William Bradford Institute
for Study of the
Early Settlement of America

Preface to the Bay Psalm Book (1640)

[Probably written by Richard Mather.]

The singing of Psalms, though it breath forth nothing but holy harmony, and
melody: yet such is the subtlety of the enemy, and enmity of our nature
against the Lord, and his ways, that our hearts can find matter of discord in
this harmony, and crotchets [i.e., whimsical notions] of division in this holy
melody.for.There have been three questions especially stirring concerning
singing. First, what psalms are to be sung in churches? whether Davids and
other scripture psalms, or the psalms invented by the gifts of godly men in
every age of the church. Secondly, if scripture psalms, whether in their own
words, or in such metre as English poetry is wont to run in? Thirdly, by whom
are they to be sung? whether by the whole churches together with their voices?
or by one man singing alone and the rest joining in silence, and in the close
saying amen.

Touching the first, certainly the singing of Davids psalms was an acceptable
worship of God, not only in his, but in succeeding times. as in Solomons time
2 Chron. 5:13. in Jehosaphats time 2 Chron. 20:21. in Ezras time Ezra
3:10,11. and the text is evident in Hezekiahs time they are commanded to sing
praise in the words of David and Asaph, 2 Chron. 29:30. which one place may
serve to resolve two of the questions (the first and the last) at once, for
this commandment was it ceremonial or moral? some things in it indeed were
ceremonial, as their musical instruments, etc. but what ceremony was there in
singing praise with the words of David and Asaph? what if David was a type of
Christ, was Asaph also? was everything of David typical? are his words (which
are of moral, universal, and perpetual authority in all nations and ages) are
they typical? what type can be imagined in making use of his songs to praise
the Lord? If they were typical because of the ceremony of musical instruments
was joined to them, then their prayers were also typical, because they had
that ceremony of incense admixt with them: but we know that prayer then was a
moral duty, notwithstanding the incense; so singing those psalms
notwithstanding their musical instruments. Beside, that which was typical (as
that they were sung with musical instruments, by the twenty-four orders of
Priests and Levites 1 Chron. 25:9) must have the moral and spiritual
accomplishment in the New Testament, in all the Churches of the Saints
principally, who are made kings and priests Rev. 1:6 and are the firstfruits
unto God Rev. 14:4. as the Levites were Num. 3:45. with hearts and lips,
instead of musical instruments, to praise the Lord; who are set forth (as some
judiciously think) Rev. 4:4. by twenty-four Elders, in the ripe age of the
Church, Gal. 4:1,2,3. answering to the twenty-four orders of Priests and
Levites 1 Chron. 25:9. Therefore not some select members, but the whole Church
is commanded to teach one another in all the several sorts of Davids psalms,
some being called by himself MyrOmzm: psalms, some Myllyht: hymns, some Myryw:
spiritual songs. So that if the singing of Davids psalms be a moral duty and
therefore perpetual; then we under the New Testament are bound to sing them as
well as they under the old: and if we are expressly commanded to sing Psalms,
Hymns, and Spiritual Songs, then either we must sing Davids psalms, or else
may affirm they are not spiritual songs: which being penned by an
extraordinary gifts of the Spirit, for the sake especially of Gods spiritual
Israel, not to be read and preached only (as other parts of holy writ) but to
be sung also, they are therefore most spiritual, and still to be sung of all
the Israel of God: and verily as their sin is exceeding great, who will allow
Davids psalms (as other scriptures) to be read in churches (which is one end)
but not to be preached also, which is another end so their sin is crying
before God, who will allow them to be read and preached, but seek to deprive
the Lord of the glory of the third end of them, which is to sing them in
Christian churches.

Obj. 1. If it be said that the Saints in the primitive Church did compile
spiritual songs of their own inditing [i.e., composition], and sing them
before the Church. 1 Cor. 14:15,16.

Ans. We answer first, that those Saints compiled these spiritual songs by the
extraordinary gifts of the Spirit (common in those days) whereby they were
enabled to praise the Lord in strange tongues, wherein learned Paraeus proves
those psalms were uttered, in his Comment[ary] on that place vers 14 which
extraordinary gifts, if they were still in the Churches, we should allow them
the like liberty now. Secondly, suppose those psalms were sung by an ordinary
gift (which we suppose cannot be evicted [i.e., evidenced]) does it therefore
follow that they did not, and that we ought not to sing Davids psalms, must
the ordinary gifts of a private man quench the Spirit still speaking to us by
the extraordinary gifts of his servant David. there is not the least foot-step
of example, or precept, or color reason for such bold practice.

