25 October, 2005

Family Worship IV: Psalm Singing

The Directory for Publick Worship, on the issue of Psalm singing, says,

"IT is the duty of Christians to praise God publickly, by singing of psalms together in the congregation, and also privately in the family. In singing of psalms, the voice is to be tunably and gravely ordered; but the chief care must be to sing with understanding, and with grace in the heart, making melody unto the Lord."

This may be one of the most difficult parts of worship to implement in the family worship, especially for those that do not sing well. This can also be one of the greatest additions to family worship, especially when the minister gives the Psalter selections for the Next Lord's Day. This can help the family to prepare for the next Sabbath day. Another approach would be to sing those selections that were sung at the previous Sabbath's services as a reflection upon worship and to help bring the previous sermons to memory.

Psalm singing also serves an evangelical purpose in that it causes the worshippers to hide the word of God within their heart so that it can become part of their spiritual arsenal. Words that are set to music are generally easier to recall than those only spoken. Most teens can rattle off a variety of songs that they know from the radio, but have difficulty recalling the catechism or memory verses. Psalm singing bridges that gap. The Psalms are a fantastic way (and a commanded way) to bring praise to Jehovah as well as a way to teach each other the wonderful acts of God.

May the singing of psalms become a part of the daily worship of those who love God!

by Rev. Kortering (Presbyterian Reformed Church in America)

From time to time the question is raised as to the adequacy of the Psalms for the New Testament church. Is perhaps the Old Testament view of God different from the New Testament? This is the position taken by the hymn writer Isaac Watts, who gave us such hymns as "Joy to the World" and "When I Survey the Wondrous Cross." His view of the Old Testament God cautions us concerning the use of hymns. Speaking of the Psalms he writes,
Some of them are almost opposite the spirit of the gospel. There are a thousand lines in the Book of Psalms which were not made for a church in our day to assume as its own. I should rejoice to see David converted into a Christian. There are many hundred verses in the Book of Psalms which a Christian cannot properly assume in singing. Psalms 13, 16, 36, 68, 69, and 109 are so full of cursings that they hardly become a follower of the blessed Jesus. (The Psalms In Worship, p.472, index p.570.)
No, the Psalms reveal to us the one true God, surely in His fiery wrath against the workers of iniquity, yet also in His grace and mercy as the God of our salvation.
Does the Old Testament give a view of Christ that the New Testament church cannot appreciate or is inadequate? This is perhaps the most common charge brought against the use of the Psalms today. Yet, if we study the Psalms carefully we find quite a different picture. The Holy Spirit was correct when He through Paul reminded the church that by singing Psalms, "the Word of Christ dwells in us" (Col. 3:16). Christ Himself made great use of the Psalms, impressing upon His disciples that the Psalms spoke of Him: "These are the words which I spake unto you, while I was yet with you, that all things must be fulfilled, which were written in the law of Moses and in the prophets, and in the psalms, concerning me" (Luke 24:44). The Psalms did speak concerning Christ. Think of those which spoke directly to Him --e.g., Psalm 22 and 110. Some spoke typically of Him -- e.g., Psalm 16,18, 21, 61, 72, 118. His offices were explained: prophet (Ps. 22), priest (Ps. 110), and king (Ps. 2). Details of His ministry were indicated: His eternity (Ps. 90), His incarnation (Ps. 40 and 22), His rejection (Ps. 22), His triumphal entry (Ps. 8 and 118), His being beaten (Ps. 41), His cross (Ps. 22), His dying words (Ps. 31), His resurrection (Ps. 60), His ascension (Ps. 16), His return in judgment (Ps. 50, 72, 98). The prophetic character of these Psalms does not make them inadequate for the New Testament church. Frequently they were written from the viewpoint of Christ's work as already finished, and always they lift the church beyond the earthly ministry of Christ to His majestic return at the end of the world when His kingdom shall be established forever. Even in heaven we will sing the song of Moses and the Lamb.
One more point as far as the adequacy of the use of the Psalms is concerned. The Holy Spirit worked in the lives of the authors of the Psalms in such a way that they expressed their inner longing, their grief over sin, their cry for forgiveness, their hope in God. Surely, if worship is for praise and edification, the Psalms give God His due, for they present God to us, not from the subjective, emotional, even unreliable experience that God's people may have in their dealings with God, but rather, the Psalms extol the one true God, and cause us to fall on our knees in repentance and praise. Similarly, they express deep feelings on behalf of God's people. But these emotions of worship are not those of mere men, grappling with the Divine Being; they are true emotions that flow from a proper encounter with God. We identify with the grief, the heartache, the burden which the Psalmist expresses in the Psalms. These are true and correct for they have their origin in God, not man. Through such cries for need, we are lifted up to Jehovah, to view His mercy in Christ, His forgiving love that did not cancel out His justice, but satisfied it in the Person of His own Son. The cries of the children of God blend with the groans of the Son of God which rise unto the ears of the Lord of Hosts. He knows and He delivers. He is the Sovereign God of our salvation.
Do we limit the work of the Holy Spirit if we limit ourselves to singing the Psalms? Granted that the Holy Spirit inspired the Psalms, does this mean that the Holy Spirit cannot use other people to compose proper songs for the church to sing? These songs may be of different kinds. Indeed, gifted men have written spiritually edifying songs about the Christian experience which extol God. Others have written songs, or if you will, set to music passages of the Holy Scripture. Is there not a place to make use of these in the worship services? In answering this question, we must recognize that the songs we sing, the versifications of the Psalms as, e.g., in The Psalter are not themselves inspired. There is a long and interesting history as to Psalm tunes, versifications written by the reformers themselves and by others throughout the history of the church. Some of these are well done, others poorly done. In this area there is room for constant improvement and re-evaluation. The point is this, can we not add to the Psalms other themes and passages of Scripture? Admittedly, the idea of adding other Scripture passages set to music has much appeal. This is a very limited application of the idea of introducing "hymns" into the church. Could we not limit ourselves to Scripture, whether Old or New Testament? In dealing with this, we must approach it from the viewpoint that we limit the work of the Holy Spirit. Surely, He is able to give the church gifted men and able to guide them in the production. Yet, the question is more basic: has not the Holy Spirit given to us such a book already, the Psalms, and should we not consider this adequate? If the Spirit saw the need for a New Testament book of praise, He could have given that to us as He did with the Psalms. The fact is that He did not. We must not be wiser than God. If we are going to be bound by the regulative principle of the Word of God, limiting our worship to what God has given us, we do well to consider the adequacy of the Psalms for such worship.

