The other day I purchased the newly translated volume by Abraham Kuyper Our Worship (Eerdmans, 2009). As I was reading through this fine work, I was struck by Kupyer's words with regard to psalm-singing. In the Netherlands Kuyper claims that hymns were introduced in 1807 by "unlawful ecclesiastical might". I believe it wasn't until 1932 with the introduction of the Red Psalter-Hymnal that the Christian Reformed Church departed from it's position on exclusive psalmody. Today most CRCs have dropped psalm-singing altogether. URC churches,while still holding that psalm-singing should have the principle place in corporate worship, use the many approved hymns found in the 1976 CRC edition of the Psalter-Hymnal.

Kuyper's brief section here provokes a lot of thought. Those of our tradition might be surprised to know the history of our churches with regard to this practice (not just ours but really all Reformed Protestant churches) and would do well to know one of our forefather's struggles with regard to the singing of hymns. Though Kuyper did believe that the church has a right in principle to produce "sung-prayers", as he called it, you feel his deep struggle over hymn-singing. The following statements from Kuyper are worth considering:

We thus defend the use of hymns, but we should remember the following:

1. In Holy Scripture we do not find a separate collection of prayers, but we do find a separate collection of psalms.

2. The spiritual depth of the psalms exceeds by far anything that afterward was composed as a church hymn and was sometimes claimed to be even more spiritual.

3. Whenever hymns came into the churches, they always seemed, first, to push back the psalms, and then to supplant them.

4. The psalms have always echoed the enduring, eternal keynote of the pious heart, while hymns usually had a temporary quality and were marked by what was popular at the moment.

5. Hymns in most cases led to the singing of choirs, with the congregation become listeners.

6. In the struggle between hymn and psalm, all nominal members favored the hymns over the psalms while the truly pious members were much more inclined to use the psalms rather than the hymns.

Hmm...now doesn't this raise questions? If the psalms far exceed anything man can write, and hymns pander to fads, lead to choirs, and facilitate dullness in the nominal members, don't we need a little positive interaction to defend their use--since Kuyper did preface his concerns with this statement. Let me quote Kuyper further,

"When you compare the poetic and religious quality of the hymnal with our Psalter, the former looks like a child's play. Gilded tin and real gold have nothing in common.

And yet the inferior hymnal was quickly given such prominence by persons in leadership that for a long time most ministers chose one psalm to six or seven hymns. And the psalms used were usually a few that were generally well-known, sometimes no more than two dozen, and they were chosen over and over again. Hymns stole the scene and psalms were mainly forgotten. And if you ask now who preferred the hymns and who the psalms, history teaches that the majority of people in the church who held fast to the confession of the fathers preferred the psalms while those who had drifted away from the truth idolized the hymns.

If this is so, and those who prefer psalms held fast the confession of their fathers, and those who idolized hymns drifted from the truth, is hymn singing, according to Kuyper really a beneficial practice for the church? What do you think of Kuyper's arguments?

Let's do a good Kuyperian comparison:

Hymn: He Leadeth Me vs. 1-2

He leadeth me, O blessed thought!
O words with heav’nly comfort fraught!
Whate’er I do, where’er I be
Still ’tis God’s hand that leadeth me.
He leadeth me, He leadeth me,
By His own hand He leadeth me;
His faithful foll’wer I would be,
For by His hand He leadeth me.
Sometimes ’mid scenes of deepest gloom,
Sometimes where Eden’s bowers bloom,
By waters still, o’er troubled sea,
Still ’tis His hand that leadeth me.

He leadeth me, He leadeth me,
By His own hand He leadeth me;
His faithful foll’wer I would be,
For by His hand He leadeth me.

Psalm 25: A Psalm on God Leading His People
Psalm 25:1-12

To You, O LORD, I lift up my soul.
2 O my God, I trust in You;
Let me not be ashamed;
Let not my enemies triumph over me.
3 Indeed, let no one who waits on You be ashamed;
Let those be ashamed who deal treacherously without cause.

4 Show me Your ways, O LORD; Teach me Your paths.
5 Lead me in Your truth and teach me,
For You are the God of my salvation;
On You I wait all the day.

6 Remember, O LORD,
Your tender mercies and Your lovingkindnesses,
For they are from of old.
7 Do not remember the sins of my youth,
nor my transgressions;
According to Your mercy remember me,
For Your goodness' sake, O LORD.

