Rev. H. DeCock’s Case Against Hymns

by wanliss on June 27, 2017

in Education, Philosophy and Religion

Translated, Edited and Annotated and © by J.A. Wanliss & W.L. Bredenhof

We know from experience that singing has great strength and power to move and to set on fire the hearts of men in order that they may call upon God and praise Him with a more vehement and more ardent zeal. It is to be remembered always that this singing should not be light or frivolous, but that it ought to have weight and majesty … Now, what Augustine says is true, namely that no one can sing anything worthy of God which he has not received from Him. Therefore, even after we have carefully searched everywhere, we shall not find better or more appropriate songs to this end than the Psalms of David, inspired by the Holy Spirit. And for this reason, when we sing them, we are assured that God puts the words in our mouth, as if He Himself were singing through us to exalt His glory… John Calvin (1543)


Translators’ Preface and Brief Note to the Reader

The true church of Jesus Christ is not for sale. It is not for liberalism, nor is it for dead orthodoxy. It is alive and living for Christ the King. It is only when the doctrine and life of the true, historic Reformed church is lost that it becomes deformed and spiritually dead. When Christ’s Church shows a greater zeal for her immense heritage, then the Biblical religion (in all its glorious splendour) of the Reformed faith is bound to be appreciated and applied anew. The late twentieth century has seen a far from vibrant Christian church and repentance and reformation are unquestionably needed.

During the reformation in Europe the rediscovery of Biblical religion lead to reforms in doctrine, and especially in worship. People who had been bound for centuries to singing man’s songs once again sang the hymns of God that are commonly called the Psalms of David. From Switzerland to Scotland to the New World churches were once again hymning to God the songs that Christ Jesus hymned, the songs that He declared were about him (Luke 24:44). Indeed, this key from the Lord is used by the apostles to further open our eyes to the New Covenant importance of the Psalms in worship (e.g. Acts 2:25ff, Hebrews 103ff etc.)

The proper motive for reform in the Church comes out of a love for God and fear of Him. Obedience is the offering that is acceptable and pleasing to Him, and it is the mark, of true love (John 14:15). Even seemingly innocent traditions of men are offensive to God unless they are what He has commanded. Indeed, what sacrifice of man’s making is acceptable to the Lord? Who may approach “the blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone has immortality, dwelling in unapproachable light ( 1Timothy 6:15,16)? No man in whom is sin may approach or offer sacrifices worthy of God.

Faith alone is not sufficient when it comes to acceptable Christian worship. Only what comes by faith and obedience to Jesus Christ is acceptable. It is ultimately through the faith and obedience of Jesus Christ to the will of the Father that man’s redemption is made possible. By His once and for all sacrifice (cf. Hebrews 10 and Psalm 40) the Lord Jesus accomplishes the redemption of His people. Now Christians may approach God with confidence through faith and obedience in Jesus Christ.

The Lord Jesus freed His people from slavery to sin and makes them His slaves to righteousness. His people no longer worship God with offerings of bulls and goats, but in simplicity of the Holy Spirit and truth. Thus the reformers sought to offer acceptable sacrifices of praise to their beloved God. For example, the reformer Zacharias Ursinus, one of the composers of the Heidelberg Catechism, writes:

The other species of idolatry is more subtle and refined, as when the true God is supposed to be worshipped, whilst the kind of worship which is paid unto him is false, which is the case when one imagines that he is worshipping and honouring God by the performance of any work not prescribed by the divine law. This species of idolatry is more properly condemned in the second commandment, and is termed superstition, because it adds to the commandments of God the inventions of men. Those are called superstitious who corrupt the worship of God by their own inventions. This will-worship or superstition is condemned in every part of the word of God.a

Abraham Van de Velde, a seventeenth century minister of the Word of God at Middelburg in the Netherlands, notes that, when she worships, the Christian Church ought not to follow “useless hindrances” such as “the introduction of new hymn-books, and present day ditties, which we do not find in God’s Word…”b The present work is very much in this vein. Hendrik DeCock, the author of this work, is another prominent Dutch reformer who argued for worship regulated by God’s Word alone. In his small work, first published in 1835, DeCock considers the use of praise material in the worship of God. Beginning with Scripture he proves that nothing but the songs that God has provided are acceptable for use in worship. The circumstances that prompted DeCock to begin this work are elucidated in the historical introduction which follows this preface. In the late twentieth century there are still some churches of Dutch heritage that worship God in simplicity of “spirit and truth” as enjoined by our blessed Lord Jesus (cf. John 4:22-26).

It is sad that in these times of ever-increasing religious declension the exclusive singing of psalms is at best considered eccentric, and at worst an attack on Christian liberty and a return to the bondage of the Law. How strange it is that freedom to obey God in these matters is considered bondage. The liberty purchased by the blood of Jesus Christ was precisely that His people may know pleasures forevermore in knowing their Lord and doing His will.

This tract by Hendrik DeCock may also serve to dispel any myths and false witness that the exclusive use of psalms in worship is an invention of the Scottish and English branches of the Reformed Churches. In fact, Church history supports the view that it was the practice of the early Church to sing psalms exclusively and without musical accompaniment for at least the first two centuries of her existence, and until the fourth century to sing nothing but the psalms and a few snatches derived from Scripturec. The Council of Laodicea, which met about 360 A.D., forbade “the singing of uninspired hymns in church, and the reading of uncanonical books of Scripture.” This canon of the Laodicean synod was confirmed by the Council of Chalcedon which met almost a century later (451 A.D.). Much of this was forgotten, but the reformation in Europe revived such knowledge and restored this understanding of Scripture. The work of Abraham VandeVelde (1614 -1677) references several Dutch Reformation-era Synods that reiterate these practices.

