use? New hymnbooks have appeared such as ‘Praise’, old hymnbooks have been revised such as ‘Christian Hymns’ to include more modern words and hymns. Ministers and Churches have to consider whether they keep the old hymnbook, which is out of date, or do they go for something new?

The Church at Crosslanes Chapel has faced this question over the years, and, as a result, various new hymnbooks appeared. ‘The New Congregational Hymnbook’, ‘Sankey’s’, ‘Congregational Praise’ and ‘Christian Hymns’ were subsequently used by the Church.

In the late nineties and at the beginning of this 21st century the use of ‘Christian Hymns’ was being carefully considered. As a result, it was removed from public worship. This marked a fundamental change. What was the reason for this? It was not the desire to have a more modern hymnbook, to suit modern trends in worship, or in the belief that many of the hymns were unsound. The reason was that there was a real strong belief, (which the Scriptures
showed to us), that even the choice of that which we sing in the worship of God, is revealed by God Himself. Today, the Psalter, God’s hymnbook is exclusively used in the services at Crosslanes Chapel. I am, as Minister, still totally committed to that position.

A few years ago on the 15th of November, 2000, a special Church meeting was held. At that meeting, a proposal was given to all the members to look at, and consider. That proposal was signed by the members of the congregation, and in time, given to me inviting me to the Pastorate at Crosslanes Chapel. In that proposal there was included these two paragraphs:

“Each one of us must ask ourselves whether what we do in worship is scriptural. Every aspect of our worship is to be brought to the Word of God to see if it is appointed by Him. The spiritual heritage that we, who are older, are to leave to the new and the younger generation is of critical importance. For example, it is a wonderful thing to hear our young people singing the Psalms of Scripture voluntarily, for they know that this is how God is to praised”

“There is the possibility that some of us may have been influenced by the Churches that we belonged to in our earlier days, and perhaps, even for nostalgic reasons we may feel that what was done then must have been right. But even Churches must be brought to the Word of God for close scrutiny, and they stand or fall by that Standard. Even the advice, and perhaps in some cases the derision we receive from friends in other fellowships in the area (which are not of like mind to us when it comes to worship), may influence us in the wrong direction, that is, away from the centrality of the Word of God in worship”.

It was plain then, that I was expected to examine the Scriptures, and to look to the Scriptures in the area of worship.

On the 17th of March 2001 I was ordained as Minister and inducted into the pastorate here at Crosslanes Chapel. In the Ordination Service there were five questions put to me. The fourth question was as follows:

‘Do you promise uncompromising adherence to purity of worship, believing that the acceptable way of worshipping God is instituted by Himself and limited by His revealed will, so that nothing may be introduced into worship without positive Scriptural warrant?’

That question, (to which I most heartily agree), underlines what is commonly referred to as the ‘Regulative Principle’. That principle is seen throughout Scripture. In Deuteronomy 12: 32, “What thing soever I command you, observe to do it: thou shalt not add thereto, nor diminish from it”. Matthew 28 : 20, “Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen”.

We look to the Scriptures to see what the Lord has revealed through commands and examples. In doing so it is soon discovered, that what was sung derived not from the minds of men, but was inspired by the Holy Spirit. This is clearly seen even in 1 Corinthians 14: 26, “How is it then, brethren? when ye come together, every one of you hath a psalm, hath a doctrine, hath a tongue, hath a revelation, hath an interpretation. Let all things be done unto edifying”.

In examining the Scriptures seriously we discover:

Firstly, that there is not one single instance of men and women singing something that has been produced by man.

Secondly, that there is much evidence of men women singing praises that have been produced by God Himself; as God the Holy Spirit would inspire certain ones.

Thirdly, God has given to His people a hymnbook, that is, His own: the Psalter.

The apostle Paul identifies this hymnbook in Ephesians 5:19, “ Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord”.

In the Hebrew Psalter there are three corresponding words for ‘psalm’, ‘hymn’, and ‘song’: Mizmor, Tehillah, Shir, the plural of these in Hebrew being Mizmorim, Tehillim, Shirim, the English equivalent to psalms, hymns, and songs. These were recognised by Paul.

In the Greek translation, (Septuagint, LXX, which Paul knew, as he quoted from that translation through direction of the Holy Spirit, for example, Hebrews 10 :5 – 6, cf Psalm 40: 6), there were also three particular Greek terms used in and over the Psalter, corresponding to our English words, in Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16.

