Results tagged “Psalms” from Reformation21 Blog

God's Forgetfulness and God's Face


True believers may, and do, experience times when they feel as if God has forgotten them. They feel as if the divine no longer takes interest in them. David felt this as well. He expresses this in Psalm 31 in language that may make one wonder about God, however. There we read, 

"How long, O LORD? Will You forget me forever? How long will You hide Your face from me?" (Psalm 13:1, NASB)

Does God really "forget" and does God really have a "face"? Is God omniscient or not? Is God invisible or not? How should we understand these statements?

David expresses himself in question form: "How long....Will You forget....will You hide Your face....?" Consider the following two aspects of David's complaint: "Will You forget me forever?" and "How long will You hide Your face from me?"

There are at least two ways to understand these and other statements like them. One way would be to take "forget" and "face" literally (i.e., properly). This would mean that as we "forget," so God forgets, and as we have a "face," so God has a face. If one looked up the words for "forget" and "face" in a lexicon one would find that "forget" means "to forget" and "face" means "face." So at first read, taking the words to mean what they normally mean, God forgets and God has a face. But does He?

Another way to understand these and other statements like them is to take "forget" and "face" as figures of speech (i.e., improperly). David utilizes and applies creaturely terms to God in order to describe his own experience. Applying creaturely terms to God is done many, many times by Scripture writers (e.g., Psalm 8:6, "...the works of Thy hands..."). The church has wrestled with this scriptural phenomenon over the centuries and derived from that study a method of interpretation that respects the fact the God is Creator and man is creature, that God is omniscient and we are not, that God does not have a literal face but we do.

Let's take the second term under consideration to illustrate how the church has understood it. Does God have a face (i.e., with contour, eyes, brows, cheeks, nose, lips, mouth, etc.)? In other words, is God like us, possessing physical or finite creaturely human features which take up space in time? The answer is no, obviously. We know this to be the case from many, many other places in Scripture (e.g., John 1:18). God is invisible (1 Tim. 1:17). But David says "Your face." Statements which predicate physical features of man to God have been labeled anthropomorphisms by the great minds of the church. An anthropomorphism is a physical feature of the created realm, in our discussion possessed by man, attributed to God. Things such as eyes, feet, hands, and a face attributed to God are anthropomorphisms. God, then, does not have a literal face; man does. But the figure of speech means something, doesn't it? Of course it does. What does it mean and how is it being used here? It must refer to divine favor extended to David on the earth. David felt as if God was not extending, or communicating, divine favor to him. It is like a human father who turns his face from his son. It is a figure of speech. Though God does not have a literal face, He does at times withhold the sense of His presence and favor from His children. So to "hide Your face" must refer to a perceived (by David) action of God.

But what about divine forgetfulness? David says, "Will You forget me forever?" One could understand "forget" as to cease, or fail, to remember or to fail to think of. This would mean that God at one time possesses the knowledge of things that at another time He does not possess. Taken this way, and reflecting on what David says (i.e., "Will You forget me forever?"), this would entail that what God forgets now He might forget forever. But it also leaves open the door that what God forgets now He might not forget forever. Who knows? Either way this would entail God can know things now that He might not always know. Assuming this view, and assuming the worst for David (i.e., that God forgot David forever), this would mean that God can know things now that He never knows again because He forgets them. In other words, at one moment, God possesses the knowledge of David and at another moment He does not. This would mean that, after all, God is like us, forgetting today what He knew yesterday. What a horrifying thought, if real!

Psalm 31 illustrates something important about interpreting the Bible. We must not take things at face value, if taking them as such contradicts other teachings of Scripture. If God forgets us, He is not omniscient. If God has a face, He is not invisible, nor infinite because faces have measurable limits. Who wants God to be like us, forgetting today what was known yesterday? Who wants Him to be a finite being, confined to space and time like us, a physical being, and thus a creature subject to change? I hope you don't!


Richard C. Barcellos, is pastor of Grace Reformed Baptist Church, Palmdale, CA and Associate Professor of Exegetical Theology at IRBS Theological Seminary. He is the author of Getting the Garden Right: Adam's Work and God's Rest in Light of Christ; The Covenant of Works: Its Confessional and Scriptural Basis; and Trinity and Creation: A Scriptural and Confessional Account (forthcoming from Christian Focus/Mentor).

Congratulations to the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC) and United Reformed Churches (URCNA) and Great Commission Publications on the new Trinity Psalter Hymnal (2018). I have only had my copy for a couple of weeks or so, but I want to offer a few quick notes and observations on what I've seen so far.

The Trinity Psalter Hymnal (2018) contains versions of all 150 Psalms in metrical form, but fewer hymns than either the old "Blue" Trinity Hymnal (1961) or the new "Red" Trinity Hymnal (1990). Having used two editions (1927 and 1973) of the Scottish Psalter and Church Hymnary during my time in Edinburgh (1987-1991), I was thrilled to see a Psalter Hymnal produced for North American churches, especially considering that both hymns and metrical psalms have generally fallen upon hard times in our circles.

As a Presbyterian pastor who wanted my people to know as many solid hymns and metrical Psalms as possible, I utilized the Trinity Psalter (1994), which was a joint project of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) and the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America (RPCNA), as well as the Book of Psalms for Singing (1998) and more recently the Book of Psalms for Worship (2009), both by the RPCNA, as well as the more than fifty Psalm selections in the new Trinity Hymnal (1990) and many other resources. So, the very idea of a Psalter Hymnal being produced with our theological constituency in mind was very encouraging.

I have not had time yet to work through the Psalm choices (texts and tunes), but I have had a chance to glance briefly at the hymns. Here's what I've seen. Whereas the new Trinity Hymnal (1990) has 742 numbered hymns and songs, and the Trinity Psalter Hymnal has 424. I don't view this as a negative. The key is keeping the best of the best. Along those lines, I note that it retains most of the 100 hymns that I recommend that every congregation know.

Among those hymns on the list I created in the above article (chosen as durable, singable, substantial, texts and tunes) that the new Trinity Psalter Hymnal omits are: "Marvelous Grace of Our Loving Lord," "A Few More Years Shall Roll," "Leaning on the Everlasting Arms," "Trust and Obey," "We Have Heard the Joyful Sound (Jesus Saves! Jesus Saves!)," "Who Is On the Lord's Side?," and, "From All that Dwell below the Skies" (Watts, based on Psalm 117). These are, I think, among the biggest losses hymn-wise. The alphabetical index of hymns in the back omits "A Debtor to Mercy Alone" (Toplady's great hymn), but thankfully that hymn is retained (434).

