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Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature:
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891.
Vols. IX–XI: Literature of the Republic, Part IV., 1861–1889

Concerning the Singers: Whether Women, Pagans, and Profane and Carnal Persons

By John Cotton (1585–1652)

[From Singing of Psalms a Gospel Ordinance. 1650.]

THE THIRD question about singing of Psalms concerneth the Singers. For though vocal singing be approved and also the singing of David’s Psalms, yet still it remaineth to some a question who must sing them. And here a threefold scruple ariseth. 1. Whether one be to sing for all the rest, the rest joining only in spirit and saying Amen; or the whole Congregation? 2. Whether women as well as men; or men alone? 3. Whether carnal men and Pagans may be permitted to sing with us or Christians alone and Church-Members?

Touching the first of these scruples; It is out of doubt 1. That a Christian man, for his own private solace and edification, may sing a Psalm alone by himself; as Asaph had his Songs by night. It is granted that he who had a spiritual and extraordinary Gift of enditing a Psalm might sing it himself and the rest of the Church join with him in Spirit saying Amen: though in the Old Testament he that endited the Psalm gave it to the Master of Song, to be sung publicly by others as well as himself….

If the whole Church should sing together then all the members were Teachers. For the Apostle biddeth us to Teach and Admonish one another in Psalms. But the same Apostle denieth all to be Teachers.

Though the Apostle bid us to Teach and Admonish one another in Psalms yet he doth not say that we should teach one another by singing Psalms together. But he there holdeth forth a twofold use and improvement of the whole word of God dwelling richly in us, and a threefold use and improvement of the Psalms. The whole word of God dwelling richly in us is to be improved to the Teaching and admonishing of one another; but the Psalms are to be improved, not only to both these ends (as all the rest of the Word beside) but to a threefold end also, even to the Singing of Praises to the Lord. Now in this third end all the Congregation may join in improving the Psalms thereunto, though not in the Public teaching or Admonishing of the Church by them, yet in setting forth the Praises, the Counsels, the works of God declared in them….

The second scruple about Singers is “Whether women may sing as well as men.” For in this point there be some that deal with us as Pharaoh dealt with the Israelites, who though he was at first utterly unwilling that any of them should go to sacrifice to the Lord in the Wilderness yet being at length convinced that they must go, then he was content the Men should go but not the Women. So here, some that were altogether against singing of Psalms at all with a lively voice, yet being convinced that it is a moral worship of God warranted in Scripture, then if there must be a Singing one alone must sing, not all (or if all) the Men only and not the Women.

And their reason is. “1. Because it is not permitted to a woman to speak in the Church (I. Cor. xiii. 34.) How then shall they sing? 2. Much less it is permitted to them to prophesy in the Church (I. Tim. ii. 11, 12.) And singing of Psalms is a kind of prophesying.”

One answer may at once remove both these scruples and withal clear the truth. It is apparent by the scope and context of both those Scriptures that a woman is not permitted to speak in the Church in two cases: 1. By way of teaching, whether in expounding or applying Scripture. For this the Apostle accounteth an act of authority which is unlawful for a woman to usurp over the man, II. Tim. ii. 13. And besides the woman is more subject to error than a man, ver. 14. and therefore might soon prove a seducer if she became a teacher.

2. It is not permitted to a woman to speak in the Church by way of propounding questions though under pretence of desire to learn for her own satisfaction; but rather it is required she should ask her husband at home.

For under pretence of questioning for learning sake, she might so propound her question as to teach her teachers; or if not so, yet to open a door to some of her own weak and erroneous apprehensions, or at least soon exceed the bounds of womanly modesty.

Nevertheless in two other cases, it is clear a woman is allowed to speak in the Church: 1. In way of subjection when she is to give account of her offence….

2. In way of singing forth the praises of the Lord together with the rest of the Congregation. For it is evident the Apostle layeth no greater restraint upon the women for silence in the Church than the Law had put upon them before. For so himself speaketh in the place alleged: “It is not permitted to the women to speak, but to be under subjection, as also saith the Law.” The Apostle then requireth the same subjection in the woman which the Law had put upon them—no more. Now it is certain the Law, yea, the Law-giver Moses, did permit Miriam and the women that went out after her to sing forth the praises of the Lord, as well as the men, and to answer the men in their song of thanksgiving: “Sing ye to the Lord for he hath triumphed gloriously: the horse and his rider hath he thrown into the Sea.” Which may be a ground sufficient to justify the lawful practice of women in singing together with men the praises of the Lord. And accordingly the ancient practice of women in the Primitive Churches to sing the public praises of the Lord we read recorded in the Ecclesiastical History, Socrates second Book, Chapter 18 of the Greek copy, and Chapter 16 of the Latin, Theodoret third Book, Chapter 17….

It hath been showed above that prophecy is taken two ways in Scripture: 1. More properly for preaching the Word, that is expounding and applying Scripture to edification.

2. More generally for speaking or publishing the holy things of God, to the glory of God. In the former of these ways, it is not for Pagans, or profane persons, ordinarily and allowably to prophesy in Christ’s spiritual temple, which is his Church. But in the latter way, it is not unlawful as to say “Amen” to the public prayers of the Church, and thereby to express their joining in prayer (which is one act of prophecy); so to join with them in singing Psalms, which it hath been showed above is a duty common to them with the Church, as well to join with them in hearing the Word. Wherein whether they edify the Church or no, certain it is, it tendeth to the glory of God, that God’s praises should be set forth by all the sons of men. And it is a further glory to God that such Pagans and profane persons should sing the word of God to their own conviction and confusion of face. And from both some edification and comfort redoundeth to the Church to see the wicked convinced and God’s Name to be glorified. For it is an honor to God and a comfort to his Church that our God is not as their God, our enemies being judges and witnesses.

