Monday, 27 February 2017

Inclusive Hymnody and Psalmody: Singing Hymns and Psalms in Congregational Singing

It is important that we base our views upon sound principles of biblical interpretation. We need the whole panorama of Scripture, of the Old and New Testaments, rightly understood, to come to sound and biblical conclusions. This is why churches should sing both hymns (with correct biblical content) and psalms (ideally metrical and in modern English) for their congregational singing. We contend for both. We contend that both hymns and psalms should be sung as Ephesians 5:19-20 teaches: "Addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ". These exhortations are repeated in Colossians 3:16.

Singing of hymns in Congregational Singing

We are thankful for the Book of Psalms, which I believe should be sung in metrical form by all congregations where possible, but our singing must never be restricted only to psalms. Why is that? The psalms, though they are very important as a collection of songs for singing, teaching and prayers (which are vital to the life of the church), we must not overlook that they were written in the shadow of the Old Testament revelation period.

Colossians 2:16-17 "Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ".

Hebrews 10:1 "For since the law has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered every year, make perfect those who draw near".

While as a minister, I contend for the singing of psalms, we must sing hymns also, because the church has moved forward from the Old Testament revelation to the perfection of the new. The church has moved from shadow to fulfilment, from the shadow of good things to accomplishment, to the true form of those realities and to the substance of the Lord Jesus Christ. The content of singing, praying, preaching and catechising are all to reflect that great redemptive forward movement by God Almighty. I have a topical index of the psalms in metre which I regularly use in service planning, but there are many topics missing. This is because the Book of Psalms are in shadow, instead of in New Testament fulfilment.

Here are some examples of things omitted in the Book of Psalms which need to be sung about using hymns:

The atonement accomplished by the blood of Jesus through the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ.
The name and title of the Lord Jesus Christ
The name of the Triune God (Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit) and the doctrine of the Trinity
The title Holy Spirit is only found once in the Psalms (in 51:11) and yet this title is found on almost every page of the New Testament.
Baptism and the Lord's Supper are absent from the Psalms, as is understandable
Plain teaching on justification, adoption, regeneration and the new birth, heaven and the church's adversary Satan

It is true that not all hymns should be sung. They need to convey accurate doctrinal truth. But, we cannot imagine singing without including the name of Jesus, reference to the Trinity or plain truth on the atonement, the cross of Calvary and the resurrection and ascension of Christ.

Singing of Psalms in Congregational Singing

It is a poor state of affairs today, that much of evangelical Christianity have adopted an exclusive hymnody position. The church have sung the Book of Psalms for 3000 years. To neglect to sing psalms as part of the compliment of our singing is to impoverish the church, it is to disobey Scripture (Ephesians 5:19), and it reveals a lack of appreciation for divine revelation and of church history.

In conclusion, I pray for a recovery of the singing of hymns and psalms in public and private singing, to rightly obey the Lord, to convey truth to the church and the world, to enrich our public worship and to honour the Triune God through the Lord Jesus Christ. However, we need biblical balance because singing, though it is important, it is not a mark of a true church. The high point of worship is to be the preaching of sound doctrine, the right administration of the sacraments and prayer.

Finally, let us hear Jonathan Edwards who recorded some errors that occurred in the 18th Century revival (Jonathan Edwards, Works, Volume 1, Banner of Truth, p 396).

Jonathan Edwards on Including Hymns and Psalms for Congregational Singing

But what is more especially found fault with, in the singing now practised, is making use of hymns of human composure. I am far from thinking that the Book of Psalms should be thrown by in our public worship, but that it should always be used in the christian church to the end of the world: but I know of no obligation we are under to confine ourselves to it. I can find no command or rule of God's word, that does any more confine us to the Words of Scripture in our singing, than it does in our praying; we speak to God in both. And I can see no reason why we should limit ourselves to such particular forms of words, that we find in the Bible, in speaking to him by way of praise, in metre, and with music, than when we speak to him in prose, by way of prayer and supplication. And it is really needful that we should have some other songs besides the Psalms of David.

