Pillar Journal

Practical Benefits of Psalm Singing

Psalm singing helps us glorify God, as the Reformation and post-Reformation divines tell us repeatedly. Joel Beeke

Albert Bailey rightly concludes that Calvin’s theological beliefs about the Psalter helped unite the Reformers and Puritans around the conviction that “only God’s own Word was worthy to be used in praising Him.”1Albert Bailey, The Gospel in Hymns: Backgrounds and Interpretations (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1950), 17. Psalm singing was important to Calvin and the Puritans, however, not only because it is biblical and historical and is our theological and moral duty to God, but also because of the gracious effects it has upon those who sing. Here are some spiritual and practical benefits of psalm singing:

  • Psalm singing comforts the soul. It lifts up the spiritually downcast and provides spiritual riches that are Christ-centered and experiential. Cotton says psalm singing “allayeth the passions of melancholy and choler, yea and scattereth the furious temptations of evill spirits, 1 Sam. 16.23.”2Singing of Psalmes, 4. It “helpeth to ass[u]age enmity, and to restore friendship favour, as in Saul to David.”3Ibid., 4. Increase Mather observes “that musick is of great efficacy against melancholy.” Mather says, “The sweetness and delightfulness of musick has a natural power to [overcome] melancholy passions.”4Increase Mather, A History of God’s Remarkable Providences in Colonial New England (1856; reprint, Portland, Ore.: Back Home Industries, 1997), 187. For Calvin and the Puritans, a psalter is what Robert Sanderson (1587–1662) called “the treasury of Christian comfort.”5Cited in Rowland E. Prothero, The Psalms in Human Life (1903; reprint, Birmingham. Ala.: Solid Ground Christian Books, 2002), 176. Sanderson, Bishop of Lincoln, ejected from his professorship at Oxford and imprisoned by Parliament, found great comfort through difficult times in the Psalter. Subsequently, he wrote that a psalter is “fitted for all persons and all necessities; able to raise the soul from dejection by the frequent mention of God’s mercies to repentant sinners: to stir up holy desire; to increase joy; to moderate sorrow; to nourish hope, and teach us patience, by waiting God’s leisure; to beget a trust in the mercy, power, and providence of our Creator; and to cause a resignation of ourselves to his will: and then, and not till then, to believe ourselves happy.”6 Cited in ibid.
  • Psalm singing cultivates piety. Lewis Bayly included a section on psalm singing in The Practice of Pietie. He set down five rules for psalm singing:
    1. Beware of singing divine Psalmes for an ordinary recreation; as do men of impure Spirits, who sing holy Psalmes, intermingled with prophane Ballads. They are Gods Word, take them not in thy mouth in vaine.
    2. Remember to sing Davids Psalmes, with Davids Spirit.
    3. Practice Saint Pauls rule: I will sing with the Spirit, but I will sing with the understanding also.
    4. As you sing, uncover your heads, and behave your selves in comely reverence, as in the sight of God, singing to God, in Gods owne Words: but bee sure that the matter makes more melody in your hearts, than the Musicke in your Eares: for the singing with a grace in our hearts, is that which the Lord is delighted withal…
    5. Thou maist, if thou thinke good, sing all the Psalmes over in order: for all are most divine and comfortable. But if thou wilt chuse some speciall Psalmes, as more fit for some times, and purposes: and such, as by the oft-usage, thy people may the easilier commit to memory.7Lewis Bayly, The Practice of Pietie (London: Printed by R. Y. for Andrew Crooke, 1638), 233–34.
  • Finally, psalm singing helps us glorify God, as the Reformation and post-Reformation divines tell us repeatedly. Calvin wrote, “Truly, we know through experience that [psalm singing] has great force and vigor to move and enflame hearts to invoke and to praise God with a more lively and ardent zeal.” Calvin goes on to say, quoting Augustine: “When we sing these psalms…we are certain that God puts the words into our mouths as if he were singing in us to exalt his glory.”8Miller, “Calvin’s Understanding of Psalm-Singing as a Means of Grace,” 38, 40.. Wilhelmus à Brakel, a primary Dutch Further Reformation divine of Puritan mind, agrees: “Singing [psalms] is a religious exercise by which, with the appropriate modulation of the voice, we worship, thank, and praise God.”9Wilhelmus á Brakel, The Christian’s Reasonable Service, trans. Bartel Elshout, ed. Joel R. Beeke (Morgan, Pa.: Soli Deo Gloria Publications, 1995), 4:31. Therefore, let those who sing psalms, sing for the praise of God! “Sing praises to God, sing praises: sing praises unto our King, sing praises. For God is the King of all the earth: sing ye praises with understanding” (Ps. 47:6–7).

