The Songs of Zion: What Shall the Church Sing?
Prof. Herman C. Hanko
It is my conviction, expressed in this article, that
the Word of God requires the exclusive use of the Psalms in the
corporate worship of the church.
The assumption here is the regulative principle of
worship, defined in the Heidelberg Catechism (Q. & A. 96): "What
doth God require in the second commandment? That we in no wise represent
God by images, nor worship him in any other way than he has commanded in
I shall not argue the case for the regulative
principle in corporate worship, nor shall I make any attempt to explain
it in detail; knowledge of these ideas is presupposed on the part of the
reader. If there is any question about these things, material can be
found in many places written by many different men.
It is the thesis of this article that the regulative
principle of worship requires the use of the Psalms in the church's
The Argument From History
Although it is of greatest concern to me to
demonstrate in this article how Scripture requires exclusive Psalmody, I
shall digress momentarily and point out a few facts from the history of
Anyone who is at all acquainted with the history of
the church, especially since the time of the Reformation, will know that
exclusive Psalmody in the worship services acts as a deterrent to the
introduction of heresy into the pulpit.
It is equally true that the singing of songs other
than the Psalms opens the door, not only to liturgical innovation, but
also to unbiblical preaching.
It is not difficult to understand the reason for
this. Preaching and singing both belong to worship. Worship, when it is
truly worship in the presence of God, requires harmony and agreement
between preaching and singing. It is preposterous to imagine that a
congregation can listen in a satisfied way to heresy in preaching while
singing the songs of Scripture. And it is equally preposterous to think
that the church which has abandoned the Psalms will long be satisfied
with sound, orthodox preaching.
I am not saying by this that there cannot be found
some hymns (by which I mean songs other than those based on the Psalms)
which express certain truths of God's Word. But true biblical and
Reformed preaching is theocentric; i.e., it begins and ends with
God and His glory. Hymns may express themes which are biblical and
truths which are orthodox, but the body of hymns taken as a whole are
either anthropocentric or wrongly Christocentric, but not theocentric.
And to be God-centred is to be orthodox.
It is undoubtedly for this reason that already in the
16th century it was said of the Arminians that they sang their way into
the church, for Arminian error flew into the church on the wings of
songs other than the Psalms. And this has been the pattern since those
Someone phrased it correctly when he said: "Let me
make the ballads of a nation, and I care not who makes its laws."
The close relation between the preaching and the
singing in the church is underscored by the fact that when reformation
came to the church, such reformation always included a return to the
singing of Psalms. Apostasy which brought with it the desperate need of
reformation was apostasy in doctrine, in church government, and in
liturgy. Reformation was a return to the "old paths" (Jer.
6:16) in doctrine, church polity, and liturgy, and thus in singing
by Jehovah's congregation. Psalm-singing is a part of these "old paths."
Direct Biblical Proof
Such proof from history, however, is not sufficient
to make Psalm-singing in the worship services an element incorporated
into the regulative principle of worship. For that we need to go to
The strong line of biblical proof which we need can
be found in the Old Testament Scriptures.
Before the argument from the Old Testament is laid
down I must once more make an assumption clear on which the scriptural
argument is based. The assumption is that the church of the old
dispensation and the church of the new dispensation are one church of
Christ; and that, therefore, an injunction for worship given in the old
dispensation is binding on the church of the new dispensation as well.
It has been argued, even by those who will agree that
the church is one in all ages, that nevertheless a command concerning
worship given to the church which lived in the times of types and
shadows is not valid for the church today simply because the worship of
God was bound to the temple and the rituals and ceremonies of Old
Testament times, while the church today is free through the Spirit of
There is a certain superficial validity to the
argument, but it is not difficult to see that, carried out consistently,
the argument would make irrelevant to the church today the entire moral
law embodied in the ten commandments.
The point here (a point which I do not intend to
argue in detail) is that, while the form of the administration of
God's covenant with His people (in the context of which worship took
place) was changed with the fulfilment of the types and shadows, the
substance remains intact and binding on the church today as well as on
the saints of the older times.
This is especially true of the command to sing the
Psalms, for the Psalms themselves belong to that which is the possession
of the church of all ages. The Psalms are part of Scripture, and
Scripture, also the Old Testament, is still today our rule of faith and
The argument, briefly stated, is as follows:
II Samuel 23:1-2 David claims that he is God's instrument in
preparing music for the church:
Now these be the last words of David. David the
son of Jesse said, and the man who was raised up on high, the
anointed of the God of Jacob, and the sweet psalmist of Israel said,
the Spirit of the Lord spake by me, and his word was in my tongue.