8 Good and upright is the LORD;
Therefore He teaches sinners in the way.
9 The humble He guides in justice,
And the humble He teaches His way.
10 All the paths of the LORD are mercy and truth,
To such as keep His covenant and His testimonies.
11 For Your name's sake, O LORD,
Pardon my iniquity, for it is great.

12 Who is the man that fears the LORD?
Him shall He teach in the way He chooses.

Again, using Kuyper's words directly, why sing with gilded tin when you can sing with real gold? Thoughts?


  1. We in the URC should become better aware of our Psalm singing heritage. Your citation to Kuyper is a good reminder of it. We should respect the intention of our church order and give the Psalms pride of place in our worship. We should also see to it that new, well-composed settings of the Psalms are produced to add to the available versions and keep our singing of them fresh.

    But your comparison is a bit unfair. Certainly we need to be discerning in our choice of hymns, but not all hymns are as facile as "He Leadeth Me". And I've never been in a United Reformed Church that sang Psalm 25 verbatim from Scripture, but always one of the paraphrased versions in the Blue Psalter Hymnal (which has both good and rather unsingable Psalm settings, and both solid as well as trite hymns). So to put that hymn up against a direct citation of Psalm 25 obviously highlights the weaknesses of that admittedly poor hymn, but doesn't support your larger point.

    Certainly there are some "golden" hymns appropriate for singing in our services.

    For example:

    God Moves in a Mysterious Way

    God moves in a mysterious way
    His wonders to perform:
    He plants His footsteps in the sea
    And rides upon the storm.

    Deep in unfathomable mines,
    With never-failing skill,
    He treasures up His bright designs,
    And works His sovereign will.

    Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take;
    The clouds ye so much dread
    Are big with mercy, and shall break
    In blessings on your head.

    Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,
    But trust Him for his grace;
    Behind a frowning providence
    He hides a smiling face.

    His purposes will ripen fast,
    Unfolding every hour:
    The bud may have a bitter taste,
    But sweet will be the flower.

    Blind unbelief is sure to err,
    And scan His work in vain;
    God is His own interpreter,
    And He will make it plain.

  2. Hi Steve,

    Thanks for commenting. I appreciate your comments. My larger point is basically to ask about the implications of Kuyper’s gilded tin and real gold comparison. He sure seems down on hymn-singing, and yet defends the use. I am not seeing how his comparisons/warnings then provide justification for the practice. I am only interacting with his views. With my comparison, I simply chose a hymn that is quite populate in our churches. The one you cited is a very good hymn, but, in my experience, very rarely selected. So in all fairness, I believe He Leadeth Me is an accurate representation of the kind of hymn selection that dominates the practice—and, sadly, is probably a theological giant to all contemporary worship songs. But even in the case of the hymn you selected, do you think Kuyper point is valid, that any hymn is gilden tin when compared with real gold?

  3. Could it be that Kuyper felt the tension of affirming the regulative principle (i.e., HC 96 as it was understood before 1807) and contradicting it at the same time? Yes, he did. To assert that God's Word should have the "principal" place in worship is a half-way position. Aren't we saying, "We'll tolerate just a little will-worship"? If we may singing Scripture (I didn't say only psalms) merely a preference, that's an act of the will. If the latter seems too strong then complain to Calvin who called it just that.

    There were hymns available in the 16th and 17th century Reformation. Why didn't we sing them (or use instruments)? (Dort reluctantly allowed one specific song that may have been non-canonical, after decades of battling to rid the churches of such, with the expectation that they could eradicate it later; later never came).

    The Reformed were universally opposed to non-canonical songs/prayers in worship by the laity because those non-canonical songs/corporate prayers were regarded as contrary to the 2nd commandment. Why aren't they contrary to the 2nd commandment now?

    Your main point Chris, however, is exactly right. There isn't a hymn that gives us something that God's Word does not. The Scriptures are sufficient for worship. We don't need extra-canonical texts for worship and we shouldn't burden the consciences of God's people by imposing on them, in stated worship, (sola Scriptura!) things that God has not said.

    The pattern of biblical and Reformed worship is that God speaks and the people respond. The pattern of Reformed worship, until the modern corruptions, was that God's people responded with God's own Word.