It is unreasonable to suppose that the Christian church should for ever, and even in times of her greatest light, in her praises of God and the Lamb, be confined only to the words of the Old Testament, wherein all the greatest and most glorious things of the gospel, that are infinitely the greatest subjects of her praise, are spoken of under a veil, and not so much as the name of our glorious Redeemer ever mentioned, but in some dark figure, or as hid under the name of some type. And so as to making use of the words to others and not those that are conceived by ourselves, it is no more than we do in our public prayers; the whole worshipping assembly, excepting one only, makes use of the words that are conceived by him who speaks for the rest.

Jonathan Edwards succinctly conveys the sum and substance of New Testament truth, regarding the congregational singing to be practiced by the church.

Saturday, 18 February 2017

Christ and the Church: The opening of a sermon preached from Song of Songs 2:8-17

Christ and the Church (Song of Songs, 2:8-17)

On August the 14th 1836, Robert Murray M’Cheyne preached as a candidate for the vacancy at St Peter’s, Dundee. He was 23 years old. If you are tempted to have feelings of self-exaltation or spiritual pride, simply read this sermon. How could one so young be so well acquainted with the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ? The answer is clearly the sovereign grace of God. Yes, he was trained under Thomas Chalmers, but clearly it was a time of significant blessing upon the church in Scotland, with many other preachers of the same warm Calvinistic view in the 19th Century. Oh that the Lord would revive his church in Scotland and elsewhere again.

He began this sermon by giving it the title “The Voice of my Beloved” from The Song of Songs 2:8-17 and he took the reformed orthodox line of it speaking of Christ and the church. My title for today from the same passage is “Christ and the Church”. They must have liked M’Cheyne’s trial sermon, because he was inducted a few months later as their minister in November 1836.

However, this was his opening sentence for that sermon:
“There is no book of the Bible which affords a better test of the depth of a man’s Christianity than the Song of Solomon”.
I agree, do you?

M’Cheyne died age 29, just short of his 30th birthday of typhoid. He was a burning and shining light. However, we must never put preachers on a pedestal, something only reserved for the head of the church the Lord Jesus Christ. We give honour to the Lord’s servants, but without flattery or by looking at man unduly. When Robert was a young man, he was tempted to do this with Jonathan Edwards whom he read and then he wrote in his diary:

“Read part of Jonathan Edwards. How feeble does my spark of Christianity appear beside such a sun! But even his was borrowed light, and the same source is still open to enlighten me”. If we are tempted as M’Cheyne was, may we remember that the Lord Jesus is the true light, he is the light of the world and may we be only fixed upon him for salvation, blessing and truth. He is the unchangeable Master who sticks closer than a brother, whose interpretation is infallible, whose promisees are unbreakable, who alone can be fully trusted with our lives.

1. Christ
2. The Church (Believer)
3. Uses

Song of Songs 2:8-17

The voice of my beloved! Behold, he comes, leaping over the mountains, bounding over the hills.
My beloved is like a gazelle or a young stag. Behold, there he stands behind our wall, gazing through the windows, looking through the lattice. My beloved speaks and says to me: “Arise, my love, my beautiful one, and come away, for behold, the winter is past; the rain is over and gone. The flowers appear on the earth, the time of singing has come, and the voice of the turtledove is heard in our land.
The fig tree ripens its figs, and the vines are in blossom; they give forth fragrance. Arise, my love, my beautiful one, and come away. O my dove, in the clefts of the rock, in the crannies of the cliff, let me see your face, let me hear your voice, for your voice is sweet, and your face is lovely.
Catch the foxes for us, the little foxes that spoil the vineyards, for our vineyards are in blossom.”
My beloved is mine, and I am his; he grazes among the lilies. Until the day breathes and the shadows flee, turn, my beloved, be like a gazelle or a young stag on cleft mountains

Monday, 13 February 2017

"How to exercise ourselves to godliness on the Lord's Day" by the English Puritan George Swinnock (1627-1673)

I am currently reading the Works of George Swinnock. A Presbyterian minister within the Church of England and he was one of the 2000 ministers ejected in 1662 by the shameful work of King Charles II. King Charles II was a crypto-Roman Catholic and he created havoc in the church in this nation. Roman Catholic doctrine has never changed and it is anti-Christian to the core.

