We were discussing the hymn question as it was before our last Synod.
Those that argued against the motion to adopt hymns to be sung in our churches objected that there was no need of hymns for the simple reason that there is sufficient material in our present psalter for almost every occasion. It was granted that this is not the case with respect to the resurrection of Christ and the doctrine of the Holy Spirit as He was poured out on the day of Pentecost.
As to the latter, the Psalter has a few references to the truth concerning the Holy Spirit.
If you will look to the back of your psalter, you will find the following references: 85, 141-143, 255, 287, 389-391.
Now, as far as the first reference is concerned, I can find no mention of the Holy Spirit here at all, neither in the versification nor in the original, Ps. 33, as we find it in our English Bible. This is, therefore, an error.
But we do find mention of the Spirit of God in numbers 141-143, as well as in the psalm itself. In the versification we, read the well-known stanza:
“Gracious God, my heart renew,
Make my spirit right and true;
Cast me not away from Thee,
Let Thy Spirit dwell in me;
Thy salvation’s joy impart,
Steadfast make my willing heart.”
And this is a versification of Psalm 51:10-12: “Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from Thy presence; and take not thy holy spirit from me. Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation; and uphold me with thy free spirit.”
Then we have the next reference in Psalter No. 255 the last stanza, which reads as follows:
“While He proffers peace and pardon
Let us hear His voice today,
Lest, if we our hearts should harden
We should perish in the way;
Lest to us, so unbelieving,
He in judgment shall declare:
Ye, so long My Spirit grieving,
Never in My rest can share.”
This is supposed to be a versification of Psalm 95:10, 11: “Forty years long was I grieved with this generation, and said, It is a people that do err in their heart, and they have not known my ways: Unto whom I sware in my wrath that they should not enter into my rest.”
We may notice that in the text of Psalm 95 there is no mention of the Holy Spirit as it is in the versification. Not the Holy Spirit but God was grieved with the generation of the unbelievers that could not enter into the promised rest. Nor do we read of the Holy Spirit in the infallible commentary we have of this passage ofPsalm 95 in the third chapter of the epistle to the Hebrews.
Now what is the point I wish to make? It is this that, if we would make the Church of the new dispensation sing the Old Testament Psalms, it will be necessary to introduce New Testament elements in the versification of the Psalms. This is true emphatically of the doctrine of the Holy Spirit but also of other truths.
As far as the Holy Spirit is concerned, that it is quite impossible to sing of Him in the Psalms unless New Testament elements are introduced, is very evident, for the simple reason that the Holy Spirit was not yet. Thus we read in John 7:39: “He that believeth on me, as the Scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water. But this spake he of the Spirit which they that believe on Him should receive: for the Holy Ghost was not yet (given), because that Jesus was not yet glorified.” In the old dispensation, therefore, the Spirit of Christ, was not yet. This had to wait until Christ had been exalted at the right hand of God. It is true, in the first place, that the Spirit was given to the officebearers, to prophets, priests and kings. Secondly, that the Church, in general, received operations of the Spirit, is also a fact. No doubt, they were regenerated. But the contents of these operations of the Spirit and of that regenerated life were very limited in comparison with the life of the Church of the new dispensation. Believers of the old dispensation were always led by the Spirit to the shadows, to temple and altar, to priest and sacrifice. And, although these shadows pointed to Him that was to come, they did not understand these shadows. But all of a sudden, when the Holy Spirit was poured out, they understood, as is evident from the sermon preached by the apostle Peter on the day of Pentecost.
But if the Old Testament Psalms are poor in contents as far as the doctrine of the Holy Spirit is concerned, the New Testament is abounding in reference concerning the Spirit of Christ.
And the same is true of our Confessions as well as of our liturgical forms. Thus we read in the Heidelberg Catechism, question 53: “What dost thou believe concerning the Holy Ghost? First, that he is true and co-eternal God with the Father and the Son; secondly, that he is also given to me to make me by a true faith, partaker of Christ and all his benefits, that he may comfort me and, abide with me for ever.” When in our churches we preach on this particular Lord’s Day and we look for numbers in the Psalter that befit the subject material expressed in this Lord’s Day we find this very nigh impossible. The same is true of question 35: “What is the meaning of these words—He was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the virgin Mary? That God’s eternal Son, who is and continueth eternal God, took upon him the very nature of man, of the flesh and blood of the virgin Mary, by the operation of the Holy Ghost; that he might also be the true seed of David, like unto his brethren in all things, sin excepted.” Can anything be found in the Psalter that even approximates this truth, not only as far as the Holy Ghost is concerned, but also with reference to the virgin-birth of Christ? I do not believe it.