The Reformation served as impetus for many churches that in varying degrees returned to the apostolic practice of singing only songs that bear the divine approval. Almost three hundred years after the Reformation it fell to Hendrik DeCock and his colleagues, living in the nineteenth century Netherlands, to revive the old ways. DeCock provides new and insightful arguments, that to our knowledge no other apologist has used, for the exclusive use of psalms in worship. Particularly commendable are his references to Israel which, during periods of religious declension, sang songs of their own composition that God rejected.

It is our prayer that the Lord will once again revive His Church and bring her to repentance. May this short message by His servant Hendrik DeCock prick her to re-evaluate her worship of a holy and awesome God and return to the old ways.

DeCock’s pamphlet in its original form consists of 64 pages. We have only translated the parts that are directly relevant for today, which consists of the first chapter and a portion of the second. The remainder of the pamphlet might be interesting for historical purposes, but its relevance for today is minimal since it deals with errors in a hymnal which has long since disappeared.

In our work here we have endeavoured as much as possible to provide the historical background against which DeCock was writing. For those living on the brink of the twenty-first century in another land, much of what DeCock is saying needs further elucidation. We have provided extensive footnotes to serve that purpose. Much of the information in the footnotes here has been gleaned from the Dutch edition of DeCock’s Collected Writings (Verzamelde Geschriften (2 Vols.), D. Deddens, W. van’t Spijker et al. eds., Houten: Den Hartog B.V., 1984). Those footnotes where we are indebted have been marked with a “VG” in parentheses.

Furthermore, we have included two appendices which we hope will also prove useful. Appendix One contains what is, to our knowlege, the first full English translation of the Act of Secession and Return of 1834. A brief introduction is also included. Appendix Two contains the text of two chapters of The Psalms in Worship (J. McNaugher, ed.). We selected these two chapters since they deal since they deal with the important and currently controversial exegeses of Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16 which De Cock only briefly mentions.

Finally, we extend our heartfelt thanks to Mr. Gilbert Zekveld of Hamilton, Ontario for his willingness to proof-read our work. May it all serve for the honour of the King!

J.A. Wanliss

W.L. Bredenhof

Edmonton, AB (1998)

 

  • a. Commentary on the Heidelberg Catechism, Phillipsburg : Presbyterian and Reformed (1852), p.518.
  • b. The Wonders of the Most High: 125 Years History of the United Netherlands Abraham Van de Velde (G. Zekveld, trans.), Newcastle: Semper Reformanda, 1997, p. 15 1.
  • c. “The Psalms in the Post-Apostolic Church,” by John A. Wilson in The Psalms in Worship, J. McNaugher, ed., Edmonton: Still Waters Revival Books, 1992 (1907), p. 171.

Historical Introduction

More than 160 years have passed since the first appearance of this publication by Rev. Hendrik DeCock. 160 years is a very long time. Much has changed since then, especially in ecclesiastical life. Moreover, DeCock was writing in the Netherlands, whereas we expect that most of those who will read this English translation live in North America or some Commonwealth nation. It is therefore necessary that we provide some of the historical background to this brief work.

Imagine a time, if you can, when the name of John Calvin was almost entirely unknown, even in the Reformed churches in continental Europe. A time when Reformed ministers in the Netherlands subscribed to the Reformed confessions without ever having seen, much less having carefully studied them. Imagine hearing Reformed ministers attack such cardinal doctrines as the Trinity, the atonement and the resurrection. Imagine these men mocking the holy sacrament of the Lord’s Supper and what it signifies. But this is exactly what the situation was in the Reformed Church of the Netherlands in the beginning of the 19th century. Modernism had infected the Dutch State Church — it would seem that there was little hope. Indeed, these were the darkest of the dark ages for the Reformed faith in the Netherlands.

But the fire of the Reformed faith was never completely extinguished. Here and there the Lord preserved some faithful remnants, as He always does. Faithful believers who took note of the church deformation would gather together regularly in conventicles to read the Scriptures, listen to read sermons, to pray together and to sing Psalms together. There was a similar situation in Switzerland, where a movement developed which came to be known as the Reveil. The Reveil, broadly speaking, was a reaction against modernism and as such it stressed a return to Scriptural faith, including a belief in the inspiration and authority of God’s Word. It was pietistic, and as such weak on the doctrine of the Church, but there can be little question that the Lord used this movement for the purposes of Reformation.

In like manner, the Lord also raised up men such as Hendrik DeCock, the author of this booklet. DeCock was born in 1801 in Veendam, the Netherlands. When he was 15 years old, in 1816, the Dutch government reorganized the Netherlands Reformed Church (the state church). The old Church Order of Dort was replaced with regulations which again introduced hierarchy into the Reformed churches. The highest authority in the Church was a national synod whose members were appointed by the king. All local churches were to bow under this yoke.

It was in this ecclesiastical environment that the young DeCock entered into manhood. He was taught all the typical liberal drivel of the day both by his parents and his minister. A sole catechist, Hendrik Nieman, had taught him about the necessity for saving faith and the sovereign grace of God. DeCock went on to study for the ministry at the University of Groningen and there became more aware of the contrast between what he was taught by Nieman and what his university professors were espousing. In 1823 he graduated and was called to the congregation of Eppenhuizen. There he met and married Frouwe Venema. He earnestly urged his congregation to forsake the sins of the day and to live honorably. Though he was at this time already a sincere man, he was yet in ignorance of the depths of the Reformed faith.