Obj. 2. Ministers are allowed to pray conceived prayers, and why not to sing
conceived psalms? must we not sing in the Spirit as well as pray in the

Ans. First because every good minister has not the gift of spiritual poetry to
compose extemporaneous psalms as he has of prayer. Secondly, suppose he had,
yet seeing psalms are to be sung by a joint consent and harmony of all the
Church in heart and voice (as we shall prove) this cannot be done except he
that composes a psalm, brings into the Church set forms of psalms of his own
invention; for which we find no warrant or precedent in any ordinary officers
of the Church throughout the scriptures. Thirdly, because the book of psalms
is so complete a system of psalms, which the Holy Ghost himself in infinite
wisdom has made to suit all conditions, necessities, temptations, affections,
etc. of men in all ages; (as most of all interpreters on the psalms have fully
and particularly cleared) therefore by this the Lord seems to stop all mens
mouths and minds ordinarily to compile or sing any other psalms (under color
that the occasions and conditions of the Church are new) etc. for the public
use of the Church, seeing, let our condition be what it will, the Lord himself
has supplied us with far better; and therefore in Hezekiahs time, though
doubtless there were among them those which had extraordinary gifts to compile
new songs on those new occasions, as Isaiah and Micah etc. yet we read that
they are commanded to sing in the words of David and Asaph, which were
ordinarily to be used in the public worship of God: and we doubt not but those
that are wise will easily see; that those set forms of psalms of Gods own
appointment not of mans conceived gift or human imposition were sung in the
Spirit by those holy Levites, as well as their prayers were in the Spirit
which themselves conceived, the Lord not then binding them therein to any set
forms; and shall set forms of psalms appointed of God not be sung in the
Spirit now, which others did then?

Question. But why may not one compose a psalm and sing it alone with a loud
voice and the rest join with him in silence and in the end say amen.
Ans. If such a practice was found in the Church of Corinth, when any had a
psalm suggested by an extraordinary gift; yet in singing ordinary psalms the
whole Church is to join together in heart and voice to praise the Lord.for
First, Davids psalms as has been shown, were sung in heart and voice together
by the twenty-four orders of the musicians of the Temple, who typed out the
twenty-four Elders all the members especially of Christian Churches Rev. 5:8.
who are made Kings and Priests to God to praise him as they did: for if they
were any other order of singing Choristers beside the body of the people to
succeed those, the Lord would doubtless have given direction in the gospel for
their qualification, election, maintenance etc. as he did for the musicians of
the Temple, and as his faithfulness had done for all other church officers in
the New Testament.

Secondly, others beside the Levites (the chief singers) in the Jewish Church
did also sing the Lords songs; else why are they commanded frequently to
sing: as in Ps. 100:1,2,3. Ps. 95:1,2,3. Ps. 102. title with verse 18. and Ex.
15:1. not only Moses but all Israel sang that song, they spake saying (as it
is in the orig[inal language]) all as well as Moses, the women also as well as
the men. v. 20,21. and Deut. 32. (whereto some think, John had reference as
well as to Ex. 15:1. when he brings in the Protestant Churches getting the
victory over the Beast with harps in their hands and singing the song of
Moses. Rev. 15:3.) this song Moses is commanded not only to put it into their
hearts but into their mouths also: Deut. 31:19. which argues, that they were
with their mouths to sing together as well as with their hearts.
Thirdly, Isaiah foretells in the days of the New Testament that Gods watchmen
and desolate lost souls, (signified by waste places) should with their voices
sing together, Isa. 52:8,9. and Rev. 7:9,10. the song of the Lamb was by many
together, and the Apostle expressly commands the singing of psalms, hymns,
etc. not to any select Christians, but to the whole Church. Eph. 5:19. Col.
3:16. Paul and Silas sang together in private Acts 16:25 and must the public
hear only one man sing? to all these we may add the practice of the primitive
Churches; the testimony of ancient and holy Basil is instead of many Epist. 63
[letter 207; sec. 3]. When one of us (says he) has begun a psalm, the rest of
us set in to sing with him, all of us with one heart and one voice; and this
says he is the common practice of the Churches in Egypt, Libya, Thebes,
Palestine, Syria, and those dwelling on Euphrates, and generally everywhere,
where singing of psalms is of any account. To the same purpose also Eusebius
gives witness. Eccles. Hist. Lib. 2 cap. 17. The objections made against this
do most of them plead against joining to sing in heart as well as in voice, as
that by this means others out of the Church will sing as also that we are not
always in a suitable estate to the matter sung, and likewise that all cannot
sing with understanding; shall not therefore all that have understanding join
in heart and voice together? are not all the creatures in heaven, earth, seas:
men, beasts, fishes, fowls, etc. commanded to praise the Lord, and yet none of
these but men, and godly men too, can do it with spiritual understanding?
As for the scruple that some take at the translation of the Book of Psalms
into metre, because Davids psalms were sung in his own words without metre:
we answerFirst, there are many verses together in several psalms of David
which run in rhythms (as those that know Hebrew and as Buxtorf shows Thesau.
pa. 629.) which shows at least the lawfulness of singing psalms in English

