Thomas Dickson Baird.

An inquiry into the privilege and duty of the Christian church, in the exercise of sacred praise: a chronology and history of Scripture songs .. online

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Christ." Now, if so, how can the author and his friends
confine the meaning of the apostle to the book of Psalms.
If all are intended by the word of Christ, all ought to be
used according to the command of Christ — of course, our
songs of praise ought to be taken from all. This explana-
tion of our author would, I apprehend, correspond more
•with thje practice he opposes, than with that which he de-
fends. ' It is another curious specimen of consistency, to
explain the word of Christ, as referring to the whole word
of inspiration, and yet from that derive an argument that
the apostle only meant the Psalms of David. I think,
therefore, it is fully manifest, that our author's premises
are much too broad for his conclusion : or, rather, the


C(Snciuslon is narrowed down quite too much for the pre-
mises; and that they would afford his opponents a much
stron^|r argument, than they can afford to himself.

I now venture the opinion that, in the place in question,
"the apostle did not intend either the New or the Old
Testament, by the term ivord of Christ. As this may ap-
pear new, to many of my readers, I request their atten-
tion to the following considerations :

I believe it was not intended to refer to the Old Testa-
ment, because, at that time, the Bible was only to be ob^
tained in two languages, Hebrew and Greek. In the time*
of Ptolemy Philadelphus, the Jewish scriptti res were trans
lated into Greek, although many of the learned have thought
that no more than the five books of Moses, called the Pen-
tateuch, v/ere then translated.

This opinion appears to be countenanced by Josephus,
who says, " Let it not be understood that this "^great king
had all the copies given him entire, but only such of them
as respect our laws; and were delivered to him at Alex-
andria by the interpreters that were sent with them thither,
to that purpose," Aht. p. 2.

In a discourse, prefixed to the same work, we have
the following statement : " The Hebreiv of the Bible
was at and after the time of our Saviour^ a. learned language^
and not understood but by scholars : the common language
of the Jews being at that time Syriack intermixed with
Chaldee: and there was no usual reading of the Xaif; in
Hebrew, in the synagogues, without an interpretation of
it, which they read also." The Samaritans rejected the
Hebrew prophets, and their Bible contained no more than
the Jive books. It appears, however, that if the seventy
translated the pentateuch only, the remainder of the Bible
was translated by some otliers; for, at the coming of
Christ, the Greek was the language in which it was prin-
cipally read- The Hebrew language, therefore, had be-
come a dead letter to the people, and the Bible was only
to be found in that and in Greek.

Again. It was more than a thousand years after this,

before the art of printing was discovered or invented.

Copies bf the Bible when procured, were written out by

hand at a great price, and although copies were generally



procured for the synagogues, yet we hear very little of
their being in private families.

Besides all this, the people of that age had not the ad-
vantage of education that we enjoy in the present age of
the world, and very few indeed could read their books in
tlieir own language. Those, therefore, who now enjoy
the advantages of education and printing, can form scarce-
ly any adequate conception of the scarcity of books, and
how few could use them. Indeed, if in this age of print-
ing and Bibles, so many thousands are still destitute of
the scriptures, what must have been the scarcity of that
age of ignorance and poverty.

Now, of all the languages spoken on the day of Pente-
cost, Acts ii. 8 — 11, the Bible was read in only one.
And how scarce it was, may be farther seen from the fact,
that about the close of the second century, and more than
one hundred and fifty years after the crucifixion of the Re-
deemer, Melito, bishop of Sardis, took much pains to
collect as well as ascertain the number and order of the
sacred books. On that occasion he addressed Onesimus
as follows : — ■

'•^Melito to Onesimus, greeting : Forasmuch as out of
vour great love to, and delight in the holy scriptures, you
have oft desired me to collect such passages out of the law
and the prophets as relate to our Saviour, and the several
parts of our christian faith, and to be certainly informed
of the books of the Old Testament, how many in number,
and in what order they were written, I have endeavoured
to comply with your desires in this affair. For I know
your great zeal and care concerning the faith, and how
much you desire to be instructed in matters of religion.,
and especially out of love to God how infinitely you pre-
fer these above all other things, and are solicitous about
your eternal salvation^ In order hereunto, I travelled in-
to the east, and being arrived at the place where those
things were done and published, and having accurately
informed myself of the books of the Old Testament, I have
sent you the following account. " Cave, p. 3425 Mosh-
eim, vol. 1, p. 1845 Milnor, vol. 1, p. 244. Here follows
a catalogue of the sacred books, which is the same acg that
now in our Bibles, except, that Nehemiah was included in
Ezra, and Esther was wanting.