The godly Jews would not suffer the Samaritans to build the Temple with them though they offered themselves. And if singing be prophesying in any sense, and any way tending to the comfort or edification of the Church, why should we suffer profane persons to sing with us?

That the godly Jews did reject the Samaritans from building with them, it was not out of moral consideration, as if it were unlawful for heathens to contribute their assistance to the worship or ordinances of God; but out of a ceremonial respect because no heathens or unclean persons might be allowed to come into the Temple of the Lord. But by the death of Christ the Partition wall of Ceremonies is broken down; and we may allow heathens and profane persons to come into our holy assemblies, which they would not admit. Certain it is the godly Jews themselves did receive liberal contributions and oblations from the Kings of Persia towards the building and maintenance of the Temple, which was a moral acknowledgment of the honor due to the God of Israel, as well by Gentiles as Jews. If therefore the Jews would accept acknowledgment of moral homage and service from heathens and profane persons to the God of Israel why may not Christians accept from Pagans and profane persons their acknowledgment of moral homage and service to our God in singing forth his praises amongst us?

Such carnal and profane people are not worthy to take the Name and Praises of God in their mouths; nor are they able to make melody to the Lord by singing to him “with grace in their hearts,” as is required, Col. iii. 16.

If we speak of the worthiness of desert, John Baptist was not worthy to loose the latchet of Christ’s shoe, much less to sing forth his glorious praise. But if we speak of the worthiness of fitness, though it be true their unclean lips are not fit to take the holy Word of God into their mouths; yet the holy Word of God is fit to come into their minds and mouths also, to convince and reprove them of their Apostasy from God and rebellion against him. And howsoever they be unfit and unworthy to take God’s Name and Praise into their mouths; yet surely the Lord is worthy of all praise and glory, blessing and thanksgiving from them and all the creatures which he hath made.

It is true, carnal and profane persons are not able to make melody and sing to the Lord with grace in their hearts; yet that defect doth no more excuse carnal persons from singing than it doth excuse them from prayer, which they cannot perform acceptably to God without a spirit of grace and faith. To pray (and so to sing) without faith is a sin; but not pray at all is a greater sin. The one is Hypocrisy, the other Atheism.

Though the Scribes and Pharisees joined in the Temple-songs upon the words of David in the worldly Sanctuary; yet the melody made by such carnal and clean mouths was far more beautiful and glorious than ours in the assemblies made with a multitude of all manner of singers upon the same words of David and Asaph. For although they that sang in the Temple in those days were carnal, yet they were appointed to sing and were choice singers endued with choice (though common) singing gifts, which made the service most beautiful, as men call beauty. But the melody of our assembly compared with theirs hath no outward beauty in it. So that if their melody were a type of ours, then the type is more glorious than the antitype, which is a dishonor to Christ.

It is no dishonor at all to Christ that the type should be far more beautiful and glorious to the outward man than the antitype. Solomon was a type of Christ and the Temple of Solomon was a type of his body; and both Solomon himself and his Temple were far more beautiful and glorious than Christ himself to the outward man. Yet this was no dishonor to Christ whose beauty and glory was so divine and heavenly in the inner man that all their outward beauty and glory were but dim and dark shadows to it….

Though their melody might be more beautiful and glorious to the outward appearance as being more artificial and more musical; yet seeing the Spirit of Grace is more abundantly poured out in the New Testament than in the Old, if the holy singers sing with more life and grace of the Spirit, our melody is the more beautiful and glorious before the Lord and his spiritual saints, though theirs was more beautiful and glorious in the outward sense.

Whether the Scribes and the Pharisees were any of them Musicians of the Temple endued with choice gifts and appointed to that office (as you say) though we do not know it, yet neither will we deny it. But this we dare say, that if they were appointed to sing, so now not any choice order of men, but all the sons of men are commanded to sing as well as to pray, as hath been showed above.

Where many sing together (as in a great mixt assembly) many sing they know not what; and they that do know what they sing, cannot but see that many of the Psalms which they do sing, are not suitable to their own condition. And how then can they sing such Psalms as songs of their own?

The ignorance of men in discerning the true matter or the right manner of a duty doth not excuse them from the performance of the duty; we speak of such moral duties as the moral Law of God and the Law of Nature requireth to be done. What if a man know not what nor how to pray? Yet that will not excuse him either from praying himself, or from joining with others that are better acquainted with prayer than himself. So it is here; what if many a man know not what nor how to sing to God’s Praise? Yet that will not excuse him, either from singing himself or joining with others that have more spiritual skill in that kind than himself.

It is an ignorance of a man’s self and of the ways of God to think that any Psalm is unsuitable to his own condition. For every Psalm setteth forth either the attributes and works of God and his Christ, and this yieldeth me matter of holy reverence, blessing and praise. Or else it describeth the estate and ways of the Church and People of God, and this affecteth me with compassion, instruction or imitation. Or else it deciphereth the estate and ways of the wicked, and this holdeth forth to me a word of admonition. Or else it doth lively express mine own affections and afflictions, temptations and comforts, and then it furnisheth me with fit matter and words to present mine own condition before the Lord. But whatsoever the matter of the Psalm concerning God or his Christ, the godly or the wicked, myself or others, the good or evil estate of one or other, it ever ministereth fit matter and occasion to me of singing forth the Praises of the Lord, since the Name of God is to be blessed in all, whether it go well or ill with ourselves or others.