One or two points are to be noticed here. David
claims for himself divine inspiration to such an extent that God's Word
was in his tongue by the Spirit; and that the words he consequently
spoke, he spoke as the psalmist of Israel. That is, he spoke for
purposes of giving the church her songs.
That this was recognized in Israel, and that the
Psalms were sung by God's command, is evident from the great reformation
which took place during the time of Hezekiah, king of Judah. As a part
of that reformation, Hezekiah restored to the church the pure worship of
II Chronicles 29:25 reads:
And he (Hezekiah) set Levites in the house of the
Lord with cymbals, with psalteries, and with harps, according to the
commandment of David, and of Gad the king's seer, and Nathan the
prophet: for so was the commandment of the Lord by his prophets.
Again, one ought to notice in this passage that
David, along with Gad and Nathan, and so by divine revelation,
determined every detail of the worship of God that was to take place in
the temple. When Hezekiah brought reformation to the church, he restored
the divinely ordained pattern of worship given to the church through
David, Gad, and Nathan. It was by divine ordinance that this worship was
Although verse 25 does not mention the singing,
verses 27 and 28 do:
And Hezekiah commanded to offer the burnt
offering upon the altar. And when the burnt offering began, the song
of the Lord began also with the trumpets, and with the instruments
ordained by David king of Israel. And all the congregation
worshiped, and the singers sang, and the trumpeters sounded: and all
this continued until the burnt offering was finished.
But the text is even more specific. We are told in
Moreover Hezekiah the king and the princes
commanded the Levites to sing praise unto the Lord with the words of
David, and of Asaph the seer. And they sang praises with gladness,
and they bowed their heads and worshiped.
Nothing is clearer than this. Scripture enjoins Psalm
singing in the worship of the church.
Covenantal Worship and Covenantal Psalms
The third line of argumentation must be made from the
character of the Psalms themselves. My argument here is that the Psalms
are deliberately inspired by God to be covenantal in form because
worship itself is, in the deepest sense, covenantal.
In order to make this point it is necessary to go
first of all to the New Testament Scriptures and pay attention to two
passages, well-known and usually quoted in the debate over exclusive
Psalmody. They are the passages in
Ephesians 5:18-19 and
Ephesians 5:18-19 reads (we take here the more correct translation
of the RV):
And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess;
but be filled with the Spirit; speaking one to another in psalms and
hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart
to the Lord.
Colossians 3:16 reads:
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 unto the Lord.
Here again I must point out that I am arguing on the
basis of an assumption which I do not intend to prove. That assumption
is that the three words used in both passages, (psalms, hymns, and
spiritual songs) refer together to the Old Testament Psalter found in
the 150 psalms.
If anyone questions that, I refer such a one to the
literature on the question, which is vast and compelling and which is
prepared by scholars who know more about the formal aspects of the
Hebrew Psalter than I.
I call attention to one point only. The use of three
words to describe one document is not strange to the Scriptures. One
example will suffice. In
I Kings 6:12 the three words, statues, judgments, and commandments,
are all direct references to the law of God, though each word looks at
God's law from a slightly different viewpoint. So psalms and hymns and
spiritual songs all refer to the book of Psalms, though each word
conveys a slightly different idea concerning them.
Before I turn to these passages to point out their
significance for the question we face concerning singing in corporate
worship, I think it important to point out that the passage in Ephesians
emphatically speaks of the Holy Spirit as making it possible to sing in
corporate worship: "be filled with the Spirit ..."
Two points have to be made here. The first is rather
obvious. The Holy Spirit always works in the hearts of His people in
connection with (and never apart from) His own Word which He has given
to the church through infallible inspiration. If the Holy Spirit alone
makes singing in corporate worship possible, then the Holy Spirit will
use His own Word in the work of enabling the people of God to sing. That
Word is found in the Psalms.
The second point is not so obvious; at least, no one
seems to call attention to it. The question arises: Why does Paul speak
here of the need to be filled with the Spirit?
The answer to that question lies emphatically in the
fact that in the new dispensation the whole congregation sings,
while in the old dispensation the Levites sang.
