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.