The Trinity Psalter Hymnal also includes a significant number (north of 65!) of old and new hymns, psalms, paraphrases, and songs that are not found in one or both of the previous editions of the Trinity Hymnal, including quite a few by relatively recent and perhaps unfamiliar writers, among them: "Praise God for Joy of Sabbath Blest" (Scott Finch, 2008), "You Who His Temple Throng," "Master, Speak! Thy Servant Heareth," "Speak, O Lord" (Getty and Townend, 2006), the first of a number of Getty and/or Townend hymns, "Your Law, O God, Is Our Delight" (Derrick and Debbie Vander Muelen, 2015), "Thus Saith the Mercy of the Lord," "O God, Great Father, Lord and King," "Come, Take By Faith the Body of the Lord," "Zion, to Thy Savior Singing," (a hymn by Thomas Aquinas on the Lord's Supper, pretty edgy for confessional Reformed Presbyterians!), "Forth in Your Name I Go," "We All Believe in One True God" (a setting of the Apostles' Creed), "Give Praise to God" (Boice, 1999), the first of several hymns by James Montgomery Boice, "O the Deep, Unbounded Riches" (2015), the first of several hymns by Jonathan Landry Cruse, "O Righteous, in the Lord Rejoice," All Glory Be to God" (Elisabeth Shafer, 2012), the first of several hymns by various Shafers, "Father, Long Before Creation" (1952), a text in translation but of Chinese provenance, "All Mankind Fell in Adam's Fall," "In Christ Alone" (Getty/Townend, 2002), "Before the Throne of God Above" (the tune is from 1997, by Vikki Cook), "All Praise to Christ" (Boice, 1999), "Consider Well" (Russell St. John, 2006), "Song of Zechariah" (OPC/URCNA, 2016), "Song of Simeon" (Dewey Westra, 1931), "Song of Mary" (Lou Ann Shafer, 2015), "A Shoot Will Spring from Jesse's Stump" (OPC/URCNA, 2016), "Songs of Thankfulness and Praise," "Hosanna, Loud Hosanna," "Up to the Mountain, Went Our Lord" (Nancy Tischler and Mary Bahnfleth, 2005), the first of a couple by this team, "How Deep the Father's Love for Us" (Townend, 1995), "Lamb, Precious Lamb" (Cruse, 2013), "Christ, above All Glory Seated," "How Great the Bright Angelic Host" (Bahnfleth and Tischler, 2004), "Eternal Spirit, God of Truth," "O Spirit, Fill Our Hearts" (Elisabeth Shafer, 2010), "Holy Spirit of Messiah" (OPC/URCNA, 2016), "Christian Hearts in Love United," a really nice addition for a confessional Reformed hymnal in the current climate, "In Christ There Is No East or West" (Michael Perry, 1982), "Salvation Unto Us Has Come," "How Marvelous, How Wise, How Great" (Boice, 1999), "Come, Ye Sinners, Poor and Needy" (not to be confused with or mistaken for "Come, Ye Sinners, Poor and Wretched," which is also in the TPH), "Come to the Waters" (Boice, 2000), "How Shall They Hear the Word of God," "Union with Thee" (Jeremiah Montgomery, 2014), "O Fountain of Unceasing Grace," "Cast Down, O God, the Idols" (Herman, Stuempfle, 1997), "Here From All Nations" (Christopher Idle, 1973), "I Have No Other Comfort," a 1937 text based on Heidelberg Catechism No. 1, "In Doubt and Temptation," a 1959 Psalter Hymnal version of Psalm 73, "On the Good and Faithful" (UP Psalter of 1912, Psalm 4), "Rejoice, Believer, in the Lord," "Behold, My Servant," a song based on Isaiah 42, 58 & 61 (OCP/URCNA, 2016), "If I Speak a Foreign Tongue" which is, of course, 1 Corinthians 13 (Bert Polman, 1986), "Thy Mercy Lord, Is What I Need" (Cruse, 2014), "More Than Conquerors," Romans 8:31-39 (Cruse, 2015), "Hallelujah!," one of my favorite Boice hymn texts, with the surprising and stirring refrain: "Nothing. Hallelujah!" (Boice, 1999), "I Asked the Lord That I Might Grow," made known in our time especially through Indelible Grace, and one of the best additions to the TPH in our estimation, (Newton), "The Lord's Prayer," based on the Heidelberg Catechism exposition (George van Popta, 2009), "Loving Shepherd of Your Sheep," "The Battle is the Lord's" (Margaret Clarkson, 1960), "God of the Prophets," "O Shine Upon These, Lord," "Oh, Blest the House," "Another Year Is Dawning," "The Lord's Prayer," a simple, beautiful, direct, faithful rendering by a missionary hero (Adoniram Judson), and "Praise Ye the Lord, Ye Hosts Above."

There are some interesting hymn title changes. The Trinity Psalter Hymnal goes with "O God, Our Help in Ages Past" rather than "Our God, Our Help in Ages Past," as it is found in the Trinity Hymnal (1990). The TPHchanges "Have You" back to "Hast Thou" in "Hast Thou Not Known, Hast Thou Not Heard." "Who is He in Yonder Stall" is changed to "Who is He Born in the Stall" (which seems to go against the grain of the previous decision). "Rejoice All Ye Believers" becomes "Rejoice, Rejoice, Believers" (again, same point as before, we get rid of a "Ye" and reinsert a "Hast Thou" - wonder how that debate went in committee?). Then "Spirit of God, Descend Upon My Heart" is changed to "Spirit of God, Dwell Thou Within My Heart" (which has to be some kind of a theological edit, because it doesn't make sense as an update). "As When the Hebrew Prophet Raised" is changed to "As When the Prophet Moses Raised" (I don't have a guess at all about that one--is that the way Watts originally wrote it?). "Come My Soul, Thy Suit Prepare" (which, of course, refers not to a lawsuit or a businessman's clothing, but to a petition or "suit"--however we don't use the word that way much anymore) is changed to "Come My Soul with Every Care" (which may be the best change we've seen so far, all though the sentimental side of me bears some regret).

I'm looking forward to studying the versions of the metrical Psalms that they have chosen. Shane Lems has already taken a quick glance at them. Thanks to all who worked on this Psalter Hymnal. As I continue to review it, I will report on it in more depth.

A Psalm-Singing Resurgence


We are experiencing something of a Psalm-singing resurgence in our day. Resources abound online for people who would like to learn more about psalm singing. Churches are making strategic plans to train their members in singing the psalms. Blogs buzz with excitement over the Psalter. It is undeniable that the church is waking up to that which once marked it--the passionate singing of psalms. I am a child of this movement. 

As a seminary student at RTS in Charlotte, NC, I stood looking at the blue sign that said NTGreekIntro as it hung over neatly stacked volumes awaiting the next batch of seminary students. I was one of those students and it was my first visit to the bookstore. I read the list. Mounce's Basics of Biblical Greek--check. UBS Greek New Testament--check. Trinity Psalter--huh?

