“O come let us sing unto the Lord: let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation. Let us come before his presence with thanksgiving, and make a joyful noise unto him with psalms.”
The year 2012 marks the 100th anniversary of our Psalter, which was first published in the year 1912. The Psalter has been the songbook in the Protestant Reformed churches for their entire history—88 of the 100 years of the Psalter’s existence. And it has served them well. It has also been a blessing to the other denominations that have used it during these past 100 years.
In using the title “100 years of praise,” I mean two things: 1) the Psalter has been loved and praised by many over its 100-year history, and 2) the Psalter has served the churches that use it exceptionally well in their praise to God, as it has aided the members of these churches in their worship of the Lord by the singing of Psalms. The singing of the Psalms is the main blessing that the Psalter has afforded us.
It is not our goal in these articles to examine the Psalter critically to discover faults in wording, tunes, etc. We admit that the Psalter is not perfect. Minor adjustments and improvements could be made. But our goal is to be renewed in our appreciation for singing the Psalms as praise to God, which our Psalter has assisted God’s people in doing for these last 100 years.
In reminding us of the importance of singing the Psalms, I plan to do the following: 1) Point out that it is God’s intention that His people sing the Psalms; 2) Show that historically the church has followed this calling; and 3) Answer some objections to Psalm singing, and in so doing point out the value of singing the Psalms.
The Lord’s Purpose
First of all, then, it was the Lord’s intention that His church sing the Psalms. This is why they were written. This is the reason He inspired them by the Holy Spirit and gave them to the church as part of the Scriptures. Yes, the Lord intended that the Psalms be read. Also that they be meditated upon, memorized, recited, preached on, and learned from. But especially did He give them to us to sing them.
Consider that the very word “Psalm” in Hebrew means “melody,” or “song.” In giving us a book of Psalms the Lord gave us a book of “songs.” Many of the Psalm headings indicate that the inspired psalmist understood this purpose of God. Notice, for example, how often these headings include the words: “To the chief musician . . .” or something similar.
And the Psalms themselves frequently include the injunction to sing. We are told into praise God by singing: “Praise the Lord; for the Lord is good: sing praises unto his name; for it is pleasant.” Similarly, in we are told, “Praise ye the Lord. Sing unto the Lord a new song, and his praise in the congregation of saints.” And instructs, “Sing unto the Lord, O ye saints of His . . . .” These are, of course, only a few of many examples.
A few passages even more specifically reflect what the Lord expects us to sing: “Sing unto him, sing psalms unto him: talk ye of all his wondrous works” (). Again in we read, “Let us come before his presence with thanksgiving, and make a joyful noise unto him with psalms.”
The Lord’s Example
At many occasions recorded in Scripture, Psalms were sung. This indicates both that godly men understood the Lord’s purpose with the Psalms and that the Lord set before us these holy examples in His Scriptures so we would clearly understand how He intended the Psalms to be used.
In fact, one of these instances involves Jesus Himself as He sang a psalm with His disciples at the last supper. The record of this instance,, uses the words “sung an hymn” in the King James Version (KJV), but the original word carries the meaning of simply “sung a song of praise.” Taking this together with the fact that it is well known that it was universal practice for Jews at this time to sing from the Hallel Psalms (113-118) at the Passover meal, it is certain that Jesus sang a psalm at this occasion. Jesus used the Psalms as they were intended.
New Testament Requirement
The New Testament Scriptures are explicit in calling the people of God to sing Psalms. That singing is a requirement for the child of God is established plainly by: “Is any among you afflicted? Let him pray. Is any merry? Let him sing psalms.” The callings set forth as responses to the two questions of this passage are put to us in the imperative, the verb mood that is used for commands. It is not optional to sing, but required. In fact, the command to sing is parallel in the text to the command to pray. No less must we sing than pray. And the KJV provides us with a good translation of the original word that tells us what to sing when it says: “Let him sing psalms.”
Especially two other New Testament passages call us to the same thing. In, we read, “Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord.” Similarly, in , we are instructed: “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.”
There are some who point to these two passages and insist vigorously that these passages also allow hymns to be sung in the church’s worship. Although it is not our intention to enter fully into all the arguments for and against this position in these articles, it will serve our purpose to make a few comments and observations on this point.
First of all, those who hold to the view thatand allow more than the singing of Psalms in worship must at the very least agree with us that these passages do require that the Psalms be sung. After all, these passages include the word “psalms” as much as they include the words “hymns and spiritual songs.” It would only be consistent that those who promote hymns on the basis of these passages insist as vigorously that Psalms must be sung as they do their right to sing hymns. Rather, history demonstrates that the churches that allow hymns in worship have over time allowed the singing of fewer and fewer Psalms.
Secondly, the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Old Testament Scriptures—with which the apostle Paul would have been very familiar) divided the book of Psalms into three sections: one named “psalms,” one named “hymns,” and one named “spiritual songs.” It is almost certain that this is what Paul had in mind when he wrote that we should sing “psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs.” These passages instruct us that we should sing the Psalms, all the different types of Psalms.
Our spiritual fathers understood this biblical evidence and recognized that it is the Lord’s intention that His church sing the Psalms. Because of this, our fathers at the Synod of Dordt prescribed the singing of Psalms in the churches in Article 60 of our Church Order.
This Church Order article brings into harmony our churches’ official position with the Lord’s purpose in giving to His people the Psalms. Our Psalter, then, serves to help us follow this Church Order requirement and the Lord’s purpose and command to sing the Psalms—the Psalms that He gave us to sing.