In 1829 the definitive change came with his move to the congregation at Ulrum. Here DeCock met Klaas Pieters Kuypenga who had hitherto conscientiously been prevented from making profession of faith because of the state of deformation under the previous preacher, Hofstede de Groot. Kuypenga has been forever immortalized because of his memorable words to DeCock: If I would have to add a single sigh to my salvation, I would be forever lost!” DeCock’s relationship with Kuypenga led him to the riches of the Reformed faith in all its confessional fullness. He providentially “discovered” Calvin’s Institutes as well as an old copy of the Canons of Dort (to which he had subscribed as a minister, yet had never seen!). Then the change came in the preaching, much to the appreciation of his congregation who were hungering for Scriptural food. Ulrum’s minister preached the need for repentance and saving faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. He was going back to the old Scriptural truths of the Confessions! Attendance at Ulrum soared and along with that came opposition from many in the State Church who disapproved of the “new” teachings coming out of DeCock’s study.

DeCock was not to be turned away from the path of reformation. He published a number of booklets calling his fellow Dutchmen back to the old ways. This only further aggravated the church officials until finally DeCock was suspended from office. The final straw was DeCock’s attacks on the hymns that were introduced into the State Church in 1807. DeCock first composed a short preface to a pamphlet by Jacobus Klok, a painter from Delfzijl, and then later wrote his own treatise attacking the hymns which you find in this booklet. This led to the Classical board first suspending him and then later deposing him. The grounds were specious: baptizing children of parents who did not belong to his congregation. composing a pamphlet in which he attacked two fellow ministers (Brouwer and Reddingius) for their modernistic teachings, and finally for acting schismatically. The controversy concerning the hymns was not even explicitly mentioned, although it did play a significant role in the background.

In vain, DeCock appealed his suspension to the Provincial Board., the Synodical Board. and even the King. The old ways taught in the Reformed confessions were no longer loved or respected in the Netherlands Reformed Church. DeCock was treated with ever increasing disrespect until finally the church at Ulrum had enough. On October 13, 1834. the church at Ulrum, under the leadership of DeCock, drew up a document entitled the Act of Secession or Return. You can find this document in the first appendix of this booklet. With this Act, the church seceded from the Netherlands Reformed Church. Many others soon followed. By 1836, the Secession (or Afscheiding as it is called in Dutch) had grown to include approximately 20,000 people. And so the Church-preserving work of our Lord Jesus Christ continued!

As mentioned, this booklet contains one small (but important) document from the Secession struggle. Herein Rev. DeCock calls for a return again to the old ways. He militates against the introduction of the modernistic hymns in 1807, not because they were modernistic, but because they were hymns, songs not ordained by the Lord in Scripture for use in public worship. DeCock’s controversy is with hymns as such, not just bad hymns. Contrary to what the esteemed P.Y. DeJong writes. we do not regard DeCock’s struggle against the hymns to be less praiseworthy than any other element of his reformatory work. i Rather we think that de Cock’s voice on this subject is one that deserves a new hearing in a day when the songs of Scripture are being increasingly disparaged and traded in for the fools’ gold of uninspired songs. As in the days of DeCock, so we too live in a time when the Reformed faith is often mocked and denigrated. This pamphlet speaks to our age as well. May it result in a revival of deep passionate love for God’s covenant-song book, the Psalter of David.

Sources: De Afscheiding van 1834: Haar Aanleiding, Naar Authentieke Brieven en Beschieden Beschreven, G. Keizer, Kampen: J.H. Kok. 1934.

Secession, Doleantie and Union: 1834-1892, Hendrik Bouma (T. Plantinga trans.), Neerlandia: Inheritance Publications, 1995.   i Secession, Doleantie and Union, Hendrik Bouma, Neerlandia: Inheritance Publications. 1995, p.242.


 

THE SO-CALLED

EVANGELICAL

HYMNS

THE DARLING OF THE

ENRAPTURED AND MISLED MULTITUDE

IN THE

SYNODICAL REFORMED CHURCH

and even by some of God’s children from

blindness, because they were drunk

with the wine of her fornication,

further

tested, weighed and found wanting,

Yes, in conflict with all our

FORMS OF UNITY

AND

THE WORD OF GOD

BY Rev. H. DeCock, Reformed Minister of Ulrum, Under the cross for the sake of Jesus Christ.


 

Original Publisher’s Preface

The pamphlet drafted by Jacobus Klok, regarding hymns, published by me and remarkably crowned with God’s blessing, almost totally sold out. 1 It appears to me that the true Church of Christ has great interest in this work, so much so that another pamphlet has been drafted in a more concise format, this time more easily accessible to everyone and with fewer proofs; these are unneccesary since in that respect the studious and inquiring reader can frequently refer to the more important work that we have mentioned.

It could then to some degree be organised more suitably to convince people who are prejudiced or who have little knowledge, but are otherwise sincere. May God’s mercy make the blind to see, the deaf hear and the dumb to speak.

The First Chapter deals with the objections regarding the introduction of hymns, and a rebuttal of what some have said which appeared to be reasonable.

The Second Chapter deals with the composers and their compositions, tried by their own witness and their own confessions and their reasonings, and found wanting.

The Third Chapter encompasses the report of certain grave falsehoods and unseemly innovations, as well as other uncertainties and improbabilities.

May the Lord use it for His glorification. for the edification of His Church and congregation, so that those who have strayed will be corrected, also so that many will return to the congregation of the redeemed.

Mournfully, and with no delight 0 Lord of Hosts, O Lord of might, Are Ashdod’s songs, these sorry samples Which are heard in Holland’s temples. Alluring, and souls deceiving, A tragedy for those believing. My soul cries out.. O Father! Ghost! That lies may die and truth may, boast  .2

 


Chapter 1 — Objections Against the Introduction of Hymns

Hymns were never introduced into the church, except to cause degeneration and contempt for the welfare of the church, or perhaps in cases of incomplete Reformation.