Last week, I read myself happy. When was the last time you read some spiritual material that made you spiritually happy and deeply satisfied? I read George Swinnock Works, Volume 1:XXI, “How to Exercise Ourselves to Godliness on a Lord’s Day", pp 222-249.

This is the best work I have ever read on the Christian Sabbath. When I read it, it made me spiritually joyful. I am not sure if you are familiar with this writer or this work, but what he writes does one’s soul good in preparing for the Sabbath. Swinnock is expounding 1 Timothy 4:7-8.

"Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths. Rather train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come".

One of the urgent requests for prayer in our day, everywhere, is for the Lord to recover a love for the Christian Sabbath among God's people. This would be revival enough and it would bring great honour to the Lord. This recovery would eliminate lazy pastors though, because a minimum of two services on the Lord's Day and probably with catechising as well is needed with this doctrine. We need it. The church needs it. The testimony of Christ in this dark world needs this. Let us join in prayer for it.

Here is a website link to read this chapter online:

Saturday, 11 February 2017

Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!

Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel! 1 Corinthians 9:16

I have almost finished the J. C. Ryle book by Iain Murray. In reading one chapter, I was impressed that Ryle had this verse inscribed on the pulpit in a congregation he served in Stradbroke, Suffolk. For a man who was educated at Eton School, with a top University degree from Oxford, this inscribed verse speaks volumes of what it means to serve the Lord Jesus Christ.

As for Paul the apostle, JC Ryle, and any true servant of Christ, the joy of preaching the gospel outweighs any other path. Paul the apostle was constrained and he writes to the Corinthians that "necessity is laid upon me". To preach is an irrepressible burden.

A man called to the office of teaching elder must be qualified by managing his own household, being gifted for the office and trained, but there must be more. A man called by God has this inner-burning conviction to preach. He must preach!

However, it is not just preaching or heralding the message. The content of the message must be right. It is the gospel that is to be preached in all of its facets. We must pray for these kinds of men to be raised up by the Lord again in our own generation.

Monday, 6 February 2017

"Reading the Puritans" rather than "Reading about the Puritans"

The more I think of the English Puritans, the more I think that this was an exceptional time in church history. The number of theological pastors of such high quality emerging seemingly simultaneousy is a providence to be studied.

The Puritan time-frame is basically 1560-1660. There were a number of Scottish worthies and some in Ireland, such as Archbishop James Ussher as well. A number of decades ago, it would have been timely to have urged for the republishing of Puritan books. After World War 2, very few Puritan books were in print. It is mainly to the credit of the emergence of the Banner of Truth publishing house, that the printing landscape began to change. Today, there are Puritan books available in many places. However, many people today are writing about the Puritans and many are reading about the Puritans. This is not wrong, but going to the original Puritan sources is invaluable.

A preacher and friend of mine made the almost 'throw away' comment to me me last year which has resonated. It was this: "We need to spend more time reading the Puritans, than reading about them". I concur. However, where should you begin? Let me suggest a number of places for you.

Thomas Watson, The Doctrine of Repentance, a Puritan paperback by the Banner of Truth

John Flavel, Volume 1 of his Works and this volume contains many superb sermons.

George Swinnock, Volume 1 of his Works which teaches on "godliness".

John Owen, Communion with God, either the abridged paperback or the copy in John Owen's Works.

Thomas Watson, A Body of Divinity

William Ames, The Marrow of Theology

This is just a start. May we return to the source of this reformed stream of theology to be built up in our faith in our day. If people know of other great works to recommend to blog readers, then do make a comment on this blog post.

Hebrews 13:7 "Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith".

