A Catechism on Praise

Alexander Cameron Blaikie (1804-1885) was the author of a catechism on church government and a catechism on praise in worship. The latter work was originally published in 1849. It is now available to read at Log College Press here

The Associate Church minister James Patterson Miller, as he was preparing to leave New York on a missionary assignment to Oregon, where he would die tragically in an explosion, once wrote, "I make it a text-book in my Bible classes. As I intend to leave New York, in October 1850, for Oregon, please send me 200 copies for distribution in that territory." 

This catechism on praise in worship was republished by the James Begg Society in 2003. It has stood the test of time because it is a concise summary of the principles of historic Presbyterian worship. Take time to download it for further study, and consider what this 19th century Presbyterian minister had to say about the proper principles for Biblical praise in worship. 

Beware of Digging Ditches

Before the early American Presbyterian worship wars between those who preferred the hymns of Isaac Watts and those who preferred Rous' Psalms (although nicknamed such, the Scottish Psalter of 1650 was in fact far removed from the earlier version by Francis Rous), there was Sternhold & Hopkins' edition of the Psalms of David. In the 19th century, Sternhold & Hopkins, nevertheless, was not forgotten. 

In the commentary on the Psalms by William Swan Plumer, he refers to Sternhold & Hopkins twice. One reference is found in his exposition of Psalm 7:15, in which he quotes the metrical version thus: 

"Sternhold and Hopkins have given a version of this and the next verse, which has attracted attention.

He digs a ditch and delves it deep,
In hope to hurt his brother;
But he shall fall into the pit
That he digged up for other.
Thus wrong returneth to the hurt
of him in whom it bred;
And all the mischief that he wrought,
Shall fall upon his head." 

Rev. Plumer had occasion to quote this verse at the 1874 General Assembly of the Southern Presbyterian Church, which was dealing with a controversy at Columbia Theological Seminary, which had enacted a rule requiring faculty and students to attend chapel services on the Lord's Day morning (which, according to Richard McIlwaine, later president of Hampden Sydney College, obstructed professors supplying other pulpits and students desiring to hear other ministers preach). The following was recorded by McIlwaine in his autobiography, Memories of Three Score Years and Ten, pp. 312-313:

"This seems to show that the root of contention was a personal disagreement in the Faculty, and to justify the story narrated to me by Rev. Dr. A.P. Smith, then of Mississippi, but afterwards, for a quarter of a century or more, pastor of the First Presbyterian Church in Dallas, Tex. He was a most companionable man, full of life and spirit and bubbling over with good humor. He said that on the adjournment of the session of the Assembly at which these resignations were accepted, he walked out of the house with Dr. Plumer, who took his arm and as they got out of the crowd, asked, 'Do you remember Sternhold and Hopkins' version of such and such a palm?' and on his reply, 'No,' the doctor repeated a verse, as follows:

'He digged a pit, he digged it well,
He digged it for his brudder,
Into that selfsame pit he fell,
Himself and not anudder.'

This narration impresses the fact that we are all liable to err and do err..."

Even servants of Christ, who desire to do right, as McIlwaine acknowledged of those with whom he disagreed on the issue at Columbia Theological Seminary, may yet dig ditches for others into which they themselves fall. May God grant that we be not blind leaders of the blind, leading ourselves and others into ditches. But rather, may we stick close to the light of God's Word, and build bridges over snares rather than dig ditches that are snares. 

David's Harp in Song and Story

The Joseph Clokey family associated with the United Presbyterian Church of North America has a long pedigree that is interwoven to various degrees with the Psalms of David. According to the Rev. Joseph Waddell Clokey, Sr. (1839-1919), his parents, the Rev. Joseph D. Clokey (1801-1884) (who served as moderator of the 1860 General Assembly of the UPCNA and was himself the son of another Joseph Clokey) and his wife Eliza (1808-1889), sang only the Psalms in public, family and private worship. Joseph Waddell Clokey, Jr. (1890-1960) would go on to become a noted composer of both sacred and secular music, as well as a professor of music. His [Jr.'s] adopted son, Art Clokey (1921-2010), was a pioneer in the field of claymation, whose characters include Gumby, and Davey and Goliath (Google honored him with a logo doodle on Oct. 12, 2011). (Art's son, Joseph Clokey, who also very involved in his father's work on Gumby, and Davey and Goliath, himself passed away on March 2, 2018.)

