Psalms

Psalm-Roar, Psalm 40, Traditional Irish Melody (Fingal)

Psalm-Roar, Psalm 40, Traditional Irish Melody (Fingal)

But may all who seek you rejoice and be glad in you; may those who love your salvation say continually, “Great is the LORD!” (Psalm 40:16 ESV)

Introduction to Psalm-Roar

Introduction to Psalm-Roar

The Lord be with you.

The Church has sung the psalms for the first 1,800 years of her existence, but by the end of the 19th century it had become largely absent in churches. In the last forty years there has been a powerful movement that has sought to restore the Psalter to a place of honor once again in the body of Christ.

What we are doing tonight is joining many others in this psalm-revival and making our communities more aware of what it means to sing God’s 150 spiritual songs.

This evening, we have 11 selections. These psalms vary from lament and exaltation, and all point to and portray Jesus Christ, who is our Shepherd and in Him we will not want.

The tunes used tonight are simple tunes. The pianist will play through each of them before we sing them, which will provide us an opportunity to familiarize ourselves with them in case you have not sung these before. We hope you enjoy these psalms, and we pray God will be delighted with our praise.

Let us pray:

O God of heaven, you have called us out darkness into the kingdom of light; and in this light we find your songs to heal and restore our weary souls. Be pleased with our singing and bring down principalities and power through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

10 Reasons to Sing the Psalms

10 Reasons to Sing the Psalms

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Many of us grew up in theological backgrounds where the psalms were known, but not sung. These theological backgrounds are anomalies throughout the history of the Church. E.F. Harrison observed that “Psalmody was a part of the synagogue service that naturally passed over into the life of the church.” Calvin Stapert speaks of the fathers’ “enthusiastic promotion of psalm-singing” which he says, “reached an unprecedented peak in the fourth century.” James McKinnon speaks of “an unprecedented wave of enthusiasm” for the psalms in the second half of the fourth century. Hughes Oliphint Old argued that Calvin appealed to the church historians (e.g. Eusebius, Socrates, Sozomen) as well as the church fathers (e.g. Augustine, Basil, Chrysostom) for the singing of psalms. While the Reformers did not advocate the exclusive singing of Psalms they did express “a partiality for Psalms and hymns drawn from Scripture.” a 

The Reformer Martin Luther urged that Psalms be sung by congregations so that “the Word of God may be among the people also in the form of music b. By the end of the 19th century, however, most hymnals produced had limited psalms to a couple of well-known pieces like Old One-Hundredth. Beyond that, scriptural references had all but disappeared. Terry Johnson summarized the state of psalmlessness:

This eclipse of psalmody in the late nineteenth century is quite unprecedented. The psalms, as we have seen, have been the dominant form of church song beginning with the Church Fathers, all through the Middle Ages, during the Reformation and Post-Reformation eras, and into the modern era. By the beginning of the twentieth century the church had lost the voice through which it had expressed its sung praise for more than 1800 years. c

Though the last hundred years were not psalm-friendly, we have seen in the last 30 years a kind of revival of psalmody in the modern church, especially in the Reformed tradition. New hymnals, like the Cantus Christi, and many others are including old and new psalms ( metrical and chants).

So why should we sing the psalms? Aren’t the 19th century hymns and contemporary songs sufficient to fulfill the worship demands of the modern congregation?

The answer is a resounding no!

There are ten reasons I believe congregations should begin to sing psalms once again:

First, Psalm-singing is an explicit biblical command (Ps. 27:6). The Scriptures encourage us to sing “psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God” (Col. 3:16). To have the word of Christ dwell in you richly means to invest in the rich beauty of the Psalter. How can we sing what we do not know? Is there a better way to internalize the word than to sing it?

Second, Psalm-singing was the ancient practice of the Church and it continued for 1,800 years. We honor our forefathers and our history when we sing their songs.

