Music: The psalms have the answer

Last week, Paul started this series on music with an excellent article on what to look for in a hymn or song to be sung in worship. He showed us how our hymns should cover the whole gamut of worshipping God: objective (praising God for who he is), subjective (expressing our response to God) and reflective (expressing what we’re doing in our singing). Paul also showed us how all these things must be considered theologically, explaining how the most important thing about what we sing in church is the words.

But that still leaves the minister much to think about when it comes to choosing appropriate songs to sing in worship. Going through Rejoice and Sing or Mission Praise looking for just the right song to sing can be a real minefield.

If only there was a hymnbook that covered all Paul’s categories, that covered all human emotions and responses to God and is inspired by the Holy Spirit in a unique way.

Well, thank God. There is.

At the time of the Reformation much thought was given to the songs that God’s people were to sing in worship. Even that idea was revolutionary. Much of medieval worship was a spectator sport with a choir singing and the priests doing whatever it was they were doing up there. The Reformation changed all that by restoring song to the whole people of God. But that still left the question as to what was appropriate to sing in church.

For the Reformed, the most appropriate thing to sing in church was God’s own Word. And for the congregation of Geneva and elsewhere the book of Psalms became the primary hymnbook. Calvin called the book of Psalms “an anatomy of all the parts of the soul”. He found in the Psalms all that was needed to know how to worship God in the right way. Here are the objective, subjective and reflective songs that Paul asked us last week to consider, often all within the same Psalm.

Is there any better reflection on the majesty of God in creation and in adoption than Psalm 100, which we sing to a tune from Calvin’s Geneva? –

The Lord, ye know, is God indeed;
without our aid he did us make;
we are his folk, he doth us feed;
and for his sheep he doth us take.

Is there a better way of expressing our salvation from sin and death than Psalm 40? –

He took me from a fearful pit,
and from the miry clay,
and on a rock he set my feet,
establishing my way.

Or any better words to express the glory of Christ than Psalm 2? –

O wherefore do the nations rage,
and kings and rulers strive in vain,
against the Lord of earth and heav’n
to overthrow Messiah’s reign?

The singing of the Psalms is one of the blessings the Reformed can bring to the table of Christianity. In singing these songs we’re drenching ourselves in the Word of God, expressing praise that is acceptable to him and teaching ourselves who God is and what he’s done for us.

As Calvin said: “there is no other book in which we are more perfectly taught the right manner of praising God, or in which we are more powerfully stirred up to the performance of this religious exercise.” He’s right. Get singing.

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About Phil Baiden

Minister; Hall Gate and Intake United Reformed Churches, Doncaster, UK

Posted on June 22, 2012, in Friday Music and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Paul Robinson

    A great article Phil. The use of the psalms in worship is often neglected – left simply to the lectionary readings (if you get to the fourth selected reading each week), or as a carefully chosen call to worship. They were a hymnbook, so we should use them as such.
    As you rightly point out they were a fundamental part of the new worshipping communities established at the time of the reformation, and some of our greatest hymn-writers took their lead and inspiration from the psalms (it’s incredible how many times Isaac Watts appears at the bottom of a set of words with reference to psalm in Rejoice and Sing!). Perhaps going along with the demise of psalms in worship, the church seems not to be enthusiastically updating its psalm-use. Most modern worship songs tend to focus on a line here or there – I’m thinking particularly of something like “Blessed be your name” by Matt Redman. However to boost the somewhat dated sounding psalm settings found in Rejoice and Sing and other established hymnbooks, I’ve found two great resources: Martin E. Leckebusch’s “The Psalms: 150 metrical psalms for singing to well-known hymn tunes”. His version of Psalm 100 (to the tune, “From Strength to Strength”, R&S 370) reads,

    Come with a song of joy
    and raise a mighty cheer:
    people of every tribe and tongue,
    come, bow in reverent fear.
    Know that the Lord is God:
    on him all life depends,
    and over every human heart
    his watchful care extends.

    Come with a grateful heart
    and fill his courts with song:
    honour the name of him to whom
    all praise and thanks belong.
    Know that the Lord is good,
    his faithfulness is sure,
    and his unique, unchanging love
    for ever will endure.

    (c) 2006 Martin E. Leckebusch
    ISBN: 9781844175154

    I also have a hymnbook used in a free church where I once worshipped called “Praise! Psalms, hymns and songs for Christian worship” produced by the Praise Trust in 2000. Their edition of the 150 psalms is brilliant. They include David Preston’s version of Psalm 2, which begins,

    Why do all the nations rage
    and their rulers join as one,
    vainly to defy the LORD,
    his anointed to disown?
    ‘Let us break their chains,’ they say,
    ‘hurl their fetters far away.’

    David G Preston
    (c) author / jubilate hymns
    produced in Praise! ISBN:0-9532809-2-6

    Both books, I believe, are available on Amazon, and I’m sure you’re local Christian bookshop would be able to get hold of them.

    I hope this helps folk and churches to ‘get singing’ as Phil and Calvin encourage us to do so, using the psalms as our hymnbook.

  1. Pingback: The God who keeps Israel: Psalm 121 « ReformationURC

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