This was the first catalogue of the Old Testament books,
made bj any christian writer, although it was so h)ng after
the time of our Saviour, which demonstrates the scarcity
of copies at that period. This is further confirmed, by the
fact of Meiito having to travel into the east, viz. into Ju*
dea, in order to procure them. Sardis, of which Meiito
was bishop, is situated about one degree N. E. of Ephesus,
and about a degree and a half a little N. of E. from Colosse
and Laodicea. Three of th^se places are numbered among
the seven churches of the Apocalypse. Instead, however,
of obtaining the sacred scriptures in tliis part of the church,
Meiito, at the close of the second century, had to travel
into the land of Judea for that purpose.

Now, when we have the practice of believers, from the
song of Mary and others, about the time of Christ^s appear-
ance — of the multitudes and those who were liealed — of
the Corinthian and other churches, who composed and
brought forward their psalms of praise, all placed before us,
as examples of the practice of the disciples bi\ that subject
— when we have seen Christianity arising iu Judea, and
spreading forth that light which immediately radiated
through Asia Minor, Thrace, Macedonia, Greece, Italy,
Lydia, Egypt, Chaldea, Elymai, Mesopotamia, ^yria and
Arabia, and reflect, that, among the languages spoken in-
all these countries, and other places where the gospel
was spread, in the first century, the Bible was only to be
found in the Greek — and, when we have seen, that such
was the state of ignorance in that age, that few could ev^
read their vernacular tongue, can we, for a moment, per-
sa-ade ourselves, that, under such circumstances, the apos-
tle referred the disciples at Ephesus and Colosse, to the.
Okl Testament, as the word of Christ, from which they
were to extract their songs of praise? Certainly not.

Again. It is very obvious that it was not the New Tes-
tament, to which the apostle had reference^ Of the New
Testament considerably less than the half was then written^
according to the generality of chronologers, and several
parts, of what was then extant, were as yet in very few
hands.. Being, therefore, recently written.^ an epistle in
one place and a gospel in another, it is not even supposable
that the apostle did refer to it, unless he had some allusion
to the epistles he was then writing, as that iv&rd of Christ,

«'A ox l»SALMai>¥.

which was io dwell in iiicm, and froni which their praises'
were to be drawn.

Finally. I believe, thatj when the apostle emplojed the
term word of Christ. Yai intended expressly f/ie gospel
which he called the word of faiih—the ivord of the gospel
^he word of God— or ihe icord of Christ, as it occurred.
When the writers of the New Testament referred to the
Old, it was by tiie terms or phrases, tJie scriptures — as it
is 2vrittcn—as sailh the prophet, &c. Both these modes
f>f expression arc examplitied in- Acts, xvii. 11, ''These
were more noble than those of Thessalonica, in that ihej
leceived the word with ail readiness of mind, and search-
ed the scriptures daily, wliether these things were so.'^
Here, as in other places, the preached gospel is termed the
7forf/; but the Oid Testament the scriptures. This will
more fully appear, from the following catalogue of texts,
where t!ie term ivord occurs, and which might have been
greatly increased had it been necessary. Those, however,
who will not be satisfied, with the examination of what is
ofrered, would not be more so if the number were increased.
ircc then riat. xiii. 19-23: Stark iv. 14-2O5. Luke v. 5,
xi. 28; John xvii. 20; Acts iv. 3!, vi. 2, 7, viii. 25, x. 36,
37, xii. 24, xiii, 7, 26, 44, 46, 4&, 49, xv. 7, xvi. 32, xix.
JiO, 20, XX'. 32; Rom. x. 8; Gal. vi. 6; Phil. i. 14. ii. 16:,
Col. i. 5; IstThes. i. 5, 8, ii. 13; 2d Thes. iii.' 1; 1st
Tim. v. 17; Heb. xiii. 7; 1st Pet. i. 23, 25; Rev. i. 2, 9,
vi. 9, and xx. 4. Yv^nen it is farther considered, that, al-
though the scriptures were at that time a^zcessible to so few,.
ihl preached word was, by the gift of tongues, addressed
to every nntlon, in their own language in which they ivere
horn — Whether then is it most reasonable, that the apos-
tle referred to the ivord of the gospel, which every one had
i\]e opportunity of hearing, or the ivritten word which very
few l,ad tlie privilege of residing. If these texts are hon-
estly examined, and the other considerations suggested^.,
ire cand>diy weighed, I am fully convinced the reader will
see, that in the epi^ides before us, the apostle had not any
positive reference to the ivritten scriptures; but to thegos-
fd which they had preached, ^/this he says, '* Let the
word of Christ dwell in you richly, in all wisdom," and by-
this they were required to admonish one another, in their
soDgs of praise.


