May I submit the following on the subject of hymns and Psalms!
As has already been noted, we do use hymns in our homes, our Christian schools, at hymn-sings, special meetings, and on the radio broadcasts. The place for hymns (and, of late, certain Christmas carols) is not in the worship services of our churches, but in these consecrated circles. The songs so utilized, we believe, are carefully selected according to Christian judgment and evaluation, in the light of our doctrine. That is as it should be. Still, how comprehensive is the volume of the hymns we use? A useful repertory of hymns would include such themes as: The Scriptures, The Attributes of God and the Trinity. There should be hymns under the heading, Christ, celebrating: Praise to, Advent of, Nativity, Circumcision, Sonship, Names and Offices, Ministry, Transfiguration, Death, Resurrection, Ascension, Exaltation and Second Advent. Under the heading, The Christian, hymns on Zeal, Self-Denial, Perseverance, Heavenly-Mindedness, Love, Pilgrimage. Then hymns appropriate to: The Holy Spirit, the Church, Prayer and the Sacraments. Hymns of Scriptural quality on these subjects there are, but should be made more accessible to general use.
To complete this list, there should also be hymns on: Man’s Ruin, the Law, Gospel, Faith, Missions, New Year, Marriage, Death, the Resurrection, Judgment and Heaven. All these have already come forth from the heart of the church, so that we have Reformed hymns supplying appropriate spiritual thought in metrical and musical form covering the whole diversified range of material found in the Heidelberg Catechism. We even have hymns declaring the glory of God’s Decrees, His Creation and Providence. More consideration ought to be given these enumerated above.
Since our Church Order (Article 69) not only permits, but requires the public use of the following in metrical form: The Ten Commandments, Lord’s Prayer, Apostles’ Creed, the Songs of Mary, Zacharias and Simeon, the Morning and Evening Hymns, and the Hymn of Prayer Before Sermon, why not at least make private use of the wealth of material available under these titles? There are, at least, seven hymns on the Ten Commandments as a whole, and thirty-two on the separate commandments. There is a good versification of the Lord’s Prayer by Goodwin (also an arrangement by Toplady), and separate hymns on each of the petitions. Of the Apostles’ Creed, there is a good metricism on seven of the twelve articles. We already have the songs of Mary, Zacharias and Simeon. (At this point we may call attention to good versifications extant on the Prayer of Hezekiah and the Song of Hannah.) The Morning and Evening Hymns originally were Netherlands compositions provided for in the Church Order of 1905. But we do have in English: Morning Thanksgiving, Sabbath Evening, Evening Song, Evening Sacrifice and Evening Worship. The Hymn of Prayer Before Sermon originally was one of a Netherlands Psalter by P. Datheen (1566)) but we do have in English Toplady’s “Before Hearing” Sermon (XIX).
I agree with what has already been said relative to the use in song of faithful versifications of Scripture. Many passages, other than the Psalms proper, pure poetry, are suitable for versification (as mentioned, TSB, XXXVII, 412)) such as: The Song of Moses, Habakkuk, I Corinthians 15, part of Romans 8 and parts of the Revelation. To this add the psalm of Isaiah 12. We might also consider Toplady’s metrical paraphrases of Amos 4and Hosea 8, judging whether they are faithful versifications of these Scriptures.
One other thought: Why no renewed efforts in Psalter improvement? In this direction, certain tunes could be omitted, as, e.g., the second tune of No. 212; and more singable tunes replace more difficult ones. “Converse” is more singable than the (No. 400) tune now used for Psalm 146. Cf. the difficult Nos. 375, 389 (second tune), and the tune Ein’ Feste Burg, which takes a large audience to be sung well. (Concerning this last tune, there is a more pleasing and attractive arrangement available.) There could be more tunes provided for certain Psalms which have only one, and not too well known, tune. For instance, besides our No. 206, there is a long meter arrangement of Psalm 75 by Barlow.
Finally, more faithful versification of certain Psalms ought to be made. It’s often been mentioned that stanza four, first clause, of No. 255 (Ps. 95) ought to be corrected. In Psalm 68, “. . . Rich gifts to Thee are offered By men who did rebel . . .” should be changed to something like: “Rich gifts by Thee are taken For men who did rebel.” (On this, Isaac Watts has, “With gifts and grace for rebel men, That God might dwell on earth again.”) That these remarks prove suggestive and practically helpful is my desire.
Very respectfully yours,
Robert C. Harbach