Joseph Waddell Clokey, Sr., meanwhile, authored a fascinating little book called David's Harp in Song and Story, which relates the value and history of the Psalms. Beginning with a series of encomiums on the Book of Psalms, Clokey goes on to trace their usage and appreciation through the centuries - among the Hebrews; within the early Christian Church; during the Dark Ages; within the Reformations of Germany, Switzerland, France, England, Scotland and the Netherlands; and among the American colonies, the New England Puritans, and the American Presbyterians.

Clokey, a UPCNA minister writing in 1896, after describing in fascinating detail the introduction and rise of Watts' hymnody within the American Presbyterian churches (he notes the first official recognition of this took place in a report by William Tennent and Aaron Burr, Sr. in 1753 and, although the Directory of Public Worship was amended in 1788 to allow for hymns, Clokey asserts that it was in 1802 that the PCUSA officially embraced Watts' hymns, and offers a heart-felt appeal to return to Biblical Psalmody in Presbyterian churches, albeit, in his preference, revised in more modern language than the 1650 Scottish Psalter: 

"The author of this work—a pastor of more than twenty years in the Presbyterian Church, has witnessed with pain the 'Passing' of the Bible Psalms. Since the beginning of her 'Hymnal' era our Church has been at sea in the matter of her Psalmody. Her authorization of Hymn-Books means nothing to her congregations. For the first time in her history her authority over her Book of Praise is gone, and the people buy their hymn-books where they please.

The Hymnal of 1874 is already worn out, and the Assembly has sent forth a new one, doubtless to meet the fate of the former one.

The people of the Presbyterian Church, who love what is solid and majestic in their sacred songs, miss something in their modern Hymnals. As an old Psalm-singer, the writer would suggest it is the Bible Psalter we miss. Give us back the old Psalms, dressed in the attractive forms of these modern days, as they can be dressed; and winnow away several hundred of the hymns of our present collection, and the Presbyterian Church will do more to settle her churches in the matter of their Psalmody than will all the decrees of her courts.

It may not be out of place here for the author to suggest to the ministry of his own Church that, whilst they are endeavoring so zealously to maintain that form of doctrine which is given in the Old Confession of Faith, their efforts will prove worthless unless they see that the Psalmody of the Church breathes the same evangelical principles.

Few people read the Confession of Faith, but every week the thoughts and doctrines of our Hymns are sung into our ears and hearts; and the faith which will be held in the future will not be that of your Confession and Creed, but of your Hymnology.

At present, when the hymn-writers and hymn-collectors are so thoroughly imbued with the true doctrines of the Bible, nothing but good can result to the members of the Church. But a wave of decadence may sweep over the future Church, as it has often done in the past, when we may bitterly regret that we have lost control over the material of our Psalmody."

America's Foremost Hymnologist

Widely described as America's "foremost hymnologist," Louis FitzGerald Benson (1855-1930) was born and died in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. His first venture in the practice of law, after graduating from the University of Pennsylvania School of Law, lasted seven years; but later he studied at Princeton Theological Seminary, graduating in 1887. He was ordained for the ministry in 1888 and pastored a congregation in Germantown, Pennsylvania, until 1894. He later edited Presbyterian and Congregational hymnals, served as special lecturer in Liturgies at Auburn Seminary; served as Honorary Librarian at the Presbyterian Historical Society (1905-1923); and was thrice appointed to serve as the L.P. Stone Lecturer at Princeton Seminary (1906-1907, 1909-1910, 1925-1926). His personal library exceeded 9,000 volumes, and his collection of rare books was notable; many were donated to Princeton, and the Louis F. Benson Hymnology Collection is one of the gems of Princeton Theological Seminary’s Special Collections, being housed at Speer Library. "Among the numerous accolades received by Dr. Benson is a reference to him in the 1920 edition of Grove's Dictionary, as 'a foremost hymnologist.' Dr. Henry Jackson van Dyke called Louis Fitzgerald Benson the foremost hymnologist that America has produced" (Source).