If you read carefully the passages we quoted above
from II Chronicles, you will have noticed that the Levites did the
singing, not the whole congregation. This changes in the new
Why the change? Paul explains that. In the old
dispensation the Spirit was not yet poured out, and so the people of God
did not possess that Spirit which made them prophets, priests, and kings
in the church. There were special offices of prophets, priests, and
kings; and those who held these offices possessed the Spirit-by way of
promise of another age to come. The Levites, for their work in the
temple, possessed the Spirit. Hence, they did the singing.
But now, with the dawning of another age, an age
which begins with Pentecost when the Spirit is poured out upon all
flesh, all the people of God possess the Spirit. No longer do these
saints need the Levites to bring to them the Word of God and sing for
them so that the responsibility of "speaking to one another" and
"teaching and admonishing one another" falls upon the Levites (See also
II Chron. 17:8-9); they now possess the Spirit themselves-and the
Spirit's own words in the Psalms-so that they can speak to one another
and teach and admonish one another.
But these remarks are a bit of a parenthesis. I am
particularly concerned with the words "speaking to one another" and
"teaching and admonishing one another." This, the apostle says, is
characteristic of the corporate worship of the church in her singing. A
strange description of singing indeed. I wonder whether we even give any
thought to this aspect of singing-even though we sing the Psalms. When
we sing the Psalms we are talking to each other; even teaching each
other-and, of all things, admonishing each other. In singing there is
conversation and discussion going on between the saints who are joined
in singing. That strikes me as extremely peculiar.
In order to appreciate the force of those startling
expressions of the apostle, we must remind ourselves of the
nature of worship.
It might not be without purpose to point out, though
in passing, that the very nature of the covenant is at stake here. If
the covenant is a treaty or pact or agreement based on mutually accepted
conditions, stipulations, obligations, and promises, the covenantal
character of worship is erased. What is going on in worship is not God
and man sitting down to discuss the conditions and obligations of a
certain agreement which both hope to realize in time and through
Worship is profoundly spiritual. God and His people
are living together in friendship and fellowship. Worship is the highest
expression here on earth of the great truth that the covenant is a
living bond of communion between the eternal and living God and the
church which He has saved through Christ.
This was already prefigured in the temple, for the
temple was a concrete symbol of God and His people dwelling under one
roof in covenant fellowship with each other.
In the new dispensation this reality is achieved
through Christ's perfect work by which He becomes, in His own body, the
temple: "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up" (John
Because worship is the highest expression of God in
fellowship with His people, there is a holy conversation going on in the
worship, for conversation lies at the heart of fellowship. There is no
fellowship where there is no conversation.
In that holy conversation in which God and His people
are speaking together, God's speech is always first: first logically,
first sovereignly, first creatively, first causatively. Our speech is
the effect of which God's speech is the cause.
This is of crucial importance to an understanding of
Ephesians 5 and
There is conversation going on in the worship. God is
speaking. And God's people are speaking. God is speaking to the whole
congregation; and the congregation, together, is speaking to God-and
also to one another; and to one another in the singing. That is what
Paul is talking about.
Our worship is, after all, corporate worship.
This too, I fear, is often forgotten. As I worship in
the holy congregation, I can easily be one individual in a sea of
worshipers, thinking about and concerned with my own personal relation
to God, and forgetting that I am only one in the corporation of the body
This is wrong.
I am reminded of one of Luther's prayers. Luther
liked to go through the Lord's Prayer and make a special prayer in
connection with each part of the prayer the Lord gave us. In connection
with the very first word of the Lord's Prayer, the word "Our," Luther
It is also Thy will that we should not
individually name Thee Father, but together call Thee our Father and
united pray for all. So give us a united love that we may know and
consider all to be brothers and sisters. United we ask Thee, our
beloved Father, for each and all, even as one child speaks for
another to its father. Amen.
The point that needs to be made here is that the
singing is carried on by the church in the context and as a part of
covenantal worship. The only songs that I know which have about them
that covenantal character are the Psalms. They are unique.
I am not arguing that certain free songs can be found
which accurately express the truth of Scripture. I can sing with a great
deal of enjoyment, "The church's one foundation is Jesus Christ her
Lord"; and, "Elect from every nation, yet one o'er all the earth." I am
not arguing, therefore, that certain free songs are not accurate
confessions of the truth of Scripture. I am not even arguing that many
free songs are prayers to God set to music.
What I am arguing is that this is all free
songs are. And that is not enough. The covenantal character of worship
must be reflected in the singing of the church. Only the Psalms do that.
A number of years ago, reading the Psalms during our
family devotions, I took the time to write down on a slip of paper
precisely who was speaking to whom in every part of the Hebrew Psalter.
