Let us sing the Psalms again!

     Do you know that the biblical Psalms can be sung? Have you witnessed congregational Psalm singing before? Do you know that there are Christians (myself included) who practice Exclusive Psalmody - the practice of singing only the biblical Psalms during personal and congregational worship? Do you know that Exclusive Psalmody is the most traditional and continuous form of worship practice within the visible Church? Do you know that Psalm singing is the biblical way to worship the Almighty God? 

        If your answer is ‘no’ to any or even all the questions above, you are certainly not alone. Biblical Psalm singing during congregational worship is now very rare and generally absent among Evangelical Christians both within and outside the United Kingdom. In England, the total number of churches that practice Exclusive Psalmody may even be less than the total number of fingers on our two hands. Some churches in England such as those belonging to the Evangelical Presbyterian Church of England and Wales, and the Free Church of Scotland, sing a mixture of biblical Psalms and non-biblical songs. However, the vast majority of churches within mainstream Evangelical Christianity both within and outside England, simply do not sing any Psalm at all during their congregational worship services. This leads to the modern phenomenon where Exclusive Psalmody and even Psalm singing appearing foreign and unheard of to many British Evangelical Christians. 

        In response to the general absence of Psalm singing during modern Evangelical Christian congregational worship services, I believe there is a need to write this article to promote Psalm singing to fellow Christians. The following are four reasons why we should sing the biblical Psalms during personal and congregational worship. 

  1. 1. The Psalms are commanded to be sung 

        The Holy Scriptures commands us to sing the Psalms (Psalm 81:2, 95:2, 98:5, 105:2; Ephesians 5:19; Colossians 3:16 and James 5:13). 

        The two verses of Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16 are often quoted to justify support and usage of non-biblical songs during worship. However, the ‘hymns’ and ‘spiritual songs’ in the same verses actually refer to the biblical Psalms and not to the non-biblical songs we understand today. 

        Firstly, the words ‘hymn’ and ‘song’ are part of the titles of some Psalms in the ancient Greek translation of the Old Testament that the ancient Greek-speaking Ephesians and Colossians had read. We must also remember that Saint Paul wrote his Epistles to the Ephesians and Colossians in Greek.  

        Secondly, there were no non-biblical songs two thousand years ago and therefore, it is impossible that St. Paul was referring to them in his Epistles. Given that the early Gentile Christians were generally converted to the faith by Jewish Christian missionaries such as St. Paul, the early Christians both Jews and Gentiles, would have continued the ancient Israelite practice of singing the biblical Psalms during worship. 

        Thirdly, the earlier part of Colossians 3:16 is about letting the word of Christ dwell in you in all wisdom. Therefore, the ‘psalms and hymns and spiritual songs’ in the later part of the same verse must be related to the ‘word of Christ’. What is the ‘word of Christ’ but the biblical Psalms? 

        Therefore, Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16 actually command us to sing the biblical Psalms. Contrary to the views of the supporters of non-biblical songs, the two verses do not give us the permission to sing non-biblical songs during personal and congregational worship. The same two verses cannot and should not be quoted to justify support and usage of non-biblical songs during worship. 

  1. 2. The Psalms are the words of Christ 

        While the Book of Psalms is in the Old Testament, we must understand from Luke 24:44 that the Psalms are about our Lord Jesus Christ. 

        Our Lord is the perfectly righteous man of Psalms 15 and 24. His office of king, prophet, and priest can be very clearly seen for example, in Psalms 2, 22, and 110 respectively. The resurrection of Christ is prophesied in Psalm 16.  

        The first person pronouns used in many occasions in the Psalms refer to Christ. Two of the seven sayings of our Lord on the cross are from the Psalms (Psalm 22:1 and 31:5). Saint Paul in his Epistle to the Hebrews, showed the words of Christ from the Psalms when he quoted Psalms 22:22 and 40:6-8 in Hebrews 2:12 and 10:5-7 respectively. According to John 2:17, the disciples of our Lord remembered Psalm 69:9 after our Lord drove out from the Temple all them that sold and bought.  