I thought I was signing up for a class on New Testament Greek. Why was I being asked to purchase an Old Testament book in English? The words "required text" overpowered my confusion and I purchased my first psalter. I would soon discover that Dr. Cara's Greek class, and all of his classes for that matter, began with the mandatory singing of a psalm. I became a psalm singer by requisite. 

So, how does someone set about the task of rediscovering the psalms? First, you must keep the benefits that God attaches to worshiping with the psalms before you. Second, you must decide practically how you will begin singing psalms in private, family, and corporate worship.

What benefits should you expect from singing Psalms?

When you sing psalms you sing the Bible. The hymn "When I Survey the Wondrous Cross" is a moving meditation on the cross of Christ. No hymn matches "For All the Saints" in its contemplation on the communion of the saints. But neither of these hymns are the actual words of the Bible. They are reflections on it. Forgetting for a moment that we are not singing the psalms in Hebrew, we are still singing the very words of God. The versification, themes, and content of the psalms are the inspired word of God for his church in every age. When you sing a psalm you sing the Bible.

When you sing the psalms you interact with a wealth of theology. Martin Luther said of the Psalter, "that it might well be entitled a Little Bible, wherein everything contained in the entire Bible is beautifully and briefly comprehended." The 150 psalms cover the span of theology. To learn the psalms is not just to learn a specific topic of theology. It is to learn about every area of theology. Anthropology, theology proper, a theology of Scripture, Christology, soteriology, eccleisiology, and eschatology are all covered in the Psalter. Take for example Psalm 19 and its two part contemplation of God's revelation in creation and in the Bible. Or consider John Calvin's observation of God's attributes in Psalm 145, "in which the sum of all his powers is so precisely reckoned up that nothing would seem to have been omitted." The psalms provide a thorough exposure to the fullness of theology.

When you sing the psalms you are memorizing Scripture. An important part of Christian maturity is the ability to recall passages of Scripture at need. Educational circles have long advocated the use of music to aid memorization. Music has a way of impressing truth into the mind in ways that reading alone cannot. This is no accident; it is the providential hand of our Creator God. He wants you to memorize his word and has provided a mnemonic for easy memory--the Psalter as Scripture set to music.

When you sing the psalms you guard against heresy. Andrew Fletcher said, "Let me write a country's songs, and I care not who writes its laws." He was on to something. Songs drive information deep into our hearts. However, this power can be used for ill means. As long as the church has existed, songs have been used to inculcate heresy. There is an assumption that if you can sing it then it must be true. How shall we guard against sung-heresy? Sing psalms.

When you sing the psalms you engage a collection of songs that address the full range of human emotions. Godly anger, heart-wrenching sorrow, dark depression, effulgent joy, honest questioning, and exuberant praise are just a sampling of the emotional range covered by the psalms. Most churches sense the burden of teaching their people how to think. Very few consider their responsibility to teach their people how to feel. Christians do not struggle with feeling. Feeling just happens. But our feelings must be trained by the gospel as much as our minds must. The psalms serve as the class room of our affections.

When you sing the psalms you praise the person and work of Jesus Christ. One of the most ignorant statements a Christian can make against psalm singing is, "I don't sing psalms because they aren't about Jesus." Too many evangelicals--having unwittingly drunk deep of the Marcionite heresy--have ceased to see the Old Testament, and especially the psalms, as a masterpiece of redemptive history telling in types, shadows, and rituals the person and work of Jesus Christ. When the earliest Christians wanted to sing praise to God for the redemption wrought by Jesus' atoning death they turned to the psalms. It is sheer biblical ignorance and chronological snobbery to assume we can write better songs about Jesus than are provided in the psalms through the lens of the New Testament. To sing the psalms is to sing of the person and work of Christ.

When you sing the psalms you are training for spiritual warfare. As my Peruvian friend insisted, the psalms are militant. They are filled with images of war, divine conquest, and righteous triumph. Are those themes no longer needed in our day? As we watch men leave the church in droves dismayed at the feminization of worship is their no need for masculine, militant spirituality? As we watch Satan and his legions pillage congregations and hold Christians captive in doubts and error do we not need songs of war? J. C. Ryle understood this crucial element of Christian worship when he said, "true Christianity is the fight of faith." What songs will the armies of God sing to steel courage and embolden spiritual warfare? When we sing the psalms we sing the songs of war against sin, the world, and the devil.

When you sing the psalms you are engaging the communion of saints. The psalms were composed over a certain period in Israelite history. But they are not relics. They have been sung by the covenant people of God in each successive generation up to today. They will be sung until Christ's return. This touches on the doctrine of the communion of the saints. There is a solidarity in Christ for all who have been bought by his blood. That solidarity extends across cultures and generations. The psalms are rooted in the covenant identity of all God's chosen race. To sing them is to confess the communion of saints.

How can you learn to sing the Psalms?

First, find a Psalter you can sing. Notice I didn't simply say, "find a Psalter". Just as the best Bible translation is the one you read so the best Psalter is the one you sing. Different Psalters are suited to different musical abilities--congregational and personal. Some set each psalm to a particular tune while others simply provide the suggested meter allowing you to choose the tune. Don't buy a Psalter you can't sing.

I own three Psalters. The Trinity Psalter (Crown and Covenant) was developed for my denomination for use in congregational worship. It provides a single suggested tune for each psalm and breaks long psalms up into suggested portions. The Book of Psalms for Worship (Crown and Covenant) also suggests tunes for each psalm but provides multiple settings for each psalm taken from different historic Psalters. This method provides you with more options--helpful if you don't know a particular tune or prefer a different versification. The third and most used psalter I own is The Psalms of David in Metre (Trinitarian Bible Society). This is the version that follows the 1650 Scottish Psalter. It provides each psalm in the common meter. While lacking in musical sophistication this version is imminently singable.

Secondly, you must know your Bible. Devote special study to the background of the Psalms. Ask your pastor to suggest good commentaries on the Psalms. Purchase a Bible with cross-references and note where Psalms are quoted in the New Testament. Let the authors of the New Testament teach you how to apply the psalms to Christian worship and life.

Let me also add the suggestion that you read a good book on redemptive history. Graeme Goldworthy's According to Plan is a great place to start. A good foundation in the Bible's overarching plan of redemption and how it culminates in Jesus Christ is essential to singing the psalms well. For example, what are you singing about when you ask God, "to let you dwell in the house of the Lord forever" (Psalm 27:4)? Should you set up a cot in your local church? Or, what does it mean to praise God for his protection of Jerusalem (Psalm 51:18)? By Jerusalem, do you mean geographic Jerusalem or the Christian church? A good background in redemptive history--sometimes called biblical theology--is essential to answering these questions and others as you seek to sing the psalms with understanding.