It was an enlightening exercise.
While, of course, in a certain sense of the word God
is speaking in every Psalm because the Psalms are inspired by God,
nevertheless in some of them God addresses others in direct discourse.
God speaks to Christ, e.g., in
Psalm 110 and
Psalm 89. God speaks to David in
Psalm 132:11-18. God speaks to the wicked in Psalms 50:16-23 and
2:6-9, as well as to kings in
But mostly He speaks to His people in a direct way. A
few examples will suffice. "I will instruct thee and teach thee in the
way which thou shalt go: I will guide thee with mine eye. Be not as the
horse, or as the mule, which have no understanding: whose mouth must be
held in with bit and bridle, lest they come near unto thee" (32:8-9).
"Be still and know that I am God: I will be exalted among the heathen, I
will be exalted in the earth" (46:10). "Gather my saints together unto
me; those that have made a covenant with me by sacrifice" (50:5; see
also vv. 6-15).
No free songs do what is unique to the Psalms: a
direct address of God to His people. This is essential to covenantal
Sometimes the Psalms are the speech of God's people
to God, in which speech they pour out their hearts in praise and
thanksgiving, in prayer and petition, in wonder and awe. These Psalms
are to be found everywhere, for the Psalms are often prayers uttered
before God's face. "Be merciful unto me, O God: for man would swallow me
up" (56:1). "Deliver me from mine enemies, O my God: defend me from them
that rise up against me" (59:1). "Have mercy upon me, O God, according
to thy lovingkindness ... Against thee, thee only have I sinned …"
Many times the Psalms are didactic, what we could
probably call confessions of faith. The full range of the truth is found
in the Psalms, and no single truth concerning God in all His works is
omitted in this marvellous Psalter. I cannot begin to list those Psalms
here which are such confessions, but I can remind you of some of the
Psalms which do so in familiar and much-loved words.
Psalm 23 is perhaps the very first Psalm which little children learn
when they can scarcely lisp the words of the AV: "The Lord is my
shepherd; I shall not want." Psalms 25, 27, 32, 46, 48, 73, and many
others arise out of the confident belief of the saints in the truth as
it is revealed in Christ.
In many of the Psalms God's people are speaking
directly to others. The variety of the list is astounding. They speak in
the Psalms to workers of iniquity (6:8-9), to their own souls (16:2-3),
to Jacob (24:6), to the mighty (29:1-2), to children (34:11-22), to all
people (49), to God-fearers (66:16), to judges (85:2-4, 6-7). God's
people have something to say to just about everyone and everything about
God and His works. Where in free songs do you find anything like that?
Sometimes God's people are very conscious of the fact
that they speak only what God has first spoken, and they give expression
to that: "When thou saidst, Seek ye my face; my heart said unto thee,
Thy face, Lord, will I seek" (27:8).
And sometimes everyone is talking together and the
conversation almost gets so mixed up that one can hardly tell who is
In other words, the Psalms are the only book of songs
which express all the holy talk that is going on in the intimacies of
covenant fellowship between God and His people, and between God's people
Now, it is to this latter that
Ephesians 5 and
Colossians 3 refer especially.
It is a little difficult to express this, but the
simple fact of the matter is that Paul emphatically states that in
singing the Psalms together in church we are speaking to one another,
and teaching and admonishing one another.
That is strange language which the apostle uses. How
often do we really think of our singing in that fashion? How can that be
done when a choir sings instead of the congregation? How does that
happen when songs other than the Psalms are being used, Psalms which are
written in such a peculiar way that this sort of thing becomes possible?
I am not sure that I understand how corporate singing
results in speaking to one another and teaching and admonishing one
another. I am not sure I understand the "mystique" of music. Music is a
wonderful gift of God. Music does things to people. Music does things to
the singer, as well as to the one being sung to. Music is mysterious,
ineffable, affecting one in strange and unexpected ways. Music can do
things which no other means of communication are capable of doing. I am
not sure why this is true.
But it happens when people sing together. I can and
often do sing alone-especially when I am driving my car a fairly long
distance. It is interesting, edifying, uplifting. Music does that. When
we are merry, James says, then we ought to sing Psalms.
