It is important that we base our views upon sound principles of biblical interpretation. We need the whole panorama of Scripture, of the Old and New Testaments, rightly understood, to come to sound and biblical conclusions. This is why churches should sing both hymns (with correct biblical content) and psalms (ideally metrical and in modern English) for their congregational singing. We contend for both. We contend that both hymns and psalms should be sung as Ephesians 5:19-20 teaches: "Addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ". These exhortations are repeated in Colossians 3:16.
Singing of hymns in Congregational Singing
We are thankful for the Book of Psalms, which I believe should be sung in metrical form by all congregations where possible, but our singing must never be restricted only to psalms. Why is that? The psalms, though they are very important as a collection of songs for singing, teaching and prayers (which are vital to the life of the church), we must not overlook that they were written in the shadow of the Old Testament revelation period.
Colossians 2:16-17 "Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ".
Hebrews 10:1 "For since the law has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered every year, make perfect those who draw near".
While as a minister, I contend for the singing of psalms, we must sing hymns also, because the church has moved forward from the Old Testament revelation to the perfection of the new. The church has moved from shadow to fulfilment, from the shadow of good things to accomplishment, to the true form of those realities and to the substance of the Lord Jesus Christ. The content of singing, praying, preaching and catechising are all to reflect that great redemptive forward movement by God Almighty. I have a topical index of the psalms in metre which I regularly use in service planning, but there are many topics missing. This is because the Book of Psalms are in shadow, instead of in New Testament fulfilment.
Here are some examples of things omitted in the Book of Psalms which need to be sung about using hymns:
The atonement accomplished by the blood of Jesus through the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ.
The name and title of the Lord Jesus Christ
The name of the Triune God (Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit) and the doctrine of the Trinity
The title Holy Spirit is only found once in the Psalms (in 51:11) and yet this title is found on almost every page of the New Testament.
Baptism and the Lord's Supper are absent from the Psalms, as is understandable
Plain teaching on justification, adoption, regeneration and the new birth, heaven and the church's adversary Satan
It is true that not all hymns should be sung. They need to convey accurate doctrinal truth. But, we cannot imagine singing without including the name of Jesus, reference to the Trinity or plain truth on the atonement, the cross of Calvary and the resurrection and ascension of Christ.
Singing of Psalms in Congregational Singing
It is a poor state of affairs today, that much of evangelical Christianity have adopted an exclusive hymnody position. The church have sung the Book of Psalms for 3000 years. To neglect to sing psalms as part of the compliment of our singing is to impoverish the church, it is to disobey Scripture (Ephesians 5:19), and it reveals a lack of appreciation for divine revelation and of church history.
In conclusion, I pray for a recovery of the singing of hymns and psalms in public and private singing, to rightly obey the Lord, to convey truth to the church and the world, to enrich our public worship and to honour the Triune God through the Lord Jesus Christ. However, we need biblical balance because singing, though it is important, it is not a mark of a true church. The high point of worship is to be the preaching of sound doctrine, the right administration of the sacraments and prayer.
Finally, let us hear Jonathan Edwards who recorded some errors that occurred in the 18th Century revival (Jonathan Edwards, Works, Volume 1, Banner of Truth, p 396).
Jonathan Edwards on Including Hymns and Psalms for Congregational Singing
But what is more especially found fault with, in the singing now practised, is making use of hymns of human composure. I am far from thinking that the Book of Psalms should be thrown by in our public worship, but that it should always be used in the christian church to the end of the world: but I know of no obligation we are under to confine ourselves to it. I can find no command or rule of God's word, that does any more confine us to the Words of Scripture in our singing, than it does in our praying; we speak to God in both. And I can see no reason why we should limit ourselves to such particular forms of words, that we find in the Bible, in speaking to him by way of praise, in metre, and with music, than when we speak to him in prose, by way of prayer and supplication. And it is really needful that we should have some other songs besides the Psalms of David.
It is unreasonable to suppose that the Christian church should for ever, and even in times of her greatest light, in her praises of God and the Lamb, be confined only to the words of the Old Testament, wherein all the greatest and most glorious things of the gospel, that are infinitely the greatest subjects of her praise, are spoken of under a veil, and not so much as the name of our glorious Redeemer ever mentioned, but in some dark figure, or as hid under the name of some type. And so as to making use of the words to others and not those that are conceived by ourselves, it is no more than we do in our public prayers; the whole worshipping assembly, excepting one only, makes use of the words that are conceived by him who speaks for the rest.
Jonathan Edwards succinctly conveys the sum and substance of New Testament truth, regarding the congregational singing to be practiced by the church.