    The contemporary worship mess began with paraphrases of the psalms and continued with hymns, and organs, and now we have drum kits and "Shine, Jesus Shine." In principle, it's all the same thing. If you're unhappy with "Shine, Jesus Shine" and drum kits then you're only alternative is to re-adopt the original Reformed view of worship.

    As helpful as Kuyper's comments are (!) they are still a half-way house that leaves open the door for will-worship.

  4. I meant "popular" not populate in my last response.

  5. Scott,

    Yes, this is my concern. He walks on both sides of the fence. If you are going to attack hymn-singing this way, then it seems you need to be consistent and follow through to the full application of the RPW.

  6. Chris, I am very much looking forward to coffee on Friday.

    I have been reading your blog and have a question. Why would the URC be so concerned with singing from the text but not preaching from it?

    Or to say it another way, why would a denomination that has a service on Sunday which preaches from creeds supported by Scripture, not sing songs that are also summary's of Scripture?

    I hope that is not insulting to you or anyone in any way. Please let me know if it is.

  7. Hi Jeff, looking forward to meeting you! No offense with your question; it's a good one. The issue here is with approach. The conviction in the URC is that the confessions are Scripture summaries, and, therefore, when a minister preaches a series through one of the confessions, he is in fact preaching Scripture truth. Usually this is done in the PM service as the more instructional service of the two. Keep in mind, most churches don't even have an evening service anymore. The design of this service was more to instruct the church in the core doctrines of the Christian faith. In any case, the conviction in the URC is that the Word is primary and should always be the document preached. When it comes to preaching a series through our confessions, I do, however, like to communicate your concern, namely, that my text is from the Word, as I use the catechism to guide my subject matter. It's simply the Reformed way of topical preaching. In doing this, I am more given to the Scripture-text method. We shall talk more about this soon! Hope this helps.

  8. Wow, am I surprised to be reading this from what I know of the Lynden URC's position and the comments at the last conference which I attended. (I am not talking about Dr. Godfrey's comments.) It is the historic reformed position and I am surprised that the URC coming out of the CRC - which left the old RCA in part on that issue - doesn't seem to be aware of it, if not worse, repudiates it.

    As re. Kuyper's 'sung prayers', the reformed generally understood the psalms to be sufficient. Liberty was allowed in the sermon and prayers to "ad lib", but the reading of scripture and singing of psalms was restricted to the inspired text.

    Re. RSC's comment, the reason why singing any scriptural song was not the historic reformed position was that if God had seen fit to include those songs in the church's hymnbook, the Psalter, he would have. He didn't, so the church doesn't sing it. This as per Bushell's explanation in his Songs of Zion (which was strangely missing from the bibliography of RSC's otherwise very fine Recovering the Ref. Confession. If I have any criticisms of the title, it is that it doesn't go far enough, rather than it goes too far.)

    Yes, catechism preaching can be abused as anything can, but since Scripture tells us to teach, preach and take heed to our doctrine, ergo the catechisms as approved statements and collections of sound doctrine, necessarily come into play.

    Thank you.

  9. PS.

    If Scripture told us to sing sound doctrine, a metrical version of the 3 Forms would be in order.
    It doesn't, hence the reformed do not sing from the Heidelberg catechism.


  10. Am I missing something? Do you know something about the LURC that I do not? Are you a regular attendee that I have missed? Probably not the best way to approach the point of the post.

    As for your other comments, you speak as such an authority in the Reformed church--and so readily correct our beloved professor. Please do introduce yourself.

  11. Kuyper's view seems a little off i agree with you all on that. the answer to the problem seems none the less very simple. we as Christians need to be careful as to what songs we do sing. All of them should be based on or word for word scripture, or at least summarize Biblical truths. i do find it strange that anyone would say that musical instruments should not be used in worship or that only Psalms should be sung. with musical instruments what are we to say when the Jews worshiped in the Temple with Harps and Lyres (2 Samuel 6:5, 1 Kings 10:12, I Chronicles 13:8) is that part of worship to change because the Messiah has come? Also the argument that we are to only sing Psalms makes little sense in light of the Psalms that we actually sing from the Psalter. Most of these Psalms are not word for word from the Bible because they need to Rhyme in English. To follow Logically we would then have to sing Psalms in Hebrew. All this being said it is not a big deal as to what we sing or to what musical instruments we sing along with as long as it is reverent. As to the content of the songs we sing they should of course be Biblical. They must accurately summarize if not quote Scripture. Other than this qualification i don't see what else could matter. Sure some song summarize or quote Scripture better than others but you can say the same thing with a sermon. some sermons on a passage are not very good yet they are still Biblical and some are excellent and are Biblical. Do we compare based on whether the sermon is good or bad in our eyes or if it is Biblical? While yes we should strive to be as Biblical as possible we should not require others or look down on others for singing songs that are not as "good". Tell me if i'm wrong Pastor but these are just some of my thoughts.