We see firstly, that in the Old Testament no other hymns are recognized except the collection of Psalms. Through contempt and degeneration of the welfare of the church (a state wherein the Jews often resided), instead of singing to God’s honour with His own Spirit-inspired Psalms, they went against God’s will and composed their own songs, even taking delight in these compositions.3 These have itching ears resulting in them being unable to bear the truth. It is because of these that the Apostle Paul warns Timothy (2 Timothy 4:3) concerning self-willed worship, likewise forbidden by our Lord in the New Covenant (Matthew 15:9). In the Old Covenant they also did not delight in God, and would not be subservient to His Word in Spirit and in truth.4 That is why in Deuteronomy 11:8, 32 there is the sharp command:

“You shall not at all do as we are doing here today — every man doing whatever is right in his own eyes…’Whatever I command you, be careful to observe it. you shall not add to it nor take away from it.” 5

It is for this reason that God so earnestly warns His Prophets during times of deformation, for example in Amos 5:23:

“Take away from Me the noise of your songs, for I will not hear the melody of your stringed instruments.”

Also Amos 8:10 :

“I will turn your feasts into mourning, and all your songs into lamentation; I will bring sackcloth on every waist, and baldness on every head; I will make it mouming for an only son, and its end like a bitter day.”

And also in Isaiah 23:16, with reference to Tyre:

“Take a harp, go about the city, you forgotten harlot; make sweet melody, sing many songs, that you may be remembered.”

And will you, children of God (!), follow after adulterous Tyre, and depart from God’s express command, to bring the plagues on us or to multiply them, when Amos 8:10 stands as a warning, or when Moses gives God’s threatening words with respect to adding or subtracting from His commands (Deut. 12:8,32)?

No, beloved! Let us fear the Lord of Hosts and His command (cf Isaiah 8:11-15); then He will be for us as a sanctuary, give us comfort and protection, but to His foes He will be a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense, He will be as a trap and a snare, and many among them shall stumble, they shall fall and be broken — those who deviate from the Lord and rebel against His anointed.6 See also Psalm 2.

We see as well, amongst other things in the New Covenant, that in the best of times, and in the purest churches, hymns are never found or tolerated. Our fathers similarly always showed the greatest disapproval, and kept watch against this as they were so much against it, as evidenced by their decisions, based on God’s word and experience. Where, therefore, were the hymns, or other whorish songs ever used in the days of the apostles in the congregations of the Lord? Do we find any reference to them? Never! It is true that we find even early references to heretics that our Church rejects, such as Arius, Paul of Samosata, and the Valentinians in the second, third, and fourth century.7These heretics, I say, had innovations in mind, and caused the congregations to become perverse, blinded through errors, and they did these things by means of new songs of human composition. See Van de Velde, The Wonders of the Most High (De Wonderen des Allerhoogsten), p.5968 And will you, children of God (!), the Reformed of the Netherlands (!), go against our confession and follow these heretics? Will you disregard the decisions of our fathers? Amongst other things you may see page 17 in my Preliminary Report (Voorloopig Berigt),9 the meetings of 1578 held in Dordrecht, in 1581 in Middelburg, in 1586 in Gravenhage, and in 1618 and 1619 in Dordrecht.10 Will you, I say, trample and disobey and stray from the path and do away with all the decisions of the general Synods of our fathers regarding their pronouncements from God’s Word against these songs? This ought to be far from you, the faithful and upright, who tremble before God’s word, and who, along with our God-fearing forefathers should resist degenerate lies and perverse sin. They opposed Rome and Spain, and will you be charged with the blood of our fathers?!

Beloved, these songs were not imported solely by the early heretics and emigrants from God’s Word, but also by those who came after. Of this the learned and God-fearing Peter Martyr11 gives evidence, as well as the Reformers in Italy and in Germany, that by this means the Roman church received copper in exchange for gold.

It was soon after the Reformation that the Remonstrants in the 17th century moved and shook the church painfully, and brought the state to the edge of the abyss. These also once again brought in songs 12 even as their forefathers the Arians, the Samosatians, the Valentinians, and the Romish. Therefore our forefathers, in session 162 of the Synod of Dort, write amongst other things the following, “The rest of the songs shall be taken out of the church, and similarly any which have previously been imported into the church shall be omitted in the most decent way possible.”13

History alone is sufficient to acquaint us with the stinking source from which they i.e. hymns flowed forth, and so we are able to judge them shameful and abominable, and furthermore we hear the word of the wise King in Proverbs 24:21:

“Do not associate with those given to change.”

But here I expect that the worldly wise and those inclined to the flesh will make two objections:

  1. Are “hymns and spiritual songs” not spoken of in Ephesians 5: 19 and Colossians 3:16? To those who say thus I would ask that they show me, clearly and in a well-grounded fashion, not by means of surmising or guessing, but in a concise and thorough manner, that the Apostle speaks of hymns and songs outside of God’s word. If not, then I hold forth one proof, which both men and children cannot argue against, although perhaps this will not satisfy those who first of all point to Revelation when it says that, in heaven a “new song” will be sung and content themselves with that. 14With such ad hominem proofs, (to make the people blind as well as to blind themselves) I am not satisfied, and keep with our learned, God-fearing, and truly wise commentators who write: “The three sorts of Spiritual songs point to one purpose, namely to delight the Holy Spirit. And some also make the distinction that all the Psalms are types of Spiritual songs, not only practiced with the voice, but also with the stringed instruments: hymns, thanksgivings to God or poems of praise regarding the Lord’s mercy towards us. And by “spiritual songs” we understand that these poems are the means through which all kinds of Spiritual things are learned. See also Colossians 3:16, where the various names mentioned for the titles appear to be found in the Psalms of David.15  I reckon that with these references this objection is taken away and dealt with.
  2. But certain others say, “Luther was surely a man of God, and he brought new songs to the church!” I acknowledge this in front of the world! But would you not say that God-fearing people sometimes make mistakes? Luther was certainly wrong in more than one respect, in everything not free of Romish influence (likewise one can point out, amongst his other views, his view regarding the consubstantiation of the Lord’s physical presence upon, within, and amongst the bread and the wine, during our Lord’s Holy Supper). The Anglican Church is much the same, although we are together on the point of free grace. Surely you must agree with me, all those who know the truth as well as the history, as I have said in the beginning, that overall, where Reformation has broken out in its purest form, the hymns are completely done away with. However, it happened also with us that the hymns soon crept in again. We went back to following the bastard children of the Romish beast, who are able to sing like the Sirens.16 We newcomers try to exceed what has gone before.