Third, Calvin observed that the psalms are “An Anatomy of all Parts of the Soul; for there is not an emotion of which any one can be conscious that it is not represented here as a mirror.” The psalms are satisfying to the human being. We are homos adorans; worship beings. God is not against emotions, he is against emotionalism. The Psalter is an emotional book. It provides comfort for the people of God at different stages of life. As a minister I have never once walked into a hospital room and been asked to read a text from Leviticus or Romans, but rather every time I have been asked to read a psalm (most often Psalm 23). The psalms reach deep inside our humanity in time of pain.

Fourth, singing the psalms builds our Christian piety. It is nurturing to our souls. It is God’s devotional book; God’s hymnal. Singing the psalms restores the joy of our salvation. Ask me what book of the Bible I would take to a desert island, and I will not hesitate to say “The Psalms.”

Fifth, the psalms are ultimately made for the body. You may sing the psalms on your own, but they reach their culmination when sung together. They are meant to be roared (Ps. 47:1), because they were written by the Lion of Judah. When we sing together we are both being edified and edifying one another. “We sing because in singing we join together in common breath and melody in a manner that no other medium can duplicate…We become an assembly unified in purpose and thought. And by our singing, we hear God’s Word for us, and the world hears it loud and clear.” d

Sixth, we should sing the Psalms because they re-shape us; they re-orient our attention. We are a people constantly being sanctified by the Spirit of God, and the Spirit has specifically inspired 150 psalms for our sanctification. How should we pray? How should we ask? How should we lament? The Psalms helps us to answer these questions, and thus shape us more and more after the image of Christ.

Seventh, by singing the Psalms we are worshiping the Spirit. The Spirit hovers, shapes, re-makes in the Bible. He is the music of God in the world. In an age when the Third Person of the Trinity has become the source of theological confusion, the Psalms keeps us focused on His role and purposes in history.

Eighth, we should sing the Psalms because our current songs are often cheap and shallow. The Psalms are rich and full of substance. If we wonder why the evangelical community is so powerless, one reason for this is its trivialized worship. Modern worship is often a pietistic exercise, which is manifested in poorly constructed and pessimistic theology. But the Psalms teaches us that God is full of mercy and powerful over all His enemies (Ps. 2). The Psalms are political statements. They are direct attacks on those who challenge the supremacy of King Jesus.

Ninth, the Psalms should be sung because our children need them. Our little ones need to know the God they worship in profound ways from their earliest days. We become what we worship, and so our children will become what we sing.

Tenth, you should sing the Psalms because the world needs them. The world does not need a weak Gospel. She sees plenty of it already. She needs to hear a Gospel of a God who delights in praise, who will not allow evil to go unpunished, and who prepares a table for us.

This may all sound daunting and strange. But I’d encourage you to take that first step. What first may appear to be strange may become a wonderful journey into praise and thanksgiving to the God from whom all blessings flow.

For more information on how to sing the psalms, or for resources, please contact me at uriesou@gmail.com.

  1. See Terry Johnson’s The History of Psalm Singing in the Church; I depended heavily on that article for the quotes on this paragraph  (back)
  2. Luther, Martin. Tischreden. No. 2545. Quoted in F. Blume et al., Protestant Church Music (New York: W.W. Norton and Company, Inc., 1974  (back)
  3. Ibid.  (back)
  4. From the article: “Why do we sing the Psalms?”  (back)

Eschatology, Poythress, and the Hallelujah Chorus

I hope to write in the next 18 months a short booklet on eschatology. I have written some papers in the past, but have not been able to provide a general outline, specifically of the postmillennial hope, and its contrast with other millennial positions.

Obviously, there are many wonderful works out there. From John Jefferson Davis to Keith Mathison, and the multitude of theonomic works from the 70’s and 80’s, namely, many of David Chilton’s work (especially his Revelation commentary).

At the same time, there still seems to be a dearth of introductory works at a more layman level. The typical parishioner who has sat under postmillennial preaching for years still finds himself confused by all the labels used. If he has not been immersed in a reformational vocabulary, he is bound to confuse categories and chronology. Naturally, they find themselves incapable of articulating why this optimistic vision contains a progression beginning in Genesis and flowing throughout the New Covenant writings.

