If such outbursts occurred, as is very possible, they were but transient, the song or chant passing away with the occasion that had called it forth, and never being preserved as a part of the stated and permanent psalmody of the Church.
Yet when the age of extraordinary gifts had closed, it can easily be credited that attempts to perpetuate it or to reproduce its scenes would be made by persons utterly devoid of the gift of inspiration. According to Tertullian’s account there were but two sources whence the hymns used at love-feasts were derived, namely, the Scriptures and the brains of the singers respectively.
The doctrine and practice of the Church after the apostolic age have no binding authority over the conscience, but they may be of evidential use and afford a strong presumption for or against certain interpretations of the real standard of faith, the Word of God. Even the followers of George Fox will hardly dispute it, although they deny that the literal singing of the praise of God is a New Testament ordinance. It is true that as to the matter of sacred song in the second and even the third century, we possess but little direct evidence.
In this sense, and not in the spirit of the Romanist, or of his Protestant imitator, the ritualist, do I propose to draw from the records of the ancient Church some proofs that the Psalter or Book of Psalms was the only hymn-book of the Church organized by the apostles, and that therefore it alone should be our hymn-book if, indeed, apostolic prescription as respects worship is still authoritative. In the ancient Church the inspired Psalter was not merely read as other parts of Scripture, for edification, but also sung or chanted in the solemn worship of God. If the earl}- Christians had any regard for the injunctions of the apostle Paul, they must have sung psalms; for it is beyond reasonable doubt that he inculcated the singing of these at least, whatever else he may have meant, in Eph. There is nothing, however, which militates against the presumption which has just been expressed; while, besides, we have the testimony of a competent witness, Tertullian, about the end of the second century or the beginning of the third, to the effect that in religious gatherings and in the domestic circle Christians were then in the habit of singing psalms.
In his “Apologeticus” this distinguished writer repels the charge, often made by the heathens, that the Christians in their meetings were guilty of atrocious practices, and gives a rapid sketch of the manner in which the love-feast, as it would seem, was conducted among them.
Having described the simple, social meal partaken of by rich and poor together, he adds: “After manual ablution and the bringing in of lights, each is asked to stand forth and sing, as he can, a hymn to God, either one from the Holy Scriptures or one of his own composing.” On this statement I subjoin a few comments: First.
The service described scarcely appears to be one of regular, solemn worship, for the singing was not performed in concert b}’ the entire company assembled, but in “solo” fashion by individuals in their turn. Hymns taken from the Scriptures formed, at least in part, the matter of song; and from what part of the Scriptures would these so probably be drawn as from the Psalter, the recognized hymn-book of the Bible?
Beyond question the psalms of Scripture were often designated “hymns” by the early Christians, as very properly they might. Some of the hymns used were improvised, or at least composed by the singers themselves.
In such an informal service the liberty to use such effusions ma}- have been allowed, although not permitted in regular worship.
Besides, the custom as it existed in Tertullian’s day, may have been a relic and echo of that marvelous season of supernatural endowments which the Church enjoyed during the apostolic period, when individuals may in the public Christian assemblies have been suddenly inspired to pour forth their emotions in poetic strains.
Have you found A Puritan’s Mind as a helpful resource? Then please support it through the Puritan Shop, the publishing arm of A Puritan’s Mind. May the Lord be glorified in all of this for the sake of the Gospel. Matthew Mc Mahon Founder of A Puritan’s Mind “…search the Scriptures…” John “…the earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof…” Psalm 24:1 It is no recently formed opinion, but has long been a settled conviction with me, that from the records of ecclesiastical antiquity may be derived a powerful confirmation of the view that the true and proper psalmody of the New Testament Church, no less than of the Old Testament Church, is the inspired Psalter, or Book of Psalms.