It is characteristic of our Protestant Reformed Churches that we adhere rigidly to our Reformed Church Order. This is also true with respect to our congregational singing in public worship. Barring a few exceptions, mentioned specifically in article sixty- nine of the Church Order, our singing in public worship is restricted to the Old Testament Psalms.
Most all of the various denominations of Reformed persuasion have either altered the sixty-ninth article of the Church Order or have ignored it altogether and have introduced hymn singing in their public worship. The reason for such action is based on the fact that restriction to the Old Testament Psalms deprives them of the light that the New Testament adds to the Old.
Our Protestant Reformed Churches are not at all in agreement with this since we are convinced that the Holy Spirit has shed the light of the New Testament throughout the Old Testament Psalms by means of the prophetic strain running through the entire book of Psalms. The Psalms, when properly studied, contain far more brilliant light of New Testament realities than any of the best hymns ever composed and published. The Psalms have always proven themselves as containing a far deeper and profound truth of spiritual realities than the hymns, due to no other reason than that the Psalms are infallibly inspired by the very Spirit of God while the hymns are not. For this reason it is our avowed hope that our Protestant Reformed Churches may continue to adhere faithfully to its purpose to sing only the Old Testament Psalms in public worship and never forsake this principled.
The Synod of our Churches has foreseen that if this principle is to be carried out then it will be necessary for our Churches to publish a new edition of “The Psalter.” This need is brought upon us because the present stock of Psalters is rapidly dwindling. A committee on Psalter Survey and Reprint reported to the Synod in 1942 that the stock of new Psalters (large size) on the market numbered one hundred forty-six copies, compared to the fact that there were over two thousand copies in actual use in our Churches at that time. On the other hand, the need of reprinting “The Psalter” is brought upon us by the fact that the former publisher and copyright holder of the present day Psalter did not foresee a large enough market to warrant the financial liability to reprint the present Psalter since, to his knowledge, only our Churches and “The Netherland Reformed Churches” (the latter more commonly known as “De Oud Gereformeerd Kerken”) were the only churches using said publication.
Were there another publication on the market containing the Old Testament Psalms fit for congregational singing our Synod might have considered the same rather than contemplating the reprint of the present Psalter. To the knowledge of the investigating committee there is no such publication. Resides, if this type of publication had been found, a reprint, in part, would still be necessary since such a publication would not contain our Reformed Doctrinal Standards and Liturgy, just as vital for the needs of our Churches as the Psalms themselves.
A number of Voices have been raised saying that we could better use the “Psalter Hymnal” published by the Christian Reformed Churches, rather than submitting ourselves to the tremendous task of reprinting “The Psalter.” This, too, was considered by the Synodical committee in charge but it was finally turned down. The first reason for rejecting the introduction of “The Psalter Hymnal in our Churches is because the committee thought it unwise to introduce a book containing hymns lest a weaker element in years to come might yield to the temptation of singing hymns and Psalms or of singing more hymns than Psalms as is the case in not a few Churches using said publication. The committee also felt that a Psalter, printed at a great expense and with ardent labors in the early years of our Church history, will serve as a monument and it will bear witness to our future generations of our stand with respect to the material to be sung in the worship of our Covenant God.
One other matter was considered by the committee of Synod before it advised to reprint and revise the present Psalter and that was to request and contract the printing of “The Psalter Hymnal” without the hymns which it contains in its present form. However, on studying this matter it was proven that the Psalter section of said publication was rather abbreviated and also showed a more or less tendency to eliminate such stanzas which would give a definite Psalter selection a place in the category of the “Imprecatory Psalms” (vloek Psalmen), a category frowned upon by any who would choose to adhere to the doctrine of common grace.
In consideration of all these facts the committee of our Synod could do nothing else but advise the reprint of “The Psalter.” This advice our Synod of 194“ adopted with this exception, namely, rather than deciding to reprint “The Psalter,” Synod decided to print “A” Psalter. Why this difference in phraseology? Because the same committee which advised the reprint also advised a revision of the present Psalter.
The Synod was so advised by its committee not on the basis that a revision was absolutely necessary but rather because it was wise to do so. When one considers that our Churches will be required to spend approximately five thousand dollars in the reprint of The Psalter, together with the fact that this book will be used for many years to come in our public worship, it stands to reason that it is wise to correct any possible errors and weaknesses and produce a better edition than its predecessor.
Although “The Psalter” is a monumental work in the Church of Jesus Christ, nevertheless, the versification and music are the work of men and it necessarily bears that distinguishing mark throughout, namely, that it is not without flaw and can be improved upon.
Enumerating such flaws and weaknesses in detail, together with a detailed account of the improvements, is out of the question in this writing. However, to give an idea of the changes deemed necessary to improve the present Psalter we will give just a few examples.
In the first place, the wording in the versification is not always grammatically neither exegetically correct. It cannot be denied that Psalter number four, the fifth verse, has a definite Arminian tendency expressing the idea that today we have the chance of accepting salvation while tomorrow it may be too late, entirely inconsistent with the sovereignty of God and with the Psalm itself as recorded in Holy Writ. The same may be said of number two hundred thirteen, verse thirteen, and also of number two hundred fifty-five. With reference to the latter, how much more accurately the idea of the Psalm is expressed in the versification of number two hundred fifty-four.
With respect to the grammar used in the present Psalter one does not say too much when he states that in many cases it could be improved upon. The phraseology is sometimes obsolete and clumsy. We refer to such phrases as: “my heart was all on fire” found in number one hundred five, verse three; and, “If that the Lord had not our right maintained, if that the Lord had not with us remained” found in number three hundred fifty-three, verse one.
Besides this, no one will deny that “The Psalter” contains a goodly number of tunes which have proven unsatisfactory and which could easily be eliminated and replaced by more favorable tunes. Then, too, some selections are duplicated as far as the versification is concerned without any definite advantage of the second time over the first.
Finally, it may be said that the present Psalter would be improved by adding a goodly number of chorales, so fitting for public worship. It would be wonderful if our new Psalter would contain a number of the chorales found in our Holland Psalm book which are so very dear to the older generation and which will, no doubt, find a hearty response in the hearts of the younger generation as well. Undoubtedly our Synod could obtain the right to incorporate into our new Psalter a number of the best translations of the Holland versification of the Psalms with the accompanying music now appearing in “The Christian Hymnal” and “The Psalter Hymnal.” It may be possible that our own Churches contain sufficient talent to produce a still better translation of the Holland versification of the Psalms. If so, we would urge these talented folks among us to set themselves to this task and submit samples of their work to our Synod or its committee.
Possibly some of the younger generation, who have never learned to sing the old Holland Psalms, are not to greatly enthused about the incorporation of such translations into our new Psalter, but it might well be borne in mind that in the loss of the Holland Psalms we loose in part a precious heritage of the faith of our fathers as expressed in the chorales of the Churches of the old fatherland.
Considering all these things it is doubtful that many will be found in our Churches who would care to claim that Synod’s great task of printing and revising “The Psalter” is a useless task. Singing in public worship is an integral part of the worship of our covenant God whose praise must be expressed in carefully chosen words, with the best of music and conformable to God’s own Word.