Panel Discussion on Eschatology

I listened recently to a panel discussion on eschatology at ETS held some years ago. The postmil advocate (a conspicuous minority in that room) offered a helpful treatment of the chronology of I Corinthians 15:22-26. While helpful, that type of assessment needs to be incorporated into the broader corpus of the Scriptures. For instance, I find it unfathomable to begin a conversation on eschatology without considering the promise of Genesis 3:15 and the motif that is unfolded throughout the other books, namely Judges with its five-fold illustrations of head-crushing.

Poythress, a noble advocate of the Amillennial view, sees the postmil vision more adequately than most, but still does not see why the vision of the Puritans, for example, is a vision of a christianized society.  He argues, in this panel discussion, that if postmil advocates were to focus more on the Second Coming then he would have more in common with them. Well, there is no doubt we focus on the Second Coming, the final parousia, but history is a progression. We look to the coming of Christ at the end of history while not discounting the purposes of Christ throughout history and in history.

The famous Hallelujah chorus grasped this already-ness of the kingdom:

The kingdom of this world
Is become the kingdom of our Lord,
And of His Christ, and of His Christ;
And He shall reign for ever and ever,
For ever and ever, forever and ever,

King of kings, and Lord of lords,
King of kings, and Lord of lords,
And Lord of lords,
And He shall reign,
And He shall reign forever and ever,
King of kings, forever and ever,
And Lord of lords,
Hallelujah! Hallelujah!

We are in full agreement concerning the restoration of the world. And to quote Poythress, we are not waiting for the dissolving of the cosmos, but its restoration, while at the same time we need to believe and trust that the enthronement of King Jesus means the de-thronement of Christ’s enemies. If it is true that he must reign until all his enemies are under his feet, then this reign is quantitative, not just merely spiritualized.

The Gospel promises a discipled world (Mat. 20:18-20) and discipleship and baptism imply a qualitative and quantitative narrative of history. This tangibility of the Gospel vision is the hope of the consistent eschatology of the Scriptures.

Avoid the Language of “Already, and Not Yet”

Since I have been deeply involved in the eschatology debate for over ten years, had some of my works published in other eschatology websites, interviewed postmillennial authors, and have been in the healthy business of proselytizing premils to the postmil position for just as long, I have noticed a few trends. My own transition from pre to postmil was not neat. I wondered in the other premillennial categories and in the “Amillennial parking lot” for a short while.

I confess a deep appreciation for my amillennial brothers. Men like Vos, Horton, and Beale continue to offer fresh insights into the biblical text and to expand the biblical theological vocabulary in some desirable directions. Beale’s work on a theology of worship is a gift to the church.

But while appreciating their labors I also see a trend in the use of language that can be harmful to the postmillennial cause. I refer specifically to the use of the language “already, and not yet.” “This theological concept of “already” and “not yet” was proposed by Princeton theologian Gerhardus Vos early in the 20th century, who believed that we live in the present age, the ‘now’, and await the ‘age to come.” The premillennialist George Eldon Ladd had used similar language when arguing that we taste a little now of the age to come, but not the fullness of it.

Vos and Ladd share similar viewpoints, though they would have differed on their interpretation of I Corinthians 15:24-26. That essentially is the only difference between a historic premil and an amillennialist; a few chronological issues, but a firm agreement on the continuation of the decline of civilization. Some amil scholars still argue among themselves on the identity of a future anti-christ. Other amil thinkers embrace the “optimistic” label to balance out the “amil” label, though this is a more recent phenomenon.

Already, and not yet

This language can be helpful at times, and it has turned into a unified slogan among many in the Reformed camp to combat pre-tribulational theology. Let us assume for the moment that the pre-trib. position is unsustainable and not even worth debating. If this is the case, how is the language of “already, and not yet” been helpful to elaborating the victorious promise of the gospel declared by postmil advocates in the Reformed camp? I venture to say it has not been helpful at all in the postmil eschatological proposal. When the amil advocate uses the language–and the language was coined by amillennial advocates–he means that though we taste a bit of the world to come now, we ought not to expect any type of cosmic manifestation in power and might of the gospel until the Second Coming.