I do not belittle the Psalter. Most (and I mean most, not all) of the numbers contained therein are beautiful. The fact remains, however, that they were written in the old dispensation, and this is the reason why some of the doctrines, like that of the Holy Ghost, hardly receive mention. The reason being, as I have pointed out before, that “the Holy Ghost was not yet because Christ was not yet glorified.”
Nor am I in favor of adopting the hymns that are sung in most of the American churches. Recently I attended one of these churches, and the hymns they sung there were not only superficial but positively sickening, and I could not sing them. It was all about the lovely and lowly Jesus that will come into our hearts if we only open the door and let Him in. It struck me that, in many of them God was not even mentioned!
No, but I am in favor of composing our own hymns, hymns that are true versification of Scripture and that shall not be sung in the churches until the Synod has set its stamp of approval upon them.
But I was saying that, not only in Scripture, but also in our Confessions and in our Liturgical Forms, the doctrine of the Holy Ghost occupies an important place. And this is not surprising. If we only consider the doctrine of the Holy Spirit as such, in the limited sense of the word, it would not be so serious that we find hardly any mention of Him in the songs we sing in the Church. But the importance of this omission we are bound to realize as soon as we bear in mind that we ought to sing of Him in our worship as the Spirit of Christ, as the One that is the author of our faith, as the One that applies unto God’s people all the blessings of our salvation. As such He is presented in Scripture, and in that capacity He also occurs in our Confessions and in our Forms.
Thus, for instance, we are taught in the Heidelberger, question 65: “Since then we are made partakers of Christ and all His benefits by faith only, whence does this faith proceed? From the Holy Ghost, who works faith in our hearts by the preaching of the gospel, and confirms it by the use of the sacraments.” Such, indeed, is the importance of the doctrine of the Holy Ghost. It is he that makes the means of grace efficacious. He it is that works faith in our hearts and He it is also that confirms it.
The same truth, namely, that the Holy Ghost is the author of our subjective salvation, is expressed in question and answer 67 of the Catechism:”Are both word and sacraments, then, ordained and appointed for this end that they may direct our faith to the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross, as the only ground of our salvation? Yes, indeed: for the Holy Ghost teaches us in the gospel, and assures us by the sacraments, that the whole of our salvation depends upon the one sacrifice of Christ which he offered for us on the cross.”
Again, in Question 69 we read:
“How art thou admonished and assured by holy baptism, that the one sacrifice of Christ on the cross is of real salvation to thee? Thus: That Christ appointed this external washing with water, adding thereto this promise, that I am as certainly washed by his blood and Spirit from all the pollution of my soul, that is, from all my sins, as I am washed externally with water, by which the filthiness of my body is commonly washed away . . .”
And in question 72: “is then the external baptism with water the washing away of sin itself? Not at all: for the blood of Jesus Christ only, and the Holy Ghost cleanses us from all sin.”
And again, in question 73:
“Why then doth the Holy Ghost call baptism ‘the washing of regeneration,’ and ‘the washing away of sins’? God speaks thus not without great cause, to-wit, not only thereby to teach us, that as the filth of the body is purged by water, so our sins are removed by the blood and Spirit of Jesus Christ; but especially that by this divine pledge and sign he may assure us, that we are spiritually cleansed from our sins, as we are externally washed with water.”
Remember that I refer to all this because that it was remarked by some at Synod that we do not need hymns seeing that the Psalter is quite sufficient for all our needs as far as singing in the worship of the church is concerned, and that one of the exceptions is the day of Pentecost and the doctrine of the Holy Spirit. I claim that, even if this were true, there is ample reason to introduce some New Testament hymns which are nothing else than versifications of Scripture and are approved by Synod.