Third, to sing the psalms well you must understand how the psalms direct us to the person and work of Jesus Christ. Again, a Bible with cross references is valuable in this type of study. Many psalms are directly fulfilled in the life and ministry of Jesus. The authors of the New Testament regularly draw on the psalms to describe what was accomplished on the Cross. The beauty of the psalms is magnified as they are placed in the setting of God's redemptive work in Jesus Christ. The psalms are thoroughly Christian--being centered on the person and work of Jesus Christ. We sing the psalms at the foot of the Cross.

The fourth thing you will need is the willingness to try something new. Psalm singing can be difficult for someone who has been raised solely on a diet of Reformation and post-Reformation hymns. Psalm singing can be downright alien for someone who has only known modern praise songs. But the promised benefits--briefly mentioned above--are immense. It is not easy work but it is good work. It is not quick work but it provides long-term, lasting joys.

A church that refuses to sing the psalms places itself on a restricted spiritual diet that will result in spiritual malnutrition. Psalm singing is a staple in Christian worship no matter what your view on hymns. If you want to read more on the interface of hymns and psalms throughout the history of Reformed worship let me suggest to you chapter 4 of Hughes Oliphant Old's book, Worship: Reformed According to Scripture.

*This is an adaptation of an article originally published at Ref21 in June of 2008.

Considering Exceptions: Singing Psalms


Often, potential exceptions to the Westminster Standards take this form: "If the Confession is saying 'x', then I must state my difference with that section." One particularly common example of this is found in WCF 21.5, which reads, If the "singing of psalms with grace in the heart" means that we may only sing psalms, as opposed to hymns, many (myself included) would need to seek an exception. It is, therefore, a matter of no small importance for us to understand just what that phrase-and the section as a whole-truly means.

Chapter 21 of the Westminster Confession of Faith covers the subjects of worship and the Sabbath. Section one asserts the principle from Romans 1-that by the light of nature all men know that there is a God and that he deserves our worship. While all men know this truth (however much this truth is suppressed), the acceptable manner by which we are to worship God is instituted only by Himself in His word. As such, men may only properly worship God in accordance with the revelation he provides. For us, that means we must worship God only as he has revealed himself in the pages of the Old and New Testament. Section two, then, specifically directs our worship only at the Triune God - Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Sections three and four cover prayer as one special part of worship. Section five sets forth the ordinary and seasonal parts of worship. Section six talks about the time and place for worship, while the remaining sections deal with the Christian Sabbath.

When we come to section five, we find a list of the parts of worship: the reading, proclamation, and conscionable hearing of Scripture, the singing of Psalms, and the administration and receiving of the Sacraments. These are all parts of the ordinary religious worship of God. In addition to these ordinary elements, various activities can be added as the season or occasion demands. These include oaths, vows, fasts, and thanksgivings.

The primary question, of course, concerns the statement about singing: Is the Westminster Confession of Faith advocating exclusive psalmody? Or, to put it another way: If one were to adhere to the confession without any stated difference, must that person refrain from singing any song in worship that was not one of the one hundred and fifty Psalms found in Scripture? For a variety of reasons, I do not believe the answer to either question is "yes."

The first reason is that the confession's use of the word 'psalm' does not necessarily restrict worship to the book of the Bible with that particular name. As Chad Van Dixhorn has stated in his reader's guide to the confession:

...the commendation of the Psalms in the confession and the directory [for public worship] needs to take into account that early modern use of the term 'psalm' is not limited to the Book of Psalms only. The common use of psalm almost always included hymns, and in it is scriptural proof texts the assembly deliberately directs readers of the confession to passages like Colossians 3:16, Ephesians 5:19, and James 5:13, which call Christians to 'sing praise', or to sing 'psalms and hymns and spiritual songs'.1

As an historical document, the common usage of the word when it was originally written must take precedence over our usage of the word today. Further, however much the divines may have disliked the idea of adding in the Scripture proofs, the confession itself was not finalized without them. As such, they provide additional insight into their thought process (even if collected after the fact) in putting forth the Confession and Catechism.

Yet, even if one were convinced that "the singing of with grace in the heart" meant just that (and only that), I would still argue that the singing of hymns would not be contra-confessional and the conviction that singing hymns is acceptable and biblical would not require the granting of an exception. Further, it is my frank opinion that to argue otherwise is to fundamentally misunderstand this chapter of the Confession.

The contrary argument (that the confession only allows the singing of Psalms) is based upon the notion that this section gives us an exhaustive list of acceptable elements of worship. 21.5 lists several elements and declares that these "are all parts of the ordinary religious worship of God." At least two things mitigate against this being an exhaustive list. First, 21.5 does not say the preceding are "the parts" or even "all the parts" but rather "are all parts." The very language the divines used shows us that this is not intended to be an exhaustive list.

Second, we can consider the good and necessary consequences of an exclusivist reading of 21.5. If you believe that the confession only allows the singing of Psalms, you also have to admit that the collection of an offering is not part of ordinary religious worship. To be sure, an offering may be a form of thanksgiving. It would at least seem odd, however, to include something appropriate in "their special times and seasons" every week (especially while only occasionally observing the Lord's Supper!). Therefore, to assert that the confession only allows Psalms is to introduce a inconsistency with the very principle the Confession puts forth: the acceptable way of worshipping the true God is instituted by himself, and is not limited to the list in 21.5.

If, however, one does argues that 21.5 is an exhaustive list (perhaps because they don't collect an offering...), you still have an even larger problem of inconsistency. If 21.5 is the list of what can (and therefore cannot) be included in the ordinary or seasonal worship of God, then the confession of faith is precluding prayer in worship. Prayer is not found in the list that 21.5 gives. It is, of course, the subject of 21.3-4 - but if 21.5 is the list, it is utterly unbiblical in its setting forth the whole of worship! But, of course, that isn't the case: 21.5 sets forth examples from Scripture on the basis of the principle outlined in 21.1. We look not to the confession for our exhaustive instruction in the proper worship of God, but to Scripture alone.

I would, therefore, encourage everyone to sing Psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs - knowing that the confession does not discourage the practice at all. Further, I would encourage anyone who believes that this portion of the confession is worthy of a stated difference (no matter how minor or merely semantic) to reconsider. When properly understood, the 21st chapter of our confession deepens our understanding of and reliance upon the self-revelation of God that is found in Scripture and 21.5 continues this by way of example, not by way of exhaustive list.

1. Chad Van DIxhorn, Confessing the Faith, A reader's guide to the Westminster Confession of Faith (Banner of Truth, 2014), p. 285. Note that this is contra G.I. Williamson, The Westminster Confession of Faith for Study Classes (P & R, 2004), p. 217. I agree with Williamson that the historic practice of Presbyterian (and many Reformed) churches has been to sing only Psalms. I am not convinced that this necessarily means that the Westminster Divines were of the same mind. See also Nick Needham, "Westminster and Worship: Psalms, Hymns? and Musical Instruments?" in Westminster Confession into the 21st Century (Mentor, 2005), 2:223-306.