  12. BSuden asserts "...the reformed do not sing from the Heidelberg catechism." He/she really needs to become better acquainted with what "the reformed" do -- or become more reticent.

    The Reformed church to which I belong frequently sings a beautifully-rhymed Heidelberg Q&A 1 ("What is your only comfort in life and in death . . . ?") to the suitably majestic Genevan tune for Psalm 56. We also frequently sing a "word-for-word" Apostles' Creed. If old Psalmbooks are any indication, Reformed churches have been singing either or both of these confessional/creedal statements (and perhaps more) for a very long time.

  13. Hi Chris,

    Am I missing something? Do you know something about the LURC that I do not? Are you a regular attendee that I have missed? Probably not the best way to approach the point of the post.

    No, no, no and yeah, probably not the best way on second thought to approach the post, but the psalm singing folks I know, did not find the LURC a haven for psalmody. Things seemed to have changed from what I can tell from this post. But respectfully, I still wasn’t that enamored of how the subject was treated in passing at the conference. Dr. Godfrey is much too gracious. The historic reformed position is what it is, despite what any of us believe on the topic.

    As for your other comments, you speak as such an authority in the Reformed church--and so readily correct our beloved professor. Please do introduce yourself.

    Anyone who bothers to read Bushell (which CColdwell of the Confessional Presbyterian is reprinting this year) can speak with authority on the topic. It is not, as they say, rocket science and that with all due respect to Kuyper.
    Or shall we play Father Abraham off Calvin, Beza, Turretini and a host of others?
    Further, I was always under the impression that the truth is its own authority. While yrs. truly may truly be a fool - or was that a true fool? - the comments can stand on their own merits.

    As re. instruments, Girardeau’s title on instrumental worship is the American classic on the topic. It is also again the historic position and yeah, I know, when I first heard about it, I thought it was nuts too.
    In the proverbial nutshell, while the worship of the synagogue was moral and didactic and is the forerunner of the NT Christian worship, the worship of the temple was typical and ceremonial. But instruments were only brought into the temple by God’s command and with Cavalry and Pentecost, the ceremonial types and worship are fulfilled - instrumental worship being a type of the joy of the Holy Spirit - and a return to that typical worship is judaizing. So Calvin, Voetius and other reformed, though maybe not the modern reformed.
    (Which is what I thought RSC's RRC was all about. Just because the modern reformed chruch does soemthing, does not necessarily make it reformed.)

    But that’s enough of stirring the pot for now, eh?

    Thanks again,

    Bob S
    (Say hello to yr. elder, Jim DH. He knows who I am, though you might have to twist his arm a bit to get it out of him ;).

  14. Bob, so which local church do you belong to?

  15. Shawn, thanks for the interaction, this practice has gone on longer than some have wanted to admit.

  16. Hi Slimjim, I apologize for not responding. I appreciate your humble approach. And I agree that there are a lot of inconsistences with the present practice of Psalm-singing. I also agree with you that everything we sing should be from the truth/words of Scripture. I think Kuyper’s argument, however, is that nothing we write can even come close to the inspired words God has given us in the psalms. Who can disagree with his guilded tin and pure gold contrast? We need to do a better job putting our psalms to singable tunes. Part of the problem in our tradition with the Psalter is that so many of the Genevan tunes have been difficult to sing. Now this could be a cop- out, because the Canadian Reformed churches do sing these Genevan Psalms like no one else! But I still think we can do better to inspire a love for the practice. Let’s face it, if we have been used to very sentimentalized songs for worship here in America, we need to do the best we can in making the psalms enjoyable to sing for our people.

