A preface to Psalmody

Have you ever heard these objections to singing the Psalms in worship on a regular basis?

-But the Psalms are antiquated and from the Old Testament.-The name of Jesus isn’t even mentioned once! I won’t sing any praise songs that leave out Jesus.
-The Church has a rich history full of hymns written for worship.

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But I have to ask:

-Does something old make it inferior to something new?
-Is Jesus really not named in the Book of Psalms?
-What does the Church’s rich history actually have to say about psalmody and hymns?

In the church I attend, we use The Psalter of 1912. My minister, Ray B. Lanning, along with Rev. Joel Beeke, wrote a preface to the edition we currently use. There is a lot of great material here, and it is easy to read through the two pages rather quickly. In my opinion, the best part is where the Psalms are shown to be a witness to the person and work of Jesus Christ. Enjoy!

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Preface to The Psalter of 1912

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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.

–Psalm 95:1-2

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These words of Scripture affirm that singing praise to the Lord is part of the worship that God commands in His Word. They also indicate what songs we are to sing in worship, namely, “psalms, hymns and spiritual songs” (Eph. 5:19, Col. 3:16) which have been “given by inspiration of God” (2 Tim. 3:16). In obedience to God’s mandate for worship and in gratitude for His bountiful provision of a treasury of song, the church of God under both the Old and New Testaments has sung the Psalms in public worship.

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A Witness to Christ

The Book of Psalms is perfectly adapted to the worship of the Christian church. The Lord Jesus cited the Psalms as the witness of Scripture to His sufferings, His resurrection, His exaltation, and the preaching of repentance and remission of sins in His name among all nations (Luke 24:44-47). To sing the Psalms is to sing of Christ, to learn of Him, and to make Him known to others.

Here in the Psalms is the only begotten and eternal Son of God (Pss. 2, 102) by whom God made the worlds (Ps. 33), who was made lower than the angels as the Son of man (Pss. 8, 40, 139) for the suffering of death (Pss. 22, 69), whom God raised from the dead (Pss. 16, 118) and received up into glory (Pss. 47, 68), who sits at the right hand of the Majesty on high (Ps. 110), who will come again to judge the quick and the dead (Pss. 96, 98), and whose kingdom shall have no end (Pss. 22, 45, 72, 89, 102, 145).

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A Theology of Christian Experience

Blessed gospel notes flow from the Psalms as they present Christ as a Savior for the lost, a Redeemer for the guilty, a Physician for the sick, an Intercessor for the sin-accused, an Advocate for the law-condemned, a Surety for the debt-plagued, a Healer for the broken-hearted, a Helper for the self-ruined, a Friend for the needy.

The Psalms also sing of how God’s people come to a personal sense of sin and misery, deliverance, and gratitude. Their heartbeat is the message of how God’s grace through Jesus Christ in all His benefits and saviorhood is experienced by unworthy sinners. Central to all of this is the mystery of our union with Christ, His person, His offices, His redemptive sufferings, His resurrection life, His kingdom power and glory.

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Liturgy of the Covenant

The Psalms unfold the riches of God’s covenant with His people. “He hath remembered his covenant for ever, the word which he commanded to a thousand generations,” says Psalm 105:8. In Psalm 50:5 the Lord addresses His people as “those that have made a covenant with me by sacrifice.” And Psalm 103:17-18 says, “the mercy of the LORD” is promised “to such as keep his covenant.” Psalms like those and others are rich with praises to God, prayers of the saints, golden promises, solemn warnings, memories of great days of old, and visions of more glorious things to come (Pss. 25, 44, 55, 74, 78, 89, 106, 111, 132).

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Psalm-singing and the Reformation

In the apostolic age and long afterwards, congregational singing of Psalms was the rule in corporate worship. Through the providence of God, the infant church was enriched with “a great company of the priests” (Acts 6:7) who could who could bring their skills as Psalm-singers to the aid of believers when they met together for worship.

At a later period, hymns of uninspired human origin were introduced into worship. Church music also acquired a note of professionalism with the introduction of choirs, choirmasters, and elaborate choral music. By the eve of the Reformation, the voice of congregational psalmody had been reduced to silence.