Psalm 19 and human flourishing

Human flourishing

"Human flourishing" is a cultural catchphrase that can be overheard in the hallways of corporate America and in the institutions of public and private education. In recent days, human flourishing has served as a warrant for doctrinal and moral-theological revision in the church as well. Due to its widespread usage across our culture, its susceptibility to multiple meanings, and its role in theological revision, some Christians have begun to disparage the language of human flourishing. I think this is the wrong tactic to take. 

The church has a stake in human flourishing. The challenge for the church is to define and promote human flourishing (which we might otherwise describe as human well-being, human happiness) in accordance with biblical teaching, to present and commend its alternative approach to human flourishing in the face of competing cultural visions, and to embody human flourishing in the presence of God amid a culture of death and destruction. Christian theology has a role to play in assisting the church to meet this challenge.

Christian theology has a lot to say about human flourishing. Following the instruction of Holy Scripture, Christian theology instructs us about human flourishing by instructing us about human nature and about human nature's relationship to law and gospel.

We may appreciate the true character of human flourishing by looking at Psalm 19.

Nature's flourishing

According to Psalm 19, nature flourishes when it fulfills its God-glorifying aim by following its God-given course. Nature's aim is to glorify God. "The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork" (19.1). Nature glorifies God by running the course given to it by God. The "circuit" of the sun's rising and setting is the "course" that it runs (19.5-6). 

Psalm 19 portrays nature's flourishing by personifying nature as something capable of happiness and joy. The sun runs its course "with joy," "like a bridegroom leaving its chamber" and "like a strong man" running his race. Note well: Nature's flourishing is internal to its course and its aim. Happiness is not something that comes in addition to nature's fulfillment of its divine calling. Happiness comes within nature's fulfillment of its divine calling.

Wendell Berry's poem, "The Law That Marries All Things," eloquently captures this reality:

The cloud is free only
to go with the wind.
The rain is free
only in falling.

The water is free only
in its gathering together,

in its downward courses,
in its rising into the air.

In law is rest
if you love the law,
if you enter, singing, into it
as water in its descent.

Or song is truest law,
and you must enter singing;
it has no other entrance.

It is the great chorus
of parts. The only outlawry
is in division.

Whatever is singing
is found, awaiting the return
of whatever is lost.

Meet us in the air
over the water,
sing the swallows.

Meet me, meet me,
the redbird sings,
here here here here.

The law and human flourishing

What is true of nature in general is true of human nature in particular. 

Because it reflects God's design for human nature, the law of God directs human nature to wholeness and happiness. 

The law promotes human wholeness (19.7-8):

The law revives the soul.

The law makes wise the mind.

The law rejoices the heart.

The law enlightens the eyes.

The law promotes human pleasure and happiness (19.10):

The law is more desirable than gold.

The law is sweeter than honey.

The law directs us to live according to our design, according to our nature. When we live according to our design, we are happy and whole. What is true of nature more broadly is true of human nature more specifically: Happiness and wholeness are internal to God's design for us.

C. S. Lewis illustrates the point well (HT Melissa Kruger):

God made us: invented us as a man invents an engine. A car is made to run on petrol, and it would not run properly on anything else. Now God designed the human machine to run on himself. He himself is the fuel our spirits were designed to burn, or the food our spirits were designed to feed on. There is no other. That is why it is just no good asking God to make us happy in our own way without bothering about religion. God cannot give us a happiness and peace apart from himself, because it is not there. There is no such thing.

The law promotes human wholeness and human flourishing because it directs us to God, the "lovely source of true delight." The problem, of course, is that we are sinners, antinomians at heart. Sin thus thwarts the law's happiness-promoting ends. Sin is the sworn enemy of human flourishing. 

Furthermore, in humanity's sinful and distorted state, the law becomes our enemy as well. The law declares us guilty. The law consigns us to Satan's dominion. The law shuts our mouth and sentences us to death (Gen 3.8-24). In such a situation, the law cannot help us. The law cannot restore us to the path of happiness, the path that directs our lives to the glory of God.

The gospel and human flourishing

The psalmist harbors no Pollyannaish optimism about our fallen human nature before God's law. Instead he casts himself wholly upon the mercy of God. 

The law declares us guilty; the psalmist begs God: "Declare me innocent from hidden faults" (19.12). The law consigns us to Satan's dominion; the psalmist begs God: "Keep back your servant from presumptuous sins; let them not have dominion over me!" (19.13). The law shuts our mouth and sentences us to death; the psalmist desires to praise the Lord in the land of the living: "Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer" (19.14). 

In the gospel, God answers the psalmist's pleas for mercy. Through the mission of God's incarnate Son and the outpouring of God's Spirit, God's grace restores and perfects human nature. 

God's grace doesn't accept us "just as we are." To do so would be to consign us to a life of perpetual misery. While we were without strength before God's law, Christ died for us (Rom 5.6). When we were ungodly, God justified us freely, apart from our good works (Rom 4.4-5). But the God who justifies fallen human beings through the gospel also restores and perfects human nature through the gospel. The Lord, our rock and redeemer, not only declares us innocent of our faults. He also keeps us back from presumptuous sins and doesn't let them rule over us; he also opens our lips that our mouths may proclaim his praise. He glorifies himself by making us "fully alive" (Irenaeus).

Grace heals our misery and ministers happiness by instructing us how and empowering us to be human again. The gospel teaches us how to walk in God's law and how to live for God's glory through union with Jesus Christ. In Christ the old and miserable man is crucified and the new man--the flourishing man--is reborn by the renewing power of the Spirit of life. "God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit" (Rom 8.3-4).

As the law is fulfilled in us--through the Son by the Spirit--human nature is put back on the path ("who walk...") of human flourishing to the glory of God.  

ISIS and the Imprecatory Psalms

The recent execution of 21 Coptic Christians in Libya by the murderous Islamic group ISIS has prompted appropriate and helpful Christian reflections (see here and here). But one question I have yet to see asked is, "Is it time now to pray the imprecatory Psalms?"

I hear a frequent refrain in Reformed and evangelical circles that Christians should pray the imprecatory Psalms (i.e., those that invoke God's curse on particular enemies and plead for their imminent destruction; e.g., Ps 58:6-11, 68:21-23, 69:23-29, 109:5-19; 137:7-9) only against those enemies of God who manifest prolonged, high-handed rebellion against him and commit atrocities against his people (surely ISIS fits the bill). Related to this understanding, I also hear that Jesus' ethic of "love your enemy" is the Christian's default mode in prayer, but the imprecatory Psalms are the "nuclear option"--they are to be launched only after careful consideration of the occasion and self-assessment of proper motives, but launched nonetheless when necessary: If Bob the accountant steals your stapler, "Pray for those who persecute you" (Matt 5:44); but if Abu Bakr and his minions torch your home, "Let them be like the snail that dissolves into slime" (Ps 58:8)!

