We have come, in our discussion of the order of worship, to those elements in which the minister speaks: the votum, the benedictions, the prayers and the sermon. In this article we shall be discussing the votum. 

With the many changes which are taking place in the worship services these days, the votum has been all but lost. Greater efforts are being made, in the interests of novelty and innovation, to make the worship services more informal and to involve in the worship services the congregation itself. The result is that many times worship services are begun in ways which seem strange and foreign, if not downright profane. Upon ascending the pulpit, the minister may greet the congregation with some such words as: “Good morning, everyone,” to which the congregation responds. Or: “Good morning, God,” with which greeting the congregation joins. Or: “Will everyone shake the hand of his neighbor?” followed by a lot of noise in the auditorium. 

What is forgotten is that the worship service is a solemn assembly in which the church of our Lord Jesus Christ meets with her God in the worship of covenant fellowship. It is not an informal gathering of people; it is not a picnic where people who know each other gather for some festivities; it is not even a business meeting or convocation of people who have come to discuss matters of mutual interest. The church gathers with her God in worship. And the solemnity and wonder of it ought to be retained. 

In his book on liturgy, W. Heyns points out that the votum is extremely important because it really sets the tone and atmosphere of the entire worship service. If the beginning of the worship service is solemn and holy, this will set the tone for all the worship which follows. He obviously does not consider the votum a mere, relatively thoughtless and unimportant beginning, but insists that it must have a proper place and must itself be proper. With this we agree. 

The beginning of the worship service is usually composed of three elements: the salutation or greeting, the votum proper, and the benediction. The salutation, at least in our circles, is usually the words, “Beloved in our Lord Jesus Christ,” or “Congregation of our Lord Jesus Christ.” The votum usually used is: “Our help is in the name of the Lord Who made heaven and earth.” The benediction follows upon this. 

The word “votum” comes from the Latin voveo, which means, “to vow, to pray to God for something.” Apparently, the idea is not so much as Heyns (in the above-mentioned book) maintains—to consecrate or devote; rather the idea is to express dependence upon God at the very beginning of the worship. 

This votum took on different forms in the history of the churches of the Reformation. Luther, in Germany, made no use of a votum at all. He usually began the worship services by announcing the singing of a song. A Lasco did the same. At Strassburg, where Calvin spent a few years between his two stays in Geneva, the German congregation began its services with the words, “In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.” Calvin, in the French church, used the same votum as we use. Although the Synod of Dordrecht in 1574 ruled that the votum used by Calvin ought to be used in the churches, this was not commonly done. Many different forms were used to begin the service. Sometimes the old formulas used in the Romish church prior to the Reformation were kept: the minister would begin with the words, “Peace be with you,” to which the congregation would respond, “And with thy spirit.” But gradually, in the Dutch churches, the form used by Calvin was more and more accepted, and that has remained true till today within those churches which have their roots in the Netherlands Reformation. 

It is clear from all this that there are no direct Scriptural injunctions concerning this matter. As we have found to be true with so many of the elements of worship, this too must be left to the discretion of the individual consistories as they decide what form of worship is most in keeping with the nature of congregational worship and what serves best the edifying of the people of God. Nevertheless, the form in general use in our churches is one that, while surely not infallible, is time tested and has proved its worth over the years. It is well that there is uniformity on this matter among us, and changes ought not lightly to be made. 

The votum in use among us—”Our help is in the name of the Lord, who made heaven and earth”—is the last verse of Psalm 124. It might be well to quote that entire Psalm a moment, for the last verse is the doxological conclusion of the Psalm.

If it had not been the Lord who was on our side, now may Israel say; 

If it had not been the Lord who was on our side, when men rose up against us: 

Then they had swallowed us up quick, when their wrath was kindled against us: 

Then the waters had overwhelmed us, the stream had gone over our soul: 

Then the proud waters had gone over our soul. 

Blessed be the Lord, who hath not given us as a prey to their teeth. 

Our soul is escaped as a bird out of the snare of the fowlers: the snare is broken, and we are escaped. 

Our help is in the name of the Lord, who made heaven and earth.

This “votum” in use in the churches must be taken in connection with the entire Psalm. Evidently, when Calvin introduced this in the French church in Strassburg, this meant a great deal more to the church then than it does to us now. The Reformation faced foes on every side: the pope with his armies of priests and prelates who hated the Reformed people with a single-minded passion; the armies of hostile world powers in Germany and France; the people, who, moved by Rome and their clerics, often took delight in doing what damage they could to the Reformation. The whole movement was in constant jeopardy from a human point of view. How significant it then was that the congregation, when it would come together, would confess before God that, though great and terrible dangers surrounded them, the Lord was on their side; they were escaped once again as a bird out of the snare; their help was in the name of the Lord, Who made heaven and earth. 

While, certainly, this had great meaning and significance for the people in those days, nevertheless, the fact remains that the same is principally true for the church in every age. Just that we do not know overt persecution as our fathers did, does not mean that we are not in constant jeopardy and danger. We are surrounded by hostile forces on every side. The devil goes about as a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour. His demons are his minions who delight in the destruction of the saints—if that were possible. The world is an alarming place, filled with dangers and traps, ready to pounce on the unwary and lure his soul into destruction. And our own weak and sinful flesh is an ally to all these enemies and is constantly attempting to tug us into the snares of evil. How dangerous a place this world is! We would easily be swallowed up and the waters would easily overwhelm us. To be overcome would be the most logical and easily accomplished event in the world. To destroy the whole church would be as easily accomplished as swatting a mosquito—if . . . “If it had not been the Lord Who was on our side, now may Israel say . . . Blessed be the Lord, Who hath not given us as a prey to their teeth . . . Our help is in the name of the Lord, Who made heaven and earth!” 

You can sense the quiet exultation that breathes in these words as the church of Christ comes together once again on the Lord’s Day, after a dangerous week in the world, and breathes out her confession of hope and confidence in God, Who has safely guarded her. 

It is well for us to consider briefly the meaning of these words from Psalm 124. There are just three or four remarks which ought briefly to be made. 

In the first place, the church confesses that her help is in the name of the Lord. The name of the Lord is the Lord God Himself, but as He reveals Himself to His church. Centrally, that name is Jesus—Jehovah salvation. Thus, without going into detail on this matter, the church confesses that her help is in Jesus, Who is the revelation of God. That is why the name Jehovah is also used here, for that name, more than any other, is the name which describes the Lord God as the One Who is faithful and unchanging to His covenant in Jesus Christ. No wonder the name of Jehovah is described in Scripture as a high tower in which we may find our refuge and hiding place. 

In the second place, Jehovah is said here to be the One Who made heaven and earth. The reference is undoubtedly to His great power as He revealed it in the work of creation. If Jehovah, the God of His people, has made the earth and all its creatures, the stars and planets and shining hosts of heaven, men and angels—and devils—if our help is in His name, then surely we are safe in this dangerous life. 

Finally, therefore, the church confesses that her only help is in Jehovah. It is a confession of our own weakness and sin. It is a confession of our utter helplessness. It is a confession not only that in Jehovah are we safe, but that only in His name will we be safe for all this life till we enter the everlasting Sabbath.