Should it be thought to interfere with this view, that the
Jews were required to search the scriptures — that the Ber-
eans were commended for their industry in that exercise —
that Timothy understood them from his childhood— and,
that Peter speaks of the scriptures, as, a more sure word
of prophecy, and of some who wrested the writings of Paul
to their own destruction; let these things be considered.
Ttiat we have admitted, that the Jews had the scriptures
among them, and were in some degree conversant with
them— that the Bereans were Jews,^ who had the ancient
scriptures in their synagogue— -that Timothy was the son
of a Jewess, who appears to have taken special care of his
education, and whose faith,, with that of his grandmother,
is commended by the apostle — and that those, who were
mentioned by Peter, inhabited that region to which nearly-
all the epistles of Paul were addressed, and spoke the Greek
language, into which the Old Testament had been transla-
ted, and in which the New was written. All this, there-
fore, does not in the least affect the truth, of the want of
the scriptures, in the other languages; the scarcity of them
in that tongue in which they were found; nor yet, the fact
of general ignorance of letters, and general incapacity to
read the word of God in any language. Finally. Our sen-
timents ai-e more fully confirmed, by the apostle, in the
following words, Heb. xiii. 7, 8y -'Remember them which
have the rule over you, who have s^jofcen unto you the word
of God, whose faith follow, considering the end of their
conversation," &c. It is the word of God preached, which
they are required to follow, and so it is in the plaee ia

The next question is, are we to Gonsider the phrase^
"Psalms, and hymns, and spiritual songs, "as applying, ex-
clusively, to the Psalms of David, or are we to understand
these words, as applying, indefinitely, to any sacred poetry,.
ancient or modern, which is scriptural in its doctrines, and
suited to express the exercises of the people of God. The
first opinion is that of our author and his friends: the
latter is ours. We may be permitted too, to express our
conviction, that, there would be no dispute about thes©
wordsy were there not a favourite position to tnaintaiir^
The very form of the words point out tlieiir d'esi^V aa^l' k»
sm:h phraseolkjgy lia^ving, Ijeeu^ Muue emgibjed'y m Sfealk'


ing of anj. part of scripture, it is extraordinary that eveir
they were supposed to have a special reference to the
Psalms of David.

Brown, in his Dictionary of the Bible, says, '^* Psalms
may denote such as were sung on instruments; hymns
such as contain only matter of praise; and spiritual songs
such as contain doctrines, iiistory, and proplresy for men's
instruction.*' This author, it is true, leans to the opinion
that it is only in the ancient Psalms that we are to look
for these three kinds of poetry.

It is Tiot by any means denied, but the Psalms would
bear such a division; but, did any such division ever obtain
among the Jews.^ were they ever accustomed to designate
them by such a phraseology? did ever Christ or his apostles
speak of them by these denominations? If not, why should
the apostle adopt this singular distinction, vv.ben speaking
t^f the same collection? These questions, we think, will be
answered only in one way, by a mind free from previous
bias. To make this as plain as possible : — When Christ,
ur. his apostles, spake of the Psalms of David, they uniform-
ly employed language that eoiild not iKi misunderstood, as
;nay be seen in the following, as well, as in other texts,
of scripture: Math. xxii. 43; Mark xii. 36; and I.uke xx.
43, '* David himself saith in the book c-f Psalms." Luke
xxiv. 44, '' AH things must be fulfilled, which were written,
in the law of Moses,.and in the prophets, and in the Psalms, .
concerning me." Acts i., 16, *' This scripture must needs-
be fulfilled, which the Holy Ghost by the mouth of David,
spake before concerning Judas." Ajcts ii. 34^ . '* For David
is not ascended into the heavens: but he saith himself, .
The Lord said unto my Lord, Sit thou on my right hand. "^
Tiiii. SSj. "It is also written in the second Psalm, Thou art*
my Son^ this day have I begotten thee." Heb. iv. 7, '* A-^
gain,, he limiteth a certain day, saying in David, To day.
after so long a time," &:c. &c.

Several of these expressions, particularly the two last, were
usedj. by the apostle wliose language we are considering,
some before, and some after the writing of these epi8tles>
to the Ephesians and Colossians. Why then, if he inten-
ded the Psalms of David, and them only, did he depart
Vrom the usual mode of expression, without any necessity?-
Why did})e introduce, what 1 must still eall a tautology, by,



adding hymns and spiritual songs, when the word, Psalms^
of David, would have been better understood. The rea-
son, obviously was, that the design was not the same. He
had no intention of making any particular reference to that
book, aneen shown, "that neiv songs
were promised to the churchy in the days of the Messiah —
that they were sung on account of his birth — miracles —
triumphant entry into Jerusalem, and by his disciples and
churches after his ascension. — It has been shown that Ian-
guages were numerous, the people unlearned, and copies of
the scriptures exceedingly scarce indeed, until several
eenturies after this time. Is it then a fair conclusion,
that under all these circumstances, the apostle intended
to confine the church to the psalms of the Old Testament,,
wkich an immense majority could not procure, or use them)
if obtained 5 and that too by the use of terma he hadi not'


feeen accustomed to employ when speaking of those'
psalms? Certainly not.