John Day, for example, argues that "[i]n circumstances of sustained injustice, hardened enmity, and gross oppression, it has always been appropriate for a believer to utter imprecations against enemies or to appeal for the onslaught of divine vengeance. In certain instances today, appeals to God for his curse or vengeance are fitting" (Crying for Justice, 15-16). Another writer puts it even more bluntly, "Do you ask God to destroy His enemies today as He has in the past? Do you who are pastors instruct your people in this kind of prayer? Surely you must if you pray in line with God's Word and His promises for the future." (James E. Adams, War Psalms of the Prince of Peace, 59; emphasis in original).

In my view, such lines of reasoning fail to situate the imprecatory Psalms properly within the theocratic context of Israel in which they were written, a context which is, itself, typological of the eschatological kingdom of God to come. Just as the Levitical priests were to execute anyone who arrogantly intruded into the tabernacle complex (Num 3:38), and just as Christ will do in redemptive triumph over his enemies throughout the earth he came to redeem (Rom 16:20; Rev 19:20-21), the Davidic king and his people could pray (and sing) these Psalms as an expression of their obedient desire for God to sanctify his holy land and his chosen people by destroying his and their enemies in their own day, enemies who had specific names and faces (cf. Ps 35:4, 41:9-10).

Christians today, however, do not live in a holy realm (yet), but sojourn in a world that is not their home (Phil 3:20; Heb 4:11). This means that, by God's ordaining, Christians, who themselves were once God's enemies (Rom 5:10), are surrounded by those who are his enemies now, enemies who will hate them (Matt 10:22; Luke 21:17; John 15:19) and will do them harm (Matt 5:10-12; John 16:2). The final judgment typologically meted out in Israel's context (and expressed in the imprecatory Psalms) is yet to come for today's Christians. Through this "day of salvation" (2 Cor 6:2; cf. Heb 4:7) between Christ's first and second coming, no matter how horrendous the assaults on Christians may be, the marching orders for Christians includes having fellowship in Christ's sufferings (2 Cor 1:5; Col 1:24), a fellowship that should subdue every vestige of our impatience for visible eschatological triumph today: "Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them" (Rom 12:14).

So may we pray the imprecatory Psalms today? No, in the sense that Christians today may not pray the imprecatory Psalms with outstretched finger, identifying enemies who do them harm and praying for their imminent physical and eternal destruction. Christians may, however, even must (cf. Matt 6:10), pray these Psalms more generally with their eyes on heaven, from whence their public vindication will come (Heb 9:28) at the hands of the One risen from the dead, who will judge the earth (2 Thess 1:6-8). Until that Day comes, our more immediate and particular prayer must be for God to restrain or convert the enemies we encounter (Luke 6:27-28; Rom 12:20; 1 Pet 3:9). 

It is right to declare and desire God's righteous judgment on the persistently unrepentant, whoever they turn out to be (cf. Gal 1:8-9; Mark 11:14). It is also right to call for and support the civil authorities' forceful intervention to stop gross injustices, if necessary by waging just war (Rom 13:4). But the spiritual judgment we should pray for God to apply to our specific enemies today is the judgment he has already applied to Christ on the cross, that even those who ruthlessly execute the Lord's people might turn and rejoice with us at the saving mercy of God (1 Cor 15:9-10; Gal 1:13). After all, such infinite grace is what saves anyone, including you and me.

Psalm 107: "Oh give thanks to God our Saviour"

8 7. 8 7. D (Hyfrydol)
Psalm 107
Oh give thanks to God our Saviour
For his mercy rich and free;
Sing his praise who find his favour,
Rescued from the enemy.
Every land gives up his chosen,
Gathered up from east and west;
North and south send forth his people,
Each redeemed and fully blessed.

Fainting souls without a city,
Thirst and hunger pierce each breast;
Sheep who need the Shepherd's pity,
Weak and weary, needing rest.
When their cry goes up to heaven,
When they seek the God of grace,
He delivers them, and leads them
Forth to a blest dwelling place.

Lost souls sit in death's cold shadow:
Chains, afflictions, bind them tight.
Once they scorned the Lord of glory,
Now they quake before his might.
When such souls cry out to Jesus
Darkness brightens, chains will break:
Death's cold shadow holds no longer
Those redeemed for Jesus' sake.

Fools, afflicted in transgression,
Soon arrive at death's dark gate.
Bowed beneath guilt's harsh oppression,
Hopeless, lost, for death they wait.
Seek the God who rules in heaven,
To the Lord your cries increase;
He will save from dire destruction,
Give souls healing, grant them peace.

Those who go upon the ocean
There behold God's mighty hand.
When he raises storms and terrors,
Who before his power can stand?
Turn to Christ and plead his favour,
His word calms the mounting waves;
Find your refuge in the Saviour
Who from every terror saves.

See the increase of the righteous,
How God sets the poor on high!
Therefore bless him, sing his praises,
All his glories magnify.
Thank the Lord for all his goodness,
Poured upon us like a flood;
Understand his lovingkindness,
Ransoming by Jesus' blood.
Jeremy Walker

See other hymns and psalms.

Psalm 21: "The king shall have joy in your might"

8 8. 8 8. D (Cleveland)
Psalm 21
The king shall have joy in your might,
And in your salvation rejoice;
You gave him his heart's true delight,
And heard the request of his voice;
You met him with blessings untold,
And set a gold crown on his head;
His days rolling on from of old;
He asked, you gave life from the dead.

His glory is great when you save,
Enrobed in divine majesty;
He smiles at the blessings you gave,
Your face he rejoices to see.
In all things he trusts in the Lord,
And nothing his faith shall erode;
He rests in the truth of your word,
In mercies so freely bestowed.

Your hand shall your enemies find,
Your wisdom their plot overthrows;
To fire and to judgment consigned -
A terrible end for your foes.
But you are exalted on high,
Before you your enemies cower;
And none can your purpose defy:
We'll sing to the praise of your power.
Jeremy Walker

See other hymns and psalms.

Psalm 150: "Oh come and praise the Lord"

6 6. 6 6 (St. Cecilia)
Psalm 150
Oh come and praise the Lord,
Praise in his sanctuary;
Come, praise him in the heavens,
On earth with bended knee.

Give praises for his deeds,
And reach for fitting words,
Enlarge your hearts to hymn
The glories of the Lord.

With heart and hand and voice,
Praise him both loud and long;
Give to the triune God,
The praises of your song.

So let us praise the Lord
As long as he gives breath;
Then praise him better yet
Beyond the gates of death.
Jeremy Walker

See other hymns and psalms.

Psalm 63: "O God, my Strength, the early hour"

L.M. (Wilton)
Psalm 63
O God, my Strength, the early hour
Of every day your praise shall claim.
My soul desires to taste your power,
And see the glory of your name.