This embodies a largely pessimistic vision of the work of the gospel in the end of history. Again, this is not a debate on the post-resurrection world. There is no debate on that issue. We all affirm the Gospel victory then. The question is: “What will the world look like before Jesus returns at the end of history?” Kenneth Gentry offers a helpful definition of postmillennialism:

“Postmillennialism is the view that Christ will return to the earth after the Spirit-blessed Gospel has had overwhelming success in bringing the world to the adoption of Christianity.”

Assuming this definition, we are affirming that not only will we receive a taste of the world to come in this era of human history, but we will also see with our eyes and touch with our hands the very progress of the Spirit-blessed Gospel in the world.

If not “already, and not yet,” then what?

So what am I suggesting? I am suggesting we no longer use that language, except in very specific cases. This language may be helpful in communicating ideas with someone re-thinking the dispensational position, but even then I recommend caution, since they may be prone to research this language and be led to amillennial writers.

We are not suggesting a utopian society. We believe sin will always be with us until Jesus returns, but we are also affirming that human sin will lose the war against the gospel when it comes to the conversion of the nations. I agree with my mentor, James Jordan, that as the gospel brings people and nations to submit to King Jesus and as the Gospel becomes more prevalent in the national discourse we will also see a greater battle against our own sin since people will become more aware of their struggles. This, however, does not negate the imperative that the nations will come to Zion and worship (Is. 2, 11), but it emphasizes that confession and repentance will always be part of the Christian experience in this world.

Instead of the “already, and not yet” language we may choose to refer to our hope as the “already, already, but not yet,” emphasizing that we will not just taste of the world to come, but also experience the world to come in this world. Obviously this is a long-term strategy. Postmillennialists are not naive to suggest that this Spirit-blessed Gospel will cause world-wide transformation over night, rather this is a long-possibly millennial- project. A double “already” emphasizes the reality of this Gospel vision in history. Further, it emphasizes that we are not simply tasting of the world to come individually, but corporately as a people.

This world is indeed our home, and we long for a renewed world. We do not despise this creation, we long for its restoration.

What other language can we use?

If the “already, already, but not yet” seems like a theological technicality, then I suggest a few other phrases. We are living in the age of “glory to greater glory,” “fulfillment to greater fulfillment,” present, but not fully present,” “joy to greater joy,” blessing to greater blessing.” These are all categories that define the glory of the transformative gospel before the Second Coming.

You may even provide a better and more accurate picture of this truth in words if time allows, but in the meanwhile be cautious with the “already, and not yet” language. History matters to God. And describing that history in certain words can communicate something we do not wish to communicate.