So then we see that, not with us, nor in France, nor in Geneva, are hymns tolerated or found, and certainly not in Scotland. However, in England, where episcopalian church government remains and where Romish ceremonies are still partially allowed, one will perhaps also find hymns being sung.

Why will you follow after the abuses of particular churches, and forsake and forget the good of our fathers and the other Reformers, and be subject to God’s displeasure? 1 hope to be preserved by God’s mercy from those who wish to do that. Furthermore, I rather prefer to agree with the letter, regarding another matter, but applicable here also, that was written by the great John Knox to the English Bishops in 1565. It was written by the charge of the National Synod of Scotland held in that year to ask the English Bishops and ministers to deal leniently with such of their brethren who were scrupled to use the sacerdotal dress enjoined by the laws — the white raiments and other vestures. Knox writes thus: “If surplesse, cornett-cap and tippet and I would include here the hymns, HDC, have been badges of idolaters in the very act of their idolatry, what has the preacher of Christian liberty and open rebuker of all superstition to do with the dregs of that Romish beast; yea, what is he that ought not to feare either to take in his hand or forehead, the print and mark of that odious Beast? … If the commandment of the Authority urge the conscience of you and of our brethren farther than they can bear, we unfeignedly crave of you that ye remember ye are called the ‘light of the world,’ and ‘the salt of the earth.’ All those called to authority have not the light of God always shining before the eyes in their statutes and commandments; but their affections savour over much of the earth and of worldly wisdom, and therefore we think ye should boldly oppose yourselves to all that power that will or dare burden the consciences of the faithful, farther than God has burdened them in his own word.`17

And what was the effect of Luther’s false step upon his followers? These are once again forming the majority among our so-called “Reformed” or “Liberals.” Do they not have much more in common with the Pope of Rome than with Luther or Calvin? Even as blindness is met with blindness, sin with sin, deviation with deviation, so the Lutheran Church has been visited with God’s righteous judgment and punishment.

I am not exhaustively familiar with their history, but this I do know: Luther had the highest esteem for the Psalms, so much so that he certainly never compared them with any of his songs. And amongst Lutherans there are still those who hold the same views18 But there are those who have gone far away from those views and hold that among the 150 Psalms, 125 are not reckoned suitable for our times, and the remaining 25 are still just better left alone. In their opinion, they are able to compose more spiritual songs. But their songs were actually beastly, and the result of using them is that God’s work has almost completely vanished.

O what times! O what customs! Must we await (if the Lord does not mercifully prevent this, as He will, nevertheless we must gird up and call the young to stand and battle for the faith, once for all delivered to the Saints) this judgment?!!! Absolutely and most certainly. And these, alas, have been the mournful results that we know exist: I don’t know of one book of songs that has been compiled by men, whether big or small, in which one can see the indwelling of God’s Spirit, notwithstanding that these songs may be based largely on God’s Word. What then should come of our responses to the Synodical Reformed Hervormde Church regarding such a large compilation, whose shortcomings have been pointed out? Some of the songs are great enemies of free grace, and are similarly sometimes openly Arminian. They are largely not based on truth either, but on frauds and lies. Regarding these the Apostle Peter speaks in 2 Peter 2: 1: “But there were also false prophets among the people, even as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies.” That will presently be dealt with in Chapter 2, the Lord willing.


 

Chapter 2 — The Composers and their Compositions, Tried by their own Witness and Confession and Found Wanting

  1. We may point out the excellencies in the life of Luther as being evidence of God’s Spirit. For example, his desire to honour God and not himself, even when his life was in danger. He glorified God greatly and humiliated men very much, and as a result he was persecuted – all because he wanted to live a godly life. On the other hand, all the composers of our hymns lack these qualities, and we even find in them precisely the opposite qualities:
  2. Because firstly, regarding Lodenstein 19, Sluiter, 20 or other godly men of previous times, their songs have scanty representation in the songbook under discussion. I believe that this is the case so that men may be brought across the bridge, and then it will be so much easier to have the rest follow, and from there to find an entrance into the entire nation. And then, when people do notice that the songs of Lodenstein and other godly men have been scandalously twisted, knotted and warped with gross and inferior deviations and omissions. What can and must men judge regarding this, provided that the people don’t want to be blind, and the light that is in us doesn’t change to darkness? Or will men believe that the changes are simply in the form that is prepared for church use? If after investigation a person can actually believe this, then I will not bother him anymore.
  3. Mr. Rhijnvis Feith 21 from Zwolle, recently deceased, is one of the most renowned composers. He composed 35 of the 192 hymns on the list that recently came into my possession. He was a notable opponent of the distinguishing marks of the Reformed doctrines that were established at Dordrecht. Rev. Scholte reports about him in his piece about the Psalms22 that he had the most shameful opinion about the Psalms, and that he proposed an unprejudiced examination in conclusion. Scholte wrote: “No matter how outstanding the Jewish songs of olden days appear, they are in reality rather diminutive, at least they certainly do not present sufficient food to heart and mind, as is found in the greater and more complete light of the Gospel. That he Feith is of this opinion after mature investigation, speaks of an untimely confusion prior to thinking the issue through, and this truly does great harm to Christian morals.” this is surely how the Pope of Rome reasons to forbid his lay people to have the Bible, HDC

“And moreover in general (with the exception of some of the more moral Psalms), the majority of the people in the Church of the New Testament no longer wish to hang on to mere sounds.”

this is the same thinking all over again of the earlier and later heretics like Arius, Paul of Samosota, the Valentianians, the Romish, the Remonstrants etc., which they used to bring in all kinds of hymns, HDC

“Indeed it goes against the true spirit of Jesus’ doctrine.”

