How We May Make Melody In Our Hearts To God In Singing Of Psalms, by John Wells
This short pamphlet, an excerpt from a larger work by the author, is a 17th century demonstration of why it was that the Puritans and other Reformed believers have gained a somewhat bad reputation when it comes to their dealings with various matters of faith. Why would the singing of psalms have to be justified in this fashion? The Psalms make up a large portion of the Bible and there are a great many references to psalms and poetry and singing outside of the book of psalms. Moreover, the Bible itself indicates not merely that we are permitted to sing to God, but that we are commanded to do so in fellowship with other believers. And to his credit, the author does deal with these matters. Still, this is a book that is rather shocking in terms of its existence, since it would appear as if the singing of psalms, something that many people take for granted as being an aspect of the corporate life of believers, is something that the author feels necessary to explain and to justify as if it were in some manner problematic. How could singing the Word of God in musical form in the fashion of believers from ancient times be problematic, where we have examples of the writings of David, Moses, Solomon, and many others (including women like Mary and Hannah) of songs, and where an entire infrastructure of musicians and singers existed for their performance in biblical times?
This particular pamphlet begins with an introduction from a minister in the Free Church of Scotland that sets the context for the citation of the importance of singing hymns in Church history and in dealing with certain (imaginary?) objections to this practice among some of the holier than thou people around him who thought that singing holy songs with unrighteous people was itself defiling in some fashion. At this point the sermon begins, which sets the singing of hymns as avoiding the problem of intemperance, going into considerable detail about his text (Ephesians 5:19), and justifying the practice of singing biblically-based hymns by the citation of not only scripture but also the writing of various Church fathers. After defending the importance of singing the psalms the author then defends the singing of hymns in a congregation where there is a mixture of holiness among the congregation as a whole, at which point the author closes. It is strange that the author both depends on the historical support of the Church Fathers, thus admitting them as authoritative, while simultaneously attacking Catholicism (and implicitly first-century Christianity and Judaism) for singing songs in foreign languages that they were not personally familiar with, a highly dubious rhetorical strategy.
This particular book begins with an introduction that discusses the pamphlet as being a Puritan sermon from the late 1600’s from an obscure Puritan minister whose only known book was about the keeping of the 4th commandment, which has always been problematic to those who reject the biblical Sabbath. The writer of the preface, one Rev. Travis Fentiman, seems to think of this particular sermon message as edifying, but it strikes me personally as puzzling more than anything else. The author feels it necessary to justify the singing of psalms as being something godly and not manmade, which appears a wholly unnecessary matter, and also feels it necessary to justify the singing of hymns in mixed congregational behavior, which suggests that there were people who viewed the psalms as being somehow problematic to sing in public, which is the entire point of congregational worship, to sing as a community of believers (of various levels and stages of conversion, to be sure) to God Most High. And that is not even getting into the anti-Catholic digs that the author makes about singing with understanding, and thus not singing as the Papists do, not recognizing that again in biblical times it was necessary for believers to have targums for the interpretation of Hebrew that most ordinary believers did not fully understand. Such targums would not have been difficult to obtain for Catholic masses, and at any rate it would only be necessary to learn Latin to be familiar with the Tridentine masses that the author is so hostile towards.