William Gurnall on Singing Imprecatory Psalms

How can New Covenant Christians sing Old Covenant Psalms?

1. Take heed thou dost not make thy private particular enemies the object of thy imprecation. We have no warrant, when any wrong us, presently to go and call for fire from heaven upon them.
 Ames mentioned this but not with as much detail as Gurnall does here. One of the misunderstandings people have about the imprecations is that we don’t like our teacher at school or a person who cut us off on the freeway and so we take up the curses of the Psalms against them. But Gurnall reminds us that it’s not against our particular private enemies that we pray.


 

How can New Covenant Christians sing Old Covenant Psalms? In my previous post we looked at William Ames’ (1576-1633) resolution of the “case of conscience” of singing “imprecatory Psalms.” The well-known words of Jesus, “pray for those who persecute you” (Matt. 5:44), are often used as justification (I’ll respond to a specific writer in a future post) that imprecations are unsuitable for Christian singing. Yet imprecations such as, “O God, do not keep silence; do not hold your peace or be still, O God!” (Ps. 83:1) were prayed aloud in Christian worship in the apostolic church: “Lord, look upon their threats” (Acts 4:29).

In this post I’d like to present William Gurnall’s advice on this matter. Gurnall was a “conforming Puritan,” meaning, he conformed to the Church of England’s Book of Common Prayer after the republican experiment came to an end and Charles II was crowned King (see Henry Jansma’s post for the categories of those in the English Reformation). Gurnall discussed this issue in his well-known work, The Christian in Complete Armour (1864; repr., Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth, 2002), 2:444–448. His words are in bold and my comments are in italics.

1. Take heed thou dost not make thy private particular enemies the object of thy imprecation. We have no warrant, when any wrong us, presently to go and call for fire from heaven upon them.

Ames mentioned this but not with as much detail as Gurnall does here. One of the misunderstandings people have about the imprecations is that we don’t like our teacher at school or a person who cut us off on the freeway and so we take up the curses of the Psalms against them. But Gurnall reminds us that it’s not against our particular private enemies that we pray.


2. When thou prayest against the enemies of God and his church, direct thy prayers rather against their plots than person.


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