With this post I come to a third argument against exclusive psalmody which is closely related to my second. Having seen from John 4:24 that we are required to worship God in the light of the gospel and not in the shadows of the law, that third argument is this:
Third, we are commanded in Scripture to sing new songs in keeping with the progressive revelation of God’s redemption.
There are a number of calls in the Bible to sing new songs to God. In the past I have been hesitant to muster these calls as an argument against exclusive psalmody, but having considered for many years I now believe that they constitute such an argument. Perhaps their significance can be stated most succinctly and pointedly from Revelation 5:9-10:
And they sang a new song: You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals; because You were slaughtered, and You redeemed people for God by Your blood from every tribe and language and people and nation. You made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they will reign on the earth.
Schwertley’s comments on the phrase, “new song,” in Scripture in Exclusive Psalmody: A Biblical Defense in my view fails to explain away the importance of this phrase for a critique of exclusive psalmody.
Schwertley argues that the new song is not an uninspired song, but an inspired song. This may be, but it still contradicts both Schwertley’s and Murray’s refusal to sing anything but the Psalms of David. They admit that the Scripture commands a new song to be sung, but they refuse to sing it even if it is inspired!
Schwertley alternatively suggests that the new song is simply an old song sung with new meaning. Perhaps this may be the case, though I doubt it, with regard to some of the Old Testament use of the phrase, “new song.” He also suggests that it could be one of the psalms in the book of Psalms, but one with which the people of God are not yet familiar. Again, perhaps this is the case. The problem is that neither of these speculations can apply to or explain the use of the phrase in Revelation 5:9-10.
Consider several clear features of Revelation 5:9-10:
1st Feature: It fulfills a frequently repeated biblical command.
In Revelation 5:9-10 the heavenly multitude are fulfilling the frequently repeated command of Scripture to sing a new song to the Lord.
Psalm 33:3 Sing to Him a new song; Play skillfully with a shout of joy.
Psalm 96:1 Sing to the LORD a new song; Sing to the LORD, all the earth.
Psalm 98:1 A Psalm. O sing to the LORD a new song, For He has done wonderful things, His right hand and His holy arm have gained the victory for Him.
Psalm 149:1 Praise the LORD! Sing to the LORD a new song, And His praise in the congregation of the godly ones.
Isaiah 42:10 Sing to the LORD a new song, Sing His praise from the end of the earth! You who go down to the sea, and all that is in it. You islands, and those who dwell on them.
2nd Feature: It celebrates a new stage in and is carefully situated with regard to redemptive history.
In the previous context of Revelation 5:9-10 we are symbolically but clearly told the occasion of this new song. It is the ascension and enthronement of the Mediator, Christ Jesus. This was a new redemptive-historical event symbolized clearly in the Lamb approaching the throne and taking the book. There is to be a new song to celebrate this new event and new stage in redemptive history.
The words and theme of this new song—it must be noticed—are carefully situated with regard to redemptive. Not only is it a new song sung subsequent to the enthronement of the Mediator, but a new song reflecting a period prior to the time when the saints will reign on the earth. (The best Greek text of Revelation 5:10 has the future tense in contrast to the inferior text reflected in the KJV.)
3rd Feature: This new song involves singing new words and has a new text.
In the text itself of Revelation 5:9-10 we are told the words of this song. It is not an old psalm sung with a new meaning. It is not a psalm from the biblical book of Psalms with which the people of God are unfamiliar. It is a song with new words conveying new thoughts and concepts. The Greek is clear. “They sang a new song saying …”
Now consider, then, the extremism of both the position held by Murray and Schwertley. Though they give lip-service to the possibility of new inspired songs, in actual practice they refuse to sing anything, but the 150 psalms in the book of Psalms. They virtually refuse to do what the Scriptures teach us by command and example we must do. We must sing new songs embodying the glorious, redemptive events of the new stage of redemptive history that has been reached, but they will sing only the psalms in the Old Testament book of Psalms!
Here the new song is clearly a song with new words and thoughts. New revelation calls for new songs! And this calls for songs informed and permeated with the revelation given in the New Testament. It rebuts the idea that we can only sing in the language of the Old Testament.
Dr. Sam Waldron is the Academic Dean of CBTS and professor of Systematic Theology. He is also one of the pastors of Grace Reformed Baptist Church in Owensboro, KY. Dr. Waldron received a B.A. from Cornerstone University, an M.Div. from Trinity Ministerial Academy, a Th.M. from Grand Rapids Theological Seminary, and a Ph.D. from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. From 1977 to 2001 he was a pastor of the Reformed Baptist Church of Grand Rapids, MI. Dr. Waldron is the author of numerous books including A Modern Exposition of the 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith, The End Times Made Simple, Baptist Roots in America, To Be Continued?, and MacArthur’s Millennial Manifesto: A Friendly Response.