But further: As our Saviour appears'never to have dis-
eouraged, much less forbidden a new song — never, that the
scriptures inform us, united in singing an: old one — if the
apostle intended now to begin the restriction, and confine
the church to the old system, was it not requisite, that his
language should be of the most perspicuous and pointed
character, so that there should be no doubt left on the
minds of worshippers. Indeed, considering the practice
of the church, from the beginning, nothing less than the
most plain declaration, that no other than the psalms of
David must be sung in the worshipof God, to the end of the
world, would have been sufficient to answer the design of
such a prohibition, as our author and his friends have de-
fended. Was there then, nothing more to support our
sentiments than the indefinite mode of expression the a-
postle emplojed, I would be satisfied that no such restric-
tion was designed. But we have seen, that much is offer-
ed, which ought not only to protect us from the charge of
&(ynfident assumptiGn^ and of relying on the ignorance or
credulity of our readers^ but convince our opponents that
tlie truth is with us.

There is, however, another consideration, which must
have weight with every candid mind. The scriptures al-
though intended for general use in the church, were, gen^
erally at first, written with a view to some particular oc-
casions, and adapted to those occasions. This was, per-
haps, pre-eminently the case, with regard to the Epistles of
Paul, and no less so in respect of those to the Ephesians and
Colossians, than any otlier. Indeed, the history of those^
places, well written, would be a striking illustration of the
language of the apostle to them. Ephesus, and the cities of
Asia Minor, of which it was the chief, *' walked in lacivi-
ousness, lusts, excess of wine, revellings, banquetings, and
abominable i*!clatrles," 1 Pet. iv. 3. In Ephesus, in partic-
ular, they had their B a cch in alia, a i'est'wsd in honor of the
god Bacchus, who had given them the vine; in this they spent
the night in drunkenness, and songs, and the most detesta-
ble debaucheries. They sung Evoi Saboi, Evoi Bacche,^
with other idolatrous and obscene songs. They had anoth-
er nocturnal festival called Eltisinia Sacra, in which cor*


respondent licentiousness was indulged. They had many
impure songs, of which one was entitled Fhallika asmata.
Of these practices the apostle, in the chapter in which he
inculcates the use of spiritural sono-s, says to the Ephe-
sians: " Have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of
darkness, but rather reprove them. For it is a shame e-
ven to speak of those things which are done of them in se-
cret." Eph. V. 11, 12.

They had also another nocturnal festival, of which
Cave, in his biography* gives the following account : '* The
Ephesians were a people of great looseness and impiety^
their manners were wanton and effeminate, protune and
prodigal. They v/ere strangely bewitched with the study
of magic and the arts of sorcery and divination; miserably
overrun with idolatry, especially the temple and worship
of Diana, for which they were famous through tlie whole
world. Among the many idolatrous festivals, they had
one called Katagogiox, which was celebrated after this
manner; habiting themselves in an antic dress, and cover-
ing their faces with ugly vizors, that they min;ht not be
knov.'ii, \\']tl\ crnbrj in their hands, they carried^idols in a
wild and frantic manner up and down the most eminent
»lacej> of the city, sini>;ino; certain songs and verses to them;
and witnout any compassion or respect either to age or
sex, setting upon all persons ti»at they met, they beat out
their brains, glorying in it as a brave atchievement, and a
great honor to their gods.*' Cave, 146.

The historian then proceeds to state, how the evange-
list Timothy lost his life, by boldly r-eproving and at-
tempting to persuade them from their folly, and wicked -
ikess, in one of th.ese procos^4i!)ll5. lliey beat him with
tiieir clubs so that he died in three days. In respect to
these practices the apostle exhorts them not to indulge in
(hem, as tlie heathen or gentiles, '^who know not God;"
to avoid the works of darkness, and to jnit on the armonr
•-:/ (i2:ht. " Wherefore he saith ' ' Awake tliou that sleepest.
:rud arise from the dead, and Ciirist shall give thee light."
Eph. v. 14. These words JIeun>annus alleges to have
been a quotation, iymn '-one of those hymns, or spir-
lUial songs, wliich were in common use in the chris-
iian church, in those times, and which are mentioned by
the apostle in a subsequent passage, * Speaking to yoair-


Shelves in psalms and hyinns and. spiritual songs.' '' Ephui

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Online LibraryThomas Dickson BairdAn inquiry into the privilege and duty of the Christian church, in the exercise of sacred praise: a chronology and history of Scripture songs .. → online text (page 6 of 16)