Life's glories fade beside your love,
My lips and hands shall give you praise;
Blessings poured out from stores above
Bring sweet abundance all my days.

I think upon you in the night,
Rest in the shadow of your wing:
You are my help, my soul's delight,
And of your grace I gladly sing.

My soul will closely follow you;
Your hand upholds and comforts me.
My God shall bear me safely through,
I need not fear my enemy.

Soon shall be stopped the lying voice,
But I shall glory in your grace.
In God, my Strength, I shall rejoice,
All my delight to seek your face.
Jeremy Walker

See other hymns and psalms.

Singing in worship

Now that the news has broken that my album - tentatively entitled Funkier Than You Think - may be hitting the market before long, I feel marginally better qualified to speak to the issue of the sung worship of the church.

The New Testament data with regard to singing in the worship of the church is, to put it bluntly, sparse. On the one hand, it seems strange that an issue which excited so little attention in the early church should be the sphere of so many of the worship wars which have erupted in recent years. On the other, perhaps it is precisely because the instruction is sparse and simple that we feel we have a right or even a need to develop our own principles and practice.

In this regard, it is strange how many of those who emphasise, even trumpet, their new covenant credentials in other areas are so quick to run to the Old Testament for a justification of the manner (as opposed to the matter) of worship. And, of course, for sung worship it is often very much a surface reading of the psalms, which immediately provide us with good reason for choirs and multiple instrumentation and a host of other options: after all, David had harps and lyres, didn't he? Q.E.D. Or, in fact, quod non erat demonstrandum. I do not deny that the Old Testament sheds much light on our principles of worship, and ought to be employed for that purpose, but I do not believe that it ought to be normative for its forms.

There are only a few passages which directly address the sung worship of the militant new covenant church gathered together in the presence of God:
"And do not be drunk with wine, in which is dissipation; but be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord, giving thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another in the fear of God." (Eph 5.18-21)

"Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord." (Col 3.16)

"What is the conclusion then? I will pray with the spirit, and I will also pray with the understanding. I will sing with the spirit, and I will also sing with the understanding." (1Cor 14.15)
I pass over James 5.13 - "Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing psalms" - because it seems to be primarily a private instruction, although it is interesting to compare it with the experience of Paul and Silas in prison (Acts 16.25). 1 Corinthians14.26 also suggests that psalms were in the mix in the Corinthian church, but is, perhaps, more incidental than the others. The simple and sweet narratives of the Lord's supper do not offer us much more. However, the clearest passages offer a few straightforward principles that we would do well to consider.

Firstly, the instrument to which the New Testament gives a clear priority, and on which it lays the greatest emphasis, is the human voice expressing the fullness of the heart. Whether or not you accept that this requires the positive and complete absence of musical instruments as accompaniment, I would suggest that it certainly puts them in their place, and the concern with the style and quality of the musicians that seems to dominate much of the discussion is seen to be simply inappropriate. At best, musical instruments ought to accompany the voice, guiding and supporting it, not competing with or drowning it. Given this, the use of musical instruments should probably be minimal, providing a platform for the voice, the primary instrument by which the saints of the New Testament praise the Lord.

Secondly, that instrument is to be played by every member of the congregation. Sung worship is essentially congregational. The light of nature may point toward, again, some kind of leadership, but there is nothing here of the individual or group, however formally or informally, isolated from the mass and pursuing something separate from or before them. Congregational worship helps to avoid any element of mere performance creeping in, no small blessing in an age in which music and singing are almost irrevocably linked with performance and show. Of course, the absence of a band or choir or soloist does not necessarily secure the ends intended. How many congregations are dominated and even crippled by people with powerful voices who sing without reference to anyone else around them, their timings, speed, and volume governed - it would seem - by their own spirit separate from others, or without any real awareness of what is happening, or even by the desire to be heard and to impress? A good voice, well and humbly employed, is a help to those of us who may not have such a gift from God and who sometimes feel that our contribution is "a joyful noise" but not much more. Individuals must bring their gifts within the body and for the purpose of serving the whole, not parading in front of them, ignorantly or otherwise. Edification will, in some instances, mean a proper and determined restraint in the employment of our gifts, as well as gusto in other cases. Families can assist in forming the pattern by singing in family worship, encouraging the children to make a cheerful and willing effort. Parents should set a good example, standing straight, opening their mouths and using their lungs, not mumbling themselves, nor allowing their children to slump and mutter through the singing.

Thirdly, this suggests something about the musical style. The tunes to be employed must fall within the range of the congregation. I am not saying that it would be wrong to develop the capacity of the congregation in the praise of God, either in the range or style of the tunes, or our ability to sing them, but - if the whole congregation is to sing - then the range and structure of any particular tune ought to lend itself to the participation of everyone. To that end, principles of simplicity and freshness and tunefulness and memorization ought to be part of what governs the writing and singing of tunes.

Perhaps here it would be appropriate to point out that the tunes ought to be fitting to the words. There is nothing that grates more than a melody that is in overt conflict with the mood of the lyrics that are being sung. Again, the light of nature dictates that a more contemplative song needs a more contemplative tune; a song of overflowing joy ought to be sung to a tune, in a key, at a tempo, and with a volume that connects with its meaning; the mournful cry requires its own setting if the singing is to be in keeping with the substance. Again, the temptation of many congregations - especially those with larger numbers - to sing with abominable and often increasing slowness must be resisted; so must the instinct to dash through everything without giving opportunity for breath or thought. Lingering on notes, especially at the ends of verses, tends to have the effect of dragging everything out, so that each verse begins more slowly than the last, and every tune becomes a dirge by the time it has been finished. As Spurgeon once encouraged his congregation, "Dear friends, the devil sometimes makes you lag half a note behind the leader. Just try if you can't prevail over him to-night, and keep in proper time." If the lively hymns are sung to lively tunes in a lively style, then there is space for the more meditative and mournful contributions to adapt.

Of course, these passages also speak to the internal realities of our worshipful singing. So we find that the singing is to consist in "psalms and hymns and spiritual songs," the outflow of the word of Christ dwelling in us richly in all wisdom and the filling of the Spirit. Whether or not one agrees with the interpretation that will have these categories as three divisions of the psalter, it is immediately clear that the fundamental content of our songs ought to be Biblical truth. That does not mean that there is no space for personal experience (the pattern of the psalms alone would indicate otherwise), but that experience ought never to be divorced from the truth. The content of our songs should be drawn from and governed by Scripture in all its wealth.

