OBJECTIONS TO EXCLUSIVE PSALMODY pt 2 Sing a New Song
THE PSALTER COMMANDS NEW SONGS
The Psalms themselves command believers to sing a new song. “Sing to Him a new song; / Play skillfully with a shout of joy” (Ps. 33:3). “Sing to the Lord a new song; / Sing to the Lord, all the earth” (Ps. 96:1). “Praise the Lord! / Sing to the Lord a new song, / And His praise in the congregation of the godly ones” (Ps. 149:1). Coppes invokes Isaiah 42:1, 9, and 10 to make his case.
Behold, My Servant, whom I uphold; / My chosen one in whom My soul delights. / I have put My Spirit upon Him; / He will bring forth justice to the nations … Behold, the former things have come to pass, / Now I declare new things; Before they spring forth I proclaim them to you. / Sing to the Lord a new song, / Sing His praise from the end of the earth! (italics added).
Pointing to verse 9, Coppes says, “This verse defines ‘new’ as something that does not yet exist in the Old Testament period.”(9) He then maintains that the proper exegesis of Isaiah 42:10 is fixed by Revelation 5:9 where God tells us the saints in heaven are singing
“a new song” And they sang a new song, saying, You are worthy to take the scroll, And to open its seals; For You were slain, And have redeemed us to God by Your blood Out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation …
Thus we see that in heavenly worship, the saints gathered before the throne of God, and hence, within the heavenly holy of holies, are singing a new song as prophesied in Isaiah 42:10 and the words are new words, i.e., words not recorded as one of the Old Testament psalms (cf. Rev. 14:3).(10)
This objection raises three important issues: the Biblical understanding of the term new, the interpretation of Isa. 42:10, and our relationship to the praise of God’s people portrayed in the Book of Revelation.
What is the Biblical understanding of the terms new and newness? George Ladd teaches, “The idea of newness is distinctly eschatological … The idea of newness preserves its eschatological character in the New Testament.”(11) That is, believers live in an era in which the future has dawned. The age to come is pressing into this present age. “Thus,” as Vos puts it, “the other world, hitherto future, has become present.”(12) This is realized eschatology, the already but not yet. R. A. Harrisville adds that, “the ‘new covenant’ is an eschatological concept.”(13) Harrisville then rehearses four characteristics of this concept of newness. The first is that of contrast. “The new covenant exists in contrast to the old by the fact that the community founded upon it is no longer ruled by an external authority from without (i.e., the letter of the law), but is motivated by the Spirit of God from within.”(14) This distinctive of newness, contrast, or discontinuity, presupposes a second characteristic, “the element of continuity. continuity. The new covenant does not replace the old, but rather grows out of it and is related to it as fulfillment to promise.”(15) The new covenant is in essence one with the old; the new is a new administration of the same covenant of grace.
A third “distinctive feature of the idea” of newness “is its dynamic element.”(16) This dynamic element is explained by the power of Jesus Christ and his redemptive activity.(17) Newness is seen and experienced in and through texts such a 2 Corinthians 5:17, “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come” (italics added). The Christian is a new creature or a new creation. Great change has occurred in the newly-converted person. There is discontinuity with the past. The newly-converted person, however, may be readily recognized. There is definite continuity with the past. This tension exists because of the dynamic element of the power of Christ introduced into the life of the Christian.
The fourth distinctive feature of “new” is finality. “The renewal by faith is final; it cannot be repeated because the believer has been placed within the last and final period of God’s redemptive activity which hastens to its goal.”(18) There is finality to newness because as has been observed in the previous chapter, God’s eschatological plan will come to fruition. This fourfold distinctiveness of newness in Scripture—contrast, continuity, dynamic, and finality—fits well with both the subjective element and the eschatology of the Psalter.
From this perspective, it is simplistic to hold that new refers to something that does not already exist. John 13:34 is a helpful example: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.” Harrisville comments, “The new commandment is thus the rule of the new eschatological community. It is an eschatological commandment … Thus though the commandment is not new from a purely historical point of view, it is new as given by Jesus.”(19)
What is the proper interpretation of Isaiah 42:10? The text reads, “Sing to the Lord a new song, / Sing His praise from the end of the earth!” Isaiah’s words are a simple command. He exhorts God’s people to sing God’s praise. They must sing a new song. “New is here contrasted with what is Ordinary, and thus he extols the infinite mercy of God, which was to be revealed in Christ, and which ought therefore to be celebrated and sung with the highest praises.”(20) The new song is the song of future glory and blessing, sung as though that future glory and blessing were then present. How could believers sing such a song? Calvin answers, “It ought to be observed that this song cannot be sung but by renewed men; for it ought to proceed from the deepest feeling of the heart, and therefore[,] we need the direction of the Spirit, that we may sing those praises in a proper manner.”(21) Calvin refers to the subjective element, which has been discussed above. Calvin goes on to say, “Besides, he does not exhort one or a few nations to do this, but all nations in the world; for to all them Christ was sent.”(22) The eschatological element comes through strongly in Calvin’s exposition. In the case of Isaiah 42:10, the new song may be old songs sung from a new heart. If so, and if guided by the Spirit, the prophetic songs of David and Asaph, with their eschatological thrust and prominent subjective element, comport well with the command of God through Isaiah. Isaiah 42:10 does not command new and different songs with new and different words.
What about the believer’s connection with the praise portrayed in Revelation? A more complete discussion of this question awaits analysis of the heavenly worship portrayed in the Book of Revelation and the use of musical instruments in worship. The basic premise is that God commands believers to hold to the principles of worship He sets forth for the age in which they live. When God commands the building of the tabernacle and institutes sacrifices in this specific location, He changes worship in Israel. The people are not permitted to use the standards of worship previously followed by Abraham. When David adds singing of the Psalms and additional musical instruments to worship in the tabernacle and in the temple by the command of God, the people are not permitted to revert to the more simplified worship under Moses. Similarly, the people living in the time of David and Solomon could not look ahead and adjust their worship to conform to the new age ushered in by Messiah. They were not permitted to forsake principles of worship ordained by God for their time. In like manner, believers today are required to maintain the standards of worship God gives them for this present age. It is not their prerogative to appropriate into the worship of today aspects of worship from another age, whether earlier or later. This argument is another way of stating the regulative principle of worship.
9. Coppes, Exclusive Psalmody, 6.
- Ibid., 7.
- George Eldon Ladd, A New Testament Theology (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1993), 521-522.
- Geerhardus Vos, The Pauline Eschatology (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1979), 38.
- R. A. Harrisville, “The Concept of Newness in the New Testament,” Journal of Biblical Literature 74:2 (June, 1955): 73.
- Ibid., 74.
- Ibid., 75.
- Ibid., 76-77.
- Ibid, 79.
- John Calvin, Commentary on the Prophet Isaiah, trans. William Pringle (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1979), 299.
Used by permission from Dr. Dennis Prutow
Prutow, Dennis. Public Worship 101: An Introduction to the Biblical Theology of Worship, the Elements of Worship, Exclusive Psalmody, and A Cappella Psalmody. Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminary Press. Kindle Edition.