Under Luther and Calvin, Psalm-singing revived. Calvin went beyond Luther in abolishing choirs and soloists in worship services. He identified three reasons for singing in worship services: to glorify God, to instruct the congregation, and to comfort true believers.

To restore congregational singing, Calvin introduced French translations of the Psalms set to tunes composed for congregational use. This was the origin of the Genevan Psalter. A selection of English texts with the proper Genevan tunes appears in The Psalter (see Chorale Section, 414-450; also 87, 268, and 353).

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History of the Psalter

Metrical psalmody was embraced in all the churches and lands influenced by Calvin. Reformed Christians from Europe brought their metrical psalters to the New World in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. For Scottish Presbyterians, the version of choice was The Psalms of David in Metre, known today as the Scottish Psalter of 1650.

This version was prominent until the early years of the nineteenth century, when Psalm-singing churches in North America began working on psalters of their own. Several versions came into use. At the same time, psalmody was giving way in many churches to a rising tide of man-made hymns.

To provide a uniform metrical version of the Psalms for North America’s churches, and to win back lost territory for the cause of Psalmody, a bold initiative was launched by the United Presbyterian Church of North America in 1893. Representatives of nine denominations in the United States and Canada worked together to produce a new metrical version first published in 1905. Heavily reworked, the final text was published as the Joint Committee’s Version of 1909. Furnished with a rich array of tunes, The Psalter was finally published by 1912.

The Christian Reformed Church adopted The Psalter in 1914 for use in the churches and bound it together with its doctrinal standards, liturgy, and church order. Smaller Dutch Reformed denominations also adopted The Psalter for worship. The Psalter has been published by Wm. B. Eerdmans of Grand Rapids, Michigan since 1927. Meanwhile, the original collection of 413 numbered selections was augmented with a Chorale Section in 1948, which with later additions brought the total to 450.

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Thanks be to God for this priceless part of our heritage as Reformed Christians in North America. This new edition is sent forth with the prayer that The Psalter may long continue to serve the needs of all who desire to “worship God in the spirit, and rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh” (Phil. 3:3) and who delight to sing “the songs of Zion” (Ps. 137:3) in our land.

–Joel Beeke & Ray B. Lanning (July, 1999)

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Rev. Ray B. Lanning serves as guest professor for all student practice preaching and in homiletics and liturgics at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary. He also tutors in writing, public speaking, and other areas. Ordained by the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church, he is currently pastoring First RP church of Grand Rapids. He received his M.Div. from Westminster Theological Seminary and then completed the Special Program for Ministerial Candidacy at Calvin Theological Seminary. He has served as a pastor for thirty years and is currently at work on a history of The Psalter (1912).

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Dr. Joel R. Beeke serves as President and Professor of Systematic Theology and Homiletics at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary, as well as Academic Dean for students from the Heritage Reformed Congregations. He is currently a pastor of the Heritage Reformed Congregation in Grand Rapids, Michigan, a position he has held for 20 years. He has been in the ministry for 28 years. He is also editor of the Banner of Sovereign Grace Truth, editorial director of Reformation Heritage Books, president of Inheritance Publishers, and vice-president of the Dutch Reformed Translation Society. He has written, co-authored, or edited fifty books and contributed over fifteen hundred articles to Reformed books, journals, periodicals, and encyclopedias. His Ph.D. (1988) from Westminster Theological Seminary is in Reformation and Post-Reformation Theology. He is frequently called upon to lecture at Reformed seminaries and to speak at conferences around the world.

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You can purchase a copy of The Psalter at: www.heritagebooks.org

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One response to this post.

  1. Posted by Dale koller on Saturday: January 09, 2016 at 1:55 AM

    I am not sure if this is the same Ray Lanning that preached at my father’s funeral in May 1980 in Panama City, Florida. Ray was probably in his early 30’s at that time. If this is the same Ray Lanning, I would enjoy hearing from him. My name is Dale and was only 17 when he died but I remember Ray from Covenant Presbyterian Church as well as the graveside service. I can be emailed at kasethope@comcast.net, if this is him. God bless, Dale

    Reply

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