But notice further that this truth is to be expressed in both its vertical and horizontal dimensions. By this I mean that our singing is in part directed toward God and in part toward men. Godward, you are "singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord, giving thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ" and "singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord." Manward, you are "speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs" and "teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs." It would be wrong to draw too fine a distinction between these elements, insisting that every composition must fall into one or the other category, but - whether or not, or to what degree, these are blended - we must consider that we are singing to one another, bringing needed truth before one another's minds and hearts, and singing to the Lord, expressing all the realities of his being and doing, and the realities of our relationship to him. But notice the motives: the intention is not to impress God nor to entertain men, but to thank and adore the Lord and to instruct and exhort his people. These aims must be ever before us as we sing, or we will lose our way.

And, as with all new covenant worship, it must be worship in spirit and truth (Jn 4.24). Whatever that much controverted verse means, there is surely something of the same sense in the instruction to "be filled with the Spirit," "singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord," "singing with grace in your heart to the Lord." This speaks of a supernatural dimension and assistance, of spiritual sincerity, thoughtful participation and genuine engagement. It does not permit us to avoid the happy songs if we are ourselves sad, nor to balk at the sad songs if we are ourselves happy. We are told to enter into the spirit of what we might not ourselves be instinctively feeling: "Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep" (Rom 12.15). In so doing, we offer to others what they need, and perhaps dose ourselves with a necessary medicine: as John Wesley said to Methodist singers, "Let not a slight degree of weakness or weariness hinder you. If it is a cross to you, take it up and you will find a blessing."

Wesley went on:
Above all, sing spiritually. Have an eye to God in every word you sing. Aim at pleasing Him more than yourself, or any other creature. In order to do this, attend strictly to the sense of what you sing, and see that your heart is not carried away with the sound, but offered to God continually; so shall your singing be such as the Lord will approve of here, and reward when he cometh in the clouds of heaven.
Surely this is an instruction that every saint - regardless of their physical ability - can follow? Isaac Watts offers a similar sentiment by way of warning in his paraphrase of Psalm 47:

Rehearse his praise with awe profound,
Let knowledge lead the song,
Nor mock him with a solemn sound
Upon a thoughtless tongue.

Watts brings us back to the matter of truth and understanding, and so guides us again toward a blending of some of these concerns. If we are to sing in the way just described, we must heed Paul's conclusion: "I will pray with the spirit, and I will also pray with the understanding. I will sing with the spirit, and I will also sing with the understanding" (1Cor 14.15). Spiritual reality does not suspend or bypass the mental faculty, and our singing - if it is to pass this test - must be coherent and intelligible. It is in this way that we enter most readily into the glorious truths of which we sing. This requirement does not mean that our songs must be childish or unintelligent. Words should be clear and accurate both in their meaning (if the poetry or the vocabulary require explanation, this is usually easily done) and their vocalization, so that they can be understood - after all, how can you instruct your brother if he cannot tell what he is hearing? I would suggest that it does mean avoiding what is unnecessarily archaic or abstruse in our language, especially in environments where there may be many visitors, or a number of people who are not singing in their first language. At the same time, our sole concern is not horizontal, and it is perfectly appropriate to use accurate and rich expressions of praise to God that may require explanation to those unfamiliar with them. In addition, part of the teaching we offer on the horizontal plane may also require further explanation at times. To borrow a pithy thought from Machen, and apply it in a slightly different way: "I am by no means ready to relinquish the advantages of a precise terminology in summarizing Bible truth. In religion as well as in other spheres a precise terminology is mentally economical in the end; it repays amply the slight effort for the mastery of it" (What is Faith? [Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1991], 162-3).

It seems to me that simplicity is of the essence of our worship, allowing the spiritual substance to be expressed with sincerity and without distraction. As I have commented to our own congregation, imagine a situation in which the church is being persecuted. The secret police have learned that following the people who leave their homes with pianos on flatbed trucks on Sunday mornings is usually quite a productive train of enquiry, no less so those who carry violin or guitar cases. Perhaps it is too great a risk even to carry a Bible. Therefore, taking all necessary precautions, the believers meet at a pre-appointed place in the misty dawn, perhaps under a gospel oak as they did in days not so long ago. The saints gather swiftly and silently and with much prayer for their safety. There the appointed preacher arrives, and after prayer asks one of the saints to recite from memory the portion from which he intends to preach. He then expounds the passage, making its appropriate applications. The saints softly sing a couple of psalms or hymns together, ones easily memorized and readily learned. In a nearby stream a new convert is baptized, changing swiftly out of wet clothes, and then the Lord's supper is celebrated by the saints breaking bread and passing around wine. Before they depart they sing again, their voices muted but intense. Before long, the service is over, and the believers melt away into the growing day, leaving in various directions and small groups so as to arouse no suspicion.

What more is required? I am not saying that this is the ideal, or that anything different would be inherently sinful, but I do contend that absolutely nothing is lacking to make this pleasing to the Lord.

While much more might be said, I hope that these few thoughts will at least stimulate us to consider once again and more carefully, the hows, whys and wherefores of our sung worship, lifting up heart and voice in the right way and for the right reason, glorifying God and doing good to men as we sing a new song to the Lord.

Psalm 16: "In you, O Lord, I put my trust"

L.M. (Rockingham)
Psalm 16
In you, O Lord, I put my trust;
Preserve me in my time of need,
I lie before you in the dust,
And have no goodness there to plead.

Among the saints on earth I reap
Pleasures exceeding all below;
This is the company I keep,
These are the truest friends I know.

Let others choose the stuff of earth,
And worship empty idol thrones;
My riches spring from heavenly birth,
Through Jesus who for sin atones.

I bless the Lord who counsel gives,
And in the darkness grants me light;
I stand near him who ever lives,
Secure and happy in his might.

My heart will therefore gladly sing,
Possessed of an eternal joy:
In life and death with Christ my King,
A bond that nothing can destroy.

You show your saints the path of life,
Great joy with you whom we adore;
An end to every grief and strife
At your right hand forevermore.
Jeremy Walker

See other hymns and psalms.

Psalm 1: "How greatly favoured is the man"

C.M. (Beatitudo)
Psalm 1
How greatly favoured is the man
Who, by the grace of God,
Walks not in step with sinful men,
Nor treads the sinner's road.

The seat of mockers holds no joy:
All wickedness is spurned
By them whose love is for the law,
Who righteousness have learned.

God's precepts are their first delight,
His statutes are their joy,
And constantly his holy Word
Their thoughts and lips employ.

Thus fed by everflowing streams
The blessed ones take root,
And in their season, pruned and fed,
Each brings forth heavenly fruit.

No foul disease is in their leaf,
No famine do they know;
In meditating day and night
God's saints forever grow.

The wicked cannot claim the same
For when the wind comes up
Like chaff they will be swept away:
They drink a bitter cup.

They cannot stand before the Lord
At judgement's awful hour;
They will not stand among the saints
Who praise God's saving power.

In all these things the Lord is just,
His knowledge is complete.
The righteous and the wicked both
Their proper end shall meet.
Jeremy Walker

See other hymns and psalms.