From the last Standard Bearer I notice that the Rev. G. VandenBerg intends to write on the hymn question in connection with Article 69 of the Church Order.
Of this I am glad, because, in the first place, I know that the brother strongly opposes the introduction of hymns into our churches; and, in the second place, I have high respect for the opinion of brother VandenBerg, and, therefore, I expect that he will produce some sound arguments against the introduction of hymns that are versifications of Scripture and that are approved by our Synod.
The brother writes: “Undersigned does not aim at debate but we shall have to express our disagreement with those who are favoring this change for our churches.” To my mind, this is exactly what a debate is, unless the brother expects to express his disagreement without receiving a reply on my part. Let us, therefore, have a friendly debate.
First of all, then, seeing that the Rev. VandenBerg wants to base his remarks upon Article 69 of the Church Order, I also will call attention to this article. It reads as follows:
“In our churches only the 150 Psalms of David, the Ten Commandments, the Lord’s Prayer, the Twelve Articles of Faith, the Songs of Mary, Zacharias and Simeon, the Morning and Evening Hymns, and the Hymn of Prayer before the sermon shall he sung.”
On this article we like to make the following remarks:
1. There are no 150 Psalms of David. We do not know how many of the psalms were composed by David, but there are quite a few that were composed by others. We do not know all the authors but some of them are mentioned in Scripture as for instance, Asaph: Ps. 73, 74, 15, etc.; Heman, the Ezrahite, Ps. 88, 89; of Moses, Ps. 90. And many of the authors are not even mentioned. But this is of minor importance. It is very well possible that, seeing many of the psalms were composed by David, those that composed Article 69 of the Church Order spoke in general terms.
2. Of more importance, however, is that we cannot sing the Psalms of David, and we never do. Do not misunderstand me. I like the psalms and I like to sing them. Fact is, however, that we do not sing the psalms of David but a versification of them. This is true of the Dutch as well as of the English versification of them, although I believe that the English versification is often closer to the original than the Dutch. Not only this, but especially the Dutch versification departs quite liberally from the original. Let me give an illustration. I always liked and I still like to sing Psalm 89:7, 8. And what Hollander does not like to sing these verses? Here they are:
Hoe zalig is het volk dat naar Uw klanken hoort!
Zij wand’len Heer, in ‘t licht van, ‘t Godlijk aanschijn voort.
Zij zullen in Uw naam zich al den dag verblijden:
Uw goedheid straalt hun toe, Uw macht schraagt hen in ‘t l:ijden;
Uw onbezweken trouw zal nooit hun val gedoogen.
Maar Uw gerechtigheid hen naar Uw woord verhoogen.
This is, indeed, a beautiful verse! It is a versification ofPsalm 89:15, 16: “Blessed is the people that know the joyful sound: they shall walk, O Lord, in the light of thy countenance. In thy name shall they rejoice all the day: and in thy righteousness shall they be exalted.” But notice that the versification is rather liberal. The lines “Uw goedheid straalt hun toe, Uw macht schraagt hen in ‘t lijden; Uw onbezweken trouw zal nooit hun val gedoogen,” do not occur in the original. The lines mentioned above are: “Thy goodness beams unto them, thy power sustains them in suffering. Thy never failing faithfulness shall never suffer their fall.” You must admit that, although these lines are beautiful atid although I never had any objections to sing them, nevertheless, in them we do not sing “the Psalms of David” but a hymn.
Vs. 8 of the same psalm in Dutch is beautiful too. I quote it here:
Gij tech, Gij zijt him roem, de kracht van hunne kracht.
Uw vyije gunst alleen wordt d’ eere toegebracht;
Wij steken ‘t hoofd omhoog, an zullen d’ eerkroon dragen
Door U, door U alleen, om ‘t eeuwig welbehagen;
Want God is ons ten schild in ‘t strijdperk van dit leven
En onze Koning is van Isrels God gegeven.
This is a versification of vss. 17 and 18: “For thou art the glory of their strength; and in thy favor our horn shall be exalted. For the Lord is our defense; and the Holy One of Israel is our king.” Again I make the remark that the Dutch versification of this verse is quite a liberal rendering. The third and fourth lines of this verse do not occur at all in the original text. We may translate this as follows: “We lift up our head on high and will wear the crown of honor; through Thee, through Thee alone, because of the eternal good pleasure.” When we sing this (and I always liked to sing it), we certainly do not sing one of the psalms of David but a hymn that is based on this psalm.
Thus I could go on.
But if this is the case, what is wrong with singing versifications of other parts of Scripture, especially of the New Testament, that are approved by Synod?
3. Moreover, in our English Psalter we certainly do not sing the 150 psalms of David, but many more. Thus, for instance, we have different numbers on Psalm 23. The first is number 52, the first verse of which reads as follows:
Thou Jehovah art my shepherd,
Therefore I no want shall know;
In green pastures Thou dost rest me,
Leadest where still waters flow,
And when fainting,
Sweet refreshment dost bestow
Number 53 starts this way:
The Lord’s my Shepherd, I’ll not want;
He makes me dorm to lie.
A different version of this psalm is found in number 54, the first two lines of which are:
My faithful Shepherd is the Lord,
Supplying all way needs.
Number 55 starts as follows:
The Lord my Shepherd holds me
Within his tender care.
And finally, in number 56 psalm 23 begins as follows:
My Shepherd is the Lord who knows my needs,
And I am blest.
To this I can add still another version, which is probably a more literal rendering than all the foregoing. The first stanza of this reads as follows:
The Lord is my Shepherd, no want I shall know;
I feed in green pastures, safe-folded I rest;
He leadeth my soul where the still waters flow,
Restores me when wand’ring, redeems when oppressed.
Now my question: may we consider all these different versions and versifications as belonging to the “Psalms of David” according to the Church Order, Art. 69; or must we select one of them in order to stay within the limits of the 150 psalms mentioned in Art. 69?
And what is wrong with this hymn, which is based onIsaiah 53:
1. Who hath believed after hearing the message,
To whom is the arm of the Lord revealed?
He shall grow up as a plant new and tender,
And as a root out of a barren field.
2. He was despised and by all rejected,
Weighted with sorrows, acquainted with grief;
Smitten, afflicted, by God was forsaken,
He suffered alone; no one could bring relief.
3. Like as a lamb he was brought to the slaughter,
Speechless as sheep to the shearers was led;
He was cut off from the land of the Living,
For our transgressions on Calvary bled.
The following hymn is based on Romans 8:1:
No condemnation, now and never,
I’m in Christ who loves me ever;
Whose name is Jesus, Savior true,
From sin and death, which He subdued,
Who is my comfort, hope, and life,
My faithful helper in the strife.
Now after fresh I walk no more,
But in the Spirit of my Lord.
When I am bowed with grief,
When troubles ’round me throng,
When there seems no relief,
When I can find no song,
He sends His perfect peace,
From sorrow gives release,
Through all my journey here,
Peace, perfect peace.
When I have doubts within,
When faith is far from strong,
When I behold my sin
And for His grace I long,
His cross He shows to me;
In love He giz1e.s to me,
Now and eternally,
Peace, perfect peace.
When all my life is done,
I near death’s swelling tide,
Faith’s battle fought and won,
God’s armor laid aside,
Peace, perfect peace He’ll give;
Through death with Him I’ll live
Through all eternity;
Peace, perfect peace.
* Editorial note: These are the words of the hymn composed by the late James Jonker and which was sung on the Reformed Witness Hour Sunday, December 31, a few days after he passed away. By request we publish the hymn here.