Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.—Matth. 19.6.

[The New R.P. Psalter: A Critical Review.]
 
THE NEW REFORMED
PRESBYTERIAN PSALTER:
A Critical Review.

Published by order of the
 

GENERAL MEETING
OF THE
REFORMED PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH,
Meeting at the House of Mary A. Blair,
North Union, Butler County, PA., June 10, 1912.
We have seen several commendatory laudations of this newest of their different attempts to bury in oblivion the grand and faithful metrical version of the Psalms as adopted by the Church of Scotland in her purest days.

But one in the Christian Nation of July 10, 1912, with the above caption caught our eye. It was taken from the R.P. Witness, Scotland.

The writer after launching forth in a general encomium of the work, proceeds to examine the text, and he finds it almost perfect. He says: "It is common knowledge now that both our Authorized prose Version of the Psalms and our traditional metrical version * * * contain not a few blemishes and errors of translation.

These are bold words. No translation of the Bible or any part of it, ever had the labor bestowed upon it; or "such scrutiny of competent authority and learning, as this version." True Psalmody, page 222. It represents first the labors of an eminent scholar named Rouse, then it was subjected to a most careful scrutiny by the Assembly of Divines at Westminster, in the year 1645. They made amendments. Next they were sent down to Scotland for further consideration. The Scottish General Assembly appointed a committee of four men to revise them, and to set down their own method of correcting. They were recommended to make use of the labors of Rowallin, Boyd, and others, but especially the Paraphrase (version) then in use. The version thus purified by the Scottish committee was sent to all the Presbyteries of the Church, who transmitted their observations to the original committee. These reported their labors on the remarks from the Presbyteries, to the Commission of the General Assembly for Public Affairs. The Commission revised the whole, and then sent them to the Provincial Synods; and by them they {13} transmitted a second time to the Presbyteries: and after they had further considered them, the version, thus fully prepared, was sent up to the General Assembly. The version so prepared was then allowed by the authority of the General Assembly of the Kirk of Scotland, and appointed to be sung in congregations and families, 1649. See True Psalmody, pages 219-221. Neil’s History of the Puritans, volume 1, page 388.

This is the version which this writer terms, "traditional" and "contains not a few errors and blemishes." We do not say that they are perfect, no work of man is; but they are as nearly so, as the scholarship and diligence of two of the most learned Assemblies ever convened on earth could make them. With but few exceptions eminent scholars (even though foes) have been constrained to admit their fidelity to the original Hebrew.

But let us look at some of his criticisms of the text. The first is Psalm 17.5, which he says is "entirely indefensible as a translation of the Psalmists utterance." The words are:

Hold up my goings, Lord me guide
In those Thy paths divine,
So that my footsteps may not slide
Out of those ways of Thine.
He says, "the new American Psalter puts the correct sense in two lines:—
My feet have followed in thy path,
My footsteps have not erred.
Anyone may readily see the difference of meaning in the two versions. The point of contention lies mainly in the translation of the verb in the first clause. These revisers have followed Gesenius and some others, and translated it as an infinitive construed as a finite verb; but Gesenius admits that others, as the Targum take it as imperative. It is often used in scripture of God as upholding or sustaining as: "My servant whom I uphold," Isa. 42.1. "Thy right hand upholdeth thee," Isa. 41.10, and others. And the whole context {14} refutes any attempt to prove that it is not a prayer which the psalmist here utters, a prayer for grace to sustain and keep him in God’s ways. The proud heart rebels against this soul humbling doctrine, and desires something of which to boast: ("All these things have I kept from my youth up, what lack I yet?" Matt. 19.20) and thence we think comes the change.

In Psalm 19.3, the psalmist is declaring a grand truth concerning the praise of God by the heavens; and in the next verse he repeats it in different words making a climax for the strongest possible assertion of the truth.

To render it as in the new Psalter:—

There is no speech, there are no words
No voice of theirs is heard.
Rather contradicts the following verse—
Their line is gone through all the earth,
Their words to the world’s end.
So to obviate this somewhat, they insert the word "yet" for which there is nothing in the original; still their rendering is far from the beauty and emphatic truth presented in our authorized version.

Next he takes up Psalm 68:19:—

Who daily with his benefits
Us plenteously doth load.
Which he says "must be given up as a translation," and presents the American version as the correct rendering:
Who of our burdens day by day
Himself doth bear the load.
He says the Psalmist said, "Who daily carrieth for us." We say, "Who daily loadeth us," with what? With his mercies both temporal and spiritual.

But it seems to mean especially, temporal blessings purchased by Jesus Christ for all his seed. The verb means to lay a load upon. "They that bear burdens with those that laded," Neh. 4.17. "And laded every man his ass," Gen. 44.13. The lamed preposition, implying possession or a dative of the possessor, shows that these benefits become ours in possession through the bounty of Jehovah. So the {15} Scottish version gives a literal and true rendering of the verse.