Wednesday, 1 February 2017

Preaching and the Danger of Compromise, Kenneth MacRae, Banner of Truth Ministers Conference, 1962

Preaching and the Danger of Compromise, Kenneth MacRae, Banner of Truth Ministers Conference, 1962

Some years ago, I came across the early addresses of the Banner Ministers Conference. I decided to order a number of CD's with preachers such as Iain Murray, Professor John Murray, Professor Loughridge, W. J. Grier and some others. Among the CD's that I ordered, there was a single recording by Kenneth MacRae. I am not ashamed to say that I have listened to it countless times, most especially on journeys in the car. I cannot commend it enough. But what does it contain that is so gripping and that it has compelled me to keep listening?

First, the tone of the man simply conveys seriousness about the Lord when he speaks. This is something I found refreshing, especially in an age of much levity. This levity even enters into some churches and pulpits, with what I presume must be driven by a hunger to be popular.

Second, the title caught my attention. Ecclesiastes 9:11 has been an important verse in my reflections of Christian endurance and it states that: "the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong". Therefore, it is not speed or power that counts, but endurance without compromise and that by the grace of God. This is the heartbeat of MacRae's address to the ministers in his own day.

Third, the content of his address is like "iron sharpening iron". What does he highlight for ministers in order that they preach without compromise? It is an eminently practical address and he uses Paul as the model preacher, one who "was careful to present the truth as it is recorded in the Word of God" stated MacRae. Also he warns that we must avoid false teachers as Paul warned in Galatians 1:9: "If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed". He commends Paul as an "out an out man" and the type of man we need today. However, if we are to guard the truth carefully then we need a norm or standard from which we will not depart. This standard to which we are to be faithful and to be aware of a contrary power or influence to compromise. There should be no bargaining of the truth, in order to get accepted what a preacher has to declare. The norm or standard is the word of truth as expressed in holy Scripture. Preachers must be careful to preach the whole counsel of God and every doctrine worked into the gospel (Acts 20:27).

Election is a doctrinal example. We must preach this truth because it is found in the Word of God. We must preach the whole counsel of God, without modification or compromise, to hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught (Titus 1:9). We do not desire needless offense explained MacRae and common sense is needed for ministers also. In preaching, we must not weary our hearers by preaching for too long, when we should stop. MacRae warns of the "fatal gift of fluency" where men dispense with much study. He believed that men who do not study are in danger of being finished before God. A sober comment indeed in my view.

Another warning is the danger of compromising by trying to please our audience. This danger may lead some preachers in going too far and in coming down from the platform of the truth. Another warning is to preach only one side of the gospel, the bright side of the Gospel such as the love of God in giving Christ Jesus the Saviour, and the prospects of the promises of God. But we must not neglect to preach sin in its reality, as that which is an unspeakable offense and man as a sinner with its consequences. Compromise enters into the church, when we try to improve the gospel or to try to make the gospel acceptable. We cannot and must not tamper with the gospel and cut things out or add things to make it acceptable.

Why do men expect us to compromise? Men by nature have an innate dislike of the gospel and certain truths men will not accept and they want a preacher to remain silent on some things. Such truths that need heralding without shrinking back, should be done so repeatedly. These include the doctrines of: the total corruption of man by the Fall; that man's righteousness is by grace alone without works; that we can have no hand in our salvation, but it is the sovereign will of a merciful God; that professors must repent from the love and practice of sin and realise that there are no short-cuts in repentance; and the doctrine of the eternal punishment of sin. MacRae understood that the less that preachers preach everlasting punishment, the more people will approve of them. We cannot soften any of these truths or keep them in the background of our preaching. The preaching of the new birth must not be held back either.

The last point is the effect of compromise. This means to be unfaithful to our Master and that grieves the Spirit of the Lord. What is more then, is that we are likely to affect our hearers when there are gospel aberrations.When the preacher compromises, then Christ will hide his face from us and we then lose our power, spiritually. The need is for faithfulness and not success. Noah is an example of a preacher of righteousness (2 Peter 2:5) and we must consider his example. A preacher must desire to hear from the Lord Jesus Christ the words: "Well done good and faithful servant" (Matthew 25:21).