Discussion Points:

-What Psalter selections should we start our youngest family members with?

-What Psalters do you prefer to sing from, and why?

-What use do uninspired hymns play in the teaching of Christian doctrine and experience?


Mark said...

If singing the Psalms is a regular part of family devotions, quality of singing won't be an issue for the children since they'll be used to singing anyway.

Around here, we've alternated over the years between using the Psatler Hymnal and singing psalms and hymns we know off the tops of our heads. "Dust to Dust" is a favorite, for an impreccatory Psalm it has an awfully bouncy tunes.

As to your last question - what role do uninspired hymns play in the teaching of Christian doctrine and experience - I'd say they play the same sort of role as uninspired Reformer or Puritan works. :)

Anonymous said...

the hymns were written to teach theology to the common man back when they were written. The words are much more theologically sound than the worship songs sung in contemporary services today. Of course there are exceptions to every rule. As far as Psalm singing, I've never been exposed to it. I think it's great in learning and memorizing scripture. What better way to praise God than to sing his Word.

Rachel said...

I grew up singing through the red RPCNA Psalter during family worship. My parents didn't emphasize certain psalms for us to learn. As a result, I do not have many selections entirely memorized, but I can sing most of them wholeheartedly along with other people without a book. The selections that I do have memorized are mostly ones that we worked on in Sabbath School.

So I would say sing all the Psalms with your children and maybe start with memorizing short ones with few stanzas and go from there. If you think hand motions are ok, then start with selections that have hand motions that children can do long before they can actually sing the words. I learned one very long psalm as a young child because there were hand motions to keep me on track.

I prefer the red RPCNA Psalter because that is what I am familiar with and is what my church uses. As long as the psalms have been translated faithfully, I don't have intellectual problems with using other Psalters.

I'll not comment on hymns (as we know them today) because I am not familiar with them.

vonbora said...

Thanks, that gave me a lot to think about. I've grown up with family worship every night but I am just now starting to fully appreciate it.