But singing with others is different. Singing with
the family around the piano does things to me. Hearing my wife and the
children sing together is moving. And this is especially true, as many
families have testified, in times of great spiritual crisis-when, e.g.,
the Lord has taken a loved one from their midst; or when one of the
family is in the hospital. Singing communicates between those joined in
a song in a way that is different from speaking directly or reading. It
is more forceful and affective. It is mysterious. Each is singing to the
When the church of Christ comes together, the saints
sing together. They sing what God has said, what they want to say
together to God, what they must say to all the world about them, what
they want to tell each other, what lives in their hearts and souls. And
when through song together they speak to each other, they teach and
admonish each other as well. The fellowship between God and His people
comes to concrete expression in the conversation of singing. The
fellowship between the saints which is rooted in the covenant is spoken
of freely, joyfully: instructing, comforting, encouraging, teaching,
admonishing, and edifying. When I sing
Psalm 23 alone in times of great trouble, it is one thing, for I
confess before God's face that indeed Jehovah is my Shepherd. But when,
in the midst of these troubles, other saints are singing with me, they
are also singing to me and telling me that Jehovah is also their
Shepherd, and they have never lacked anything, even in their greatest
Because the Psalms are so complete in their
descriptions of every aspect of God's covenant, they alone can be used
in the highest reality of that covenant here on earth, the corporate
worship of the church.
Our Spiritual Biography
The last line of argumentation for exclusive Psalmody
has to do with another unique feature of the Psalms. The book of Psalms,
taken as a whole, constitutes a spiritual biography of the people of
Let it be understood what I am saying. The Hebrew
Psalter constitutes a biography for every child of God; and the
Old Testament Psalter constitutes a complete biography. That is,
not one single element of the spiritual life of any child of God is
It would take more time than I (or the Standard
Bearer) have to demonstrate this. Nor need it be done. If you have
doubts about it, read the Psalms. That's all I can say. I warn you ahead
of time, that they are a spiritual biography, and you yourself
must be a spiritual man or woman to recognize this great truth. But I
assure you that it is all there.
You may ask: What does this have to do with Psalm
singing and exclusive Psalmody in the corporate worship of the church?
Well, it has much to do with it; but a few
preliminary remarks are in order.
In the first place, by "spiritual biography" I mean
something definite and specific. I mean, essentially, that the Psalms
are all, in the final analysis, Messianic.
It is true that some Psalms are directly Messianic,
and Christ Himself is so clearly speaking in them that He spoke the same
words when He was on earth (Ps.
22). Some Psalms unmistakably speak of Christ in a prophetic way,
foretelling many things of Christ's suffering, death, resurrection, and
exaltation-as well as His coming in judgment upon the clouds.
But all are essentially Messianic in the sense that
Christ is speaking in all of them of Himself; speaking through His
Spirit; speaking of His work-in sometimes unbearably poignant ways.
But, and this is unique also to the Psalms (it cannot
be the characteristic of free songs), Christ speaks in the Psalms
historically. That is, Christ speaks through the sweet singers of
Israel, through those who sang and wrote the Psalms, through the church
which took the Psalms into their hearts. Christ singing of Himself, yes.
But Christ singing of Himself in His glorious relation to His people as
their Saviour and Redeemer. And so, Christ is singing of Himself as He
lives in and through His people and is the great power of all their life
from here to glory. Christ is singing in them; and when they sing, He
sings through them so that their entire spiritual life is Christ in
And that brings up the second point that needs
saying, especially because we are talking about the corporate worship of
As I mentioned earlier, in the holy conversation that
goes on in worship between God and His people, God takes the initiative.
His speech is first and creative. Our speech is the result of God
speaking to us.
But let it be understood that in Reformed worship
this is exactly why preaching is central to worship. In preaching, God
speaks. He speaks to His saints.
But-and here is the point that needs so desperately
to be made: God does not speak as a lecturer who wishes to educate His
people in a given subject; nor does God speak, as some ministers seem to
think, to entertain. God has only one reason for speaking to His people,
and that reason is that by His divine and powerful speech, God saves.
Nor does God speak to save in a robot-like fashion,
so that salvation goes on, while God is speaking, mysteriously,
unconsciously, automatically. Nothing of the kind. When preaching is
genuinely the speech of God, the Holy Spirit works in the hearts of the
elect to make that very word spoken in preaching effective in the
salvation of the sinner. But that very Word preached is made effective
by that work of the Holy Spirit when He impresses the Word of God upon
the consciousness of each saint. When I speak of the consciousness of
each saint, I refer to the saint in all the relationships of life in
which he stands and which form a part of his experience as God leads him
by His counsel step by step, moment by moment through life, with all its
joys and sorrows, burdens and trials, joyful moments and sorrowful
times. The believer comes to church as a sinner who has struggled with
sin, fallen and broken; he comes out of the life of the week carrying
heavy burdens, weary beyond description, thirsting for that which
nothing here on earth can satisfy, overwhelmed with problems, caught up
in Satan's snares, wounded by fiery darts; in desperate need of help
which no man can bring.
