Singing the Mediatorial Praise of Jesus
In his excellent article, "Exclusive Psalmody or New Covenant Hymnody," Lee Irons surveys the many canonical songs that we find both in the Old and the New Testament. He writes:
"There are many other hymns included in the canon of Scripture that, for whatever reason, were not added to the book of Psalms. It is profitable to make this clear by giving some examples:
The Song of Moses and Miriam (Exod. 15) Spring up, O well! (Num. 21:17-18) The Mosaic Song of Witness (Deut. 31:19-32:44) The Song of Deborah and Barak (Judges 5) The statutes of the Law were sung (Ps. 119:54) The Song of the Vineyard (Isa. 5:1-7) An Eschatological Song (Isa. 26-27) The Prayer of Habakkuk "on shigionoth" (Hab. 3)."Irons continues:
"What about the inspired hymns recorded in the NT? Although we cannot be sure, it seems reasonable to assume that the presence of these hymns in the NT canon indicates that they were sung in the worship services of the apostolic church. Again, it will be useful simply to list some of these hymns:
Mary's Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55) The Song of Zechariah (Luke 1:67-79) The Angelic Doxology (Luke 2:14) Simeon's Nunc Dimittis (Luke 2:28-32) A Pauline Christological hymn (Col. 1:15-20) The Carmen Christi (Phil. 2:5-11) A New Song (Rev. 5:9-10; 14:3) The Song of Moses and of the Lamb (Rev. 15:3-4) The Hallelujah chorus (Rev. 19:5-7) Charismatic hymnody (1 Cor. 14:15, 26)."Based on a survey of canonical songs that exist outside of the Psalter, Irons concludes the following:
"Exclusive psalmody assumes that the Book of Praises is the God-ordained hymnal for use by the covenant community in worship. Thus, the very existence of the Psalter is interpreted as an implicit command by God to sing only those hymns found therein. For God's people to go outside that hymnal — even if they restrict themselves to canonical texts beyond the Psalter — is to reject God's implicit command. But this assumption cannot be correct if God commanded his people to sing other hymns (e.g., Deut. 32), and if the apostolic church did as a matter of fact sing other hymns besides the 150 Psalms, as 1 Cor. 14:26 indicates that they did, and as the presence of new songs in the NT suggests."All of this, of course, brings us to Colossians 3:16 and Ephesians 5:19-20. In both of these places, the Apostle Paul charges the church to sing "psalms and hymns and spiritual songs" to the Lord. Proponents of exclusive psalmody will often suggest that those three words stand for the various types of songs in the Psalter. A consideration of the immediate context--coupled with our understanding of the progress of revelation in the history of redemption--demands that we draw a different conclusion. Minimally, we must conclude that God has given us other canonical songs to sing to Him--songs that explicitly reveal the mediatorial glory and excellency of Christ. Maximally, it means that we are to compose new songs that capture the full redemptive-historical glory of Christ. I had a professor in seminary who said, "If we do not sing the name of Jesus explicitly we are robbing Him of mediatorial glory." That is the essence of what Paul seems to be teaching in Colossians 3 and Ephesians 4. Again, Irons notes:
"Why would Paul say that we must 'teach and admonish one another with all wisdom in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs,' if he simply wanted to urge us to sing the canonical Psalms? Do we need "all wisdom" to select say, Psalm 100 this Sunday, but Psalm 72 the following Sunday? That doesn't seem to be what Paul has in view. It seems more likely that "all wisdom" is needed to choose the proper words for teaching and admonishing one another in song.
This interpretation is further supported by the topic sentence of the entire verse: 'Let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly, as you teach, etc.' The Word of Christ is the mystery Paul has been proclaiming in the epistle up to that point: the good news that we have been made complete in Christ by virtue of being united with him in his death/circumcision and resurrection. The book of Colossians as a whole focuses on the believers' need to be built up in this mystery and to grow into the fullness of life in Christ. Now, it is true that the Psalms speak of Christ (Luke 24:44). But surely Paul does not mean, "Let the Psalms' message about Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another by singing the Psalms." Rather, Paul is exhorting the Colossians to let the mystery, which has been kept hidden from previous generations but is now disclosed to the saints (Col. 1:26), dwell in them richly so that, through the songs that result from such reflection, they may teach and admonish one another in all the implications of that mystery. If that is Paul's intent, then the psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs of Col. 3:16 cannot refer to the canonical Psalms.
Thus, Col. 3:16 commands us to let that Word of Christ dwell in us richly, so that as we meditate upon its message, we may be able, with all wisdom, to teach and admonish one another by composing New Covenant psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs."We should long to sing the full redemptive-historical praises of Christ--not simply the rich truths of the Psalms. However, whether one concludes that we should only sing Psalms, only sing canonical songs or embrace the rich repository of Trinitarian and Christological hymns, we should never lose sight of the fact that our God commands us to sing joyful and loud praises to Him in gathered worship on the Lord's Day. It is our duty and our privilege to do so.