So according to this reason given by Mr. Feith, would not the Lutherans be correct who, except for a very few, ban the Psalms from their public church-singing”

Are there evidences of God’s Spirit and can they therefore be judged to be enlightened? Was this man able, in accordance with the promises of the compilers of these hymns, to present the doctrines of our confessions in a clear manner’., No, that is prevarication and fraud. After our Psalms one also finds the names of the ones who rhymed them, viz. J.E. Voet, 23 H. Ghijsen24 and the partnership: Laus Deo Salus Populo, 25 why are they not behind the hymns” Have men forgotten, or are they simply ashamed of them???

  1. The remaining composers are in general less renowned. They have taken over some German songs. We see in these songs that the liberal spirit is present as it was commonly in former years amongst the Germans. And we also see in them the infections and deviations from the truth that is common in the spirit of our days. Who then amongst the composers is able to search for the true wisdom, and not the wisdom of the world, which is foolishness with God? And who would dare to compare these men to Luther, who had so many evidences of God’s favour and Spirit.
  2. And now, in the second place, the basis of these songs is considered. They are based largely on God’s word, but that is not the case for our collection (this is probably no longer true for the Lutherans, since they have repeatedly been revised).

In their preface, the compilers of the hymns write: “We propose that the pieces contained herein agree clearly and powerfully with the character of our confessions. Furthermore, old and even ancient Church history, as well as experience from the present time, shows that such songs are always of great value to protect the Congregations and to aid the learning of purity, amidst a stream of numerous dangerous innovations.”

In both these aspects, the compilers are trapped in their own lies right from the beginning. They are not blind, but rather are willfully swindling the Congregation. And they fulfill their wishes, namely by the importation of their hymns, with great passion and fervour.

  1. Certainly, they could not show Oust as Klok has shown, and here I hope to travel along his trail), as they have proposed, that their pieces clearly and powerfully reflect the character of our confessions. At this point I would dare to ask the leading proponents of the hymns, before their consciences, and in the presence of the all-knowing God, who tests the heart and the innermost parts26, whether they are brave enough to believe what they have said? To believe that all the composers and proponents of the hymns, agree wholeheartedly with what was established in Dordrecht in 1618 and 1619:
  2. The doctrine of God’s eternal election and reprobation, established on the grounds of God’s Word.
  3. That the Lord Jesus suffered only for his chosen people.
  4. That mankind is by nature dead in sin and trespasses, totally unable to do any good, even unable to pray, which is the last support of those who seek a self-righteousness.
  5. That he therefore must be powerfully changed by the almighty and irresistible power of God’s Spirit. And finally, the elect and born again cannot fall away, nor be completely overcome by sin?

And if someone is shameless enough to allege this, then for my part 1 ask; how then can such men use the rhymes and poetry of Mr. Rhijnvis Feith who was a public and renowned opposer of the dogmas? Can one expect one clear or powerful defence from these men? In this light, one or both of them must then be either liar or hypocrite.

  1. And now to deal with the second assurance: “Furthermore, old and even ancient Church history, as well as experience from the present time, shows that such songs are always of great value to protect the Congregations and to aid the learning of purity, amidst a stream of numerous and dangerous innovations.”

Who would believe that? Perhaps only the simple and those who are ignorant of church history, those who would eat everything as if it were tasty cake and who think that even what the Pope says is good. It appears in the meantime that the unlearned and dishonourable of our century are also found among the so-called “learned.” In the case of those who know and understand and still do not witness against this, among those we see the Laodicean coolness and lukewarniness that the Lord will spit out of His mouth. In both respects, no matter how men take it, this is one great objection against the spirit of this age, just as Mr. Da Costa 27 already mentioned and pointed out in earlier times.

As I have shown earlier it is one great public lie that amongst the Ancients, just so amongst the New Covenant, “such songs would be of great value to protect and preserve the purity of the Congregations.” Quite to the contrary, such things were always the death in the pot.28the beginnings of the miseries, just as we have seen from Arius, Paul of Samosata and the Valentianians, and from the Romish and the Remonstrants. And God’s Word and experience does not teach us anything different than that. By the last action we see that since that time the doctrine is still not improved, but greatly worsened….

Mr. Dermout, 29 the court preacher to our King, is another example; and if one judges by the discussions and writings of others in our day, the majority are still too old fashioned, because at present everything before them is love and mercy.. all snoring softly on the edge of the cliff, the very portal of hell.

In the first place, God’s word calls us to “Take away from me the noise of your songs; to the melody of your harps 1 will not listen;” and in another place: “I will turn your feasts into mourning, and all your songs into lamentation; 1 will bring sackcloth upon all loins, and baldness on every head; I will make it like the mourning for an only son, and the end of it like a bitter day.”

