The book of Psalms is, not only— as Martin Luther puts it: "a little Bible, and the summary of the Old Testament," it is, we may say the heart of the whole Bible. As a book of praise, it provides God’s people throughout the ages with the most magnificent sonnets of praise and thanksgiving befitting the God Almighty, the Creator of Heaven and Earth. On the other hand, as a balm for the weary, it plumbs the depths of human emotion and provides the truly penitent with some of the deepest expressions of sorrow and grieves. For this reason, among others, it is perhaps the most beloved and most well read portion of the Bible throughout the history of the Christian Church. 

But more than being a book that meets the spiritual and expressive needs of the individual Christian in whatever situation he finds himself in, the book of Psalms is also eminently Christological. It will certainly not do to see the Psalms as being messianic in only a few notable cases such as Psalms 2, 22 and 110. These are indeed noted for being messianic because they are referred to by Christ and His disciples to describe the experiences and emotions of Christ during his earthly ministry (e.g. Matt 27:46; Matt 22:41-46; Acts 2:28; Heb 1:5, 2:8 etc). However, none of these psalms are expressly prophetic if they are read without the analogy of the New Testament. Rather, almost without exception, they describe real experiences and emotions of the psalmists—especially of David, "the sweet psalmist of Israel" (2Sam 23:1). The reason Christ could appeal to the Psalms as referring to Him (Lk 24:44) is because the psalmists wrote not merely out of the exuberance of their own hearts, but through the Spirit of Christ dwelling in them (see 2Sam 23:2; 1Pet 1:11). Thus the ‘I’ in the psalms points ultimately to the Greater David, who is both the singer (Heb 2:12) as well as the focus of the psalms. 

For this reason, the book of Psalms has not only been affectionately read, but has throughout the ages been the only inspired hymn book of the New Testament Church. Just as the Jews, no doubt, used them in temple and synagogue worship, the early Christians sang or chanted the psalms in their worship. Although the evidences from the apostolic churches are not conclusive, many commentators believe that when Paul refers to psalms, hymns and spiritual songs in Col 3:16 and Eph 5:19, he is actually referring to the Psalms only. This is because the Greek translation (Septuagint) of the Psalms which the apostles used extensively identifies the psalms with all these three terms in the psalm titles. In 67 of the titles, the word ‘psalm’ occurs; in 6 the word ‘hymn’ is used; while in 35 ‘song’ appears. Moreover, in 12 ‘psalm’ and ‘song’ are used while in 2 ‘psalm’ and ‘hymn’ are used. Furthermore, Psalm 76 uses all three terms in its title. Besides that, hardly anyone doubt that the hymns that Jesus sang with his disciples at the Last Supper was from part of the Psalter which the Jews call the Egyptian Hallel (Ps 113-118). 

With this in mind, and based on the principle that whatsoever is not sanctioned in the Scripture is forbidden in the worship of God (the Regulative Principle), Calvin at the time of the Reformation, developed the Genevan Psalter (singable translation of the Psalms) with Theordore Beza and Clement Marot providing the poetic versification and Louis Bourgeois supplying the melodies. 

Accordingly, John Knox and the Puritans, being the spiritual descendants of Calvin also sang psalms only in public and private worship. This regulation is clearly reflected in the Westminster Confession of Faith, which makes no mention of hymns and songs but refers to "singing of psalms with grace in the heart" (WCF 21.5). A.A. Hodge suggests that hymns may be considered "musically-uttered prayers" and so may be regulated under WCF 21.3 rather than 21.5. However, it an undisputed fact that the Westminster Divines sanctioned only psalm-singing: "It is the duty of Christians to praise God publickly, by the singing of psalms together in the congregation and also privately in the family" (Directory of Public Worship). In fact, the Scottish Psalter which we use in our Church, is actually an edition of the metrical (singable) psalms written by a Mr Francis Rouse. This was presented to the Westminster Assembly, and after careful study and amendments by the 3 committees over a period of two months, was approved by the Assembly for use in public worship on 14 Nov 1645 (See Minutes, pp. 131,163). 

The issue of whether uninspired, though scriptural, hymns and songs should be allowed in public worship is more complicated than can be treated in this short article. However, it suffices us to realise that it is to our own disadvantage and detriment to cast aside our historical and confessional roots and to abandon the singing of psalms al-together, or to give it the lowest priority in our worship. Calvin, standing on Augustine, was surely right when he said: 

. . . that which St. Augustine has said is true, that no one is able to sing things worthy of God except that which he has received from him. Therefore, when we have looked thoroughly, and search here and there, we shall not find better songs nor more fitting for the purpose, than the Psalms of David, which the Holy Spirit spoke and made through him. And moreover, when we sing them, we are certain that God puts in our mouths these, as if he were singing in us to exalt his glory (Preface to the Geneva Psalter). 

Furthermore, if we would not sing the psalms at all, for whatever reasons, then we would be in danger of "will worship" (Col 2:23), seeing we would neither follow our Lord’s example nor obey the apostle’s injunction—which clearly includes psalm-singing, what-ever ‘hymns’ and ‘songs’ may mean. Let us therefore endeavour, with the Lord’s help, to bring the inspired psalms back into prominence in our worship of God both publicly and privately (Jer 6:16!). Let us learn to sing the psalms,— ‘the word of Christ’—with grace in our hearts (Col 3:16), and so learn Christ through His psalms.