        Considering that the first person pronouns refer to Christ, we may be able to see directly in the Psalms, for example, the Passion of Christ prophesied in Psalms 22 and 38, the ministry of Christ in Psalm 40, Christ speaking in parables in Psalm 78:2, false witnesses rising against Christ in Psalm 27:12 and 35:11, Christ’s victory over death in Psalm 16:10 and 118:18, and Judas’ betrayal in Psalm 41:9. 

  1. 3. Christ is leading us during congregational worship 

        It is very important to have a correct understanding of Christian congregational worship. In truth, Christ is leading us when we worship God as a church. As written in Matthew 18:20, Christ is in the midst of us when we gather together in His name. The twenty-second and twenty-fifth verses of Psalm 22 show Christ praising God in the midst of the congregation. 

        Christ is the perfectly righteous man of Psalms 15 and 24, who alone and whose works alone are accepted by God. With the exception of Christ, all men are sinners (Romans 3:23) and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6). Unless our sins are purged and the righteousness of Christ is imputed to us through our faith, we ourselves and all our works will never be accepted by our holy God.  

        Therefore, when we sing the Psalms during congregational worship, we are singing the words of Christ and in union with Christ our Head. Such worship would certainly be accepted by God. 

  1. 4. Psalm singing shows communion of saints 

        The ancient Israelites sang the Psalms during their worship of the Almighty God. For example, part of Psalm 105 was sung after the ark of the covenant was brought into the tent that King David had pitched for it in Jerusalem (1 Chronicles 16:1-36). Psalms 113 to 118 are known as Passover Psalms because they are sung during the Passover. It is very likely that the hymn sang by our Lord Jesus Christ and His apostles after the Last Supper as recorded in Matthew 26:30 and Mark 14:26, was a Passover Psalm. The words of Psalm 118 would have added significance coming from the lips of our Lord on that night given that the twenty-second to twenty-fourth verses (about the cornerstone and the new day) were about to be fulfilled. Meanwhile, Psalms 120 to 134, known as the Songs of degrees, were sung by ancient Israelite men when they ascended the hills of Jerusalem during their pilgrimage to the Temple on Mount Zion.  

        According to 2 Chronicles 29:30, the Levites were commanded by King Hezekiah and the princes to sing praise unto God with the words of David, and of Asaph the seer. The words of David and of Asaph very clearly refer to the biblical Psalms. Acts 16:25 recorded Saints Paul and Silas prayed at midnight and sang praises unto God. Very clearly, the saints were singing the biblical Psalms because firstly, both Saints Paul and Silas are Jews and secondly, there were no non-biblical songs two thousand years ago as pointed out in the first reason above. 

        By singing the same biblical Psalms, we are showing our unity with the ancient Israelites and Christians over the centuries. The Psalms are also ecumenical and can be sung by all Christians. Therefore, Psalm singing is a very visible form of the communion of saints. The same cannot be said when we sing non-biblical songs. 


     Having now read my four reasons for singing the biblical Psalms during personal and congregational worship, you may ask how we should sing the Psalms. The answer is we can either sing them directly from our Bibles or from a Psalter. As a traditional Presbyterian, I personally sing from the 1650 Scottish Psalter that arranges the words of the Psalms in metre, allowing the Psalms to be sung using tunes such as St. Paul, All Saints New, and Winchester. We can also sing a part of a Psalm if the Psalm is long. For example, instead of singing the whole of Psalm 119, we can sing only from the first to the eighth verse. 

        Brethren, because God is holy, our worship of Him must be perfect, and we must worship Him only in the way that He has ordained and established in His Word. Psalm singing is the biblical way to worship God and would certainly be accepted by Him. The Psalms, being the Word of God, are absolutely and infinitely greater than and superior to all works of man. 

        Therefore, with this article, I sincerely appeal to Christians to sing the Psalms again. Let us sing the words of Christ and in union with Christ our Head to worship our Almighty God! 

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