God speaks to the believer through Christ; but speaks
so that he hears the voice of the Good Shepherd, knows the Shepherd,
hears his Shepherd call him by name (Jesus says,
John 10), and the Spirit speaks that Word preached to the sinning
saint in the depths of his consciousness. It is the power of preaching.
It is that which makes preaching the power of God unto salvation to
everyone who believes (Rom.
Christ through the preaching calls: "Come unto me all
ye that labour and are heavy laden." And the Spirit presses that Word on
our consciousness so that we become aware of the great burden of our
sins and the weariness it brings. But that same Spirit impresses the
call of Christ on our consciousness: " Come to me!" And by the power of
the Spirit we say, "He is calling me!" And we flee to Him who
alone can give rest.
But then, a song is announced. The saints must sing
it. They must sing it in response to God's speech to them. They must
express what God has said to them in their own life and calling in the
world. Here are these marvellous Psalms. They are, taken together, a
divine biography which is all-inclusive, containing everything that is
included in the life of the believer—of which the preaching speaks. They
are God's interpretation of what He has done in our lives. They are
God's commentary on what is involved in that glorious work of salvation
which is our portion here in the world.
If only we will limit ourselves to God's explanation
of what happens, we will not get involved in our own interpretation
(which free songs so often do), nor in fantasy experiences, which
characterize so many hymns. But we will say to God and to one another
only what God Himself has said, first, to us.
This is, by the way, the answer to a rather serious
objection to exclusive Psalmody. I refer to the objection of some that
the Hebrew Psalter is inadequate to express New Testament truth in all
its riches because it is Old Testament truth revealed in types and
shadows. We need, so it is said, songs for Christmas, Easter, Pentecost,
Ascension Day. The Hebrew Psalter is inadequate.
I reject the objection.
The problem is not that the Hebrew Psalter is
inadequate. The problem is that we do not take the time to understand
what the Psalter given us of God is all about.
The fact that the Psalms are a spiritual biography
erases the objection. Although to a certain extent the Psalms do reflect
the dispensation of types and shadows, this does not mean that the
Psalms are not adequate to express New Testament truth. Again, if you
are doubtful of this, read them. As a matter of fact, the Psalms are
less Old Testament-like than any other of the Old Testament Scriptures,
with the possible exception of
Isaiah 53. Where does a particular verse make a truth either obscure
or obsolete, or incomplete, or inadequately developed because it is not
written in the context of New Testament revelation and New Testament
truth? You say: the Psalms are always talking about sacrifices? So does
Romans 12:1-2. You say: The Psalms lack the full expression of the
truth of the resurrection, e.g. They do? Remember, the Psalms speak of
the resurrection of Christ, not only as a historical fact, but they
speak of the living Christ in us as we experience His life in our
resurrection life. Will not
Psalm 16, and, yes, also
Psalm 17, do? Peter found it adequate to express the truth of what
happened in Joseph's garden. Peter heard Christ saying in Joseph's
garden: "Thou wilt not leave my soul in hell, nor suffer thine holy one
to see corruption." Every saint still hears Christ say that, in his own
consciousness, as he looks forward to the full glory of the resurrection
of his body in a time yet to come. So he sings: "Thou wilt not leave my
soul in hell ..."
The whole of the Christian life is there. The birth
of the believer in God's providence; his salvation in Christ; his walk
in God's creation; his battle with sin; his constant need of grace; his
longing to enjoy God's gift of sleep when he is on his bed; his fears
and terrors, struggles and sorrows, joys and hopes-in relation to God,
to his fellow saints, to the world about him, to his family, to death,
to the resurrection, to the world to come, yes, fundamentally and
principally, to Christ.
The Psalms are his travelling companion in his
pilgrim's sojourn, his road map, his torch to find his way, his comfort
and inspiration, his song book when talking to God, and always
everything he wants to say to God, to the world about him, and to those
with whom he lives in the company of the redeemed.
It must be that that is why my wife and I, when
venturing out in our songs together into the realm of hymns, always find
ourselves returning to the Psalms. And that is why we, and all who
understand the Psalms, want to sing the Psalms in church on the Lord’s
(From the Standard Bearer, Jan. 1998)