Secondly, the psalms are penned in such verses as are suitable to the poetry
of the Hebrew language, and not in the common style of such other books of the
Old Testament as are not poetical; now no Protestant doubts but that all the
books of scripture should by Gods ordinance be extant in the mother tongue of
each nation, that they may be understood of all, hence the psalms are to be
translated into our English tongue; and in it our English tongue we are to
sing them, then as all our English songs (according to the course of our
English poetry) do run in metre, so ought Davids psalms to be translated into
metre, that so we may sing the Lords songs, as in our English tongue so in
such verses as are familiar to an English ear which are commonly metrical: and
as it can be no just offense to any good conscience to sing Davids Hebrew
songs in English words, so neither to sing his poetical verses in English
poetical metre: men might as well stumble at singing the Hebrew psalms in our
English tunes (and not in the Hebrew tunes) as at singing them in English
metre, (which are our verses) and not in such verses as are generally used by
David according to the poetry of the Hebrew language: but the truth is, as the
Lord has hid from us the Hebrew tunes, lest we should think ourselves bound to
imitate them; so also the course and frame (for the most part) of their Hebrew
poetry, that we might not think ourselves bound to imitate that, but that
every nation without scruple might follow as the grave sort of tunes of their
own country songs, so the graver sort of verses of their own country poetry.
Neither let any think, that for the metre sake we have taken liberty or
poetical license to depart from the true and proper sense of Davids words in
the Hebrew verses, no; but it has been one part of our religious care and
faithful endeavour, to keep close to the original text.

As for other objections taken from the difficulty of Ainsworths tunes, and
the corruptions in our common psalm books, we hope they are answered in this
new edition of psalms; which we here present to God and his Churches. For
although we have cause to bless God in many respects for the religious
endeavours of the translators of the psalms into metre usually annexed to our
Bibles, yet it is not unknown to the godly learned that they have rather
presented a paraphrase than the words of David translated according to the
rule 2 Chron. 29:30. and that their addition to the words, detractions from
the words are not seldom and rare, but very frequent and many times needless,
(which we suppose would not be approved of if the Psalms were so translated
into prose) and that their variations of the sense, and alterations to the
sacred text too frequently, may justly minister matter of offense to them that
are able to compare the translation with the text; of which failings, some
judicious have often complained, others have been grieved, whereupon it has
been generally desired, that as we do enjoy other, so (if it were the Lords
will) we might enjoy this ordinance also in its native purity: we have
therefore done our endeavour to make a plain and familiar translation of the
psalms and words of David into English metre, and have not so much as presumed
to paraphrase to give the sense of his meaning in other words; we have
therefore attended herein as our chief guide the original, shunning all
additions, except such as even the best translators of them in prose supply,
avoiding all material detractions from words or sense. The word v which we
translate and as it is redundant sometimes in the Hebrew, so sometimes (though
not very often) it has been left out and yet not then, if the sense were not
fair without it.

As for our translations, we have with our English Bibles (to which next to the
original we have had respect) used the idioms of our own tongue instead of
hebraisms, lest they might seem English barbarisms.
Synonyms we use indifferently: as folk for people, and Lord for Jehovah, and
sometimes (though seldom) God for Jehovah; for which (as for some other
interpretations of places cited in the New Testament) we have the scriptures
authority Ps. 14 with 53. Heb. 1:6. with Psalm 97:7. Where a phrase is
doubtful we have followed that which (in our own apprehension) is most genuine
and edifying:

Sometime we have contracted, sometimes dilated the same Hebrew word, both for
the verse and the verse sake: which dilation we conceive to be no
paraphrastical addition no more than the contraction of a true and full
translation to be any unfaithful detraction or diminution: as when we dilate
who healeth and say he it is who healeth; so when we contract, those that
stand in awe of God and say God fearers.

Lastly, because some Hebrew words have a more full and emphatic signification
than any one English word can or does sometimes express, hence we have done
that sometimes which faithful translators may do, viz. not only to translate
the word but the emphasis of it; as lx mighty God, for God. jrb humbly bless
for bless; rise to stand, Psalm 1. for stand. truth and faithfulness for
truth. Howbeit, for the verse sake we do not always thus, yet we render the
word truly though not fully; as when we sometimes say rejoice for shout for

As for all other changes of numbers, tenses, and characters of speech, they
are such as either the Hebrew will unforcedly bear, or our English forceably
calls for, or in no way changes the sense; and such are printed usually in
another character.

If therefore the verses are not always so smooth and elegant as some may
desire or expect; let them consider that Gods altar needs not our polishings:
Ex. 20. for we have respected rather a plain translation, than to smooth our
verses with the sweetness of any paraphrases, and so have attended conscience
rather than elegance, fidelity rather than poetry, in translating the Hebrew
words into English language, and Davids poetry into English metre; that so we
may sing in Sion the Lords songs of praise according to his own will; until
he take us from hence, and wipe away all out tears, and bid us enter into our
Masters joy to sing eternal hallelujahs.


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