    My other concern is this: when I meet certain people who condemn everyone else for singing a hymn, and sit off in their own little corner because there are just no “true” churches left that would be worthy for their joining, do they think there are inspiring anyone to their cause? In other words, why is it that everyone I meet who is extremely all or none on these issues, are the most divisive people in the church? Ironically, they won’t join a church, they won’t humble themselves, they are totally sectarian directly disobedient the Lord, while they bash everyone else over their few issues. Didn’t Jesus warn about straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel? I have rarely met anyone real humble, patient, or willing to yield on much of anything who hold to this view. I could only wish that people approached their concerns like you. Thanks slimjim!

  17. I like what I read. Although I am a new kid on the blog, the understanding that we have to be an authority in the church to be able to speak about the issues in the church is to me a no,no. Sorry Chris, I do not mean to be disrespectful and I hope I am not missing the mark. I do believe as Reformed members of the Church we should know what we stand for. This means also that we should know what we are doing in the worship service. It's the place where we meet our God. It's the place where His Holy Spirit works together with the proclamation of His Word. The two sons of Aron forgot that basic fact and the Lord killed them. No small thing!!
    Singing the Psalms of David is giving to God what He gave us first. Our offering to God is giving back to Him what we receive from Him. Chris,you have experienced the singing of the psalms in the ARC in Lynden and I did hear your remark about it from the pulpit. Yes, they can sing but why? Because it has been done for more then three centuries. The man who wrote the Genevan melodies knew the rules how to compose melodies for congregational singing.
    I find that missing in the Christian Reformed Songbook. Maybe your Church should study some of the basics from the past. I am not an expert but I do know the difference between the solemn Genevan tunes and the sentimental tunes we hear in the American Churches. Man- inspired songs and four-line verse do not belong in a Reformatoric psalm book. We should sing the divinely inspired Psalms. Using the divinely inspired Holy Scriptures for our congregational singing most securely will prevent wrong influences.

  18. Hi Marnix,

    Your write, the understanding that we have to be an authority in the church to be able to speak about the issues in the church is to me a no,no.

    Can you elaborate? I not sure I completely understand your point. Thanks

  19. Hi Chris.

    I wrote: The understanding that we have to be an authority in the church to be able to speak about the issues in the church is to me a no,no.
    You ask me:
    Can you elaborate? I not sure I completely understand your point.

    Chris, I was refering to your comment to BSuden. to whom you wrote:
    As for your comments, you speak as such an authority in the Reformed church.-and so readily correct our beloved professor.

    I took this as that we have to be an authority to be able to correct a professor. In other words, if one is not an authority in the church we can't really speak. I may also quote BSuden "I was always under the impression that the truth is its own authority"

    I hope you understand me. If I have taken your comment out of context, I humbly repent.

    This brings me to another point.
    I sometimes feel that one can easily get lost in the many comments made on the blog. Not every writer stays on the subject and I may very well be one of them. When I wrote on the Psalms, I really did not deal with the Geneva tunes which really is the issue. Maybe sometimes in the future we could stir that pot a little.
    Talk to yea later

  20. Dear Marnix,

    Your write, “I took this as that we have to be an authority to be able to correct a professor. In other words, if one is not an authority in the church we can't really speak… If I have taken your comment out of context, I humbly repent.”

    I think you have, there is another context with B Suden. I have no problem for a professor to be corrected, humbly done I add, if he is in error.

    Overall, I like your comments, and yes, I did comment about the good singing of the hymns and psalms in the local ARC. A good acoustical building does help, Marnix. But you are correct, the tradition is long established in the singing of the Psalms, and you do it well. But I also am quite happy with the way we sing here too in the LURC. We are working on a songbook in the URC, hopefully it will help with some of the concerns that you raise.

  21. I found this post belatedly and really appreciate it. I'm an OPC church member in a church that (like most of them) sings exclusively from the Trinity Hymnal. Since I've never become convinced that uninspired song in worship has biblical warrant, I choose Psalms from the Book of Psalms for Singing, in advance of the worship service, that I can sing (quietly) while the rest of the congregation is singing the hymn. Not a perfect solution but the best I can come up with at present. I appreciate that Kuyper, while willing to allow in principle that uninspired song is allowable, still had good reasons for sticking to the Psalms. In other words, it's not just about EP versus non-EP argumentation.