Sunday, May 23, 2010

Matthew Henry's Family Psalter

In 1694, Matthew Henry published Family Hymns Gathered Mostly Out of the Translation of David's Psalms. It was his attempt to "promote the singing of psalms in families, as part of their daily worship." Most of the ninety-five or so selections that he chose to include were drawn from the metrical Psalms that appeared in the earlier psalters prepared by Sternhold and Hopkins (1562), William Barton (1644), Henry King (1651), Miles Smith (1668), Simon Ford (1688), Richard Baxter (1692), and, in the third edition of Henry's Family Hymns, that of Tate and Brady (1696).

The edition of William Barton (see his entry in John Holland, The Psalmists of Britain, or Henry A. Glass, The Story of the Psalters) was a strong rival to that of Francis Rous, whose psalter was favored by the Westminster Assembly, as well as the House of Commons, while the ministers of London and the House of Lords preferred the edition of Barton. "The result was a deadlock," says Millar Patrick, Four Centuries of Scottish Psalmody, p. 95. Ultimately, Westminster's revised edition, building upon the work of Francis Rous, was approved by the Scottish Presbyterian Church, but Barton's Psalms remained popular in certain circles, including that of Philip Henry, Matthew's father, who bequeathed copies to each of his daughters of "Mr. Barton's last and best translation of the Singing Psalms, requiring and requesting them to make daily use of the same for the instruction, edification, and comfort of themselves, and of their families."

Hughes Oliphant Old writes that "When we look at the contents of Henry's family Psalter we find that almost half the selections are designated for either morning or evening prayer on work days or the Lord's Day" ("Matthew Henry and the Puritan Discipline of Family Prayer," Calvin Studies VII (1994), p. 72). Henry drew mostly, but not exclusively, on the Psalms of David for his material, also including, as he notes in his preface to the third edition, "I have also taken in some of the New-Testament Hymns." Old notes: "Matthew Henry also includes metrical versions of the New Testament canticles, the Magnificat, Benedictus, Gloris, Nunc dimittis, and several of the hymns from the Book of Revelation" (ibid, p. 76). It should be noted, though this writer believes that the regulative principle of worship applies to both public and private worship*, that Henry intended this Psalter to be used for family worship, not public worship. However, only inspired Scripture songs were included, not uninspired hymns. Old observes that this "heavily edited Psalter," while it emphasizes morning and evening devotions, does not follow the liturgical calendar ("there are no psalms for Lent or Advent").

Several things are to be noted about Matthew Henry's use of psalmody. First, one observes that in a number of cases old traditions are maintained. Many of the morning and evening psalms which for centuries have been used for morning or evening are still used in the same way. Another thing to be noticed is that the psalms are not chosen in a lectio continua. Not all the psalms in the Psalter are used, and besides that, Henry carefully selects the portions of each psalm which he finds most appropriate.

It is an interesting study to consider how Henry edited a psalter for the promotion of family worship, but we should give heed to his aim. Henry himself writes:

The performance indeed is but very small, yet the design is honest; and it will be fruit abounding to a good account, if it do but help forward the work of singing psalms, in which the will of God is done on earth, somewhat like as it is in heaven, where singing hallelujahs to him that sits upon the throne, and unto the Lamb, is both the everlasting work, and the everlasting felicity, of those glorified beings, that wear the crown of perfection within the veil.

* William Young, “The Second Commandment,” in Frank J. Smith and David C. Lachman, eds., Worship in the Presence of God, p. 75:

The Holy Scripture prescribes the whole content of worship. By this is meant that all elements or parts of worship are prescribed by God Himself in His Word. This principle has universal reference to worship performed by men since the fall. In other words, it has equal application to the Old and the New Testaments. It is also universal in that it is regulative of all types of worship, whether public, family, or private.

No comments:

Post a Comment