In Psalm 76.4, the Psalmist is celebrating the victories of Israel’s covenant God over all their enemies; and wherein they behaved themselves proudly he was above them. Though the enemies might have great power, and fortresses strong as mountains; "the glorious and mighty Lord" will bring them down. Our metrical version renders the original literally; and if men were as diligent in seeking for the mind of the Holy Spirit in the passage, as for something to carp at, the eyes of their understanding might be opened.

The rendering of the new Psalter—

Excellent art thou and glorious
Coming from the hills of prey.
Besides being not a true rendering of the original only darkens the text. The inserting of "coming" seems wholly uncalled for.

He says, "it may seem trifling to insist on changing an ‘in’ to an ‘of’, but that the difference may be very important will be seen from the instance of Psalm 138.5." We agree, "the difference may be very important," therefore we insist on retaining the authorized ‘in.’ Those kings who only sing "of the righteous ways of God are but heaping up wrath for themselves; while those who sing ‘in’ them i.e. walking in his righteous precepts; they rejoice in Jesus Christ, and wield their scepters for his honor and glory.

Next he notices Psalm 139.16, "as a sign of the scholarly care and reverent boldness with which the American friends have done their task of revision." We fear their "scholarly care" has led them into the same situation as Israel of old: "My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge," Hosea 4.6. "They like men have transgressed the covenant," chapter 6.7; and it is likely that their "reverent boldness" had its counterpart there too: "Thou hast a whore’s forehead, thou refusedst to be ashamed," Jer. 3.3. But as to the above passage; this writer confesses "that the Hebrew is difficult," but he "ventures to think that the {16} Americans have chosen the best and likeliest rendering." Ellipses, or words omitted, are common to all languages, oral or written. Often we can mentally supply the omissions in oral language, but the written has more need to have the omitted words, or clauses, supplied to make the meaning clear. This is especially true in translating from one language to another. And the passage in question is a case where supplementing is necessary; and the only question is, what are the true supplements? It is made true by the context, that it is God’s wonderful work in forming the body of man in the womb that the psalmist is here describing. It is God’s omniscient eye and omnipotent hand taking the shapeless mass in the womb, and fashioning it into a being so astonishingly made, that the body of man has been called a little microcosm—a little world. It is a truth taught elsewhere in scripture that all our days are ordained and written in the book of God’s decrees from eternity; but no reference is made to it here. These revisionists have wholly missed the mark. The psalmist says:—Thine eyes mine unformed substance did behold, yet being unperfect. It is God’s hand that fashions this shapeless substance, but the Almighty works not without a plan; the whole temple of the body is wrought after a plan delineated in his book. So the psalmist continues:—"And in the book they were all written." All of what? Of what is the body composed? Evidently, members is the correct supplement and is the subject of "were written" and also of the following verb "were fashioned," for he is still describing the gradual development of the fœtus in the womb. So the word which they have translated "my days," denotes the period of this development; and correctly answers to our authorized version, "in continuance." Thus we see how faithfully and plainly our learned fathers set down for us the language of the inspired penman.

Again he says:—"We are particularly happy to notice that in the new Psalter the word ‘death’ or ‘grave’ has been substituted for the misleading word ‘hell.’" That is a popular speech in these days of spiritual darkness. No mention {17} must be made of the place of torment; in fact, great bodies of so-called bible teachers have endeavoured to vote it out of existence. Only to those who are purblind will "it seem unaccountable that the framers of our old metrical Psalter did not take care to use in every other case the word which they used in Psalm 16.10:—Because my soul in grave to dwell…."

Those noble men who, by the strength of divine grace, framed our authorized metrical version of the Psalms believed the truth as written in Psalm 9.17:—

They who are wicked into hell
Each one shall turned be.
Yes, into the place of torment, "the lake of fire and brimstone (Rev. 20.10); into hell fire; where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched." Mark 9.47,48. In that passage cited, Psalm 139.8:
"There if in hell I lie."
The Psalmist shows that God’s eye beholds everything, and the power of his omnipotent arm is even in the dark caverns of the bottomless pit. Take ‘hell’ out of the passage, and to be consistent they should take out heaven also.

These are examples of the perversion of the words of the Holy Spirit in this new Psalter; yet this writer holds them up to view as decided improvements over our authorized metrical version. He declares; "They are entirely right in putting a true translation before everything—before tradition, custom, hallowed associations, melody or whatever." Had this been the thought of their hearts they would never have meddled with the grand and faithful metrical version of the Psalms as adopted by the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland. But instead, "now they break down the carved work thereof at once with axes and hammers." Psalm 74.6. But we venture the assertion that the Scottish version will live long ages after their work is buried in oblivion.