His writings on the history of Psalmody in the Reformed Churches and the development of English hymnody are invaluable to the student of Reformed worship and liturgies. His study of William Shakespeare's use of the metrical Psalter makes for fascinating reading to students of both literature and church history. His Studies of Familiar Hymns gives valuable background information on how many particularly memorable hymns entered Presbyterian worship. He was also a composer of hymns and poems himself. If you have not had the opportunity to read Benson on the history of song in Reformed worship, be sure to look over the works we have added to his page at Log College Press. They represent the finest scholarship of his day on this topic, and have stood the test of time. 

We have a lot of early American Presbyterian resources on psalmody on our website - take a look.

From the time of the introduction of Isaac Watts’ psalm paraphrases into the American Presbyterian church in the mid-18th century (see Julius Melton, Presbyterian Worship in America: Changing Patterns Since 1787 [1967, 2001], pp. 11-12), the content of praise in public worship has been a matter of controversy. Though challenged by New School views on worship, the streams of Presbyterianism found among the Reformed Presbyterian (Covenanter), Associate Reformed Presbyterian, and United Presbyterian branches throughout the 19th century were all marked by a consistent desire to sing the Psalms of David in worship. A sampling of their literature on the subject is as follows:

1) William Marshall (1740-1802), The Propriety of Singing the Psalms of David in New Testament Worship (1776);

2) Thomas Clark (c. 1720-1792), Plain Reasons, Why Neither Dr. Watts' Imitation of the Psalms, nor His Other Poems, Nor Any Other Human Composition, Ought to be Used in the Praises of the Great God our Saviour (1783, 1828);

3) John Anderson (1748-1830), Vindiciae Cantus Dominici: 1. A Discourse on the Duty of Singing the Book of Psalms in Solemn Worship. 2. A Vindication of the Doctrine Taught in the Preceding Discourse (1800);

4) James Renwick Willson (1780-1853), Review of Harris on Psalmody (1825);

5) Robert Reid (1781-1844), Doctor Watts’ Preface to the Psalms of David (1826);

6) William Sommerville (1800-1876), The Psalms of David Designed for Standing Use in the Church (1835), republished later as The Exclusive Claims of David's Psalms (1855);

7) John Taylor Pressly (1795-1870), Review of Ralston’s Inquiry (1848);

8) Robert James Dodds (1824-1870), A Reply to Morton on Psalmody: To Which is Added a Condensed Argument for the Use of Psalmody (1851);

9)  Gilbert McMaster (1778-1854), An Apology for the Book of Psalms (4th ed., 1852);

10) James McLeod Willson (1809-1866) et al., The True Psalmody (1859) (reprinted in 1861, 1883 and available in print today here);

11) John Black Johnston (1802-1882), Psalmody: An Examination of the Authority for Making Uninspired Songs, and For Using Them in the Formal Worship of God (1871);

12) William D. Ralston (1835-1894), Talks on Psalmody in the Matthews Family (1877);

13) James Alexander Grier (1846-1918), Notes on Psalmody (1900) (republished in 2015 under the title A Primer on Exclusive Psalmody); and

14) John McNaugher (1857-1947), ed., The Psalms in Worship (1907).

We hope in the future to add to the Log College Press website, Alexander Blaikie (1804-1885), Catechism on Praise (1849, reprinted in 1997 and 2003 by the James Begg Society); as well as John Thomas Chalmers (1860-1902), Ten Reasons Why the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church Adheres to the Exclusive Use of the Inspired Psalter in the Worship of God (1900).