The Psalter and Its Purposes

With the resurgence of the psalms in many evangelicals circles, I thought I’d re-state some basic themes of the psalms and a couple of thoughts on how they can be used. As a general introduction, the Psalter offers its rich application to us in two central ways:
a) It is all Christological. As Augustine wrote, the psalms speak of the totus Christus. In this sense, it is the most profound way in which the Psalms are applicable. They all speak of Jesus. They all have Jesus as the center of the narrative. Just as Jesus endured human trial and suffered in death and abandonment, so too, the Psalter (though David and others) speak to these experiences. Nothing the Psalmist underwent is outside the general experiences we go through daily and in our lifetimes. Since we all suffer, since we all are called to endure the journey, therefore God provides a means of expressing ourselves. Notice also that the Psalms are not feel-good songs for the comfortable; many are psalms of lament; prayers for us to pray when we do not believe God is answering us as we would like.
b) The Psalms are personalized narratives. They are not meant to be abstract or passionate-less  Psalm 55-57, for example, speak to the suffering and the honesty of the Psalmist towards God. God wants us to cry to him as children and He treats us as His own. This is precisely why I advocate specific prayers, rather than generic ones. Rather than looking at these Psalms as distant and foreign songs, we are to personalize them and apply them to our own experiences: “O God, why do you not answer me when I am in despair. For your sake, answer me Lord according to your steadfast love.” The Psalms are prayers for us to use when we do not have words to say. When are mouths are shut due to the pain, the Psalms are songs (prayers) that instruct and provide an outline for us to pray.
So, where to begin?
At the beginning. Take a new translation and choose a particular psalm to meditate on for a while.
Read through Psalm seven as an example for 30 days. Make its verses a part of your daily song.
The Psalter belongs to the church, because they were written for the church to sing. The Old Covenant church (the Jewish church) instead of making it only a matter for the mind actually embodied and lived by the psalter. When a loved one died they sang a psalm, when they were persecuted and feeling like there was no where to go they sang a psalm. This is why the saints who have called upon me in their deathbed knew that Psalm 23 would be appropriate for them minutes before death. They knew, though not in a sophisticated way, that God was their Shepherd and they were the sheep of His pasture.
You cannot understand or even begin to sense the profound nature and power of the psalms until they become a part of who you are; your daily liturgy, and this one thing I guarantee: once they become familiar songs to you the questions you pose will begin to be answered and also shape your view of the world.
God is my shield,
saving those whose hearts are true and right.

The Joy of Christian Roaring

555023_10151808379239899_1163756403_nAs Jim Jordan makes his way to his piano bench, he looks at us and with youthful excitement asks: “Are you ready to roar?” We all exclaim with one voice Roaaaaarr! It seems rather infantile, but in reality we are made to be roaring creatures. We either roar in triumph or in sorrow. The Christian roars together with His Lord. Our Lord’s roar causes evil to shrink back in fear. Satan’s roaring pales in comparison to the Lion of Judah.

As we joined last night with three churches to do what may seem a peculiarity to the surrounding culture, we roared. We journeyed through the psalmic dance of lamentation and jubilation. We roared because sometimes the bulls of Bashan surrounds us with vicious famine. But we also roared because the Son of God goes forth to war on our behalf.

What happens when 150 gather to sing Yahweh’s hymbook? We are mutually encouraged and foe and enemy are discouraged. Discouraged because their cause is so temporal. Discouraged because singing David’s hymns calms God’s people just as David calmed Saul’s spirit with his music.

It appears to be such a simple activity, but this is how God works. He tears down human wisdom  and silences the enemy’s roaring by the simple Alleluias from the mouths of babes and infants.

Saturday Psalter, Psalm 100 (Old One Hundredth)

Psalm 100, RPCNA Synod

Saturday Psalter,Genevan 80

The Voice of Yahweh

In the Psalm we are reciting this morning we will hear a lot about the voice of Yahweh. Psalm 29 says some spectacular things about what the voice of Yahweh accomplishes. It literally transforms the landscape of the desert, makes animals rejoice, and makes us cry out His glory.

The words of God change the world. When he speaks the world respond. We will consider Luke’s account this morning of the baptism of Jesus and we hear those precious words uttered in the the baptism of Jesus from God the Father: “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased!” The words of Yahweh are repeated also in our baptisms. In baptism God is affirming his love for his sons and daughters and marking them with His name. We are recipients of the blessings of the voice of Yahweh over us.

But also we hear the voice of Yahweh in this worship service. He invites us with the call to worship and He dismisses us with His benediction. The voice of Yahweh changes our lives. The Psalmist concludes:

Yahweh gives strength to his people;
             Yahweh blesses his people with peace.

And this is the purpose of Yahweh’s words: to give us all His peace. Let us then be changed as we hear His voice.

Prayer: May We reply to the voice of Yahweh with these words:

“Worthy is the Lamb who was slain,

to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might

and honor and glory and blessing!”

Receive our praise, O Gracious King Jesus Christ, for in your name we pray. Amen.