Why the multiplication in this new Psalter, of meters, long, short, and "peculiar"? Is it to make it more like the {18} fat hymn books? The numerals prefixed to the tunes seem weighty evidence on that side. How much more popular it sounds to say, let us sing number 402; than, let us sing the 150th Psalm.

They say in the preface of this Psalter: "the constant aim in the preparation of the present version has been to conserve the old and utilize the new." Had they a new revelation, a new manual of praise given them? Assuredly not! The only manual of praise given by Jehovah for his service is the Book of Psalms, and he commands us to sing these psalms. And God never gives any command to his people but he provides a way that they may be able to obey it.

He raised up learned and faithful men, and endowed them with wisdom and understanding for preparing a metrical version of the Psalms to be used in His worship both public and private. By the grace of God, the product of their labors was a version "more plain, smooth, and agreeable to the text than any heretofore." And we are assured it is as much superior to this new Psalter as light is to darkness. Moreover, it came "in by the door"—by the authority of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland; but this new Psalter has climbed in over the wall, that is, if there is any wall now, or perhaps it stalked boldly in over the ruins; and whoever wishes may adopt it as theirs.

Hence we behold the spectacle of at least three different standards of praise being used by the several congregations of the Old Light Reformed Presbyterian Synod. The alacrity with which many congregations are taking up this innovation betokens a sadly perverted taste, and a warning that the inner man may need cleansing.

As to the music little need be said, for it has no right nor place in a Psalm book. There are music books from which tunes may be learned, and but few tunes are necessary in order to sing the Psalms; and these such as are grave, decent, and comely. Our fathers always condemned whatever was "wanton or frothy" in singing God’s praise,—Then {19} what shall we say of the tunes in this new Psalter? There are more than three hundred in number; and this of itself is enough to condemn the book. How many of the members can learn to sing all of them? The multiplication of meters has made it possible to bring in a great variety of tunes; some of which (as even a favourable critic has observed) are "wanting in gravity: in some cases resembling a Scotch song with its ‘lilt,’ at other times reminding one of the lively and rather irreverent melodies associated with Moody and Sankey’s hymns."

And speaking of some of the hymn tunes that they have used he asks: "Will the worshipper not find it difficult to fix his mind entirely upon the words of the Psalm? Will the words of the hymn not be also present, and a confusion of thought take place." We add: Will not transition to singing, in worship, these and any other hymns be made very easy? Such is the obvious, if not the intended, end of this work. If they can use the tunes written expressly for these hymns, what is to hinder their using the hymns too?

These strange tunes are brought in under the specious pretext of improving the singing; they are, as it were, making a god of the music. As a judicious defender of the Psalms has well said: "Singing is a natural and proper expression of our affections, and is a means which God makes effectual in promoting gracious affections; and yet, though music, as an art, serves to excite natural affections, it is a delusion to suppose that it will in like manner excite those that are supernatural and heavenly. * * * Many observe the singing of Psalms as God’s ordinance, and have their spiritual affections thereby promoted, who are altogether ignorant of music as an art. * * * Music may not only affect the outward senses, but also raise the natural passions to the highest pitch, while the soul remains utterly estranged from spiritual affections. * * * To suppose that singing is a more proper means of promoting spiritual affections in proportion as the music is better adapted to the animal part of our nature, is enthusiastic and delusive {20} in itself, and opens the door to an inundation of enthusiasm and superstition." Graceless songs are but as the howlings of a dog, instead of acceptable worship in the ears of the Lord.

When we see how ready men are to put to their hands to change God’s ordinances, as though it were a matter of small moment, it should make us the more careful to preserve the worship of God in purity. This base attempt (for it never will be successful) upon our Authorized Version of the Psalms, should make us cling the more tenaciously to them as the vehicle of our praise to Jehovah—to the very words as adopted by the General Assembly of the Kirk of Scotland.

The Committees who framed this new Psalter in concluding the preface "unite in placing the results of their labors at the disposal of Jesus Christ, the Son of God and the Saviour of men." How men deceive themselves and try to deceive others. "But evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived."—2 Tim. 3.13.

A long time ago when Aaron had received the golden ear-rings from the hand of Israel, he "fashioned it with a graving tool, after he had made it a molten calf; and they said, These be thy gods, O Israel, which brought thee up out of the land of Egypt. And when Aaron saw it, he built an altar before it; and Aaron made proclamation, and said, tomorrow is a feast to the Lord," Ex. 32.4,5. "And the Lord plagued the people, because they made the calf which Aaron made," verse 35. And the sin of idolatry is the greater in proportion to the light and knowledge God has given any of the sons of men.

"Whatsoever things were written aforetime, were written for our learning."—Rom. 15.4.