Excerpt From
Sing a New Song
Joel R. Beeke

Sing a New Song: Recovering Psalm Singing for the Twenty-First Century (Beeke) (291 in Stock)

MSRP: $18.00 $13.50


The book of Psalms occupies a unique place in Scripture, being both the Word from God and words to God from His people.

Unfortunately, psalm singing no longer plays an integral part of worship in most evangelical churches. In this book, thirteen well-respected scholars urge the church to rediscover the treasure of the Psalms as they examine the history of psalm singing in the church, present biblical reasons for the liturgical practice, and articulate the practical value it provides us today.

Read Sample Pages


Table of Contents:

Foreword —W. Robert Godfrey

Part 1: Psalm Singing in History

1. From Cassian to Cranmer: Singing the Psalms from Ancient Times until the Dawning of the Reformation — Hughes Oliphant Old and Robert Cathcart

2. Psalm Singing in Calvin and the Puritans — Joel R. Beeke

3. The History of Psalm Singing in the Christian Church — Terry Johnson

4. Psalters, Hymnals, Worship Wars, and American Presbyterian Piety — D. G. Hart

Part 2: Psalm Singing in Scripture

5. Psalm Singing and Scripture — Rowland S. Ward

6. The Hymns of Christ: The Old Testament Formation of the New Testament Hymnal — Michael LeFebvre

7. Christian Cursing? — David P. Murray

8. The Case for Psalmody, with Some Reference to the Psalter’s Sufficiency for Christian Worship —  Malcolm H. Watts

Part 3: Psalm Singing and the Twenty-First-Century Church

9. Psalm Singing and Redemptive-Historical Hermeneutics: Geerhardus Vos’s “Eschatology of the Psalter” Revisited — Anthony T. Selvaggio

10. Psalm Singing and Pastoral Theology — Derek W. H. Thomas

11. Psalmody and Prayer — J. V. Fesko 



Joel R. Beeke (PhD, Westminster Seminary) is president and professor of systematic theology and homiletics at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary; a pastor of the Heritage Reformed Congregation in Grand Rapids, Michigan; editor of Banner of Sovereign Grace Truth; editorial director of Reformation Heritage Books; and a prolific author.

Anthony T Selvaggio (J.D. The University of Buffalo School of Law; M.Div., Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminary) currently serves as a visiting professor of Biblical Studies at the Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminary in Pittsburgh, PA. He is also Theologian in Residence at the Rochester Reformed Presbyterian Church in Rochester




“This volume explores the rich historical, biblical, theological, and pastoral contexts that inform a commitment to the prayerful use of biblical psalms in Christian worship today. The book challenges those who sing psalms exclusively to understand the strengths of their tradition. It challenges those who sing hymns primarily to reconsider their neglect of the Psalms. Above all, the volume invites all readers to reconsider the beauty of biblically shaped prayer and the astonishing grace offered us by a God who not only calls us to offer worship but also guides and inspires us in learning how to worship.” —John D. Witvliet, Calvin Institute of Christian Worship, Calvin College and Calvin Theological Seminary, Grand Rapids, Michigan

“It is sad that much of the contemporary church does not know her own history of worship and how vital the singing of psalms has been to her worship. This book not only lays out that history but provides biblical, theological, and christological reasons that show the benefit of singing psalms today. A recovery of psalm singing in worship will enable God’s people to express themselves fully in worship, not only by singing the hymns of praise but also by expressing the sorrows and struggles of life through the laments. This book is not just for those who want to exclusively sing the psalms but will be beneficial to everyone who wants to enrich their worship through the singing of psalms.”—Richard P. Belcher, Jr., Reformed Theological Seminary, Charlotte, North Carolina