The godly VandeVelde, speaks about this on p. 596, and oh if only everyone would read him, so that the children will not forget the wonders the Lord did for their fathers, and witness to the truth of the deeds that have been shown: “The words of Mr. van Aldegonde (the ghost-writer of William 1, a learned and God-fearing man) in this respect are remarkable. In the introduction to his Psalm-book, he says: ‘The experience of earlier days has taught us that it is often harmfull to introduce something which is not based on the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments.”‘

This is completely and utterly opposite language to what the writers of the preface in the hymnbook claim. And they do not come up with a favourable and healthy reason, one that is grounded on experience and God’s word. Their lie has been made clear. Then I shall say that the veritable God has been conquered by Baal which yet implies an impossibility. So I have demonstrated how the composers and compilers are worthy of the collection — they have been entrapped and found out as open liars. I do not believe it is remiss to hope that we can look forward to better things beloved readers. You too must be sure to be prepared, and I would point you to the steps of Jacobus Klok, so that you might have hope in the might of the Lord. We will continually remind you of their witness, “that the pieces contained herein agree clearly and powerfully with the character of our confessions.” We will hold this before you, and then you judge whether they have done this, or will do, as they have promised. I assure you now that one and all will be seen to be false and liars, and I hope that you have seen this clearly, so that the light which is in you does not turn to darkness.

 


Footnotes


1. For more on the pamphlet of Klok, cf. the Historical Introduction.

2. We owe the rhymed translation of this poem to Mr. Gilbert Zekveld.

3. DeCock seems to base this remark on Amos 5:23, which he mentions a little later. In so doing he would be giving the same exegesis of this passage as John Calvin. Calvin understands the Hebrew word usually translated as “noise” to be better translated as “multitude” (thus also the English Geneva Bible). “Take away from me the multitude of your songs.” Calvin comments: “He might have simply said, ‘Thy songs please me not;’ but he mentions their multitude, because hypocrites, as I have said, fix no limits to their outward ceremonies: and a vast heap especially follows, when once they take to themselves the liberty of devising this or that form of worship. Hence God testifies here, that they spend labour in vain, for He rejects what he does not command, and whatever is not rightly offered to him.” (Commentary on Amos).

4. Cf. John 4: 24.

5. Cf Deut. 4: 2.

6. De Cock here paraphrases Isaiah 8: 14-15. H.P. Scholte preached on this text in Ulrum on October 10, 1834 — shortly before the Act of Secession or Return was made public and the Secession had officially begun (which took place on October 14, 1834). De Cock himself preached on this text on Friday, November 21, 1834 in Assen. This text functioned as a Scriptural foundation for the stimulation of the Secession. (VG)

7. Arius was a fourth-century theologian whose anti-Trinitarian views were condemned at the Council of Nicea in 325. Paul of Samosata was the bishop of Antioch from 260-272. He was excommunicated by a synod in 268. He believed that God worked through Jesus, but denied that Jesus was the Second Person of the Trinity. Valentinus was a gnostic who lived around the end of the first century. The school of Valentinus was the most influential Gnostic school of the second century and it was these that Tertullian wrote against in his book Adversus Valentinianos.

8. Van de Velde’s book has recently been translated into English: The Wonders of the Most High.. 125 Years History of the United Netherlands, Abraham Van de Velde (G. Zekveld, trans.), Newcastle: Semper Reformanda, 1997. The quote to which de Cock refers can be found on pp. 151-52 of the English translation. Incidentally, there is a discrepancy between the page number given in the original and the version given in the Verzamelde Geschriften. The original, given above, is p.596. The edited version reads p. 396. The print in the original pamphlet is sometimes unclear and this may account for the discrepancy.

9. Full title: “Voorloopig berigt aan mijne Gereformeerde geloofsgenooten. nopens mijne verantwoording en de onredelijke handelwijze van het Provincial Kerk-bestuur ten mijnen opzigte, waaruit het tegenwoordig willkeurig en Tijranniek gezag onzer Kerklijken. in tegenstelling van de regten der Gereformeerde Kerk. ons gewaarborgd bij art. 7 van onze door het goed en bloed onzer Voorvaderen gekochte Geloofsbelijdenis, blijken kan,” H. de Cock, Groningen: J.H. Bolt. 1834. This can also he found in Verzamelde Geschriften (Vol. 1), D. Deddens, W. van’t Spijker et al. eds., Houten: Den Hartog B.V., 1984, pp. 517-539.

10. De Cock quotes these decisions in his Voorlopig berigt: The National Synod of Dort 1578, Art. 76: “The Psalms of David in the edition of Petrus Dathenus, shall be in the Christian meetings of the Netherlands Churches (as has been done until now) shall be sung, abandoning the hymns which are not found in Holy Scripture.” The National Synod of Middelburg, 158 1, art. 51: “Only the Psalms of David shall be sung in the church, omitting the hymns which one cannot find in Holy Scripture.” The National Synod of’s Gravenhage, 1586, art. 62: “The Psalms of David shall be sung in the churches, omitting the hymns which one does not find in Holy Scripture.” The National Synod of Dort, 1618-19, session 162: In the Church only the 150 Psalms of David shall be sung. The 10 Commandments, the Lord’s Prayer, the Articles of Faith, the Songs of Mary, Zechariah, and Simeon, the hymn ‘O God who is our Father,’ and so on, shall be left in the freedom of the Churches, whether they want to use them or not, as they see fit. The rest of the songs shall be taken out of the church, and similarly any which have previously been imported into the church shall be omitted in the most decent way possible.”

11. Petrus Martyr Venrmigili (1500-1562) was active in Strasbourg, Oxford and Zurich as a Reformed theologian. (VG)

12. For example, the collection of hymns Hymni ofte Loffsanghen op de Christelijcke Feestdagen ende andersins Hymns or Praise-songs for Christian Feast-days and other times published in’s Gravenhage in 1615. (VG)

13. Voorlopig Berigt in Verzamelde Geschriften, Vol. 1, p.526.

14. De Cock implies here that the people who would simply mention the “new songs” mentioned in the book of Revelation (5:9 and 14:3) are simplistic and prefer to remain ignorant. They do not want to consider his arguments and content themselves with one Bible passage which seems to justify their present practice.