C. H. Spurgeon, whilst expounding Psalm 40: 6 in the ‘Treasury of David’, wrote, ‘The Septuagint, from which the apostle Paul quoted, has expounded this passage, “A body hast Thou prepared Me:” how this reading arose is not easy to imagine, but since apostolical authority has sanctioned the variation, we accept it as no mistake, but as an instance of various readings equally inspired’.

The brethren at Ephesus and at Colosse and all the Church in those days were not in confusion as to what Paul was referring to. The early Church fully understood what Paul meant by the Greek word humnos. ( hymn).

It is interesting to note that if you look in Strong’s Concordance, and find the Hebrew word, ‘tehillah’, it has this definition: ‘laudation; specifically a hymn:- praise.’ This word is found 28 times in the actual Psalms themselves, in the Hebrew Psalter. It is abundantly clear that the Psalter can rightly be called “God’s Hymnbook”.

Many hymnbooks have appeared over the years, but by far the greatest, the one that overshadows all others, is God’s own hymnbook - the one that has come from heaven, and from the heart of God! The Saviour whilst upon earth used this hymn book not only when He was in the synagogue, but also whilst He was with His disciples, as is seen from the account of the upper room. There we are told, “when they had sung an hymn”. It is generally agreed, (and evidence supports it), that this was singing from the ‘Hallel’. (The Hallel; Psalms 113 – 118.) This is founded in the fact that, at the Passover, the Jews sang the Hallel. John Gill writes, ‘The "Hallel", which the Jews were obliged to sing on the night of the passover;’ . Andrew Bonar writes, ‘In Psalm cxviii (118) just before leaving the upper room to go to Gethsemane, He (Jesus) poured forth the story of His sufferings, conflict, triumph and glorification.’

If Christ used this hymnbook, is it not our great concern that we should follow Him in this. Is it not our joy to sing, what He sang whilst here upon earth?

In Psalm 22: 22, Christ, through the psalmist states, ‘I will declare Thy name unto My brethren: in the midst of the congregation will I praise Thee.’ The Apostle, in writing to Hebrews quotes this verse, Hebrews 2: 11 – 12, ‘For both He that sanctifieth and they who are sanctified are all of one: for which cause He is not ashamed to call them brethren, saying, I will declare Thy name unto My brethren, in the midst of the church will I sing praise unto Thee’. The Lord reveals that He will sing with His Church. My dear friends surely He is doing so, when the local Church is worshipping in spirit and in truth, singing from His own hymnbook. John Owen makes many comments on that verse, one being; ‘I shall only add, that whereas singing of hymns unto God was an especial part of the instituted worship under the Old Testament, to whose use these expressions are accommodated, it is evident that the Lord Christ hath eminently set forth this praise of God in the institution of worship under the New Testament, wherein God will ever be glorified and praised.’ (John Owen quite rightly referred to the psalms as being hymns, as he speaks of them being in the Old Testament worship, see 2 Chronicles 29: 30).

In a fair and close examination of Scripture, we find not one gathering of God’s people in the worship services of the Church upon earth using a hymnbook written by man. How vastly different is the scene today. Hymns written by man may have a place in our hearts and are useful, but there is no warrant from Scripture that we should use them in the worship services of the Church. If we really believe in the Regulative Principle we should just use God’s hymnbook alone! The need today is for ministers and congregations to examine afresh the Scriptures, for ministers to lead in the reformation of the Church, and for congregations to support their minister in this.

There has been a departure from Scripture especially in England, in the worship of God. Oh for a return. We must unceasingly pray that God would be pleased to bless His cause again, that we would see a Reformation in the Church, that Psalmody would be reinstated again, and that the Church`s worship would be more a foretaste of heaven, when we will sing that alone which comes from the Redeemer Himself. The psalmist in Psalm 80 v 14ff, prayed for God to revisit His cause in his day. How fitting are these words today:

O God of hosts, we thee beseech,
return now unto thine;
Look down from heav’n in love,
and visit this thy vine;

This vineyard, which thine own right hand
Hath planted us among;
And that same branch, which for thyself
thou hast made to be strong.

Burnt up it is with flaming fire,
it also is cut down:
They utterly are perished,
when as thy face doth frown.

Oh let thy hand be still upon
the Man of thy right hand,
The Son of Man, whom for thyself
thou madest strong to stand.

So henceforth we will not go back,
nor turn from thee at all:
O do thou quicken us, and we
upon thy name will call.

Turn us again, Lord God of hosts
and upon us vouchsafe
To make thy countenance to shine,
and so we shall be safe.