15. This quote is taken from the Staten Bijbel (the States Bible). This was a Dutch Bible translation ordered by the Synod of Dort 1618-19. It included a great number of explanatory footnotes and is comparable to the English Geneva Bible. The quote is taken from the footnotes on Ephesians 5:19 and reflects a different understanding of this passage (and its parallel in Colossians 3:16) than is commonly found today. The 1927 Psalter of the Christian Reformed Church in North America also reflects this understanding: “The hymns, songs, and psalms of Eph. 5:19 and Col. 3:16 evidently do not refer to NT compositions but to the OT Psalms which in the Greek version bear the titles above given.” The Psalter, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1927, p.4. A modem exegetical defense of this understanding can be found in The Songs of Zion, Michael Bushell, Pittsburgh: Crown and Covenant Publications, 1977 (second edition, 1993), pp.83-93. Older exegeses can be found in The Psalms in Worship, J. McNaugher, ed., Edmonton: Still Waters Revival Books, 1992 (1907), pp. 128-168. For a modern Reformed (from a Dutch background) defence of this position, see ‘The Songs of Zion, What I reckon that with these references this objection is taken away and dealt with.

16. In Greek mythology, the Sirens were three sea nymphs, half-bird and half-woman, who by their seductive songs would lure sailors to their deaths on rocky coastlines.

17. “The Superintendents, Ministers, and Comissioners of Kirks Within the Realme of Scotland, to There Brethren the Bischops and Pastours of Ingland, who has Renunced the Romane Antichryst, and Does Professe with Them the Lord Jesus in Sinceritie, Desyres the Perpetuall Increase of the Holie Spirit.” in The Works of John Knox (Vol.6), collected and edited by David Laing, Edinburgh: Thomas George Stevenson, 1864, pp. 439-440. The English in this quote has been modernized. Thomas M’Crie writes concerning this letter: “The Reformer was charged with a letter from the Assembly, to the bishops and ministers of England, interceding for lenity to such of their brethren as scrupled to use the sacerdotal dress, enjoined by the laws. The controversy on that subject was at this time carried on with great warmth among the English clergy. It is not improbable, that the Assembly interfered in this business at the desire of Knox, to whom the composition of the letter was committed.” The Life of John Knox, New York: Eastburn, Kirk, & Co., 1813, p.31 1.

18. “When the Lord brought the testimony of his witnesses out of obscurity in Piedmont, Bohemia, &c., by the ministry of Luther, his contemporaries and successors; then the psalms were restored to their place in the churches of the Reformation. Luther was skilled in music, himself composed many hymns; but he carefully distinguished between the Psalms and his hymns. An old lady in eastern Pennsylvania is said to have in her possession “a German Psalm-book, published by Luther himself ” The book closes with a collection of Luther’s hymns; but the old lady says that in her young days in Germany, “its directions were rigidly obeyed, and in public worship they sang only the Psalms of David.” “The same order, as is well known, prevailed in all the other reformed churches of Europe and the British Isles. David Steels, “Psalms and Hymns,” The Original Covenanter Magazine (Vol. 3:1-3:16, March 1881 to Dec. 1884), p. 41.

19. Jodocus van Lodenstein (1620-1677) was a student of G. Voetius and preacher in Zoetermeer and Zegwaard (1644), Sluis (1650) and Utrecht (1653). He belonged to the “Nadere Reformatie” (“Further Reformation”) movement. He wrote a number of songs that were not only popular in his day, but also later among the Secessionists of DeCock’s time (though only outside the church services). (VG)

20. Willem Sluiter (1627-1673) studied theology in Utrecht and was also a student of Voetius. He was a preacher in Eibergen (1653) and Rouveen (1673). He is also a representative of the “Nadere Reformatie.” Sluiter was a poet and he composed a collection of “Psalms, Hymns and Spiritual Songs” (1659) and a rhyming of the Song of Solomon (1633) and other Scripture passages. (VG)

21. Rhijnvis Feith (1753-1823) graduated at 17 years old from the faculty of law at the College in Harderwijk,. Ten years later he became the mayor (burgemeester) of Zwolle. In 1797 his Odes and Poems appeared, in 1804-05 his Specimen of Hymns (Proeve van Gezzangen) followed. 35 hymns from Feith are found among the “Evangelical Hymns.” (VG)

22. H.P. Scholte, lets over de Psalmen Notes on the Psalms, Amsterdam, 1834. (VG)

23. Johannes Eusebius Voet (1706-1778) was a doctor in the Hague, known foremost for his edifying poetry and his important part in the Dutch Psalm version of 1773. (VG)

24. Hendrik Ghijsen (1660-1693) was an Amsterdam silversmith and also a precentor. He made some Psalm rhymings from older versions and in 1773, ten of his psalms and 4 of his hymns were included in the State version ( de Statenberijming). (VG)

25. Laus Deo Salus Populo (Praise for God, Salvation for the People) was a society of poets in Amsterdam who mostly had a Anabaptist or Remonstrant background. 58 of their psalms and 3 of their hymns appeared in the State song book (de Statenberijming). (VG)

26. Literally: “kidneys.”

27. Isaac Da Costa (1798-1860) was the main leader of the Dutch “Reveil” movement. He was both a poet and preacher and in 1823 wrote a pamphlet entitled Objections to the Spirit of the Age (Bezwaren tegen den geest der eeuw) — it this writing to which DeCock here refers. (VG)

28. Cf, 2 Kings 4:40, where Elisha is told that the stew in the pot contains poisonous plants.

29. Isaac Johannes Dermout (1777-1867) was the Netherlands Reformed (State Church) preacher at ‘s-Gravenhage from 1805-1818. For 30 years he was also the Synodical secretary and in 1822 he became the court preacher for the King. He is also remembered for co-authoring (with Annaeus Ypey) a 4 volume history of the Netherlands Reformed Church. (VG)


Posted with Permission. © J. A. Wanliss & W.L. Bredenhof 1998

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